Most people think of fiction writing as a solitary act, where authors toil alone in silence to concoct the perfect plot. In creative writing groups, though, creating collaborative short stories lets you pool your individual talents while fostering a spirit of teamwork among fellow authors. Exercises that focus on elements of plot, characterization and point of view can help group members generate new material and practice their creative skills.
The Telephone Story
To practice plot development, Shippensburg University English professor Kim Martin Long suggests creating a story where each member gradually develops the plot. Give each group a slip of paper with the opening line of the story. Group members will then each write a paragraph of the story, passing the paper to the next person when they finish their installment. They must continue passing the paper until the story contains all the elements of plot. When they finish, a representative from the group can read the final product, letting the other members see how their work came together.
Random Story Shuffle
Before your group meets, prepare four different sets of note cards by writing down different ideas for story characters, conflicts, settings and genres. To begin the activity at your meeting, each group member randomly chooses a card from each category. They must then work together to create a story that incorporates all four of the elements on the cards. For example, their story could be a mystery set in Texas about a circus performer who's facing the theft of his favorite hamster. With the story's elements in place, the group's job is to form a plot and resolution from its pieces.
Getting support and constructive feedback on your individual work is a key function of writing groups, explains the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill's writing center. Group members can bring their own stories to a meeting then sit in a circle and pass their manuscripts to the person on their right. After reading them, each member must then write a new ending to the story. They can then pass the stories to the next person and repeat the process. At the end of the activity, all members should have a few new ideas for concluding their stories.
Many books, such as William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," are told by multiple narrators relating the story's events. Group members can write a story that unfolds from the perspectives of original characters. After agreeing on a specific conflict and whose the players will be, each group member can take on the role of one of the characters, writing his account of the events. For example, the story could be about a car accident where an elderly woman drove into a swimming pool. The group members could tell the story from the perspectives of the woman, the driver of the other car, a police officer and a witness.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.