Teachers Write! 6/18 Mini-Lesson Monday!

Hi there! Did you have a good weekend?  I hope so! Before we get down to writing today, let’s announce the winner of our Friday book giveaway!

 Congratulations, Gayle Kolodny Cole!  You’ve won a signed copy of SEE YOU AT HARRY’S by Jo Knowles. Email me your name and address (kmessner at kate messner dot com) to receive your book.  And Jo’s Monday Morning Warm-Up for the day is here!

Today’s Mini-Lesson Monday post features two guest authors — Jody Feldman and Rosanne Parry — who are going to talk about how and where to get ideas for writing projects. So it’s a choose-your-own assignment week; feel free to work on the assignment that resonates most with you, or combine ideas from both to generate some ideas this week.

Jody Feldman blames her 7th grade English teacher (justly or not) for turning her away from writing, yet the world mysteriously led her back. She is the author of The Seventh Level and The Gollywhopper Games. Coming: Gollywhopper 2 & 3 (HarperCollins/Greenwillow). You can find her at www.jodyfeldman.com and she’s @jodyfeldman on Twitter.

MINING IDEAS FROM THIN AIR

When I was a kid, I originally concluded I was incapable of Important Thoughts. Being naturally competitive, though, I didn’t let my internal conversation stop there. I learned how to mine ideas from what often seems to be thin air.
 
Because it’s as simple (and as difficult) as opening your eyes and ears and instincts, and consciously noting what’s happening both around you and inside your mind, I offer four suggestions – practices I’ve integrated into my everyday life.
 
1. Extend your dreams. Even if it means setting your alarm several minutes early, lie in bed and hold on to that semi-sleep state. Grab an image from your mind. Assign it to a character. See what new ideas evolve while you’re still hazy.
 
2. Reading a new book? Pause right in the middle of the story. How would you end it? Is your ending satisfying? Dig deeper. Think of another road to travel. Is your ending different? Try building a separate story around it.
 
3. Go to a public place. Observe. Watch that guy use a tissue after he sneezes. Imagine, instead, if he wiped his nose on his sleeve. On his bare arm. On a napkin from his lunchmate’s tray. What if he sneezed out fire? Or was propelled upward? Let your mind run with the possibilities.
 
4. Get in touch with your mini adrenaline rushes. What makes your ears perk? What raises your creative antennae? Go to any bookshelf and look at the titles. Which words stir your insides, have you wondering about the story? Visit any museum – art, history, science. What objects stop you? Make you take a second look? Follow those thoughts.

Today: Get inspired by a single word.

Assignment: Go to the random noun generator: http://www.wordgenerator.net/noun-generator.php
The first word that pops up is yours for the day. You have two choices:

  • Brainstorm:Generate a full page of plot ideas with that noun at the center of yourthoughts. Need a boost? Add in a second word.
  • Dive in: Let your noun kickstart a piece of writing. The word generator, for example, gave me expansion. My first, raw thought:

Whenever Parker caught sight of the Four Springs Expansion Bridge, he always gasped a little.

          Funny.  Now I want to know why.

Speaking of expansion, for an expanded version of this mini-lesson, email me, jody@jodyfeldman.com

———————–

Guest author Rosanne Parry’s titles include SECOND FIDDLE, HEART OF A SHEPHERD, and DADDY’S HOME. Rosanne was born in Oak Park, IL and lived just a mile or so from the childhood home of an author named Ernest Hemingway. I moved away from Oak Park when she was five and grew up in Portland, Oregon, where she lives now. When she’s not writing, she likes to play the violin. She can also juggle, and is learning to tango, but cannot throw a frisbee to save her life.

STORY HUNTING

Thanks Kate for the invitation to join summer writing camp! I’ve been eagerly following along as my deadlines allow and enjoying the conversation immensely. It makes me miss teaching full time.

But here’s what I don’t miss—giving a writing assignment and hearing a high-pitched wail from the back of the room, “But I can’t think of anything to write!!!”  The distress that accompanies the lament is absolutely genuine, but it can take a lot of teacher energy to get that doubting writing to give his or her story a try.  But to be fair, most adult writers do quite a lot of (hopefully internal) wailing before choosing a setting, characters, and plot for a new story.  Part of the answer lies in believing you have good ideas. I do a workshop for kids called Story Hunting to help them generate a bank of story ideas to draw on. This is a variation of that workshop geared more for adult writers of fiction and memoir.

The idea is to generate a bank of story ideas to draw on in future writing projects, so don’t worry about having a story in mind for everything on the list. Generate the list and then let it spark story ideas over time. The important thing is to generate more ideas in the bank than you will ever use. It takes the pressure off because you aren’t looking for one perfect idea, just a whole bunch of ones that are personally appealing and can be combined in ways that make for a story only you can tell. Pull out a pencil and find a blank page in your journal. If you don’t get to ten ideas in a category, leave yourself some space and come back to it in a few days. If you’re on a roll, you are more than welcome to go beyond ten.

Setting Bank

1. List ten places that you have lived in your lifetime. It need not be 10 different towns. Different places in one town are fine. Summer camp, visits to grandma, college dorm, basic training—they all count as places you’ve lived

2. List ten places to which you feel a strong emotional connection. The emotion can be positive or negative. Either is powerful. (it’s okay to have repeats in the bank. That can tell you something useful about where your heart lives.)

3. List ten places you’ve visited on vacation or places you’d love to visit in your lifetime were money and time no object.

4. List ten places from which your ancestors or in-laws come.

5. List ten books or movies that have settings you’ve found particularly captivating. (you may want to include a brief note about what attracted you to the setting.)

 Here is your “bank” of 50 setting seeds which are likely to be fruitful in your own writing. Use them as a jumping off place for deciding where to set your next story. For example, I listed Paris under #2 and #3 so I made it the setting for part of Second Fiddle. The combination of emotional connection and first hand experience made it easy to write about with both warmth and realism.

Character Bank

6. List ten jobs whether paying or volunteer that you’ve done in your life.

7. List ten famous people, historical or contemporary, that you would love to share a meal with.

8. List ten ethnicities, religions, tribes, cultural groups, gender or sexual orientations, or political philosophies that are represented in your extended family.

9. List ten people who can make you laugh.

10. Complete this sentence ten times. “I’ve always wanted to _____ like ____________. For example, Dance like Gene Kelley.

Here is your bank of 50 character seeds. None of them is a fully developed character but used in combination, they can help you develop a rich and complex character that is likely to resonate with you. For example, I have always wanted to be able to rope a calf from horseback like my college roommate could. And many years ago I met a Quaker midwife who told me that once during a particularly difficult labor and delivery she had a vision of the Virgin Mary helping her. She didn’t convert to Catholicism or anything, but she did gain an insight into a religious experience that had previously felt very foreign to her. I drew on my friendship with a ranch girl and this intriguing blend of Quaker and Catholic experience to craft the characters in Heart of a Shepherd.

 Thanks, Rosanne and Jody, for these GREAT ideas to generate more ideas!!

