Here’s a game I came up with.  Asking one person is interesting enough, but asking at least five is essential to the point of the game.

It’s a dark and stormy night and you’re on a road going somewhere that you don’t want to go, but have to be.

  1. How are you traveling?
  2. Where do you have to go?
  3. Is anyone with you?

And the final question (ask this after everyone has a go-round) is:

Okay, so what is a story?

I came up with this while I was at the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference; it’s the culmination of about twenty years of pondering over something in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.  I had to laugh when I realized it had literally been that long–it’s from The Wake, the last of the graphic novels, which was released in 1996 and which I read that year.  So twenty-two years, actually.

If you play this with enough people, you’ll notice:

  • Nobody gives the same answer.  They might have kiiiind of the same answers (e.g., some type of passenger automobile), but the answers will be different, and if you ask two people who say “a car” what kind of car, it definitely won’t be the same type of car, unless one of them is a complete smartass–which also says something.
  • Some people will break the rules.  I had one guy say he was in a speedboat and not on a road at all.  Breaking the rules is part of the rules of the game, though:  whatever the person answers is the right answer.
  • Some people will think their answers aren’t good enough, even when you’re like, “Huh.  That’s interesting.”  They can’t hear the uniqueness of their own selves; they’re too used to themselves.
  • That the structure of the three questions is really arbitrary in and of itself, and you could ask pretty much any three questions, or set up any given situation.  I just liked this one.

Very few people will be able to take the point of the game to heart very quickly, which makes the surprise of the reveal fun to watch.  Personally, I got a lot of stock answers about what a story was that boiled down to “a plot happens.”  When I gave the reveal, people struggled with it, then went, “But…” and then “Aha!”

The answer of the final riddle is:

A point of view.

Every person has a unique point of view.  Sometimes that point of view involves breaking the rules.  Sometimes you can’t hear your own uniqueness.  But it’s uniquely yours, and that’s the important part.

Please note:  if someone says, “But my definition of story is the right one,” talk about Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” which has no plot and no characters–just an automated house running on autopilot long after humanity has destroyed itself.

You used to be the kind of kid that spun around in circles until you feel down.  And then you stopped.  And you know why you stopped…only you don’t know, not really.  This is the book for you.