Teachers Write 7.8.15 – Q and A Wednesday & guest author Melanie Crowder

Traditionally, Wednesdays are Q and A days at Teachers Write – a chance to ask published authors questions about the writing process, from brainstorming to outlining to revision. This summer, we have so many amazing guest authors with so many great lessons that we’re also going to have lessons along with our regular Q and A sessions on Wednesdays. Excited about that? Me, too!

Today, we welcome guest author Melanie Crowder. Melanie’s debut novel, Parched was one of Bank Street’s Best Books of the Year and a Junior Library Guild selection. Her second book, Audacity, has received three starred reviews and is an Editor’s Choice at BookBrowse and a Top Pick from BookPage. Her third novel, A Nearer Moon, releases September 8 from Atheneum Books / S&S. Melanie holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Colorado with her family. Her mini-lesson today is all about image systems…

Melanie Crowder Author Photo

To get started, if you haven’t already, draw up some sketches for a few of the characters in your story. I don’t mean actual drawings; brief descriptions will do. (What they look like, their hobbies, their habits, their flaws, their nervous tells.)

That’s done? Good. Now look back through what you’ve got. Anything particularly visual standing out to you? If not, add a few more details until you find something you like.

I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about. One of the characters from my work in progress is an eight year old girl named Pilar. She collects things like empty snail shells, dropped moth wings, desiccated leaves, and abandoned chrysalises. All the discarded things.

Why? I don’t know—it started out just as a thing she did. But I liked it, so I expanded it. The discarded things became an element of the physical descriptions I wrote for her: the shadows on her skin like whorls on a snail shell or the wind tossing her hair like a leaf ripped from the tree.

When I want to show her emotions, I put those discarded things into a metaphor. Rather than saying she’s lonely, I describe the hollows and creases of the empty nutshell in her palm. And you know what—it turns out that there is a very good reason why she collects all those discarded things. It’s how she processes the fact that her mother left. So much thematic resonance there!

Okay, let me give you some more examples. This afternoon, I popped in a DVD of the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice and turned on director Joe Wright’s commentary. He talks about things like the symbolism of the birdsong in the opening scene, or the way the swan with its head stuck in the water is like Lydia (Ha!), or the way the film opens and closes with the sunrise. (I find a huge amount of inspiration in listening to artists working in other media talk about their process, but that’s a post for another day.)

Here’s one thing he has to say about the actress who plays the eldest Bennett sister:

“[Jane] is obsessed with ribbons. She carries two or three ribbons with her wherever she goes.”

Why? What does that detail reveal about her as a character? What potential is there in that image for description, metaphor, or theme?

Here’s another quote from the director about Lizzie’s aunt and uncle:

“[I] love the Gardeners. Their relationship is based on pies. In every scene, they’re eating and they have a very happy marriage in their shared admiration of the great English pie.”

Hilarious. And so telling, right? If you were writing those characters, with the image system of the great English pie, just think of all the different directions you could take it!

Today’s assignment:

Pick one character, and one image connected with that character. Either as you rewrite an existing scene, or as you draft a new one, bring that image with you. Use it when you describe your character or when it’s time for a metaphor to reveal your character’s emotion, and hey—if all else fails, throw that object into the scene with them and see what happens.

I’d love to hear what you come up with if you’re feeling brave enough to share in the comments. Good luck!

Note from Kate: And of course, today is also Q and A Wednesday, so feel free to post any questions you’d like to ask our guest authors, too. In addition to our “official” guests, we tend to have a wide variety of guest authors popping in from social media on Wednesdays, so you never know who might answer your question!

304 Replies on “Teachers Write 7.8.15 – Q and A Wednesday & guest author Melanie Crowder

  1. Wednesday Q & A – character sketches

    “Can I tear the tag off this towel? It is a great tag!”

    “I forgot a tag at home. Now the eight hour drive will be horrible. Why will I do to keep my fingers busy?” After complaining, “please hand me the tag in the door handle”.

    “That is great you have a tag after all! Is that your emergency tag?”

    “No, it is a lame tag so I leave it in the car…I guess it is my emergency tag after all.”

    “I need to buy more deodorant. Let’s please stop at Walmart to get some on our way home.” We stop at Walmart. “I don’t like the smell of any of these deodorants. What am I going to do?”

    “It is just deodorant, just pick one. Here.”

    “No, I can’t use it if I don’t like the smell. I will have to smell it on me all day. I will have to use the little bit I have left until I can look at another store.”

    “This water tastes terrible. I don’t like Aquafina anymore either. Next time we buy water, Mom, let’s get DeSani.”

    “I thought you liked Aquafina the best. We just bought a case.”

    “I don’t anymore.”

    “I miss the water at home.”

    “Do you mean the RO water?”

    “Yes, I drank three glasses full last night.”

    1. wonderful! have teens that have some sensory issues (undiagnosed) but those textures they need when stressed are so important! I think they will go into adulthood with their special lovies from childhood.Nice detail about a person that is common yet not discussed or written about much

  2. Character Sketch:
    Lily, age 12, has two items in her possession: the book The Secret Garden and her doll, Molly. Lily’s mother made the doll, and it was the one item they made sure she had when they left their apartment for the last time. Molly represents love and safety for Lily, which is especially important because Lily ends up in an orphanage. She has the doll with her as much as possible, or she has her in a safe place where she can retrieve her when she needs her. The Secret Garden is another representation of love, but the nurturing kind that Lily can give. It’s also her source of strength and determination to go on, and helps her understand the world around her.

    1. You know how much I adore Lily. Molly….interesting….I”ll bet there are some things about Molly that LIly’s mom made SURE were like her daughter….yarn the same color of hair, button eyes from an old pair of shoes? Wonderful well to draw on — even though it’s just one special item!

    2. Wow, Wendy, I like this. Molly and The Secret Garden not only serve as items that help Lily, but they fit nicely together – the power of love, determination, feeling safe, and being strong. I can’t wait to hear more about Lily and your story.

  3. Thank you for the character sketch exercise. It proved very helpful to me.

    My question for today:
    How much should a writer read within their genre, or is it better to read widely?

    1. Hi Wendy! I think it’s important to do both. Reading within the genre you write can give you a feel for what is selling and open your eyes to different ways those stories are being told. However, reading widely is inspiring and can help avoid genre burnout.
      The only books I actively avoid are ones that are similar to my works in progress—for example, no middle grade pirate fiction while drafting Hook’s Revenge. I want to avoid being subconsciously influenced while I write.
      Other than that, I say, read everything!

