Recently, when scrabbling around for creative writing ideas for our Junior Comics Club, I was drawn to the Story World cards, concieved and written by John and Caitlin Matthews. They lured me in with their beautiful illustrations, by the likes of Jim Kay (now illustrating the new Harry Potter editions), Helen Ward, Wayne Anderson, and others whose work you will find elsewhere around the shop. The idea, in a nutshell, is to use these cards as inspiration for making up stories together. Here are some ways I found to use them. I hope you'll be inspired to grab a pack (available here from £7) and find your own ways to make them work for you.
There are a number of themed packs to choose from. I went straight for The Mad Professor's Workshop and Tales from the Haunted House; there are also Quests & Adventures, Faery Magic, Legends of the Sea and more. Picking a card at random, you will see an image on one side and a list of questions on the other. 'Where is the Professor's secret laboratory hidden? What is he making today and why? Who has crept in and what are they going to do?' These questions will lead to further questions and you'll quickly start weaving a story around your card. Pick another card. You may find this card draws associations with the previous card and your story continues (this is encouraged by the illustrators inserting small background details, creating possible links to other cards). For the Comics Club, we used two cards each from The Mad Professor's Workshop deck to inspire comic strips. But you could use many cards for a single story. My wife and I tried pushing this to an extreme, setting a 30 second timer for each card and working our way through an entire pack of 28 cards. This created a ridiculous story, but was a lot of mindbending fun. You don't have to play in a straightforward consecutive way either. Try playing in a 'V' shape to create two separate storylines that meet in the middle. Or play in a circle so that, like many a good story, your plot will come full circle; your ending may involve the same character or place, but how has that person or thing or place changed through the course of the circle? There are many more ways to play, and some of these are suggested in the handy booklets that come inside each pack.
This is the sort of thing where you get out as much as you put in. Small children will need help from an adult and it may take a bit of work, but creating these stories together will be a liberating and fun excercise. Keep it relaxed and don't expect to create a masterpiece, or even worry about the story making sense. What these cards are really about is loosening imaginative inhibition, playing with plot structure and realising the endless possibilities of storytelling.
Rory's Story Cubes
These have been very popular and we've had great feedback from families. Roll the dice and use that land face up to inspire the next part of the story. Available here in packs of 3 or 9 dice, also themed.