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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

Month

November 2016

So, I began teaching writing workshops…..

……for young writers, which is not only a new thing for me to do, but also something I’d never thought I’d do – teach. My parents and brother are retired teachers and, having grown up in that environment, it was something that didn’t really interest me. This is despite the Myers-Briggs test indicating that it should be my number one career choice. I don’t think that Myers-Briggs knows me very well.

In the traditional classroom setting, I don’t think I would make a good teacher. My memories of being a student and watching my parents deal with the day to day details made a huge impression on me and it wasn’t positive. However, I did find myself teaching basic horse care and riding to students whose first language wasn’t English. Even with the language barrier, we found a way to communicate and I was able to get the salient points across. It helped that the horses used were also extremely patient baby-sitters, taking everything in stride and enjoying the new students’ attention.

While I know my own experiences with being a writer (the ups, the downs, the sideways), I was very unsure of how it would work out with teaching young people. I was also rather uncertain about how we’d get along. In short, I had no idea what to expect.

I needn’t have worried – these kids were theater kids. They were also fans of a lot of the same movies and TV shows as I was, so we were able to connect and find common ground very quickly. We talked about writing, which turned into conversations about our favorite shows and then to dreams and analyzing what they might mean (I subscribe to Jung’s approach, where everything we dream is an aspect or reflection of the dreamer).

The workshop lasted only three days, at ninety minutes each. The kids were intelligent and funny and engaging and very excited about the idea of writing. I feel blessed and lucky to have been able to do this, which in itself was rather serendipitous. How did I find myself teaching writing to young people? I asked a local youth theater group and the answer was “Let’s do this thing!”

Where it goes from here, I’m not sure. I just know that I’ve got some very interested youths and adults wanting to write and have fun with discovering their process.

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So, I’ve been revising my Ancient Greek Comedy….

…..and I got stuck because of Zeus. Why, you ask, would the primary god in Greek mythology be such a problem that you got stuck when writing about him?

Good question.

By rights, he should be a fun character to give life to on the page. He’s larger than life (because he’s a god, naturally), bombastic, can shape-shift into any creature or element he wishes, has the power to control the world and his fellow gods and goddesses.

Zeus should have been a piece of cake to write about.

But he wasn’t.

He started out as a Burl Ives caricature, then I took him out and made him a light/sound effect so that I could reduce the number of characters I had on-stage. Then I added him back on-stage, as a physical character, but with light and sound as his voice. A director read the work and came back with several notes, including one that gave Zeus his voice back.

‘Great,’ I thought, ‘This should be easy.’

It wasn’t.

I had gone through the first twenty pages, revising dialogue and cutting out unnecessary words (and this is how I know I’m a novelist at heart – I’m very wordy). I re-structured character motive and added new directions. All was going well, it was clicking along at a nice pace and I was enjoying the characters and their interactions.

Then I came to Zeus, his first entrance and everything came to a screeching halt.

I typed in his name, hit the Enter key to start his first line and………nothing.

Zip. Nada. Silence.

I put it aside, as I always do when I encounter difficulty. I still kept notes, writing down ideas that could be incorporated into the script. I even began to design a soundtrack, to help with the creative flow. Also, there’s a Greek Chorus and the Greeks were all about music, so it made sense to let that side develop.

But I was still stuck and Zeus, uncharacteristically, was stubbornly silent.

An article I’d read recently about character development had been ruminating in my thoughts – I don’t recall the title of the article or where I’d found it, but I will edit this post to add it should I be lucky enough to find it.

In any case, the article asked a lot of good questions and what I remember is this – what is your character’s over-riding arc? What is their question that needs answering? What is their need?

I began to ask this of my play’s characters and some interesting things began to come up, things that had been below the surface.

And then recent events and Zeus’s own well-documented behavior in his own myths began to shed some light on the subject. Now I know his questions, his arc and his need.

The darkness always comes before the light.

Title and cast list of my play.
Title and cast list of my play.

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