The Collective Short Story

I tried something new when I taught at the Braemar Arts Festival last October. Something that could have gone horribly wrong, but instead seemed to work quite well. I took a class of four women who didn’t know each other, and encouraged them to collectively write a single short story over the course of two days. Here’s the process I took them through…

1)      Individually create a character.
2)      What is each character’s ‘conflict’?
3)      Collectively decide a setting.
4)      Collectively decide which character will be the protagonist, and what role the other three characters should take.
5)      Plot the general concept of the story.
6)      Student One writes the beginning of the story, student Two writes one element of the plot, student Three writes the second element of the plot, student Four writes the end of the story.
7)      Take each student’s writing and cut it up so each paragraph stands alone.
8)      Have the students collectively put the story in order by arranging and rearranging the paragraphs on a table.
9)      Edit the final piece.

Granted there was a lot more to it than this: discussions, changed minds, cuts, writing exercises and general laughing, crying and confusion. Also, if I had had a third day, I would have insisted that the group collectively edit the story, but since we ran out of time, I edited the story after the course was finished, and emailed everyone the results.

I’ve attached below the three versions of the story:

1)    The original piece, with each student’s paragraph shown as it was written on the day. (See stage 6 above.) In fact, these paragraphs were written by hand in the classroom, and I typed it up after the fact. So this version is very raw.

2)    The final edited version. This  is copy edited so that the POV and syntax are consistent. (See stage 8 above.)

3)    I have also included a version with tracked changes and comments, so that the students (and now you — the reader of this blog) can see the reasons for the edits.

Over all, I am extremely impressed with this story. It’s quite lovely and it reflects all their voices, yet still works together as a coherent piece.

1) Braemar Story – Original
2) Braemar Story – Final
3) Braemar Story – Comments and Tracked Changes

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