Paris Research for MANHUNT (Spring 2014)

I’ve been juggling a number of projects this summer, but I’ve spent the past week immersed in a book I haven’t started writing yet. MANHUNT (coming in Spring 2014)  is the third title in my Silver Jaguar Society mystery series with Scholastic.  It’s a follow-up to CAPTURE THE FLAG (July 2012) and HIDE AND SEEK (coming in April 2013).  Like the first two books, MANHUNT features Anna, José, and Henry – three twelve-year-old kids whose families are part of a secret society bound to protect the world’s artifacts.

In their first adventure, CAPTURE THE FLAG, the original Star-Spangled Banner is stolen from the Smithsonian, and the kids race through a snowed-in D.C. airport trying to track down the thieves.

In HIDE AND SEEK, Anna, José, and Henry and their families will explore the rainforest of Costa Rica as they search for a stolen goblet that’s also a sacred piece of Silver Jaguar Society history.

And in the third book, MANHUNT, Anna, José, and Henry will again come face to face with the the Silver Jaguar Society’s arch enemies during a multi-faceted, international heist that begins in Boston and ends here…

Yep – I’ve been “working” in Paris for the past week. (I’m pretty sure you are required to include quotation marks around the word “working” when your week has also included consuming Nutella-banana crepes and copious amounts of gelato.)

When it comes to this trip, I’m going to save my words for the book I’ll be writing this fall and winter…but here are a few photos to give you some hints about Anna, Henry, and Jose’s third adventure!

I’m headed back to my writing room now…

Thank you, Scholastic Book Fairs!

August is a busy time for the Scholastic Book Fair teams who set up carts and carts of books in schools all over the country.  Titles for the fall fairs have been selected, and it’s time for the field representatives to learn everything they can about the books so that they can help teachers & librarians find “just right” books for their students.  I’m writing in the Charlotte, NC airport right now after spending the past couple days at Scholastic’s Eastern Zone Season Kick-Off meeting, and I’m still swimming in happy book-talk feelings.

I got a sneak peek at the fall Book Fair titles and spotted three of my own books as well as many that I’ve loved as a reader.

And I had the opportunity to speak to the Scholastic Book Fairs team, too.  There’s nothing quite like arriving for an early-morning breakfast to find this…

..along with books on every chair.

I got to meet so many members of the Book Fairs team, along with a special guest…

This is Book-Man (aka Mike Weaver, a principal from New Jersey who’s part of Scholastic’s principals’ advisory board.)  He’s an incredible advocate for literacy at his school and left me wishing that every school could have a Book-Man in the main office. (Plus, I’ve never had my picture taken with a super-hero before, and that was pretty cool.)

Here’s Robin Hoffman of Scholastic Book Fairs book-talking EYE OF THE STORM before my talk. She did such a great job, she made ME want to read it again. And I already know how it ends.

I was so thankful for the opportunity to spend time with the book fair crew, both here and in St. Louis last week. Growing up in a small town with no bookstore, I was always bursting with anticipation on the day our Scholastic Book Club orders arrived at school.  Overnight, it seemed, our classroom was transformed into a bookstore, and it always felt like magic.  These days, my books are included in the clubs and fairs, but inside, I’m still very much that ten-year-old kid, and it still feels like magic. Traveling to St. Louis last week and then Charlotte, and meeting the wizards who make it all happen was pretty magical, too.  Thanks, Scholastic Book Fairs family, for the warm welcome and for all that you do for readers!

On the Road in August

Well, hi there!  It’s good to see you…and good to see my living room again, too. August has been a busy month so far, full of travel and terrific people. Here are some highlights.

At the beginning of the month, I flew out to Los Angeles for the annual SCBWI Conference (that’s the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, for the uninitiated) because OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW won the Golden Kite Award for Best Picture Book Text, which was…well…amazing. This award comes from fellow authors, so it means so, so much. Here’s a photo of me speaking to 1200+ people at the awards luncheon. (I love still photos because they don’t show shaking hands.)

I was also part of the faculty for this conference, giving a presentation called “Picture Books: The Magical Unexpected.”  I talked about lots of picture books that I love and how they all incorporate different kinds of “unexpecteds.”  You can see the list of books I talked about here.

