Telling Stories

Storytelling sessions are some of my favourites and the most memorable sessions I’ve taught.

There’s something incredible about watching young people create something together. The results are always surprising and unexpected so I never get tired of running these sessions no matter how much energy they take to deliver.
Getting young people, particularly teenagers, to create in public isn’t easy. Being creative involves revealing something of yourself and exposing yourself to ridicule from your peers. Some find that a very difficult obstacle to overcome. This, in itself, is one of the reasons why I find the sessions so rewarding when it works.

However, it means that a lot of thought goes into setting up the storytelling game to promote creativity and inhibit the tendency to make fun of people making an effort. The games I build are finely balanced to make sure that the experience is positive for everyone involved.

So today I’m going to lift the lid as I walk through a new storytelling game I’m developing for a new session. The game is currently going under the title “What if?”, it’s a little more fanciful than some of the games I use in the other sessions. The basic premise is that tables of 4-6 people will create a setting in which stories can happen. Each table will create something unique.

Bear in mind that this is very much an initial sketch and there will be a load of playtesting between here and anything going live, but you can see an idea beginning to form.

For a chance to see storytelling sessions in action check out Past Participants Literacy sessions

What If try out

The big idea.

Always start with a big idea. What if? Starts with the idea that members of the group make statements about the world the story is happening. However, only some of those statements can be made in isolation. These are called “What if?” statements. Most of the statements have to be built on statements the rest of the group has made. These will fill in the details.

The big idea is that every statement is true of the story world. Immediately.

Give them somewhere to start

Nothing, in a classroom at least, is scarier than being given a blank piece of paper and told to “create something”. Show someone a climbing frame and it’s only a matter of time before someone’s at the top of it.

So this game will start with three “What if?” statements already on the board. This means everyone’s story starts from the same place. These statements could be “What if you arrived at school and there were no teachers?” or “What if you all went on holiday together?” “What if you woke up this morning to find that there was a flood and your house was floating?” really simple but they set the premise for the story. They should inspire ideas.

For ease of play they’re written on green post it notes.

Give them options, but limit the options to keep focus

So, they’re looking at these “What if?” statements. What now?

The next kind of statement is a “Then…” statement. It’s a response to a what if statement. Where the “What if?” opens up a world of possibilities, the “Then…” says what impact that has on the people in the story. It refines the ideas, it hones them and makes them personal to the story. You can only make a Then…statement in response to a What if? Statement on the table. For ease of play they’re written on blue post it notes stuck on the What if?/ post it note.

What if you arrived at school and there were no teachers? Then…we could play football all day [not a particularly interesting story but somewhere to build from] Then…we would have to get into the kitchens to make lunch [that might go somewhere] Then… we could sneak into the cellars that people talk about but we’re never allowed into [now this is going somewhere].

What if? And Then… statements should form a feedback loop: What if? Statements suggest Then…statements which, in turn, suggest more What If? Statements

People. It’s about people

The Third and final element of the game is the “Who” statement. It adds characters to the story. “Who” statements are added to What if? Then… clusters they tell us who is doing this and something about them. It gives us a name followed by “Who” and something about them. These go on yellow post it notes

In our story about exploring the cellar someone might add “we went with Johnny March Who had the caretakers key” Why on earth has Johnny got that key? “My sister jennie came with us Who wouldn’t normally go anywhere with me” Now that’s odd.

That’s all there is to it.s

Now make a game of it

So the game starts with three notes on the table. Three What if? Statements. The game goes like this. Each person will take a turn. On their turn they can do one of the following:

  • Create a What If? Statement (limit this to the second turn to keep things on track)
  • Add a Then…Statement to any What If? Statement
  • Add a Who Statement to any What If? Then.. cluster.

There you go. Now some rules:

  • No one is allowed to say no to someone else’s idea. You can say “Wouldn’t it be better if?” but they are the ones making the statement
  • No real people apart from those at the table in the story. Otherwise you get all sorts of oddness.

That’s it. Play goes round the table with each person taking a turn to add something to the table. I reckon that’s all it needs.

Posted by Past Participants Andy

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