This morning I sat down with an accountant and a physics professor to write a little fiction--not a particularly normal way to spend the day but rewarding all the same. Our annual teaching workshop featured a session designed to help professors across the curriculum understand the power of narrative in teaching and learning, and one of the sessions required small interdisciplinary groups of professors to write small chunks of short stories: set the scene and introduce the character, then pass it on to the next group; develop the character and introduce the conflict, then pass it on to the next group, and so on. The results were collaborate stories each bearing the stamp of a dozen different professors.
My colleague who led the session said that when she does this exercise with her students, their stories generally include space travel, car chases, gun fights, or hordes of armed ninjas, but we seasoned professors wrote about our own particular horrors: committee meetings, campus security, sexual harassment, and accounting. My group's story featured a student named Alex who makes a heroic decision to respond to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by doing his accounting homework--because "Someone would have to fill the shoes of all those accountants killed in the blast, and it might as well be Alex."
Okay, our group is probably not going to win a Pulitzer, but the exercise forced us all to write clearly, read carefully, and think about the kinds of choices authors have to make to produce a work of fiction. Best of all, though, we got to spend time being creative with colleagues from across campus whom we generally see only in committee meetings. We laughed, we learned, we ate some bagels, and best of all, no ninjas were harmed in the writing of these stories.