Creative Writing – very creatively…

painting of the Trojan HorseSo, another step into the unknown; the murky journey of the short story full of fantastical, wandering story lines, abrupt plot twists, over elaborate descriptions and unbelievable leaps from one scene to the next.  I love storytelling, it is the most powerful form of learning there is.  Language has developed from the oral story telling of past generations, cultures have evolved and taken on their identities as a result of the tales passed on from elders to their mokopuna and on again. We are who we are because of the stories of the world.  Who doesn’t remember sitting on a parents’ lap lost in the imaginings of the stories they were read?  I recall crawling into my parents’ bed with my three sisters on weekend mornings to cuddle up with my Dad as he told us the story of the fairies who hid in a huge wooden horse to conquer the goblins who were overpowering their kingdom.  We begged for it over and over again and asked for more and more embellishments.  It was only much later that I realised that the fairies’ wooden horse was actually the Trojan Horse!

Anyway, I digress.  Cultures are built on myths and legends which help us make sense of the world around us and how it came to be.  We thrive on real life stories – just look at the number of reality TV shows, soap operas that tell the stories of “real life”, and who hasn’t stopped to say “Oooh! Have you heard about ….?  We are fascinated by people, by stories, by questions, by answers, by imagination, curiosity and invention.

So, my Year 9 English class and I have embarked on story telling.  In the last week of term we explored 5 Card Flickr with interesting results as already outlined in a recent blog.  I was lucky enough to spend some time with Alan Levine when he visited New Zealand at the end of September and talked to him some more about digital story telling.  I only wish I had more time to explore the possibilities, but we have made a start.  This week we used an idea I heard about as I was surfing the internet.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the webpage so apologies to the initiator of this idea.  We have called it #storymakers and the idea is that one of the class (this time it was me, just to get them started) puts a starter sentence into a room and then everyone else continues the story until it ends.  It’s a bit like the party game when you have to go round the table and keep the sentence going.  We started with “One day I discovered a magic button….”

a red sparkly buttonWe had great fun and it was interesting to observe how they “developed” the story – some got a little bit carried away and relied on “waking up from a dream” when someone “killed’ the character off.  It was challenging for them to have to think of the next line quickly and it was a quite a public forum although less public than having to say the next line out loud in an oral context.  I wonder how we could encourage the flow of the story without having to do it so much under pressure?  I wonder if that would lead to more thoughtful ideas?  I am sure too that some of the students were embarrassed and were put outside their comfort zones because either they didn’t know what to say or they felt that what they wanted to say wasn’t good enough.  Resorting to “crazy” ideas provides a “cover” of sorts.  Maybe we could build the story over a lesson whilst doing other activities?  The students could just keep an eye on the “Tweet” stream and see when it is their turn, or jump in when they feel ready…?  Ideas to ponder…  It was great though to see them all engaged and prepared to have a go,

After the story was “finished” we read it out and talked about not being able to rely on “it was all a dream” to get out of strange situations and also developing the characters as the story develops. It is clear to see what has been in the news recently … and interesting also to realise that we can only write about what we have experience of and that we can only bring our own perspectives of our understandings of those experiences to our writing too.  I know that another group of people with different experiences would bring their own perspectives to this starter and the story would not be the same.
Here is the transcript of the story; (unedited)
One day I discovered a magic button ….
it was a blue sparkly one and it was hiding in my room
The button was circular and had a diameter of 7cm
It looke like it hadnt been seen in 100 years
It open a magical portal
but i didn’t go through
I just stood there looking at it, but then I heard cheerful music so I decided to take a look inside
but i slipped and ended up falling in a meadow
The meadow was filled with bogtrotters and nymphs
In the distance I saw a group huddled together and curiosity had the best of me
I started running over to the group and I suddenly tripped over and face planted in bogtrotters poo.
I thought really gross because it was all over my face, some went into my mouth and it tasted like shampoo
And then in the far distance there was a big BANG!!!!!!!
I then realised that I had Ebola and I died.. But then I woke up!
after dying i was really tired, and hungry so i went for a sleep and started chewing my own hand in my sleep.
I woke up and I was a new person named Bella ………. who was a princess.
I ended up being a prince….
Then out all of a sudden pineapples rained down from the sky and a lion roared in the distance…
I looked over to where the roar had came from and saw a pride a lions
They came running towards us ready to kill their prey
All of a sudden there was a baboon on the rock holding a baby cub with two other was the lion king
but I blinded them with my lightsaver and ran away
Ahhhh Sabena mamma he manana
all of a sudden everyone that i had been in contact with died and so did the animals because i had ebola.
and then in the distance I saw a man. i married him
We had a pineapple themed wedding, but then he died the next day from my ebola
the reason why i wasn’t dying because i was an immortal ebola zombie victim i had depression because i was the last living man on earth
I awoke next to the magic button, laying in a hospital bed really dying of Ebola.
I survived, because i got the magic curer from the bogtrotters
Lol, jk I’m still standing here looking at the portal. It’s kinda hurting my eyes fml.
I suddenly woke up to a holt. It turns out I was sleeping in rehab because I am Hillary duff.
Looking forwards to more storytelling…