      1. It is helpful to read in your genre, but I usually find the greatest inspiration outside of it, or in unique forms within the genre. Other forms and genres offer a little more critical distance for me (and also, a nice cushion from direct comparison so I\\\’m not harshly judging my messy wip against another author\\\’s finished manuscript).
        Know your genre, but read everything.

        I will also admit, though, that when drafting fiction, I avoid reading any other fiction than a few mentor texts and focus mostly on nonfiction. I\\\’m a bit of mimic, so I have to be careful not to muddy my voice.

        PS: I’ve tried to post this four times now, so if it ends up that I’m repeating myself, please forgive.

  4. I, too, love the Pride and Prejudice commentary, Melanie. This is a movie my daughter and I watch each year together. When Darcy is walking across the field at the end, one of the people on set said “I wish this was my life.” That was a powerful comment to make to the director and even more powerful to share with his audience. I never forgot that.
    My character sketch:
    Sam, or Samantha as her mother used to call her, sits in her high school English class toying with her fret ring. The teacher is drowned out by the sound of the birds outside the window; how her mother loved sitting on the patio listening to the birds, watching them at the feeder.
    “Sam? What do you think?”
    She is being called back.

    My question: what is the character you have created that you feel the most attached to? Why?

    1. The answer to this question changes with every book I write, Heather – because the character in my work-in-progress is always the one most alive in my heart right then. Today, that\’s Nora.

    2. Yes! I love getting the behind-the-scenes perspective. Cooking, fashion, film–it’s all so inspiring!

    3. I like to keep abreast of current YA fiction because I write it (and because I enjoy it), but I find much inspiration from re-reading the classics. When I don\’t have time to read entire books again, I have certain passages which remind me why I\’m proud and excited to be a writer. The genre we should all read is GOOD writing – other labels fall by the wayside.

  5. Question:
    I use writing for different purposes self-reflection/processing, observing the world, collecting stories and demonstration writing for students. I am wondering how others manage collecting their writing? Multiple notebooks, one big notebook, other ideas??

    1. I am not a published author, but I find sharing those reflections and thoughts through a blog format make them readily accessible for sharing and inspiring others. I use my random acts of kindness blog http://bit.ly/celebratekindness to model for students how to take a quick, kind act and expand it into a story as well as modeling good digital citizenship with commenting, inserting media, linking to other sites, etc.

      I prefer WordPress for my own blogging platform, but we use Kidblog with students. (I work at the elementary level.)

      1. I second WordPress. We have a Kidblog account, but I find it really cumbersome to use, and each kid needs a password. I teach computers, so I have 60+ students. I started a WordPress blog for the class. The kids create their posts through Google docs and send me the links, then I post it for them. I want to use Kidblog more this year, I just don’t have a feel for it yet. The advantage there is that the kids can see and comment on one another’s work, and it’s only public if you want it to be. WordPress is more easily seen, and I have those comments set to automatically go to moderation. chipsandcookies.wordpress.com is my school blog.

        1. I can understand the frustration of 60+ passwords for your students to use Kidblog. Last year we had 12 classrooms with all student accounts blogging (250 Ss) with each teacher having their own class account and individual students blogging. Our biggest challenge was setting and enforcing parameters (i.e. You can’t publish until you’ve edited, only publish 2x a months, etc.) I’m hoping to expand the use of Kidblog this year and delve deeper into using Google Forms for documenting 1:1 writing conferences.

      2. Thank you for sharing! I love the random acts of kindness blog and am just creating a blog for teacherswrite now. I hope I will learn enough to use it with my students this year.

      3. Love your kindness blog and your work with students. I use kidblog and have moved to having students work in google docs first then upload to the blog. Revision is much easier for them there! Thanks for your info.

    2. Hi Diana,
      I have been blogging for a few years, unfaithfully, but I am a writer who also writes to know myself and find my way along with observations of the world, poetry and to write real life stories. I have tried to keep separate notebooks: one for morning pages, one as a writers notebook, one for new projects, one for poetry, etc. It just hasn’t worked for me. I tend to need one notebook to house all my writing. When I decide on a project to do something more, I begin a new notebook just for that project. I wrote about this on my blog awhile back. You can read the post here if you’d like: http://islandsofmysoul.com/2012/10/10/writers-and-their-notebooks/. Even though my intentions were to stick to categorizing, it just didn’t work for me. Let me know what you try!:-)

    3. I have both project-specific notebooks and one big bullet journal, where I write not only lots of ideas & collections but also to-do lists and groceries and other bits of the mundane world. It works, somehow.

          1. I just watched the bullet journal video and I just might have to try this. I’ve been using the Leuchtturm notebooks because they also have a table of contents you can make for your entry. I worry about putting my daily to-do’s mixed in with my writers notebook though and these are sometimes world’s colliding. Do you find that your to-do’s staring at you sometimes cause you to be stuck in writing?

          2. I like the box to check off the task. I tend to cross everything that I have done out with a dark marker so that I can’t read it. I like that you can see all that you have done and the ugly black lines are non-existent.

      1. I love the bullet journal! I started this a few months ago as I am working on a very big project – planning a conference. It has helped me plan and organize and accomplish!

      2. This is a great idea! I use one journal for everything and then I struggle to find exactly what I am looking for. I may just use this wonderful idea. Thank you!

      3. I started a “bullet” journal after reading your blog Kate. It’s sort of like yours! I need to to the little checks and arrows. I think I started it as an excuse to use fun colored Smelly markers! I like it though, even though it may not be a “true” bullet journal!

    4. If you could see through your computer to my kitchen table, you would see it strewn with different writing places: a small leather journal gift from my husband for small poems, a legal pad to keep track of things to do, a decorated marbleized journal for my summer writing like TW activities, and my school journal for culling for those great ideas I had during the school year and put away for summer. And the computer is in the center where I write blog comments and write my own blog. So many ways to write and I am so abstract random that I have them all. Then there’s the phone where I capture thoughts in Notes. May not be the best organization system but it works for me.

      1. My ways of collecting ideas are so similar – eclectic. I use google folders, blog categories, emails to myself, and a paper journal. I’m realizing that writing ideas come from everywhere – especially places I don’t expect, so I don’t have to be rigid about where I keep them.

