Friday, August 28, 2015

Fiction Friday: The Joy of Teaching

A couple of weeks ago I taught a writing class at the Words Worth Writing Center here in Dayton. (Well, actually in the conference room at the Oakwood Starbucks).

I tried teaching for the first time last Fall, three 2-hour classes in three weeks and I was so nervous I couldn't really enjoy it, but this time I LOVED IT!

Maybe it was the boost of confidence I got from winning the Golden Heart, or maybe it was just that it wasn't an unknown this time, but I felt like I was in the groove. We talked about protagonists, antagonists, goals, motivation, conflict and conflict locks--all the essentials for writing riveting fiction.

I started off by warning them that I'm not a teacher, I'm a computer programmer, so there was something they didn't understand, they needed to stop me. I wanted the class to be interactive, a dialogue. And that actually happened, and it was great.

The class was primarily based on Deb Dixon's Goal, Motivation and Conflict, one of the best writing books I've ever come across.

I lectured for about an hour and then handed out GMC templates and had them fill them in for their works-in-progress. While the class worked, they were free to come and discuss their work-in-progress with me individually. They had a pretty wide range of skills--some were newbies, others had thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of words on the page and just needed some help organizing them.

A common thread I heard was all this luscious back story they'd worked up for their characters. Which was great, because it meant that identifying the character's motivation, the why? of what they were doing, was pretty easy for them.

The harder part was learning that very little of what they'd accumulated had any place on the page. Mostly, their stories started after all that stuff--parents dying, boyfriends dumping, vampires swarming--happened.

We talked about setting up the protagonist and antagonist's goals so they they're mutually exclusive and only one can win. That doesn't necessarily mean the antagonist has a goal of stopping the protagonist from getting what she wants--stopping the protagonist may just be a by-product of the antagonist getting what he wants.

Here's the sample conflict box I put together for an early draft of Demon's Wager. The final version turned out a little different, but see how their actions interlock to block one another?

Protagonist-- Belial
To win the wager and get Satan off his ass
1)      Volunteers to work at Dara’s clinic
2)      Cuts off all the other sources of funding and offers her a bribe.
3)      Commits malpractice and begs her to cover for him.

1)      Shreds his application and kicks him out of the Clinic.
2)      Assigns him to work in the PEDS clinic, where he catches the measles.
3)      Refuses to cover for him

Dara Strong
To keep her clinic running
1)      Shreds the application of the demon who's trying to invade her Clinic.
2)     Takes the money but assigns him to work in the PEDS clinic, where she can keep a close eye on him.
3)      Refuses to cover for him

1)   Volunteers to work at Dara’s clinic

2)  Cuts off all the other sources of funding and offers her a $250,000 grant.

3)  Commits malpractice and begs her to cover for him.

Words Worth is going to offer the 3-class series again in the Fall. We'll talk about all of the above, plus acts, scenes, beats, turning points and subplots.

I'm already stoked!

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