Author Archives: Tamara Letter
When was the last time you sent a postcard to someone else? Remember trying to write your message in the tiny space provided, scrunching your letters and even curving them up the side to avoid the “DO NOT WRITE BELOW THIS LINE” section reserved for the mail service scan code? Did you pause before writing, realizing your elaborate details would need to be concise with brevity?
Today’s TeachersWrite quick-write is inspired by guest author Madelyn Rosenberg (who is also a fellow Virginian like me!) The challenge is a fun writing prompt called “Postcard” that even students can complete: Using only 10 words, describe the scene around you, then write each word on a separate line like a poem. This is a great warm-up for students to have them focus on sensory descriptions or simply hone in on a particular scene of their writing.
Here’s my “Postcard” for today:
Any guesses where I am today? Comment below and add your own 10 word “Postcard” to showcase your surroundings!
Today’s #TeachersWrite task, provided by Phil Bildner, encouraged us to explore a character’s voice through thought/speech bubbles. Fun! It was a creative challenge I couldn’t wait to dive into… then I realized I could make the task into a presentation instead, showing other teachers and students how to do the same thing using technology! (I am a tech integrator, after all!)
I decided my tool of choice would be Google Slides (instead of pencil/paper) and I got to work. It didn’t take long at all to select an image and create a character’s voice. Best of all, it made learning enjoyable!
If you would like to do this task with your students through integrated technology, check out my simple, how-to slideshow. Feel free to share with your students as well!
The noise got louder the closer we came. “C’mon, Sara, we’re gonna be late and they might run out of my favorite pizza!” I watched as my best friend since second grade walked ahead of me, her cute little ponytail bouncing behind her. Jeannie had no fear. She would dive into an ocean filled with sharks if she thought they might have something she wanted. “Hurry up!” she shouted, with one last turn of her head, before I lost her in the crowd of hungry students. I tried not to panic, holding the strap of my book bag tighter so it wouldn’t slip off my right shoulder. The sea of people crushed together, everyone cramming through two doors with peeling blue paint, an entrance meant for two, not twenty. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and the panic started to rise again. “One… Two… Three… Breathe…” The counselor’s calm and steady voice whispered in my memories as I started to feel the floor sway beneath my feet. “Don’t you dare pass out on me,” I whispered to myself, but it was too late. The dark perimeter of my vision closed in and I sank to the ground.
Today’s Quick Write inspired by Megan Frazer Blakemore’s #TeachersWrite post, challenging us to write a cafeteria scene as we “feel back to childhood.” As an elementary school educator (and a mom of three), I find myself surrounded by children constantly, but it takes a bit more effort to become a child again and write from that perspective. I’m finding that writing for younger readers is an area of interest and I look forward to making my characters’ voices and experiences more authentic!
through actions and words,
with passion and love,
shape student success
to learn, grow and be,
in all that I do.
all these things
Today’s poem inspired by Jo Knowles’ Monday morning warm-up for #TeachersWrite which can be access here: http://jbknowles.livejournal.com/487496.html
To view Kate Messner’s #TeachersWrite Mini Lesson with Mara Rockliff, visit http://www.katemessner.com/teachers-write-7-11-16-mini-lesson-monday-with-mara-rockliff/
Ahhh… I can feel the cool refreshment of the clear, sparkling water as I dip my toes once again into #TeachersWrite summer camp. Today’s assignment, from author Lisa Papademetriou, the author of A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic, encourages us to experiment with characterization. We are to write a scene exemplifying a character’s virtue then rewrite it as a flaw. I’ve been toying with the art of fictional writing, so I’ll complete today’s assignment with a character I’m developing in that realm: Marissa.
It is only dusk, but Marissa sees the fireflies appear, their golden orbs blinking as darkness envelopes her shoulders with a wisp of cooler air. She stretches her long legs away from the bench, pulling herself up to walk back to the cabin. She already knows what to say. She will be gentle with her rebuke, her words of kindness wrapping her daughter, Erin, like a soothing salve for the open wound left by her daughter’s friends. “Time heals all wounds,” she whispers to herself as she approaches the walkway now shrouded by night.
“You ALWAYS say that!”
The door slams as Marissa stares perplexed at the space that once held her daughter. There were no hugs. No head on her shoulder, no shared mother-daughter bonding. The stifling silence is an impenetrable wall of anger, an unexpected quandary that freezes Marissa’s heart to the core.
