Let's Help Each Other Out!

This is a place for creative writing teachers to share idea to be come better teachers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why Teach Creative Writing?

Once and a while, I have to ask myself this question, to see if I am on the right path. Here's my list of reasons:

1) To help people get in touch with their hearts and souls, and to help them find the important stories they have to tell and to thus find themselves and perhaps help others find themselves.

2) To teach people to be better communicators, both verbally and by writing. Good communication skills are essential to our working lives and our relationships in our private lives.

3) To help people see the power of a group working together through creative writing workshops, so they may use those skills in their lives and have some respect for the work of legislators.

4) To help people begin to think independently and escape, at least in a small way, the limitations of the smaller world they grew up in compared to the bigger world they will eventually move into.

5) To help people to enjoy artistic creation--in creative writing, that would be in the forms of creative writing, such a fiction and poetry.  People take classes in music without ever expecting to become professional musicians.  Many may wish to write as primarily a means of self-expression.

6) To help people to discover and appreciate great writing. I have the least faith in this one, perhaps because my father was so proud that he never read a book after college, and the current generation seems tightly bound to commercial popular culture products. I tend to feel that a passion for reading high quality writing is not often taught, and is usually discovered on one's own, before reaching college.

7) To assist a few students to take up writing as a lifetime calling to benefit society through the wisdom in their writing--and to perhaps make part of a living.  The last goal I list here some may feel to be the primary goal of a creative writing course.  I always have a few students in each class who strongly desire to be writers, and I have had a few succeed. Personally, I don't think one should be a writer unless one is strongly compelled to be a writer. Selling real estate is more lucrative, and just as interesting.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Plagiarism in Creative Writing: a Growing Issue

Plagiarism is a growing problem in creative writing. I advise that all teachers put on their syllabus an anti-plagiarism statement so they will be prepared when the problem comes up.

I had a student steal a short story from an internet magazine from the middle east written in English. That was easy enough to catch on turnitin.com, although the student vehemently denied it until I put his story and the copy I'd printed off from the internet on the desk in front of his face.

Requiring the submission of rough drafts, and requiring the students to write autobiographically, are two ways to help prevent plagiarism.

THE NEW PLAGIARISM is the stealing of plots from films and from TV shows. Often plot summaries are taken from internet. Wikipedia has them, for instance.

Stealing plots cannot be detected by turnitin.com.  Also, there are certain motifs in fiction.   If a short story in the Western genre has a faceoff, shootout scene, one can't call that plagiarism. That plot point happens in a lot of Westerns.  Only a human can determine if enough of a plot has been stolen to call it plagiarism.  One must remember also that Shakespeare borrowed plots.

I see a marked decline in reading amongst my students. Writing a short story, even if we read a lot of short stories, continues to mean to them an immitation of a TV show or a movie.  It is plot summaries from these genres that they examine for plots to steal.

This is why I am going to stress, in my beginning creative writing course, WRITING FROM AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL BASE.  I realize the problems inherent in such writing, but it seems to me the most efficient way of preventing plagiarism.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Help! How to Explain?

So, it tends to make for bad stories, when students base their s stories on TV shows.

But how do I explain that is so?

People adapt books into film,

People adapt video games into film.

I can tell them that TV shows are stupid, are not art, are forumlaic, but they love TV, and won't accept that.

Traditional formula genres again

I wanted to open up to the traditional genres of mystery and SF--to be more open minded myself--and aso because there are still pulp magazines out there to publish such short stories in. The may not last much longer.

Unfortunately, the stories I got were poor. The students wrote from TV models, and in spite of my warnings about GI Joe action figure flat characters and conventional plots--well, they gave me just what I warned them against.

So it's back to being Mr. Nasty.  I didn't allow Harlequin romance stories either, but of course I got a few.  Seems like in half the romance stories I get, the guy is called Josh.  I wish they'd call him Lance for the phallic humor involved, or, even better Lance-a-lot.

Maybe next semester I'll tell them they have to tell a story using a plot from Shakesepeare.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Zombie Story

I allowed a student to write a zombie story this semester.  It a sophomoric topic, I know, but I get a lot of sophmores in my creative writing classes, and I need to be more open about other genres of fiction.  He was, he said, going to try to make it more than a yarn and have a significant theme by writing about regimentation and technology.

That's been done a fair amount, I said, but maybe from a zombie perspective you will achieve a fresh view on an old topic.

Well, he completely forgot about his theme, and spent 15 pages in zombie action--arms, heads, and legs falling off, zombies biting humans, humans biting zombies, etc.

The humans were retaking the world, in his story, and the zombies were sad. (That was a cool part) The zombies were used to being in control.  I told him that his narrator, writing in a journal, could be a bit philosophical, and point out that the zombies were the next stage in evolution.  They don't consume much.  If the humans take over the world again, global warming will resume as they quickly reproduce and reestablish consumer culture.

My student said, "Isn't that theme a bit trite."
I said, "No." It's got some irony in it. The dead save the world.

My suspicion is that the student called the theme I suggested trite because he, like many Aggies, does not believe in global warming. We live in a special bubble here.

What do you think, readers?  Trite or not trite?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Class Size Teachng Creative Writing

I have 25 students in my introductory creative writing class at Texas A&M University, College Station.  I can't speak to the class sizes at the other A&M system universities. It would be a good thing to survey.

At the other universities I have taught creative writing--UT/Austin, UT/Tyler, and UT/El Paso, the class sizes were kept to 15.

What a world of difference it makes in the way you can help students with their work and relate to them as human beings.

If you are looking for a creative writing job, be sure to inquire on the size of the intro creative writing classes you will be teaching.