Thursday, July 10, 2008

Young storytellers

My semesterlong project for my juniors is to teach them to write a short story. In the process of writing the story they learn story structure and literary terms and read essays about technique and write similar essays. And at the end of the semester they each have a shiny new story to bind in construction paper and keep forever and ever.

I've done this once before but I didn't focus too well so the stories weren't quite as good as they could have been. This semester I'm determined to make them awesome.

Now in the years I've been teaching at my school I've seen some pretty slack behavior. They do NOT want to do any work. For every assignment they will find a way to distract you and lollygag until they run out of time and then turn in some little piece of crap paper with a couple of loosely scribbled sentences on it.

Today I gave them a character development sheet I stole from my screenwriting group and gave it to them. They had one class period to create a character and give him or her backstory based on the traits I listed.

And I tell you what - rarely have I seen a class full of teenagers have so much goddamn FUN.

They were yelling out names to each other to see if everybody liked them. They were making people stand up so they could measure them to see what was an appropriate height for a boy. They were reading their descriptions aloud to each other to get pointers. They were checking their spelling, looking up words in the dictionary, asking questions. At one point a girl yelled out "I thought this would be easy but this is HARD!"

It was the most beautiful thing I've seen so far this year.

And at the end of the day, NOT ONE KID failed to do the assignment. That may not sound crazy, but at my school that's a fucking miracle. And now they're going to take those characters and beat them up. It's gonna be awesome.


  1. Anonymous2:10 AM

    You should show them "Bloodsport". That is, if you're gonna make their characters beat each other up. Only because JCVD is the man, and the film hosts a WIDE variety of races and martial arts backgrounds. They'll love it. If you're not actually encouraging fictional fighting, then never mind. Take it easy...


  2. Isn't it rewarding when they listen? I was teaching physics to college freshmen. They can be almost as bad, even though they are paying big money just to take my course. Every once in a while you figure out how to get past that defense of not caring and you swtrike a cord and you can get a high almost as good as when your plot twist comes out beautifully.

  3. I always loved those character work sheets.

    Unless someone forces me to do one for a piece I'm currently writing.

    Then I hate them.

  4. Anonymous6:32 PM

    I'm going to remember this post for years. In fact I'll probably bring it up now and then in random conversations about creativity and/or storytelling, okay? Cool.

  5. Go for it! And thanks!


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