Last week, a 10-year-old in one of the creative writing workshops I teach outlined the plot for his next story to me:
A war breaks out between Glue and Tape to determine which is the best adhesive. Gorilla Glue is the leader of the Glue Army, with Super Glue as second-in-command. Glue-sticks are the foot soldiers. The Tape Army is led by Duct Tape, with Packing Tape as colonel and rolls of Scotch Tape as minions. The battle is complicated by the forces of the Resistance, led by Teflon, who is opposed to having anything stick to anything. But Staples have a role to play, too, and may come in and put a definitive end to the war.
How creative and clever is that? The thing I love most about teaching kids is that they constantly surprise me, and open my mind to new ways of thinking about story.
In my creative writing workshops (I teach with writopialab.org), I teach kids the basics, week after week: Figure out your main character’s want or goal, the thing that’s driving the story. What obstacles stand in the way? Is one of the obstacles internal, a personal flaw or weakness of some kind? Will the character obtain the goal or not? What will he/she learn? What will he/she gain and lose by the end of the story?
We play writing games designed to reinforce all these basics, or to unleash new ideas. And week after week, the kids astonish me. There’s the girl writing a novel about Merlin the magician, who has traveled through time and is working as a docent at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. There’s the girl who wrote a story about Dreamcatchers, creatures whose job is to fly into children’s bedrooms each night and capture their dreams to fuel the world (and steal their nightmares to prevent destruction). There’s the boy who wrote a story from the point of view of the humble thimble token in Monopoly, about wanting to be better than the other, flashier tokens.
I play all the writing games with the kids in workshop, and I love the way that playing at writing energizes my own writing work. Here are some ways to flex your own play muscles: [Read more…]