    5. Great question, Diana! I have a Moleskine project notebook I use, but I am also a big fan of Evernote. They have an app for your phone, and as thoughts come to you, you can jot them down and “tag” them so they’re easy to find later. It’s free, as well (at least in a more limited form.)

    6. When I was first getting in the habit of keeping a notebook I found that it was best to keep everything in one place — grocery lists, story ideas, overheard dialogue, tic tac toe games with the kids. This worked for me then, because I was trying to get over the notion that a notebook had to be pretty or perfect or read like one of Steinbeck\’s project journals. It was a tactic that worked for me and I now fill notebooks unselfconsciously.

      What has become more of a challenge in recent years is FINDING the work parts in my notebooks. Where did that brilliant scrap of dialogue go? I know I had a descriptive passage jotted down somewhere, but where?

      Thus, I now keep my regular, general notebook, but when a project really begins to feel like something beyond first inklings, I tend to switch to a project-specific book, which makes sorting and sifting easier.

    7. I have so many notebooks! I keep a small one in my handbag, one in my car, and at least one in every room – including the bathroom. Inspiration strikes in the shower! I tend to jot down general ideas, phrases, sensory details, dialogue – “cranial scraps” as I refer to them – and then I write on my computer. This is because I can’t write longhand fast enough to meet my thoughts, and because I enjoy being able to edit easily.

    8. The samples of writing are so important, I collect pieces of writing each year and the students are excited when I ask them if I can save a copy. We use mentor texts for various traits and formats. I just used Kate’s book, Wake Up Missing, with the scene as Cat first arrives at the clinic and things are not as they seem :o) I couldn’t keep it on my shelf after that!
      Our district and our Department of Ed both collect writing samples to publish on their portals for each grade level. There are various text forms with varying strengths. With parental permission, these are collected each year and posted for teachers to use all over the province.
      I am definitely going to try Kidblog; I love the idea of the students giving feedback and learning how to do so to encourage one another.

  6. Wow, Melanie!
    First, congratulations on your writing success. Enjoy every moment. Thank you so very much for sharing with us here.
    I thought I knew my character pretty well…..and this activity really made me think hard about her in a new way. AND, what’s cool is some things about her popped out of my typing fingers that I didn’t already know. So fun! I will be doing this activity with ALL my characters.
    My sketch (always in verse for me)
    Alice’s world was the
    browns, greens and grays
    of a Catskill spring.
    When she could escape
    Trudy’s chores and scoldings
    she hopped the creek
    cloth bag bumping
    on her back with softened
    corners of her Collier’s Weekly
    and Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon
    and climbed until her heart
    pounded and her lungs
    punched for air.
    The ledge of granite
    overlooking the
    curling smoke from
    the cabin below
    was the best secret
    reading nook
    in the entire world.

    1. I loved the analogies shared in your character sketch, painting a picture of clarity wrapped in mystique. I would love to know the books she treasures.

    2. I love your character sketch in verse. Alice is a character I would like to red more bout!

    3. I lost my comment and I had so many nice things to say about your piece, Linda. It plants me right in the setting and gives me a picture of your character whom I like already. Is this a new work or one you’ve been working on? It feels polished to me.

    4. I really like the verbs you use to describe her ascent, climbing, pounding, punching… it seems that she is a fighter, or needs to have the skills of a fighter, for what I wonder. I want to know more about her!

  7. Love the idea of using visuals to help create emotions and develop characters. I have written a book in verse and since Audacity, I was wondering how hard it was for you to find a place for it. I feel like books in verse are becoming more popular but haven’t “arrived” yet, what are your thoughts, please.

    1. Great question Martha. I think you’re right on, in that verse novels are still gaining popularity. Some authors, such as Lisa Schroeder, Margarita Engle, Sharon Creech and Ellen Hopkins have been writing verse novels for many years now and have been steadily winning over readers with the versatility and complexity of the form. Of course, the success of BROWN GIRL DREAMING has turned heads too!

      That said, I still encounter many readers who tell me that AUDACITY is the first verse novel they have ever read. As to selling projects in verse, I work with two houses, one which welcomes stories in verse, and one which prefers prose. So there is definitely publisher interest in verse novels; as with so many other things, it really comes down to finding the right editor for your story. Best of luck to you!

    2. I think the YA genre is very accepting of verse novels. My novel MELT is in half-verse and that gets it noticed – either by yea-sayers or nay-sayers. The important thing is that the format works for your characters and story. For example, I wrote Joey in fragments because he is fragmented. Be true to your words, and they will find their way.

  8. Lovely post, Melanie. I like how you used those objects like the seashell in your character’s description and metaphor. I’ll have to try that. My question for any author is–What should be the next step after I’ve written a novel, had 3 beta readers critique it, and I’ve revised accordingly. Should I find a freelance editor? Try sending it to agents? Or find more betas? Thanks!

  9. Today’s character sketch task is on my blog – what a great opportunity to delve into characterization! Here’s the link for any who many be interested: http://bit.ly/1HfswTu

    My question is for the authors who write digitally. What is your writing tool of choice? Evernote? Google Docs? Microsoft Word?

    Thanks again for this wonderful opportunity to learn and grow!

    1. “Hiding meant safety. Blue meant love.” Jessie is like one of those birds that collects certain types of objects for its nest. This is a lovely, short piece. Well worth expanding.

    2. Hi! I’m one of the professional writers that will be visiting with you later this summer, but I wanted to chime in and say that I love Scrivener for my writing, especially for drafting. Others use it more fully, but I like the outline and notecard features that let me see the shape of my story.

      1. I am glad you mentioned Scrivener! I tried it briefly and I am still unsure if it’s for me. After you have the seed of an idea for a book, what are your next steps, especially in terms of organization? Once I get an idea, my mind tends to fork off into many directions and I have trouble organizing ideas and research.

        1. I suspect most of us really struggle with this same problem, as the creative process isn’t linear. I let my mind fork into all its directions and don’t worry initially about where it’s going or how I’m ever going to wrangle things. Not every writer works that way, but if you can handle the uncertainty and let yourself make a mess, usually little by little you’ll be able to tease out an overall shape. Our subconscious seems to have rhymes and reasons we’re not aware of! While Scrivener may not be for you, it is especially helpful if you work in a non-linear way. You can write little bits and pieces and yet they’re all there in the same project file to play with later. I like to follow the energy: if there’s a scene I really feel like writing, even if it’s out of order, I just dive in. And then Scrivener has it there for me later:-)

          1. I love Scrivener, too–but my love is not exclusive. I also use packs of actual index cards (for ideas that arrive on the go), little notebooks of various shapes and sizes (small ones for brainstorming, medium-sized ones for revision), and Word (for revision and sometimes for first drafts). What I love about Scrivener is the ability to toggle between notes/pictures/research materials and text AND [maybe most of all] watching the progress-o-meter go from red to green every day when I’m working on a first draft. So satisfying!

