Story-Telling as a Maker Space

While I'm working on editing Keeper of the Creatures, I'm also working on a blended chapter book / graphic novel called Wendell the World's Worst Wizard (should be out in a year or so).

"We need maker spaces," a man says. "Let kids tinker with stuff. Let them code. Let them build things. It'll be more important down the road than if they were just writing stories."

I overheard those words at a tech conference. It wasn't trying to eavesdrop. But I was left with a lingering sense that story-telling is only cool right now if it's non-fiction and it has the word "digital" attached to it. For all the talk of creativity and maker spaces, there's a sense that novels, narratives and fiction don't really have a place unless it's in a video game or in augmented reality.

But why can't tinkering, innovating, revising and constructing all apply to story-telling? Why can't a novel be considered another form of augmented reality? Why can't creativity include creating something with words and ideas?

I've built stuff before, but I find myself bored with the physics of it. But let me plunge into the fantastical, into the fictional, and I'm good. Let me create characters and imagine them to the detail until it feels like I want to meet them in person. Let me dream up a setting. Let me work through a plot and struggle with how it will keep the reader's attention.

I could be wrong, but I think quite a few students would enjoy that process as well - not because it will get them a job, but because story-telling is a part of what makes us human. Tech tools come and go. Social context changes. But stories. Man, we're always drawn toward stories.
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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11 comments:

  1. I wrote a similar post yesterday, although talking more in the context of English curriculum. I've found from personal experience that students love telling stories, especially when they are fictional and can let their imaginations wander.

    Since so many marketing campaigns (everything from consumer goods to politics) are built around "the story" of whatever the topic is, why wouldn't storytelling be important?

    Besides, if one of our students can go on to be a great storytellers and take that to Hollywood, maybe we won't get so many shitty remakes of movies that don't need to be remade.

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  2. You mean we don't need a third version of Starsky and Hutch?

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  3. When I write I am conscious of my inability to break free of narrative and character archetypes. All story telling is repetition in the same sense that each of our lives traverses essentially the same experiences as previous generations. My writing is as derivative as my students and also the literature and media I consume.

    I do think students need space to tinker and build fiction. In my classroom that is the unrestricted creative writing space.

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  4. Thanks for making this point -- it's getting some discussion at #clmooc, I think. Storytellers in all forms, digital or not, are also making and tinkering but with different tools. They too can work in studios, engage in design thinking, iterate and ideate as you say. So for those who make the comments you reference, is the hierarchy that we don't value the product "novel" as much as the product "video game"? If so, that's an economic and market analysis: "3D printers trending up, short story collections trending down." People will write and tell stories because we are compelled as social animals to use our imaginations to build and shape our collective realities. Can't be stopped (thankfully).

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  5. I've had similar thoughts. Everyone is going to have different creative outlets. We can't discount one over the other just because it's not the shiniest object at the moment. What happens when the novelty fades? Will any substance remain?

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  6. There is the complementary question, not yet well articulated, much less answered, about how we divine the story within the visual/pictographic formats so a la mode - while we can point to many of these products as legitimate narratives, and agree they require a storyteller's skill, they are not appreciated in the same way nor understood as well among various audiences and populations. In the #clmooc, there's been a raft of experimentation with 7 or 9 second video products, most of which bring out the curmudgeon in me, who is underwhelmed by minimalist narrative.
    Try as I may to remain hip, even recently inventing an avatar for myself as UrHippie, I still much prefer the worded versions of story.

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  7. All story forms are alive at all times, they are just not evenly distributed.

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