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How to teach creative writing: sample

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Teaching Creative Writing
Teaching Creative Writing
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How to teach creative writing: sample

  1. 1. P r e v i e
  2. 2. ii © Ticking Mind Educational Publishing 2013 First published 2013 as part of the How To Teach Series For information email enquiries@tickingmind.com.au Copyright P r e v i e
  3. 3. 3 Creative writing can be one of the most rewarding types of writ- ing to engage in in the English classroom. However, anyone who has spent any time in the English classroom knows the diffi- culty involved in teaching ‘creativity‘ and getting students to tell a story well. One of the hardest things for students to be able to do is to come up with good ideas to write about. Often there can be lim- ited time or strategies provided to students for brainstorming story ideas in the classroom. Published authors develop many ideas to write about - selecting only the best to finally pursue. The opposite can be true of the English classroom. Students routinely come up with one idea to write about and, in the ab- sence of any other ideas, write about that idea regardless of whether it is a quality idea or not. The following strategies aim to give students stimulus for developing many story ideas. With a pool of ideas to draw from, they can be critical about evaluat- ing which idea will be best to write about. • Narrative element brainstormer: This activity is a way for students to become familiar with the ba- sics of narrative (character, problem, event and resolution), and is also a technique for brainstorming lots of ideas and selecting the ones which are best. 1. Divide students into groups of four. 2. In each group, the student who lives closest to the school needs to pick four random numbers between 1-10 and write these down somewhere. 3. Using individual scrap pieces of paper, each student in the group needs to then create a list of ten things (one thing per scrap piece of paper): one student needs to write a list of ten jobs (i.e policeperson, doctor etc...); one student needs to write a list of ten problems, fears or anxieties someone can have (i.e fear of heights, low self esteem); one student needs to write a list of ten things that can go wrong (i.e fire, car crash, break up); another student needs to write a list of ten ways to solve prob- lems (i.e make a plan, communicate, work together). 4. Students should carefully place the scrap pieces of paper in the order they write them. Section 1 Narrative fiction: developing ideas P r e v i e
  4. 4. 4 5. Once students have made these lists, the random numbers that were picked at the start of the activity are used to select one item from each list. If the student who picked the numbers selected 3, 6, 2 and 7 - these equate to things in that place on each list: the third thing from the list of ten jobs; the sixth thing from the list of fears; the second thing from the list of problems etc... 6. Using these randomly selected things, the group needs to work out and summarise a storyline - what happens when you combine these elements? 7. After this, students can then match up items from the differ- ent lists that combine together to make an interesting basis for a story. Students shouldn’t necessarily look for logical combina- tions of elements - but dramatic combinations of elements. From the different combinations they come up with, students should pick the best ideas to write about. • Narrative element story generator: All the ideas in the above activity are student generated. How- ever, where we want students to focus more on thinking about the combination of ideas, rather than generating ideas, we can generate a grid of narrative elements ourselves. This works par- ticular well in units where students are producing genre pieces - such as a horror, fantasy or science fiction story. Genres such as these typically draw from a ‘stock’ set of narrative elements. Below is an example of a story generator grid for a unit on fairy- tales. Student would use the same procedure outline in the Nar- rative Element Brainstormer activity to combine elements in this grid as the basis of a story. • Picture inspiration #1: A picture tells a thousand words and a whole lot more stories. This strategy is about giving students visual stimulus to develop plots and story ideas. 1. Select a range of pictures (such as the ones shown on page 3) that can be loosely connected. Don’t over think the connec- tion - we want to provide plenty of space for students to be crea- tive in how they associate the pictures. 2. Working in groups, students need to annotate the picture with at least three of the following story elements: • Setting (which picture sets the scene), • Character (who or what is the protagonist, hero or subject of this story) • Problem (what is the main thing that goes wrong) • Further Problem (what is a second thing that goes wrong) • Process (what happens to sort the problem out) P r e v i e
