Why I Teach @ 01:24 pm
Whelp, that was it. My last class. Man, it sounds weird, but I'm going to miss my students. They were an incredibly awesome group. Perhaps it was the law of averages. With seventeen souls in class there were bound to be some good ones, but honestly, I think I got far, far more than my fair share. Maybe the people who are likely to sign up for a science fiction and fantasy writing class called, "More Than Just the Zombie Apocalypse" are just going to already be the kinds of geeks, nerds, and otaku I can relate to.
Today, since it was the last day, and my syllabus said "free for all Q & A" we started with critique. On that note I also have to say that I don't know what people are worried about. Language is not going to die out, just because the kids today have smart phones. Perhaps these worries I hear about are from teachers with a less selective group. Maybe the general population of a freshman class is scarier. I'd believe that. Like I said, my students were already likely to be bright, high-achiever types. Because to a person the stories that were handed out were well-written, original, and, on occasion, surprisingly good.
Of course, I'm not the kind of teacher that tends to fuss much about picky grammar. That'd be the height of irony as I often fail spelling and comma usage and I'm overly fond of the parenthetical sentence. So maybe another teacher would have clucked his or her tongue through these stories.
But that teacher would have missed the awesome.
There was a lot of it. One thing I love about young writers is that their internal editors are still set on "wouldn't it be cool if...?" rather than "I can't have an alien be besties with a unicorn, no one would buy that..." I actually hope that these kids never loose that. They probably will to some extent, because we all do (and sometimes that's not a bad thing. If I hadn't lost some of that I'd still name characters things like Flint Dreamwalker.) But I feel like sometimes, as adults, we don't acknowledge our inner Flints.
So, at any rate, I did manage some accidental teaching again, I think. Beyond the critiques, the things we talked about yesterday and today are (in chronological order) world-building and foreshadowing. World-building was, in my opinion, my weakest lecture. I'd brought along a few of the parts of Pat Wrede's World-Building Questionnaire, but that proved less exciting than Orson Scott Card's idea of "the price of magic." In his book in writing SF/F, he talks about how everything has a price, not just literally, but also figurative. Your world can have electricity, but if it does, then houses need to be wired. Power needs to be generated somehow, etc. In magic, he feels (and I agree), the same sorts of rules should apply. Even in Harry Potter's world where magic seems limitless, you do need to learn it (and pronounce it properly) in order to use it. So, for Harry, the price of magic is you have to go to school to learn it. But, you could have a magical system where the price of magic is money. Then you get to ask yourself what this does to your society if only the rich have access to magic...? I once started a story where the price of magic was that you could use it once, but then the user teleported somewhere randomly. So, the magicians ride out into the field, cast their one fireball spell, and BAM! You lose them. 2/3rds of them end up in water (as this was basically an alternate Earth), and the other 1/3 are scattered across the globe. Of course, the story fell apart because it was kind of silly price for magic. But, other people suggested really interesting/creepy ones: what if the price of magic was magic (once you used a spell it disappeared from use)? What if the price of magic were your memories? What if the price of magic was your soul? What if the price of magic was empathy? What if the price of magic was someone else's life, and what if you had to choose?
But when we switched over to science fiction that price of technology wasn't as easy to talk about, since it's depressing (the price of technology is global warming..., etc.) But we did sort of touch on the idea of creating an alien world that's not homogenous--that, like Earth, has warring factions, different races, etc. We talked about using science and scientific possibility as starting points, to find your what-ifs or future ways of communicating.
Today's open ended Q&A ended up really mostly tackling the idea of foreshadowing. Two separate people wanted to know how to keep (or reveal) secrets that the main character should know. My snarky answer was: very carefully, but the real answer involved atmosphere (word choices when describing a scene or a person), internal dialogue (a main character who prompts the reader to pay attention to something by focusing on it themselves, or by actually just asking themselves the questions the author wants the reader to be thinking of), and clues (actual bits of detail layered in that are NOT commented on, but there for the reader to hang their own questions on.) All of these can work and you can use them together or on their own.
There were more specific things talked about with that, but that was the gist of it.
Even though I never feel like I'm making much sense, I was especially pleased by how many people came up to thank me. I'm sure that these are just polite young people, but they seemed sincere. One young lady told me I'd prompted a story idea for her and she was now deep into something new and exciting. That, I told her, right there. That's why I teach.