What had she done wrong? She always knows the right things to say. Her daughter, Erin is an open-book when it come to skirmishes with her friends. Typical teenaged angst, usually about bodies or boys, always healed by a few words of a wisdom and a double scoop of mint chocolate-chip ice cream piled into a delicately laced waffle cone.
This time is different. The anger is real. The door is locked with silence and hate. Marissa no longer holds the keys of comfort, her words absorbed by the wooden door separating mother and child.
So tell me, fellow readers, which scene resonates with you? Can a character’s strength also be a flaw? Does this entice you as a reader to turn the page? I would love for you to share your comments below!
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Here we are again, the one time of year most women despise: bathing suit season. Something about shedding the comfortable layers of fabric to reveal our true silhouette is intimidating and filled with silent (and sometimes vocal!) angst. I get it. I really do. Believe it or not, I also fight the demons in my head about body image.
“You’re so out of shape.”
“You used to look great, but now…”
“You are way too old to wear that.”
“If you wear this, you will be judged by ____________ .” (fill in the blank)
I’ve seen my friends post articles about being fat. Being skinny. Being modest. Being honest. It seems with every perspective shared, there are three more viewpoints to contradict the point. It can really make your head spin.
So here’s the deal. This is my perspective on the whole “What bathing suit should I wear?” debate:
This is my life.
I really don’t care what bathing suit you wear. Bikini, tankini, ruffled skirt or racer-back tank. Wear whatever you feel comfortable wearing! You, and you alone, are the only person in control of your body image. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else and for goodness sake, stop gossiping about those who have the confidence to boldly wear what they like. I’m not threatened by you; please don’t feel threatened by me.
I wear two-pieces. That’s right – a bikini. No, I’m not trying to act 18. I’m not trying to make you jealous. Seduce your husband? Are you kidding me? Girl, please…
I am 42 years old. I’ve had 3 children, all full-term, delivered naturally. My body has been in a state of constant change for the past 17 years.
I’m short. Curvy. No surgical enhancements, not even lasik surgery to fix my ailing eyesight. I can stand in front of the mirror and rip my reflection to shreds. Thanks for your opinion, but I need no assistance from you to feel horrible about my appearance.
I will never be tall, thin, and gorgeous. I will never look like a model in a magazine (mainly because the girl in that photo doesn’t even look like the girl in that photo.) And to be perfectly honest, this is probably as good as it gets.
I’m at the point in my life when I can embrace who I am in every single way, including body image. I try to eat somewhat healthy. I work out when I can. I can also wipe out a bag of salt and vinegar chips faster than you can blink.
I am me.
Not the girl next door. Not the woman across the street. Not you. Just me.
I will always be fatter than someone else and skinnier than another.
Please. Stop. Comparing.
I wear two pieces in the summer for many reasons. I hate having wet spandex stretched across my stomach. I despise having to remove an entire bathing suit just to take a bathroom break. Because I’m short-waisted, tankinis make me look like I’m wearing a dress, which brings me back to the whole wet-spandex-on-stomach issue.
I don’t wear a two-piece to make a feminist statement and I most surely don’t choose this swimwear to contradict my Christian beliefs.
I am wonderfully and beautifully made. Stop trying to make me think differently.
I have a teenage daughter who internalizes my spoken and unspoken words and actions. If I spend every summer bemoaning my physical inadequacies, what message does she receive about her own body? (Which, I might add, is almost identical to mine when I was her age.) I can assure you, she is not flaunting her body and quite frankly, neither am I.
I’m just more comfortable wearing a bikini.
I am not judging you for wearing a one-piece to remain modest. Rock on! You over there, wearing your tank top and shorts, shine in all your comfortable beauty! I am not trying to stir the pot or rile you up. Goodness, no. I am merely sharing my own personal insight on a trending topic in my newsfeed.
Embrace who you are now and who you are going to become. Age means change and that’s ok! Wear what you want, so you can enjoy the time you have. I’m sure there will come a time when my preferences shift, but until then please accept me as I am, which includes what I choose to wear.
And the next time you see me at the pool or water park, I hope you will stop by and say hi without judgment. I might need you to lotion my imperfectly freckled back so I don’t burn as red as a lobster.