Thursday, October 31, 2013

Before the Story Madness Hits

Well, the time for planning is past. NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow people!

Sonja's flight is landing at Cape Town International. Callie is drinking a Vida coffee in arrivals, giving her brother Steve a dirty look. Annalise is hitting jug night in Claremont.

Ben is looking through a photo album in his room. Anton is drinking whiskey in his study. Jaco is reading an email from his partner in Cape Town. Dottie is making a shopping list.

AB is in the underground office, getting his accounts in order.

Murder is afoot...

yours in anticipation

Thursday, October 24, 2013

NaNoWriMo Prep: World Creation I

I'm posting these fledgling maps - drawn on scrap paper in a coffee shop with my wonderfully creative parentals - so that one day when (hopefully) my beautifully murderous world is complete then we will all have something to compare it to...

Believe it or not I do actually have a pretty clear idea in my head of what my world looks like now. But of course I'm still planning on making delicately inked masterpieces that will make the frontispiece of my book quintessentially Victorian... But at least these guys make a start!

Reinvention of the unsuspecting Dyer Island as millionaire's playground.

And of course the three storey floor plan of the house of horrors! 

We shall have to see how the rapidly waning days of October pan out, but I hope to bring you part two of World Creation (complete with delicately inked maps) very soon.

Yours cartographically

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NaNoWriMo Prep: Character Development II

This is what my character development 'forms' look like once they've had some life breathed into them. As you can see, although I love a good form I still tend to spill over the edges once I get going... And I'm certain that I will continue to spill even more over the edges as I go along! Writing is not a tidy process as far as I'm concerned.

There are no real spoilers here by the way, I'm still not a hundred percent sure whodunit (oh I do amuse myself sometimes!) but the images do give the victim away if you look carefully. Consider it fair warning.



I have 8 main characters, including the victim, plus one or two minor ones, and each main character has his or her own character development page in my NaNo file... The characters are slowly starting to round out, but it takes a staggering amount of thought to remain consistent-ish. Just reminds me how incredibly complicated real people are! Anyhow, real or not I hope that these 8 are enough to keep me going for 50000 words!

Yours characterfully

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fun in the Classroom - Zombie Apocalypse

So Megan has once again (I think) hit the nail on the head with her link-up party and is collecting ideas for having some FUN in the classroom. Especially in high school classrooms we seem to get awfully serious and grown-up and (horrors!) test-driven. No wonder teachers and students always seem to be stressed, miserable, reluctant, bored or a combination of the above. Whether it is something small like a sweet rewarded 5 minute quiz at the start of class (bribery for the win!) or something more educationally sound (we hope), I am a firm believer in FUN for the classroom (also parentheses for the sentences...and exclamation marks, clearly!).

My latest and greatest FUN idea is entitled:

The Zombie Apocalypse

image from Shaun of the Dead - the only Zombie movie I've ever seen. I hated it.

It was born in last lesson on a very long, dull day when frankly the last thing I felt like doing was the next little poem or grammar exercise. Does anyone else find that some of the best ideas emerge when you're avoiding something?

I only played the game with with my English classes, because a) Maths is too curriculum crowded and b) it was harder to make it sound relevant in Maths. But I think at the beginning of next year I will play it with all my classes - I found the activity really thought provoking for me and my students. Not only that, but it really gave insight into certain class dynamics and opened doors for really fascinating class discussions in the lessons that followed.

So, without further ado, I offer you The Zombie Apocalypse Game.

I start building it up very seriously. I have a very important question to ask you... Something everyone should think about in their lives... Something potentially life changing, and very serious... 

"So, if there was a Zombie Apocalypse..."

[wait for laughter to die down]

"...and everyone in the world was infected except the people in this very classroom, and the school building was surrounded by Zombies, and we have one hour to prepare before they break through the fence and attack us..."

[forgive the criminally compounded sentence but that's how I talk sometimes]

"...where in the school building would we go, and what would we do?"

[pause for the murmur of conversation, questions and general surprise]

"...and by the way, there is only one right answer."

[mostly true, so far, though every time I've played I've added to that 'right' answer]

The answers to that question forms the first part of the lesson. Getting food, water and weapons; finding a safe-ish location - it takes a while to debate, discuss and generally argue about all the issues raised. After the first few minutes of confusion, everyone has an opinion. I'm very strict about not "cheating on the thought experiment" - but within the bounds of the question, anything goes.

The second part of the game is much more challenging - both to play and to manage. I start by pointing out this sad truth:

"Um, guys... we've just used up half of our survival time  arguing..."

This leads to a discussion about how best to make survival decisions most effectively. So far every time we have decided to elect captains in various fields: defence, food & water, health and long term survival. We talk about what would make a good captain for each of these categories - what personal characteristics will benefit the group.

