Exercise The Story Spine

The Story Spine is an excellent exercise for learning how to build a well-constructed story. Simply improvise the endings to each of the following sentence starters:

This can be done as an individual exercise or in groups, with each player taking the next line. Do it fast and have fun! Here are some quick examples:

Player 1: Once upon a time there was a frog named Freida who lived in a swamp.

*When I first created the Story Spine, it didn't have a name. I simply called it "Once Upon a Time . . ." It was Kat Koppett, formerly of Freestyle Repertory Theater, who dubbed it the Story Spine. Kat has used this exercise to great effectiveness in her innovative corporate-training techniques. She writes about this in her excellent book Training to Imagine.

Player 2: Every day she ate a fly.

Player 3: But one day, she ate a grasshopper.

Player 4: Because of that, the grasshoppers attacked the frogs.

Player 5: Because of that, the frogs fought back, and the flies were caught in the middle.

Player 1: Because of that, the Swamp Wars of 2007 were born.

Player 2: Until finally, the flies sided with the grasshoppers.

Player 3: And ever since then, frogs ate pizza.

Player 1: Once upon a time there was an evil king named Rex the Rude.

Player 2: Every day he crushed the peasants with injustice and tyranny.

Player 3: But one day, Peter the Peasant spoke out and denounced the king.

Player 4: Because of that, Rex the Rude had Peter the Peasant arrested.

Player 5: Because of that, a spirit of rebellion swelled within the breast of the peasantry.

Player 1: Because of that, the peasantry stormed the castle and captured Rex the Rude.

Player 2: Until finally, Rex the Rude abdicated his throne in order to secure his release.

Player 3: And ever since then, the people were ruled by Peter the Benevolent.

Player 1: Once upon a time there was a chief executive officer of a major corporation named Tabitha Jones.

Player 2: Every day, she stole the credit for the brilliant ideas of her executive administrative assistant, Mary.

Player 3: But one day, Jennifer, Mary's best friend, exposed Ms. Jones for the sham that she was.

Player 4: Because of that, Ms. Jones fired both ofthem.

Player 5: Because of that, Jennifer and Mary sued Ms. Jones for wrongful termination.

Player 1: Because of that, Ms. Jones became the focus of a national media circus.

Player 2: Until finally, she was removed from office by the board of directors.

Player 3: And ever since then, Jennifer and Mary have run a very successful nonprofit organization that helps employees sue their bosses.

Now, let's take a look at how the Story Spine correlates with our current structural map of a well-constructed story:

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