Week One as a Teacher

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I am doing a writing and acting workshop with a group of local teens. Our first day we attempted to make the elements of Story Arc and Character Arc both interesting and accessible to a group of teenagers whose summer brains are operating at full-force.

Aside: Summer brain is the slush your gray matter changes into over the break from school due to the sweltering heat, the many hours spent playing video games, your transformation into a creature of the night, and all the slushies/Frostys/Acai Berry Bowls you can eat while still not getting your ass up off the couch. Being a teen on summer break was, seriously, the best!

Their brains seemed relatively intact, which made our jobs a lot easier. (And way more fun.) The first thing I learned about teaching teenagers comes from the wisdom of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and is poorly paraphrased here, by me: Success depends on winning decisive engagements quickly. 

I’ve yet to meet a teen, or a 28-year-old writer spright, with a tolerance for blathering. My co-teacher (who is a more patient person and a highly trained actor) and I divided to conquer. We also talked really fast and tried to make them constantly answer questions so they wouldn’t fall asleep or yank phones out of pockets to Tweet about their lame-ass teachers. We knew they would stay awake, but what we wanted was them to care. Teens, as a rule, can’t openly care. But there are subtle hints they give you that show they do (again, not getting on their phones) and that means you’re winning.

Our second tactic for holding their interest comes from my belief, and strong support for this belief from educators and scientists, that finding a common interest breeds trust. In our breakdown of the story arc, we went through a very popular book and film that every teen in the world has read or seen: The Hunger Games. Whenever we saw interest waning, we brought it back to Katniss. Not only was I thoroughly impressed by their knowledge and understanding of the story, but by their nearly spot on evaluation of the plot based on the formula I had given them for story arc.

When discussing common character arcs, we opened it up for them to try to figure out which films or books followed which arc. And mostly, they nailed it. These exercises proved to me that they were learning, and to them that these skills could result in their own brand of awesomeness. In a story they can actually be proud of. In characters we actually might care about.

The goal of all of this was, of course, not just to gush over The Hunger Games. The goal was to lay a foundation for understanding character and story so that when they began writing their own short-films, they would have knowledge beyond instinct and personal desire to draw from.

We then put the plan into action. My co-teacher played a piece of instrumental music and the kids brainstormed what they saw, or felt, or interpreted from it. Next, we broke them into groups and played another piece of music, giving each group the task of creating a story — with a beginning, middle, and end— to the music.

They attacked the task and all managed to pull together a story — largely consisting of some kind of superhero or galactic battle at either a wedding or dance.

Next week — screen tests and rough drafts. Woo-hoo!

What’s Up Wednesday

whats up wednesdayWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom Jaime’s post. We really hope you will take part!

What I’m Reading

I will admit — honestly and openly and with no shame — that I put Legend down for the moment. I am hoping it has to more to do with me than the book. Maybe I just don’t want to read that kind of story in that kind of world right now. I intend to pick it back up in the future and try again because I can’t NOT finish. Instead, I am reading The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I think I’ve said this before, and to everyone in my life, but Maggie’s writing is some of my favorite. Everything she writes is so alive and pulsing. The Scorpio Races is much different than her other books, but in no way is it less vibrant. Plus, she writes guys better than any chick out there. I am still beta reading, and am still so impressed and loving it. Hope to have notes for her by the end of the weekend.

What I’m Writing

Other than blogging, and some stuff for a class (which I will elaborate on below) I am not writing anything. That should not be taken as saying I am not writing. My brain is whirling again, and mostly, it’s about the sequel to the book that’s out with agents. I am trying to keep the ideas in order until I actually can start on the sequel. In the meantime, I am doing a lot of pre-plotting and hopefully next week I will begin working on an idea I have had that is totally different (genre, world, kind of story) than the book I spent the last nineteen months writing and revising.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Readers. I recently spent time chatting with a teenage girl who gets excited about reading. I have had beta readers come back to me in a panic after finishing my book because the sequel isn’t written yet. This may be contributing to my growing urge to begin work on the second book. Readers make us want to write more.

This article featuring snippets of Veronica Roth’s speech at BEA. She shared her own experience of stifling the excitement over the new Harry Potter (whichever came out while she was still in high school) due to the ennui of her boyfriend at the time. She later learned to be true to the reader inside, and clearly that has translated into being a phenomenally accessible writer. I think what she has done with Divergent is so impressive, not only because she is a first time author, but because she is a clever business woman.

The Fruit produced by a good book. Because when that teen’s (Who was at our house with her parents so I’m not just a creeper hanging out with a teenager, guys.) face lit up at the sight of The Hunger Games trilogy sitting in esteem on the top bookshelf, she couldn’t hide what it had done in her. And when she started asking questions about other YA books on my shelf, my gushing was so not cool but totally awesome still.

What Else I’m Up To

I am teaching a writing and acting workshop for teens. It’s a six week course in which they will write four 5-minute episodes of a web-series, cast the episodes they write, and film them to be shown on the web. My job is to impart my storytelling and character development wisdom while also inspiring them to tell their own story. One of the kids in the group is my working actor nephew, Ben J. Pierce, who is crazy talented. I’m pumped to be working with this group. No doubt next week I’ll be writing about them in the “What Inspires Me” section.

Happy Wednesday everyone!