“Learning from Movies in Rendering Fiction Characters”

Just found out that my short pedagogy paper (see above title) was accepted for the pedagogy panels at the 2010 AWP conference. It’s in Denver in April. It’s not a terribly huge thing (dozens upon dozens of people get accepted), but still nice to hear.

Here are the basics of the thing I’ll be presenting:

First, students are shown a clip from a movie with the sound cut out. The task here is simple: students take all the notes they can and try to uncover as much about the characters as possible. This can be done collectively, as a class, or competitively, in groups. Practically any film’s opening scene could be used, but one especially effective movie to screen is Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Its opening seven minutes is devoted to the titular family’s backstory, and it includes a voiceover narration that rather self-consciously mirrors the narrative voice in third-person omniscient fiction. When the film clip is over, students are informally quizzed on what they learned. “Tell me about these characters,” is a reasonable prompt. “What did you notice?” Students will then provide everything they noticed and deduced about the characters simply by gauging their looks and watching them act. The extent of students’ observations should be recorded on a black- or whiteboard, and students should be pressed to share every last detail. Then, the film clip is shown again, this time with sound. This time around, students take notes only on the new information they receive through the more discursive modes of dialogue and contextual narration. Afterward, they share their findings. Invariably, the seen information far outweighs the heard.

Now I get to apply for travel funding from my department. The questions:

  • Do I drive or do I fly? Denver is one of three cities in the world I can fly to directly from Lincoln.
  • What hotel should I stay in? The conference hotel is, five months prior to the conference, sold out, quizzically.
  • At which hotel’s Starbucks will R.O. Butler park himself visibly and expectantly?
  • How many people will walk by The Cupboard’s table, at which I and Adam will be sitting smilingly with the boys from Octopus Books?
  • How can we ensure this conference expands an additional day to pack in more time visiting with friends I now see once a year, only at this conference?

To those friends: I’m sorry. We’re just all so far away.

(Part two of “Lush Life” coming tomorrow promise.)