Barry Webster has written for a wide variety of publications including The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, Matrix, Event, Fiddlehead and Lust for Life. His fiction has been short-listed for the National Magazine Award and the CBC-Québec Prize.His first collection of short stories, The Sound of All Flesh, was recently published by The Porcupine's Quill and received excellent reviews. In November 2005. he took part in a country-wide tour and gave readings in Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. A radio-play of one of his stories will be broadcast on CKUT this winter.
The Innocence of Water
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I think that one has to be extremely sensitive and cautious when teaching creative writing to high-school students. Their personalities are not yet fully formed or are in transition and the kind of personal identity one needs to draw from as a writer simply isn't yet there or is there, but in a very fragile state. The kind of vigorous critiquing of work that goes on in creative workshops for adults could have catastrophic results if undertaken with high-school students. At this stage in their development, the best approach is to provide a forum within which students can explore their own creative impulses and start to reflect on the effect that their writing has on other people.
Examples of activities
The students will have read The Innocence of Water before class. I'll begin with a short reading and discussion of the story. As Water is based on a real-life situation, we'll discuss how real events can be transformed into literature. Students will then write about a real-life situation happening. I'll encourage students to revise and fictionalize the stories to make them more effective. Students will then read their stories to the class, and we'll discuss the overall effect. If time permits, we'll play some fun word-games in groups (pulling random words from a hat and joining them with verbs to create similes that would encourage students to use language creatively). Then students could try to rewrite their stories using a more poetic or interesting style.
An alternate version of this lesson would focus on magic realism. Students will read Laughing Forever or A Piano Shudders. We'll discuss magic realism, what it is and how it works. Students will then write a realistic scene (maybe something that actually happened to them) that is interrupted by something fantastical. I'll bring along some pictures of miraculous happenings students can write about, though the more imaginative students could use their own ideas. Afterwards, we could play the folding-paper party-game to show students how the seemingly outlandish can be successfully used in a realistic short story.
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