Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Teaching Dialogue

Currently, my 13 year old creative writing students are deep into their Nanowrimo novels.  For the month, all I've wanted is for them to write.  Turn off the inner editor (and critic) and just write.  Put the story down on paper...or computer screen.

Yet, I still want to give them tools to use.  I can't ignore them for a month while they write.  There have been several tools which are rooted in questioning.

One of the least intrusive tools to the writing process which I've used with them, and can be used alone, with a peer, or in a mini-conference with me is simply asking whether their dialogue does one of two things:
a. does it reveal more about the character?
b. does it push the plot forward?
If they answer yes to either then take a moment and tell me, tell yourself, tell your peer how that exchange of dialogue does either of those two things.

If they answer no, circle it.  Move forward.  Revisit it after we finish the novel and work on a formal line edit.

There are many points which can be made regarding dialogue when a teacher checks in during the writing process.  Of course, dialogue can be honed and pruned and polished like anything else.  We could zero in on a specific line or word.  We could discuss if what he/she said is realistic.  We're not there yet.  I don't want to get in the way; I just want to hold the flashlight while they do the work.

The two questions posed above are solid and grounding questions which allow for an exchange of ideas between teacher and student, and still allows you to guide the student without telling him/her what to do.  It allows them to talk about their work in a meaningful way without their having to defend themselves or their style.

You are not saying if the dialogue does or does not.  They are.

I tend to lean more the Socratic method of teaching the longer I teach creative writing.  Learning how to nudge them back on track, guide them, or illuminate the options in front of them is so important when developing a young creative writer. 

It is their work, yet it is up to us to keep (selectively) sliding tools in front of their hands and eyes and encouraging them to find their use and benefit to a writer.

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