Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A conversation about story

In class today, we created a character as a group, one of my favorite lessons ever. He's a young man, Mexican, and a drug dealer named Juan. This is where we began the conversation that I find relevant:

Me: What does he like to do?
Them: Dog fights! Drugs! He likes to drink!
Me: BORING. So far you guys have a Mexican drug dealer named Juan who drinks and goes to dog fights. Any other stereotypes of yourselves you'd like to include?
Them: He lives in Mexico!
Me: Oh come on. Think of something unexpected.
One Kid: He lives in Beverly Hills!
Another Kid: Nah, stupid, you don't see Mexicans living in Beverly Hills.
Me: That's why it's interesting. See? A story about a Mexican drug dealer living in Mexico and drinking doesn't make that much of a story, does it? You don't want a character who's exactly what you expect him to be. So I'm putting Beverly Hills. Now what does he want?
Them: To get rich! To be the biggest dealer! To get a Lexus!
Me: BORING. He can buy a Lexus. He's already rich. I want something specific he can get. What's something a rich drug dealer can't buy?
Them: LOVE!
One Kid: What if he has to hide that he's a drug dealer?
Me: Okay so he wants a girl he can't have if he's a drug dealer. A girl he can't buy.
One Kid: She's a cop!
Another Kid: She's the daughter of a rival drug dealer!
Third Kid: She can't be a cop AND the daughter of a rival drug dealer!
Me: Well that's an either/or situation, but ooooh. Imagine if she was a cop and the daughter of a rival drug dealer.
Them: She'd have to arrest her dad.
Me: Exactly.
Them: Let's make her a cop.
Me: So what are the actions he takes to get her?
Them: He buys her stuff! He takes her on dates! He gives up dealing!
One Kid: He kidnaps her!
Them: Ooooooooooh that's cool.
Me: Okay he kidnaps her. Now if he takes her on dates, what kind of story is this?
Them: a romance!
Me: What kind of romance?
Them: comedy!
Me: And if he gives up drug dealing, what kind of story is it?
Them: A boring story!
Me: And if he kidnaps her, what kind of story is it?
Them: Action!
Me: So which kind of story do you want it to be?


  1. good call on stereotyping. I always have to restrain myself when people start talking about stupid stories they plan to write about "Muslim terrorists" or whatever.

  2. Well done! Sounds like quite a class.

  3. "What's something a drug dealer can't buy?"



  4. I appreciate the way you call them out on the stereotypes. It's not an easy thing to do, and to have them respond so well... great job!

  5. Thanks, guys. That is a particularly difficult class so that lesson ended up being really successful and kind of making my day.

  6. There's a character in Lawrence Block's series of Matt Scudder mystery novels who lives in some upscale NYC neighborhood and his neighbors think he's wealthy like they are... and he is, but he's either a pimp or a drug dealer (can't remember which). He has two cars in his garage - his rich guy car, and his "work car". At night he'll put on his street clothes and take out the work car. A double life.

    Dating the cop's daughter (or a female cop) is genius. I'd watch that movie.

  7. DIMA: Muslim terrorists isn't a stereotype, nor is helpless muslims/villagers. Having nothing but terrorist muslims and/or helpless muslims is the stereotype.

    Emily: Another fun exercise is to get them to tell them to tell you their favorite movie. Then tell them to tell the same movie but make it a different genre.


Please leave a name, even if it's a fake name. And try not to be an asshole.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.