Dime Store Novel, sometimes called Typewriter, is a scene where an author narrates the book as he or she writes it. As they do, the other improvisers jump in and act out the things they say. It sounds simple, but there’s a lot to unpack with this game, and ironically, though I’m a writer, I am a terrible narrator for this game (and I’ll explain why).
While this is one of the more flexible games, I typically play it as a low energy team game. You can play this as a group game (with more than five people), but in my experience it makes it more difficult. This can also be played as a higher energy game, but it requires a very strong narrator. Remember, the difference between a low and high energy game is the source of humor for the audience: is it the things that are happening or the things that are being said? Funny lines tend to be low energy, but running across the stage will be high energy. Dime Store Novel is flexible because both can be fulfilled here (though a narrator should try to stick to one or the other, depending on the circumstances in which the game is played).
So, how do you play? This part is simple. You have the narrator/author sit on a chair downstage on one of the wings (preferably stage right). All the other actors will be characters in the story they are about to tell (The suggestion from the audience I grab is of “A book that has never been written”.) You can have them stand up stage or on either of the wings to function as “not performing”, but all that’s important here is the clarity of which actors are performing and which are not, because there is no backstage in improv.
When the game begins, the narrator starts off by saying “[Book Title], Chapter One…” and then monologue as if they are telling the beginning of that story. When the narrator is talking, they sit upright in their chair and hold their hands out as if they are typing. (Remember that.) As they introduce characters, more actors will jump on stage, and all the character/actors on stage pantomime whatever the narrator says (even talking). The audience should be listening to a narration of a silent film right here. When the narrator chooses, they put their hands down and sit back in their seat. This signals to the actors to pick up the scene from there, and they can now make sound and take the story where they want.
The most important thing about this game is that there are two strings of action happening. When the narrator is talking, the actors are not. When the narrator is doing nothing, the actors pick it up. Moving back and forth must be seamless, so it requires all the actors actively paying attention to the narrator, and waiting for he/she to “continue typing” to shut up. (It’s worth noting here that the narrator will naturally make things happen quickly, whereas the actors moving the scene on their own will make the story progress much more slowly.)
When the narrator says “Chapter [Number]”, this calls for a clear stage, regardless of what was happening. This gives them the opportunity to reset, and the chapters do not have to be in order. In fact, the way my troupe plays this, we steadily make the narrative quicker and quicker, going from Chapter One, to Two, to Three, to Seven, to Thirty-four, to Book Five: Chapter Nine, etc. This will naturally make the story harder to follow, so it’s important to stick with the same characters throughout the chapter breaks.
My personal flaw with this game is that as a writer, I hate doing that. I want to tell a real story, not one that is impossible to follow and therefore funny. I can’t find a way to make sense of that in my brain, but it also leads me to the point of how difficult this game really is. There’s virtually no restriction in how you play. The narrator can say whatever they want, and the actors can do whatever they want as long as it’s in line with the narrator. I always say that creativity is born from justifying restriction, but you can do anything in this game, even flex it to play exactly how you want to play, and the open possibility can make it a daunting challenge. For this reason, I tend to teach and stick to other games. Rules are nice.