14 August 2008

Plot at the Local Children's Shelter

Seven young adults between the ages of 12 to 17 shuffle inside the Children Shelter’s classroom. The boys loom large. The girls shift from motherly to sexy and back, like blinking red lights.

I break down some stories to them with a focus on the Beginning 1/4 of the story and ending at The End of the Beginning. I ask them to write the beginning of a story real or imagined that leads to a moment of no return, a moment when life shifts, when good turns bad or bad to worse. I suggest that the character want something that now becomes seemingly impossible to attain.

For a girl with clear brown eyes, her main character wants more time with her dad. The End of the Beginning is when her dad dies. Another girl shows a mom in heaven remembering her beautiful little girls. The End of the Beginning is when the girls go live with an uncle with a belt.

For the Middle of their stories, I asked them to describe the new world the main character is now living. I ask for three bumps that shake the character, stop the character, interfere with his/her dreams and leads to a Crisis. The Crisis is is the dark night of the soul.

Before I release them to their writing, we play charades. The two biggest boys and a girl with incredilbly long eyelashes act out emotion cards. The other kids and volunteers and counselors guess at the emotions. I stress for descriptions of what they see that leads them to know the emotion. I wanted them to "show" the character in the emotion, not "tell" the character.

To demonstrate anger, the biggest boy grabs a chair, swings it over his head and slams it to the floor. The girls reel backwards and scream. Counselors leap to their feet. I ask him to do it again but without the violence. Then we dissect his facial expressions to find the more subtle signs of anger and rage.

After a lunch of pizza and juice, we trudge back inside for the End. The room is stuffy and close, but feels safe and womb-like.

I give examples of characters overcoming tremendous odds at the Climax and being deeply transformed by the experience. We talk about what stories mean overall: a tough time leads to a lifelong belief that people are no damn good? (my father throughout his life) Good triumphs over bad (the girl with the belt). Bad triumphs over good (the boy with the rage).

My hope is that giving the kids an opportunity to get the bad stuff out of their bodies and moving is good. Rather than let it sit and fester, to bring the fear and disappointment out to the light of day is a good thing.

What have you left buried deep inside????