Friday, October 15, 2021

My Kind of Play


Another MFA class begins, and once again I’m deep diving into story structures. I have to admit, this is my kind of play. And, it so happens, I came across a new book that is my perfect cup of tea.

Considered “a master class in novel writing,” Story Engineering,  by Larry Brooks (Writer’s Digest Books, 2011), takes a deep dive into story architecture. As Brooks offers, “…in their execution, stories are every bit as engineering driven as they are artistic in nature.” In other words, the technicality (or criticality) of the story is as fundamental as the creative.

Exploring the ongoing debate of pantsing (otherwise called organic writing) vs. plotting, Brooks offers that both strategies serve the same function: to find the heart of the story, the one that begs to be told. Pantzing tends to take the scenic route, going through revision after revision (after revision) to eventually and hopefully find that essence of story. As such, pantzing tends to be inefficient, as the writer stumbles  through various drafts that too often miss the mark.  What if there was a way to identify the core elements before  you dive into the deep end?

 Brooks calls these elements the six core competencies. Concept. Character. Theme. Story Structure. Scene Execution. Voice.  These are the essential ingredients to a successful story. 

Every creative cook understands that the “most delicious of ingredients require blending and cooking – stirring, whipping, baking, boiling, frying, and sometimes, marinating – before they qualify as edible…” It is the delicious sum of these ingredients that turns your story into a “literary feast.”

Story engineering is that recipe that brings these ingredients together in a cohesive , satisfying dish. It differs from formulaic writing in that the process of story engineering serves to bring clarity to your story, but you bring the art. A pinch of this, a dash of that, stirred not shaken, and you make the story your own.

Brooks’ detailed explorations into each of these competencies decode the abstract. He provides a practical model that gives writers a profound new understanding of story structure that is accessible, and doable. One of my favorite passages in his definition of story:

“A story has many moods. It has good days and bad days. It must be nurtured and cared for lest it deteriorate. And it has a personality and an essence that defines how it is perceived. Just like human brings.”

As Books explains, a body cannot function without a heart. So it is with stories. These certain competencies support  the heart of the story. To continue with the analogy of cooking, if an essential ingredient is missing, or soured, the resulting dish leaves behind a bad taste.

Brooks is quick to admit that a writer can have all the right ingredients, perfectly stirred, and it turns out bland. Or, to put it another way, it’s possible to assemble in perfect order that perfect body. But without that creative spark, there is no life. Think Frankenstein’s monster. 

Now that we’re all hungry, I highly recommend this book. 

 May you create the perfect feast!

--Bobbi Miller



Friday, October 8, 2021

Play Deprivation During The Pandemic

 

TADA...The winner of our giveaway of What the Cluck?  is Dorothy W.



14 years ago, I wrote this statement as part of my education philosophy.

“I believe in the power of play (think of anyone you know who has lost their passion for life and they’ve probably forgotten how to play.)

I believe in learning through wonder, exploration, and discovery (think of anyone you know who is a lifelong learner, and they’re probably driven by wonder, exploration, and discovery rather than thinking of learning as a task that must be completed.)” 

Indeed, play has always been a driving force in my life as a teacher and a writer.  As I reflect on my journey through education, I realize that I am not the stereotype.  I did not come to teaching because I thought I could change the world. I was not particularly fond of children.  I did not feel like I had ideas to impart on young minds. I realize that I am drawn to teaching 5-year-olds because I love to play.  I am Peter Pan and the students that frolic and romp  along with me are the “lost boys (and girls)”  

I have spent the past 30+ years avoiding growing up.  Instead, I arrive each day to the spontaneous joy, enchantment, and wonder of those who are experts at playing.  Don’t get me wrong, it is hard work to preserve this quality and protect it against those who might squelch it. 

This year I have watched as my students have struggled to find their footing.  I’ve noticed that it is taking longer.  They are less mature than years past and I wonder how the pandemic has affected their opportunities to play. 





 I imagine that the impact has been great.  





They came into the shutdowns when they were 3 ½.  Just when play with their peers was becoming prominent.  






I have noticed a lag.  




Much of our day is spent playing together. There is much healing to be done and I believe in the power of play.  