  5. 5. 5 • Resolution (what happens in the end) 3. Having identified the elements, students should then tease out these parts into a story. What’s the narrative these pic- tures are telling? Go around the class and get groups to share their ideas. • Picture inspiration #2: An alternative way students can use pictures as inspirations for stories is to think about whether a picture tells the beginning or end of a story. For example, at what end of the narrative spec- trum does the picture overleaf come? Fairytale Story Generator Orientation Complication Crisis Resolution A father lives in the woods with his three children. He remarries after his wife dies. The villain is jealous because... A horrible spell is cast on the main character... The main character marries...and lives happily ever after... A kingdom with a beautiful princess and a wicked fairy. The villain hates... An axeman is hired to... The curse is lifted from the main character by... A place with a forest where there lives an evil... The main characters is curious about... The villain tries to eat... The villain is chased away by...and never seen again. A kingdom of happy pigs and an evil wolf. The main character doesn’t follow advice that... No one realises that the villain is trying to... The villain is chased over a cliff by... A beautiful, but poor girl lives with her wicked step mother The villain is angry because he/ she hasn’t been invited to... The villain locks...in The villain is tricked somehow and beaten. A family of beautiful girls live in a kingdom where there is a cruel king The villain wants to marry... The villain poisons... The main character is rescued by... A beautiful princess is bored... To break a spell the main character must... The villain turns...into The main character kisses the...and lives happily ever after A beautiful princess has been cursed... A curse comes true... No one believes that the main character is... The faithful companion fixes the problem, is rewarded and the kingdom is at peace © Ticking Mind 2013 - www.tickingmind.com.au P r e v i e
  6. 6. 6 If students think the picture comes at the start of a story, then they need to write about what happens next. If they think it comes at the end, they need to write about what comes before. There are lots of places on the web we can find fascinating pic- tures of events. Here’s some: • http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-most-powerful-photos-o f-2011 • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/ • Changing existing story ideas: Creative writing ideas certainly don’t need to be original. How many stories have you read or watched that are variations of a formula? Is there really any such thing as an original romantic comedy or teen film? The trick with story telling, then, is not to come up with a new formula, but to take existing ideas and plots and modify them to give them a twist or refreshed sense of drama. Here’s a few ideas to do this: • The worse film I’ve seen... All students will have seen films they consider bad or ‘lame’. Challenge students to identify exactly what it was that was ‘bad’ about the movie, and to write a ‘pitch’ or summary of a new ver- sion of the film that is better. • BAR: BAR is creative thinking tool that starts from an existing idea, concept or thing. In this case, students pick an existing story (such as a bad film) and: *B = Make something bigger, better or badder - such as give a character a bigger part, make a problem or obstacle in the story bigger *A = Add something completely new - such as a new setting, character or complication *R - Remove, Reverse, Re-order something - take away some- thing such as a character or problem, reverse or re-order the sequence of events P r e v i e
  7. 7. 7 This strategy works particularly well with fables and fairytales and can be a good tool for students to use when creating their own ‘fractured’ fairytales. In the handouts section, find an blank BAR brainstorming page that students can use. • SCAMPER SCAMPER is a more sophisticated version of BAR. *S: Substitute: Change one character with another character, one event or plot element for another event or plot element. *C: Combine: Combine two or more characters together or two or more plot elements together *A: Adapt: Change the genre of the story. Make the story more like another story. *M: Modify: Alter the ending, middle or beginning or the story or the way characters act. *P: Put to another use: Have characters perform different roles in the story or respond to the plot events in a different way. *E: Eliminate: Take away a character, scene or plot element. *R: Reverse: Reverse the way a story ends or the roles of char- acters. Unlike BAR, where students need to change a text using each of B, A and R, students do not need to apply each part of the SCAMPER acronym to a story. Students can choose three ele- ments from SCAMPER which they believe they can best apply to an existing story or plot to make it interesting. • How did it get to this? One way of hooking the reader at the start of the story is to be- gin with the complication. This activity get kids thinking about exciting complications, relatively innocuous orientations, and fill- ing in the gaps between. In a way it’s similar to the Picture inspi- ration #1 activity - except this activity only involves words and gives students both ends of the story - not just one. To start this activity, we first need to give students some exam- ples of exciting complication and innocuous orientations. Here’s two: *As the bell rang to finish the day, I rushed to the door.....Everyone watched the wreckage of the plane sink into the sea and then turned around and stared hard at me. How had it gotten to this? *Nothing was worse than detention after school with Mrs Scar- row - the meanest teacher on earth....I stared at all the money in the bag - there must be hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. I didn’t know how it had got to this point. P r e v i e