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132 Comments

  1. Posted June 18, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    I used the noun generator and got “damage.”

    The storm had ripped through much of Howard’s yard, scattering piles of leaves and his children’s toys and other items that he would have long forgotten existed if they had not been scattered by the powerful wind that had come suddenly out of the north that afternoon. As Howard surveyed the damage, he thought about how fickle nature was. Across the street, his neighbor’s house had a tree limb sticking through the front window. Next door, to the left, the Wilson’s house was untouched. He sensed more than heard his wife, no doubt standing in the door frame, watching him. He thought about how just hours before, the two of them had sat quietly on the couch, caught up in tears and rage and frustration and how her packed suitcases had shaken him to the core. The storm that had come had driven them deep into the house, into their younger daughter’s bedroom closet where Howard had sat with his wife, huddled amid fairy dresses and ballet shoes left behind when college called. They had clutched each other when the wind roared and the foundation shook, and he realized in that moment that they clutched each other how much she meant to him. But he couldn’t find the words. He never could. He now took a breath and looked back at his wife. She looked sad now, even frightened a bit, as if her decision to finally leave had brought on this storm and all of its damages. Howard began thinking of how he could clean it up — all if it. He smiled at her, remembering their embrace in the closet. She didn’t smile back, however, and instead, she turned back into the house, and shut the door with a loud bang.

    –Kevin

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      This is wonderful, Kevin. I like the connection between the storm and their conflicting emotional states. I especially liked your ending.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      Wow Kevin! That was so compact yet there was so much there. Like Diane I liked how the storm corresponded to their emotional state or how the wife’s emotions seemed like they could have even brought the storm to them. The ending really caught me. It was honest, true and didn’t wrap it into a neat package – one person realizes the loss but the other is still engaged in the hurt. Amazing how one little word brought up that short story.

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        I also thought this description seemed true to life. Just wanted to add that!

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      This is great, Kevin! I love how you used ‘damage’ in both physical and emotional terms. Very powerful.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      I love the irony of this destructive storm giving him hope -and then that hope ultimately being a false one. It’s like the wind changed directions. It’s funny, isn’t it, how one word can conjure so many things?

      • Posted June 19, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

        I love how that idea of a single word can spark the creative element of the brain. I didn’t know what direction I was going when I wrote the first line, but it started coming together when I “saw” the character, the aftermath of the storm, and most importantly: his wife, standing there in the doorway.
        Thanks to everyone for the kind words.
        Kevin

  2. Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    I love these ideas – thank you! Our local National Writing Project site, the Northern Virginia Writing Project, has a fantastic presenter, Vic Kryston, who does what he calls ‘Stepping Stones’ in which you write the 10 most important events that have changed the course of your life, beginning with “I was born.” (The kids like that one because it’s a freebie!) What is so interesting to me is that the list changes! Of course, the biggies like marriage, children, etc. remain the same but the others may change depending on where you are in your life.I think the seed list might change over time as well. Today, Africa kept coming up for me – a place I’ve never been. I’ve always wanted to teach there, though, so maybe that pull is growing stronger…

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      I find my story hunting bank changes over time too. I haven’t done one in a while and I just sent my 3rd novel off to copy editing so I’m going to do this later today. It’s a good way to check in with what is important to me at a particular time. I’m amazed at how often the interests of my children become important subjects in my own writing.

      Love the idea of using a random word generator, Jody! Once when I was between projects I wrote a character sketch a day for 30 days–just a few hundred words like Kevin did in the first comment. Then I went back and followed up with the 3 or 4 characters that really caught my eye and tried to match them with a setting and a story worthy problem. That seed evolved into my current work in progress.

    • Susan
      Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      I’ve also completed this workshop with Vic, and I always recommend it. It is interesting how your list changes over time. I always complete this activity with my students in the fall before beginning an autobiography project, and I like to compare my list from year to year. Some items continuously appear while others vary from year to year.

  3. Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    My generated words were “chair” and “lizard”.

    Jahkari would plop himself down in my chair at the checkout station as soon as he came into the library.

    “You’re not supposed to be behind the counter, Jahkari, you know that,” I said.

    “But it’s my favorite chair.” I didn’t have a ready answer for that. I let him twirl the chair in circles, swing his legs, star at the computer with his half smile. I thought that he’d been abused, which accounted for the month or so he’d been gone from school. He mentioned his mom’s boyfriend in passing and how something horrible had happened to this guy’s hands and how he was in jail now. Whatever happened was so awful, he didn’t want to think about it or it would make him cry, he said. I let him get away with a lot.
    He was really smart, but when he’d come into the library and say he was bored, there was nothing I could do that would snap him out of it. It wasn’t until I showed him the book on lizards that I saw a change in him. He became obsessed with lizards. He read ten library books on the reptiles, cover to cover. I didn’t want to hear that “b” word again, so I bought a cage, food and a multi-colored lizard–I kept it right in the library. He named it Jahkari Junior. He took care of Junior like the lizard was his baby, feeding it every day, cleaning the cage, hugging him when he didn’t seem to want any hugs at all.

    Last Thursday, I got laid off. This was my third lay off from the same position. The other two times I was reinstated, but I knew this time would be different. On the last day of school, I put Junior and his food in a big box. Jahkari and I carried him out to their new car—the only car they had ever had. I gave him one last hug before they drove away. He never looked back to wave, he was too busy tending to Junior.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      I don’t know if this is fictional, but it feels as true as history. I’m not sure if this is a beginning, an end, or a stand-alone. I’ll take it as a stand-alone memoir and say that I can feel your librarian’s heart in every word: not expending unnecessary emotion, matter-of-fact, and deeply caring.

      I can see Jahkari’s face, his unexpected smile, and his tangible connection with Junior. Every teacher or librarian who reads this will immediately be taken back to their own “Jahkari” experience.

      Thanks for this piece!

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Jessica! There is a Jahkari and his favorite chair, but no lizard, made the rest up. Except for the lay off. Last day tomorrow in this library.

        • Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

          Oh NO! My heart is breaking for you! Any chance of a reprieve in the near future?

          • Posted June 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

            It’s sort of better than it sounds. I also teach art half-time, and because of the lay off, the principal offered a full-time art teaching position. Also got an offer from a different school district for full-time library, so it’s going to be fine. Just sad to leave THIS library! But thanks for your concern!! Sick of being laid off three times in a row, though!!!

            • Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

              I am sad you’re leaving your library but glad you’ll still be working with kids. I loved this piece, too.

            • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

              So glad to hear this has a happier ending than I’d imagined, Diane.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      This is beautiful Diane, and heart breaking too. My children’s school district had a 40 million dollar shortfall and laid off every librarian in the district. I’m so sad and angry about it. The library is the heart of the school and…well…preaching to the choir here. Thanks for sharing your work!

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      You gave me goosebumps, Diane. I love how you got brave and embraced two words … and two worlds, real and imaginary. I’ve found some of my best writing comes from that. Wishing you bravery, luck, and wonderful new adventures in whatever is to come for you next.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      “I don’t know if this is fictional, but it feels as true as history.”

      Ditto! Love what you did with your words!!

    • Posted June 22, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Just a little note if anyone is still reading this: When Jahkari was walking out the library door for the last time, I said: “Wave goodbye, Jahkari,” and he didn’t, just walked out the door and mumbled, “Ok”, but never looked back.

  4. Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Great ideas.
    I used the noun generator and go “jelly.” Here’s what I wrote, which I’ll expand and use in my WIP:
    “Patina dipped the knife into the jar of plum jelly. She scooped out a clump of purple goo and plopped the jelly onto the dry toast, spreading it to the bread’s crusty corners. She wished telling Tai about the baby were as easy as making toast and jelly. But a baby isn’t bread and the truth isn’t always as easy to spread as jelly on toast.”

    I think both the setting and character bank ideas will find their way into my classroom. The character bank will definitely help me populate my WIP, which definitely needs more minor characters.

    Thanks so much for the fabulous ideas, Jody and Rosanne.

