Circling Tears

Waiting to introduce the problem by over-describing character and location in the first ten minutes of class often leads to boredom. The kids don’t want too many details about the character, nor do they want too much discussion about where the character is. They want action, and for action there has to be a problem, and the larger and more visceral problems create the greatest interest.

So, when we introduce a problem into a story, we try to inject large amounts of pathos and emotion into the problem to build immediate interest in what is going on. Ideally, all problems in stories connect with the gut level emotions of teenagers. If they aren’t problems to a teen, they aren’t really problems.

Cody has driven his Ford Mustang to Cindy’s house, and Cindy is staring lovingly at him from the open window of the second floor of her house, telling him how handsome he is (“That is a handome boy!”).

But, class, there is a problem! The seatbelt in Cody’s Mustang is stuck! (or the elevator is stuck, or Cody is too short to reach the elevator buttons, or whatever circling brings).

The instructor would do well in that moment to have Cody cry.

Class, Cody cries! (circle, circle)

So the (circle, circle) part would include questions like:

“Does Cody cry or does Cody laugh? (cries)
That’s right, class, Cody cries. (ohh)
Class, does Cody laugh? (no)
No, class, Cody doesn’t laugh, Cody cries. (ohh)
Class, does Goofy cry? (no)
No, class, that is correct, Goofy doesn’t cry, Cody cries. (ohh)
Class, who cries? (Cody)

Now,to expand the circled information to more of a gut level, all the instructor has to do is describe in detail the nature of the crying – circle the crying to a ridiculous degree:

Class, does Cody cry tears? (circle circle)
Class, does Cody cry real tears? (circle circle)
Class, does Cody cry fake tears? (circle circle)
Class, how many tears does Cody cry? (circle circle)
Class, how many tears does Cody cry from his left eye? (circle circle)
Class, how many tears does Cody cry from his right eye? (circle circle)
Class, does Cody cry tears from his nose? (circle circle)
Class, does Cody cry water tears? (circle circle)
Class, does Cody cry milk tears? (circle circle)
Class, does Cody cry wine tears? (circle circle)
Class, does Cody cry beer tears? (circle circle)
etc. etc.

The instructor summarizes:

Correct, class! Cody cried fake tears from his left eye and real tears from his right eye. He cried seven water tears from his left eye and five beer tears from his right eye, but he didn’t cry any tears from his nose.
Such a scene spills over into any scene in a story where actors react emotionally to some event. In one such instance, the class told me that a bus was peeing tears of beer after running into a  and knocking it over. Every single idea in that image was generated by the class, with the resultant ownership and high interest. A bus knocking over a cactusaurus would not have been nearly as interesting if it did not come from them.

The students’ cute answers ALWAYS provide the real drive train for the story. Really, it is as if the students whose cute answers are successfully acceptedinto the story become vicariously a part of the story. This is a form of personalization.

Once the kids know that it is the unexpected cute answers that get accepted, they give you higher and higher quality suggestions, and the class keeps getting better. This idea addresses a frequently asked question about TPRS – how to make stories interesting.

Once you get to the point of asking the kids if tears are coming out of Cody’s nose, or if, as in the case of my class, the bus was peeing tears of beer, you are probably ready to end the little canned scene and get back to the story, getting Cody up to the girl and moving things along.

An aside: when the above example actually happened in my class, Cody actually arrived at the second floor ready to have a nice tête-à-tête with Cindy exactly at the end of the class period. Both students were on a table to give the illusion of height, and Cindy was really digging Cody, and the kids refused to leave, much to the consternation of their next period teachers.

Of course, a variation of this can be done with bursts of laughter, which is really hilarious when the class counts each laugh sound an actor makes, or when the actor laughs romantically, with anger, etc. Counting tears or laughs is just fun, and the kids never tire of circling tears in stories.


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