Hazel McHaffie

creating characters and plots

The Storyteller

First, a very happy New Year to you all.

Next, an update.

Phew! That’s my annual excursion into the realms of children’s fiction safely over for another year. (Hard to believe that’s the fourteenth in the series!) Cobwebs and spiders and mysterious birds and magical bells and quill pens and metal puzzles have all been packed away, and the house has once again resumed its ordinariness. It took two days to set the scene (well, it’s a complete takeover); only about four hours to demolish.  CobwebsAppropriately enough this time the theme of our play was of an ancient storyteller passing on the tricks of the trade to a new generation of budding writers. (This gorgeous sign for the door was drawn for me by an expert calligrapher in Turkey!)Storyteller signThe play began with a dream on a hot summer’s day in which the spirit of the old storyteller bade the children to follow the sound of bells and ‘Write!’ under her instructions.The dreamerFirst they had to divest themselves of all distractions and worries and free up their minds to soar. Here they are, suitably divested, and in their bland authorial outfits.Bland authorial outfitsThey then caught ideas in specially crafted feather and net catchers wearing inspiration monitors on their heads which flashed every time a new idea impinged on their brains.Catching ideasThe ideas then had to be sorted to form the basis for a story of their own. (And yes, I did write FIVE stories this year – three of them based on the framework the youngsters had given me beforehand. You try creating a coherent tale that involves badgers and secret codes and smugglers and hidden tunnels and circus clowns and a boat and forests and horrible smells, all in one fell swoop!!)Sorting ideasThey rearranged the ideas painlessly by means of basic fabric stoles with loads of pockets which they wore close to their chests. It was then time to think outside the box and develop their own unique voice: illustrated by designing their personal variations on a basic hat.Creating hatsA roomful of dressing-up clothes, wigs, shoes and props gave them plenty of scope to learn about character development as they assumed the persona and idiosyncrasies of various protagonists they dreamed up. Dressing-up roomThis outfit probably took the prize for most bizarre but was very well defended, I must confess!Becoming a characterAs they grew into the role of mini storytellers their own clothing became more distinctive.Storytelling tunicsAnd when their narratives were well developed, the authors assumed grand brocade or velvet cloaks created especially to represent the appealing covers of their books.Becoming more exotic and arrestingThroughout the play, with each ‘exercise’, their raw plots and characters were being magically polished and refined – with a liberal helping of fairy dust throw in for good measure naturally.Weaving a little magicAnd at the end of the process they read the final version to the audience wearing an exotic outfit to symbolise the rarefied atmosphere of an authorial reading.Reading the final productThe whole thing culminated in a baking session where they made Storytelling Cake – but I absolutely cannot share the recipe. Every single person present has taken a vow of secrecy.  It will be passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth, but never EVER given to schoolteachers so please don’t bother applying for a copy!Storytelling cake


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