    • Patsy Williams
      Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Glenda- I like your camparisons!

      PW

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      I really, really liked “the truth isn’t always as easy to spread as jelly on toast.” !

      Clever and added contrasted lightness to Patina’s serious thoughts.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      How smart of you to use the jelly both as a prop and as a metaphor for what Patina must be feeling. Also echoing Jessica, loved that line.

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        Jody, I have to give Jo Knowles props for the metaphor idea. Her Monday morning warm-up was about constructing metaphors, and I played w/ that idea before working w/ the noun generator.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

      I love the jelly metaphor (and I love the idea that a random word generator handed it to you!) The idea of “spreading truth” and the difficulty thereof has me thinking… you could do even more with this if you end up using it. Truth is lumpy sometimes, and sometimes it slides right off the bread, too. Messy.

  5. Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Thank you for these story seed generating ideas! I was feeling stuck this last week and this is exactly the type of activity that I needed this morning to brainstorm some ideas and pick one to work on further and then I’m going to go back to some of the ideas from last week.

    I was reflecting this morning on how I am probably feeling similar to students in that
    1) I was feeling I had no ideas that were worthy of developing into stories (feeling that I need a perfect idea – sharing can add to that pressure)
    2) I am realizing that others have some great ideas that they are writing about like mad which is intimidating
    3) I’m not noticing/wondering like a writer and tuning into the world around me
    4) It’s safe/easy to stay in a brainstorming place. Writing prompts are great but there has to be a balance between brainstorming topic ideas and selecting a topic and writing from that. You can get stuck in the former and spend all the time brainstorming and never write beyond lists and quick writes (which is where I have been lingering). I need to help students pick a topic and try things with that topic to get into the writing process more deeply and see where characters, settings, ideas take them.
    5) Ideas can come on quickly when you stop feeling things have to be perfect and pep talks can help (Gae and Jen gave me some good advice on Teaching Mentor Text yesterday). This morning I suddenly had a few ideas that aren’t perfect but I think I can at least work on with enthusiasm and interest to see where they take me (yippy!). Just happened… bam.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Dana.

      I think the myth of the Perfect Idea is a dangerous one, and I’ve wasted a lot of precious time dithering over whether my idea was strong enough. What I’ve found is that I need a story seed that holds enough interest for me personally to keep writing. It’s in the process of the writing that the right combination of ideas works its way into your story.

      As for the “my neighbor is writing faster than me issue” Boy is that a source of anxiety among professional writers! Kate and Jody and I all started publishing books around the same time and have very different sizes for our current body of work. What I’ve found helpful is a chat I had with Virginia Euwer Wolff. (She’s a neighbor here in Oregon). Jinny was a college roommate of Jane Yolen. Those gals will be 75 this year. Jinny has fewer than a dozen books to her name and Jane has published more than 300. I’m sure there were years when each one envied the other, but what a pair of inspiring women! Both successful in their own unique and wonderful way.

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        This sentence spoke to me, “It’s in the process of the writing that the right combination of ideas works its way into your story.” FASCINATING tale and perspective from your neighbor. 😉 Thank you for sharing!

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Man. Can I relate, Dana. There was a time when I truly, deeply believed I could never generate a good, sustainable idea even if my life depended on it. Thinking back, I was pushing too hard for instant perfection. I didn’t allow myself the necessary time to let a simple thought marinate and grow and morph and lead to new and better. Even now, I get impatient and need to take a deep breath and a step back.

      And yeah. Exactly what Rosanne said.

      But seriously, Rosanne? Those two were roommates? If I wrote that as fiction, no one would believe me.

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        I know I was shocked to hear of their earlier connection and having met both of them, you couldn’t find more a more different pair, yet at heart I think they are very much the same. 🙂

        And I am grateful for all I’ve learned from them. One of the very best things about being a writer is meeting other writers!

        • Posted June 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          I think one of the beautiful things about the conversations is seeing the real lives of authors both new and famous. How fascinating to hear these details about college roommates that become published authors. Jane Yolen is unbelievably prolific and writes so many different types of books. Another prolific author that I admire is Cynthia Rylant. These women are so gifted!

          • Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

            Cynthia Rylant is another Oregon author and one I admire greatly. Interesting that she has no public life as an author, no appearances, no social networking, nothing. It’s nice to see that you can have a career as a writer and not do all the promotional things if you don’t want to. She certainly turns out one brilliant book after another!

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

        My friend Sauni calls it “perfection paralysis”! When you think it has to be perfect and you can’t get a word down…

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing these thoughtful insights. I agree that “perfect” is a really dangerous word for writers who hope to get any work done.

  6. Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    The Noun Generator gave me “neighbor.” I mulled on that word for my daily walk, and came back with this 100-word story (mostly true, to my shame) that’ll show up on my blog in a day or two. http://www.1hundred-words.com
    ***
    Deb tightened her shoelaces and looked out the window to see if Sharon was on her porch. Some unfortunate hormonal condition had left Sharon weirdly whiskered and thick of speech. She always wanted Deb to stop and talk, but her eager friendliness was disconcerting.
    She sat on a holey lawn chair, looking Deb’s direction; Deb took the back door.
    ***
    She think I don’t see her peeking at me. She must think I stupid. I don’t wanna be best friends or nothing. I just wanna say hey, and nice weather, and was your mail late yesterday cause mine was. That’s all.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      We’re “neighbor” neighbors! Looks like that was either a preset on the noun-generator page or we’re all randomly lucky.

      “weirdly whiskered and thick of speech”

      I could spoon up the language and eat it like ice cream! Love the alliteration and choice to use “thick” in this way.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      Aren’t daily walks the best, Jan? They may not be where I get my ideas, but they give me the routine to open my mind and mine those ideas further. Nice work!

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

      Love the two perspectives here – Deb’s reaction makes me wonder about her character. Did she feel any guilt about blowing off her neighbor?

  7. Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    A great, tight description, Jan. I like how every word seems to count. Interesting to see the different points of view.

  8. Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Great usable ideas! Thanks Rosemary and Jody! I can’t wait to put these ideas to work for my students.

    My word was “Neighbor”. I’m choosing to quickwrite/draft the scene where my WIP’s main character, Marlon Grunt, meets his neighbors in the trailer park (and future best friends) Blue Bennett and her older brother, Chick.

    It was on one of these unpredictable, gravel-driven bounces that the ball got away from him and bounded, caddy-cornered, across the road and into his Gramma’s neighbor’s little patch of yard. He sighed and trudged after it, wincing as it bowled into a patch of irises that were planted close to the ramshackle white and powder-blue trailer. He jogged to go pick it up, leaning carefully to avoid breaking any more iris stems.

    “Can you swim?”

    Marlon stood up so fast, his head cracked against the underside of the window ledge above. The pain was sharp and he clapped his hand over it, ball forgotten. Where had that voice come from?

    “Are you okay?” the sweet voice asked in alarm.

    He looked up to find a pale, wide-eyed girl studying him seriously through the window. Her nose was pressed against the screen. She looked to be about his age, maybe a little younger. Rubbing the sore spot, he carefully leaned down to get his basketball from the irises and backed away from the flower bed a little before answering.

    “Fine. I’m fine.”

    “I’m blue.”

    He could believe it. She seemed sad and a little disheveled, like maybe she’d been crying. She took her nose from the screen and could see her white-blond hair was in messy pigtails, one of which was loosened almost completely. Her lips were chapped red, and as he studied her, she began to chew her lower lip nervously.