The most amazing thing about this conference was getting to spend time with other children’s writers and illustrators. Lin Oliver, executive director of SCBWI, likes to refer to the big mob of creativity as “the tribe,” and it’s such a great description because coming to a conference like this really feels like coming home. Here’s a photo of Lin welcoming the group.

And here’s a photo of a children’s author snapping a photo of her stuffed Peep with Lin.

Can you identify the mystery author with the mystery Peep? (If you give up, you can click here to find out.)

My family came with me on this trip, and we also managed to sneak in some classic California fun like this tour of Hollywood and Beverly Hills.  Do you recognize this famous landmark?

We didn’t either.  But it is apparently Tom Cruise’s flag. “And if you look carefully,” our driver said, pointing, “you can kind of see his chimney, too.”

From L.A., I flew straight to Pennsylvania, where I spoke at the PA Writing Institute at Millersville University. This is a five-day institute full of incredible teacher-writers who dedicate their week to practicing what they preach.

They were an amazingly kind, smart, and creative group, and I wish I could have spent a full week writing with them!

I ran into a little snafu with the TSA on my flight home from LA and Pennsylvania.  The agents pulled my suitcase aside for searching, and they asked if there was “something sharp” in there.

“Well,” I said, “I won this award, and it has a kite that’s maybe a little pointy.”

They unpacked it and studied it and frowned at it for a little while.

Finally, one agent said, “What’s Over and Under the Snow?”

“It’s a…picture book.”

“Did you write it?”

“Yes. I did.”

(More frowning & studying.)

“We’re going to run this through the machine once more.”

They did. And then they swiped it to check for explosives but found none, I gather, since I was allowed to take it home.

After a day’s break, I flew to St. Louis to be the guest author at the Scholastic Book Fairs seasonal kick-off meeting for that region. When I was a kid and the Scholastic Book Club orders arrived, I was always under the impression that something magic must have happened overnight in my classroom. Book Fairs came along later on and work that same magic now, in so many communities like mine that don’t have their own bookstores. It was so much fun to meet the people (the wizards!) who make this happen for kids and classrooms.














Here I am with my fantastic (and fun!) Scholastic Book Fairs hosts, Kerri Mills and Rose Schovanec. (Photo from Kerri’s FB page – thanks, Kerri!)

I’ll be visiting another Scholastic Book Fairs kick-off meeting in Charlotte later this week, then taking a research trip for book #3 in the Silver Jaguar Society mystery series, and then – home to finish summer deadlines and get the kids ready for a new school year. Hope your August has been full of sunshine and magic, too!

Teachers Write! Revision Chat

I want to start this post with a confession. I am not a great writer. In fact, I am frequently a pretty awful writer who pens first drafts full of clunky prose and tired language. Sometimes I turn a Monday into a Wednesday in the middle of a chapter (this, in a book that is not supposed to include magic), and sometimes my characters don’t know their own names, much less their motivations.

So how have I managed to get a bunch of books published and even convince people that some of them should win awards?

I am a really passionate, enthusiastic reviser. When I do school visits, I always tell kids that revision is my favorite part of the writing process because that’s when I actually feel like I’m GOOD at this writing thing. When I’m drafting? Not so much.  But once that draft is down, I always feel ready to roll up my sleeves and make something of the mess. That process, for me, is full of wonder and discovery and hope. So I’m a big believer in the magic of revision, and I wanted to set aside a #TeachersWrite day to celebrate it.

Author friends:  We’d love to hear from you.  If you have a favorite revision strategy, or advice on the revision process, or a post about revision that you’d like to share, please leave a comment and join the conversation.

Teacher & Librarian friends:  I know that some of you have read my book for writers & teachers of writers, REAL REVISION: AUTHORS’ STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS, and I’m more than happy to answer questions about that in the comments today. And whether you’ve read it or not, please fire away with any other questions you’d like answered when it comes to revision.  And please feel free to share your revision experiences from this summer, too.

