Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Telling Teens Reading Doesn't Suck ... Using Vomit

As mentioned previously (twice now), critique partner extraordinaire Mindy McGinnis joined me in the southwest for the weekend, including a set of presentations to my school.

The first two presentations were to younger students (grades 1-3 for the first, then 4-8 for the second). We broke the kids into three groups and had one come up with a character, one a setting, and one a "problem," plus each group had to offer one random word. Then Mindy had to pull all that together and make up a story on the spot.

Ninjas are very popular this year. And Mindy managed to turn our school's founder into a zombie ship captain on Mars.

The other presentation was a little more formal for the high school kids. Mindy talked about the idea of lots of stories having the same basic plot at their root, but weaving in specifics that make it interesting and new. She'd give several examples of a particular Big Idea, then offer a specific premise for the kids to guess.

For example, under "Boy and girl fall in love but can't be together because ______," she gave, "Pretty blonde with a perfect life falls for a Hispanic gang member from the wrong side of town." Several of my female students jumped right in with the answer: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles.

I think many of the kids came away with the point Mindy wanted to make. The "sameness" of many stories is a good thing, because if you find one you really like, you can find others you're likely to enjoy as well. (And librarians can help you with that!)

As writers, though, we need to remember the second part of that formula—bringing a fresh, new take to the same old story. Too often, we find ourselves just writing the same story with only superficial differences, and that's just boring.

Oh, and the vomit? Yes, Mindy totally has a story that makes vomit relevant to reading. But you'll have to hear her tell it sometime.


Mindy McGinnis said...

Ah, the aftermath of vomit.

R.C. Lewis said...

Vomit is way cooler than people realize. More useful, too.