Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist, tells us that, “Nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original. Some people find this idea depressing, but it fills me with hope. As the French writer Andre Gide put it, ‘Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.’” He reminds us that, “If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.” (p. 7 Steal Like an Artist)
As a writing teacher, I agree with Kleon. Stealing is okay. It isn’t easy though, and as I’ve said before, children need to be taught how to commit creative theft with integrity. This game helps.
Name of the Game: Creative Theft
This game helps writers steal with purpose and integrity. Players choose one element of writer’s craft to investigate and literally slice up the work of an author they intend to emulate. Technique is brought into sharp relief and then lifted right off the page, where players can examine, tinker with, and reimagine it for their own purposes. Ultimately, writers do more than merely imitate. They play with the strategies they steal well enough to adapt them and make them their own. This game is often played at the start of the writing process, but if drafting has already begun, it can help to refine a writer’s purpose and their use of craft.
This game challenges writers to excavate a mentor text in order to steal a respected writer’s approaches. They examine how the writer developed one element of craft or applied a particular technique. Then, they brainstorm ways to apply what they’ve learned from this writer to their own writing.
Number of Players:
1-3 per team *check this to ensure that team number works for each game (1? 3?)
Duration of the Game: Four rounds of play completed in 120 minutes, with extended tinker time, as needed.
Materials Needed: Prior to beginning, players select one element of craft or a writing technique they hope to develop in their own writing. They choose an author and a text that exemplifies this well, and they ensure that all writers have a copy of this work that can be annotated and cut up. Players will also need a shared board or chart constructed like the one below and tacks or tape to attach their ideas. Each player will need a stack of index cards or sticky notes, a pen or pencil, scissors, and a writer’s notebook, sheets of paper, or access to a computer if they choose to draft on a screen.
Prior to beginning play, construct a board that looks similar to this one:
How to Play:
1. The first round of play begins as one member of the team states the object of the game: studying and then stealing a respected writer’s craft or technique. Players agree to excavate the chosen text for one of these purposes (or another that they identified): idea development, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, plot, narrative technique, persona, point of view, the development of setting, character development, mood, tone, action, or dialogue.
2. Players dive into the text, drawing blocks around paragraphs and underline sentences and phrases that reveal evidence of the chosen element of craft or technique.
3. Once reading is complete, players use scissors to cut the evidence out of the text.
4. The second round of play begins as writers stack their evidence in shared piles, taking note of their common findings as well as unique observations. The facilitator pins these slices to the game board under the column “WHAT THE WRITER SAID” taking care to post just one of the slices from those piles where writers shared common findings.
5. Players consider each piece of evidence in the first column one at a time and individually generate theories regarding what the author was doing. These theories are added to the second column on the game board, titled “WHAT THE WRITER DID.”
6. Writers close the second round by brainstorming strategies that will enable them to steal the author’s craft or technique. These are added to the third column on the board, titled “STEAL THE TECHNIQUE.”
7. During the third round of play, writers will tinker with craft and technique using sticky notes, index cards, paper, or their writer’s notebooks. They may choose to apply a variety of the strategies shared in step 6 to different portions of their text, or they may simply use the discoveries made to plan their next moves as a writer. Regardless of their approach, writers should strive to adapt the techniques they steal as they apply them. Once they’ve exhausted their ideas, they should prepare to share the best of their adaptations with the team.
8. The final round of play brings the team back together to share what they stole as well as their resulting adaptations. As each writer shares, remaining players can challenge, push, and extend his or her thinking.