              1. I’m reading _Scrivener for Dummies_ by Gwen Hernandez right now and I highly recommend it!

          2. Thanks, Kristen. I need to get more comfortable with the mess and know that I cannot have it all neatly mapped out. After all, there is so much joy in the discovery process.

    3. Hi Tamara, as a NF author I love Scrivener too, as a place to sort my notes. I love how easy it is to zoom around and chuck information/sentences wherever I need to. But I usually switch over to Word after a first draft or so.

    4. I just visited your blog, Tamera – loved your character full of her love for her grandmother. I write mostly in my notebooks the old fashioned way, but when I write for my blog, I try to do my draft on Word first. I’ve also used Google docs, but sometimes the automatic saving of Google Docs hurts me! I do like that I can access my writing from anywhere with Google Docs, though.

    5. I use plain old Word. It’s not fussy. There are no bells or whistles. What I need when I’m drafting is to forget that I am writing and just let the story find the page. Pretty interfaces, digital bulletin boards, side files with photos all remind me that I am WORKING and that kills it all for me.

      I like to edit on paper and sometimes retype things as well.

    6. I’m not published but have been blogging. I hands down prefer Google docs because I can access from anywhere and I can insert links that will maintain when I copy and paste to others places.

    7. I use Pages – the Word of Apple. I tried to use Scrivener, but I found it overwhelming. I’m pretty basic, and when I have too many tools I can’t concentrate. I think you should write as you live.

  10. Character Sketches 7/8/15

    Twelve year old boy who is home schooled by a tutor. He is glad his parents didn’t send him to a school for children with severe disabilities, but he is also disappointed that they won’t send him to public school. He knows it would be hard there, and that people would be frustrated by his limitations, and he knows people would treat him like he was stupid. His body doesn’t work, but his mind is as good as anyone else’s. He really wants to be with “regular” kids. If he can’t be normal, he’d like his surroundings to be normal.
    He watches his neighbors, two boys who break things, from his house. He likes broken things. He is one himself. His window gives him hope of joining the world outside, but it also separates him from it.

    1. The idea of brokenness is compelling and a strong thread for your story. It sets the stage for future setbacks and gains, drawing me in to read more.

    2. Your writing jumped out to me because I am also writing about two children who have good minds but bodies that aren’t working properly. My goal is to have the reader see the children as “normal” children with normal feelings first and the disability as part of them but not defining them. It is based on children I have taught in my regular ed classroom who had these challenges.

      1. Maureen,
        As a Special Ed teacher I often find myself reminding people that our kids are more like other kids than they are different from them.

      2. _Good Kings Bad Kings_ by Susan Nussbaum is an incredible read and she accomplishes that. P.S. I’m another special educator

  11. My character sketch:

    Vollis walked the dusty path to school each day along with the other boys, but apart from them. He didn’t join them in their race to see who could get there the fastest. After all, what was so great about arriving to school earlier than necessary? Sitting and listening to the teacher drone on. Endless lessons. And the writing. Vollis would do anything to avoid writing. As those boys whooped and hollered and chased each other, kicking up dust, throwing pebbles, bouncing off of each other like sweaty, dirty pinballs in some chaotic game, Vollis used this time to hunt for things for his collection. It was a good day, an A-plus day, when Vollis found a collectible along side of the road. A scrap of metal, an old nail, a crushed can. Anything that could be crammed into his pockets. Many days, the only thing that kept him awake in school was the nagging poking and prodding of a jagged scrap or screw that pressed through the too thin material of his good school pants (Mother wouldn’t allow him to wear his sturdier farm clothes to school) and pinched and pricked the top of his legs every time he fidgeted in his seat. A promise that, when he made it through the day, he could go home and unload his newest treasures and sort them into their proper piles that lined the walls of the shed out back. A pile for nails, a pile for screws, one for bits of rope. Larger scraps were stacked in the corners and sorted by material–metal or wood. Vollis’s favorite pile in the shed was his pile of unknowns. Things that didn’t fit into any particular category. Bits and pieces of what were once larger things, but were now unidentifiable. These things held the most promise for Vollis. If he couldn’t tell what exactly they once had been, it was all that much easier to envision them becoming something new.

    1. I loved this post! Your word choice is powerful and created a wonderful immediate sense of Vollis’s world. I loved the idea of the other boys pinballing off each other while Vollis hunts for treasure. I could imagine him sitting in class with his treasures poking and prodding him through his pocket. I’m already fascinated by this character and would love to know more about him and his collection. Well done!

    2. Yes! Yes! Yes!
      You have totally grabbed my attention and interest – I want to follow Vollis into the shed and peer over his collection. I want to see his plans for what can be made new. And I want his teacher to see him as the wonderful, curious, creative soul that may be hidden from other’s eyes.

    3. I’m intrigued by the objects in his pocket. So many of my little boys are collectors. It is part of what they do to make sense of the world. I’m ashamed of telling them to put them away so they can focus. Maybe they’re focused on something really important. It’s just not me. Shouldn’t I encourage that wondering? Your post got me thinking deep about my little boys in first grade and how they look at the world. Thanks for the insight.

  12. Melanie,
    Thank you for the lesson. It helped me figure out a few things about my narrator. I recently decided to shift the focus of my story to him. I look forward to creating sketches of the two boys he watches.

    My question is, what structures/systems do you use when plotting your stories? I struggle with writing longer pieces. Any advice?

    1. Hi Todd! I am not Melanie, but I hope it’s okay that I am answering this question. Plotting is one of my favorite things to talk about because it is not my strength. What I do is I write my story, and then go back and shape its plot. I make an outline that lists each scene and what happens in it. Then I think about that standard inverted check that represents plot. What is my inciting incident? Where is my climax? Then I try to arrange my scenes along that plot. It helps me to see where there are gaps and if two scenes are doing the same thing. I also use mentor texts to help me. In my opinion, Rebecca Stead is one of the best plotters out there.

