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Making Manuscripts with Muppet Magic

Kermit the Frog Balloon

Photo by Ben+Sam on Flickr.com

Recently, I took my parents and my children to see the new Muppet movie, The Muppets, and those Muppet puppets really took me back to the good old days when I was in high school.  Puppets and yes, The Muppets, heavily influenced my interest in writing.  That was back in the days of church buses (every congregation worth its salt had one), and our congregation in Beaumont was most worthy.  At the risk of sounding puffed up with pride, our bus ministry program was the hottest ticket in town.  Any Sunday evening, your average neighborhood child could catch a great program full of fun songs, fine Bible story dramas, and truly excellent puppet plays directed by none other than my dad, the man in charge of making it happen.  We had sound, we had lights, and we had lots of action!

My father insisted that his crew of middle school and high school assistants, the players, had to create their own scripts. Not only did we learn the fine art of puppetry using high quality, Muppet-style puppets, but we also learned the fine art of writing puppet scripts.  Did you know it’s inhumane to expect a puppeteer to hold a puppet above the stage for more than three or four minutes at a time?  You must let the poor human rest between appearances on stage because after a few minutes, a puppeteer’s hand has lost all blood flow.   That’s how I became immersed in the world of puppets, and that’s how I know that many of the lessons I learned during those years are applicable to writing fiction.

Teachable Moments

Writing puppet scripts is an activity that can be valuable in the classroom. I wager that when you read that, you automatically thought of elementary school.  Yes and no.  While undoubtedly, elementary students will enjoy this kind of activity, it may hold more value for the middle grades when students become more inhibited by social pressures and self-consciousness.  A student loses most of those inhibitions when he is animating a puppet; sometimes, even the quietest student will surprise you by creating a character that is completely unlike himself.  A puppet conveys anonymity, and middle grade and high school students alike react to puppets by letting their creativity flow.

Values of Writing Puppet Scripts

  1. Spark creativity.  Ask a group of middle grade students to write a story with dialogue, and you’re likely to get the complaint, “We can’t think of anything.”  Give them a couple of puppets, and the complaint doesn’t usually come up because they can’t resist the urge to give life to the puppets.
  2. Cooperative group learning.  Puppets are a natural group activity.  Roles within the group are natural, too: Director/Producer, Scribe, Actor 1, Actor 2,…  Notice I said “Scribe”, not “Writer”.  This is a group activity, after all.
  3. Writing for an audience.  You can change this up by assigning an audience: Write a puppet play for third grade students that teaches them what to do about a bully.
  4. Cross-curriculum support.  Support social studies, math, or science through creative writing: Write a puppet play for your peers to teach the states of matter.  Write a dramatization of the signing of the Declaration of Independence or a scene from a book.
  5. Elements of fiction. Scripting helps students think about setting, characterization, and plot.
  6. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.
  7. Pacing.  Did I mention that the human operator loses feeling in her arm after a few minutes?  Puppets force the writers to push the action forward.
  8. Plot structure practice.  Students naturally must progress from exposition through resolution as they write their script.
  9. Performance.  Again, anonymity is a huge plus; the students are behind a stage and hidden in puppets, but students still experience the thrill of performance.
  10. Outline for prose.  Let the puppet script provide an outline for a story written in prose that grows beyond lines and stage directions to include: description, action, dialogue attribution, inner dialogue, figurative language, etc.

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About the Author

Kathrese McKee started life as a Systems Engineer at EDS, spent time in real estate, taught middle grade Reading and ESL in Texas, and settled down to blog and write speculative fiction for Young Adults.

As a teacher, she fell in love with books written for Teens and Young Adults. Her favorite books are “coming of age” stories about young people on the difficult road of self-discovery.

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