Many Ways to Tell a Story: How Authors Choose a Narrative Voice

One of the things I love about the world of children’s writing is how passionate people are about their opinions and how excited most of us are to engage in lively, thoughtful discussions of craft. One of those conversations got started this week when a blogger at School Library Journal said this:

“While present tense will probably have no bearing on whether a book receives Newbery consideration, it is nevertheless bad writing, and 90% of the writers who use it can’t pull it off.”   ~Jonathan Hunt

He went on to list all the no-good, very-bad things about books written in present tense, especially first person present tense.

Now, if you’re not an English teacher or a writer or a particularly detail oriented reader, you probably don’t think about this when you’re reading. Most of us don’t pause mid-chapter to say, “By golly…this is first person present tense narration!” In fact, if the story is written well, we usually don’t notice at all.  If you’re not the sort of person who pays attention to such things, here’s a quick overview.

First person means a character in the story is telling the story, either in past or present tense.

1st person past: I leaned over to pet the dolphin, and it chomped down on my hand.*
1st person present: I lean over to pet the dolphin, and it chomps down on my hand.
 

Third person means an outside narrator is telling the story. So…

3rd person past: She leaned over to pet the dolphin, and it chomped down on her hand.
3rd person present: She leans over to pet the dolphin, and it chomps down on her hand.
 
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*Yes, this happened. It was a lapse in judgement.
 

Anyway… there’s also the question of whether third person narration is omniscient (with a sort of  eye-in-the-sky storyteller, who knows everything and can see inside all the characters’ heads) or limited (where the story is in third person but you still experience it from a particular character’s point of view & don’t know what the others are thinking). And there’s also second person, but those are topics for another day.

Authors have lots of different reasons for choosing the narrative voice for a particular book. One story might work best in third person past tense, with an omniscient narrator, while another might be better told in first person. I tend to agree with Mr. Hunt that first person present tense, done poorly, can be particularly grating to a reader’s sensibilities.  But I also think it can be a powerful narrative voice in the hands of a talented writer. Here are just a few examples, some of which you’ve probably seen on awards and bestseller lists.

 

 

I asked Facebook friends to share some thoughts on first person, present tense point of view, and I think their responses offer a great, diverse, and thoughtful perspective on this topic.

When does first person present tense work well, and why might an author choose it? And what are some of your favorite books using this narrative voice?

WINTERGIRLS, I think. Everything is so heightened in that book, everything is about life in that exact moment just as the character perceives it. The character herself is really stripped of perspective, stripped of everything besides her present. I also think it’s simply necessary sometimes, in books so much about growth and change–narration that takes place AFTER the moment of realization and change can create some distance between narrator and subject, giving the narrator wisdom the character does not have, and thus depriving the reader of the chance to really experience that change with the reader. There’s so much artistry in first person present–you can use every aspect of the telling of the story to help convey the energy of the character journey.  

~Anne Ursu, author of BREADCRUMBS and THE REAL BOY

 

I had written Chained in the past tense at first, & Patricia Lee Gauch said during a critique at Chautauqua, “Something’s telling me you should write this in the present tense.” I tried it and it felt right, so switched it to a present tense novel. I think it offers a feeling of traveling in real time along with the characters.    

~Lynne Kelly Hoenig, author of CHAINED

 

I often choose first-person because that voice helps me to more effectively make an emotional connection with my reader, and I see that as a vital element of my work.   

~Nikki Grimes, author of PLANET MIDDLE SCHOOL and WORDS WITH WINGS

 

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. It HAS to be in first person present tense or the whole thing would fall apart. There is the story that Georges is telling us — the story he is telling himself — and then there is the whole truth. The story is of him learning/admitting the truth, and told in the past tense it would lose all of its power. Well, not all of it’s power, because Rebecca Stead is amazing.

~Megan Frazer Blakemore, author of THE WATER CASTLE and THE SPYCATCHERS OF MAPLE HILL

 

HUNGER GAMES. That trilogy would instantly lose half its intensity if it were written in third person, so we weren’t so immediately in Katniss’s head and experiences, or if it were in past tense, which would mean that the action is over and completed and Katniss survived it all to tell it from a place of safety. First person present can be overused for sure, and used badly, but in it, we do not know what’s going to happen to our viewpoint character because s/he doesn’t know him/herself, and if you’re invested in the character, that is close to the highest-tension place you can be as a reader.

~Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Scholastic

 

In Jessica Spotswood’s excellent Cahill Witch Chronicles (starting with BORN WICKED), the present-tense narration works especially well to help readers experience the narrator’s relationships with her two sisters. If the books were written in past tense, the narrator would have more time to reflect and reconsider her powerful and not always kind reactions, and we’d lose a lot of the emotional intensity and honesty that forms the heart of the story. Additionally, a lot of tension in the series comes from the fact that we know one of the sisters (perhaps the narrator) is going to die, but neither we nor the narrator know which sister it will be. This tension can really only exist in a story told in the present tense.

~Caroline Carlson, author of THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES books

 

 I’m currently finishing up a middle-grade present tense book. I think it works in particular circumstances (and I’ve definitely used it before). In this case, the protagonist is stuck in an emergency situation for a period of 48 hours, so the present tense is for her present emergency, but during the crisis, she spends a lot of time in flashbacks. The use of present tense vs. past tense I think really anchors the story and differentiates the two layers, while also allowing me to heighten the urgency of the crisis.

~Karen Rivers, author of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ME

 

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart. This story told from any other POV would not have had as much of an impact on me. Finding out what happens at the same time as Cadence was heart rending. I was an emotional wreck while reading it, and sad for days after.

~Wendy Watts Scalfaro, teacher-writer

 

 Nora and I just read Lions of Little Rock and The One and Only Ivan. If I recall, both were written in 1st person present. We loved both. We’re not critics of writing ability, but the tense used did not change how we enjoyed the stories. In fact, it wasn’t until I read your post that I even considered what tense the authors used.

~Art Graves, bookseller & dad

 

It’s often used in verse, and may particularly help explore layers of time when the subject is history. I agree with others re the sense of immediacy, which may be partly why Jacqueline Woodson chose it for brown girl dreaming and Marilyn Nelson for Carver and how i discovered poetry, inviting readers to be part of a particular time, looking back and ahead.

~Jeannine Atkins, author of BORROWED NAMES:POEMS ABOUT LAURA INGALLS WILDER, MADAM C.J. WALKER, MARIE CURIE, AND THEIR DAUGHTERS

 

 I used it in Trauma Queen, which is about a tween girl’s terror of being mortified, at any given moment, by her performance artist mom. The first person present tense helped me convey a “Oh no–what will she do next?” urgency. I think it helped put the reader in my protagonist’s (often uncomfortable) shoes.

~Barbara Dee, author of TRAUMA QUEEN

 

I chose first person present tense for THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL because it felt right for this particular book. My novel is set in the 1920′s and about a subject that modern American kids would know little about: tuberculosis. My hope is that by making the choices that I did, it pulls the reader in close and the immediacy erases the nearly one hundred year time gap from 1922 until today.

~Shannon Hitchcock, author of THE BALLAD OF JESSIE PEARL

 

We used it in the Sugar Plum Ballerina chapter books. I think it gives the books an immediacy that helps hook younger readers. As Barbara Dee said above, it seems to me to increase urgency.

~Deborah Underwood, author of THE QUIET BOOK and HERE COMES THE EASTER CAT

 

 My first two novels were in first/present and my next ones are in first/past. For my first book, Rules, present tense is just the way the words came. I didn’t even think about it. Kids often say about Rules that they felt like they were there with Catherine experiencing the story, not reading it. Both tenses have pluses and minuses, though. It’s more awkward to deal with the passage of time in present, since everything is “now.” Past can have more of a storytelling feel, but that also adds some distance. Readers do have preferences, but that doesn’t mean other choices aren’t valid. There are many ways to tell a story.

~Cynthia Lord, author of RULES, TOUCH BLUE, and HALF A CHANCE

 

I’m ending this post with Cindy’s comment because I love her last line.

There are many ways to tell a story.