    2. I love Meg’s response and would also suggest taking a look at the book SAVE THE CAT, written for screen writers but a useful plotting resource for novelists, too.

    3. I once heard Bonnie Becker give a great lecture on The Writer’s Journey and my notes from that lecture are a life raft when I feel my plot ship sinking. That said, I try to write it all out first and then go back and figure out what I’ve done and where things need improvement. I’m not a planner and have lost momentum by playing around with notecards and charts in the early stages.

      I know lots of writers, however, who are great planners. Try everything and abandon what doesn’t work for you.

      1. Thanks everyone. I guess I’m on the right track moving on and coming back once I know what the story really is.

    4. I like to put my characters in a situation and see what they do and where they go. I’m not big on complicated plots. It’s people who are complicated to me: their motives and their emotions. I know a beginning and an end, and I write my way between the two.

  13. Congratulations on all of your bookish successes! This must be a very exciting and busy time for you. Thanks so much for making time to share the character sketch task this morning–I really enjoyed it and found it very helpful. I worked in a bit of Kate’s I wonder task from the other day and here’s a sample of what I wrote:

    Mara has curly dark brown hair—
    like her nature tends to be.
    She’s an easy-going optimist.
    But I wonder what happens
    to a glass-half-full kind of gal
    when the glass is cracked
    no denying possible?
    She sticks to the safe spots-
    always has a hair band around her wrist
    ready to create order from her unruly hair.
    Something to fidget with and snap
    when nerves twang.
    She knows how to restrain.
    I wonder can she let go as well?
    Her bumper sticker states:
    Well-behaved women rarely make history.
    Not a reflection, but an aspiration.
    She’s webbed in by etiquette.
    I wonder what would happen
    if one day she spoke and
    truth trumped courtesy.

    1. Love the tension that your imagery weaves through this character sketch. This piece and this character are spring-loaded! Thanks for sharing, Molly.

    2. My favorite lines:
      “She sticks to the safe spots-
      always has a hair band around her wrist
      ready to create order from her unruly hair.
      Something to fidget with and snap
      when nerves twang.”
      I think it’s because I saw myself in her. 🙂

  14. Good morning! What suggestions do you have for our most struggling writers- particularly boys? On the flip side, what suggestions do you have for our gifted writers to expand their craft and keep them excited?

    1. These are big questions, Kara, but I have a few thoughts.. First, choice is HUGE. It’s nearly impossible to get kids excited about writing in response to formulaic, test-driven kinds of prompts. But offering choice – a variety of prompts like the ones we share here (and in 59 Reasons to Write) and letting kids’ passions guide their writing can help. Gifted writers, I find, benefit from learning to take risks, fail, and revise. If you haven’t seen my book Real Revision, that’s a collection of revision strategies from published authors, and higher level kids really enjoy using those tools, from what I’ve heard from the field.

      1. Do all the things Kate says. Always. 🙂
        I have seen a lot of writers find confidence by first writing comic strip/graphic versions of their stories or essays. Dialogue comes pretty straightforwardly that way and once the story is set out visually, it can be used as an outline or a stepping stone to other ways of telling.

        This can be helpful to those who love to write, too. Sometimes those writers have such HUGE stories in their heads, that they burn out or get frustrated before they complete the project. A storyboard can help them capture the main plot before they lose track of where they want to go.

    2. Kara,
      I agree with Kate – last spring, I had the kids write short stories. For three weeks, their homework was to write versions of three different scenarios. I gave them the first sentence, and the rest was up to them. I only had three out of 96 students who did not do their homework that week. The kids came in excited, begging to share, and were more willing to work through revisions because they owned their stories. I was able to challenge the more skilled writers, and work more with the struggling ones. I’m trying to find ways to work more of that into next year.

      1. Kelli-
        I love this idea. You’re right that when the students generate a story, they’re anxious to share even a smidgen with their peers. I particularly like how you ask for three versions from the same prompt. This is higher level thinking at its best. I’ll definitely be borrowing this idea for my own classroom. We’re going to be working on scary short stories in the fall, so I can only imagine what will come from a few brief prompts. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Thank you very much Melanie Crowder. I’m finishing up a first draft of a chapter book this week. As I work through the second draft, one of the things I know I need to work on is emotion, characterization, and creating distinct voices for two female protagonists. I will use this idea next week – it’s extremely timely for me.

  16. This was hard for me because I don’t have any existing projects or even anything I envision producing- that’s part of why I’m doing this summer writing project, to actually begin seeing myself as a writer and to find inspiration to write. Here’s what I came up with today:
    Jessica is a first year teacher. Her face always looks twisted, like she smells something nasty but subtle, or is afraid of finding an unpleasant surprise. She walks down the hallways in military style, serious and straight. Her classroom door is always closed. She wears a dress and heels every day, ironed crisply, every button buttoned. She eats the same salad in the staff lounge every day at lunch, but never speaks. At 3:30, she steps outside, locks her classroom door, and leaves. Saying goodbye to no one.

    Questions for authors:

    When you start a project, do you begin with the end in mind? Do you work from any type of outline, or just start and see where you end up?

    1. Jessica is an interesting character, I’d love to find out more. Is she as uptight and disagreeable as she sounds face value, or is she being extra careful because she has some secret quality or past that she doesn’t want others to see? I enjoyed your writing!

    2. I am not working on a character driven writing piece right now, either. It’s nice to know we are all different kinds of writers here. You gave me courage to jump in anyway. Thanks!

    3. I almost always start with a very rough outline, but I end up revising it almost daily, so by the time I’m finished, my novel bears little resemblance to the original plan. I discover a lot as I write, but having some kind of outline helps me keep moving forward, even when I know the end destination may change.

    4. This part was always so daunting for me. Until I saw Roland Smith at a conference and he labeled writng as just that : daunting. He explained his process for organizing research on — flashback to the sixth grade –index cards. I was struggling with my novel because I was fighting my own process. Turns out, I write in episodes. I know certain scenes before I know the story’s arc. So I used index cards to jot down the scenes I was sure of. Through this process, I generated even more scenes and before long started seeing the connections. Now I have a stack of index cards that remind me where I’m going. When I lose momentum for one part, I skip to another episode. Interesting what happens when you give in to what works for you. 🙂

      1. I appreciate your episodic approach! Thiis is how the stories in my imagination take shape. I have yet to jump in and commit any of the characters and stories to writing. I am hoping this Teachers Write experience will help me embrace more regular writing. Thanks for sharing!!!

