Friday, October 03, 2008

Pearls before swell kids

This is Charles, and I’m not in South Africa (like Vicky) or Paris (like Rick) or Hawaii (like Debby) or in sunny Arizona (like Donis).

Those of you playing along at home know that my lovely wife Rose is a high school English teacher here in Rochester. She’s always wanted to have me come in and speak in her classes but we could never get the schedules right—State mandated testing and a rather lock-step curriculum have reduced her windows of opportunity, and when she saw an opening it often filled on my end with a major video shoot or client presentation. But yesterday, after 4 years of back and forths, I had the privilege of speaking in three of Rose’s 9th grade English classes.

The topic was character development and I explained how I (and most other writers) create the people that inhabit our worlds. I shared lots of tips and techniques and offered writing advice, but I think the most important thing I shared with them, however, was the idea that even if you never write a book, if you understand how characters are conceived and developed by writers, you’ll have a greater appreciation for the books you read, the movies you watch, the TV shows you catch, the plays you attend, the video games you play and the comics you devour. By way of example, we did a character study of Stewie, the “baby” on the animated TV show The Family Guy. From the choice of his name to the type of music he enjoys to his word choices and droll delivery, they saw that Seth MacFarlane put a lot more thought into this character than they realized, and that it’s that extra thought that make the character so entertaining.

Oh, and the most important piece of writing advice was this—you need to know what your character wants. Not what they say they want (ex: win the game for the team) but what they really want (win the game so she can embarrass star on the other team who just happens to be her stepsister, the same stepsister who has stolen away her father’s affection, the same father who used to be so much fun and who only cared about you but who now puts all of his real attention on his new, much younger wife, who treats his two real children as if they were part of the family, a family neither wants anything to do…you get the idea). Students seemed to enjoy putting the characters they were creating on the hot seat.

Maybe someone I spoke to will be inspired and go on and write a great novel that speaks to the world in a fresh, new voice. Or maybe one of them will be inspired to turn to drama, bringing to life all the things we discussed on the stage in such a way that the very field of ‘acting’ is taken to a whole new level. Or maybe one student will devote his or her time to the deep study of literature, going on to unlock the secrets of the written word to the next generation, single handedly starting a renaissance of reading. Or maybe, at the very least, be inspired to buy one of my books.

By the way, this Sunday’s guest blogger is my pal, Dana Denberg. She a copywriting genius here at the agency and she attended a blogging seminar last week. She’ll share her notes with us and, with any luck, I’ll learn to become a decent blogger myself.

No comments: