Sunday 6 May 2012

Writers’ Reflections on Writing Novels for Young People

I’m currently marking the Writer’s Reflection that my students on this course gave in three days ago. All of our creative writing modules in the second and third year require students to write a Reflection. They tell how their journeys as writers are going, what they have learnt in the module and how what they are learning is helping them to shape their futures. We discourage a mere regurgitation of our own lectures and praise for the tutors will not get them higher marks. The reflections must be well written and contain all the critical rigour that would be expected in an academic essay.
All of the ones I have read so far are honest and many also show a really deep level of commitment. And there are surprises.
I guess in this module I’ve been fairly strict about the workshop element of the seminars. Every student is expected to bring work along every week. They work initially in groups and then the whole group looks at a few selected pieces together. We rotate so everyone has a turn. Attendance has been good on the whole and every week there has been plenty to share though not everyone has attended every week and not everyone who has attended has brought work every time. Many students have claimed this part of the seminar to be extremely useful and many also say they have overcome their fear of having other people read their work. It is good for this to happen in the second year: Final Portfolio in our third year is all about workshopping and they get more out of it if they’re used to it from the first day of Semester 1.
Many students also mention that they’re pleased to find that they can plan a whole novel. They’ve often not finished pieces of work before. Now that they’ve looked carefully at story structure and plotting, they feel that they can look ahead. Many of them are planning to finish their novels later.
Learning how to condense a novel into a synopsis is also extremely useful. When I mark the first assignment, which is the 500 word synopsis, I’m looking for a good story shape and a synopsis that makes this clear as well as showing up what the characters are like. I give them some sound instruction on this, show them one of my own that I know worked extremely well and get them to read Nicola Morgan’s excellent book on the topic.
Some students also report that they are pleased to be informed of how the industry works. Those who intend to become writers need to know this. Certainly, I always make a point about mentioning this.
And virtually all of them have mentioned the value of continued reading. Good.  
Most of the writing itself on this task has been good or very good. Recently I’ve also been marking a first year Writer’s Response exercise – a slightly different task but also critical. There is a lot of talent in our first year, but some of this critical writing is a little raw. The second year writing is much more polished; they are more used to academic writing and many of them have taken the University’s renowned Wordscope course. Naturally, that is exactly how it should be. I would be worried if second years had not progressed beyond what first years can do.                 

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