Saturday, 31 October 2009

The joy of being a student

Maybe you are working on a Master's degree in creative writing, or maybe you've recently been on an Arvon residential course... or are you, like me, taking a course not directly to do with creative writing? I've just begun my third evening course in psychoanalytic psychology (Freud, Jung, Klein) and my! how lovely it is to be well-taught.

Mickey Yudkin (female), to give credit where it is due, makes each person in the class feel welcome and known by her. Even on day one, she'd say, 'oh, yes, I recognise your name from the list.' And every time someone asks a question or comments she addresses this, and before she finishes she circles back to the person saying something like, 'so that's why it was a good point, Susan' or 'you were right to ask, David.' Very supportive and warming. Even her attention and alertness make me feel that I am being nurtured, that I am interesting, that I am valued, and that she is knowledgeable and passionate about the subject.

Do you ever feel you are running out of steam as a tutor? We creative teachers do pour our energy into our students... there's nothing like a dose of being student of a good teacher to get a top up.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Hero's Journey, the first steps

Yes, so the brinkmanship of adult education is in my favour this time, and on 5th November the course starts. This raises the issue of prepping, and prepping for a class one has taught quite a number of times -- how to keep fresh?

Fortunately I have a passion about creative writing and about archetypes and the Hero's Journey, so I love learning more on all these areas. I have just finished reading The Power of Myth, an interview series of Joseph Campbell (he of the Hero with a Thousand Faces) by Bill Moyers; publisher Doubleday, 1988 [eeek! well, it's new to me!] Super illustrations and marvellous meaning-and-myth talk. I will add it to my booklist handout for students

Am also reading Writing Fiction, Creative and Critical Approaches, by Amanda Boulter, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. I bought it at the Winchester Writers' Conference in July. Some sound stuff on reading for writers -- and yahoo, she gets into myth and Campbell as well. She has exercises, too, but I haven't read that far yet.

Blogger is playing up right now, so keeping this short. I won't buckle down to looking at my class notes and handouts etc til next week, so the presentation adrenalin builds up to good strong energy for greeting the roomful of new faces.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Deeper into character, part 2

I am trying to get back to doing this blog on Tuesdays, as I did throughout last year, but our oven sort of blew up -- well, dramatically shorted -- this week; fair amount of upheaval, but now all is sorted.

Continuing with the question of building characters, how to deepen. And how deep need they be? I began noticing characterisation a lot in my reading over the last few years -- I suggest you do the same, and get students to do so too. This is why it is good for a creative writing class to all read a book in common each term.

I like to ring the changes among genres. I have encountered one or two snooty students who refused to read sci fi or chick lit (not that I chose only those). One can learn from all genres, even cereal box backs. In fact, maybe learn more easily, because one is more detached in reading out of one's fav genre.

I have just finished reading Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Now that's character depth. And illustrates the rule -- depth of character requires time with the character, ergo, different genres, different depths of character (a) possible and (b) expected by reader. ULoB has essentially 3 characters (plus the narrator, a strong 4th) and the whole book is about getting to know them; indeed as they plumb their own depths. A fascinating, curious book. For contrast, as mentioned last week, read Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code: tons of characters, lots of action and pace, no time to get to know characters. But it works, of course, in its way. So it all depends.

One of my fav eye-openers to bringing a character alive is a paragraph in Anna Karinina early on, where Tolstoy has Kitty looking in the mirror, just about to descend to the dance where she will see both Levin and Vronsky. I call it 'the hills and dales of thought'. It gives insight into her state(s) of mind, and we live through it with her.

Currently I'm reading Elizabeth George's For the Love of Elena, Inspector Lynley working on a crime. I think she has a good balance of character depth (Lynley, Havers) and intermediate depths and quickly sketched characters. All of them ring true. What do you think?

Good news, my November Hero's Journey course has sufficient numbers, so it will run, hurrah! I have found that re-doing some of its character exercises has let me surprise myself with things I didn't know about existing characters I am working with. Particularly the Mentor's Gift.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Deeper into character

First of all, thank you and hi! to Nellie59 who posted a little fan note on the Teacher as Host blog entry a couple of weeks back. It is just great to know that Creative Writing: the Matrix has been proving really useful to her in teaching creative writing... if anyone out there has found favourite exercises in the book, or devised variations they'd like to share please get in touch.

I am thinking that at some point I will do Creative Non-Fiction: the Matrix (or some such title), from the many exercises I amassed (is that how you spell it?) in years of teaching Journalism & Professional Writing. It would include feature writing, travel writing, life-writing and other miscellany [have to add blog writing!], including a bit on copy writing... all 'creative' but not the usual thing people get in creative writing classes... yet it is not essays, reports or academia, and people do need-want help in these areas. What do you think, as teacher-writers?

Communicating with a fellow writer Peter Ward; I have just reviewed his book -- Dragon Horse on Amazon. We were talking about deepening character, how to.
The Matrix book has 4 exercises on character (p. 53 onward), but those are pretty basic essentials -- never hurts to go back to basics though! Then later there are 4 more called Deeper into Character (p.84); The Dream and The Scar could be particularly useful if you worry that your characters are too thin. However, some genres don't want deep-deep character (hello, Dan Brown). I think depth of character means dwelling for quite some time inside and with a character's head and heart (hello Marilynne Robinson's Gilead).

More to say on character, but that will have to be next week.