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Author Topic: Where to Begin Learning?
extrinsic
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If you were to teach beginning creative writing to any age or any identity group, where would you begin?

As both a high school and college and graduate creative writing student, taking "Beginning Creative Writing" workshops and classroom instruction, as well as intermediate and advanced, of course, the full curriculum, I can't say that any instructor clearly stated or strongly implied where instruction began. Some reading of model stories, some textbook how-tos and poetics theory texts studies--which do not clearly express topical beginnings, some performance narrative writing, some model story literature response papers, ample writing workshop critique sessions. But not a singular beginning topic.

An assumption in both class prequisites and in general that creative writers have a basic beginning facility with grammar--mechanical style and such, is a given.

Writing workshops and classes do have a tiering emphasis, beginning craft to increasing emphasis on craft development, but not voice or audience appeal. In all, though, ultimately, workshopping creative writing in the end is more about audience appeal and tastes and sensibilities, as though for product focus group functions. I feel that voice, partcularly narrative voice, is not given any concentration in creative writing instruction.

I did have one course module in an advanced creative nonfiction writing workshop that did ask for narratives to emphasize voice. However, the workshop complement did not appreciate that rubric when discussing and critiquing narratives. Anytime I raised voice as an area of strength or shortcoming, eyes glazed over, for creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, expository composition, or script writing courses and workshops. Expository writing coursework did allow that expression is a matter of voice, and vice versa, but not any foundational instruction on how either functions in a composition of whatever metagenre: performance, research and report, inquiry and answer, argumentation.

Actually, an early basic studies course English writing requirement, freshman writing requirement, did touch on voice in terms of professional reporting: tone, register, organization, and content, which gave me a starting direction for exploring voice independently. But the course barely skimmed over those conventions in terms of business correspondence.

I'm more than halfway through Wayne Booth's The Rhetoric of Fiction and realizing the singular and unifying theme of the whole is voice, particulalry emphasizing narrative voice's attitude feature. Wow! I'd thought, and of course been told that voice cannot be taught. I disagree now and can back that up. What I've found instead is resistance to voice instruction, on the part of instructors as well as struggling writers. Yet voice is a commonly stated essential literary agents and publishers claim is in demand for narrative products. Voice as a distinguished and distinctive feature of the dramatic arts has been codified and located and defined at least since Plato's time, certainly given equal footing to craft, audience appeal, and mechanical style in The Poetics of Aristotle.

I'm thinking if I were to teach creative writing, to eighth graders, to penitentiary inmates, to college freshman, to determined creative writing students, to nontraditional adult learners, that voice is a strong place to begin instruction. One of the stronger features of voice that can be taught and learned to a degree is attitude--narrator and character emotional attitude toward a subject or topic, situationally or extended. Not how per se, but through trial and error develop a writer's expression muscles and discernments. A philosophy of which is everyone has as much right as duty to participate in the social conversation that writing, and life, is, as any other writer or person. Write what's on your mind, so to speak, but express an over-the-top emotional attitude toward a focused topic or subject. Then let's see what may come about.

As a second emphasis, I'd teach voice organization and content parameters; in other words, a craft emphasis focused on voice.

Seriously, if you were a creative writing student or teacher, where would you prefer to begin--on what topic? Where would you even now want writing instruction at the current state of your writing development? Or do you, in the alternative, believe you're proficient enough that no instruction from another writer or writing teacher will be of service or guidance in your writing?

[ January 06, 2014, 11:10 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I have three writing assignments in the Writing Class area of this forum that are one approach I have used when teaching creative writing.

What I have done after these, in an actual classroom, has been to workshop the results, in hopes of helping them learn how to self-edit.

Another approach is to start by discussing what creative writing is, and let students explore poetry and nonfiction as well as fiction.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The thing is, what they are trying to say may be of more interest to the students than how they say it.

Voice can be learned while students are trying to express themselves and their thoughts. So I don't think I'd recommend starting brand new writers on voice before anything else.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I would be inclined to consider this approach as a beginning for writers.
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Denevius
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Too many factors are missing to give a clear answer. Is this online, or in person? Is it a community center, a community college, elementary, middle, or high school, university? Older retired people or people in their early 20s.

But if this is an educational setting for a class that's a semester long where we're meeting at least twice a week and it's for a grade,then I'd probably set the end goal first and work backwards from there. So, say trying to complete a short story, maybe 3000 to 5000 words, by the middle of the semester, and then a revision by the end of the semester where one major aspect of the story is altered with the understanding that this is more of an exercise in editing than trying to produce a piece for publication.

