Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Stone Writing

I said stone, not stoned! Here is a stimulus exercise I love to teach. A good one for early in the start of a new term because it's a bit mystifying, but always gets results. What's more, it makes use of those mementos from your holidays if, like me, you can't resist picking up stones or shells when out in nature. 

Stone Writing
So, out walking or in a gem shop or natural history museum, collect a small boxful of semi-precious stones in their wondrous variety of colours, textures and patterns. Add stripey, sparkly or textured stones picked up at the seashore and rocky streams. Or run a variation on this, using seashells.

Find a good container, say of rattan or woven grasses for an elemental feel, or of velvet or lacquer, associating with valuable treasures. Proffer the container, letting students choose one of nature’s objects, then contemplate, bubble (my word for brainstorming on paper) and write for 10 minutes -- whatever comes to mind.

This usually brings excellent freewheeling results. Some spontaneously go the non-fiction way of science or nature, others go into memoir mode, others into fiction. Another time you can prompt them if you wish, for instance:

  • Where has this been?

  • What does your stone remind you of?

  • Who found, or who treasures this natural item, and why?

  • If it could talk (or if it had a smell, or if it was once a person)
Stone Writing is in Section II, Stimulus: Sparking the Writer, Exercise 19, in Creative Writing: the Matrix paperback. In Creative Writing: the Quick Matrix e-book it's also #19. If you and your students are really really beginners exercises 5 - 9 are the sparking essentials. 

The whole academic year of planning lies ahead. Enjoy! And remember there are teaching ideas and exercises in the archived posts here -- scroll the Labels list, a treasure trove. Note, too, the final section of the Matrix book (both e and print) is called Running the Course. Combines with Section I: Nurture -- A Safe Place in which to Grow to get you up and, well, running. And writing. 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Character Challenge

Spring into Summer, wheee! And more demand from your creative writing students, whether it's a new class or the rag-tag end of your year. This character writing exercise is fun AND enlightening.

Characterization Challenge
Prepare a set of word cards, each with a single character trait. Explain before you distribute one to each student:

We want to bring characters alive by showing them to the reader. The following descriptions are excellent character traits, BUT, how would the reader know without being told in a summary word by you that a person is like this?

Without using the word or phrase on the card, write a half page showing a character with this trait -- include dialogue, make it a scene. Afterwards we'll read out and see if the class can determine the original trait.

Words for the cards: vain; shy; laid back; needs to be centre of attention; brave; a poseur; principled; cynical about life; scatter-brained; ambitious... (Tutor, go on and add as many as you need).

Reading out usually includes lots of laughter as a troupe of exaggerated characters peoples the room, and each writer gets the fun of playing quiz master to his/her character sketch.

Characterization Challenge is in Section III, Craft. In Creative Writing; the Matrix paperback it's Exercise 74. In Creative Writing: the Quick Matrix e-book it's Exercise 70. It follows a Mini-Lecture: Characterization which includes a handout and explains the importance of SHOWING over telling.

Got a short-course summer school coming up? As well as the Matrix books there are more teaching ideas and exercises in the archived posts of this blog. Just scroll down the Labels list and call up Exercises or Class Planning.

Happy teaching, happy creating! I'll be back before September start of term, happy summer,

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Hyper-Awareness Writing

New Year, new lessons to plan. Where can you take your writers, and yourself? Try writing with the 8 senses. And then follow with an exercise. The senses are an absolutely essential element of creative writing, and a review of them plugs into almost any writing stimulus, any writing level.
Ask students to call out the senses. Write them on the whiteboard as they do so. The obvious come first, and then I add three others I've identified. As a demonstration I like to halt everything for a whole long minute for Sound, so we all listen: the hum of a computer, talk in the corridor, drone of a plane, a distant siren, one's own breathing... Invite your students to stretch their senses, along the lines of:

Sound – peel off layers of sound

Taste – temperature and feel of food in the mouth, nuances, memories (and as smell)

Smell – familiar, unknown, indescribable (new combinations of familiar)

Sight – panorama, close-up, middle distance; above, below; colour, texture, shape, pattern; straight, curved, angular; banish the word beautiful – what kind of beautiful?

Touch – feel under fingertips, soles of feet, bottom; hot/cold, rough/smooth; things that touch you (breeze, raindrops, rim of glass); things you touch (yak's coat, palm trunk, kelim rug)

Kinetic – body position:  awkward, comfy, stretched, cramped, turned, straight...

Inner/visceral – body organs, gut reactions:  churning stomach, tight throat, full bladder, scratchy eyes, prickling scalp, gooseflesh, genitals responding (or not)
Time – night/day, evening; light, shadow (Monet's cathedral); time creeps, time whizzes
The above is Mini-Lecture 2 from the Stimulus section of Creative Writing: the Matrix. Now for an exercise. This is Hyper-Awareness (surprise) which is number 12 in the paperback book and number 13 in the Quick Matrix ebook.
After introducing 8 Senses, before a break (coffee or lunch) instruct students to be hyper-aware of all senses, but no other instructions.  On return to class, give one of these writing exercises.
  • Sheer observation Bubble and write, describing the café break, using as many of the senses as richly as possible.
  • Character-based in two stages.  Tutor, don’t reveal the second stage til the first is written.  Stage 1. Describe the café break as seen by a character who has just had a row with a lover – a paragraph or half-page.  Stage 2.  Same break, same character, but he/she has just declared love and learned it was mutual. Describe the break experience.
Read out and enjoy the sensations. Hope you'll be revelling in rich writing all term!
PS To help you through the term there are loads of other teaching ideas and exercises in the archived blog posts here. See the Labels list. I'll be back after spring break.