Story Starters

Starting stories with a general idea about a problem and no targets is a great way of getting a robust and healthy plot line going. The reason I say that is that I have carefully studied how Joe Neilson (the unrecognized co-founder of TPRS along with Blaine Ray) used to start his stories. I’ve interviewed him on it.

Joe told me he thinks of a general problem that some character has, and that just doing that is enough to get a good story going.

So, what you do is think of an interesting character, like we do when we create characters in the Create phase of the star, but then you do one more thing – you think of some desire or fear that reflects the personality or physical form of the character.

Now, this is exactly what we do with individually created characters, of course, by asking the students for the six prompts on the back of the drawing they give us. The reason that I am making the point here is to make it clear to the reader that this formulaic device can be used ANYTIME we are working with ANY character, and not just with individually created characters.

So, the formula for this would be:

[The character] doesn’t like/want/is afraid of [some quality or physical characteristic that the character has].

Here a few examples:

a couch who hates butts

a door who hates being open

a TV who doesn’t like Monday Nite Football

a patch of ice who doesn’t want to melt

a baby giraffe who is afraid of heights

a train that is afraid of loud noises

a pumpkin that is afraid of Halloween

a car that is afraid of people

a cloud breaks into two parts in the sky. One disappears. The remaining one cries. (this is my favorite one because of the anguish.)

a sheet of paper that doesn’t like the pair of scissors who has a crush on her.

In each case above, there is a synergy between the character and the problem – the one “fits” with the other.

These little story starters make getting a good story off the ground easier.

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2 thoughts on “Story Starters”

  1. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I once had a birthday cake afraid of a knife. Totally fun.
    A sad cloud who got poked by an evening star.
    Also a Gummy Bear who wanted a private YouTube channel;
    A lonely S’more who wanted friends (found some at the campground)
    A chocolate bar who hated his evil brother (handed him over to Willy Wonka)
    An angry (hot) jalapeño pepper named Picante, whose girlfriend was in danger of becoming part of a salsa
    An evil and competitive Halloween Donut named Dunkin’ who eats his friend (a slice of worm pizza named Wormsy) on a playdate, then turns into a bat and flies off into the night.

    The kids provide all the ideas. I just roll around from all the tickling.

  2. … I just roll around from all the tickling…..

    That’s the biggest thing about CI that most people don’t get. The kids are here for our entertainment. We think the opposite. Why? Because we buy into the traditional concept of what a teacher is, which applies to all fields except ours. The idea can’t apply to languages, because of what conversation is, how it is defined, and the result is a lot of frustrated teachers thinking that they are on stage. Our work is to build a web of connectedness in the room and ask questions, not to be the master of ceremonies. If people can get that one point, they can make CI work in their classrooms. It requires a complete change of mindset, and no less.

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