Writing, writing advice, Writing Club, writing exercise

Writing Club: Describing a Setting

Yesterday I met with young writers at the Main Library in Little Rock, Arkansas for our first ever NaNoWriMo group. I was blown away by the diverse group that showed up to write with us. After a long day of school, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 trickled in to share their ideas and a little of their passion for books. I heard a fifth grader swapping book ideas with a twelfth grader and saw all kinds of genres represented from poetry to crime drama. Amazing! I know some people have a hard time working with kids, but I am constantly amazed by the creativity and talent demonstrated in some of the youngest writers. I heard a few lamenting that they are forced to write what their teacher’s assign instead of what they love, but I encouraged them to write anyway because every single opportunity to write is an opportunity to improve. Then, someday you’ll be able to write what you love all day long and that is an amazing treat!

Settings
Anyway, in our short time together I shared a few tips for description and reviewed some of the brainstorming concepts I shared with all of you here a few weeks ago. I asked them to come up with three different settings. They suggested a planet, a cave, and a battleship. We listed a few adjectives to describe each setting. Here’s what we came up with:

When I see the word “planet”, I instantly picture something else entirely. Mars with its red dirt and and expansive deserts, perhaps. A green swirling fog is so unique and utterly different from what I pictured, but isn’t that incredible? With just four words we have an entirely different picture in our minds. Now the trick is to show our readers the same image we have in mind.

Show vs. Tell
 We want our readers to be able to visualize our settings, our characters, and their actions as fully as possible so that they feel as though they were in the middle of the story with them. One way to do that is to describe the setting using your five senses. So, to our list we might add a few distinctive words describing the smell of the air, the feel of the dampness on our skin, or the shouts of soldiers on the battleship. Instead of saying the deck of the battleship was wet, we will describe how the main character nearly slips as he races across the deck or we’ll describe the spray of sea water or the raging wind and rain of an enormous storm. We give our readers clues that let them decide for themselves that the deck is wet instead of just telling them it is. This involves them in the scene as a participant and gives our writing a richer quality.

It’s difficult, I won’t lie, but something we should continue to practice if we want to be better writers. So, why don’t you give it a try? Brainstorm a few settings for the story you are working on and list as many descriptive words as you can using your five senses. Then, use those words to help you create sentences to show the reader how it feels to stand in your setting. What will they see, hear, smell, feel as they enter your world? When you’re finished, come back and leave us your favorite sentence. I would love to see what you came up with as you try your hand at the Show vs. Tell technique.

                                                                       Happy Writing!

                                                                                                                ~ Heather

writing exercise

Brainstorming in Action

Yesterday I demonstrated a brainstorming technique called mind webbing. Well, today I’m going to show how we use brainstorming to help us develop our ideas into actual sentences or entire stories.

My best advice is to try to focus on creating a clear image in your head of either a scene or a character. As you look at the words you’ve added to your web, what comes to mind? I tend to think in settings first and characters second, but many great writers find themselves building a story around a solid character. Either way, the point is to find a good starting point that inspires you and to go from there, adding bits and pieces until you have a story forming.

So, here’s today’s challenge:  A Short Story

Use your mind web to write a short story. This should be a very short story, just one or two pages of a scene to help you practice writing from a mind web. As you look at your mind web, try to picture the scene or a character. Then, use the words you’ve listed to help you write strong sentences. When you’re finished, come back and tell us all about it. Visit us next Monday to see what we’re up to next time in writing club.

Happy writing!

Heather

nanowrimo, Uncategorized, Writing Club, writing exercise

Writing Club: It’s All About The Brainstorming

It’s fall and around here that means Writing Club! Each fall I lead a group of young writers through the prewriting process all the way to our goal of finished novels for National Novel Writing Month. It’s my favorite time of year.

We have so much fun writing together and coming up with crazy ideas for our stories. I wish all of you could join the club with us. Since you can’t be here, I thought I might bring some of the fun to you! So, each Monday I’ll share one of our writing lessons with you. That way you can follow along. If you do each lesson, by the end of November, you should have a pretty good story. It takes a little work and lot of dedication to finish an entire story, but you can do it! And if you have questions, you can post them here for the writing club to answer. Sound like fun? Great! Then, welcome to the club!