I am always wary of writing advice presented in black and white terms. Stories are more complicated than that, and writing them requires a spirit of openness and exploration.  Good writers – whether they’re students or professionals – have always made choices about narrative voice thoughtfully, based on story, characters, and craft. No one’s personal preference presented as fact on a blog post should change that.

For more on craft and narrative voice, you should also check out Linda Urban’s brilliant blog post about points of view. It’s another thoughtful exploration of how and why an author makes that decision about voice.

Feel free to continue the conversation in comments – respectful, thoughtful discourse is always welcome here.

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Celebrating Read In Week October 6-10

A number of schools have contacted me lately, asking if I can Skype in to read a story for Read-In Week October 6-10.  This seems to be a Canadian sort of holiday, I discovered, but I’m all for reading aloud and would vote to make it a world-wide affair.

But because I’m working on THREE new books right now (yay!) I can’t add any more days to my Skype visit schedule this fall. I’d love to visit all of your classrooms, though, so I’ve put together a video to celebrate READ-IN Week with everyone. It’s about six and a half minutes long…a quick hello at the beginning, and then I share a few books I’ve been reading lately and finally, wrap up with a read-aloud of OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW. Enjoy!

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Seasons of Reading

I spent much of the summer working on book 3 of my Ranger in Time series with Scholastic and another project, so most of my reading was research related – slave narratives and other documents from the mid-19th century. But I did manage to sneak in some other great books, too.

Does anyone else have “reading seasons?” Most of my reading life centers around children’s books, from picture books to middle grade and YA novels and nonfiction. But in the summer months, I tend to drift toward books that were written for adults.  My favorites this summer were THE MAGICIAN’S LAND and EDIBLE.

 

THE MAGICIAN’S LAND is the third in a trilogy from Lev Grossman. Aside from my passion for all things Harry Potter, I’m not much of a fantasy reader, but these books enchanted me from the beginning. The main character gets whisked off to a university for magicians in the first book (he thought he was interviewing for Princeton, but whatever) and that university, Brakebills, has all of the charm and wonder of Hogwarts mixed with the more jaded world view of those who have just entered adulthood. There’s a magical land as well, along with all the wondrous, frightful creatures one would hope to find there, plenty of heroic quests, and an exploration of the darker side of magic, ambition, and power, too. I loved visiting this world again, and I’m sad that the last book is over. If you’re a grownup fan of Hogwarts or Narnia, don’t miss these books. (Note: they are not for kids, but some older HS readers will love them.)

 

EDIBLE : AN ADVENTURE INTO THE WORLD OF EATING INSECTS AND THE LAST GREAT HOPE TO SAVE THE PLANET was probably my favorite book of the summer. I was reading it on the deck one day when my son walked by, looked at the cover, and got a terribly concerned look on his face. “Dad…did you see what Mom’s reading?” For days, the family looked more carefully at their dinner plates. Because yes…this really is a book about eating bugs. They’re full of protein and commonly eaten in cultures where it isn’t socially weird to do so, and they’re far more sustainable to raise than cows or pigs. What’s not to love? In friendly, fascinating narration, the author, budding entomophagist Daniella Martin, takes us along on her journey to explore insects as food – from a food truck in San Francisco to an Asian night market to a high-end Scandinavian restaurant. What would it take to get us to accept insects as a food source? I found this to be an intriguing question, and I’ve been looking at the grasshoppers in my garden a little differently ever since.

 

Now summer is over, and I’m wandering back toward my cooler weather reading habits. These two are up next on my book pile…

What about you?  What were your favorite books of the summer, and what’s on your radar for fall?

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Up, Down, Over, and Under – Book news!

Thanks to everyone who bought, shared, and spread the word about our picture book OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, illustrator Christopher Silas Neal and I are collaborating on two companion books that will be coming out over the next few years.

We’ve been working on the first of those for a while now, and the cover is ready to share today!

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UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT comes out this spring. It explores the magical, growing world of a garden, from the point of view of a child and grandmother toiling up in the garden, as the earthworms, beetles, and ants do their own work, down in the dirt.

