Monday, August 25, 2014

Thrills and Chills: Teaching Suspense Writing to Kids

This weekend I had the pleasure of presenting at the Killer Nashville Writing Conference.  My topic - Thrills and Chills: Teaching Suspense Writing to Kids.

Kids are innately attracted to suspense in books and movies for one simple reason - the adrenaline rush parallels the angst of adolescence.  Kids, (teens in particular), experience a personal connection on a psychological level as they writhe in their seats, wondering...What if?  Consequently, it makes perfect sense that kids make amazing suspense writers - if given the proper tools.      

"It was a dark and stormy night..."  

This is how most kids will begin their suspense story.  Not that there is anything wrong with dark and stormy nights.  Dark and stormy nights are very good when building a backdrop for suspense.  But in the interest of avoiding cliches, I introduce kid writers to the special formula of suspense writing:  G.E.M.    

G.E.M. is the acronym I coined for writing a "writhe-in-your-seat-worthy" suspense story.  It stands for Gothicism, Expansion of Time, and Magic of Three.

All suspense stories should have some elements of the gothic genre, such as the supernatural; an eerie, mysterious setting; emotion over passion; and distinctive characters who are lonely, isolated, and/or oppressed.  Throw in a tyrannical villain, a vendetta, or an illicit love affair - you've got goth gold!

Next, introduce the art of expanding time using foreshadowing, flashback, evoking sensory detail, and implementing "well...maybe dialogue."  This allows the writer to twist, turn, and tangle up the plot.  Tease your audience, I tell my students.  Pile on the problems and trap your protagonist with a ticking clock.  Every second counts with suspense!     

Finally, the Magic of Three comes into play.  The Magic of Three is a writer's trick where a series of three hints lead to a major discovery.  During the first hint, the protagonist detects something is amiss.  The second hint sparks a more intense reaction but nothing is discovered - yet.  And then - BANG!  The third hint leads to a discovery or revelation.  

Teaching suspense writing to kids breeds amazing results.  Once they learn the craft through G.E.M., they realize the power behind suspense and why audiences are drawn to it.  They recognize and appreciate suspense for what it is...the secret sauce of writing.

Remember what the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock said, "There is no terror in the bang, only the anticipation of it."

So go mine your story, and find your G.E.M.  The clock is ticking...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Killer Nashville Writers Conference

Join me next week at the Killer Nashville Writers Conference where I will be presenting "Thrills and Chills: Teaching Suspense Writing to Kids."

August 24th at the Omni Hotel in Nashville, TN

Sunday, August 10, 2014

It's That Time of Year...Teacher Types

An Excerpt From the Award-Winning Tell-All
Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School 

teach• er |ˈtē ch ər|
(official definition) – a person who teaches, esp. in a school; an adult role model who indoctrinates the younger generation intellectually, morally, and socially; one who helps others learn, as by example.

teach• er |ˈtē ch ər|
(middle school student’s definition) – an adultish type person who slugs coffee, wears bad ties, frumpish jumpers, and who decided (due to his/her  own scarred teenage existence) to torture kids by inducing parental groundings through frequent phone calls home to report defective grades and deplorable behavior. Resulting outcome: avoid and ignore efforts; torture whenever possible.

Okay, J.K.!!  Teachers should be respected.  After all, most educators enjoy working with kids and some actually have something to teach us.  They are a guiding force in the molding of us adolescents and essentially our guardians from 8 to 3, Monday through Friday.  However, there ARE exceptions.  And the thing about middle school is you will have several teachers to deal with – not just one like in elementary school.  However, baring a few things in mind, you should adapt just fine.    

The first thing to realize about middle school teachers is there are certain types.  Nice and mean, right?  Actually it’s more complicated than that.  There are as many teacher types as there are personalities.  There are teachers who are nice, friendly, lenient, strict, dumb, smart, scary smart, funny, so-funny-they-should-be-a-comic-funny, boring, so-boring-they-put-you-in-a-coma-boring etc.  We’re going to focus on three basic types you will certainly come across in middle school, the telltale identifiable signs, and tips on how to deal with them to your advantage.  

The Taskmaster Control Freak/You-Ain’t-Doin’-Nothin’-in-My-Class/Lecturer
These types of teachers became teachers so they could hear themselves talk. The truth is that they have no interest in you or what you have to say. You’ll know them by the classroom arrangement, which consists of unyielding vertical rows with their bully pulpit lectern front and center. Don’t even think about asking to use the bathroom or going to your locker, as the hall pass is simply an accessory for the Taskmaster (i.e., not to be used). And, don’t get sick in their classrooms because you ain’t leaving! Their stock answer for everything is “No!” They have no sense of humor and no sense of mercy. We advise lying low in their classes, as their tolerance for any kind of adolescent shenanigans is nonexistent. Hand in your homework on time and keep a low profile. Cheating, passing notes, and otherwise acting up are unheard of in the Taskmaster’s classroom.

The Fossil/I-Had-Your-Grandmother-and-Will-Have-Your-
Children’s-Children-and-Never-Ever-Retire Teacher
The Fossil tends to linger in the math and science departments. They are well known throughout the local community—and for good reason. They’ve been around forever, and as a result, they have built a solid reputation. They’ve been around so long that their “Just Say No” antidrug posters from the ’80s have an inch of dust caked to them. They use the same old lesson plans, projects, and activities they’ve had since college. Basically, they do their jobs on cruise control and aren’t apt to press the accelerator anytime soon.

Mr./Ms. Good Time/I-Want-to-Be-Liked Teacher
Mr. and Ms. Good Time are usually young and fresh out of college, and their entire educational philosophy is based on being liked. These teachers tend to be easy graders and give less homework (with the exception of a deep fondness for projects) than the others. Their strength is creativity and working outside the textbook (think complete opposite of the Taskmaster). The best thing to do in Mr. and Ms. Good Time’s class is to get them off topic by asking some real-world questions. Also, convince them that a once-a-week party is academically beneficial and aligns perfectly with the standards. Other things to try are having them take you outside, watching teen angst movies, and throwing Game Day because it promotes personal development and self-esteem.

So good luck as you start middle school.  We know you will get "a handle" on those teacher types soon enough, but this should give you the jumpstart needed as you head to that first class.

Until next time...Hearts and Sharpies!
Lucy and CeCee