Friday, October 22, 2010

"Nice" does not suffice

or Week three: Roadblocks.

So what does a writer do when he has nothing to write about? I was slightly shocked to learn that my sixth graders--despite having mouths like motors and more pep than a can of Mr. Pibb--very quickly ran out of things to write about. Writing time dissolves almost instantly into whisper time which of course grows to talking time.

So this week we worked on techniques for overcoming writer's block.

To start off with, we told a straightforward and well-known tale--this is not the time for the Odyssey, but the encounter with the cyclops works very well. We broke it down into its basic narrative arc and then moved on to discussing Freytag's pyramid, mostly importantly trying to find a definition for a story's "climax."

I asked them to picture a group of mountain climbers, and (long story short) we decided that the climax was the peak of the mountain--big surprise. But trying to describe why that had to be the climax was a much more interesting discussion, and in the end it was the fact that there was nowhere else to go--in other words, that an inevitability had been established--that made the peak the climax.

After that we played the ABC game. I suppose you could just as well call it the 123 game or the character-emotion-location game. It's just what the third name would suggest: each person takes three scarps of paper and writes on each a character, an emotion, and a location, respectively. The scraps are then drawn randomly from the three different piles, and we wrote group stories based off of the results.

It was exciting to see how the point of view of a story and the six spots of the pyramid--exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement--formed a story's skeleton, and how the pyramid could be a cure for the common writer's block. (Might still be in Mad Men frame of mind. Hope I'm not the only one.)

If you couldn't think of where you were going with your story, or if you got bored, or if you just didn't like what you were doing, you could start writing a different step. It could be a sentence or a paragraph or five pages but when you came back to what you were doing before, you'd be fresher and you'd understand better what you were trying to say.

And our "Writer's Life" series continued: this week, Revisions! We'll see how many poems I get back...

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