Here some revision resources you may find helpful for your teaching and writing:

Revision Gallery – A Collection of Marked Up Manuscripts

What Revision Looks Like – A Pinterest Board

REAL REVISION home page with links to Kate’s two videos on revision

65 Off-Draft Writing Prompts to Kick-Start the Revision Process

REAL REVISION Interview with Lauren Oliver

REAL REVISION Interview with Lisa Schroeder

REAL REVISION Interview with Jo Knowles

REAL REVISION Interview with Linda Urban

REAL REVISION Interview with Laurel Snyder

REAL REVISION Interview with Karen Day

Comments are open – let’s talk revision!   And on Wednesday night (8/15), we’ll also talk revision on Twitter with a chat from 9-10pm EST, using the hashtag #RealRevision.

Teachers Write 8/10 Friday Writing Happy Hour

When we first came together for Teachers Write back in June, I made the schedule and remember thinking, “Will this work?  Is ten weeks going to be too long?”  I know the answer now.

 No.  Ten weeks has not been nearly long enough, and so we are…not ending.  Not now, or after Labor Day, and not in the foreseeable future.  Our Facebook group will remain, and so will the blog. There won’t be posts every weekday like we’ve been doing, but you can plan on one every Friday morning. They’ll be a mix of mini-lessons and writing prompts, and we’ll have some author Q and A days in there, too. We’re going to take a short break to let everyone get ready for school (and let me finish my crazy August travel schedule…I’m in St. Louis right now, where I just got to talk to an amazingly enthusiasitc group of Scholastic Book Fairs sales and field reps.)  So look for the first school-year Teachers Write post the Friday after Labor Day, on September 7th.

Between now and then, I hope you’ll keep writing – and we’re going to have our revision chat here on the blog and on Twitter next Wednesday, August 15th.  The conversation here will be going on all day, with authors dropping in to share revision stories in comments. And from 9-10 pm EST, we’ll have a Twitter chat using the hashtag #RealRevision

For now, though, we need to celebrate one last Teachers Write Happy Hour! Many, many thanks to ALL of our guest authors who came to visit this summer. Your words and your generous spirits are amazing.

We have a bunch of books to give away today, too. However,  I…err…don’t know the titles offhand because the titles are home and I am in Missouri. But rest assured, they are wonderful books, and if you leave a comment, you’ll be entered in the drawing to win one.  When I get home, I will post their lovely covers so you can see what you might win.

Editing to add: These are the books!  (And also…Real Revision Chat is AUGUST 15th – not March 15th. I have no idea where I got March.)

Share away!  (And if you have questions/comments/suggestions on the school-year Teachers Write plans, please feel free to ask.)


Teachers Write 8/9 Thursday Quick-Write

Today’s Thursday Quick-Write has a twist; we’re turning the writer’s lens on ourselves.

For ten weeks now, we’ve been hanging out here, writing together and talking together, nurturing one another as teachers and writers. When I started this online camp with Gae and Jen in response to a casual Twitter exchange, I never imagined how many of you would show up, how talented and passionate and brave you would be, and how thankful I’d be for this opportunity to write and learn with you. I hope you’ve learned some stuff, too…maybe about writing and teaching, and maybe about yourself and your voice.

Today’s prompt:  (You are being granted special time-travel abilities for this one.)  Write a letter to yourself of 10 weeks ago.  It will be sent back through time and delivered to you on June 1st, 2012…right before you sign up for Teachers Write.  What advice would you give yourself?  What can you tell yourself about what the experience will be like and how it might change your writing or teaching?

Here’s mine…

Dear Kate,

Today, you are going to notice some of your Twitter teacher-friends talking about their goals to write this summer, and it will occur to you that it might be fun to set up a virtual writing camp.  Go ahead and do it, even though it’s not going to go the way you’re imagining.  You’re probably picturing a dozen people, right? Maybe twenty? Multiply that by 50 and you’ll be a little closer. It’ll freak you out at first when you see all those people signing up, but don’t worry — they are amazing people who will be happy to be here and patient with your summer schedule. Besides, tons of generous and talented authors are going to show up to pitch in. This probably doesn’t surprise you, does it? The children’s and YA writer community is amazing like that.

What will surprise you is just how much you are moved when you sit down to read the comments every day. These teachers and librarians will be so smart, so brave. They will try new things. Some will be afraid at first, but they will be so good to one another, so supportive, that new voices will emerge every week.  And these voices will be full of passion and beauty, humor and joy and poignancy.  They will be amazing, and they will make you cry sometimes, in the best possible way.

