What makes a story? Where should stories begin? This two-part exercise identifies narrative engines and helps students break from ‘cradle to grave’ storytelling to focus on the interesting points.
Prep and resources
Collect a selection of pictures of people from magazines. They can be famous or not, but there should be some sort of background context.
Icebreaker: imagining a scene
Give students a picture, encourage them to really look at the image for a few minutes, and to imagine the scenario, looking for details.
Variation: all students are given the same picture; the plenary can then compare the different stories produced from the same source material.
Exercise A: Begin in the Middle
Tell students to write the scene they have been imagining above, but the scene must occur in the middle of a book or story, rather than the beginning. Students can even start in the middle of the sentence, if they like!
Feedback: have students read aloud the pieces they have written. Notice and highlight how many of the students still started at the beginning of a story.
Exercise B: Story Engine
Ask students to think of a day where something in their life changed e.g. the day they moved house, the day a sibling was born, or the day a close friend moved away. Encourage them to think about the impact this change had on their lives.
Now ask them to write a letter to their former selves, on that day, explaining what the change will come to mean, from the point of view of their future self who is informed by everything that has happened since.
This encourages students to think about the ‘pivots’ in life — these moments are typically where narrative turns.
Encourage students to think about the structure of stories and what keeps them going. Point out the value of starting ‘in the middle’ as opposed to ‘once upon a time’.
Variation: students try to guess which of the prompt images the others were using at the start of the exercise.