Thursday, July 29, 2010

In need of an idea -- or frequent flier miles

Yesterday (pre-migraine) a college professor/writer that I am acquainted with tricked me into coming out of my shell.

OK, really, truly there were no tricks. He merely asked me if I would be willing to teach a seminar on writing to high school students and a class or two to college students on creative writing.

I said yes before I could really think about it. I love talking about writing, and I love teaching writing. If I had the dollars and the time, I'd go back and get the parchment that would say I could dayjob by teaching creative writing. Alas, the idea of doing more post-grad work makes my head ache worse.

Also, these commitments were blissfully out in the future -- the high school one is not until February.

Then Dr. Writer (who shall remain nameless) told me the kicker about the high school seminar: the time block is two hours, and in that time, the students have to produce a sample of writing that is judged for an English scholarship.

Yikes! Back I retreated into my turtle shell.

Usually when I'm asked to do something like this, I focus on something useful -- query letters or synopses or just a general overview of the writing/publishing biz. But these kids will be nowhere near submitting for publication (well, most of 'em, anyway), and I don't think even the best query letter could be good enough to base an English scholarship on.

So onto my quandary: what component of writing can I teach to high school students that I can teach in, say, an hour or so, and leave them enough time to craft a good sample of their writing?

My thoughts so far? Let's go all James Joyce and stream-of-consciousness for a moment.

Eeek! Can I get out of this? Maybe an unexpected trip out of the country? No, no, my word is my bond ... two hours! Not even two, because they have to write and how can they write anything in two hours that will give them a good shot at writing and what if I can't shut up about writing and take the whole two hours and they have zip to show for their scholarship? Two hours! TWO HOURS! I can say no, sure I can say no, no, no, I can't say no, say, how about dialogue?

Once I hit the brakes on the runaway train that is my thought process (ain't pretty, is it?), I tell myself to define the problem and get on with finding a solution. I have to teach a bite-size chunk, and dialogue is something that could be bite-sized.

Other possibilities:

1) Setting and imagery

2) First pages

3) Show, don't tell.

So you tell me. Back when you were a high school kid who thought all romance writers were rich and ate bon-bons all the live-long day and wore feather boas and stilettos and resembled Barbara Cartland, what could you have listened to in sixty short minutes and then turned into some sort of work product?

Because it's either you help me come up with this, or I'm hitting Tawna Fenske up for some of her frequent flier miles out of the country.


Patty Blount said...

I'd go back through some of the writing contests in which our twitter gang has participated.

Janet Reid had us looking for the ARC of You... Elisabeth Black judged us on our best one paragraph love scenes. Since these contests are held in a blog's Comments section, they may give you the germ of an idea that could be done in 2 hours' time.

You know my fondness for Master the Craft books? Forgive me, I cannot remember where this came from, but read a segment on setting. The example cited was a college classroom. Most of the students described the cinder block walls, the dull paint but one wrote, "Nobody ever fell in love in this room."

Lastly, opening hooks.

Good luck, darlin'

Piedmont Writer said...

I like Patty's last idea. Writing hooks. You could start out your first hour with how to capture a reader using a hook, find some great examples ("Call me Ishmael" okay maybe not but there are others) and then let them see where they can go with it. You have to tell them, it has to WOW the reader, hook them in the first 5 pages so the reader will want to read more. And then you can go into how all us romance writers sit around all day eating bon-bons wearing stilletos. Good luck with this, I know you'll be great.

out of the wordwork said...

I agree. Opening hooks are a good two hour discussion. And since these students will be writing college entrance essays, they need to hook their reader immediately (talk about a slush pile of essays to get through for those admission officers!)
There's probably a ton of opening hook craft stuff from the RWA conferences that's available either through the tapes or on their site.
Good luck! You'll do fine.

Cynthia Reese said...

ALL good ideas!

Patty, since these are high school students we're dealing with, I'll pass on the one paragraph love scenes ... but I really liked your ideas on setting and hooks.

Anne, I know that feather boa of yours sorely gets in the way of your post-hole digging. Sheesh, the sacrifices you have to make! ;-)

Nelsa, a life-saver! Hadn't thought about the RWA stuff! *whistling as I'm off to pilfer*

Tawna Fenske said...

LOL, keep your grubby mitts off my frequent flyer miles!

I'm terrible at thinking through this stuff, but I know you've read a few books on craft that might have some useful tips you can steal.

You could devote a section to common mistakes (with a few opportunities for laughter there).

I'll keep thinking on it. Good luck!


Jessica said...

Back in HS, as an Honor Roll student, I was more concerned with getting things "right" than anything. In school we are rewarded for how right we are, and how often. A creative fiction writer telling me perfectionism was a myth would have gone a long way! :-)

Linda G. said...

I like the idea of the opening hook, too. Seems to me it would be doable in the amount of time you've been allowed.

Patty Blount said...

OK, for opening hooks, suggest Les Edgerton's book Hooked. He's got a website and it's linked on my blog.