  8. 8. 8 1. Working in pairs students need to brainstorm what might be the chain of events between the beginning and end of the story. 2. Discuss as a class and write up a range of ideas on the white- board. 3. Students can then ‘harvest’ ideas from the whiteboard and write up the story individually. The story should begin with the ending. See the ‘How did it get to this?’ handout attached at the end of the book. • Tips from Andy Griffiths: Andy Griffiths is the author of kids bestsellers such as The Day My Bum Went Psycho, Bumageddon and The 13 Storey Tree- house. In his book Once Upon A Slime he details a range of ways kids can create their own stories. Written up below are some of these strategies - adapted for the English classroom. 1. Bad mummy / Bad Daddy / Bad Teacher: Griffiths’ Bad series is essentially a satire of figures who should be role models and the voice of sense in the lives of children. In this series of cartoons children ask their parents outrageous things such as: "Can I jump in the volcano?" "Can I cross the busy road with my eyes shut?" "Can I jump off the dangerous cliff into shark infested waters?". After some prevarication the parents always agree to this and the child comes to a grisly end. The bad teacher teaches students things that are outra- geously wrong - but which students want to hear: "Vegetables are bad." Students can have a go creating stick figure cartoons such as Griffiths has done. In the students' cartoon a child should ask a parent if they can do something completely, stupidly risky and the parent agrees. The student should have one cartoon box in which the question is asked - another in which we see the re- sult. Alternatively, students can write this as a short, one para- graph story. P r e v i e
  9. 9. 9 2. What happens next? This is a good, basic way of teaching plot device: the object, person or event in a story that makes the plot start. In this sce- nario, we give students some basic orientations such as: *It was a pretty typical day. I was on my way to school, sitting in my normal seat next to...when I looked out the window and no- ticed... *I was dropping off to sleep in my bed on Wednesday night when I saw on the ceiling.... *My parents had left me in charge of my five year old cousin for a few hours while they went out. Everything was going comple- tey smoothing until I turned around and... Working in pairs students need to brainstorm all the things - as crazy and interesting as possible - that could happen next in each of these scenarios. Then they need to pick one scenario and the best what-happens-next-idea to write about. 3. Bad road story: In this activity students imagine that they're traveling along a road which is punctuated by increasingly ridiculous and scary signs and write about the adventure they have on this road. For example, the first sign might say: "Zombies crossing" the next could be "Zombies falling" then "Zombies attacking" and finally "End of bad road." Their story might begin like this: I was driving down a road I'd never been on to visit a friend. I went past a sign which I didn't really take in at first. It was only after a few seconds that I thought to myself: that's strange, I think it said...Then I began to see... 4. It seemed like a good idea at the time... With this activity students recount real or imagined dumb things that they've done - which initially seemed like a good idea. These are things like hopping in a shopping trolley and riding down a very steep hill, pulling a face at a mean security guard on a school excursion to parliament or bouncing on a trampo- line with a pogo stick. Students can start their story like this: I've done some really dumb things in my time like...or...and... But the dumbest thing I've ever done is....It actually made com- plete sense at the time. These were all the reasons I P r e v i e