So go on… Write that introductory blog post, even though you’re biting off way more than you know. It will be worth every second, and when August comes, you will not be ready to let go. Not even close.

Warmly,   Kate

P.S. You might want to consider writing & scheduling the last two posts ahead of time so you don’t have to stay up so late on the 8th. You have to be up at 4am for a flight to St. Louis. Just a suggestion… 🙂

Your turn now…  Put today’s date on the paper, and then write your message to be sent to yourself, back through time. Share it in comments, too, if you’d like.  And be sure to visit tomorrow for our final Teachers Write Summer Happy Hour and news about what comes next.


Teachers Write 8/8 More on Plotting (and Q & A Wednesday!)

Guest author Cynthia Lord is back today with Part 2 of her mini-lesson on plot!  Part 1 is here, in case you need to get caught up.

Plotting: Beginnings, Middles, and Ends

Beginnings. Now that you have imagined your characters and set up your plot, what is the ideal place to begin?  You can think of it as the day things change. But some stories have more than one moment of change. Which one gives your story the fastest start? 

 Let’s go back to our plot sentences from Monday. Here’s mine:

 Ethan wants to win the Battle of the Books State Championship, because he wants to feel valued at home and school, but a group of reluctant readers on his team stand in his way.

 In my story, when would that whole statement show up?  It would be at the first meeting when the teacher arrives with those reluctant readers in tow. That’s the moment when we have both wants and the obstacle together, setting the path of the story. If I can get that moment into the first chapter, that’s the fastest start.

But as a reader, we want to care about Ethan before those new kids walk through the door (so we don’t empathize with them, instead of Ethan), so I would back up from that moment a little to connect the reader with Ethan, and end the first chapter with those new kids arriving.   

Maybe I would begin with Ethan setting up the room with the new books for this year and excited for another chance to win.  As his team comes in, he talks about last year’s defeat and we see a glimpse of him feeling vulnerable about that loss and why it’s so important to him that they win this year.  So readers will care about Ethan and invest in his desire to win first. And then the teacher arrives with the new kids. That would produce a strong, fast start. 

Sometimes writers spend a few chapters setting up characters and settings, but that makes for a slower start, because we’re waiting for that concrete want and obstacle to tell us what the story is about. Find a way to tell us about the characters and their world as the story is moving forward.

Middles:  There is a Danish proverb:  Bad is never good until worse happens.  That quote is the key to middle plotting. 

The main part of your story will show your character trying to get what he wants and deal with his obstacles.  But the tension has to go UP in the story, not down.  So things can’t get better; they have to get more complicated.  One difficulty will compound another, and that increases tension. That’s what makes the pages fly by. 

In real life, it would be lovely if Ethan took those new kids under his wing and helped them to become better readers.  But our real-life goals are not our goals in fiction.  In real life, we don’t want conflict. We want everyone to be kind and forgiving and patient with each other. But in fiction, that makes for a boring story. 

So in my story, Ethan can’t decide to help the new kids and have that be successful. He could try that, but it has to backfire or fail, because if it succeeded, things would be improving for Ethan and tension would go down. As the writer, you can’t satisfy the main character (or the reader) in the middle.

Ethan will probably have to make some mistakes or bad choices. As a writer you have to create a balance where your character can make those mistakes without becoming unlikable to the reader. Maybe the new kids don’t like being on his team. So Ethan thinks he’ll do them a favor and show the teacher they can’t do it. He assigns them the hardest books first. Now, how can that create a new problem for Ethan?

Here are two hints that my editor gave me that have helped me tremendously with middle plotting: 

 In every chapter, something important should change for the main character, ideally through his own actions

 I often create a simple chapter chart for my books. Here’s one I made while I was working on my novel, Touch Blue.


It keeps track of which characters are present (or mentioned) in the chapter, the main threads of the story, and the last column asks “What changes for the main character?” and “Who causes that change?” 

Something should change for the main character in every chapter. If not, the chapter isn’t making progress on the plot, and that slows your pacing. 

 Then ask yourself, who causes the change?  If it’s not main character, is there a way that he can play a role in causing it to happen (even if he doesn’t mean to)?  If the main character isn’t causing the changes, the story is happening TO him, not because of him.  That makes for a weaker plot and a weaker main character.