Lesson One: Brainstorming
When you’re writing, do you ever feel stuck? I’m talking thick, goopy mud kind of stuck. Quick sand, stuck. Yep. It happens to the best of us. So, our very first lesson this year is on how to get unstuck. Before we write a single word in our notebooks, we’re going talk about how to create new ideas and get your brain moving from stuck to running free.

There are many ways to help you gather ideas for your story. Today we’re going to talk about three. The first is a mind web.

You’ve probably seen this idea before and maybe you have a different name for it. A mind web helps us catch related ideas and organize them. Start out by writing a topic in the center of your paper or white board. Maybe use a word that describes your favorite book. We chose the word magic, but you can use any word that interests you. Now, add as many related words as possible around the outside of that center bubble. Branch out from those words, adding more layers.

Here’s an example from our class:

Step One: Add primary words around your central topic.

 

 Step Two: Add secondary words around each primary word.

 

 

Step Three: Add a layer of descriptive words to the outer layer.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopefully this exercise has helped you to create a picture in your head, because that’s your next step. Close your eyes for a moment and try your best to see a clear image of your scene. Focus on either the setting or a character because this will help you most. Remember to use all of your senses as you look around. What do you see? What does it smell like to you? Can you hear anything? Is there movement? What can you taste or feel? Do your best to be there in your mind, taking note of everything around you.

Now, write down exactly what you saw. Don’t worry about writing sentences; we’ll practice putting them into sentences later.  Just list the words for now. Grab all the words you can to describe your setting and a character. Use the list to fill in your mind web. Make it as big as you can. The more words and ideas you have, the more you have to work with when you are writing your story.

What word did you choose for your topic? Leave it in the comments below and take a moment to introduce yourself so we can say hello to our new writing club members. Then, come back tomorrow and I’ll show you what to do next with your mind web.

 

Brian Clopper, elementary, Friday, Indie Authors, inspiration, writing exercise, writing games

Brainstorming Tips with author Brian Clopper

I was delighted to discover Brian Clopper, an author I shared with you earlier this week in my review of his book, Graham the Gargoyle.  Brian astounds me with his clever writing, but my kids are even more impressed with his artwork.  Brian is also a teacher and I bet his 5th grade students are just about the luckiest kids I know.  How cool to have a teacher who is also a writer and comic book artist!  Today, Brian shares with us some fun tips and tricks for creating new story ideas.  Enjoy!

* * * * * * *

Coming up with story ideas has never been a problem for me. There are three techniques I teach my students to help them gain confidence in brainstorming. All three are quick, fun and easy to do.

Odd Pairings: Take two or three ideas that are wildly different from each other and put them together. For example, I created MONSTERS IN BOXERS, a book about kids who put on magical boxer shorts and transform into superhuman monsters ready to do battle with evil, by pairing monsters with boxers. How can you go wrong with that?

Here are other examples:
MY BIG TOE TALKS TO ME
MY SOAP, THE COMEDIAN
SNOWMAN SHOPPING TRIP
THE CAFETERIA COW
UNDERGROUND ASTRONAUT

Changing Expectations: this technique has some overlap with Odd Pairings. When brainstorming Changing Expectations, you use animal, professions, and objects and think of where you’d expect to find them or how they would act and turn the expectation upside down. Most of us assume an elephant would be large, clumsy and prone to stampeding first and asking questions second. But what if you change the expectation and imagine an elephant that is graceful and delicate. You have yourself an elephant ballerina and world of story possibilities.

Here are some more:
A gargoyle afraid of heights (sorry, already taken in my series GRAHAM THE GARGOYLE)
A noisy Bigfoot
An angry butterfly
A very well-spoken caveman
A vampire who wants to be a lifeguard (Sorry again, already used that in NORTON THE VAMPIRE)
A mummy who flies

The final idea generator is Randomizing. This was shared with me by a couple of cartoonists who like to get together and use Pictionary cards to help them generate story ideas. That’s exactly what you do. You randomly draw three Pictionary cards and select three or four ideas and string them together to form a story. It’s a lot of fun and is actually another use for Pictionary at parties, especially among the younger set who really love this.