Boys and writing

In a bid to get my youngest son to be more motivated with his writing homework I decided to try out a couple of tools. He is happy to sit at his computer and play games and he hates writing with a vengeance. His older brother is the same and I feel that we have let him down somewhat by not helping him to find another way to approach someting that he hates. He struggled through his examination English not because he can’t understand the concepts or argue his case but because he doesn’t like writing. It has been the case for both of them since they were little and consistent comments from teachers “He has loads of ideas in class that he articulates beautifully but as soon as he is asked to write them down, I get a few short sentences with no development”.  They just don’t like writing and find essay writing for any subjects a chore. Unfortunately the whole examination system at the moment is predicated on writing so we need to do something to help. I am sure that we will not be able to get either of them to atually enjoy writing, but if we can offer different approaches to make it more bearable for our youngest then maybe that will help avoid the stress in the house every time there is written homework to do!

Tools to help
I have used 5 card flickr with my classes at school as a stimulus for writing in French and found that the random nature of the images allows for imagination and creativity and leads to some fascinating stories. At uLearn at the beginning of October I was at a breakout with Kevin Honeycutt who talked about the power of publication to motivate students to write – the rise in self-esteem and pride when something a kid has written is published and handed to them.  He uses as his book publishing tool. Reading Interface magazine last week I saw a snippet about an app called CBB (creative book builder) and decided that it would be interesting to see how they work.

Working together
So, my son came home this week with some homework; he had to write a story or poem that he could read out to his class that would be a minimum of 2 minutes long and not more than 3 minutes – on any topic. The usual avoidance tactics started, the arguments why he could do it later, “I’ll just do….first”, he even decided he needed to shower!  A couple of weeks ago we had had a session prompted by him when he had come home from school saying that he was way behind some other kids in his class with some writing they were doing because he couldn’ t think of what to write about and,  when he did have an idea, he didnt know how to write it down “in order”.  At that point we sat down and used a grid system with headings; who, what, why, how, where, when, problem, solution, outcome and then looked at some of his early childhood storybooks to see if we could identify all those elements. We ended up having a real trip down Memory Lane and a lovely time sitting reading stories to each other. It is easy to forget that thirteen year olds are still children – on that awkward cusp where they belong to no real group, neither teenagers, children or adults – and sitting down with him, curled up on the sofa reading together was a reminder to me that he is still a little boy.  But, I digress….

Using the tools
So, 5 card flickr; he chose his five pictures from the sets of five randomly generated photographs from flickr and then using Google Docs to craft his work, inserted the five pictures and a table for the grid.  I was doing my own work on the computer at his side and after few questions and a couple of prompts to keep at it, I sort of forgot he was there, he was so quiet. I looked to my side to see a boy engrossed, concentrating and tapping away at the keys.  About fifteen minutes later he sat up, pushed his chair back and announced he was finished. I glanced across at his screen to see a whole page of typing. He asked if he could go on his game and so I said that that was fine as soon as he had shared the google doc with me so that I could look at it and comment later.
When I looked at the document a few minutes later, intrigued to see what he had written, I was amazed. A story with lots of action and ideas, all the elements we had talked about but hardly any punctuation apart from the odd full stop!  It was as if the ideas had just come flooding out without time for him to breathe and they had just been regurgutated on to the page! This is where Google Docs comes into its own; I made a couple of comments, praising the story and the ideas, asked some questions for clarification and suggested that he re-read it and added some punctuation.
Now, I could have stopped him playing his game to talk to him (which is what I would normally do, being a bit of a control freak)  but I didn’t. Why? Because, I think he had already worked quite hard and was feeling pleased with himself that he had written the story, now he was rewarding himself! He was already in another world and would have been resistant to coming back to the real one at that stage. So, I left him. But curiosity about what I thought got the better of him and the prompt of an email informing him that somebody had commented on his document made him open it up again and have a look. That was when I talked to him and we worked through the revisions together. Once he had finished his story he printed it out ready to take to school the next day. He was pleased, I was pleased – finally a writing homework done with relatively little grief!

But where does the ebook come into this? Well, I was keen to try out CBB to see how it worked and decided to trial it using Aonghas’ story. I won’t go into the details of how it works except to say that it is not intuitive but I managed to do enough to produce a book which now resides in my elibrary on my Galaxy.  What did Aonghas think? Well he was quite impressed but not as over the moon as Kevin Honeycutt suggested his students were. But then he uses which is a way of creating and publishing books taht people then pay for.  This morning, I used the same story to create a book using Aonghas’ book is now listed on a website and you can pay the princely sum of 99c to buy it to download. He is away at Scout camp just now but I am looking forward to seeing whether when he sees that his book is actually for sale will have a different effect on him. The power of money might be the difference!