    “Oh.” Marlon struggled to find something to talk about. The silence drew out as they studied each other. “I’m sorry.”

    “Why?” she seemed confused.

    “That you’re feeling…blue or whatever,” Marlon explained. She thought about this for a moment, her brows knitted, then her face transformed into an understanding smile.

    “No, my NAME is Blue. Blue Bennett. Can you swim?”

    He felt stupid, and so his answer came out a little pissier than he meant.

    “Yeah, of course I can swim.”

    “I didn’t know. My daddy told me once that black people don’t learn how to swim like white kids do.”

    Marlon just stared at her in silence. What could he say to that? Tell her was mixed? Tell her that he used to swim in his old neighbor’s backyard pool every summer, that he learned to swim at the University’s aquatic center? Tell her she was a cracker and that her racist daddy didn’t know his ass from his elbow?

    “Um, yeah, I can swim just fine.”

    “Wanna go to the creek today? It’s hot and Chick won’t go because he’s playing Halo and Momma and Daddy haven’t come back yet and I can’t go by myself.”

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Great dialogue. I like the innocence in the “Can you swim?” and “My daddy told me…” And I really like Blue’s thoughts. The flower imagery reminds me of some of the imagery in “Marigolds.”

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      I cracked up at the cracker line. It was an unexpected twist with the name revelation. Interesting dialogue!

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      I learned a lot about these characters from your scene, Jessica. And I loved ‘gravel-driven bounces’. What a perfect picture in an economy of words.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

      I love this – such great dialogue. I wonder what’s going on in Marlon’s head that he decides NOT to snap at this girl but to keep talking with her politely even after that one line. Did he sense that she means well? So many questions here – great paragraphs!

  9. Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Random Noun: Neighbour

    I found it funny that it gave me the New Zealand spelling, a place I would love to visit and get to know as a real life setting! (Even if it was just a vacation).
    Here is where my word took me:

    I awoke to the sound of drops hitting the Monterey pines. Peering out my window I could see the puddle rings in the neighbour’s driveway. A bellbird stops for a drink. I listen closely for it’s song, but no notes escape it’s beak as it flits away. His green color blends him in with the neighbouring tree lined lot that sits on the other side of our house. I scan, straining to see which branch he chose to land on when I see Mrs. Vernon come into close focus outside my window. She has that scowly face on and her hair is wrapped in her plastic hat that ties tightly around her jowls. With her orange flowered rain boots and blue house coat she raps on my window with force. I startle at the sight of her, thinking the noise unnecessary seeing as I am already at the window. I slide the circular lock and push the wooden paint flaked frame upward a crack.
    “Good morning Mrs. Vernon. Is there a problem?” I ask, knowing there is likely a problem.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      You and I got the same noun! Does that mean we’re noun neighbours?

      I <3 your description of Mrs. Vernon, and I can't wait to hear what her voice will be like and why she'd go out in the rain to see your character.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      I can almost imagine what the character is thinking. It’s Mrs. Vernon again. Now what? What could she possibly be complaining about this time? I love the descriptions of Mrs. Vernon and the way they remind me of my Grandma! I love the setting and how you showed us what you were seeing. Hmmm…makes me wonder what is to come?

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      With so many chairs and neighbors, I’ve decided the generator must reuse the same nouns for a specified number of minutes, and you all just tried it within the same time periods.

      I totally agree with Jessica about your description of Mrs. Vernon. She scares me. :o)

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

      I get the sense from this that there is ALWAYS a problem with Mrs. Vernon. Great details!

    • MsJenx
      Posted June 21, 2012 at 12:02 am | Permalink

      DITTO on the details! I felt like I was looking through the window with the narrator. One thing I seek to improve within my writing is vivid details … AWESOME!

  10. William Polking
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I was given “lizard”

    “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” And why would I want to catch flies? To become the Fly King, gorging on mucoid discharges ferried to me by my minions? Or, like I did in eighth grade, removing their wings and tying them to a piece of Jenny’s impossibly straight hair, my own fly circus to ringmaster, seducing the girls with my creative grossness. My crassness. Creative+grossness=crassness. No such thing as bad publicity, right? At least they were talking about me. Or have I just proven your point?
    Maybe flies are a staple of my diet? Am I a lizard? (We already had a Lizard King, and we know how that turned out.) After the moulting, will you love me then? Do I have to shed my skin, or can I just change my colors? Which would make me more appealing to you?

    BTW–does anyone else remember Dennis Covington’s great YA book Lizard?

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      I love how your mind works, William. I can see the wheels spinning. I also think you so much in there, you can mine your own writing and take it a dozen different way.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      Love this – and I think you could base a whole book on the concept of “creative grossness.”

    • MsJenx
      Posted June 20, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      WOW is what came out of my mouth when I finished reading this. First, I really thought you were taking on the persona of the lizard, which would tie awesome into persona writing, THEN I realized that your character was comparing themselves to a lizard, which draws you into the conflict! SWEET+AWESOME=SWASOME!

  11. Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    I decided to dive-in and let the random word be the starting horn for my piece of writing. My random word was “chair”. Here’s my quick write:

    The old wicker chair creaked and cracked uncomfortably as the miserable and swollen woman plopped to her favorite spot. She stared out the windows of the screened porch sometimes focusing, sometimes blurring as she blinked away the tears. The news from the doctor was not what she wanted to hear. She thought that she would be a lucky one-the “get-away-girl” who’d escape this life without the “c” word invading her body’s cells.

    As she reflected on the news, she realized that the fortune teller had been wrong…the cancer had come home to rest in her bones, her stiff, aching bones. How would the rest of her life look now? The questions began to drive through her brain like race cars on the beltway at rush-hour and then slowed…What would she be able to do? When would her body finally quit on her? Why did this have to happen when she’d finally found a peaceful place to reside? How would her family react to the news? How soon should she begin to plan the funeral? What financial plans should she arrange? Who would take care of the children? She continued to wonder about the death sentence she’d been handed and dozed off to sleep…
    Go to for comments, thoughts or suggestions:
    http://theamyrudder.blogspot.com/2012/06/chair-mondays-mini-lesson.html

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Another chair! It always amazes me when I hear results following the same writing prompt.

      Your introspection is completely realistic, Amy. I’m also intrigued by the fortune teller and wonder about the story this woman has to tell.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      I like the phrase ” get-away-girl”. It’s a really good description of what must be that scary experience of getting a negative medical result–frightening!

      Diane

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

      I’m loving the way the same word (chair, lizard, neighbor) is inspiring such WILDLY different ideas in the hands of different writers.

  12. Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I tried out both tasks. I made my lists first and generated more ideas than I imagined I would. Then I decided to see what noun I would get: Chair. What? I was blank. And then it flooded in. The thoughts came so quickly I could hardly keep up with my typing. The story of my son’s beginning.

    I sat in the oversized rocking chair, lost in my thoughts. Surrounded by the smell of anticeptic soap and the quiet beeps and not-so-quiet alarms. I couldn’t help but wonder how many moms before me had sat in that same rocking chair, heard the same sounds, cried the same worried tears, wondered the same frightening thoughts, and felt the same anxiety of the unknown. How many moms were able to hold their babies in that chair? How many gazed longingly at their babies that could not be held from that chair? How many times had that chair seen the joy of going home and the agonizing, cold, gray pain of loss? I watched the nurses check and recheck the babies, their silent white shoes, their loving touches given to both the babies and the parents who sat waiting.

