Creative minds were at work during two, one-hour creative writing sessions held at Hugh B. Bain Middle School recently. On Friday morning, November 30, students who had expressed an interest in a creative writing workshop from Write Rhode Island, a writing contest created in partnership by School One and Goat Hill, took part in the first session of the workshop. The second session took place just a few days later, on Monday, December 4. The goal of the workshop was to get students engaged in writing creatively, but also to encourage them to enter the Write Rhode Island short fiction competition for RI students in grades 7-12. The entries were required to be 2,500 words or less and must incorporate Rhode Island into the story in some way.
On Friday, the workshop, run by retired educator Maggie Miles, focused on character development. Before the workshop began, she shared with them a locked diary she had recently found from her own eighth-grade school year. She encouraged them to keep their own journals or diaries if they did not already.
“The best thing about finding this is that I got to live twice,” she said. “It is like being able to time travel. I got to see what I experienced, and it was a very hard year. I got to see what I worried about, and I got to see what I was like in that eighth-grade year. It’s a real treasure.” She shared with the students that journaling can be a long-lasting gift to themselves.
“If you forget everything I say today and Monday but you start keeping a diary or a journal, I will feel that I’ve succeeded,” she said.
She began the one-hour workshop discussing methods of character development with the students. “Today we’re going to be curious in our work as writers as we develop our characters,” she said. “Developing a character is something that many authors say is the hardest thing to do.”
In starting the students’ own character development for their stories, Miles asked them to first come up with the character’s name.
“It can be so much fun to invent a character, and sometimes a name can be very important to a story,” Miles said.
She asked them to write their middle names down on a sheet of paper, followed by the first word of the street they lived on and gave her own example, Leslie Chapin.
“This is your new identity,” she said. “This is your first character.”
The students were then asked to consider their character and to think about identifying characteristics and traits such as their occupation, age, hobbies, likes and dislikes and their intellect. Students were given the opportunity to share a little bit about their characters.
“You have tremendous power today,” Miles told them. “You are making up a whole new person, a whole new identity for a person. Even though you may not use all of the details you’re coming up with, you will still know them about your character.”
Students shared personality traits about their characters that included being clumsy, having a stutter, being a chef or a student or someone who didn’t like green beans; each character so different from the next.
The students were then given a card with an occupation on it, such as hot air balloon owner, kindergarten teacher, time traveler or beekeeper and told that this was their second character. They spent the remainder of their morning session creating the second character and relating it in some way to their first character.
“Stretch your mind to think of a story to put those two people together,” Miles told them. “There is no wrong answer and you can be wild and crazy.” Students were given the opportunity to share out at the end of the session.
On Monday afternoon, Miles’ focus was on developing the next elements of their stories, including adding in objects and conflicts. Students were each given one random object to incorporate into their stories in some way, such as a birdcage, a soccer ball pencil sharpener, a tassel, and a calculator. They could incorporate their object as is, having it function as it was designed, or they could make it into something completely different. A flashlight in one student’s story became a laser that erased one’s complete memory and caused organs to cease their functions.
“You don’t need an object that’s crazy, like a magic wand,” Miles said. “The object can be an ordinary everyday object. When I choose to read books, I always love books that have an object in the story that helps to propel the story, to move the story. It could be a key, a diary or a hidden box.”
On Monday Miles also touched on story elements such as setting, plot, point of view and conflict.
As the second workshop wrapped up, Miles told the students that she wished she had many more hours to spend with them as they crafted their stories, but that they had been a very engaging group and one that she truly looked forward to working with again after their initial session. She encouraged them to read their final drafts aloud before submitting them to the story contest, if they chose to do so, and encouraged them to keep on writing.
Librarian Beth Grabbert thanked Miles for her time and instruction, noting that the workshop was something special and unique for the students.