Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How to Develop a Writer

Unfortunately for my son his mom is a published author.  I might not be Nora Roberts or Danielle Steel but the fact remains I have published my writing in various formats for the last ten years.  He used to have a thirst for writing that almost surpassed my own.  I could see the desire to possibly someday be published himself.  

The problem is somewhere in the public education system this thirst dampened.  It died.  He was writing well developed stories in fourth grade and so they stopped feeding him improvement.  They didn't teach him the mundane part of the writing process because he was doing a good job.  So the ball got dropped.  The spark for telling a story is still there.  The little hint of a flame as he reveals a plot twist, a gruesome death, or a funny joke.  What's missing is a lack of respect for the process of "feeding the flame".  

He has no idea how often one, single piece may be written and rewritten.  He wasn't given elements of building the story further than his initial idea.  While he was taught writing in a classroom setting it was a basic class that touched upon knowledge he already had.  It taught basic character development.  Never mind that his stories all showed those basics what he needed was more in depth knowledge.

So now we have a problem of arrogance.  Thinking his writing is far superior to his peers he has hit a point where I am going to have to burst that bubble.  I am going to have to take some of the lessons above the place his peers are at.  Which means I will hear complaints of, "this is too hard."  "I'm not writing a book mom!"  "I already did that."  "How long does it have to be?"  The last is my least favorite because it isn't a question that explores what is my potential? It's a question that explores what do I have to do to pass?

So there is a mind set here that we need to make a break through in.   Life isn't about passing or failing.  It's not about doing good enough.  It's about doing your best.  If he would get rid of that pass or fail, good enough, how long should my writing be thought process I have no idea what he would create.  When he is given the limit of doing two pages, he does exactly two pages.  When he is told do 10 paragraphs, he does exactly 10 paragraphs.  What I see is that if he would let his creative monster loose on paper, unguarded, there is no limit to his imagination.  

I hate giving a limit on a writing assignment.  I really do.  But if I don't, he will write the entire assignment in two sentences.  His mind set is on doing as little as possible to produce the exact result the teacher requests.  He won't explore any further.  Yet, take him on vacation and riding in a car with nothing else to do he is typing out longer stories in the notes section of my Iphone.  Stories that are good.

So this is my experiment in developing him beyond the pass/fail school system way of teaching.  I don't know how successful it will be in the end and there are have been times already in this process where he has bucked against my non traditional method.

1. Give him a good writing prompt and ask for 5 paragraphs.
2.  He used a "To be continued" setting himself up the next day to finish the story in 5 paragraphs.
3. Teach character development.  Using a simple chart we watched an episode of his favorite television show and analyzed each character.  We had four charts completed at the end of this session. http://www.teachervision.fen.com/pop-culture/printable/63325.html
4. Then he was told to do two more charts just like that printable on his characters.
5.  At this point he was told to revise his 10 paragraph story and incorporate his character chart exercise into his writing.  Here is where he did something completely unexpected.  Rather than expanding upon his assignment, he did exactly what I asked and in the process condensed his story down to one page length.  I was mad at first. Then I looked closer at what he had done.  He had tightened down his story and took out a lot of the non essential elements.  He did add in good character descriptions.   It is nowhere near complete but it may actually be easier for him to work with the story now that the only things remaining are the important parts.  Oh, and the story still made perfect sense.
6.  Then we looked at the beginning.  We read through: http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/greenway1.shtml
Then he was given a list I made in Microsoft word that hit each key point talked about in the article but worded in a way a sixth grader can apply to his writing.  His assignment was to look through my print out and begin to brainstorm how he was going to do everything on that page in his first chapter.   I also took his condensed story and broke it down into Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and  Chapter 3.  The objective at the end of this unit is a three chapter story that showcases his writing style.
7.  The next class period is to complete Chapter 1.  Incorporate everything he read, learned, and then worked out on paper the day before into his actual story.
This is a unit in progress so we are not finished but the overall point of what he is doing is here.
We will do a few lessons on conflict and the middle of a story.  We will do a few lessons on conflict resolution, good endings, and how to wrap everything up without leaving a loose end unless you plan on doing a series of novels or stories.   Finally, he will be put through the editing and re-writing process one last time to produce a three chapter short story.   How will it work out for us?  I have no idea.  But I can't wait to read the final product!

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