I’m a bit of a sucker for board games. My friends will tell you that whenever we meet up, there’s a certain point in the evening when my eyes start shifting to the games on the shelves. It’s a fine art. I can judge to within a 7 minute window when people are likely to agree to Blockbusters.
Years ago I bought the Blockbusters game from a charity shop not realising it was the Junior version. (Imagine my disappointment when I realised my error, with questions like ‘What ‘F’ does a tadpole become?” Even a seven minute window wasn’t going to help me this time.
However, the game has redeemed itself by providing the source material for what can be either a fun warm-up exercise, a means to start class discussion into theme, to explore the elements of story arcs or as an exercise in brevity. How? Well, each card has twelve one-word answers. Here is an example:
The writer’s task is to tell a complete story as quickly as possible incorporating those twelve words in sequence.
As I said, this can be treated as a light warm-up exercise, but can also be taken more seriously. One thing I really noticed editing Back&Beyond was how often prose writing, that otherwise was packed full of good ideas, suffered from a lack of brevity and polish. If the object is simply to generate words (as sometimes it can be – and rightly so) it is likely that there will naturally be some waffle and repetition. Sometimes it can be good practice to remind ourselves to write with as much precision as possible, since this will filter into our approach to redrafting – we will gain more of a sense for the rhythm of a neatly constructed sentence; we will notice detours and tangents, repetitions and Verbosities (Now there’s another board game, but I digress…)
Here are some of the word lists:
Now, twelve words are a lot to incorporate into a story at the best of times – when the aim is brevity also, the task becomes even more difficult. Be aware it’s unlikely (though not impossible!) there will be devastating works of literary genius as a result of this exercise, but the reason why is, in itself worthy of exploration.
If you’re a writing tutor, ask your group if they read these in a book would they feel like ‘real’ stories or like stories written for an exercise? Probably they will say the latter and you can then ask them why? What would need to change to turn them into ‘real’ stories? You can then use this as a jumping-off point to explore the importance of developing story arcs and themes.
(Finally Blockbusters is a good game to take at the end of term to keep the main body of the class busy while you do tutorials…)
Copyright Mollie Baxter 2011
You are welcome to use these exercises in your writing group or class. I just ask that you acknowledge the source i.e. verbally and on the handout if you use one. I’d also love it if you would let me know how it went!
Do feel free to post any responses or extracts of writing that you have written, but bear in mind that I am unable to give any feedback in this forum. Please see details on my freelance teaching or one-to-one mentoring. Thanks for reading!