Wednesday, February 19, 2014

RMIT YA Teaching - Week 1

Slightly shambolic as firsts usually are. I thought I'd put down what we covered in the class mostly for my own reference.

* We went around the class - students had brought in a book they admired/loved/hoped to write like and read a paragraph from it. From memory there was: Ursula leGuin, Catcher in the Rye, Enders Game, The Hunger Games, The Hotel New Hampshire, Surrender, City of Bones, Past the Shallows... Mine was Shirley Jackson's We have always lived in the Castle.

* Beginnings. The difference between Story and Plot. (Story is what happens, plot is the arrangement/sequence of what happens) What comes first, character or story? (For me, it's always character) We should worry about Plot only after the bones of the story are down - it's good to have some plot points to work towards but in early drafts nothing should be set in stone or it can scotch opportunities for writerly 'magic'. First drafts follow character.

* The elements of Story: Plot, Character, Conflict, Theme, Setting - In first draft the main concerns are Character, Conflict & Setting - Theme is something may emerge later, or may change over time.

* Basic Three-Act Structure

Forgot to add that scenes in a novel also tend to follow three act structure, in that for a scene to be successful there must be some kind of forward movement - a change occurring, however subtle.

* I have been following the reportage of the Luke Batty tragedy - one of the ways we as a society deal with senseless acts is to give them a narrative - to round them out - the first reports of the killing are sketchy but as more information comes to light the report becomes 'storified' - the people involved become 'characters'. (I wonder, are we more comfortable with stories because they serve as distancing mechanisms...newspaper reports go from something full of holes to something we can digest...)

* The job of the novelist is to know his story from every angle, even if only one is presented.

* We touched on how to approach sex in YA fiction - what's okay, what's not okay. I write realistic sex scenes but only if they're integral to the character's journey - an editor will have their own ideas about what's TMI. There's a good article by Kelly Jensen in the resources.

* Talked about the journalist questions: Who, What, Where, Why, When - questions we must ask ourselves about what we are writing - Who is the story about? What do they want? Where does the action take place? When? Why is the narrator telling the story?

* I read out some of my favourite beginnings:
Al Capone Does by Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Cracked up to Be by Courtney Summers
Why we broke up by Daniel Handler
How I live now by Meg Rosoff.

* Writing exercise - read the first three pages of Why We Broke Up and write your own break-up letter.


Ira Glass interview on Transom
'This American Life's' Ira Glass being interviewed about what makes a good story.

Extract from Daniel Handler's Why We Broke Up

Sex in YA Fiction by Kelly Jensen (Bookriot)

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