Training the Imagination through Imitation
- Monday, September 27, 2010
Characters and Setting:
1. fox, crafty, hungry
2. crow, gullible, has cheese
3. forest, tree
1. fox desires cheese
2. fox flatters crow
1. crow believes, drops
We spend lots of time brainstorming adjectives for the characters, strong verbs for the actions and events in the plot, and emotion and sense words to add to the details of the plot. My students then rewrite the fable, adding additional characters, describing the setting in detail, and keeping the plot the same. Many children's authors have gotten their start in publishing by doing this very thing, usually with fairy tales, folk tales, myths, and legends. The shelves in the children's section of the library are crammed with various retellings of "Beauty and the Beast," "Cinderella," and "How the _____ Got His ________." While fairy tales are fun, I still prefer fables because the plots are solid and they have room for additional description, allowing my students to train their imaginations.
For most students, a three-paragraph story from a single-paragraph fable is quite an accomplishment, and they stop there. However, I will always have one or two who don't want to stop. So we move on to changing the characters and setting and keeping the plot the same.
During a recent summer writing camp, one of my students took the fable "The Lion and the Mouse" and turned it into "The Octopus and the Crab." He kept the plot the same but developed personalities in the creatures and added a couple of plot twists that made us all sit back and laugh. Most students are skeptical when I tell them that they will be able to write a three-paragraph story in a single class period, but they do.
Finally, as their imaginations grow stronger and more confident, give your students other sources for stories. As an English major, I was required to take a creative writing class in college. Among other weekly requirements, we had to locate three stories in the newspaper and discuss how we could incorporate those into a story. For this non-creative writer, it was like discovering a deep well. I realized that most writers don't live their stories before writing them. They just find the sources. After spending a week on jury duty, I learned where most mystery writers find their information! In my file at home is a folder with an article, copied way back in college, about families of Portuguese Jews who have lived double lives for centuries, acting as converted Catholics but secretly preserving their festivals and traditions. There is a story there!
If you have a student who loves science, have him pick a scientist, research an early biography a bit, and then write it as a story. Writers constantly take a historical person or event and craft a novel from it, inventing characters, dialogue, and events to tell of someone or some event that might not be known otherwise. How many historical novels fill the shelves of most bookstores? When I wrote a book of lesson plans incorporating science and writing, I had fun researching and writing a brief story about Robert Boyle, the inventor of the microscope.
The summer sun shone brightly on the thatched cottage. The midwife bustled out the door to the soberly dressed man who was sitting on an upturned log. "It's a boy, sir." He raised his eyes toward heaven and murmured a prayer of thanks. "And his mother? How is she?" His voice quavered a bit, revealing an unusual show of emotion. "She's fine, sir, resting with the boy. You may go in to see her." The minister quickly crossed the small yard that was joined to the church and entered the parsonage, such as it was. In the small room off the kitchen, his wife lay with a small bundle tucked in next to her. "Robert, meet your father."
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