Once Upon A Because

By | March 10, 2019


Dark and Stormy Night.


Please organize into pairs.


This is a structured narrative exercise. Each sentence in the narrative begins with the exact words described. The first sentence starts with the classic “Once upon a time.” The player need only contribute a small opening element to the story. For example, “once upon a time there was a dog that chased cars.” The next sentence, supplied by the other player, could be “and every day the dog chased cars.” Note that this is a simple expansion based on the previous offer. The other player then could offer “until one day she caught a car.” Each sentence in strongest when it offers the smallest advance or expansion. The next three sentences propel the story along. “Because of that she now had a car.” “Because of that she learned how to drive.” “Because of that she drove around town.” The last sentence ends the story “until finally another dog caught her car.”

  1. Once upon a time…
  2. And every day…
  3. Until one day…
  4. Because of that…
  5. Because of that…
  6. Because of that…
  7. Until finally…

There are good teaching opportunities here to reflect on the benefits of LACE (Listen. Accept. Commit. Expand.). This exercise cannot work if the player is not Listening to the offer in the structure. It can work even better if the player is listening to the context or emotion of the offer, not just the words. The step of each sentence needs to be connected to the previous one. This can only happen if the player both listens to and accepts the offer. The step of each sentence needs to be small. Only make a small expansion to the offer. It is only one part of a sentence being added. Not a paragraph. The sentences need to flow. Long pauses are often the cause of judging one’s idea (usually a commitment problem).

The leader should not hit the players with every one of these notes. That is the teacher version of offer suffocation.

There are also good teaching opportunities to focus on the narrative tool STEPS (Setting. Ties. Exploration. Propel. Sort). It is not essential that these steps be fulfilled in order, it is just more likely to be create a stronger narrative when they are. Usually a character is introduced in sentence 1 “once upon a time” (Ties). The Exploration appears in sentence 2 “and every day.” Sentence 3 “until one day” propels the exploration with new information. Sentences 4,5, and 6 also Propel the story with advancing offers. Lastly sentence 7 may Sort out the narrative “Until one day.”

The leader should not deconstruct the narrative created by the players based on the above paragraph. STEPS is a narrative tool not a tool for punishing narrative.

The exercise is also good for demonstrating that an improv narrative is created by series of back and forth offers. One player does not, and should not, control the narrative. This structured exercise takes away a player’s ability to control the narrative. This exercise also gives players an opportunity to work on the economy of their narrative. For example, “once upon a time there was a dog that chased electric cars using her psychic powers that she developed by biting a toxic waste truck” Fun creative story, however, this is hard to play improv with. Economy of the offer becomes obvious in this exercise.

The leader can also add complications to this exercise by instructing the players which sentence they will add next. For example, several more “because of that…” could be added after “until finally…”


  • Add in new sentences: like “and the moral is” or “and every other day”


  • Circle – same process moving around a circle instead of pairs.


Once upon a time someone made up a structure.