“A strange story”

by Renate Dünki

Now come the evenings when it gets dark early. People like to stay in the warm flat, and it is even nicer when they get together to play together. It doesn’t take much: a sheet of paper and a pencil are enough, material that everyone has at home anyway. “A strange story” is one of my favourite games, played by adults and children together. Why not give it a try, especially in Corona times, when the evenings are best spent in a small circle at home?

Writing – folding – passing on

Four or five players around a table: each equipped with a sheet of paper, a pencil and at least half an hour of time. Because this time passes so quickly, it can also become an hour. The first task for each player is to think up the outlines of a story they want to write down before starting the game. This story should consist of at least ten sentences, better more. Everyone starts with one or two sentences at the top of their blank sheet. The time for writing, about three minutes, depends on the slowest player. He should be able to participate with one sentence. Then everyone folds the written sentences backwards so that only a few words of the last line remain visible. Each player passes his sheet of paper to his left-hand neighbour and receives the sheet of paper from his right-hand neighbour in return. There they continue to write their story in such a way that the words found in the neighbour’s sheet somehow fit in. The sheets are written on and passed on until everyone thinks they can come to an end.

Of hedgehogs, monsters and bathing

The task is not easy, the heads are smoking. Everyone writes eagerly, looks over to the others once in a while, laughs or moans a little. Is everyone ready? Yes. Now the written text is folded over and passed on to the next person. It is not easy for me as a grandmother. The children always want to tell stories with giants and monsters that I don’t like very much. I therefore try to tell a peaceful hedgehog story from my garden. The father sticks to the idea of a bathing Sunday by the sea. He wants to drive there in his big old car and have adventures. These different ideas will of course not be revealed to the others, otherwise it would be boring. But how do these fundamentally different stories fit together? Everyone defends his version in every round as best they can.

And challenged again and again!

Each end of the previous sentence must be taken up, fitted into the next own sentence and integrated into the overall performance. This always changes one’s own story. But nobody wants to give it up completely. That is quite challenging. A look at the children – a funny look back, a game within a game. You know that I have to rack my brains now. The visible end of the sentence is always exciting for me, which hopefully won’t bring me a monster. But I hope in vain. It says: “... the green giant roared.” What is my hedgehog supposed to find? I am sure he is frightened. So, I write: “Quickly the little hedgehog curled up and showed his spines.”
  The sheets go round in circles two or three times, depending on how much stamina you have in writing. Now they can be unfolded and the stories read aloud. The curiosity to hear the whole story and recognise one’s own sentences is great. Everyone is amazed at the skill of the others in picking up the narrative thread and redirecting it back to their own story. They enjoy their own ideas and the ideas of others. There are no winners or losers. And there is no age limit either. I love such games, of course. Yes, the stories are really strange. And this game is not easy. It needs planning, but also linguistic and inner flexibility.

Your idea – my idea

Everyone follows his or her own narrative plan. He has an idea of his story and the persons he wants to defend. I wonder if this will be useful later in discussions in which the other party takes up a turn and either refutes it or uses it to make their own arguments. The main thing is not to give up the thread of the conversation! Such a writing game can therefore perhaps be a preliminary stage of funny and cunning argumentation. The ability to deal with an unexpected thought is crucial.

How do you say that again?

This game at the family table requires even more: a vocabulary that can pick up or respond to a thought – introduced with words like but, unfortunately, suddenly; fun with strange stories and playing with them; the assumption that one’s own ideas count, despite the interaction with older, more experienced people. This gives not only linguistic agility. Such a flexible narrative (and later writing) ability – always related to a group of listeners or readers – naturally does not develop in two or three years of schooling.

In linguistic exchange emotionally connected

This begins early in the family: in the first year of life, in the first months of the baby’s life. Anyone who has ever observed how parents and child lovingly “exchange” with each other by developing a dialogue of glances, laughter, sounds and the first speech sounds knows what is being talked about. The basis of an initial “conversation” is the attentiveness of the parents, who leave the child room for its own activities, welcome it joyfully and encourage it, but do not hassle it. Such warm situations in the family create bonds – the foundation of development and also of language. Older children also love such playful and heartfelt situations, for example a writing occasion as described at the beginning. Such games enliven or develop an important level of narrative and writing skills. Instead of continuing stories, this game can also be made with continuing pictures: Now it is a matter of drawing, folding, passing on. You start with a head and neck, fold the sheet over and hand it to your neighbour. Then you draw the shoulders and arms on the next sheet, continue with the body and end with the legs and finally the feet. Funny mixtures of a robber’s head with hat, the shoulders of a crocodile etc. are created. This game is much easier and shorter. A good mood in a round is the prerequisite for both, and also laughing together about the funny result. By the way, this also works very well wearing a mask. •

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