Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm Not Sorry I Got You in Trouble.

Yesterday I got a 6th grader busted for edgy, maybe a bit above PG-13, writing. But I don't feel bad.

This month I'm teaching character development workshops to 4th, 5th (ah, such lovely people), and 6th graders at a charter school. I met this smart, err, smart-aleck, kid during recess detention. He's thrilled to be getting a D- in math. When he cheered his low grade, his fellow detention-mates laughed and hooted. Being smart isn't cool in the hormonal mess that comprises springtime 6th grade.

I struggled to get this kid invested in the writing exercise. He popped out of his seat, distracted those around him, and wrote banal descriptions of the magazine photo "character" I'd given him. But then he asked me if his character could be in a coma.

"Comas are boring," I said. "People in comas can't do much, can they?"
"What about a fake coma?"
"Fake comas are good."

Later he asked me if his character could have a drug problem that led to a bit of violence. "Sure," I said.

I live with a 6th grader, and they're not as innocent as we wish they were. I also know that writing gives us the chance to safely explore themes, figure out experiences, or experiment--and who am I to decide what another person needs to write about? I also appreciated the fact that the PG-13 elements in his writing had natural consequences. It wasn't gratuitous.

I also knew that his classmates would titter with the glee of the forbidden when he shared his writing. So I made him read last.

I hadn't been informed about the love affair between the fake coma patient and his nurse. Yet the scene kind of reminded me of A Farewell To Arms. And the nurse got pregnant from the "baby-making" on the hospital bed. Again, natural consequences.

The kid got SO busted by his teacher. But this kid gets scolded ALL DAY LONG.

He doesn't often have the chance to experience how the power of his imagination, his intelligence, his WRITING can affect others. Ooh, the class went wild for his salacious and dramatic story.

That's my job as a visiting author--to show kids that their words have real power. He got busted this time. But maybe he'll also be inspired to become the next Stephen King.

I snuck out of the classroom with a big smile on my face. Mission accomplished!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lessons Learned From Illustrators

Last weekend, as SCBWI Regional Advisor, I attended our illustrator conference. The tips on lighting and body proportions did't really apply to writing, although I suppose if I tried, I could work out a complicated metaphor... But I won't. Here's what struck me:

Midway through her talk, Sherry Meidell said, "Deadlines and time constraints can stifle creativity. Relearn how to play like a child. You have to daydream--take the time to sit and think. Visualize, look at your sketches, and daydream some more." She advised us to go for a walk or a run, letting our stories play through our heads, as we ask if we've approached the illustration from the best angle.

Stories need to be told through the right angles too. Are we putting our characters in the best situations to move the story forward? Could we find a more interesting setting for this scene? Would our characters really do that--or is it merely a quick way to move the story along (and maybe avoid working through a tricky scene)?

As writers, we value butt-in-chair time, often racing through scenes to meet daily word count goals. As a NaNoWriMo fan, I'm guilty of stacking up word count without taking time to pause. Go on that walk. Stare out the window with my cat. Think.

I know that my writing could benefit from taking the time to daydream some more. So move over Minnie, let's hang out on the sofa & think through my plot together... Okay, I know you're only thinking about snacking on birds.