Here’s how it works:
I select scarecrow, race cars and trophy from the Pictionary cards in front of me. Inspiration strikes and I whip up the story of a scarecrow that races cars, but has a natural problem in that when the car goes too fast, he loses his straw due to the excessive winds. He has to win back a trophy to save his farm from going belly up. All the other farm animals don’t have faith in him, and he must dig deep to solve his dilemma.

You can see changing expectations and odd pairings at work in the summary of my word play novel written to inspire young writers, STOMPER REX.

WITH THE OPENING OF A HATCH that appears on his ceiling, a troubled mortal boy, Stomper, is enlisted to save the fractured land of Crawlspace and reunite the magic. Trouble comes from all directions once he sets foot in the magical world of the written word. If Stomper can master alliterations, homophones, rhymes, similes and idioms before they do him in, Crawlspace might just have a fighting chance.

STOMPER REX is a romp through a magical world of dangerous word play. In the vein of THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, this whimsical fantasy is a tale with lethal homophones, alliteration gone acutely awry and a host of hideous puns let loose that will disgust and confound.

Brian Clopper is a 5th grade teacher who dreams of a day when he too can set foot on a magic ladder and ride his way into a world where when hens fly to turn back time, skewer cougars hunt for unsuspecting children to shish kabob and boxing slugs engage in the rowdy gentleman’s sport of slimy fisticuffs.

Skewer cougars and boxing slugs are odd pairings, while when hens are a changing expectation. Who would think that riding atop a flock of harmless-looking birds would allow you to travel back in time? It’s all part of the magic that makes the world of Crawlspace come alive.

Odd pairings, Changing Expectations and randomizing are excellent ways to fill up your idea journal with tons of story possibilities. So what are you waiting for, get off your tuckus and get creating. There’s a zebra plumber or an ornery unicorn waiting for you to bring them to life.

Just so you know, I loaded a new book, STOMPER REX, onto the Kindle and Nook. It’s a perfect book to engage young writers with how to improve their writing using a variety of narrative techniques. Piers Anthony sung its praises, as he has all five books I’ve sent him over the years, in his most recent newsletter. I’m so proud of what he said, I just feel compelled to share it with you.

“I read Stomper Rex, by Brian Clopper. Bradford, nicknamed Stomper, is a fifth grader who has issues at school. He lives with his mother, his father having walked out. His mother is understanding but firm about his need to shape up. She gets him a tutor, Wanda, a teen girl he has a crush on, so he does pay attention as she reviews the material. This setting is competent, as the author is a fifth grade teacher; the secondary characters are well rounded. Then two odd men descend from his bedroom ceiling to take him to a fantasy land where he is needed. They are Ruffloon and Strivelwunk, who put him on a ladder which then flies into the land of Crawlspace, where there are many monsters, and much of the magic is made by figures of speech. Yes, the very thing he is having trouble with in school. I suspect this novel was a female dog to write, because coming up with relevant figures of speech when you need them can be a challenge, as I have found in my own writing. For example, when he is threatened by multiple snakes, he says “Fake snake!” and they merge into one pretend snake. That’s pretty simple, but others aren’t, such as “Try knocking loose those lox.” That’s homophone magic to make locks give way. It seems he has been summoned to defeat the cruel mistress of this realm, Stigma, a girl who visited but then decided to stay and rule, and they need to be rid of her. They have many adventures, requiring different figures of speech. Naturally there’s a climactic showdown, and strange things happen as they fight with whatever figures of speech they can think of under pressure. This novel represents a kind of course in figures of speech, and fifth graders who read it will surely develop a better understanding and possibly become better students. That may be the hidden agenda. This author continues to be a writer who deserves better attention in the literary world; this novel is anything but mindless.”