Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of storytelling, is brought to you by multi-genre writer Roger Hurn.
How to Write an Interactive Short Story
This resource is based on a very successful activity I do with children when I’m running writers’ workshops in schools as part of my author visits.
I work with a small group of children and explain that together we are going to produce some interactive short stories in which the main character is faced with some tricky dilemmas.
Obviously, you can choose any genre for your model, but in this example I used the Science Fiction genre and the story we wrote was called ‘Journey into Fear’. The basic premise is that an astronaut has landed on a strange planet. He is on a mission to collect rock samples, but it’s the last planet he has to visit and he is tired. He is fed up with collecting rocks and wants to go back to the mother ship for a wash and a meal. Moreover, he doesn’t like the look of the place – perhaps with good reason!
Point out the idea of this activity is for them to make choices on the development of their story. For example, you begin by modelling the writing for the introduction. Then you pose a question which has a yes or no answer such as: should the astronaut leave the shuttlecraft and explore the strange planet? Discuss this dilemma with the children. Two of the children then write a middle section for the story, saying what happens when the astronaut does leave the shuttle. Two others write a middle section in which the astronaut does not leave the ship.
However, both middle sections must end with another dilemma which requires a yes or no response. The children then work individually to write four different endings for the story, based on the character’s response to the dilemma. At the end of the activity the children can see how, by making simple choices, they can produce radically different – but equally interesting – stories from a shared starting point.
The activity works as shown in the following diagram:
After a brief explanation of what you are going to do together, work with the children to model the beginning of the science fiction story, e.g. Lucas brought the small shuttlecraft, ‘Beagle’ down carefully on to the rocky surface of the strange planet. He stared out of the porthole at the weird vegetation and wondered if he should risk leaving his ship and collecting soil samples or if he should just blast off again and return to base. It had been two weeks since he’d left the UN Starship, ‘Charles Darwin’ and he was desperate for a hot shower and real food. ‘Goodness knows I’ve risked my neck enough times these last few days,’ he muttered to himself. ‘No one could blame me if I skipped this dump.’ He grimaced because his mission was to gather rocks from all the planets in this solar system but this was the last one and it looked the worst of the lot. He had to make a decision.
Let the children work in pairs to produce a middle section for this story. Keep them focused on the need to end this section with another dilemma, e.g. He leaves the shuttle and is chased by an alien monster. Should he stop and fire his laser at it or should he hide and then sneak back to the shuttle?
Allow the children to write the four endings individually. These must be based on their response to the, should he/shouldn’t he dilemma that ends the middle section.
Ask the children to read out their endings to each other. Discuss which ones worked best and why. Draw their attention to how different choices can affect the outcome of a piece of writing.
© Roger Hurn 2012
That was great. Thank you, Roger.
Roger Hurn is both a writer of crime fiction for adults and a writer of books for reluctant readers. He has had over 90 books published as well as musical plays, CD-Roms and the Oxford English eQuest digital literacy series. His book: The Beast of Hangman’s Hill was selected by The Book Trust for their Bookbuzz List 2012/13 and his collection of folk tales: East of the Sun, West of the Moon was chosen by Scholastic as one of their Great Reads for World Book Day 2009. His first crime book Business is Murder, featuring London based private investigator Ryan Kyd, went to number one on the Amazon Kindle Singles chart. The following two books in the series Hand of Darkness and The Dead of Winter have been equally successful.
Roger is also man who enjoys keeping fit and he has written a book and DVD on fitness and dance for A & C Black, 101 Dance Ideas. He co-authored it with Cush Jumbo a young Olivier Award nominated actress who won the Evening Standard’s Best Newcomer Award 2013. The book is aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic that is plaguing so many of our children but Roger says that even someone with two left feet like himself can use the DVD to have fun and keep in shape!
Back in the dim and distant past, Roger was an actor in the Exploding Trouser Company and he also won The Weakest Link on BBC TV. He was the drummer and chief lyric writer of a band that once had a hit record in Turkey (though sadly nowhere else!) and, on a storytelling trip to West Africa, Roger was given the title Mallam Oga (Wise teacher, Big Boss). Or, at least, that’s what the locals assured him Mallan Oga means!
In his spare time he plays seven-a-side football for a local team and, to the horror of music lovers everywhere, plays guitar in a band!
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on the craft of writing: Aileen Gibb, Allison Foster, Andre Cruz, Benjamin Cohen, FM Meredith, Graham Smith 1, Graham Smith 2, Ian Miller, Ira Nayman, Jane Wenham-Jones 1, Jane Wenham-Jones 2, João Cerqueira, Jemma Hayes, J Griffith Mitchell, Maria Castle, Melodie Campbell, Marion Grace Woolley, Melodie Campbell, Morgan St James, Morgen Bailey (essentials), Morgen Bailey (rituals), Morgen Bailey (negatives), Morgen Bailey (writing tips), Nathan Weaver, Patrick Swimmerly, Paul Lell part 1, Paul Lell part 2, Quentin Bates, Samantha Gray, Sherry Gloag, SJ Wardell, Stefan Bolz, Sue Welfare, Tracy Kauffman, and VM Gopaul.
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