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20.10.2013

What else has happened...

The organisation committee of the "holidaypassport"* Lengnau asked me if I'd be willing to lead a crime writing workshop for children this year. I thought it was a great idea but wasn't sure if the children would think the same. Writing during their holidays?! I was even more sceptical when they asked if I could broaden the age span; from 9-12 to 9-15. Every parent can confirm that in this case worlds would collide. I suggested to first give the course for the 9-12-year olds and, following that, another one for the 12-15-year olds in case there were at least three pupils who enrolled for it. I limited the maximum number of participants to eight.

Aspiring for the Nobel Prize in Literature 2060
 

As expected, there was only one enrolment in the older age group. The girl was apparently so keen on taking the course that I said she could join the "little ones" if she wanted to. And she did. I thought that rather brave. There'd probably been some snide remarks from her school mates. Nevertheless, she wasn't deterred and enrolled. So I was able to look forward to teaching ten (!) eager students on two successive Mondays.

The course was divided into an "Inventing" and an "Editing" part. I was pretty sure that the young authors would have fun inventing, yet far from certain if the second part would work.

I put up some rules:
1.) This is
a WORKshop. You're going to work hard!
2.) This isn't a German lesson. I don't care how many mistakes there'll be in your writing as long as you are writing.
3) The most important rule: There's no RIGHT or WRONG.

That last rule worked better than I'd hoped. Although there were a few strange and convoluted texts, everybody was ready to share their work and nobody laughed at other texts.

We began with the story structure. Where do I begin, at what places do I raise the thrill?
Story Structure (begin the story where the line is black)

Then we came up with a problem e.g. a crime. This was a crime writing workshop after all. As always, I was astonished at the variety of answers. From the elaborate story along the lines of "Famous Five" to the slasher B-movie type (that one by a girl) everything cropped up. Following that, we talked about all kinds of heroes and villains and finally about the worlds around our stories. At the end, we had twenty minutes left in which the participants were able to work on their tales.

I was quite apprehensive teaching the second part. This smacked so much of school. Would the children humour me?

I began with an extended version of a paragraph from one of my crime stories (riddled with repetitions, adjectives and adverbs) followed by the published version, and asked which one they preferred. The answer of a ten-year-old (quote) "The second. It's much more dramatic." astonished me on one hand, on the other it proved once more that we adults are not to underestimate children.

I'm glad to say everybody began eagerly doing the exercises on the handouts. How can I improve a sentence, make it stronger?
 

Which pieces of information are unnecessary? Which ones do I want to keep? Which "boring" words can I replace with better ones?

Then we created atmosphere. A farmhouse is just a farmhouse. But how does it change during a thunderstorm, if I'm approaching it all alone and soaked to the skin? What do I hear, what do I feel? What do I see and smell? Everything conceivable from dusty cobwebs and rats to protection from the storm to the discovery of neglected animals and so another beginning of a crime story came up.

Eventually, I was relieved to discover that I hadn't been the only one present who'd had fun. The organisation committee asked me if I could imagine doing a similar thing again next year.

That'd be cool!

*"Holiday passport": during their autumn term holidays, children at some schools have the opportunity to enrol for all kinds of courses. The subjects often cover areas they don't have at school, like unusual kinds of music or instruments, or sports like Swiss wrestling, yoga and fencing. The children pay a modest fee and can choose a certain number of courses.

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