      2. Morgan,
        This is what I do too! Scenes come to me, sometimes fully formed. I feel I have to get them down on the page before I lose them. I haven’t used the index card idea yet, but that sounds like a good approach. It’s good to know there are others out there like me! 🙂

      3. I have done a lot of this piecework too. I seem to find places for scenes I’ve written modeling for my class in pieces I’m working on. Finding a story one piece at a time definitely takes away some of the stress of writing.

    5. Kaitlyn, I don’t see myself as a writer either. I find that every task I’ve been given have been hard for me. However, I want to truly experience what my students who are not writers experience. That is why I am doing this summer writing project You have given me inspiration to keep going. Thank you!

      1. Wow Laurie, I commend you. I encourage, beg, plead, nudge, and cajole colleagues near and far to write – for this very reason! So we can walk in our student’s shoes. So we can experience the same daunting task – of mining ideas, and finding the courage to share our voice. The greatest writing gift that I can offer my students, is that I write in front of them, and along side of them. We are in it together.

        1. Greg. Thanks for the inspiration. I love to run! I will be racing in the Musselman 70.3 triathlon this weekend. You must be such a disciplined and busy person to teach, train, parent, and write!! I bought your book. Can’t wait to read. I guess a question for you is…when do you write, during the school year? How does your writing with students fit with your own writing work? THanks!

          1. Kudos on your triathlon! I’ve never attempted one – yet. That is quite a bit of discipline and training. You must be proud of the journey!

            Thanks for your kind words, and I hope you enjoy Dash’s tale.
            I write daily through the school year, but usually these are small writing projects either with the class, or some of my own personal reflections. These keep me in the practice and joy of writing. If I’m working on a novel, I use summers, and Saturday mornings after my long run to work on it. Kate gave me the wise advice to carve out time on weeknights, but I haven’t been successful in doing that – yet.
            Good luck this weekend!

            1. Thank you for responding. Thank goodness for summer time! Running is such great thinking time. I can relate…to getting home after the long run…and doing some endorphin-fueled work. Cheers!

    6. My stories have come in lots of different ways, but for most of them I simply have a starting point and then, about 20-30 pages in, I know how I want the ending to FEEL. I may not know the exact ending, but I know what the emotional resolution will be and I have a sense for whether that moment will be a loud one or a quiet one, an interior or an exterior one. Then I have to trust that I can get there (which is often the hardest part).

    7. I could see your character. I know that person! That was me my entire first year of teaching – scared witless, wondering what I was doing there.

    8. Kaitlyn – exactly my sentiments. I’ve only recently begun to think of myself as a writer. This was an important exercise. I can see your character. I feel like I know her. I’m glad you started and shared her.

    9. Hi Katlyn,

      I must have an end in mind, so I know where I’m headed. If I don’t have a destination, how will I know what road to follow? But I don’t plot extensively in-between. I jot some notes, but basically I follow my characters. I give myself permission to change the ending, but I never have.

  17. I have two questions. Do you revise as you go or do you write, write, write and then revise? Also when you begin each day, do you reread and start from where you left off or do you work on different parts of your story that may appeal to you that day? I tend to be an uber-reviser and often get very little new work written because I’m so busy fiddling around with what I’ve already written. I like to reread to get my head back in the piece, but then I fall into the revising pit–which I enjoy but which can be a major time suck–maybe it’s avoidance? Any tips? Thanks in advance for any responses! (Also, why is this math getting harder???)

    1. Sorry about the math. 🙂

      I write a full first draft, keeping a “known issues” list on a big piece of paper by my computer. I revise when I’m done, using that list as my first pass revision to-do list.

    2. Hi Molly,
      I usually plow ahead and finish a first draft before I do any major revising. I see it as the scaffolding, or the skeleton I suppose. I like to have the structure there and then I go back in and build up each section.

    3. I revise as I go until the voice is right or the story takes over. I might reread and revise the early pages dozens of times, but I try to add to that every day as well. When things are cooking, I try to read/revise the previous days work and that gives me the momentum to draft new pages.

      In my current work, I have revised the opening bits more often than I’d like to admit, but doing so has resulted in a character I know a lot better and many small plot seeds that I’m now eager to see grow.

    4. I revise as I go, which people say is slower – but it is what it is. I writ a scene/chapter – some chunk which is a cohesive section, and then I revise it for a day or two, until meets my liking. Using my Writer’s Flip Dictionary (a special writers’ thesaurus from Writer’s Digest Books) to find the perfect words is my idea of the perfect game. I love drinking coffee and looking up words!

  18. Thanks for the prompt, Melanie. Your revealing way to think about imagery’s place in writing has given me fresh eyes as a writer and reader. Thanks also for _Audacity_; I read it this spring and promptly recommended the title to my school library as a wonderful genre mash-up.

    Here’s my bit from today: Chuck E. Cheese, or rather the man inside the mouse costume, did not know what hit him. He found himself lying on his back, looking up at a banner dotted with baseballs, footballs, and soccer balls. It proclaimed: Happy 10th birthday! He pushed himself into a sitting position, his costume head unsteadily wobbling. The room’s eerie quiet hit him next, like the moment between when fireworks flash and the boom reaches your ears. Through his eyeholes, he spied an explosion of red hair. It belonged to a boy on his hands and knees. Before the man in the mouse suit could say anything, another boy nearby cracked the silence. “Cannonball, you okay?” he asked.

  19. Today I’m thinking about what makes a princess for my current WIP, a Sleeping Beauty and Hansel & Gretel mixed-up retelling. (Here.)

    (I find a huge amount of inspiration in listening to artists working in other media talk about their process, but that’s a post for another day.)
    I hope this is really a blog post planned for another day, because I’m looking forward to it!

    My question is about revising: How do you do it? I understand the process of editing for grammar and clarity, but how do you revise for the big picture stuff like structure, characterization, and pace?

    I’m looking forward to your answers. Thank you!

    1. For ease of reading, I’m copying my response over here:

      Esphyr always looks like a princess. But what does a princess look like, when she’s not wearing gowns and a tiara? It’s her posture. Even when she’s baking cakes or weeding the garden or cuddled up reading to Henry and Harriette, Esphyr’s posture is flawless. Her posture is regal.