 Here are a few ways main characters increase tension and make things more complicated for themselves.

 Lies or doesn’t tell the whole truth.

Agrees to keep a secret.

Refuses help.

Tries to protect someone else.

Trusts someone who shouldn’t be trusted.

Blames someone innocent.

Overhears something not meant for him.

Blurts out something to the wrong person.

Agrees to do something he can’t do.

Gets hurt or sick


These will often come from your character’s flaws.

 Every important secondary character has two jobs:  to show us another side of the main character and to increase tension

 If they don’t do both things, they really don’t need to be in the story or they should have a small role.  Again, it comes down to pacing. Having characters who take up space but don’t further the story in terms of character development and plot will deaden your pace.   

Make your characters earn their place.  How do we see a side of Ethan with his brother that’s different than the one he shows his friends? And how does his brother help create conflict and increase the tension?  In revision I look at every secondary character and ask those questions. 

 Ends:  At the end of the book, a reader wants to feel satisfied.  The reader is a partner in the book, not a passive observer.  So the ending needs to feel worth the time and the work the reader has invested.

 At the climax we find out if the character got what he wanted. Was his goal met? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes no. But if it’s no, there’s often a twist so the reader isn’t simply sad at the end. Maybe the character got something else?  Maybe he decided the cost wasn’t worth the price?

 Most main characters will change over the course of a novel and what they wanted at the start isn’t exactly what they want at the end.  Anything can work, as long as it feels earned to the reader. But the concrete want must be addressed at the climax, because that is what the reader is waiting for.  If you don’t address it “on-screen” in fully developed scenes, readers will feel cheated. Also, be sure there is more than one likely possibility at the climax so your story isn’t predictable.  

Most novels will leave some open-ended-ness with the abstract want. If you answer that too fully, it can feel pat or preachy.  So at the climax, the main character will act in a way he couldn’t have done in Chapter One, because he has made some progress. And after the climax, there’s often a scene or chapter where we witness him acting with that new understanding and growth. But he’s only taken a step; he’s not all the way there. 

In a novel, it’s the glimpse of the unwalked journey ahead that keeps the reader thinking about the book and the character.  If you wrap it all up and tie it with a huge bow, there’s nothing for the reader to keep thinking about. Satisfy the reader with the concrete want and leave some openness with the abstract want, and that will give us an ending and a story to remember.


Many thanks to Cynthia for sharing this two-part post on plot!

It’s also Q and A Wednesday today, so Cynthia will be around to answer questions, along with additional guest authors Amy Guglielmo and Erin Dealey. They’ve promised to be around to respond to your questions today, so please visit their websites & check out their books!


Teachers Write 8/7 Tuesday Quick-Write

Good morning! I’m still on the road, presenting to amazing educators at the Pennsylvania Writing Institute at Millersville University today, but fabulous guest author is here with today’s writing prompt.  Laura writes magazine articles, poetry, and educational titles for kids. Learn about her work at her website:

“Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse…and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

                                                ― Rick Riordan, The Sea of Monsters

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt that families are kind of a mixed blessing. They love you, bug you, help you, hurt you, make you laugh, make you cry, and just generally drive you crazy.  But you know life wouldn’t be the same without them.  And you wouldn’t be who you are without them.

I find it interesting to think about my favorite characters and take a good look at their families. 

Take Percy Jackson for example.  Unbeknownst to him, he’s the son of Poseidon, and at the age of 12, he’s sent to a camp for demigods.  If not for his father, Percy wouldn’t be one of the most powerful half-bloods on the planet.

And then there’s Harry Potter.  After the death of his loving parents, he has to be raised by his aunt and uncle.  As cruel and cold-hearted as they are, the fact that they share the bond of blood offers Harry protection from Voldemort.

And speaking of protection, the entire plot of The Hunger Games hinges on the fact that Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place in the reaping.  She would do anything, make any sacrifice, in an effort to keep her little sister safe.

These are very brief examples, of course, but I think it’s helpful to evaluate how characters are affected by their family dynamics.

So for today’s Quick-Write, I’m asking you to take one of your characters (it can be from your WIP, or an entirely new character), and examine his/her family.  Who does your character live with?  Which family member is your character closest to?  Why?  What special bonds do they share?  Who is the biggest source of tension?  Why?  What has happened to strain their relationship?  How do specific family members influence your character’s beliefs and actions?