Then I ask for nominations (with motivations) from the class. This part is tricky. I come down very hard on rude or inappropriate nominations, and I warn them beforehand to think carefully about what they are going to say before they open their mouths. But once the process is moving properly it can be incredibly affirming for the kids. It forces them to think about the qualities they REALLY admire in their classmates, instead of the silly things which often result in popularity at school.

Once captains have been nominated (I don't actually take it to a vote, but rather accept all sensible nominations) we discuss priorities and assign a different number of people to each work category based on urgency and heaviness of the tasks involved. 

All in all, this part of the game still looks like fun, but it is actually pretty serious work. Strengths and weaknesses, group work, prioritizing - it starts to look like a serious assignment! But we're all still (somehow) engaged, and having fun. Weird, huh?

The last part of the game gets very deep and begins to tread on very sensitive ground. In fact I don't play it with every class. But if I decide to take the plunge, it sounds like this:

"But what happens if some of us don't act in the best interests of the group?"

The kids have got my point by now, but they're still so absorbed in the game that they're willing to really think about it for a change.

We discuss whether we should elect an overall captain, and how we would choose that person. We talk about the important role of "enforcer", and some of the rules we would choose and choose to enforce. And of course HOW they would be enforced. Curriculum links to The Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm become obvious at this point, but the same discussions come up in any class. If I did this at the beginning of the year then links to classroom constitutions are practically mandatory.

Either way, the game has paid its weight in educational value.

And it's fun! It really is. In the weeks after I played this I have heard rumours of zombie apocalypses in the playground. Other classes have requested that we play. 

I smile. Me 1, Boredom 0.

[linking to Megan's Better Together Linky! Thanks Megan... Go check out the other entries!]

yours in survival mode,

Thursday, October 10, 2013

NaNoWriMo Prep: Character Development I

When my then-boyfriend-now-husband introduced me to the delights of old fashioned D&D style computer games, it was love at first sight (ha! spot the deliberate-ish ambiguity!). And while playing the games themselves is magical, for me the best part is usually ...dum dum dum... the character creation. 

How most of these games work is that there are a certain number of parameters (race, character class/type, abilities, appearance, skills etc...) which you get to adjust (using a limited number of points in each category) to "create" a relatively unique character. Certain parameters affect each other - for example, if you choose to create a elven mage then you are likely to put more points into intelligence than strength: mages need intelligence to cast spells rather than strength to fight. But once you've put more points into intelligence, then you can't put many points into shields, because your character is too weak to carry a shield. Instead, you have to give him points in unarmed combat, or healing. You get the idea.

The point is, I've always wondered how much this kind of thinking could translate a) to thinking about strengths and weaknesses of real human beings (in fact I once led a youth group session on understanding and accepting yourself through computer games...interesting!) and b) to creating characters for my writing. Well, my friends, the time has come. I have designed a form to do exactly that. It is based partly on the D&D notion of basic characteristics and skills, partly on the Enneagram - an interesting idea which I stumbled across on Wikipedia (bless you, Wikipedia!), and partly on things that I know I will need to know based on the specific needs of my story.

So without further ado...

The idea is that I will either fill it out manually (leaning that way, to be honest) or digitally for each of the characters/suspects in my NaNoWriMo attempt at detective fiction. Where are the details, you ask? Why isn't it filled in already? What about all the other important and relevant questions? As you saw, this is part ONE of my character development. I will get back to you with tweaks and changes to the form once I have started using it in earnest. But I was too excited to keep it to myself a minute longer. 

What categories would you include in a character development form? What parameters am I missing?

yours thoughtfully

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Teacher Appreciation Cupcakes

Show any teachers in your life some chocolatey, strawberry-ey love this week! Thank you school governing body for our early morning treat :-) We also got wonderful brown paper bags full of goodies at lunch time - what a special day!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Midweek Confessions

1) The kids in my class have asked me whether I only have one pair of shoes... The truth is I only have one pair of winter school shoes and one pair of summer school shoes! I'm surprised it took them so long to figure it out.

2) We only cook once every two weeks. Then we freeze the meal in batches and make friends with the microwave for week-night meals. If we don't do it like this, we don't eat vegetables... At all. And takeaways just keep slipping into the menu... funny that! Variety is overrated. Health isn't.

3) I have one particular class that I am struggling with at the moment. They are frustrated and not understanding the work. I am frustrated and not teaching particularly well. I dread going to that lesson. So I'm writing off this section of work. It is very hard material, I am being forced to move on by the curriculum pacing and it isn't 100% necessary to grasp for next year. I will start again with a positive attitude at the beginning of a new chapter - tomorrow. Yay, can't wait!

Linking up with e myself and I for the first time :) Check out the other confessions!