Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Creative writing & technology -- effects?

In for a penny, in for a pound. Having woven in some Interactive White Board (IWB) [see 23/02/11 blog] for this term's run of Hero's Journey/Writer's Journey I am having a go at PowerPoint.

Here's the question for you: what effect does I.T. have on teaching creative writing?

Now, I ask you, doesn't your heart leap with joy at the word PowerPoint? Not. We have all been to talks/presentations using it, and well know that it's still the talk, the content that matters. However, as we HAVE all been to presentations using it, it's now regarded as standard professionalism. And, actually, our college's classroom technology is now v up-to-date -- ceiling-mounted IT projector, remote control, light pen (for the IWB, not PwrPt), so it's pretty whizzy. And, dear reader, I've done it.

Good effect: in prepping, and determining to do very few slides and to keep the lecture short, I found PwrPt helpful. Looking over my notes and the handout I boiled down to about 2 or 3 main points... just to pop them up there on the screen on hold while I talked. Doing it really focussed my thinking and -- I hope -- my talking. Then on to the writing exercises ASAP.

Not so good effect: by second session I had a couple of rather anxious queries from students saying that their stories did not have, say, a Mentor, or a Threshold (or other of the archetypal elements).

Whoah! For one thing, we hadn't yet covered these, except in the brief overview I gave in the intro about the course. For another, I had said at least twice that there is no such thing as a 'map' or 'writing by numbers' and that these archetypal elements are merely aids or tools.

So, does seeing things projected in B&W make students think in B&W -- that is, does it interfere with creative freedom? Does it inhibit creative writing?

Next session I talked up creative freedom loud & clear. Also brought in a short story, Rosendo's Tale, by Jorge Luis Borges. It's a fine little story, not great, but certainly satisfactory, and has a number of archetypal elements -- not all, and not 'in order'. We discussed and will continue to refer to it -- creative freedom, I hope, illustrated in this use of heroic quest archetypes.

I've told my students that use of PwrPt in this course is new, and so is use of a 'text', and will be asking them for feedback.

Use of the story raises another question for us tutors of creative writing -- does lit-crit help or hinder creative writing in a class?

Next class session: IWB again. Next I.T. challenge for me: moodle?? Experiences, opinions, anyone?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Exercises for outcomes: person point-of-view views 2

Apologies for late start to this term's blog. For one thing, my college delayed term by a week to allow for the holidays and Royal Wedding. For another... the faction story of my ancestor's life is steaming ahead and I gave in to the desire to write, write, write. And my Hero's Journey teaching began.

So, I was talking about Point of View as a rich seam of storycraft and last installment (1 April) covered 1st, 2nd, 3rd person. This time the Learning Outcome is 'Learner should be able to recognise storytelling angle point of view.' Obviously it would be very good if the learner would also use various points of view in her/his own writing.

Now, you can do a whole lit-crit analytical thing with this... as tutor, search out a few stories, novels, texts, explain a bit and get students in pairs or groups to read the texts and figure out who is telling the story... moving on to examples where the story is seen from different characters' angles. But that is the lit-crit way... how much will it help writers DO it?

I suggest, instead, one of my favourite exercises. [As you know I like a lot of chatter and enthusiasm in my classes -- as well as a lot of silence: the sounds of pen on paper (or tapping on keys).] This means some fun prep for you: go through magazines to find 'agony aunt' columns or features. You may have to adapt or rearrange, but what you need is 4 or 5 problem situations which involve three or four people, possibly more.

Maybe the web has 'I need help' situations like this, I don't know. Or maybe you can borrow some storylines from Coronation Street or The Archers or even the news. Mind out for copyright infringement. But effectively you want a person with a problem, an unsolved domestic or relationship issue. It could be as simple as the situation I give below.

In small groups of four or so, give each group copies of one of the situations. They briefly read and discuss and each person in the group chooses one of the 'characters' in the story. Each student then writes in the voice of his/her character. So in the situation below, the mother-in-law, the mum, the husband... and even the toddler, even the dog.

Yes, yes, you'll get questions -- first person seems to be easiest but third person is fine, and each student can do whichever, the group does not have to agree (so illustrating/practising the other kind of POV). Some groups or individuals like to develop the story, or tell from later on in the story, and that's okay too. The main thing is to WRITE. They don't share with others in their group. Allow 15 mins of writing. Then each group reads out to the whole class (after reading out the initial situation).

And voila, a real live demonstration of how many angles can tell a story. And then on to discussion as to which one way they'd choose for this story, or would it be a patchwork of various voices, and what effect this has on the feeling and impact of the story, and what surprises/discoveries they made in writing from their person's POV. And awareness of all of this as their authorial creative choice in writing their own stories.

My mother-in-law comes to visit with her wheezy old dog,
I'm worried about my toddler, both germs and possible snappishness. I want
to leave her dog at home but she's devoted to it and my husband says it's
her lifeline. What can I do about this?

Assessment Critera: Tutor goes around and listens in to groups and answers questions or explains further. Hearing the reading out allows you to assess understanding. The further discussion also clarifies things. At this point, if necessary to show evidence of understanding, you could distribute a handout or worksheet with texts to identify or further discuss, as in lit-crit. But for me, writing's the thing.