A Week to Remember: The Characters

The idea to teach a week-long writing studio was actually brought up by several of my Super Saturday students. They whined whenever we needed to move on to another writing exercise, because it either stopped their current writing flow or the fun of sharing each other’s work aloud. They wanted BIG BLOCKS of solid writing and sharing time. So, the week-long Summer Studio was born.

You can imagine how disheartened I felt when those very students were not available for the dates I had planned to run the studio. As the deadline to register loomed, I was nowhere near my minimum number registered of students. I could not get excited about a workshop that quite possibly was not going to happen.

Then, one of my mentors, Christina Katz, chimed in when I asked for advice. “Commitment,” she said. Don’t say you’ll teach the studio “if” you have the right number of students. Commit to teach it regardless of how many register. Once I turned my mind around to saying “when” instead of “if,” I swear the registrations and emails with questions came in a steady stream.

By the first day, I had 8 registered students, with one more signing up after she saw how much fun her older sister was having.

As a teacher, you never know how to prepare for the characters of your classroom. You really don’t know their level of writing experience and you certainly aren’t prepared for their personalities to shine through the interactions of the workshop format.

I’m a planner. To the extreme. But, I also learned to go with the flow this week. My time line for the 3-hour daily workshops were just a guideline. When the young writers began to warm up with our first exercise a *Summer Snowball Fight, I wasn’t going to cut conversations short to get back to work. A writing workshop environment is a sacred place. It needs to be organic, to ebb and flow with the members, to be light and fun and free. I saw in my students that comfort and freedom and growth of creativity when I practiced that need for flexibility.

Our task of the day was to create Characters. The good people at the Young Writer’s Program for NaNoWriMo have spectacular lesson plans for the stages of crafting a novel (on their website.) I gratefully used their Character Questionnaire. Getting to know your characters as well as you know your best friend is key, I told my students. How else will you know what kind of trouble they can get into? The Character Questionnaire asks things like: “What can your character do better than anyone else?” and “What is your character’s pet peeve?” Hint: this exercise is helpful for us adult writers, too!

Then we paired off and “interviewed” each other as our characters. Fun and challenging were the comments of this exercise. But, each student left that first day with a good handle on who their character was and what they might get into.

To be continued tomorrow…

*Snowball fight, is a game I borrowed from my online writer buddy, Michelle. Each student folds a paper into three’s; in each folded section, they write an interesting fact about themselves; then tear the three sections and crumple them into paper snowballs. We moved to a wide open area of the clubhouse to then toss the snowballs at eachother for 2 minutes. When I yelled “stop!”, we grabbed the three snoballs closest to us and took turns reading and guessing which fact belonged to which person. We learned about each other’s pets, awards, clubs and families.


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Filed under Advice, Believe, characters, teaching

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