When I first started teaching creative writing to kids, one of the first classes I ever developed was “The Creative Carpenter.” It was more or less my way of trying to find a fun approach to teaching the formal elements of fiction.
It began with me deciding that writing a story is like building a house. After all, if you build a house, you have to make sure you construct all the parts properly. You have to start with a strong foundation, and then you have to make sure you have sturdy cornerstones. You want to make sure the house is interesting by decorating it properly. You need an exciting doorway to invite people inside. And then there’s all that stuff that you develop and sometimes carefully craft, only to go up the chimney—it doesn’t stay a part of the final house. If you want to take this metaphor even farther, you can consider how we eventually have to sell our real estate. But let’s not forget that if you don’t build your house properly, it just crumbles to the ground.
I’ve had a lot of fun and success delivering this workshop over the years. I’ve taught it to teachers and kids alike. The best part is when I get to see the results of their worksheet. You see, I have the students fill out the different parts of their house diagram as I take them on a tour of the formal elements of fiction. Inevitably, these worksheets organically morph into a brainstorming exercise.
Just check out some of the snapshots from my recent class.