      She moves with the practiced grace of a dancer, and it is practiced; Aunt Peg spent hours balancing books on the young princess’s head. Posture could be taught, but the regal bearing and quiet confidence of a princess could only be learned.


      Esphyr flitted from window to window. She threw the curtains open wide to let the sunlight stream in from outside. She danced through the little cottage like springtime itself, singing out.

      “Good morning, Harriette,” she called. “Good morning, Henry! Rabbit!”

      Henry blearily rubbed his eyes, while Harriette burrowed deeper under the blankets. Esphyr alighted on the side of their bed and leaned in to give them each a good morning kiss.

      “It’s the first day of spring, and spring means the markets!”

    2. At the risk of plugging my own book, I should probably share here that I…well…wrote a whole book about this. I interviewed 40 authors about how they do all these things, and the end result is Real Revision, which you can read in its entirety on the Stenhouse website as a preview if you’d like to check it out.


      There are also a lot of writers who share their processes online. Here’s an interview I did with Linda Urban… https://www.katemessner.com/real-revision-an-interview-with-linda-urban-author-of-hound-dog-true/

    3. Get Kate’s book Real Revision — there are a ton of strategies for seeing the big picture and for making changes that make a difference.

      I tend to make lists of what happens in each chapter and make sure that each action is a result of a previous one and has an effect on what’s to come. Sometimes The Writer’s Journey helps me see the overall plot arc. Sometimes, like for my book Milo, I made notes about how much humor, action, dialogue, etc were in each chapter and made sure those things were stacked in the way I wanted them to be.

  20. Andreas is an old boy, trapped at the end of childhood wondering if he will ever grow, ever shave, ever do anything but kick up desert dust in the shadows of the family’s barn. Everyday he plays in the barn, he likes to run his hand between the shadows of light and dark created by the old wood slats of the barns wall. He squeezes his hand around those lines of light but he never seems to be able to get a hold of one, never gets to feel the weight of light. He sits in the dust wondering what is the weight of a ray of light?

    When he was little his father told him how the barn and the house were built. How the wood was hewn from trees and that is why some of the supports are so rough. Andreas thought that was a funny word, hewn. He remembered leaving the dinner table that night and looking in the First Book of Webster to find the meaning.

    Late in the afternoon, he climbed up into the barn, waterfalls of sand cascading out of the hidden wrinkles and folds of his jeans. He sat on one of the main cross beams, straddling it like he were riding a horse. Of course, horses only lived in picture books an old Yellow Natty magazines now. He pushed his way, one butt hop at a time, to the middle of the beam, high over the hard sandy floor. He made sure to take it slow, falling was bad but a giant splinter wedged in his butt seemed like a far worse souvenir. Near the middle of the beam, smooth grooves wrapped around the blocky beam. Worn smooth from years of ropes hanging over, holding heavy things, wearing down the wood.

    Andreas rubbed his fingers in the worn u-shaped hollows, thinking about being hewn, thinking about the ropes that make us smooth, thinking about the light he could never catch.

    1. The physicality of building up & eroding, the seemingly weightless play of light, Andreas seeking his place in the world… Intriguing interplay of images here, David. Thanks for sharing.

    2. You’ve done a wonderful job a crafting imagery here. I love “the weight of light”, how Andreas thought hewn was a funny word, but decided to look it up in the dictionary, and the specific detail of how the beam had been worn smooth over the years. this was delightful to read, and I would enjoy learning more about this boy and his surroundings.

    3. This is very cool. I am nervous for Andreas, but it feels like he’s willing to take risks to find out what’s on the other side of childhood. This could go anywhere. I’d love to read more!

  21. Jessie’s main dance was the cha cha. We all had our main dance. But Jessie couldn’t stop no matter what. Even after mom remarried and the new house was so quiet and still, I could hear that “tap, tap, tap-tap-tap” coming through the ceiling, on the stairs, in the kitchen on the ugly linoleum. The sneering disapproval of our stepbrothers didn’t phase her at all. It sure phased me though. If I was all by myself with not a soul around, I couldn’t dance anymore. I thought maybe they were right about dancing, maybe it really was stupid. Jessie’s tap-tap-tapping started driving me crazy.

    1. Diane,
      Your opening words grab me. I love their brevity, and their invitation. I’m wonder about the dance we each have. Hmmm…

      Also, you created some tantalizing descriptions here “in the kitchen on the ugly linoleum..:

      Well done!

  22. Good morning, Ms. Crowder and TWer’s!
    Thank you, Ms. Crowder, for getting the writing juices flowing today. It was a long morning of getting (coaxing) my four children to do their math facts and read (actually the girls love to read; my son – not so much), so I did not think there would be any writing this morning. I was wrong. Everyone is reading, and I’m writing.:)

    My character sketch:

    Sammy, a ten-year-old boy, wears a soccer jersey and shorts to school every day. He doesn’t go anywhere without a soccer ball at his feet. The household has a very interesting dynamic. His father is a computer software engineer and is obsessed with technology (a computer junk head). Sammy is a boy from another era (or is he?) – he would rather run around the neighborhood, play sports at the local park, and ride his bike to a friend’s house than play video games or use technology. Sammy is perceived as immature by his parents, friends (especially his best friend, Christy), and teachers, but there are signs of maturity that he doesn’t let anyone see (loves to visit the library, but he doesn’t let any of his friends know). Because of this image (that I’m not sure he even understands), he procrastinates with his schoolwork and creates obstacles (the conflict) for himself, but the image may be the real problem.

    Author question: This is my summer project – lessons on teaching voice (in writing). There is so much information and techniques, so my question to the authors: What is the most important aspect to teach a sixth grader when it comes to writing with voice?

    Thank you again, Ms. Crowder. I look forward to using this with my students in the fall. Happy writing!

    1. I’m sure authors will chime in here with ideas for you, Andy, but I must share that this question made me downright giddy because TOMORROW’S LESSON is all about Voice!!! Tracey Baptiste is our guest author, and she’ll have a bunch of writing prompts you’ll be able to share with your kids.

      There are also a lot of writers who share their processes online. Here\\\’s an interview I did with Linda Urban… https://www.katemessner.com/real-revision-an-interview-with-linda-urban-author-of-hound-dog-true/

      1. Thanks, Kate! You know that I will be back tomorrow.:) I will check out the link. Have a great day!

  23. What suggestions do you have to attract 2nd-5th graders to a monthly writing group at the library? Also, any prompts that you’ve found successful. Thanks.