    I couldn’t help but think about how it wasn’t supposed to be this way. How did this happen? Why was it happening to us? How could we do everything right and still end up here? It wasn’t fair. And then the guilt would come in, an unwelcome visitor, reminding me that it could be worse. I might not have ever held him at all. I might not have had the chance to sit and wait and worry. It could be worse.

    The doctor’s words were still in my ears. “Some of the arteries and veins that we will be relocating are no bigger than a single strand of hair. We will transfer him to the machine that will pump his blood around his body bypassing his heart while we put things back where they belong. It will take several hours but we will send a nurse out to update you every so often. We will stop in the hallway and you can come see him briefly as we move him to the recovery room. Then we will come get you when he is out of recovery and you can come be with him.”

    Tomorrow. It was going to happen tomorrow. I wanted tomorrow to never come and I wanted tomorrow to be over and done. I wanted to be a month down the road…at home, happy, snuggling my newborn baby and thanking God every day for my little miracle.

    The nurse put her gentle hand on my shoulder. “Can I get anything for you?” For a moment I just stare at her, still lost. She smiles at me and waits until my head clears enough for me to realize she asked me a question. I am amazed by this woman. Not only does she care for my precious baby, but she cares for me as well. “No, I don’t need anything.” I reply. Except for him to be okay. Except for him to be at home with me. Except…

    “He’s been holding steady for a while. Would you like to hold him for a few minutes?”

    And then he’s in my arms. Gingerly, I touch his cheek, his hand, the white-blond fuzz on the top of his head. Careful, oh so careful, watch the wires, don’t bump the port. I am in the chair, in the moment, rocking my beautiful baby boy. Suddenly not seeing the wires and the bruises and the machines. Just seeing him and smelling him and feeling his warmth. Drinking him in because it’s all I can do. I don’t know anything else.

    But the chair is there. The chair knows. The chair sees it all.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      Wow, Robin. I can feel your emotions, so many of them. It’s real gift to convey such memories with such impact.

      I think I do my best writing when I channel the emotions as they connected with real-life experiences.

      I’m hoping the chair sent you home with hope.

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it did! It sent us home with hope, joy and a beautiful baby boy who is perfectly fine today. We were very lucky! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t remember this experience and how some of the babies in the NICU had much different fates. I agree, I absolutely channeled those emotions. I can’t separate the story from the emotions. Even after 9 years I was still tearing up as I wrote this story.

        • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

          I was tearing up reading it – it’s amazing how a single strand of memory can bring back so many details, isn’t it?

        • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for sending me to bed with a smile, Robin.
          Remember, you can bring that same emotion to other writing, not just a recollection of events. Method writing, maybe?

  13. Susan
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Random Noun Generator: Chair

    When the word chair first appeared, I was disappointed. Chair is so plain, boring, generic, but then two images appeared in my head…

    My grandmother (maternal) sitting in her chair looking scared and know knowing where she was, but her feet were taping a rhythm to a dance from her youth.

    My grandfather (paternal) unresponsive in his recliner beside the television with the volume still as high as it could go. On the table beside him my letters sat; letters I wished I had sent more often. The brief sight of my grandfather unresponsive in his chair as my dad rushes us upstairs where I can watch the approach of the flashing lights.

    These two images of my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather both stood out to me. Why? I think because we lost both of them before we truly lost them. My grandmother we lost slowly to Alzheimers. My grandfather we lost the moment my grandmother lost her battle with cancer. The moment she drew her last breath, he no longer wanted to breathe. My grandmother had a long battle with cancer outliving all the expectations and making it to their 50th wedding anniversary. She fought for every breath, but my grandfather didn’t fight. As always my parents hid this from me, but how did my father feel watching his father give up on life? How did my mother feel watching her mother slip away losing her memories, our names? How would I feel?

    Two chairs, to me, signify list and unanswerable questions. Questions I hope I never have to face.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      It is amazing how something so simple can be so fraught with emotion and depth. Hugs.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      The emotion in this writing is powerful – and it’s interesting to me how many of the “chair” responses have evoked sadness of some sort. I wonder if it’s because chairs are where we have to wait.

  14. Posted June 18, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Rosanne, I did a similar setting activity to assist my brainstorming for the current YA manuscript that I am working on. I found that one of the most comfortable places in my life is the swimming pool (this was not completely clear to me before the activity), so my main character needed to be a swimmer. It’s working so far, but I’m only 10K in.

    Thanks for all of the GREAT ideas!

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      Good for you!

      One of the interesting parts of writing about young people is sometimes reconnecting with a part of your life that you let go of years ago. Second Fiddle got me back to playing my violin which I hadn’t done in decades and now love! Or sometimes it can reconnect you with an old grief or unresolved issue.

      Best of luck with your swimming story. At 10k words you’re probably a quarter to a third done!

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      This is always one of my favorite things about writing, Andy – how there are things we don’t know until we begin a free-write, and then “Whoa! Of course – it’s the pool!!” or “Ohh…this book is REALLY about the things we hide.” Those discoveries always feel like such gifts to me.

  15. Posted June 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Noun generated word – chair

    There it is, Ms. Lyon’s fourth grade reading chair. My brother has been telling me about this chair for years.
    “Why is it so special?” I would ask.
    “I can’t explain it. You will have to sit in it and see for yourself.” He always replied.

    Finally, the day has come, the first day of fourth grade. I came to school early, so I can sit in the reading chair before anyone else gets here. I slowly, anxiously walk over to the chair and climb onto the fluffy, worn, and comfortable cushion.

    Instantly I am in another world. Black and white. A baseball stadium, where catchers don’t use mitts, the jerseys are ragged and hang off the players too large, almost baggy, and no lights hover above the field. The scoreboard isn’t digital, but instead number plates moved by two young boys waiting for a hit or better yet, a run. Where am I? What year is this?

    “Tommy?” Someone shouts.
    I jump out of the chair.
    “What? What happened?” I ask frantically.
    My classmate looks at me quizzically.
    “What happened to you? You were in the zone.” He says.
    “That chair…” I sputter, but stop because I don’t know how to describe what just happened.

    In walks Ms. Lyons.
    “Hi, Tommy. I see that you are excited about the reading chair. I’m sure that your brother told you all about it.” She says while winking at me.

    “Everyone sit down. Welcome to fourth grade. Today, we will start with a story.” She says while slowly taking a seat in the reading chair. “The story is about Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first African American baseball player who played Major League Baseball in 1884.” She says, smiling at me.
    Wow! This is going to be an awesome year!

    Thank you, Jody! This is an activity that I will be using with my sixth graders next year.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      I love this piece about the reading chair. It makes me want to have a special one in my classroom, but more than that, I want to read about all the adventures these students will take in the reading chair.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      Two things… One, I love this piece. And two, I want that chair!

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

      TOO COOL! I want that chair too! Wow, some great adventures could be had in this room. Fantastic idea.

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      Yeah. Chills.
      I want to read more.
      And if you think of it, Andy, I’d love to hear how your students do with this next school year.

  16. Posted June 18, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    My first word on the noun generator was chair.

    “The hard oaken chair under her butt was as irritating as trying to discipline oneself in a fancy bakery. It caused her to squirm and wonder what in the world she would write next. Instead, she got up and ate a cookie.”
    After the cookie I came back and wrote my setting and character banks here.

    Thanks for the ideas, Jody and Rosanne!

    Denise

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      As someone who lost a battle of willpower with the brownies on the counter while revising this week, I have a great appreciation for you and your chair, Denise. Thanks for the smile!