Probably one paged weekly flash fiction writing assignments targeting different issues one faces in writing a story, like character, or setting, or voice, or dialog, or research. All of this would, theoretically, be going towards the story they're supposed to submit midway through the semester.

There'd also be a reading list, though each semester I would prefer the class to subscribe to several of the many, many magazines/journals/eJournals out there, and simply use those stories as a basis of discussion of craft in class. I had a professor or two do this in the past, and I found it to be a good idea. I *probably* wouldn't have them purchase an actual book on writing. Personally, I've always found those to be useless, though some people swear by the ones they've read. But most journals will have authors discussing their writing methods, and that'd be enough, I think.

I would also insist upon weekly updates so that I don't get any stories written the night before they're supposed to be turned in. Maybe open a google blog group or something that everyone has to join. Also an easier way to submit the weekly assignments, as well as responses to them.

If the class is a reasonable size, say 12 people, and if it's fifty minutes, I would try to have the first ten or fifteen minutes be a discussion on craft using a published story, and the rest of the time workshopping the weekly assignments. The second half of the semester would be workshopping the first drafts of the stories.

I would steer clear of essays. I hate essays. The final could be a one paged critique of all of the revised stories, noting the new strengths and the new weaknesses. And then a blog post from each student discussing what they've learned and how they could apply it to future writing projects.

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ForlornShadow
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I took a course just last year as a requirement for English, it was creative nonfiction. The part that I liked best about the class was we didn't sit there and learn grammar, or syntax, or anything related to that. All we did was write and workshop. The teacher didn't even have a rubric because he didn't want us to get bogged down in all the details about how to write and what to write, he just wanted us to put pen to paper. Basically having us explore our own style and finding our own voice within the sixteen weeks we had class.
I don't think voice can be taught per se, rather guided to finding it. But I agree with extrinsic, I think starting with voice is important, the rest can wait at least for a little while.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Denevius:
Too many factors are missing to give a clear answer. Is this online, or in person? Is it a community center, a community college, elementary, middle, or high school.

I wanted this to be as open as possible for whatever teaching or learning experience about what would be a place to begin a directed study of creative writing. A library workshop maybe, too. There--I'd begin with an interest meeting first of all. Not only to gauge numerical interests but also interest areas and perceptions and expectations. A writing workshop that's little more than a self-approval personality culture cult wouldn't suit me as either facilitator or participant, though I've been to a few of those.

All of my structured writing workshops have encouraged and emphasized revision, no matter whether creative writing or other composition.

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Denevius
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quote:
The teacher didn't even have a rubric because he didn't want us to get bogged down in all the details about how to write and what to write, he just wanted us to put pen to paper.
I'm not the biggest fan of creative writing classes structured in this manner. I often think professors can only get away with this in art classes, whereas science or math or what have you needs to have definite parameters with concrete examples that learning has actually taken place.

I would never run a cw class where an easy A is assumed or expected. At the same time, I wouldn't decide beforehand that I'll only give a certain number of hgh grades in class in order to create the perception that A's are hard to come by. In the end, it'd be some sort of happy medium. Turn in every assignment *on time* in reasonable condition, and you'll do fine. Each late assignment automatically deducts from one's overall grade, as well as assignments that feel like they were done five minutes before class. Don't sit in class never offering an opinion on the writing being discussed.

Basically, put in the same amount of effort you would in any academic setting.

I think what I would like for students to take away from my class is that writing is more than inspiration, or creative sparks. It's a methodical process, like building a house if it's a short story, building a castle if it's a novella, builidng a city if it's a novel.

But again, context is important. A cw class for retired people should be taken as it is; or for elementary school or middle school kids. A library cw class probably should be conducted loosely, too.

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RyanB
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I think you have to learn the "rules," the why of the rules, before you can break them in a good way.

Also I think we need to recognize that voice and appeal are different beasts than story structure and grammar. You can learn structure the same way you learn math. Same goes for grammar.

But to understand voice and appeal you have to understand people. And most of us understand people subconsciously. If a writer doesn't understand people, the best advice is to tell them to "go, live, out there."

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InarticulateBabbler
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I'd say start with defining story. The core of creative writing should be story and its five elements: Character, Conflict, Theme, Plot and Setting. These are concepts that many do not fully understand, and if that comes first--like a lump of clay--you can begin applying format, grammar, technique, devices, modes, tense, voice and resonance.
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Pyre Dynasty
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I'm taking two advanced writing courses this semester, fiction and non-fiction. The non-fiction is laid out much like Denevious's plan, magazine subscriptions. The other one is more of the reading stories and experimenting with what we learned from them. (Experimentation is going to be an important part of this class I think. Although I do find it troubling that my teacher said Avant-Guarde about thirty times today.)