Recently, I find that I too have been deprived of opportunities to play for the past 19 months. There are few, if any gatherings.  Many of my friends are not venturing out spontaneously. I have attended countless meetings, conferences, and workshops on Zoom.  I spend many more hours than I ever have, in my apartment with the television keeping me company.   I have forgotten how it feels to wander aimlessly in lands unknown.   

With this loss of adventure, my creativity has waned noticeably.   Days go by and I am resisting sitting down to write.  Ideas are blocked,  a big, giant void. The joy is just not there. As I write this, it is taking me great effort to hear the words to put on the page.  It’s painful.

I wonder, why am I struggling to write? Where has my creativity gone, and will it return? Why does the sun shine a little less brightly? Why are my senses dulled?  

And then it dawns on me.  I have ceased to play as an artist.  I have stopped answering the call of spontaneity, wonder, and curiosity. I have ceased to explore and discover. 

Where is my passion? Is this my new normal? Is this what the pandemic has left in its wake? Can I pull this back from the brink and restore my imagination?  Is it me?  Are there others around me? Are there others out in the world? Are we experiencing a collective lull? Will we recover and heal? 

Yes, I believe we will. I’m hopeful that the opportunities of joy and delight will return and bring creativity back with them. For those of us whose inspiration has been affected by play deprivation, I believe that eventually we will find the power of play…again.

Posted by Zeena M. Pliska

Author of :

Hello, Little One: A Monarch Butterfly Story Illustrated by Fiona Halliday  Page Street Kids

Egyptian Lullaby Illustrated by Hatem Aly Roaring Brook Press (coming Winter 2023)

For more info about me click here

                 


Friday, October 1, 2021

Playing with Poetry Snowballs

Happy Poetry Friday! Today, I kick off a new series on the topic of PLAY and share a related poem. It's also the last day of our current giveaway, so if you haven't entered yet, be sure to check out the link at the end of this post.

When we TeachingAuthors were discussing our next topic, April Halprin Wayland suggested "something light, such as, how we each play with words." The idea felt perfect, especially because I'd recently read the following Tweet from Nir Eyal:

 Personally, I have been doing a lot of playing lately--with poetry!

Photo by Jasmin Schreiber on Unsplash
 
Back in December of 2020
, I'd shared:

"one of the things I'm looking forward to in 2021 is becoming even more steeped in poetry, both reading and writing it."

I'm happy to say that I followed through on that intention. I've been not only reading and writing more poetry, but submitting it for publication, too. I'm thrilled to announce that several of my poems have been accepted and will be coming out in two new anthologies. I can't share the details yet, but will provide them when I'm able. 

One way that I've been playing with poetry is by writing in new-to-me forms, particularly math-based ones, such as pi-ku, Fib poems, and Etherees. I recently learned about snowball poems, developed by the OULIPO. If you aren't familiar with the organization, here's a description of OULIPO from Poets.org:

"Although poetry and mathematics often seem to be incompatible areas of study, the philosophy of OULIPO seeks to connect them. Founded in 1960 by French mathematician Francois de Lionnais and writer Raymond Queneau, Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle (OULIPO), or Workshop of Potential Literature, investigates the possibilities of verse written under a system of structural constraints. Lionnais and Quenuau believed in the profound potential of a poem produced within a framework or formula and that, if done in a playful posture, the outcomes could be endless."

While writing my first snowball, or boule de neige, as the OULIPO call it, I definitely tried to keep a "playful posture." Here's what I came up with:

Background photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

This snowball poem is an example of one that grows, which is called a boule de neige de longueur. Such poems should resemble a right triangle. The text I've quoted in my poem is taken from this page. There, you can read more about the various types and shapes of snowball poems.

As I worked on this poem, I realized I have written snowballs before, in the form of nonets and Etherees. So technically, this isn't really my first snowball poem, though it's the first containing twelve lines. 😀

I'm wondering how many of you are familiar with snowball poems. Have you ever written one? Do let me know in the comments. I also wonder: Is there a name for a poem that describes the form it's written in? I think there should be.

You can check out more poetry at this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Catherine Flynn at Reading to the Core. Before heading over there, though, don't forget to enter our current giveaway if you haven't already done so. Details are at the end of Esther's Student Success Story interview with Gwen Neiman Levy about the release of her debut picture book, What the Cluck?

Happy writing!
Carmela