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Writing students get expert tips from author through video chat

College instructor visits LR through interactive video

 

From the screen in front, author Lindsay Schopfer talks with Lake Roosevelt High School students on writing during a Google Hangout interactive session in teacher Brian Daniels' class. - Jacob Wagner photo

The students sat in rows, all looking at the face of the man projected in the front of the class, authoritatively stating the rules for language arts. "1984" posters adorned the walls.

Author Lindsay Schopfer spoke to sophomore English students through video chat on Sept. 19, giving them writing tips, writing exercises, and taking questions. Schopfer, among other outside authors, will be giving feedback on students' writing throughout the school year.

Brian Daniels, who teaches sophomore and senior English at Lake Roosevelt Junior/Senior High School, organized the video session.

"Our school purchases our sophomore English curriculum from a company, Educurious, in Seattle," Daniels explained. "One of the things they do is try to connect students with experts on fiction writing. For several years I've involved these experts with the classroom, having students submit stories to these experts - who are college professors, writers and both - and get feedback."

Daniels' students will be writing stories throughout the school year, and will be graded on things such as including a conflict in their stories, and how well they write details, but otherwise are given freedom to write in a variety of genres, including fantasy, horror, romance, or otherwise, as well as to choose whether to write in third or first person.

"My biggest hope is, when they get started in the writing process, to not have so many kids staring at a blank page going, 'what do I do now?' So I hope they take away tips, tricks, and tools to get them started in the process."

Schopfer, who writes science fiction and fantasy books, was projected on the front wall of the classroom with an overhead projector. A computer facing the classroom enabled him to see the students.

Schopfer gave advice to the students on writing fiction, focusing on two main points: the importance of conflict, and "show, don't tell."

"Stories come from conflict," Schopfer said. "That's what makes a story interesting; that's what makes us want to follow a story. Conflicts, problems, that's what engages a reader. There is a central problem in every story that the whole plot revolves around. Maybe it's aliens have landed in a sci-fi story; in a romance, the problem is getting the guy and girl together; in a crime, it's finding who the killer is. It doesn't have to be a scary story to have suspense. Looking at your story as a series of little problems, one little problem, then another, is called the conflict resolution pattern. This is how we turn novels into page-turners."

"Show, don't tell" refers to the practice of giving details to describe what is happening in a story, rather than just saying something happened. "It's the core of effective and good storytelling," Schopfer said.

Schopfer then had the students add details to the scenario "Eric was feeling afraid as he entered the old, scary house."

Student Lindsey Weaver shared her example: "Eric's words caught in his throat. He was paralyzed with fear. He wanted to scream, to run away into the night, but the men at his back prevented any thoughts of escape as they roughly shoved him towards the ancient-looking house with barred windows and dead grass."

Wensdae Antoine and Brianna Whybark also shared during the fourth-period presentation. Schopfer would present to two other sophomore English classes that day.

After the exercises, students asked Schopfer questions about the writing process. Schopfer gave pointers on plot, character development, writing action ("short, punchy sentences"), writing habits (one to two hours at a time, five to six days per week), and more.

"War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength," wrote Eric Blair, the real name of the author of "1984," more commonly known by his nom de plume, George Orwell.

The students took notes diligently in college-ruled notebooks.

Schopfer teaches at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia. He is the author of "The Adventures of Keltin Moore," a series of fantasy novels about a professional monster hunter. You can read more about him at http://blog.lindsayschopfer.com.

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