That was the look on my son's face when I showed up in his classroom this past Thursday, to teach his first grade class about writing fiction. He averted his eyes with a worried little look, like he wanted to say, "What are you doing here? You're not a teacher."
But I was a teacher. For a few minutes anyway--thirty to be exact, for the Great American Teach In. I had told him I was coming, but he didn't understand what I was going to talk about. I don't get paid to write fiction. SO why would I be at his school, among all his friends, teaching them about a job I didn't get paid for???
Because it's my passion.
That's what I told him, and his class. I love writing fiction so much, that I consider it my job. And that's why I was there. To share it with them.
Here's what my presentation consisted of:
I told them about two different kinds of books: fiction and non-fiction. But they were super smart and that was old news.
We discussed the different kinds of books: hardback, paperback, and eBooks. None of them seemed to know what eBooks were. So I dazzled them with my expertise. *tongue in cheek* We discussed the different platforms for eReaders, and I showed them my Kindle app on my phone.
Next we discussed fiction genres. Genre was a new word for them. So it was cool they learned something. We talked about fantasy, science-fiction, romance, adventure, thriller, contemporary, horror. We went over the types of kid lit, like picture books, chapter books, and novels (MG and YA.)
Then, we got into the meat and potatoes. We decided to build a story. I broke it down to them like this:
Building a story, is like building a house. We need the right materials and tools to start, but we can't just throw it all together and get a house. We have to start with a solid foundation so our house is sturdy and structured, then we can decorate it however we want.
Same with out stories. I showed them the basic materials to build their own stories:
* structure (the 3 Acts of beginning, middle, end)
Plot was a little bit tricky for them, so I explained it this way: every story has to have a problem, or conflict. No conflict, no story. Think of the plot as the story problem. So we went on to dissect Little Red Hiding Hood and pick out the basics:
*Characters: Red, Big Bad Wolf, Grandma, Woodcutter
*Setting: woods, Grandma's house
* Plot: Red has to get goodies to her sick grandma but is tricked by a big bad wolf and has to get away
* Structure: (Beginning) Red's goal is to get goodies to her sick grandma. (Middle) She meets wolf and divulges personal information which is later used to trick Red. (End) The woodcutter saves the day by chasing off the wolf and reuniting Red with her grandma.
These kids were on the ball. They understood and asked questions. Once they got the hang of it, we were ready to build our own story... we needed to gather our materials, but they needed one particular thing first ...
I handed each of them an index card with the word "imagination" on it. I told them it was their license to use their imagination. The freer they set it, the better. I let them in on a little secret that sometimes I get a crick in my neck from all the rules everywhere. EVERYWHERE. But there is one place in the world where there are no rules. And that is our imagination.
We went on to build our story, which turned out to be about an orange starfish with blue eyes named Tommy. He lived on the beach, where our story took place, and Tommy's most fave thing to do was train dolphins. (These are all answers from the kids.) But Tommy had a BIG problem. There was this whale who tried to eat dolphins and chased all the dolphins away from the beach until there were no more dolphins for Tommy to train. So how does Tommy get the dolphins back to continue doing what he loves?
Well, that's where the story became the children's to take home and finish and build however they wanted. They were so clever with their ideas... I really hope at least one of them was inspired.
My son already told me his fave "teacher" from the day was the policeman who showed off his Taser gun. But hey, that's understandable ... I mean, who can compete with a wand that emits purple electricity and shocks people??
Anyway, just wanted to share my teach-in day. I left having such a natural high from the class's eager participation and bright minds. And boiling down the story telling basics really simplifies it in my mind as well. Goes back to that solid foundation thing ... and how every story needs one.
How about you? Done any teaching lately? How do you build your story?