When Teaching Informs Writing – or How I Can Resucitate My Character
I met with my writing group earlier this week, and as always, they give me excellent suggestions on what to do with my manuscript. I am working on a novel, my second (though the first has yet to be published), and I am determined to whip it into saleable shape.
The main advice the group had for me was to take the character and really make the chapter *hers*. Don’t just use her as a device to open the book – bring out her story. I stewed on that for the afternoon and evening before sleeping. I think I even dreamed about the character – someone who I know so well that she could walk into a room and I would recognize her. I didn’t work on it all the next day, preferring to let it lie.
Then, at school two days later, I gave a lesson to my 8th graders on CPR. This is not the usual type of CPR, however; this is writing CPR. No, I’m not trying to resuscitate my manuscript. I am talking about character-problem-resolution. In class, we did an exercise where we devised a character – Susan, who is new in town. The students had to work on the problem and solution. They came up with Susan being lonely, and the resolution was taking walks around the city until she got to know it and ultimately met people. Of course, being middle-schoolers, there were some pretty gross and frightening iterations of that scenario that I will not share here.
Then finally, as I was going to bed that night, it hit me. MY character needed some CPR of her own. I was so busy worrying about how to introduce the book, I had not considered my character’s central problem. And man, does she have a concrete, identifiable, but solve-able, central problem. All I need to do is listen to her voice, and let her tell me of her resolution. From there, the writing will be a piece of cake. It will all come from the character. (Reminder: all writers are somewhat schizophrenic – according to the writer Joyce Caroll Oates.)
Since today is my long day of teaching, I’ll have to see if my character and I have time to talk this evening, or if we should wait until tomorrow to converse. But now I’m so excited about the whole thing.
This is the first intersection of my teaching and my writing, but rest assured, it will not be the last.