Thursday, August 03, 2017

Where are we all headed?

By “we” I mean writers. And by “headed” I mean, What will the future of professional writing look like?

This is a topic I’ve found myself discussing often recently. I mentor writing teachers often, and when we talk about how to best prepare student writers for the future, I keep coming back to NetFlix.

Crazy for a book lover to say that? Maybe. But maybe not.

I live in a house connected to a dorm that is home to 180 teenagers, and I teach and work with these students eight to 12 hours a day. I know their interests and have a pretty good handle on what makes this group of next-generation professional writers tick. And as a writing instructor and literature teacher, I need to meet students where they are as I create curricula (for students) and design workshops (for writing instructors).

This is where it gets interesting: where are student writers learning the art of narrative?

When teaching Dickens or Conan Doyle, we talk about serial publications and discuss how readers eagerly awaited the next – weekly – installment of the story. Recently, I found myself in conversations where I said, Kids are learning narrative structure and the uses of narrative tension from shows they watch (or “binge watch”) on Netflix. (Admittedly, as someone trying hopelessly to catch up to the upcoming season of House of Cards, I know where they’re coming from.)

Would I rather students actually read Dickens’s novels or all of Conan Doyle’s work (or even the Harry Potter books instead of viewing the films)? No doubt. But I have reason to be hopeful. This spring, I offered my Crime Literature students an alternative to our term paper: Create an NPR-style podcast. S-Town is popular among them. Not all, but maybe a third of the class took me up on it. They produced detailed scripts (complete with background music, street sounds, etc), researched widely and deeply (the paper topic is Discuss the symbiotic relationship between crime and society, so it’s wide open), and produced 8-minute podcasts. And these were terrific, impressing peer students, my English department colleagues, and blowing me away.

The assignment didn’t introduce them to television writing per se, but it did expose them to the digital form – and just maybe to the place where narrative and technology will intersect in their futures.

1 comment:

Charlotte Hinger said...

There is so much to learn from film structure. I envy the writers' ability to get the "everyday world when something changes" portrayed in one quick scene. Everything from social status, professions, number in the household, everything.