Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"But My Writing Teacher Said (or Asseverated) ..."

Speaking of undoing what other teachers have done ...

Did anyone else go to school and have a poster or handout with 75 or so alternatives to "said"? Bellowed, whispered, mumbled, hissed—ooh, that last one sparks fights. Can you actually hiss words?

Enter the world of aspiring novelist and you're told to only use "said," if you must use a dialogue tag at all. Maybe "asked" if you really think the question mark isn't doing its job.

There's another one I see all the time when students ask me to look at their writing assignments. I'm not sure what their English teacher's stance is on it, which makes it hard to know what to say.

Descriptions. Extreme overuse of adjectives. Since I don't teach English or creative writing, I don't have a volume of teenage story samples, but from what I have seen, it's near impossible for a character to enter a scene without making their hair and eye color known, at minimum.

Thing is, they're kids. They're learning. Maybe their teacher wants them to be more descriptive and develop that skill. If their own character/setting visualizations are too transparent on the page, maybe that's all right for now. Maybe they need to lay it out there in black and white as they practice, working toward more nuanced ways of painting pictures with words.

Weaving description into a narrative is an art all its own—one I'm constantly working on improving myself. Getting characters to speak (or whisper or mumble or even hiss) for themselves is another one.

How do you take students (or writers in general, at any age) from these school-days practices to more seamless techniques?

How did any of us get there? Personally, I find it hard to pinpoint where/how I learned specific things about writing. I can tell you how I learned about differential equations. I can't tell you how I learned about writing dialogue that works, creating multi-dimensional characters, or even most grammatical conventions.

That's always made the idea of teaching something like language arts mind-boggling to me.

Any such teachers out there who can share how they approach teaching creative writing in their classrooms? When students decide they want the math teacher's opinion (because word of her "other job" got out), what kind of feedback might I want to give?

1 comment:

Diane said...

According to my copyeditor, you can hiss words if they have ss's in them. ("Stop staring!" she hissed.)