Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’
Talking to Young Writers
Recently, I was asked to give a short talk to a group of fifth and sixth graders on writing. Our local school, where my kids go to spend my tax dollars, had a “Writing Extravaganza” event where they asked people in different aspects of the writing field to come and talk about what they do. They had a newspaper editor, a sports writer, a college student studying journalism, and me.
Ostensibly, I was there to talk about fiction writing. Mostly because my son was reading my manuscript for TOMAHAWK in class and his teacher found out and cajoled me into participating. What I ended up getting after a nice twenty minute talk on the craft was a lot of penetrating questions, such as: “How tall are you?” “Are you ZombieKidX’s dad?” and my favorite, “Do you get to keep all the money from your books?”
Aside from the sometimes goofy questions, I talked a lot about motivation for writing. Not only what motivates me to write, but getting motivated to put down a few words of fiction every day. The question of WHY I write is something I have to continually evaluate and reinforce in my own head. I write because I want to decide how the story ends. They seemed fascinated by the prospect of getting to decide who lives and who dies, who wins and who loses, in every story.
I went over all the basics of fiction writing with them, short stories versus novels, conflict and characters, genre and viewpoint, and then we did a nifty little world building exercise to get their creative engines started. I wanted to show them just how easy it was to come up with a writing project. I didn’t, of course, tell them how difficult it is to see that project through to completion–but hey, that lesson is for the college kids, not the fifth graders. At that age, you just want them to start writing…something…anything.
Here’s the exercise in a nutshell. Write up on a whiteboard: Who, Where, When, What. Then throw out the questions to the kids to answer, and get creative. Who is our story going to be about? Name a character. The crazier the better. Where does our character’s adventures take place? Under the sea, or in outer space, could be anywhere. When is all this adventure happening? Robotic future, or middle ages. And the most important question…what does our character want, and why can’t he/she get it?
We came up with doozies of creativity, and some not so creative plagiarizing of Spongebob Squarepants. I gave this talk five times and each group of kids came up with wildly different ideas, which, in and of itself, showed them how easy it is to come up with the bones of a story worth writing. Then we threw in some bonus shots, like asking the kids to put our new story in a genre (or two) and asking them what’s special about our main character. I gave them a chance to decide why this character is worth writing about, and then reading about.
All-in-all, I had a great time talking to these kids about writing, mostly because it was a journey for me as well. There’s no better way to find out what something means to you then having to teach it to others. I am a writer. Even if I never get paid a dime for creating entirely new worlds out of thin air, I will continue to write until I can’t lift pen to paper.
Write on, man. Write on.