Monthly Archives: July 2015

#TeachersWrite Day 4: Expanding Voice and Characterization

Today’s Teachers Write task comes from author Tracey Baptiste, challenging us to dive into character voice. There are 4 separate exercises; each task concentrating on a different aspect of character voice, some timed for quick responses. We were asked to choose a character from a work in progress, one who we are still trying to develop or figure out.

Since I write nonfictional stories about my experiences with random acts of kindness, this type of task is a challenge to me because I don’t really have a character in mind for a work in progress. I’m still trying to figure out what type of writer I want to become! But I am intrigued by complicated characters, those who appear to have it all together on the surface, but are brimming with chaos inside.

Below are my contributions for today’s writing assignment, all rough drafts with no edits.

Exercise 1: Character Visualization (timed tasks)

Your character appears in a doorway and walks into a room. What is your character wearing? (2 minutes to write):

The pearl necklace lies delicately around her neck, a dainty reminder of her youth that is quickly passing behind. Her yellow dress radiates with sparkles, the stiff tulle peeking from below the hem, grazing her knee with each step. She stands tall, supported by her black heels, a curious color choice for a 16 year old in spring. She wobbles a bit, unfamiliar with the height of the shoes that were borrowed from her mom moments before.

Your character looks around the room he or she entered. Describe the objects seen in the room (2 minutes to write):

The carnations were arranged with bright colors of pink and yellow, a false tone of joy to overshadow the gloom. The picture frames were neatly arranged on tabletops; the guest book half filled with signatures of friends and family, the ink smearing from the cheap pen. The walls were somber gray, with subdued silhouettes of calm scenes that no one cared to see.

People start to approach your character. Who are they and what is their relationship with your character? (4 minutes to write):

As she entered the room, the eyes followed; after all, everyone was there to lend her support. She, however, didn’t want their support, didn’t want their attention, didn’t want to justify their pity. She wasn’t here for them. She was here out of obligation, a forced requirement that did nothing to build her up nor tear her apart. She wanted to scream. Hit something. Hit someone. Make the past 48 hours reverse in time.

But she walked forward. Eyes dull, she nodded as Uncle John gave her an awkward hug, his arms not quite knowing how tight to squeeze. Aunt Jill patted her hand, which only made her feel even worse, like a 10 year old receiving a correction for misbehavior.

This was not her fault. She had done nothing wrong.

Exercise 2: Becoming Your Character – The Interview

What do you love the most?

Freedom. Independence. Choice. I want to be who I am, not struck down by your expectations and limited views of success.

What do you hate the most?

Him.

Who are you jealous of?

The sea. The waves that crash on the shore – loud, roaring, unconstrained. Even as the pull of the sea draws back, it comes again, even stronger. I want to be the sea.

If you could do anything right now, what would it be?

Take off these shoes and rip away the three inch heels so no woman anywhere would have to ever wear them again.

What is your biggest secret?

I can see through people like a blade slicing skin.

Exercise 3: Flip the Switch (Same questions for the same character, but imagine he/she has suddenly been transformed into his/her antithesis.)

What do you love the most?

Safety. Security. My family and friends. They are my rock and I need them for all that I do.

What do you hate the most?

The way she looks at him.

Who are you jealous of?

My sister. She’s the favorite and everyone knows it. I live in her shadow constantly, but it’s understandable. She’s beautiful with a certain poise and grace I could never master. Social graces surround her, not me. I’m the ugly duckling who trips over their feet even when they’re not wearing shoes.

If you could do anything right now, what would it be?

Fill a bath high with bubbles and soak for hours in the tub.

Exercise 4: Conversion 

Describe the scene as if it were written for a play manuscript. Discover what emotion remains or is removed from the character.

Picks up pen. Begins to write with shaking hands. Eyes squinting, tries again with success. Returns pen to the holder and scans the room. Sees black in every form of fashion: dress, skirt, suit, shoes. Notices a speck of red in the crowd and moves towards the blaze of fire. The back of her hair, a cascade of auburn curls haphazardly tossed over her shoulder, held to the side by a plastic black clip, contrast with the red dress. She reaches her destination and gently touches the girl. Her head turns, eyes shift, recognition. The pause between acknowledgment and acceptance is brief, but unnoticed by others. They hug from obligation, their arms like bars crossing over a cage. Their smiles are forced, but believable. They are sisters, but enemies.


Reflection

I was surprised that my character developed so quickly with hidden layers of anger and defiance. I assumed when I started this task that despite my wish for a complicated character, I would be limited by my own writing experience and only develop a flat-line, transparent voice. Today’s task forced me to dig deeper, to allow my mind to work it’s own power, and create a character and voice I had yet to meet.

Wow!

#TeachersWrite Day 3: Character Sketch



Wednesdays are usually Q & A days at Teachers Write, where we have the opportunity to ask published authors questions about the writing process or other aspects of writing/publishing. Sometimes there will also be a writing prompt, as provided today by Melanie Crowder.