I agree that voice can be taught, or perhaps just learned, not in a, "this is voice and if you do these steps you too will have voice."

Short on time, I'll have more to say later.

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Pyre Dynasty
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Okay, I'm back. My plan for a class:

I want to shape it like a shop class. The goal is to get people to produce their projects. Grading is on attendance and pagecount, how much would depend on skill level and age. (Page count because the point of the class is to teach them to be productive.) I don't think there is any point to grading creative writing. Oh, there would be plenty of feedback from the teacher, it just wouldn't come with a number or letter. If someone misses a day they can make it up by writing a piece about why they didn't make it.

The days would generally start with a little theory discussion. I'd talk about voice when I talk about audience. These would become less and less as time moved on and people spent more time on their projects. (Unless the class wants more theory, I believe in a tailored curriculum.) Once in a while we'd break it up with flash contests or bulwer-lytton style stuff. Later on we'll go in depth about publication. Most academic creative writing classes I'm familiar with either give a short spiel about publication or are outright hostile toward it.

My dream room would have enough computers for everyone with plenty of design software, high capacity printer, countertops for laying out pages, a bulletin board.

I'd have an online component where people post their stuff and respond. The goal here is community building.

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extrinsic
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The several lesson plans proposed by Ms. Dalton Woodbury, Denevius, and Pyre Dynasty accord with my veteran writing studies. Ms. Dalton Woodbury's generally offers guidance on how to develop an inspiration into a working project. Denevius and Pyre Dynasty's reflect current writing workshop protocols, mainly heuristic trial and error writing and critique commentary.

Two writing mentors, writing workshop professors in graduate school emphasized voice exercises. One exercise is taking a published work and imitating an excerpt's voice or subject matter or both. That exercise more than any other gave me an appreciation for creative writing's kernel expression functions. So that is why I'd begin with teaching voice development.

Craft development invariably was a matter workshop participants covered, even introductory survey courses in high school and college and beginning writing workshops. Struggling writers come to creative writing with a basic craft skill set that develops through peer cohort influences.

Every workshop course involved a narrative theory textbook or two and model narratives. Weekly reading assignments amounted to a page load of two hundred. Each class period opened with lecture then discussion about a narrative theory and a model narrative from the reading. Online participation was just beginning to develop when I attended graduate school. However, creative writing program accreditation requires workshops and creative writing instruction courses be face to face. Up to three semester credit hours total in writing curriculum may be exclusively online, though.

Personally, I believe writing instruction should be mainly online. Forced to use nothing but written word expression, the end result is enhanced and precisely the intended outcome.

Yes, discussion about publication culture and industry comes up, but is generally short-shrifted. It's worth noting that any creative writing instructor must have a curriculum vitae with numerous publishing credits in the genre concentration. In other words, the instructors have been through the puiblishing pipline. And it's publish regularly or perish, lose the position to fresher instructors, or earn tenure.

My creative writing lesson plan follows somewhat the general practice. I deviate by increasing lecture and discussion time, stronger narrative theory texts, and emphasizing collaboration and online participation, focusing on areas for development not generally already fundamental to a basic skill set: audience appeal and voice and how mechanical style applies to craft, voice, and audience appeal development. I do include craft studies and exercises, especially structure and content, not covered by class complement participation. A large part of performance expectations is independent development: class presentations on creative writing subject matter independently developed, submission and publication requirements, oral reading to audiences, reports on an aspect or personages of literary or publishing culture, and oral reports on writing community network development.

I have a separate lesson plan for publishing culture, including layout and design implementation as well as a survey of publishing culture and industry. That course is up to twelve semester hours in four contemporaneous modules for professional development, more of a studio venue with advanced students guiding beginning and intermediate students than structured class time. Introductory survey, publishing methods, publishing practicum, publishing internship.

[ January 10, 2014, 03:38 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
One exercise is taking a published work and imitating an excerpt's voice or subject matter or both. That exercise more than any other gave me an appreciation for creative writing's kernel expression functions. So that is why I'd begin with teaching voice development.

I remember attempting to rewrite "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" in imitation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's voice in THE GREAT GATSBY for a writing class years ago.

It was a fun exercise, but I don't know how well I did on the voice.

We did a writing challenge here a while back that involved retelling "Three Billy Goats Gruff" as a science fiction story (if I remember correctly), and it was an interesting exercise.

Perhaps similar exercises could be tried for future writing challenges here.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Perhaps similar exercises could be tried for future writing challenges here.

I have something in mind that a way. A challenge every other month or so seems more engaging than more frequent challenges. Say February.
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