Celebrating Creativity With Imaginative Young Minds

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting my son’s elementary school and sharing a day of reading and creativity with some of the students.

I was invited to my oldest son’s 5th grade class where they are beginning to learn about and explore creative writing. After answering some general questions about the craft and about my own methods of revision and work processes, I read them the first chapter of my middle-grade work in progress.

If you ever have the chance to sit down with a large group of children and share your work with them, DO IT! To begin with, it is magical. No matter how many adult readers, editors, and peer readers you have, none of them can give you the intangible reactions you hope to get from your target audience.

I was escorted to my chair (a VERY comfortable rocking chair) by the student of the month and then the kids gathered around, in bean bags and on the rug; in chairs and on stools. I explained the premise of the story and told them that they were my first young audience to hear the beginning of the story. They were excited. I was excited.

And so I read….and it was AWESOME! There were laughs when there should have been laughs. There were smiles when I hoped there’d be smiles, and there were shocked expressions or gasps when I’d written in sections that were expected to cause those same reactions.

If I’d had the book done and published and ready for purchase, I would have had a room full of new readers. In other words, it was a success. They’d not only enjoyed the story, but they’d given me the proof that I had succeeded in my attempt to write a fun, quirky and enjoyable story for young readers. It was written all over their excited faces.

And afterward, I fielded questions about the rest of the story, about writing in general, and about key concepts and components of storytelling. It was great to discuss, point of view, foreshadow, metaphor, theme, climax, character evolution, and idea generation with the kids. They were as excited to demonstrate that they’d noticed the foreshadowing clues as I was to hear that my inclusion of them in the story had worked. They were as eager to learn what happened next as I was to tell them about it.

It was truly a rewarding experience. To give them a chance to explore their creativity and to pen a short story of their own, I prompted a little writing exercise. Using Rory’s Story Cubes (and if you haven’t seen these, they are the coolest things!), we rolled up nine images and put them up on the projector so the whole class could see them. The idea is that our minds think in pictures and an image gives us an infinite variety of interpretations. So, we rolled up the nine dice (the student of the month had the honors) and broke the class up into groups of three.

One person was responsible for writing the beginning. They had to write the hook and establish the conflict, along with introducing the character. Another child wrote the middle, working toward conflict resolution and inserting obstacles. The last person wrote the climax (having worked out with the middle writer where they were going to “meet”) and the resolution.

The groups were free to arrange the nine images in whatever order they wanted, each person taking three of the images and incorporating them into their section of the story. Their teacher and I listened in to the brainstorming process and watched as they eagerly created fantastic tales, some of which included mysteriously locked doors, laser shooting eyeballs, a honey-hunting cyclops, and giant alien bees. It was so much fun! And afterwards, some of the students shared their work with us, reading their sections and demonstrating how their voice, their imagination and their approach differed from their classmates who had the same pictures to work with.

I hope that when I left, I left some of them with a hunger to continue creating. I hope that when I left, I left some of them eager to tell more stories, to explore worlds within their own minds that they may have been hesitant to explore. I was there once. I was a 6th grade student when a similar experience had changed me forever. It was a similar experience that showed me that all I wanted to do was tell stories.

If even one creative young mind takes pen in hand and walks through that door of imagination and storytelling, then I’ll feel as if I have come full circle. But I’ll never know that, we’ll never know that, until they are sharing these same sentiments one day and remembering that afternoon in 5th grade when there were no walls and their minds could take them places where nobody could hold them back.

Here’s to creativity. Here’s to the next generation of wordsmiths, ready to ply their craft at the imagination forge.

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Tell Me a Story About Leprechaun Love

I’ve watched writers gripping their pen with what could only be construed as a focused debate on whether or not to drive said pencil through their eyeball, thus ending their misery. I mean come on, Mrs. Applebottom’s caramel-colored cat in chapter three is an obvious metaphor for capitalist society infringing on the demands of children brought up bottle-fed instead of smothered against their mother’s breast. And what about a third person, omniscient narrator with occasional amnesia? I know, I’ll write a zombie prom story. Zombie’s are hot, right? No, not any more? What about leprechauns? A leprechaun love story? I’ll go all new media and write it as Facebook status updates. No, I’ll use Post-it notes. And it has to be perfect, NOW. That’s why I am editing the first page again. Yes, it’s the 684th time I’ve rewritten it.

To all of you who write, myself included, I say this: RELAX. Am I being facetious? Yes. But the idea isn’t that far off the mark. We writers are a worrisome lot. We have a lot of tools, dynamics and “moving parts” to contend with in order to produce a quality and entertaining product. However, it seems that the more we write and the more we immerse ourselves in the craft of writing (and don’t ever think for once that writing is not a craft), we forget the most basic and fundamental building block of all. Tell a story.

It’s that easy. Just tell a damn story. At its most basic level, at the core of everything we have learned and will learned, we must never forget the heart of it all: Tell a story.

Of course we need our writers’ tool box. We need to pay attention to technique and style, voice and fundamental dynamics. But these are the things applied to and over the heart of the idea, the story. We have nothing if we have no story. Well, maybe we have a grocery list or a collection of random thoughts about what’s actually buried in the very back of my pantry (and if you know, please tell me). But we need a story. It starts with a story and if you remember that, if you get excited about that, you’ll be alright.

Just…tell me a story.

Now grab that pen, hammer that keyboard, and write that leprechaun love story. Don’t forget Mrs. Applebottom’s caramel-colored cat.

Hey, if you are so inclined (and damn crazy enough), write the story as a flash fiction. 500 words and post it on your blog or website. Put the title to your story and a link to it in a comment below so that we can all appreciate your craziness, I mean creativity. Let’s hear your stories!

Tell us a story!