Want to play? Try the 15 Minute Story Challenge

Write a story in 15 minutes. There. We've thrown down the gauntlet. Are you writer enough to pick it up?

By: Lucy,   3 minutes

A leaves home

Inspired by her latest Feed, Stranger Collective writer and producer Lucy has thrown down the mantle. Are you writer enough to pick it up?

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is the willingness to write, for 15 minutes.

All you need is a pen and paper, or a keyboard. Don’t worry about the ‘coming up with an idea’ part yet, that’s where we come in.

When your 15 minutes are up you’ll have a story, or at least the beginning of one and a whole lot of ideas – guaranteed.

If not, I’ll eat my hat. Which would make a good story…

Here’s what you need to do

Think of a well-known story – folk tales and fairy tales work well for this. Thought of one? Now summarise what happens in as few points as you can, aim for about 5 or 6 key points. Like this:

1. A leaves home on a task to visit B

2. A meets C (a stranger), A tells C where A is going

3. A dallies. Meanwhile, C gets to B’s house, kills B and dresses in B’s clothes

4. A arrives at B’s, discovers C

5. A screams…

6. a. C kills A

Or 6. b. D (a strong person) hears A scream, comes to the rescue, slits open C. A  & B jump out unharmed – hurrah!

Sound familiar? Here it is…

1. Little Red Riding Hood lived in a cottage on the edge of the woods with her family. One day her Mother gave her a basket of food to take to her sick Grandma.

2. On the way she met a Wolf in the woods. He asked her where she was going. Little Red Riding Hood told him: ‘I’m going to visit my sick Grandma who lives in the house next to the mill.’

3. Little Red Riding Hood strayed from the path and dallied in the woods collecting flowers. Meanwhile, the Wolf arrived at Grandma’s house, gobbled her up and dressed in her clothes.

4. Little Red Riding Hood arrived at Grandma’s house and had a strange feeling. ‘What big ears/eyes/teeth you have Grandma,’ she said. ‘All the better to hear you/see you/gobble you up!’ said the Wolf.

5. Little Red Riding Hood screamed…

6.a. No one heard Little Red Riding Hood’s scream, the wolf gobbled her up and she got her comeuppance for being a naughty girl, talking to strangers and not sticking to the straight and narrow path.

Or 6.b. The Woodcutter heard a scream and came to Grandma’s house. He sliced open the Wolf and out jumped Little Red Riding Hood and Grandma unharmed. They filled the Wolf’s belly with stones and he died. Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma and the Woodcutter lived happily ever after and Red Riding Hood never strayed from the path again.

(Notice there are a couple of different endings here. Early versions of the tale have Little Red Riding Hood getting eaten by the Wolf, but later on the Brothers Grimm allowed her a happier ending – on the condition that she learnt her lesson to be a good little girl and not to stray from the path.)

Now you’ve got the basic building blocks for your story, it’s time for the fun bit.

Using your story skeleton, you’re going to create something new.

Either, choose a different character from the story e.g. the Wolf, Grandma or the Woodcutter for Little Red Riding Hood, and tell the story from their point of view.

Or, tell the story in a different setting. You can transport Little Red Riding Hood from the woods to the city, to the future or the past, 20,000 leagues under the sea or into outer space.

Or try a combination of the two. Tell it from the Wolf’s point of view in 2023 London, or let’s hear Grandma’s story in a steampunk Victorian era… Be as creative as you like, it’s up to you. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you’re going with it when you start – you’ve got your story skeleton to tell you what happens next if you get stuck.

So, switch off your phone and find a quiet corner. You’ve got 15 minutes.

Your time starts…now.

In my experience, this deceptively simple process produces new and unexpected results every time – whether it’s with a group of MA students, or a class of teenagers.

Taking apart a story and putting it back together again slightly differently is a great way to get to grips with the building blocks of storytelling. Nailing down the plot points allows you to experiment with point of view, characterisation, setting and genre, find out what works, where you get stuck and work out ways around it.

When it comes to getting to the heart of what drives a story, rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty and tinkering around is the best thing for it.

Want some inspiration? These fairy tale re-tellings will get your storytelling synapses firing… Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, a politically-correct Little Red Riding Hood, or Angela Carter’s Werewolf.

Good luck, and if you fancy sharing where your 15 minutes took you email me [email protected]

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