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Haha! You have no idea how many times I get up from this chair and head to the kitchen when the writing gets tough, Denise.

  17. Posted June 18, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Taking a stab – my first time posting actual writing on here. 😉

    I did the noun generator and this is what came out in a quick write from the word LIMIT.

    The two women were hard not to notice. They were both young and beautiful. It was a natural beauty of flawless, browned skin, glistening, large eyes, long eye lashes, and flowing hair. Their beauty was similar but contrasting. The girl with her back to me was blond. Just minutes prior, I ran into her at the counter where she ordered a Chai tea. I was stopped short by the turquoise color of her eyes and hint of teal around the edges. The color was so stunning that it almost masked the surrounding redness. Her friend had auburn hair and kind hazel eyes. She was facing me and had nodded politely when I sat down at the table behind her while she waited for her friend to gather their order.

    A few minutes had passed and I noticed the girls voiced became hushed. I knew it was wrong to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t resist. The coffee shop didn’t exactly lend itself to privacy. I found myself sitting with my book in front of me, staring at the same page for minutes as my coffee steamed untouched in my right hand.

    “How much more can you possibly take, Maggie?” the auburn haired girl whispered.

    “I don’t know. I keep thinking I’ve hit my limit but….” she paused. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her shoulders rise slowly. As she released her breath, her head dropped and she gently crossed her hands around her arms in a protective embrace. Her voice barely audible, I thought I heard her mutter, “He’s my husband.”

    Glancing up slightly, I watched as the auburn haired girl shook her head in silent disbelief and shifted her gaze to the floor. I saw an opportunity to take an undetected peek at the girls. That’s when I noticed what should have been defined as beyond anyone’s limit.

    I noticed the back of the blond girl’s arms, Maggie’s arms. As she wrapped her hands around her arms, she unknowingly moved the bottom of her green quarter-sleeved t-shirt up just an inch. It was a flash at most an other men would not have noticed but I knew those marks all too well. I knew what I would find if she rolled up her sleeves, five marks, deep brownish yellow, and the shape of a finger prints.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

      Oh my gosh! this is really powerful writing Dana. Because at first the eavesdropper is not all that sympathetic because it’s just not nice to listen in on people. But then she knew what the marks on Maggie’s arms meant! Wow! Many people would never make the connection. So now I’m dying to know what your narrator does with this information. Keep going!

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

        You and me both…. I started with one thought and it went in another way. Not sure who these characters are or where they are going. 😉

        • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          With every book I write, I come to a point where I just want to skip to the end to see what happens because I’m clueless exactly where to go next. But that’s when the brainstorming really starts to kick in and I grab a big piece of paper and many gel pens and make multi-arrowed flow charts or create random lists or visualize something completely different and try to find a way to connect the dots.

          I hope you figure out their story.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

      Your details are so vivid here, but the thing that strikes me most is that the narrator knows those marks well. Why? It makes the character so much more interesting – this secret.

      • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I don’t know how you ladies (and men – all the authors/guests) are making the time to personalize this experience for so many of us. It amazes me (you amaze me). It is fantastic! Thank you for everything.

  18. Posted June 18, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I did the noun generator activity and got the word “chair”. Here is the start to a story that was sparked by it:
    He had always been first chair cellist in the orchestra. But everything changed the day Stella moved in. Stella, who had cool band stickers all over her case and a stack of mismatched bracelets on her wrist. Stella, who the director put right into Select Strings as first chair cellist, even though Mark had held that position for two years now. Mark, a normally amiable kid, had all kinds of devilish thoughts swirling in his head as to how to oust Stella and get his chair back.

    I look forward to doing the “Setting Bank” and “Story Bank” activities in my Writer’s Notebooks! What a great idea. I can see this working in the classroom!

    Thanks for the great ideas!

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      I like the way the ordinary word chair led you to a story about an orchestra chair. I’m curious about how Mark and Stella will develop.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

      What a great conflict you’ve set up here! (And might I add….great name selection, too. “Stella” sounds like a force to be reckoned with!)

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      With all these chairs, I was wondering when someone might take it in a different direction like you did, Jessica. Me, needing to buck trends sometimes … I might have gone your way or with chairman of the board or committee chair or even way out on a limb with cherub or cherish.

  19. Colby Sharp
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Better late than never. I would like to spend a little more time on this quick write, but my 3 kids are NUTS today:) I hope to get a little more writing done after they go to bed.

    Noun Generator Word: Neighbor

    When my dad is home from the road, 3 to 4 night a month, he sleeps in his rig. During the day Mom and Dad act like everything is okay, but each night after he thinks we are in bed he slips out the front door and heads to his truck. I wonder what the neighbors think. Do they notice dad climbing the steps of his semi a little after 11? Do they talk about it with our other neighbors or do they think everything between Mom and Dad is okay? I wish Mom and Dad wouldn’t act like everything is hunky-dory. I wish they could just tell us what the heck is going on. I am sick of always wondering if they are going to get divorced. If they split up, will dad get an apartment or will he just live in his truck?

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

      I love the contrast here, between what the father thinks he is doing by slipping out after he thinks the kids are asleep, and the reality of this character knowing and worrying. You’ve nailed that self-aware kids’ voice, too, worrying not only about Mom and Dad, but also about what the neighbors must think.

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      With the kids being nuts, Colby, I wonder if a little of you wanted to slip out today, and if that colored your writing. Things like that slip into my stories all the time. And completely agree with Kate — kids are usually so aware, and adults forget.

  20. Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I used the noun generator and got lizard. This was fun to do. I plan to use it with my students. After lizard, I got the nouns vessel, swim, and meal. These words influenced the story as well.

    Ever watch a cat on the prowl for a lizard? When our big grey outside cat, Buzz, captures one, he carries it around in his mouth and makes guttural mewing sounds announcing his catch. The lizard’s tail swings back and forth until it breaks free only to endure the heavy dark paw of the Buzz once again.
    One day Buzz put the daily-catch lizard in a plastic bowl of water to watch it swim. Again and again, he picked up the little green reptile and dunked it back down into the water. Baptism or drowning, this lizard found no escape.
    I don’t think Buzz is malicious in his hunting. He’s instinctual, in for the chase, not for a meal. Even so, I am wont to find lizard body parts in odd places around the house.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

      Margaret,
      I like how you played with the idea of adding more than just one word. Maybe, we would have students who would like to do the same. It’s interesting how your piece turned out, is this based in fiction or non? It seems pretty real-like you’ve experienced having the kitty bring home the lizard before?

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

      I love this and could see the whole thing in my head, but it was when you brought in the word “baptism” that I had to pause and think – remembering a baptism I’d seen where I’m sure the priest meant well, but oh…that baby was sure he was drowning. So interesting to imagine this with cat & lizard – it was a surprising metaphor, and those are often the very best.

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      I could clearly visualize your entire story — Buzz’s attitude, the lizard’s helplessness, all the instincts kicking in — everything.

      If you remember and have the time, Margaret, let me know what your students think of this.

  21. Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Character seeds based on the word Neighbor

    After taking a week off to fish, my neighbor’s nephew returned to mow our yard today. He’s starting college this fall.
    We’ve lived here eleven years, but only found out recently that my across the street neighbor is related to me.
    My neighbor doesn’t care for our school superintendent, but I really like him.
    Another neighbor had 23 cats when we moved here. Her husband has 13 cars. I’ve counted.

    True stories. Lots of interesting characters here. Thanks for introducing me to random noun generator. What a great vocabulary builder!

