Friday, April 06, 2012

My Experience With Lucy Calkins

So I finished my skim of Writing Fiction: Big Dreams, Tall Ambitions by Lucy Calkins. It's not what a nonteacher would call riveting reading because it models lesson plans with some coaching on the side by Lucy. Plus, I don't imagine even many teachers would sit down and try to get through one of these books as quickly as possible. They probably do their serious reading on a lesson-by-lesson need.

Calkins covers some very real and even sophisticated writing material here on character development, plotting, planning scenes, and doing drafts. I have no idea how well elementary school children are able to absorb and use this, but it seems as if Calkins could do a general intro to writing book that older writers might find useful.

She quotes many, many writing books in the coaching material. I read this in front of a computer and kept going on-line to find the authors quoted and their books. I wish there'd been a bibliography with Calkins' book. However, the one I read is part of a set on writing lesson plans. Maybe there's a bibliography somewhere for the whole set.

Calkins talks a great deal about the story format of giving a character something to want and then putting up obstructions to them getting it. "The core structure of a short story, in a nutshell, is that a character wants or needs something (or needs to learn something) and then encounters obstacles in reaching this goal." After hearing her talk about this over and over again, I started thinking about  Rust Hill, who said over and over again in Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular that stories are about "something that happened to somebody." When I find my copy of his book, I'm going to reread it, because a story being about "something that happened to somebody" is making a lot more sense to me right now than a story being about  a "character [who] wants or needs something (or needs to learn something) and then encounters obstacles in reaching this goal."

Calkins definitely puts on...pressure...for teachers and students to stick to writing her preferred type of fiction--realistic,  problem-based, social issue types of things. When discussing where writers get ideas, she says, "Teach them, too, that fiction writers read newspapers and watch the news on TV, noticing ways in which the world feels unfair for some people." Many, many writers get ideas from newspapers. I don't think we're looking only for story ideas relating to people being treated unfairly, though. That is a story idea that certainly has some dramatic potential, but it is also just one particular type of story. I think more often we're  looking for ideas that lend themselves to a story format or frame in which, well, something happens to somebody.

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