Creative writing activity for group/workshop

A Story from Different Angles

Objectives

to explore the same narrative from different angles

to develop an understanding of narrator perspective and the applications of such perspectives.

Organisation

groups of four, a plenary group sitting in a circle

Example

Queneau’s Exercise de Style, the I-narrator in Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd for version 2, Benji in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury for version 4

Materials

one large sheet of paper for each participant

Notes

This activity arose from a suggestion by Matt Kimmich and was developed in close cooperation with him.

The basic purpose of the activity is to raise awareness of the dubious objectivity of narrators in narrative fiction (and memoir, for that matter).

This activity has been found to work very well and raise interesting points about writing as well as producing highly fascinating stories. The downside may be that it requires a fair amount of time

Procedure

Either in your groups or on your own, develop two characters. In order to do this answer the questions below in writing for both of them, keep the answers in mind when you write even if these answers are not actually mentioned in your text:
What is the greatest frustrated ambition or disappointment in this person’s life?
What does the person hate (doing) most?
Who is the most influential man/woman in this person’s life?
Why is the person in the setting that you show her/him in?
What personal flaw or characteristic does the person have without being aware of it?

Now set a scene in which the two characters find themselves and define a conflict that arises or exists between them.

Version 1: Write a short story from the point of view of an omniscient narrator. In other words,
do not take sides, be as "objective" as you can be
if you want to, include information about what is going on inside the characters’ minds
be as coldly observant as you can be
Pass the story on to your neighbour together with your notes about the characters.

Version 2: Rewrite the story you’ve been given from the point of view of one of the characters. Pass the entire dossier on to your neighbour.

Version 3: Now rewrite the story as a 3rd-person narrative, focalising the events through the eyes of the second character. Again pass the entire dossier on to your neighbour.

Version 4: Rewrite the story as an outside observer with a limited perspective. The perspective can be physically limited (e.g. the observer cannot leave the room, only sees part of the scene, ect.) or psychologically limited (i.e. too young to understand fully what is going on, mentally handicapped, etc.)

Extension

In the vein of Queneau’s Exercise de Style, rewrite version 2 in terms of changing social background of the character, e.g. vulgar, upper-class, intellectual, ‘academic’, etc.




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