Writing Students or Zombies?

Acting Like Zombies Creates Stronger Writing

Who is your speaker? Where are they from? Who was their first love? Are they a zombie? Many times writers create stock characters—people who are just plain ordinary. But veteran writers know readers need much more than that.  They want extraordinary! How can new writers get a standing ovation? Simple. They need to take the stage and act out their persona to create unbelievable-believable characters (that may even include zombies!).

creative writing, Globe University

Globe Students Cody and Charles creating personas in the Taxi acting activity.

How was I going to get my creative writing students to act in front of each other? Make them? Of course not. I had Brady Lowe, regional community manger at Globe University-La Crosse, and past actor and circus ring master make them, instead. I’m only kidding. Brady’s vibrant character is extraordinary but the personas he can mimic are unbelievable.

Warming Up to Get in the Taxi

After doing some character building warm-ups, Brady led the students in an improv game similar to scenes played out on the TV show, “Whose Line is It Anyway?” Brady’s game—Taxi.

“Taxi is simple,” Brady explained. “There is a driver and a passenger. The passenger picks an occupation from a hat that I came up with, and then the driver needs to ask the passenger questions to figure out who’s in their backseat.”

Sounds pretty easy right? No so much. If writing was easy, everyone would be published.

creative writing, Globe University

Globe student Cody trying to figure out Brady’s persona in the taxi.

My students needed to be quick on their feet and create an entire background for their character on the spot because they simply couldn’t just tell the driver who they were. Likewise, the driver needed to come up with questions that would give him or her hints. Many taxi drivers in the class ask questions like, “Where are you going? Do you travel a lot? Do you have a big family?” These questions and many more need to be asked while a writer is creating a character to take on another persona.

Taxi Drivers Pick Up a Dog Catcher, Zombie, and Others!

Cody Wilson, criminal justice degree student, by happenstance, drew the correctional officer occupation. “I like to tell people what to do,” he told Charles Ellingson, video and editing student and taxi driver.

But at times, like all writers, we get blocked. So when he ran out of questions, he asked his fellow students like Lucinda Burks, accounting degree student, to help him out. Charles Ellingson, who later took on the role as a dog catcher, realized that, “You have to be creative when coming up with a character. Make them unique in some way so people will remember the character.”

creative writing, Globe University

Kari, criminal justice student, tries to figure out Jessica’s persona in her taxi.

Kari Christensen, another criminal justice student, had the hard job of acting out and putting on a zombie persona, giving the driver, Jessica Polzin an interesting ride.  Once Jessica figured out Kari wasn’t a mad scientist, discovering through questioning that her passenger liked to eat people, she guessed right and knew exactly who was in her back seat.

“It’s important to have a character developed so that the tone fits the role,” Jessica said. “By asking the passenger questions, it showed us how readers may question our character if there isn’t enough character development.”

So after the taxi acting exercise, will my students be able to create stronger personas throughout the characters in their prose and the speakers of their poems?

“Does acting like a zombie riding a taxi make a student stronger writer? You bet!” Brady explained. “Zombie, dog catcher, surfer or otherwise, Jodie’s students used their imagination to explore character development, a technique they will use to create stronger personas in their writing.”

This post was written by Jodie Liedke. Liedke, a true Wisconsinite, having labored four summers in a mozzarella factory, received her BA from Lakeland College and her Masters in Fine Arts from Wichita State University in Kansas.  Liedke is the General Education and Service-Learning Coordinator, a Creative Quill and Writing Across the Curriculum lead, and the advisor/instructor for GLUWW (Globe La Crosse Writers Write). When not writing creatively, Liedke enjoys watching films, exploring the outdoors, and biking.