In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Write Like a Writer": Strong Sentences

Pussywillows and forsythia rooting at the east window.
Many thanks to students and teachers at the St. Johnsbury (VT) school, where three groups joined me last week for a session of "Write Like a Writer" focusing on strong opening and closing sentences. Students prepared ahead of time, using their writing notebooks to pull this together:
Consider yourself a collector of important sentences. Please bring ON PAPER to our workshop:

A. Two "chapter opening sentences" that you like -- one from The Secret Room and one from another book that you like.

B. Two "chapter ending sentences" that give you a hint of what's coming next -- one from The Secret Room and one from another book that you like.

C. Two sentences from a piece of your own writing that you'd like to make stronger.

D. A three-sentence description of what breakfast was like at your house recently. You can be "factual" or "fictional" in your description, but it should be interesting in some way! We won't get to look at all of these, but we'll do our best. [We only did this in one classroom, and we turned it inside out to create fiction instead, around the idea of foreshadowing the rest of the story, which would involve a sibling leaving for military service. Thanks, Mr. Shepley!]
After sharing readers' choices of strong opening and chapter-ending sentences, we used a "white board" (actually we used "smart boards," my first experience of them -- need some practice to have better handwriting on these!) to test a couple of sentences that students suggested as "needing to be stronger."


Among the techniques we used were testing adverbs to see whether they could be replaced with more detailed material; looking at "weak" verbs like forms of "to be" and "to go"; and an exercise called "See the Puppy."


You can try "See the Puppy" yourself: Present your (imaginary) puppy to an onlooker or group of students. React to what the puppy is doing in ways that make it clear there's a live, squirmy, adorable animal there. Recruit students to name the puppy and to describe its appearance. Amazing how quickly these details mount up!

And this is ... exactly the process for developing a character in your writing that you can "see."

By the way, this set of exercises can be adapted to writing nonfiction, too. The underlying idea is: As a writer, you're looking for an effect on the reader. It's OK if the reader is the teacher, or your BFF.  But this isn't a diary that's just for the writer -- it's part of a communication process. And it's fun!


[PS -- Special thanks to librarian Beth Mallon, who pulled everyone together and made the schedules work!]

1 comment:

Beth Kanell said...

Thanks to Janis Raye, publisher of THE SECRET ROOM, for mentioning this thoughtful piece on the power of sentences from Jhumpa Lahiri: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/17/my-lifes-sentences/?scp=2&sq=jhumpa%20lahiri&st=cse