And Chronicle just signed up another companion book that explores the interconnected ecosystem of an Adirondack pond, as a parent and child set out on a morning kayak trip. OVER AND UNDER THE POND is in its early stages, which means lots of research, both the reading kind and the exploring, outdoorsy kind.

One more piece of up/down/over/under news… OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW will be available to even more families soon, since it comes out in paperback next month.

Many, many thanks to everyone who’s been buying this book, signing it out of the library, and sharing it with readers since it first came out three years ago.  I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to research and write with this same sense of wonder, and I’m extra-thrilled to be making two more books with Chronicle and Chris Silas Neal.

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Teachers Write 7.15.14 A Friday Farewell (but just for now)

Congratulations!  Today we’re wrapping up six weeks of writing with all of our Teachers Write colleagues, and whether you’ve been sharing daily or writing quietly and lurking, the fact that you took time – no, made time – to be a teacher of writing who writes is something to celebrate.

It’s been amazing to read your stories and explorations and reflections, and it’s been a joy to see this writing community blossom into an even stronger one. I hope you’ll keep and nourish those friendships and connections as you turn your attention to a new school year. Before you do, though, I want to answer a few questions that have been floating around.

Hey…I want to use one of our summer writing prompts in my classroom.  Will it still be on the blog in October/January/March?

Yes! All of our Teachers Write posts live online, so if you bookmark a post to use with your students later on, you can be assured it will still be there when you go looking for it.

What happens with Teachers Write now? Do we keep writing during the school year?

Yes! You should most definitely keep writing, and you can always connect via our Teachers Write Facebook group. We don’t run Teachers Write as an official daily camp during the school year like we do for these summer weeks, but you can revisit any of the summer prompts at any time.

And this winter, you’ll have a great new tool for writing independently or starting your own teachers’ writing group in your schools and districts. 59 REASONS TO WRITE: MINI-LESSONS, PROMPTS, AND INSPIRATION FOR TEACHERS is my new book with Stenhouse – a collection of all the best writing lessons & prompts from our first two summers of Teachers Write.

59 Reasons to Write cover

I am so excited about this book – and really hopeful that those of you who have loved Teachers Write will use it to lead professional development in your own schools and districts, because teachers and librarians who write aren’t just mentors for their students. You have the power to change the culture of your schools and to create vibrant, supportive writing communities all over the world. I hope this book helps you do that. (And if it does, please come back here and tell us about it, okay?) 59 REASONS TO WRITE will be available by late November – I think I’ll be signing at NCTE, so if you’re there, please come say hi!

You’re still doing Teachers Write next summer, right?

Of course! We’ll be back in July of 2015. I think it would be great if you all launched writing groups in your own schools this year & then brought all your new pals back here to introduce us next summer. Do that, okay? :-)

Hey…weren’t we supposed to buy some books to support the authors who organized & contributed to this summer’s program?

Why, yes! Thanks for reminding everyone about that. As you know, Teachers Write is a totally free program, even though similar online writing courses can cost upwards of $500. To help keep it that way, to say thanks to the folks donating time to make this happen, and to make sure we have enthusiastic author volunteers for future summer camps, we’re asking you to buy some books – one book from each of our main author-organizers below, and at least one book from a guest author of your choice.  This is a total honor-system thing…but it’s important to support programs that you believe in, even when they’re free. If I had to guess, based on the sales numbers we see, maybe a quarter of you have already done this. Thank you!! If you haven’t, please consider buying or pre-ordering some books from your local bookstore this week. Authors & some suggested books are listed below.

Teachers Write Author-Organizers

Kate Messner

For MG/teen readers – MANHUNT, EYE OF THE STORM, or pre-order ALL THE ANSWERS

For chapter book readers – MARTY MCGUIRE HAS TOO MANY PETS or pre-order RANGER IN TIME

For picture book readers – OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW or SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY

Gae Polisner

For teen readers – THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO or THE PULL OF GRAVITY

Jo Knowles

For MG/teen readers – SEE YOU AT HARRY’S

For teen readers – JUMPING OFF SWINGS, LIVING WITH JACKIE CHAN, or pre-order READ BETWEEN THE LINES

 

Teachers Write Guest Authors for Summer 2014 (click to see websites/books)

Nora Baskin

Cynthia Lord

Donna Gephart

Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Megan Frazer Blakemore

Jeannine Atkins

Diane Zahler

Kathryn Erskine

Sarah Darer Littman

Donalyn Miller

David Lubar

Jody Feldman

Anne Marie Pace

Varian Johnson

Kat Yeh

Lola Schaefer

Kim Norman

Nikki Grimes

Sarah Albee

Erin Dealey

Erin Dionne

Phil Bildner

The folks on this list are not only amazing, generous humans but talented writers, too. Check out their work, and please introduce their books to your students.

