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Teaching, and an exercise - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Teaching, and an exercise
Well, I did it. I got through my first class. Stammered couple of times and lost track of what I was saying once, but overall, not bad. Not as many people showed up as signed up, but I can live with that. I'm starting each lesson with reading from published books that have a good feel for whatever aspect of story we're dealing with, then doing some break-open-your-imagination exercises, then reading aloud for feedback and talking some more, then doing a long exercise. Today's was creating a setting, tomorrow's will be creating a character, Wednesday's will be making up a plot, and Thursday, we'll put it all together and do a whole story.

:Fern holds her breath:

At any rate, I enjoyed it. I love talking about writing.

I had an elaborate exercise set up for tomorrow, but I haven't really got an sf/f-minded crowd, and it may be a bit too elaborate for that reason, so I'm just going to stick with the weird-name gender-bending part of it. (Take a name from the list of bizarro names and write a character with it, first grabbing a name of your own gender, then taking one for the opposite gender. It seems cosmetic at this point in my writing life, but when I first started writing men's points of view, it was incredibly freeing. That's when you realize, "Man... no one is really an alien! I can be anyone at all!" So I wanted to make sure we get that, at least.)

For the rest of it, I was going to give them a setting I made up for a SW story that I never finished, a holiday that involved people choosing masks and performing dances that represent different aspects of the galaxy (tor-inaz, or "god-faces"). I figured that the choosing of the masks and dances would be a good way to get to know a character, and would force unfamiliarity on the surroundings and hopefully help break out of the box. But I think, with non-sf/f folk, it might be pushing it. But I still kind of like it. What do you all think of it as an exercise specifically for sf/f writers? (And yes, just an exercise. This isn't the world's most developed fake culture!)

Inazkai, the Day of Faces

Today fifteen-minute exercises are purely to develop characters. Choose one name from each gender from the list of unusual names below, and create a character with that name to interact with the environment:

Women's names
  • Allisanny
  • Anzanetta
  • Delight
  • Electa
  • Evadana
  • Jacintha
  • Orilla
  • Reconcile
  • Seraph
  • Welthy Ann
Men's names
  • Amasa
  • Benhadad
  • Cyaxaras Cyprian
  • Dilectus
  • Elhanan
  • Greenleaf
  • Jubal
  • Lephe
  • Lebanah
  • Yermah

The holiday and the environment are created as a backdrop, to put everyone on equally unfamiliar footing. The holiday is called "Inazkai," which means (in the fictional language of this town), "The Day of Faces," and it is theoretically a kind of New Years' celebration--public, with a festival in the center of town. Traditionally, the people of the town each choose a mask, or face, representing an aspect of the universe, and there is a dance and song associated with each, which they then participate in.

A booth stands on the midway, giving away the masks for the dance. They are free and the supply is more or less unlimited--you won't go the booth and find that the one you want isn't there, at any rate. These are the masks your character sees:

  • Oreld, the merchant. Oreld is the face of prosperity. The mask is green and has coins on it.
  • Zhera, the comforter. Zhera is a kind of lullaby, a nice breeze, perhaps. The mask is blue, with a cradle on it.
  • Anak, the protector. Anak is a soldier of the might-for-right variety. The mask is red with a thunderbolt design.
  • Emal, the sower. Emal represents the work of planting and preparing. The mask is dark brown with a green seedling on it.
  • Etris, the reaper. Etris represents the work of reaping the harvest, bringing in the good things people have made. The mask is purple with a scythe.
  • Gur, beauty. Gur represents physical beauty in nature and in people. The mask is an elaborate design of lace and flowers.
  • Leil, the hidden. Leil represents the hidden things and mysteries of the universe--the last protector, hidden in the dark, if Anak fails. The mask is silvery gray with a lock and key on it.
  • Kroa, the newborn. Associated with babies and everything new, Kroa's mask is white with a sunrise design on it.

For your first character, go to the booth and choose a mask. What about it appeals to the character, and why? Is your character alone or with friends or family?

For your second character, he or she is in the crowd, watching the dancers and waiting for his or her turn. What is his or her choice in masks, and why? And how does s/he feel about the town, the holiday, and the people around him or her?

Shrug. I thought it might be fun, at first. I've done the names before in a very brief fast fiction workshop (I don't count it as teaching, since I was basically just moderating there) and in my FFN column, and it has been, but the created setting might be a bit too much for the second day of the workshop, and might not be enjoyable for realist writers.
4 comments or Leave a comment
mafdet From: mafdet Date: July 19th, 2004 09:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Congratulations on your first day! I think it will be easier for you from now on, because that first time is always the hardest. And it's been my experience, with classes and so forth, fewer people show up than have signed up. Always. People's plans change or they can't get a sitter or they drop out or whatever.

Your exercises sound really interesting and fun. I especially like the one where the students write from both their own gender and the other gender. It's good practice, and very helpful for a writer to write a convincing character of another gender.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 19th, 2004 10:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Bringing back memories

Very nice exercise...

...and I really hoped that you'd continue the fic it was based on... the Protector... oh well.
mincot From: mincot Date: July 20th, 2004 08:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Excellent!! Congratulations--it sounds like a fascinating first day. Wish you had been there when I was a student.

Don't worry--Chrysantza's right, fewer people actually show than sign up. I have gotten used to students taking one look at my syllabus, asking me if I am serious about the reading (A textbook and six articles, hardly heavy), and walking out then and there.

narnian_dreamer From: narnian_dreamer Date: July 20th, 2004 12:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hope your students really enjoy the class. I've never tried creating a setting independently from characters and plot before. Treating the elements of a story seperately sounds like a good way to experiment with them.
4 comments or Leave a comment