the Fairgame Archive

2008-01-17: Fairy Tale Generator
by Emily

Fiction has its forms.  We see this all the time when playing a game: genre conventions are signs and landmarks that let us travel well-worn paths to strange new worlds and unknown delights.  Role playing games often give us a map to finding our path through these storied ways. Fairy tales are among the most structured of narratives, surprising that we don't have more games that take us by the hand and walk us into those twilight wanderings.

In the meantime, here is an engine for making your own tales. Theme crossed with structure, a la Vladimir Propp.

Fairytale Generator

2008-01-17 21:04:24 ptevis

In our improv troupe, we teach people the basic formula for storytelling games (like Word-At-A-Time, Fairy Tale, etc.):

"Once upon a time there was X..."

"And every day, Y happened..."

"And because of that..."

"And because of that..."

"And because of that..."


"Until finally Z."

It's amazing how compelling this simple narratives can be.

2008-01-17 21:43:05 majcher

We call that the "Story Spine", and yeah, it's awesome to use for all sorts of narrative work. Rebecca Stockley from BATS even has it on her business card, which I think is awesome. The way we learned it has a couple of extra beats in it, which help make the transitions a little smoother:

* Once upon a time...

* And every day...

* But one day...

* And because of that...

* And because of that...

* And because of that...

* Until finally...

* And ever since then...

* [optional] And the moral of the story is...

The Story Spine is also expanded upon and fleshed out in great detail in Kenn Adams's new book, How To Improvise a Full-Length Play. He adds all sorts of embellishments and involutions to the structure that really make it easier to stretch out a two-minute story game to a ninety-minute play.

2008-01-17 21:46:40 majcher

Also, big props to Propp. If you're interested in this kind of thing, I highly recommend going back and reading his "Theory and History of Folklore", to see how he investigates and breaks down the traditional Russian fairy tales that lead to the categorization and whatnot behind the generator above. Our local big narrative improv troupe goes through a similar (but obviously, much more casual) process when we break down genres for upcoming rehearsals and shows - Star Trek, Shakespeare, Law and Order, 70's cop shows, etc.  Bite-size pieces make everything easier...

2008-01-18 14:08:35 Bret

I studied Propp and Proppian functions in college. It was my big focus of interest. I even developed a fairy tale generator like that one, but a little more complex. I don't know if I'd be able to find it any more, though.

Cool stuff.

2008-01-18 23:40:38 Emily

Ah! That's what I've been looking for. The structure for the improv. I'll be picking up that book by Adams. Anyone used the techniques he writes about? Thanks very much, Paul and Mark.

And re: propp, yes, there's something there about structure, narratives and role playing games. Any other good tidbits from your studies, Bret?

I think what we are doing is very similar to what he, and others, have done with mapping out story structures. And I think we can do more along those lines.

2008-01-19 00:51:19 ptevis

I haven't read the Adams book yet, but our troupe is working on improvising plays right now. In fact, we've got an all-day workshop on the subject tomorrow.

And now I'm totally looking forward to Dreamation.

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