And with that…Teachers Write Summer Camp 2014 is a wrap! Gae is over at Friday Feedback, so don’t forget to stop by for one last critique session. And remember that if you have questions or want to talk writing, we’re always around. Follow us on Twitter (@katemessner, @gaepol, @joknowles, @mentortext) or find us on Facebook via the Teachers Write group. And please look for us at NCTE in November if you’re there – there is nothing better than meeting Teachers Write campers in person!

Have a great 2014-2015 school year, everyone, and again…thanks so much for including us in your summer writing journey. It’s been a joy and an honor to work with you, write beside you, and call you friends.

xo

~Kate

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Teachers Write 8.14 Thursday Quick-Write

It’s the second-to-last day of camp. I think that calls for a bonfire and some s’mores…

I’m revisiting my wrap-up writing post from Teachers Write 2012 for this final writing prompt of the summer – and that’s not just because I’m busy eating s’mores and getting a boy ready to go to college. It’s because I believe in the power of reflection.

You all showed up here in July – some of you veterans, some of you brand new to Teachers Write and even new to the idea of putting words on paper and sharing them. And it’s been an amazing summer of learning and writing. You’ve written bravely and shared with joy and fear and courage and all the other emotions that go along with opening up a bit of yourself to friends and strangers who are being brave, too. You’ve made me smile and laugh and cry sometimes, too, in all the best ways, and I am so proud of you.

So here’s one last assignment…

(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 July 5th, 2014…right before you begin 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 the letter I wrote to my back-in-time self after our first summer of Teachers Write…

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

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 2014 post and news about what comes next.

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Teachers Write 8/13/14 – Q and A Wednesday

It’s time for our last Q and A Day Wednesday of the summer. Our official guest-author-answerer today is Erin Dionne, but I’m guessing we’ll have a few other summer mentors stopping by, too.

Teachers & librarians – Feel free to ask your questions in the comments.  It’s fine to ask a general question or to direct one directly to a specific guest author. Our published author guests have volunteered to drop in and respond when they can.

Guest authors – Even if today isn’t a day you specifically signed up to help out, feel free to answer any questions you’d like to talk about.  Just reply directly to the comment.

Note from Kate: I’ll be around today, too.  Got questions? Fire away!

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Teachers Write 8/12/14 – Tuesday Quick-Write

Today’s Tuesday Quick-Write is from guest author Phil Bildner. Phil is the author of the New York Times bestselling Sluggers! series, the Texas Bluebonnet Award-winning Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy and its companion, The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, both illustrated by C. F. Payne; and Twenty-One Elephants, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. His latest picture book is The Soccer Fence.

Phil’s Quick Write for today reminded me of this clip from DEAD POETS SOCIETY.

 

Inspired? Here’s Phil with your prompt for this Tuesday:

Sometimes we need to take a fresh look at the things we see everyday, look at our world from a slightly different perspective. Go to the place where you usually write. Now instead of sitting in your chair, stand on it. Or get a step stool or small ladder. Stand on that and look around at the things you see everyday. Suddenly, things look a whole lot different. Write about what you see differently from up here.

Feel free to share a bit of your response in the comments!

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Teachers Write 8/11/14 – Mini-Lesson Monday

Good morning! Can you believe we’re starting our final week of Teachers Write 2014? It’s been so amazing reading your work, watching you share and connect and grow. I know you’re all getting ready for a new school year and so hope that you’ll bring that energy and joy into your classrooms, too.

Today’s Monday Mini-Lesson is courtesy of guest author Erin Dionne.

