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Collaborative Narrative

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This is another exercise from Elbow and Belanoff's Community of Writers that works well to move the class from simple description to creating a story or using description to enhance that story. It's fun and gets students to enjoy working together. Usually I do this as a classwide activity to model the exercise, and then I have them break into groups for another narrative. Once in groups, I have them decide on titles for their narratives. You can put these on the board, and when you're finished, you can have the class can vote on the best narrative.

Setup for Collaborative Narrative

All that you need ahead of time are provocative opening sentences the groups will use to build their narratives. You can make these up or borrow them from novels or short stories. The opening sentence of Kafka's "Metamorphosis," for example, gets them started on stories about a guy who turns into a bug. To model the activity, write down the first sentence and then go around the room and have each person contribute successive sentences. Description usually falls out the window when they concentrate on plot, so emphasize the idea that descriptive detail is important to the meaning of the narrative. If someone says, "a girl walks in," encourage the next person to describe that girl. Go around the room until you come to some sort of conclusion. If they get into this, you can go through the class twice and just keep building.

In small groups, give them all the same sentence and have them repeat this, with one person recording their story as they come up with it. Again, reinforce the idea of detail -- they usually come up with only a bare-bones plot and no development. When everyone is done, have a reporter for each group read the story aloud.