I hope that by taking a good look at your character’s family, you’ll get to know him/her a bit better and develop a deeper understanding of his/her motives.

Happy Writing!

Teachers Write 8/6 Mini-Lesson Monday

Good morning! Kim Oldenburgh, you won the drawing for Caroline Rose Starr’s book, MAY B.  Please email me (kmessner at kate messner dot com) with your mailing address so she can send your book.

Today’s Mini-Lesson Monday features guest author Cynthia Lord, who is not only a Newbery Honor author (for RULES) but also a super-nice person and brilliant teacher, too. I have learned so much about writing just from reading Cindy’s blog.

Her debut novel, Rules, was a New York Times Bestseller and has received numerous awards, including a Newbery Honor and six state kids’ choice awards. A former elementary and middle-school teacher, Cynthia even spent a year teaching in a tiny school on a Maine island, the setting for her second novel, Touch Blue. She is also the author of a picture book series, Hot Rod Hamster, illustrated by Derek Anderson.  She lives with her family in Maine.  Cindy’s joining us at Teachers Write today and Wednesday to talk about plotting.

Plotting: Setting up a Story

When I do school visits, I always meet kids who love to write.  They come up to me, gripping their notebooks full of fabulous ideas. They have done impressive work imagining the characters and their world, but they often struggle with the plot. How do you set up a story, keep it going with steadily increasing tension, and pay it off for the reader? 

To talk about plot, we must also talk about character, because they’re like two strands of a rope twisting around each other, strengthening both. One informs the other. So to help students understand story development, let’s start with a classic plot that has a character with a want or a goal.

 With students as young as first grade, I use this simple formula:


What does your character want?

What makes it hard for him?

What will he do trying to get what he wants and deal with that obstacle?

And finally, does he get what he wants?


The first two (want and obstacle) are set up very early in a book, because they set the path of the plot. Here’s the first page of Hot Rod Hamster. The illustrator, Derek Anderson, created this wonderful sign.

 Before we’ve even read a word of text, this picture sets the plot in motion. We have everything we need for a story to begin: a character (Hamster), a want (to enter and win a race), and an obstacle (he’s tiny). 

We also know something about the climax–because that’s where we’ll discover if the character got what he wanted.  So if Hamster wants to enter and win a race at the beginning of the story, the climax will be at the race where we find out if he won. 

The rest of the story is what comes between: how the character tries to get what he wants and deal with his obstacles to that big, deciding moment.

For young students, that’s enough to begin. But for older students and adult writers, let’s expand that W.O.W. to include motive. So the character truly wants two things (or more, but they fall into these two categories):  concrete and abstract. 

Concrete: a concrete want is what the character wants outside himself. Here are a few examples:

 •To earn enough money for something.

•To make the football team.

•To have a friend.

•To reach New York City.

•To win a contest.

•To learn to swim.

•To find a lost pet.

•To save his home.

•To solve a mystery.

 Usually this can be answered with a “yes” or “no” at the climax. Either the character achieved this or he didn’t.  So it must be big enough and challenging enough to last for the entire book.  The reader will measure progress against the concrete want. It also sets the path of the story, defines the climax, and controls the pacing. Without a strong concrete want, the book will feel slow. Editors (and kids) will say things like: “I’m not sure what this story’s about.” 

 When I’m working with students, I show a slide with photos of kids doing actions or obviously involved in something (playing soccer, wearing a prom dress, dancing with a group on a stage, hugging a dog, etc). I ask students to choose a photo and tell me what that character might want. 

 Then I ask students to come up with another want for the same character. Sometimes I’ll even ask them to imagine the opposite want for the character (What if this girl doesn’t want to go to the prom? What might she want then?) and how that changes things and adds immediate conflict. Our first ideas aren’t always our most interesting ones, and by making kids look for more than one possibility right from the start, it encourages a revision mindset, more open to change.

 Now that we’ve thought about what a character wants, the next question is why? 

 Abstract: an abstract want is what the character wants inside himself.  It’s the reason why. Here are a few examples:

•To find their place in their family.

•To understand where they fit into their culture.

•To be accepted and valued for themselves.

