Like Keren yesterday, I've been thinking about what I tell/ask my writing students. These days, I only have students for a short and very intensive burst of eight weeks in July and August. Along with Brian Keaney, I'm course director of the creative writing course at Pembroke and King's Colleges, Cambridge. Our students are from various universities, mostly in the US, and are doing an extra term in the summer. We see them for one-to-one supervisions weekly, plus lectures and a few classes/workshops. There's not much time for anything else in those eight weeks and some days I'm in college for 12-14 hours - hence I forgot to do this post on time. Ooops.
One of the things I try to do with the students is give them a toolkit for evaluating their own writing once they have gone home, and no longer get one-to-one attention. the toolkit, if it were physically manifest, would contain highlighter pens, graph paper, post-it notes, A3 paper, and a lot of question marks. Leaving aside the stationery items, I've started using the question marks myself to try to unstick a plot that has run aground. Perhaps some other people will find them useful, too.
Here are some of the questions I ask them, and get them to ask of their own work:
Why is your protagonist bothering to do whatever (s)he does in this story? Why don't they just stay at home?
So they want something - what is it? And do they really want it more than they want to stay in and mess about on YouTube? Convince me they do.
What's stopping them from getting it - and more easily than however they go about it?
Why the hell did that happen? Everything must have a plausible cause within the narrative. But more than that, everything important must be inevitable, given the set of circumstances and the characters. Think of it as a chain reaction. What started it all and why?
What's that character for? What would happen if we took him/her out? The thing had better fall apart, or they're not pulling their weight.
Why did you use that word? (You can ask this question up to about 80,000 times)
Do you really think X looks/sounds/feels like Y?
What the hell do you mean by 'conversating'? Learn to speak English, please.
Why would I want to read beyond the first line of this story?
Why would I want to read beyond the first page of this story?
Are we going to believe that? Do you believe that?
Do you really think there are/were people like that?
Do we care what happens? Enough to stay off YouTube and read it?
Why do we care? How did you make us care?
That last one can lead into a whole new set of 'how did you' questions which I think, in education jargon, means they are engaged in reflective practice. I call it 'knowing what the f*** you're doing'.
I've missed lots of the questions - but please add any more questions that you find useful to ask of your work. Or your students' work.