  10. 10. 10 thought.....would be a good idea:....But it turned out it wasn't a good idea at all... 8. Lifting the lid This last strategy is a type of curiosity killed the cat story. What happens when you come across a box, bag or container marked: *Absolutely do not open - very dangerous! *Extremely, extremely top secret - no one can know what is in- side! *Do not open - it will absolutely change your life if you do! • Caution signs I should have really paid attention to: This activity is similar to Griffiths ‘lifting the lid’ and ‘bad road’ story. The difference is that this involves real caution signs rather than fictional ones. We ignore caution signs all the time - often because we think we don’t really need to be worried about the so called ‘danger’. And often we’re right. But what if we’re not. Here are some caution signs we often dismiss: • Don’t worry about the dog, beware of the cat! • Refrigerate after opening. • Use only as directed. • Very flammable. • Maximum persons allowed... • Use responsibly. • Use only with adult supervision. • Don’t feed the animals • Don’t tap on the glass The point of this task is not for students to write a story with tragic outcomes - where someone doesn’t heed a warning and accidentally chops their arms off, gets dangerously sick or dies. There’s nothing funny about this. No, the point of this task is for students to think about a product one of the above warnings could apply to and the unintended, dramatic (and mostly non-harmful) consequences that could come about from not following the directions. A story might be- gin like this: You know how things in a jar normally come with the warning ‘refrigerate after opening’? I’d never paid much attention to this. I thought it was just something food producers said to cover their backsides. Well, I found out - in a very strange way I might add - I was wrong. I had this gigantic jar of pickles that I’d bought one day... P r e v i e
  11. 11. 11 • Newspaper Scrapbook: Writers often find inspiration for story ideas from the newspa- per. We can encourage students to do the same by keeping a scrapbook of interesting ideas from newspapers. Over a series of days or weeks, take in newspapers to class and get students to cut out interesting stories. Students can easily find many examples of strange human inter- est stories from around the world at any of these sites: • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/ • http://www.newsoftheweird.com/archive/index.html • http://www.egags.com/ Human interest stories can be interesting for several reasons: • interesting situation • interesting characters • interesting setting As students develop a bank of interesting stories they can be- gin to select the most interesting ones to use for a story. Stu- dents can use BAR to help them modify the story, or they can mix and match elements from different human interest stories (take the characters from story and match them with the situa- tion in another story). P r e v i e
  12. 12. 12 Quite often the majority of student writing is plot driven. Stu- dents perceive that interesting narratives are the sum of a se- ries of dramatic events. They put the focus in their writing on leaping from one event to another. With this approach, the char- acters are reduced to simply being the conveyers or mecha- nisms of action. In other words they’re two dimensional charac- ters - their only purpose to prop the narrative along. Sometimes we wouldn’t have it any other way: from time to time we like characters we don’t need to think about too much in Hollywood pop-corn thrillers. However, we also don’t want students to think that a story is just about exciting events. In some ways, stories just driven by dynamic plot elements are like cheap takeaway food - it provides an initial taste-bang but can leave you under- whelmed and unhealthy after a while. The reader needs to be nourished by quality characters in stories. The strategies in this section of the book look at how we can: 1) develop characters; 2) flesh out characters; 3) characterise characters. • 10 thing character: This is a fun way of getting students to come up with ideas for characters. 1) Students list ten things found in a fridge. 2) Students list ten things smaller than a hand. 3) Students list ten expensive things 4) Students select three numbers between 1 - 10 5) The first number the student chose equates to that num- bered thing from their fridge list. 6) The second number the student chose means they pick that numbered thing from their hand list. 7) The third number the student chose means they pick that numbered thing from their expensive list 8) Students now have a list of three things. They must create a character who owns these three things by thinking about: • Is the person a male or female? • What is their age? • What do they do? Section 2 Narrative fiction: developing characters P r e v i e
  13. 13. 13 • What is this person interested in? • What is this person’s goal in life? • Fill these shoes character: The above activity can also be done by bringing in physical arte- facts to the classroom - such as clothes, knick knacks, accesso- ries, old food containers. Students can use these as the basis for creating a character. If we don’t want to bring in the physical items, we can always give students pictures. Overleaf is a set of pictures of shoes that have been chosen be- cause they show some ‘character’. In this activity, students need to pick a set of shoes that attracts their interest and create a character that owns those shoes. We might start by explain- ing to students that we often use the phrases: ‘big shoes to fill,’ ‘hard shoes to fill,’ ‘if I were in your shoes,’ ‘follow in the foot- steps.’ These phrases figuratively link shoes with a sense char- acter. We can explain to students that we’re going to take these phrases literally and build a character from the shoes up. Stu- dents can use questions from the previous activity to help build their character. Alternatively, there are many sites which list questions to think about when creating characters. Here’s one: http://fictionwriting.about.com/od/crafttechnique/tp/createcharac ter.htm A Ticking Mind Resource P r e v i e
