5-6 Minute Read
Even the keenest creative writing students can wain a bit late in the semester, as an abundance of presentations, essays, final assignments, and loathsome group work all weigh heavily on the creative spirit. And while I’ve yet to find a solution to the dip in energy that invariably accompanies the end of the term, I have learned one thing: chocolate never makes things worse. Throw in an easily assembled toy, and–who knows?–you might just bring your class back to life.
For this activity, you’ll need:
One Kinder Surprise for each student
About twenty minutes to spare at the start of class
Patience as your students demonstrate a remarkable capacity to believe they’re invisible as they continue to play with their toys for the rest of the evening
The goal of this warm up exercise is to get some practice writing a character’s internal monologue. It’s been my experience that even the most promising fiction writers sometimes forget that character’s think, and that the vivid space between their character’s ears is where some of the most compelling conflict and drama play out.
To begin, have everyone spend five minutes coming up with the least likely person in the world to be holding a Kinder Surprise. Create a brief sketch of this character by listing their name, their address, their occupation, and their hobby on a sheet of paper.
Now that we have a character, let’s figure out how this individual came into possession of a Kinder Surprise. Students can write a brief scene that relays how this happened (i.e. showing), or their narrator can briefly recall the episode (i.e. telling). Either way, this information will tell us more about the character, as it will invariably involve interacting with others.
From here, we’re going to try to capture our characters in contemplation. Step inside this person’s mind, and then ask yourself: what does my character expect to find inside the egg? What kind of toy comes to mind? What does this person hope for? And why?
Once you’ve got that down on the page, go ahead and open your egg. And, of course, be sure to assemble the toy within.
While you’re enjoying your chocolate, see if you can imagine how your character would react to what you found there. If you can, capture, too, precisely why this individual is having this reaction. If you can connect this moment to a broader back story, the reader will feel all the more immersed in this person’s identity.
Finally, it’s great to share what you’ve written out loud, so grab a partner and walk them through what you wrote. Doing so may well give you some ideas for the next time you want to create a character’s interior monologue, but it’s also just fun to hear where your classmates’s minds went.
One Last Thing
If memory serves, the state of being surprised is one of nine affects that the American psychologist Silvan Tompkins outlined in his famous scholarly tome, Affect Imagery Consciousness (1962). As better thinkers than me will tell you, Tompkins’ interpretation of how external stimulus shapes human behaviour is hardly perfect, and far from complete.
Even so, there are a few things for writers to make note of here. More often than not, we want our characters to change. And while these changes typically occur over the course of a story, we can also capture these on a small scale, which is something that surprises enable us to do.
Surprises, after all, involve transitioning from one state (before the surprise) to another (being surprised), before finally arriving at whatever state of being follows a surprise (post surprise? Let’s go with that). They’re a bit like miniature narrative arcs. And if we handle them thoughtfully, their introduction can tell our readers so much about who our characters are, what they want, and where they’re ultimately heading.
One last thought here: I’m willing to bet the last time you picked up a Kinder Surprise, suspense wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. And yet, these popular treats are suspenseful, in a sense, as the prospect of discovering what’s hidden within them motivates us to open them.
When you’re writing a scene, look for opportunities to create a similar dynamic. As readers, we often want a story to be revealed slowly before us, and for hidden details to emerge along the way. Such revelations reward our efforts and ultimately keep us reading.
Remember, too, that these mysteries can be quite minor in nature. If they’re well placed, and if the payoff is good, then they may be all you need to drive a story forward.