Book Camp Life

Book Camp 2016, Day 4

“Is anyone ready to come in and shower?”

“NOOOOO!” Their five voices far surpassed mine.

The poor dears have had precious little screen time this week, aside from about a movie a day. But games! Texts! Videos! Whatever shall we do?!

They worked a long afternoon on plot structure using the five-act model. We dug into what constitutes exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement (their new favorite word – so cosmopolitan!). We also discussed the corollary with the three-act structure, using the inciting incident or catalyst as the end of the first act and the final suspense as the end of the second act. It looked like this:

We used the gorgeously illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (much thanks, Jo Rowling and Jim Kay!) to break down the story into these two structures. We read portions of it, though we have all read the book in the past. We discussed and defined when we think the book breaks up the acts.

We also discussed that the graph will look different for different books, because the stages aren’t fixed but variable. We looked at the downsides to deciding things like, “I’ll write four chapters then the inciting incident then fourteen chapters for the rising action.” We prepared to loosely determine a few points on the graphs for each of our own stories before diving into writing, knowing that the graph will morph and that’s a good thing.

When we finished, the clock read 5:35. I proffered a deal: I’ll cut a watermelon and they go outside to play in the water, then I’ll make dinner and they can come in to shower and have dinner and screens until bedtime. Fastest deal ever! I barely got them smeared with sunscreen before they were out the door. I took them their watermelon and a vitamin B6 tablet each (to ward off mosquitos).

When I went out just before seven, I asked the question at the top of this post. The giggled as only 8-, 9-, and 11-year-olds can and shooed me away with some verbal force. In the calming light of an early summer evening, they forgot all about their screens in favor of a water hose and brothers/sisters/cousins.

Some moments have been thorny, as only 8-, 9-, and 11-year-olds can be. But I’ve got the best job ever. You see, many long years from now, they won’t remember who took the best pencil or who shot who with the water gun first. Nope. They’ll gild this experience in their memories and it will morph into something greater, smoother, cleaner, and brighter than reality. That’s storytelling magic and mom/aunt gold.

Book Camp Life

Book Camp 2016, Day 3

Cousin book camp works a bit differently from other book camps. First, cousins stay overnight for seven days. Other book camps are a full day or a number of half days. Second, cousin book camp includes movies, fun outings, and a number of snow cones. Other book camps are shorter and more focused and, sadly, offer no snow cones (yet…).

Yesterday my sister asked me, “Do you find it harder to do book camp now with moody preteens?”

I find it easier in some ways. Two years ago the youngest was 6 and the oldest were 9, so we made picture books from ideas to finished words and art. Last year, we focused on a book concept – “The Borrowers” – and applied it to life. We examined perspective. At the doughnut shop we drew something that might exist in a town made of doughnuts. At the market, we found a vegetable to draw personified. We also found cuts of meat to draw as something other, like a pit of worms. Everything revolved around considering new perspectives.

This year, since my summer theme for my own boys is craft (the skill in making), we are studying the craft of written storytelling. We have studied plot structure and character. Specifically, the children each created (or continued creating) an original character, giving the character vital statistics, fears, wants, dramatic role, strengths, and flaws. Then came today.

Today is an ordinary work day for me and Pamela Young. She planned to come over, since these are her grandkids. So that we could get work done, we practiced writing sprints all day. Twenty to thirty minutes of writing followed by twenty minutes of activity, free play, or the all-important snow cone.

These were the subjects of three writing sprints:

  • Describe the very best day your character has ever had in its history
  • Describe the very worst day your character has ever had in its history
  • Describe who or what or what event has impacted you (the camper) most in your life

For the final sprint of the day, we followed these instructions:

  1. Consider your character’s fears. Choose the most motivating fear.
  2. Consider your character’s wants. Choose the most motivating want.
  3. Consider your character’s quintessential trait. (For example, Harry Potter is the quintessential wizard – not because he’s the greatest but because he lived when no one else did. Or, Sherlock Holmes is the quintessential detective because he has the very highest ability to deduce information.)
  4. Write about how your character’s quintessence makes your character’s most motivating fear butts against your character’s most motivating want. (For example, Harry Potter most wants [arguably] to be an ordinary wizard but he is the most extraordinary wizard because he lived. His biggest fear [arguably] is losing people he loves, and that butts up against his biggest want of being ordinary because he must perform extraordinary magic or act in outlandish ways to keep people safe.)

This final sprint was certainly the hardest thing we’ve done in all our book camps together. But it may also be the most vital. Without fears, wants, and quintessence, a character lacks the dynamic spark to tell a story.

Then we went to the library for an acrylics class. We’ll round our day with a movie we can use to apply our learning of structure and character, pizza, and brain rest.

What did you do today?

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