Thursday, 8 December 2011
"Don't embarrass me, dad!"
A short while ago during parent / teacher interviews my daughter's teacher told me that his class was doing a project on creative writing and would I be willing to come in and give a professional point of view.
"I don't know how professional it will be, but yes," I said, "I'd be honoured to come in and share the little bit I know."
Well, yesterday was the big day and it was a blast. I only hope the kids had half as much fun as I did.
I started off talking about how lucky I was to have had a full year of creative writing in high school (Grade 11, I think). As an added bonus, one of my daughter's classmates is the grandson of the teacher who taught me that course. I told them that the one exercise that stood out in my mind was the day she showed up to class with this battered, mud-crusted hightop sneaker. She dropped it onto the table at the front of the class and. amid a cloud of dust and mud, asked us to write a page about the sneaker. "What's the sneaker's story?" she said. We ended up with 22 different stories.
After that we spoke about different writers' advice. Heinlein's rules for pros, Neil Gaimen's idea that writing is like building a structure - placing one word after another like bricks in a wall until you end up with something that wasn't there before. From Ray Bradbury, I shared his idea that anyone can write a bad story but he challenged anyone to write 52 bad stories in a row (assuming a Bradbury-like output of a story a week). Vonnegut's advice of giving the reader a character they can root for and being sadistic enough to put that character through hell to show the reader what he or she is made of. And every writer's greatest bit of advice - READ! Read a lot on all different sorts of subjects.
We did a creative exercise involving a Killer Platybot who yearns for freedom from the evil scientist who created him. We could have gone on for hours with that but I decided when the scientist's cave was full of hot coffee would be a good time to stop. I encouraged them to finish the story themselves and told them they'd probably have twenty different endings.
We talked about Symbiosis. They seemed interested by a vampire story but seemed a little disappointed when I told them it wasn't really about vampires. We talked about The Platinum Ticket and the Pratchett Prize. We talked about editing, being edited and how many drafts are enough. I also pointed out the dangers of editing too much so that you find yourself moving commas around. We spoke about the value of reading your work aloud to get a feel for flow. I told them if they find themselves stumbling over a word as they read their writing aloud to take a long, hard look at that word. It probably doesn't work in the sentence and your vocal stumble is telling you to do something about it.
It was a wonderfully rewarding experience for me and I hope the kids took something of value away with them. The best bit of writing advice I gave them came from The Pratchett Prize award party.
"Kids," I said, "if you ever find yourself in a situation where someone who has sold 75 million copies of his books comes over to you across a crowded room and asks if he can give you some advice on your book, always, always, always say YES!"