Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Teacher as Student: Studying Climactic Scenes

Last year at this time, I wrote a post that began:
I love learning. If I had unlimited resources, I'd be a full-time student for the rest of my life. Instead, I'm a teacher, which is the next best thing.
In that post, I talked about how I study craft books regularly, looking for ways to help both me and my students grow as writers. This fall, I've gone one step further--I'm actually sitting in a classroom again as a student! I'm attending a 4-part workshop called "The Climax or Breaking Point in Short Stories and Novels" presented by Fred Shafer at Off Campus Writer's Workshop (OCWW). I have to drive an hour and a half in rush hour traffic to get to OCWW, but it's worth it for a class with Fred. He is an amazing and inspiring teacher. In the first two sessions, he's already given me several ideas for how I can make the climax of my historical young adult novel more powerful. So even though I've already sent the manuscript out, I'm revising it again. (As Mary Ann discussed on Monday, I wish there were a "never mind" command that would allow me to retrieve my emailed manuscript.)

One of the things I really appreciate about Fred is that even though he doesn't specifically teach "writing for children and teens," he has a tremendous respect for stories for children. He says in a recent online interview:
"There are many things that all writers can learn from books written for children, because of the close contact those books share with fables, fairy tales, and stories told to listeners.  Too often, writers for adult audiences lose track of the basic spirit and force of storytelling.  By reading stories for children, they can renew their awareness of the rhythms of plot and the power and beauty of narrative sentences."
Fred's respect for children's literature comes through in his workshops. He frequently uses examples from stories for children to elaborate on the points he makes. The books he's drawn from for his current Climax workshop include two of Eve Bunting's picture books: The Train to Somewhere, illustrated by Ronald Himler (Sandpiper) and Little Bear's Little Boat, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter (Clarion); Patricia Polacco's The Junkyard Wonders (Philomel); City Dog, Country Frog by Jon J Muth, illustrated by Mo Willems (Hyperion); and the young adult short story "Gettin' Even" from You Don't Even Know Me: Stories and Poems about Boys by Sarah G. Flake (Hyperion). If you're looking for examples of effective climactic scenes and you're unable to attend Fred's class, I recommend you study these books.

Now excuse me while I go back to revising my novel's climax.

Happy writing (and studying)!


April Halprin Wayland said...

I just wrote down all the picture books Fred uses to show effective climactic scenes--thanks, Carmela. My class on writing the picture book starts next Tuesday--I'm going to check these out tomorrow!

Carmela Martino said...

Terrific, April. I'm glad you can use the info!