    • Mary
      Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      Love the images. There is much to mine in these characters. They make me think of Laura Landvik’s writing -Tall Pine Polka. I wonder what their stories will be. Thanks for sharing them.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

      Your piece today is such a good reminder of the varied people who populate our worlds…and that our characters need to have such interesting people in their lives, too!

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Too often I forget that it’s okay just to plant some seeds, that I don’t need to flesh everything out. Thanks for the reminder (and I’d love to spend a day in your neighborhood)!

  22. Mary
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    neighbour

    She was always in her garden, weathered brown hat tied with wide ribbon beneath her wrinkled chin. Her house dress billowed about her ample frame. I’d wave to her every day as I rode my bike to the library for my next dose of imagined vacations.

    “Hey, Mrs. Gonyo! Garden sure looks pretty!”

    “Thank you for noticing. Stop by on your way home. I’ve got something for you.”

    “I will,” I promised. A nice neighbor, I thought. What could she have for me?

    Has anyone ever used oneword.com? My third graders LOVED it this year and begged to write. “Can we do one more? Please?”

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

      Haven’t seen oneword.com – trotting off to check it out now!

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      So what did she have for him/her? I will be curious all day.

      And thanks for mentioning oneword.com. I hadn’t heard of it before. I can see how it’s addicting.

    • Mary
      Posted June 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Later as I rode home, head filled with anticipation for the literary feast to come, I nearly missed the turn into Mrs.Gonyo’s drive.

      Dropping my bike on the well-watered sod, I went to the front porch door. “‘Lo,” I called.

      “Well now, that took you some time. Come on in. Come on in.”

      “You wanted me to stop in?”

      “I did. Now where did I put that?” she paused searching the crowded dining table. ” Here it is. ”

      “Do you need me to mail that for you?” I asked, as she pulled a rumpled envelope from the bottom of a tilting stack of papers.

      “No. I need you to read it and tell me what you think.”

      “What is it?”

      “Just something I wrote awhile back. Take it along home with you. Read it when you have time. When you finish, we’ll talk.”. She ushered me to the door. “Give my best to your folks. Tell your mother I didn’t mean to keep you.”

      Envelope in my hand, I grabbed my bike and pedaled for home. My neighbor wanted me to read her writing? What could it be about? The literary feast would have to wait. The wrinkled contents of the envelope called me.

      “Mom, I’m home.”

      “Put your books and bike away. It’s your turn to set the table.”

      “Okay.” Kid speak for I’ll do it later.

      Opening the flap carefully, I began to read.

      The Mourning Tree

      A mother rocked, cradling her child as clouds built in the distance.

      “Baby girl, herei is a true story.”

      “Can you whisper, Momma, like a secret?”

      “Don’t interrupt the story; it has to be heard,” she whispered.

      “That table isn’t going to set itself, young lady!”. Mom’s agitated voice broke in. Argh!

      .”Coming…” I stuffed the papers into my pocket and headed into the kitchen.

      • Posted June 21, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        I like the connection the neighbor feels toward her, trusting her with something that important. And I’m curious if that story she’s about to read was part of the neighbor’s life and, whether or not it is, how that might change both of them. Intriguing!

        • Mary
          Posted June 21, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

          Thanks for reading and your encouragement! M

  23. Barbara
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    My word was also NEIGHBOUR. A great choice for me, as it’s a story that I lived.

    ***********************************

    “Why are the police there?” I wondered. He’s not home. I know he’s not home, the bike is gone.

    “Excuse me, do you know the man who lives here?” asked the officer.

    “Of course, he’s one of my best friends and we have been NEIGHBOURS for 15 years,” I said.

    “Could you verify his name for me, please?” asked the officer.

    “Yes. His name is Chris, but his first name is really William. Why?” I asked, with a pit growing in my stomach the size of the world. Cops just don’t show up asking about your neighbors without bad news. It can’t be bad news, I thought. Not to Chris. Not to me.

    The officer quietly asked if he lived alone. I nodded. And he asked if I knew for sure that he wasn’t home. I again nodded, adding that he had taken the motorcycle out hours before.And then he softly said, “Ma’am, I need to locate his next of kin.”

    I truly believe I stopped breathing. Everything STOPPED.

    “His father is gone. His mother lives in a nursing home in Lancaster. He has 2 sisters, but they don’t live around here. What happened?” I rambled, still not wanting to believe that THIS was happening to me. To Chris. Not my Chris.

    Not my “Hey bestest neighbor, get my mail for me?” Chris. Not my Chris who had just brought me travel brochures the day before because he just had just been where I was going. Not my Chris, who had watched my kids grow up, and helped shovel my car out of a snowbank the winter before. I recall that day, asking him to look outside. It was his day off, I felt awful asking. “Is this a Barb calls AAA, Chris? That’s OK, really,” and his quick reply was, “It’s a Barb and Chris dig Barb out, I’ll be right out.”

    I then said to the officer, “Wait. Let me call Chris.I can call Chris. ” Not really thinking. But praying the cop would say, “Yes, let’s call him!”

    The officer shook his head and said “He won’t answer.”

    And I fell to the ground.

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      Brought tears to my eyes. Grabbed me early on and kept me reading until the heart wrenching end.

      • Barbara
        Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        Thanks. I wish it wasn’t true 🙁

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Chilling. I wish it wasn’t true for you, too. But your words capture the emotion of that day so vividly.

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      It sounds like you were so lucky to have had Chris in your life for so many reasons. It’s life experiences like these (and the happier ones as well) that allow us to write with heart and emotion like you did here, Barbara.

  24. Gae Polisner
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    glanced fast through all the amazing work here! You guys are impressive! And way more willing to take a random idea and run with it than I! Wonder if that’s the teachers in all of you. Anyway, great stuff! Keep going! You made Monday look easy. 🙂

  25. Jaana
    Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Here is my word: Neighbor (and my second word; smell)

    Long time ago I was living in Taipei, Taiwan. I lived with two roommates in a six story building. Our flat was in the third floor. All of our neighbors were local Chinese. Wonderful people, but curious–maybe I could even say nosy. Every single time when I went out, one of the neighbors would corner me and ask me where I am going. It was okay, I didn’t really have to say exactly where I was going; it was enough to say “I am going down the road”. You know those cultural sayings that we foreigners ponder and try to digest, but we can’t, so finally we just adapt and go along with the natives.

    I don’t think we ever had friends over that our neighbors would not know about. When we would go our the next day, someone would corner us and give us a mini inquisition about the visitors. Questions were plentiful. “What did you cook last night? I smelled something strange.” Or “Was that your boyfriend? Why are you not married? What does your mother think about you living here?”

    But it wasn’t always my roommates and I that caused a stir. Certain nights when you tried to sleep because you know you had to be rested for your presentation (in Chinese of course) the next day, you didn’t really want to smell the “stinky” tofu and listen to the endless sounds of mahjong pieces hitting each other. I mean, I could have closed the window, but when it was 96 degrees outside and pretty much the same inside, even a little breeze to stir up the air was welcome. Yes, the air might have been mixed with smoke, smog, and fried tofu, but it also carried the sounds of my neighbors. It would not have felt as homey without those sounds and smells. And yes, I learned to ask my neighbors: “Where are you going?”

    • Posted June 18, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

      Love this slice of life and culture (smells, too!)

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      I can feel the love-hate (or maybe ‘hate’ is too strong … annoyance?) thread weaving throughout this piece. It’s so easy to identify with your experience, it being so universal no matter the culture or circumstance, and you transported me there very well.

