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Quick Story Telling Advice for Newbies

My Science Fiction class is working on their "Global Dispatches" essay today.  This is a follow up to studying H. G. Well's The War of the Worlds.  The students are to write their own version of what they experienced during the week long invasion of Earth by the Martians as if it happend here in Grand Junction today.  The idea is that their story will be a bit of oral history, as if a historian came to town after the invasion to talk to the people who made it through to the end.  I got the idea from Kevin Anderson's brilliant anthology, War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches, that told Well's story from the point of views of famous personages who were alive when the invasion would have happened had it been real.

The objective of the assignment is to get the kids into story telling mode.  Here's the advice I put up on the board for them today as they work on their narratives:

Writing Stories that Work

-  Every Scene
-  Tell the reader at least 3 details from different senses
-  Tell the reader what the character did or what happened
-  Tell the reader how the character felt about what he/she did or what happened
-  Use your imagination and your knowledge to provide details in the scene.  If you don't know it, make it up.
-  Put your fingers on the home row (if you are typing), close your eyes, and then start.  The words will be on the page, but the story is in your head.  Be in your head, not on the page.
My students will be here in a couple of minutes.  I'm excited to get them going on the writing of this assignment.  It has always turned out to be fun in the past.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2009 06:39 pm (UTC)
Awesome, beautifully simple advice.

(also, heads up on a typo "finters")
Mar. 31st, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
LOL! "finters" changed to "fingers"

Mar. 31st, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
Typos happen, especially when you're typing with your eyes closed. ;) :P
The three different-sense details tip is one I've been using for a long time (I forget where I originally read it), but it's amazing how just three specific details can give the reader such a stable base with which to triangulate/extrapolate/imagine the rest of the scene.

The only thing I might add (which works for me, but hey, I'm not teaching a class so feel free to ignore) is that the sooner those initial seed-details are planted, the better, within reason. Tell me the scent of the room at the opening of the scene, and that detail resonates downstream, hanging over and coloring all the other details and action. Wait till two paragraphs from the end of the scene to mention the scorched popcorn smell in the break room and that chord doesn't get to compliment any of the notes that precede it.
Mar. 31st, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Typos happen, especially when you're typing with your eyes closed. ;) :P
Nice analogy on when to mention the details.

At this level with these kids, I'm mostly just happy if they'll write in scenes. My better writers start thinking about the more nuanced techniques as they progress.

The Science Fiction class is supposed to be a literature class, not a writing one, but I find I can teach the literary elements better if they read the stories as writers rather than readers.
Mar. 31st, 2009 08:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Typos happen, especially when you're typing with your eyes closed. ;) :P
"At this level with these kids, I'm mostly just happy if they'll write in scenes."

Such a simple but crucial concept. An agent friend of mine bemoans the lack of understanding of this idea just about every time she wades through her slush pile - and we're talking adults seeking publication, let alone kids just trying to make it through a literature class. So thanks for fighting the good fight. :)
Mar. 31st, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
My favorite story in the anthology was the Slim Pickens one. Oh, and I now own the DVD of Jeff Wayne's musical that the book acknowledges as an inspiration.
Mar. 31st, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
So how did the stories turn out? Or are they still working on them?
Apr. 1st, 2009 04:43 am (UTC)
I won't see their finished efforts until Friday, but if past performance is an indicator, I'll find them surprisingly good. Of course, there's some teacherly cheating going on: the main characters are the writers, the setting is their home town, and the narrative doesn't have to be a thematically complete expression. They are telling survivor's tales. What I look for mostly is appeals to the senses, story telling from scenes, and a sense that the characters are emotionally involved.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )