Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sellar on Creative writing

Gord Sellar has written a post which seems to focus on deliberately filling each scene or paragraph with content. Yes, a scene can advance the plot, but can also offer backstory and character development. There are dangers, he says, of making every glance, move or fumble meaningful, but people accept that fiction isn't reality.

Effective writing, as I’ve told my Creative Writing students, often means creating a kind of webwork of connections between as many elements as possible within a story. I’ve mentioned this before, how it is something I probably first encountered in an explicit sense when Nalo Hopkinson showed us (at Clarion West back in 2006) a neat technique one can use to thicken the broth of connections in a text. If I remember right, she wrote a list of characters, and a list of scenes (or themes? it’s fuzzy in my memory), and then worked out how each character (or theme) connected to each scene. If two characters meet by chance, its one thing, but what if they were connected through something else, like a college they’re both attending, or a workplace at which they both applied but were turned down?

There probably is a potential for overkill, if things are so hyperconnected that a text becomes overrun with the linkages. The line is hard to draw, though.

ESL: Grading creativity in 'creative writing'

Jason Renshaw describes the problem very clearly and asks for help.

... I would probably look to divide my grading rubric into two sections:

1. (Completed by teacher) - General grade out of 10 for things like mechanics, language use, cohesion, etc.

2. (Completed by readers) - An average of all readers' responses to the writing converted into a score out of 10. By this I mean I would have several other students in the class read the writing and give it a score out of 10 based on how effective they felt it was and how much they enjoyed reading it. I would then calculate an average of all those scores.

It's not perfect, but it does bring peers and real "readers" into the picture, and emphasizes the need for writers to consider a potential audience for their writing. It may well have as many risks as bonuses, especially considering how sensitive teenage students are to their peers (and how cruel some teens can be to each other!). There is also the risk that writing for an audience - especially an audience of peers in the very same room - could very well inhibit natural and free-flowing creative writing efforts.

So personally I'm a little stumped.

Anyone out there got any ideas about how to effectively evaluate creative writing efforts?

My teacher friend and I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I'll need this later

I don't really know if anyone reads this blog. I haven't bothered with a visit-counter; I mostly just want this material accessible when I need it in the future. - Notice I wrote "when" not "if": as a result of the (half-assed) research I have described here, some plans for the future are firming up.

I'm particularly interested in how to teach creative students and how to help students be more creative. When I start making curriculums and syllabbi for for my students based on this work, I want to thank Chris in South Korea, whose relatively off-handed comment about creativity flipped the switch or turned on the lightbulb in my head and made me think this was what I wanted to think about.

Who is an artist?

On NPR's This I Believe, Frank Walter discusses everyday creativity.

I believe that the highest quality of life is full of art and creative expression and that all people deserve it. I believe in a broad definition of what art is and who artists are: Barbers, cooks, auto detailers, janitors and gardeners have as much right to claims of artistry as designers, architects, painters and sculptors. Every day, our streets and school buses become art galleries in the form of perfectly spiked hair, zigzagging cornrows and dizzying shoelace artistry.


Ever since high school, words have continued to serve as my first weapon of choice and my salvation. Many of life’s challenges need creative solutions. I believe creativity — in all its many forms — can change the way we think and operate. Celebrating the creativity around us helps maintain our sanity and keeps us happy


Sunday, April 18, 2010

The most imaginative kids are often the troublemakers.

At the Frontal Cortex, there is post up about creativity in children and how adults and teachers admire the idea of kids being creative but not the fruits of that creativity.

Everybody wants a creative child - in theory. The reality of creativity, however, is a little more complicated, as creative thoughts tend to emerge when we're distracted, daydreaming, disinhibited and not following the rules. In other words, the most imaginative kids are often the trouble-makers.
While the teachers said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they actually didn't. In fact, when they were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures - the list included everything from "individualistic" to "risk-seeking" to "accepting of authority" - the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their "least favorite" students. As the researchers note, "Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity."

The author uses the example of daydreaming. It enhances creativity but does nothing to enhance memorization of the multiplication tables.

I gotta say I agree with this post and I feel discomforted by that. Less creative students are easier, if not to teach, then to have in class while I am going through the motions that make me think I am teaching.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Who do you write for?

The Abel Pharmboy has blogged about why he writes, titled "Writing to publish vs. Writing to be read", where he discusses why he blogs and what value it holds for him.
For those of us in the sciences whose productivity is measured in peer-reviewed research manuscripts, one can ask why we write blogs. Personally, I enjoy the conversation with all of you, fellow scientists as well as folks far afield who happen to be interested in science and drugs. The blog also allows me to explore outside of my field - cancer research - and learn more about such areas as neuroscience and geology and even further to music, history, and, yes, writing. Through this community I've also been able to continue my education by learning about issues of gender and racial and ethnic diversity in both the sciences and society. I definitely feel more well-rounded as both an academic and a human being by writing here and engaging with this community. And I am still learning. ...
So, why do you write when you don't have to?
Mary Churchill encouraged the question when she wrote "Why do academics write?". To be clear, this is the post that motivated Pharmboy to write his post; she is not answering his post.

I would like to believe that we write because we have something to say not because we are supposed to say something.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I want this alphabet poster for my son.

Learn your A-B-Seas! An alphabet poster consisting entirely of sealife.


Children's books won't go exinct

I am talking about paper books. Kottke discusses how iPads and the like may make children's books obsolete. I say it can't happen...at least for a specific group of such books.

Expect photos soon, but I am referring to the most creative part of children's books, the paper engineering group. These used to be called 'pop-up' books but have become far more elaborate. There are so many different ways these books can be used and designed that I feel this is where the greatest creativity is being shown in the book market.

Again, more later. Off to work now.

How Agatha Christie worked

A description of the notebooks.:
The contents of the notebooks are as multi-dimensional as their Escher-like structure. They include fully worked-out scenes, historical background, lists of character names, rough maps of imaginary places, stage settings, an idle rebus (the numeral three, a crossed-out eye, and a mouse), and plot ideas that will be recognizable to any Christie fan: "Poirot asks to go down to country-finds a house and various fantastic details," "Saves her life several times," "Inquire enquire-both in same letter." What's more, in between ominous scraps like "Stabbed through eye with hatpin" and "influenza depression virus-Stolen? Cabinet Minister?" are grocery lists: "Newspapers, toilet paper, salt, pepper ..." There was no clean line between Christie's work life and her family life. She created household ledgers, and scribbled notes to self. ("All away weekend-can we go Thursday Nan.")

I want to comment further but have to leave for work now. More later.

From Slate via Kottke.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Two from Boingboing

William Gibson has taken questions from (Boingboing?) readers and answered them. Among the answers, he discusses 'creator's block':

A "Creator's block" sounds like something afflicting a divinity, but writer's block is my default setting. Its opposite is miraculous. The process of learning to write fiction, for me, was one of learning to almost continually be doing it *through* the block, in spite of the block...
Another, more amusing one, is a Super-Woo poster that describes, among other things, how to enhance Artistic ability: "Fifth Dimensional Quantum Healing".