  14. 14. 14 • Wants but.../Plot device : Interesting stories are driven by interesting characters who find themselves in interesting circumstances. Characters have to navigate the situation they find themselves in. This often in- volves balancing their emotional and rational response to a situation. At a basic level, every character wants something in a story. In terms of narrative structure we call this goal, motivation and conflict: Motivation: How does a character want to feel? What do they want to be like in life? Free? Powerful? In control? Respected? Happy? Wise? Goal: What is the particular thing a character is going to do to act on their motivation? Conflict: What problems does a character come across that prevent them from achieving their goal? Short films provide excellent models for short story writing be- cause they typically involve one character in one scene where motivation, goal and conflict can be very apparent. You might like to watch through the short film Reach, about a robot trying to achieve freedom, and ask students to pick out the robot’s mo- tivation and goal. You can watch the film here: http://vimeo.com/65529665 In the short film Reach the robot is prevented from achieving freedom by the cord which attaches it to its power source. The cord - its restraint - is its conflict. The robot must battle to free itself from this. The cord is what’s called a ‘plot device’ - some- thing external to the protagonist of a story which provides a chal- lenge to the protagonist or forces him or her to take action somehow. The plot device might be another character or characters (a new character that comes on the scene, for example), an event (such as a murder) or an object (a piece of technology, an aster- oid hurtling towards earth). Students will usually do a good job of providing a plot device in a story - they understand that some- thing needs to happen in order to put the story in motion. However, what students are less familiar with is that there are two types of complication in a story. There’s the plot device and there’s also the inner character complication. Every interesting character has something inside them which is somehow holding them back, preventing them from achieving what they want or impacting on their life somehow. When students are creating characters they need to identify what is the character’s inner complication. Typically characters are held back by their lack of self belief, their fear or anxiety about something or a negative attitude. These following state- ments can help students define a character’s inner complica- tion: P r e v i e
  15. 15. 15 • The character wants...but is held back by their inability to... • The characters wants...but is afraid to... • The character wants...but has an attitude that... • The character wants...but doesn’t feel that... • Visual characterisation: Authors will sometimes spell it out to us whether a character is good or bad or in between, but often, in more interesting writ- ing, they’ll leave it to us to figure it out for ourselves by giving us cues and clues. It’s about “showing” us what a character is like rather than “telling” us. We might have a character who is rigid (perhaps too rigid) about certain principles in life. In order to show us this, an author might describe the meticulously organ- ised state of the character’s house. On the other hand, we might be presented with a character whose house is a sham- bles - and in this case it represents the chaotic emotional life of the character. What a character wears, what and how they eat, what objects or things they use or carry with them and what these things are like can all provide us cues as to what a char- acter is like on the inside. Objects and spaces are physical manifestations of the things we can’t always see within a character.   How can we get students to develop this skill of “showing” us rather than “telling” us? To begin with we might have a creative writing unit that explicitly focuses on this and features a suc- cess criteria such as “Has been able to show what a character is like through the things they have or the spaces they occupy”. We might also give students writing exercises to develop this skill. For example, give out a range of pictures which feature a person such as these ones overleaf. Students need to create a character for this person. Looking at the picture they need to come up with:  • What does this person do?  • What are they like?  • What is a problem they have?  • What is their name?  Students then need to write a paragraph about this character. Two of the above questions (their name and what they do), stu- dents can answer explicitly in their paragraph. However, stu- dents need to show us what a character is like and what their problem is through representing something in their paragraph such as: • The state of their house • The state of their fridge • The state of their car P r e v i e

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