We are challenged to create and expand a character sketch, which is new to me as I rarely write fiction. I am stretching myself as a writer through this summer camp, so here’s my contribution:

It was the sparkle of blue that caught her eye as she brushed the dirt from her grandmother’s walkway. A glimmer of stardust, gold band stuck in the dirt, lifting the sapphire between the blades of grass long overdue for a trim.

Blue. Another sign. Jessie crouched down and took a moment to admire the contrast of dull and bright. It would need a good cleaning for sure, but definitely a keeper. She knew the ring would never be worn, but join in solidarity with the other blue signs her grandmother had sent following the accident five years before.

The walkway discarded for now, Jessie made her way to the car. She needed to hide her treasure lest the perfect moment of revelation dissipate in the humid heat. Hiding meant safety. Blue meant love.

I’m not sure where this story may lead, but I was surprised how quickly the storyline played out in my mind; the words flowed from my thoughts as a diversion from my own reality, as I sit here in this hospital waiting room. This summer writing camp has been a welcome reprieve already and we’re only three days in!

#TeachersWrite Day 2: Character Quick-Write

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Today’s writing task is from author Phil Bildner, challenging us to develop characters from observing those around us. Oh my, if this isn’t a southerner’s dream assignment! Being TOLD to people-watch for the craft of writing… why yes, I do believe I can accomplish this goal!

ISTE Crowd

I’m a people-watcher by nature. The act of social observation is something that flows through my veins like water rippling down a stream. It’s the purpose of people-watching that changes over time. I used to people-watch out of curiosity, intrigued by characteristics that vibrantly stood out against the crowd: the spiked porcupine hair, the ripped shirts and fall-to-your-knees baggy pants. Then I people-watched out of boredom, waiting for my daughter to be released from her ballet class; dance moms eagerly vying for position, nearly scrambling over one another to spotlight their darling virtuoso.

And then my purpose shifted. I was no longer interested in the external cloak strangers wrapped around their souls. Their clothes, their hairstyles, their speech; it was all a disguise, a defense, a deterrent. These characteristics merely shrouded their core beauty, a dank and musty shell of their divine calling. Who were these people who sat mere inches from my seat?

It was then that I sought their eyes: making contact, reaching out, extending a smile. Connection. The moment is always brief, fleeting. But in that moment you gain a glimpse of someone’s soul and the beauty that reflects back is breathtaking.

And then… they are gone.

The characters change, the props shift, another act begins. Yet, there is a piece of them now connected to you, a thin fiber woven into your spirit. These fibers create a tapestry of kindness, beautiful colors and fabrics that permeate every ounce of your being.

This is how characters develop, one thread at a time.

#TeachersWrite Day 1: Wonder List

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Today begins the first day of my favorite summer writing camp – Teachers Write! Created by Kate Messner, this camp encourages teachers of all disciplines to be brave with their writing and share with an authentic audience which includes other teachers and published authors. For more information on Teachers Write click this link: http://www.katemessner.com/blog/. For those participating, make sure to share your blog posts on Twitter using the hashtag #teacherswrite so we can share in each other’s writing!

Last summer was the first time I had heard of this virtual writing camp. I was a Twitter newbie still trying to figure out the difference between a hashtag and a handle. I was invited by my friend Greg Armamentos to join in the fun and WOW – what an experience! It was the first time I had ever contemplated putting my writing “out there”, for public consumption, to be chewed, digested, and possibly spit out.

I had to be brave. I had to take a chance. I had to make that jump.

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Now as I reflect on the past year, I find myself with laces tied, arms outstretched, ready to make that leap again.

Today’s Teachers Write challenge asks us to make a quick list of all that we wonder, just to let your mind wander and document your thoughts. This prompt gets my spirit excited because it’s the exact challenge I want to give my students as we dive into #GeniusHour next year, finding inspiration for our #PassionProjects. What a perfect way to delve into writing topics that engage and excite!

Here is my wonder list for today:

I wonder why five year olds have an innate ability to know when I’m sneaking away trying to write.

I wonder why those same five year olds are always hungry.

I wonder who created Perler beads and how they realized they could create images from melted plastic.

I wonder when my mom will be called back home, her time here on earth complete.

I wonder what inspires teachers to have a growth mindset.

I wonder how I can be everything to everyone at all times.

I wonder why I can’t let that one go.

I wonder why some colors match and others do not.

I wonder why there are Girl Scout cookies still sitting on my counter.

I wonder what passions people are repressing.

I wonder how to encourage, inspire, support.

I wonder if I am meant to write in first person or third person.

I wonder if anyone would purchase a book I write.

I wonder why ocean waves roar and sinking sand shifts.

I wonder if my spirit really can soar like eagles.

I wonder.