•To belong or fit in.

•To feel loved.

 Your character will make progress on this in the story, but it’s moving along a continuum, more than a yes or no.  The abstract want began before the book started, gives depth to the character, motivates his decisions, shows his flaws and strengths, and makes the reader care about the character winning. Without a strong abstract want, the story will lack character development. Editors will say things like, “I didn’t really connect with the character.”

 A strong story has both wants. Your character will want something outside himself for a reason inside. Here’s a classic plot set-up:

 My character wants (concrete want) because (abstract want), but (obstacle) stands in his way. 

 Not every novel follows this format, but most do, and it does produce a strong, satisfying setup. 

 Ready to practice?  Jody Feldman’s random word generator was so much fun that I found one for YA characters.  You can set limits or be surprised!  As an example, I let the program choose everything.

Name: Ethan

·           Age: 12-13 (8th Grade)

Ethan’s Traits

·           Book worm.

·           Cruel, Brilliant, Lucky

·           Unique Trait: Is famous.

Ethan’s Appearance

·           Hair Color: Black

·           Eye Color: Brown

·           Body Type: Skinny

 Looking at this, I asked myself, “How might a middle-school bookworm be famous?” I brainstormed three scenarios:

 #1  Ethan writes fan-fiction, and he’s famous in that world, though he writes under a pen name so no one at school knows who he is. 

 #2  Ethan’s famous because his dad is a rock star who wrote a hit song about him when he was a baby, and the world knows him that way. “Oh, you’re Baby Ethan?!” 

 #3  Ethan’s famous in a school sense:  He’s captain of his school’s Battle of the Books team. Last year his team went all the way to second place at the state championship.

 I would encourage you to brainstorm a few to encourage a revision mindset in yourself. Then pick your favorite and create a plot statement.

 (Character) wants (concrete want) because (abstract want), but (conflict) stands in the way. 

 Here’s mine:  Ethan wants to win the Battle of the Books State Championship, because he longs to feel valued at home and school, but some reluctant-reader teammates stand in his way.

 Fleshing that out to a summary:

 Ethan wants to win the Battle of Books State Championship, because his younger brother has won many sports awards and Ethan wants his own chance to shine. As an eighth grader, this is his final year to compete, and last year, his team lost to Maplewood Middle School. The Maplewood captain goes to the same church as Ethan, so he sees him every week. Ethan’s been daydreaming about winning this year, but at the first meeting, his team’s faculty advisor brings some kids with her who aren’t strong readers. “This will be a great opportunity for them!” she says.  Ethan knows he’ll never win with those kids on his team.

 That has everything a plot needs to begin:  a character, a concrete want that we’ll measure progress on (the championship), an abstract want that makes us care (wanting to feel valued and special for his own talents), and an obstacle (challenging teammates) to create tension.

 AssignmentCreate a character. If you don’t connect with the first character you receive, try again. Or use a character you’ve already created–though it might be easier to practice first with someone you aren’t as invested in.

In the comments, post a quick description of your character and your favorite plot statement or summary.  If you get stuck or want help brainstorming, post as far as you get, and I’ll ask questions that’ll help you finish it.  I’m excited to meet your characters and read your ideas!

(And on Wednesday, I’ll give tips on: starting your story, increasing tension, and paying it off). 

Teachers Write! 8/3 – Friday Writing Happy Hour

You’ve almost made it – just one week of our Summer Teachers Write Camp to go! How’s it going?

Friday Writing Happy Hour is a chance to relax and share comments about our progress, goals, accomplishments, and whatever else is on your mind.  And if you’d like feedback on a snippet of writing, head on over to Gae Polisner’s blog for Friday Feedback, where you can share a few paragraphs of your work and offer feedback to others, too.

Oh! And we have another book giveaway. Caroline Rose Starr is giving away a copy of her gorgeous historical novel-in-verse MAY B.

Just leave a comment by 11:30pm EST Saturday to be entered in the drawing, and I’ll announce the winner on Monday.

I’ll be MIA from comments again today because I’m at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles (whee!) but I’ll check in when I can. In the mean time, talk amongst yourselves & have a great weekend!

Remember to check in at Jen’s Teach Mentor Texts blog on Sunday.  I’ll see you back here Monday morning!