Saturday, October 24, 2009

It's all about the characters and the setting

I'm getting my ideas together on what to do with these 3rd graders. (Am I putting more time and thought into this than it needs? Probably. Welcome to my life.) I want their 'take home' message to be this: characters and setting are the basic ingredients for the fiction stories they want to write.
So, what I'm thinking right now is to have them choose a card that has a character on it, like a little brother, a rock star, a carpenter, or a monster/creature they create. They have to define what that character looks like, how they behave, what they like to eat, and in general, create the character from the ground up. Second, they'll choose a card with a setting on it, like a Wild West town, a cave, an island, or the Space Shuttle. They'll have to draw a map of the setting or list physical attributes like buildings, mountains, electronic devices, and whatnot. Third, their 8 or 9 year old selves have to meet that character in that setting. How they each got there, how they interact, what they say to each other, and what they do together is an instant plot. What do you think?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reading like a writer

When I first started writing, I kept a file filled with oddball articles from the newspaper that might be fodder for a story: "929 gallons of moonshine found under Kentucky shed", that sort of thing. After I started writing my novel, I focused on 1938 Germany and stopped collecting ideas from other times or places.
As I prep for this Young Writers workshop in a couple of weeks, I'm revisiting the article collection idea. Writers of all ages need inspiration and real life gives it. Take this headline from the Scranton Times: "Fingerprint reveals daVinci piece". It seems a 19th century German artist was given credit for an unsigned portrait of a woman, and it had been in the hands of collectors and art dealers for years. The current owner asked a forensic expert to identify the fingerprint and palm print still visible on the painting and the match was made: Leonardo daVinci. That took the value of the piece from $19,000 to $150 million. I could make that up, but the fact that it's real makes it completely cool.
I bet the third graders will love stories like that. I'll bring my collection to share with them and encourage them to collect some too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Who, me?

A couple days ago, I got a phone call asking me to take part in a Young Writers' Day for grades 3-12, hosted by Keystone College. I came recommended by an acquaintance who described me as 'flexible and good with kids.' Would I consider taking charge of a break-out session with an unknown number of third graders? My initial thought was, Who, me? What could I possibly tell 8 and 9 year olds about writing? It's not like I'm a real author or anything. But the caller was persistent, and eventually I agreed to read the workshop's agenda and consider the possibility.

So let's just assume I am the right person for this. What can I bring to a bunch of kids eager to write the next Captain Underpants? I guess I could share their feelings as they look at putting their ideas into words. Like them, I am intimidated and confident, exhausted and energized, completely overwhelmed and totally in the zone. Sometimes all in the same day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Am I the only person who can't learn from a Power Point presentation?

I went to a two-day workshop last week where probably 75% of the material was presented in Power Point. Little factoids flashed across the screen and vanished before they ever became knowledge for me to keep. Maybe it's my age. Maybe it's my learning style. Maybe it's my need to organize information into lists and categories. But somehow, all my brain retains from a Power Point are isolated bits of information, formless and detached from all the other bits. Give me an outline with Roman numerals and headings and sub-headings, and I can learn how all the information bits relate to one another. Then I'm likely to come to truly understand the material and be able to apply it.
Anyone else have the same problem?