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Nanowrimo - Outlining

Written by Tommy Buteau
October 10, 2014

Once the process brought us to a point where we had a location and an event, we started taking ideas and writing them on the board. We first discussed what characters would be necessary, and people volunteered for different central characters. This was a surprising discussion for me in several ways.

I expected all of the high-performing students to take the central roles, but they were actually mixed around. The critical central roles were taken by a couple of the best writers in class, but many of the central supporting roles were not. The student who I thought was the most engaged and talented writer, for example, didn’t claim any character. On her own, she later created a beautifully rendered and reflective minor character. Because of this mix, some of the characters’ importance to the story got shifted. Minor characters helped to shape the portrait of the school, and this pastiche format helped every student in the class realize that their voice was a component of the picture. Another book that would be interesting to use for this type of project may be The House on Mango Street, but I felt David Levithan’s book was more related to my students’ lives.

The other interesting thing that happened in this discussion was how the story was developed up. The student who had the central idea for the story told us the details, and then students began to ask questions and make suggestions for additional characters. Much of the story line was developed here, for each new character required an updating and refinement of the plot. Multiple subplots were developed, and this went on for quite some time.

Then we created a timeline and began to place where the individual stories would fit. This took some explaining, for some students still didn’t understand that each story had to be related, but they didn’t need to be temporally close, nor did they have to be about a central character. Because of this conversation, we included stories from different times.  For example, one story was a reflection on the event from a person twenty years later. And it was interesting to provide a foundational event from one of the character’s childhood, something that let the audience know why a character responds the way s/he does in a situation. 

 This is a reflective technique for characters that comes out in literature all the time, yet it was not something my students would have thought to do without this connecting conversation. 

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