Erin is the author of five tween novels, including the Edgar Award nominated Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking (Dial Books, 2013). Her most recent novel is Moxie’s companion, Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting (Dial 2014). She lives outside of Boston and loves to talk to readers and writers. Today, she’s joining us to talk about what happens after your draft is complete.

Revision Strategies

Yay! You’ve made it through camp! Congratulations. Hopefully you are now the proud owner of a beginning, or a middle, or an end. Or a lot of beginnings and new ideas.

Now it’s time to look at the approaches to revising that beautiful, messy, something you’ve created. I’m not a fan of drafting, but I LOVE revision. That’s where we get into the thick of our stories and make them better. So here are 5 revision strategies to make your work shine:

1. Identify the heart of your story. What is this piece REALLY about? What is the big idea that you are exploring? Is it family dynamics? Self-expression? Growth? Whatever is at the heart of your story, look for places where you can develop that idea more strongly. That might mean cutting scenes, or characters, or plot lines. That’s ok.

2. Evaluate your scenes. Does each scene serve a purpose in the story? Is it revealing information, moving the plot along, or causing a conflict? If you can’t identify what purpose that scene is serving, chances are you don’t need it. Trim it or change it to work to move your story along.

3. Check your beginnings and endings. Are your first and last lines as strong as you can make them? Does your beginning hook the reader? Does the end hang on a cliffhanger? Or is it satisfying? Work on the beginning and ending of your piece until it is as strong as you can make it, then do the same for the opening and ending of each scene.

4. Get out of your characters’ way. Look for words that slow down the pace of your story or remove your reader from your character’s experience. Words like “I watched”/”I heard”/”I realized” can be trimmed and the resultant action will bring your reader closer to your character. (For example: “I watched her close the door,” becomes “She closed the door.” More active, and still from your main character’s point of view)

5. Get word smithy. Look for repeated phrases, areas where you’ve over-written (that long description of your main character’s sister’s outfit?), and unnecessary adverbs (most -ly words are unnecessary). Delete them. Look for flat writing: “he jumped over the log” and make it vibrant: “He leapt over the log.” Look for places where you can add sensory detail.

Today’s Assignment

When you are ready, go through this list and apply each step to your piece. Then do it again. And again. The more you revise, the stronger your work will be! Let me know in the comments how your piece might change from revision.

If you’d like to share some reflections on your revision goals, feel free to chat about that in the comments!

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Teachers Write 8/7/14 – Thursday Quick-Write

Good morning! Guest author Erin Dealey joins us for today’s Thursday Quick-Write. Erin writes wonderfully fun picture books for young readers, including GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX and DECK THE WALLS: A WACKY CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Let It go

Congratulations! You’re already five weeks into TEACHERS WRITE! I applaud you for taking the time for YOURSELVES this summer. Your students will notice the difference, believe me. As a teacher, I know that the minute I started writing for myself, I began to look at every writing assignment I gave my students with new eyes, and a renewed passion. But we’re not done yet!

After Monday’s work on dialog, you’ve no doubt gotten to know your characters better, but I’m betting they’re hiding something from you. Today’s Quick-write is designed for you to put a finger on that missing piece… Characters have layers. Here’s a way to dig deeper.

Before you write: Take a moment to get into your main character’s head–or that of a supporting character you’ve been avoiding… You can do this by closing your eyes and visualizing the character or reading a key scene you’ve written about him/her. Is your MC hiding important feelings? Covering for a friend? Too shy to verbalize something that’s been bugging him/her? (Are you afraid of letting the MC change the course of your outline or story? Have you been so worried about proper punctuation and grammar you’ve stifled your character’s voice?)

For the next two minutes, try this quick-write as if your character is writing it.

Begin with this sentence: I’ve sort of been afraid to tell you this, but……

WARNING: Do NOT let the teacher in you OR the obsessive-editor-in-your-head hijack this assignment. : ) See what shows up on the page. Not all books are grammatically correct. When I first started writing I thought I had an obligation to my students to set a good example! What would have happened to e.e. cummings if he’d let his “editor-hat” take over his poems?

LET IT GO!!!!!!! Feel free to share your final paragraph in the comments if you’d like!

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