The Plot Thickens, or Fiction Writing Class Part Two

The Plot Thickens, or Fiction Writing Class Part Two


I was late for class last week. I forgot, of all things, my class outline, in the library. I had been very prepared, printing it out hours before I would need it and placing it, along with a brand new yellow pad and pen, into my professional-looking leather folder. It was this very folder that I forgot at the library, setting me into a panic as I prepared to leave, later than I had expected, given my frantic search for my preparation.

I arrived at the Corbin Art Center with Plan B fixed in my mind, five minutes late. The office worker printed out another copy of my outline from my flash drive, which I had, thankfully, used to back up my notes.

I entered my classroom, ready to apologize and begin.

It was empty.

My entire class had dropped.

I was a failure as a teacher.

Just then, one of my students came in, interrupting my melancholy thoughts. “Where is everyone?” she asked. She is not a loud woman, but that classroom adjoins the office.

“Your class has been moved upstairs,” the helpful office worker said. When we went upstairs, my class was, indeed there. I

was not a failure as a teacher. They had chosen to come back and get their money’s worth. It was an amazing feeling.

Our class was about plot and I walked them through some exercises I had enjoyed as a student, then, I did something which I would have considered unthinkable, or, at least, very scary, the week before. I assigned an exercise that I had made up. It was very simple, I asked my students to use the characters they had created the week before and populate a “plot” that I would give them. The exercise was supposed to show that the character is more important than the plot, since the character brings his or her quirks to a plot. By putting each of these idiosyncratic characters into the same plot, we would show that the character was a healthy foundation for a story. I believe this to the core of my being.

I gave the class 20 minutes for this exercise and the plot: “your character goes out to eat at a restaurant and receives terrible service. I waited, nervous.

When my students were finished writing, I asked them each to read their pieces aloud. They did and we all laughed, smiled and clapped. The exercise had done what I’d wanted, certainly. We had seen the different restaurants the characters chose, the food they ordered, the companions they brought (or the fact that they went out alone). We even saw what terrible service meant to one character over another. The plot was the same, but the characters added a new dimension that even the authors did not appreciate until everyone read aloud.

My class left again, saying thank you and smiling, chatting among themselves. In spite of me and my lateness and inability to control the outcome of everything I do and unforeseen losses of notes, another successful class. I drove home thanking God.

Tonight, we talk about writers block. I’ll keep you posted.