Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weeks 4 and 5: Aspects of a story

In week 4, we focused on characterization. For the first three weeks of the course, I had had each student write down a different fact or character trait each day. By the fourth week, there were three descriptors for each student.

I wrote them down on index cards and left a blank spot for the students to fill in. Then we wrote stories based on the our facts. At the end of the class, they guessed whose card they'd written on. For example:

This character...
is an accomplished pianist;
his/her favorite season is fall;
he/she loves Chopin (the composer, not the writer);
and ___________. 

Natalie received this card about Leah, and filled in for her blank: has a sad love of squash.

We had a discussion about what makes a realistic character and how to avoid "stock characters" (action figures). 

In week 5, we focused on words--not wasting words, and the importance of compelling dialogue.

To this end we read "The Poison Tree" (William Blake), "The Haunted Palace" (Edgar Allen Poe) and "The Mock Turtle's Story" by Lewis Carrol. The "Mock Turtle" was a huge hit--they picked up some of the puns I'd missed. And the introduction of the mythical creatures into the class's pool of knowledge resulted in some very interesting stories later on, as some students took up the idea of Gryphons and blended beasts in their long projects (a few of which are almost Dr. Moreau-esque, to my horrified delight).

"Now, at our school, they had, at the end of the bill, 'French, music, and washing..."
"You couldn't have wanted it much," said Alice; "living at the bottom of the sea."
"I couldn't afford to learn it," said the Mock Turtle, with a sigh. "I only took the regular course."
"What was that?" inquired Alice.
"Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with," the Mock Turtle replied; "and then the different branches of Arithmetic--Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision."
"I never heard of 'Uglification,'" Alice ventured to say. "What is it?"
The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise. "Never heard of Uglifying!" it exclaimed. "You know what to Beautify is, I suppose?"
"Yes, said Alice doubtfully: "It means--to--make--anything--prettier."
"Well, then," the Gryphon went on, "if you don't know what to uglify is, you are a simpleton."
Alice did not feel encouraged to ask any more questions about it: so she turned to the Mock Turtle, and said, "What else had you to learn?"
"Well, there was Mystery," the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers,--"Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling--the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: he taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils."

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