Scene Stealers and Struggles

Have you ever felt that you were missing something as you read a story? That niggling at the back of your mind that something happened to a character that the author hints at but doesn’t fully come out and say? I started reading one of my favorite authors out of order and felt exactly that. I hated that feeling, so I decided it might be interesting to explore having kids write their own backstories for their favorite books. It also helped that one of my returning girls from the first session had literally notebooks full of those kinds of stories. In fact, she was my first student for Scene Stealers. We focused on creating backstory in the context of working on the craft of writing. For example, we created a dialogue that went into the backstory for two characters that the original author doesn’t explore.

In a couple of the classes, we focused on expository writing.  Wait, expository writing you say? Why are you focusing where writers generally dislike to tread, you ask? Writing is no different than any other art. In painting, Picasso started out drawing the human figure “the right way” before he could move on to the works of his later periods. I saw an exhibit at the East Wing of the National Gallery of his pencil and charcoal drawings that he did as a teenager, and they bore no resemblance to his adult work at all. Writing is the same. You can’t break the rules until you know how to use them correctly.

In scene stealers, we were able to use elements from our lives in our stories.  In one class, I told my student that I wanted a scene to be as wordy as possible. She was having a hard time with it, and when I aasked her why, she started telling me about her nemesis. Apparently, a boy in her class is treating her with shameful disrespect. Far from being torn down by this foolish young man she’s taken the high road. They happen to be in a group project together and he is “bossy by nature”. It seems he has taken over the whole project and the other kids are not sure how to deal with it. He’s a bit of a silly head as she politely put it. The righteous anger she displayed when talking about this boy was fantastic to behold. Machiavalian person that I am, I decided to tap that emotion. I told her to forget describing a room. I asked her to invent a new character in her favorite series that resembled the bane of her 5th-grade existence. She did. With great success and much venom.

The struggle of the second session was an internal one for me as a teacher. I had to come to terms with the fact that no person writes at the same speed. I knew that of course, as I had seen it in my adult writing groups, but it was also true of the kids. An eleven-year old’s output may be greater than that of the six-year-old, and I had to quickly learn to go with their flow. I accepted that their stories might not be complete. The opposite was also true. Two of my boys were actually such fast writers that they read not one, but two stories a piece at the end of the session. I had to content myself that my younger, slower writers would get where they needed to so that when we read the results to the parents.

It turns out, I needn’t have worried. Inkreadable KIds session two had understanding and super cool parents. They didn’t mind if the kids didn’t finish the stories. They were happy that their kids were writing and having fun doing it. How do I know they were having fun? They told me, and also their muttering “This is so much fun” as they wrote in my class were pretty decent clues.

That’s all she wrote for this Inkreadable Installment. Stay tuned, as always, there is more to come.

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