There’s nothing like getting up in front of 100+ grade-five boys to talk about writing to … clarify the mind.
As you look out across the endlessly wiggling room, the ones who are staring at you as though you are a science experiment they’d quite like to dissect, the ones who are staring at the ceiling wondering when it will all end, the ones who are, quite frankly, reading a book (because, really, what could you possibly have to say that would be better than this book???), you very quickly realise that you need to say something interesting – and fast.
I speak from experience.
Last week, I enjoyed several days of author talks in a terrific school for boys. Putting together a new workshop for the students, I realised that teaching kids about writing is a great way to learn about writing yourself – or, rather, to remind yourself what’s important about writing.
I think that, as adult writers in the pursuit of perfection, we can sometimes forget what’s important. We get bogged down in expectation (of ourselves, from others), in 1000 different writing craft books with 1000 different bits of advice, in blog posts (*waves*) and tips, pitching and querying…
But talking to kids about writing is a great way to bring it all back into focus. So, I’m going to share my three big ‘takeaways’ from last week.
- Writing is fun. I run an exercise in my latest workshop where we create a character based on an image and then we ask that all-important question: what happens next?
What happens next with a group of grade 5 boys usually involves a rollicking adventure, with missing phones, kidnapping clowns, dragons, Olympic snowboarding teams, the Births, Deaths and Marriages office (true story) and an avalanche. Or some permutation of the above.
When you just go with the flow and write anything, it is both hilarious and uplifting.
- It all comes back to character. Everything in your story comes back to your protagonist. Everything. Your plot is merely a series of events, large and small, which occur because your character is making decisions. All the time. Which means that you, the author, are making decisions all the time.
If you remember that every decision is not about what ‘you’ would do but about what your character would do, you won’t hit as many dead ends in your draft.
- Your character has to want something. Your character needs a goal. On every page, in every scene, over the entire narrative arc, he or she has to want something. Without a goal, you don’t have a story. And writing fiction is about story.
No matter how beautiful your sentences are, or how evocative your imagery, or how incredibly sensitive and worthy your theme may be, without a story your reader is going to put the book down and wander away.
So there you have it. Three little reminders from my ‘Unlocking The Story Code: 10 Keys To Writing A Great Story’ workshop. After a couple of weeks of hard edits, it was just as inspiring for me to talk about writing as it was (hopefully) for the boys who attended the workshops.
Even the guy reading the book.
After all, one of the biggest tips that all writers give to aspiring writers is this: read a lot. Which puts him way ahead of the game (and reminded me very much of myself).
Do you remember being taught about writing as a kid? What’s the biggest lesson you remember?
If you’d like to find out more about my workshops for kids and adults, you’ll find all the information here.