The first year I taught Creative Writing, I was frustrated with students who didn’t use dialogue and had no concept of a scene. It didn’t matter how many times I explained the difference between showing and telling, their stories were still mostly telling.
So I created exercises, presented examples, wrote feedback on their stories: more description, use dialogue. They improved a bit. They made their characters talk to each other and described what they were wearing in great detail.
But many of them seemed to lack any idea of what a story ought to be. They were non-readers and reluctant writers who had been placed in my class to fill a hole in their schedules.
Anyone can tell a story. Believing this, I set out to bring out my students’ inner storyteller. Under the pen-name Anonymous, I wrote terrible stories for them to critique. They could tell when a story was bad, even point out what was wrong, but they had no idea how to fix it. In the lab I sat with them and asked them about their stories, praised what was good and made suggestions for improvement.
And I improved my lessons.
Their stories were short, so they wrote Flash Fiction.
Their stories lacked theme, so they wrote fables with morals.
The protagonists of their stories were all the same – beautiful, popular, and incredibly lucky – so they invented unlikeable characters with major problems.
We discussed why a character must have a problem to solve, why it can’t be a foregone conclusion that Kayla wins the scholarship or Trey gets the girl.
The following year I decided the problem was that they didn’t write enough. More