  26. Posted June 19, 2012 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    It’s been a couple of stressful days here at my house…so I fell off the writing wagon, but here I am again! I’ve so loved reading everyone’s work–it is inspiring and a bit intimidating, too. I struggle so much with the feeling of needing to be perfect–in my writing as in everything else. It does paralyze me into nonaction—working on this has truly helped me work on that!
    Anyway—my word was “Stitch”. I based this very quick, rough piece on my daugher, Natalie..the 3 year old quote is hers, and she absolutely loves her sewing class.
    Gina loved that her little Miss Priss loved to sew. She could see how important it was to her, how much she wanted to be really good at it. Her precision with each little stitch—whether by hand or on the sturdy white classroom machine; working the foot pedal ever so slowly, careful not to rush the process. Always more concerned with getting it right than getting it done.
    From the time Bella was three she told everyone “Fashion is my passion.” And now, here she was at just eight, taking the first steps to really become something she dreamed about.
    Gina blinked back the tears.
    Sap! She thought; but a proud mama sap. It was thrilling and beautiful and brilliant and terrifying to see your child grow into herself.

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 4:13 am | Permalink

      Love the quote! And being a proud mama sap is something I can definitely relate with. 🙂 I love how in such a short piece of writing your words capture so many strong emotions!

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      I find it fascinating how there’s been so many strong associations between the random words and your lives. Another case in point here, Sonja. I’m glad you came back, and you came back wonderfully. It makes me want to know if fashion is still her passion and will continue to be.

  27. Crystal
    Posted June 19, 2012 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    I went to a public place to “observe” and this is the result:

    Playground Days

    The hum of beetles
    Blankets on the cool green grass
    A T-ball field full of giggles and excitement
    Mothers chatting, reading, checking on children
    Little ones shrieking, giggling, climbing everywhere
    A warm brilliant sun in a peaceful sky
    Playground days drifting by

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 4:00 am | Permalink

      So many happy memories of when my boys were younger came rushing in when I read your poem! So glad you shared it. And I just love your last line. A perfect end. 🙂

      • Crystal
        Posted June 19, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

        My oldest is 18, so I got a little nostalgic when I was in the park seeing all the kiddos. Those days do pass by so quickly. Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks.

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      What great sensory details you’ve included, Krystal. I can see it so clearly. It makes me want to drift along with them and yes, I’ll admit it … eavesdrop and know what’s going on inside all these minds.

      • Crystal
        Posted June 19, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Jody. It was fun to be the observer. They looked so carefree running around. I will have to try this again and do some more wondering.

  28. Posted June 19, 2012 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    Amazing writing going on from the noun generator! I’m seriously envious of those 100 word stories! Definitely going to work on trying that out, but I’m a wordy bird. 🙂 I got the word “neighbor” and decided to plug it into the story I’m currently working on, but struggling with. It has painful pieces of my own childhood in it, but it’s a story that has wanted to be told for years. So, here’s my quick write from NEIGHBOR:

    I peeked through the heavy green curtains, pulling the thick material back with one hand and edging my nose toward the window. I heard them before they came into view. A jumble of laughing, screeching boys and girls. They zipped across the grass yelping, “You’re it! No tag backs!” and “Freeze!” as they moved like birds in flight, all following a leader as they swooped and looped in wide circles around Rena Starling’s front yard.

    Rena had been my neighbor since we moved here at the beginning of the summer. We met when her mother rapped on our front door, lemon bundt cake in hand, to welcome our family to the neighborhood. I stood half-hidden behind my mom, one side of my face tilting around her just enough to get a look at the girl beside the wide, cheery woman on our front porch. I was used to this dance by now.  We moved more often than seasons changed in the year. Each new home came with new neighbors, new kids that would quickly divide themselves into two categories: friend or enemy.

    Rena beamed at me, hopping in front of her mom and excitedly waving a slender, freckled hand. Her red hair formed tight curls around her face. They bounced as she moved, as if even her hair trembled with constant energy.

    “Hi! I’m Rena! Do you want to come out and play?” She held out a hand, ready to lead me away from the safety behind my mom. 

    I took a step away from my mom, who was busy chatting with Mrs. Starling. Her shadow slipped away, and I squinted into the sunlight pouring in through the open door. I gave Rena my best half-smile, hopeful she would grab my hand and whisk me out the door. Hopeful to have my first friend in this new place.

    Rena’s smile faded. Her wide, blue eyes flickered across my face before darting away. Her hand dropped limply to her side.

    Rena would not be in the friend category.

    • Posted June 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      When your words flow like this, Kelly, no need to apologize. It’s well-detailed, heartfelt, and heart-wrenching. Most of me wants to read more, but part of me wants to pretend only rainbows exist in this world — the makings of a truly good story.

  29. Posted June 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jody and Rosanne. The two of these activities, together, help build such a strong bank to draw from, in starting a story. I’m thinking of it, today, first as it applies to my ongoing WIP. Even where my characters step off into settings I’m less familiar with, it rooted me to have them in towns my family was once from in the foreign locale, rather than fully foreign places. It does keep me motivated, and gives me personal history to draw on. Thanks!

  30. Victoria Conley
    Posted June 20, 2012 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    Let me state, I am a horrible writer and also horrible at managing time. I am finally glad to post my first writing. Not the best, but it is a start. I can’t expect my students to do this, if I am not willing to do it.
    My noun is “chair”.
    When our twins were born my mother gave us two wooden rocking chairs. These chairs were meant for cuddle time. As the years went by they have been turned into conversation chairs, waiting chairs, and most importantly peace chairs. Someone acquired one of these chairs without permission and now the conversation, waiting and peace on these chairs have stopped. Why has it stopped? Do we need two chairs to have these three essential pieces in our relationship?

    • Posted June 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      I think some people (maybe you, Victoria?) imagine thoughts with much more clarity and with a greater degree of perfection in their minds than what appears in black and white. I do. It rarely comes out as bright and shiny. And it often doesn’t come out easily. But unless you start somewhere, unless you get something into concrete words, you have no way to make it better.

      I love your start. It’s solid, intriguing,and I’d love to hear more, whether it’s your take on the situation or you take this bit of your life and transform it into a piece of fiction.

      Thanks so much for sharing!

      • Victoria Conley
        Posted June 22, 2012 at 2:23 am | Permalink

        Thank you for the input. I will have to think about this one to expand it. 🙂

  31. Alexis Pernas
    Posted June 20, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I chose to do the story bank assignment. http://fillingbucketsdaily.blogspot.de/

  32. MsJenx
    Posted June 20, 2012 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    WORD: PEACE

    Story Idea: Rival schools/teams’ rivalry gets out of hand and kills a member from both schools so a brave soul from each side decide they can’t let this keep happening.

    Hating each other is an understatement. People call it a rivalry, but what is between is a never-ending hatred for each other. There is nothing friendly about this competition to remain number one. This feau, this battle has begun since the beginning of time and has never ended. Nevertheless, it is now have spiraled into the pits of hell where the devil is orchestrating every move that has brought a member from each side in a cold, dark sleep that will never end. Reason has evaded us like a mossy leaf-tailed gecko. It’s on the branch but no one could see it or maybe we don’t want to see that we let lunatics look saner than us. Blood is on our hands and no one is trying to wash it or are we …. Someone has to.

  33. Posted June 24, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I finally had a few minutes. My short writing piece using the word generator (thanks for the idea, Jody) is on my blog http://havawrites.blogspot.com/

    I’m so amazed at the imagination and descriptions of everyone!

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