Fall SAVY 2016 (Day 1) – Creative Writing: (Re)Imagining the Monstrous
We had an exciting first day of “Creative Writing: (Re)Imagining the Monstrous,” a course designed to improve both reading and writing skills by more closely examining the antagonists and villains that populate the stories and poems we love! We began our journey into the world of creative writing by drawing “concept maps,” an activity designed for students to showcase their prior knowledge about the course subject. Each student diagrammed how much they already knew about the techniques that writers use to tell their stories, and it was fascinating to see the many connections they made!
We then reviewed the rules that we are going to follow throughout the next five weeks of SAVY and introduced ourselves to each other with the creative writing activity, Two Truths & a Lie. This activity, in which students attempt to lie as convincingly as possible, led us to a class discussion on important elements of fiction. We considered how specific details and imagery often make a fictional character more relatable to the reader. We also talked about how we can draw from real life experience to ground even the strangest, most fantastical fiction in a “voice” that feels more solid and authentic.
The students’ bright and inventive responses in Two Truths & a Lie led us to a complicated question – if writers use details and real life experience to a make a character seem more believable, what techniques do they use to convey a specific character’s personality? In particular, how do authors manipulate perspective and point of view to shape how their readers perceive a character? Together, we drafted a chart of characters in fiction, poetry, and film that students identified as completely “good” or “evil.” They then worked in pairs to list actions and qualities they associated with characters like Harry Potter, Maleficent, and Poison Ivy, determining if there was one quality that all the “protagonists” and all the “antagonists” have in common. As one student brilliantly put it, both the “good” protagonists and the “evil” antagonists view each other as the embodiment of what is “bad”! We discovered that each character’s point of view shapes his or her relationship to the other characters, and that the reader most often identifies protagonists and antagonists by contrasting them with their adversaries.
We were able to examine these concepts in action when we discussed Hayao Miyazaki’s renowned film, Spirited Away. Students analyzed how the protagonist’s point of view shapes our own perceptions of the “Stink Spirit” and transforms other characters’ perspectives, as well. One student called attention to the fact that, if the story were told wholly from the Stink Spirit’s point of view, we would encounter a much more developed explanation of the spirit’s motives, while another student pointed out that changing the perspective would lead to a more complex storyline about the spirit’s travels and adventures.
These complex observations prepared us for an analysis of a text that was even more challenging – Beowulf. Prior to reading this ancient Anglo-Saxon poem, students discussed what makes “epic poetry” epic and, together, worked to define the techniques of third-person perspective, tone, and omniscient narration. While reading a scene in which the monster Grendel attacks the hall of the king of the Danes, students examined how the third-person perspective and passionate tone leads to the reader’s conclusion that Grendel is dangerous and untrustworthy. We put these new techniques to use by writing battle scenes with monsters of our own creation. Students were challenged to tell their stories from a third-person perspective, centering the action around a particular hero’s or heroine’s point of view. From tales of gods and demons, to a story centering around a skeleton’s adventures in a desert, students crafted tales that showcased diverse, compelling interpretations of perspective.
In our next class, we will learn about first-person perspective in John Gardner’s masterful Grendel, as well as discussing the utilization of diction, syntax, and imagery in Mary Shelley’s and William Baer’s depictions of Frankenstein’s monster. After seeing so many such bright and engaged faces in our first class, I know that the next five weeks will be full of exciting discoveries about our own voices and the voices of other writers!