Happy Teaching Experiments

We’re halfway through the semester, so I took time today to check in with my fiction writing students, see what’s working and not working, course-correct as needed. One thing I asked them about was an experiment I ran the first week, something I’ve never done in a creative writing class before.

I gave them my Jump Space RPG, and asked them to create characters in that setting, and then play through three scenes in small groups. It’s a SF setting, so they were all divided into little ‘spaceships’ of 5-6 people. I thought it went really well, and today’s discussion of it confirmed that.

What was great about it:

– really lowered tension, served as icebreaker on first day, let them start getting to know each other

– gave them permission to be silly and experimental, take it in whatever direction they wanted (rather than feeling like they have to write something ‘serious’ and ‘literary’ right off the bat)

– gave them a safer space to create story and share with classmates, so that when we got to critiquing later, it wasn’t nearly as intimidating

– gave opportunities to talk about setting (and its implications for characters), plot, structure, voice (some groups chose to act out a bit more than others)

– let them create a vast array of characters, some of them VERY different from themselves, rather than falling into the common practice of just writing a Mary Sue character…

– having some of the world building done meant they didn’t have to invent so much right away.

On day two, I brought in my dice bag, so they would have the option of using dice to add randomness to the story, see what that did. They had fun choosing and rolling dice! (You can also get a dice roller app on your phone, though.)

Second week, we went back to more standard lessons; I usually start with Le Guin’s _Steering the Craft_, to help them focus on sentence-level prose. And after a few weeks, we start critiquing their own stories. But this was a really fun and interesting way to start the class, and I think you could do it with any standard RPG.

I’m going to ask Darius to just go ahead and put the base Jump Space draft game on my website (just put it up under fiction with the Jump Space stories for now, Darius) — maybe at some point I’ll run a Kickstarter and do a more developed version with lots of modules for suggested play. But for now, I’d love it if people just played and enjoyed — and taught! 🙂

One of my happier teaching experiments. (The students gave me permission to photograph them, but I wish I had video, as the pics don’t really convey the energy and fun in the room!)

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