    1. The librarian in my book ALL THE ANSWERS found that her literacy club was better attended when she changed the name to The Chocolate Chip Cookie Club and started serving treats. Just sayin’… Also, I think you’ll find lots of our TW prompts will transfer nicely to your group, and kids will enjoy getting “lessons” from the authors of books they’ve read & loved.

      1. Love this answer! I know that my middle school math homework help club was most heavily attended during Girl Scout cookie season when the kids knew there would be a choice of Samoas or Thin Mints. If it worked for math, surely it would work for writing!

      2. I love that idea and love the book-my adult neighbor who was an anxious child read it and also loved it. I was very happy to have a character with anxiety-so many of us can relate.

  24. I really enjoyed this exercise! I definitely know my MC better now! I plan to do this with the other characters, as well.
    I have a couple of questions today:
    1. My WIP involves a group of teens who work together. I\’m playing with having chapters told by each teen\’s POV, but am not 100% sure at this point. I enjoy this in my reading as long as each voice is clear and distinct but wondered about your thoughts.
    2. We need diverse books, and I want to write diverse books. With that said, do you have any helpful tips when writing characters & situations which are out of your particular subsets?

      1. Thank you so much! I often need the reassurance that it is OKAY to play with my writing and try different things–so this really helps! Super excited about the upcoming lesson–now off to read the article!

  25. This post made me want to watch Pride and Prejudice again!

    Here\’s my character sketch:

    Ruthie desperately missed a great deal of things, of which she often made lists of in her head when she was trying to fall asleep on the thin mattress, Mary’s body tossing and turning beside her. Her bed at home. Her dog, Lucky. Her parents, of course, but she tried not to think of them too much at night or else she’d start crying. And her violin.
    She used to trace her fingers across the warm, nut-brown wood of the body of her instrument, marveling at the thought of someone actually constructing it out of a tree. Her mother had done her best to impress upon her how fragile it was and how careful she should be, but that didn’t stop Ruthie from taking it with her wherever she went. She even took it fishing once, with her father gently teasing her the entire time.
    “The lake’s not exactly the place for that, Ruthie.” His doubt was clear to her, until the music brought the fish to their fishing spot in droves.
    “Pied Piper is what I should call you from now on!” He whooped, and then stared in amazement, the music swelling around them on that sunny day at the lake. Here no one could tell her that she needed to practice more each day; the fish weren’t discerning, and there was no one around for miles.
    Now, lying in her bed in the cold darkness, surrounded by virtual strangers, and noises that she wished she couldn’t hear, Ruthie wished she was back at the lake, filling the world with her songs as the fish, scales glinting, lept from the sparkling water.

    1. A violin contains so many stories, doesn’t it? The woods that went into its making, the carving of the pegs, the little ding on the side where it knocked against somebody’s stand at music camp. And then you take the violin out over the water! Just the SETTING made me tense!

    2. I read this earlier today, Kate, and I can’t get it out of my head. You’ve conveyed so much longing in the short description of the violin. And the joyful, unexpected, whimsical image of the fish biting “in droves” to the music while Ruthie fished with her father is such a sharp contrast to the rest of the scene. I want to know about the circumstances that have caused such an upheaval in Ruthie’s life.

  26. Now that the day was full of people and sound, she could get out of bed. After pressing the snooze twice and making her daughter wait for help with a costume, her achey feet made it to the floor next to her bed. She grabbed her cell phone and dutifully looked at the reminder – exercise. Today was the first day she would go. She heard the familiar slam of the front door, once, twice, three times. She needed to take out the dog. The blue t-shirt she selected made her smile a little. The fleece felt cozy. She made it all the way to the front door and finally outside into the day. The bird sang two notes: high to low, high to low. Amy first heard that same bird at the beginning of PBS series Anne of Green Gables. It always reminded her of the vistas on Prince Edward Island. When she went out to walk the dog, the bird was the first sound to meet her. This made her grateful for the sun and the bells ringing from the church in the distance. She told herself it was going to be a good day.

  27. Image- Rosalie’s eyes are wide and dark. She rarely lifts them to meet the gaze of strangers. Instead, she keeps them at her hands, looking at the place where her wedding ring used to be. She now has a chunky silver band on her middle finger, that she twists and turns just like she used to twist the thin gold diamond band that she sold after Doug died. She needed a thick ring to bring her back from the initial relief and lightness she felt after selling the wedding band. Rosalie has looked at her own eyes in the mirror and she sees it all, she sees her own sadness and beyond that her husband who lay dying not so long ago. In the deep brown of her iris she can see fall day when they sat with the doctor and heard the words, “terminal”, and she held Doug’s hand longer than they had for years. She then drove home from the hospital, telling Doug she needed a change of clothes when really she needed to breathe, sitting on their back porch as the leaves swirled brown and red around her. She went into the study and turned on the paper shredder, putting the divorce papers she had hidden since the day before his diagnosis. Rosalie sat long after the burden of leaving was illegible, falling in tiny streams of white and black at her feet. Her hands covered her eyes until she could stand again, with dry eyes and a lifted chin as she resolved to pretend a little longer.

  28. Melanie,
    Congratulations on your wonderful books. I just reserved a copy of AUDACITY today, and can’t wait to read it.

    My question is about voice in books for MG readers. How do you balance the desire to write with a language that flows and a vocabulary that stretches, without your teen characters sounding unrealistic?

    My response to your prompt today came out much darker than intended, but here goes:

    Dad traced it all back to the scissors he had given her years ago. He blamed her habit of cutting her clothes during her pre-teen years, on that decorative pair of scissors he had sent off to school with. He noticed shirt bottoms being cut higher to reveal her midriff. He noticed shirt tops being cut lower to reveal her emerging bosom.

    But she didn’t feel noticed. She only heard his disappointment.

    As she entered her teens, he noticed the cutting moved to her hair, as she chopped it frequently, adding colors and tints.

    He noticed the cutting of corners, as she seemed apathetic in school, and at home, ever more consumed by her social media hideaway.

    He noticed the cutting in her words, as she angrily withdrew from of his attempts at conversation or companionship.

    She had lost those scissors years ago, but he hadn’t noticed.

    He hadn’t noticed her, now hidden under layers of make-up and blame, or just how far the cutting had progressed.

    1. Oh, Greg….such an emotional prose poem, really. A whole story in that sketch. I hope you develop this. I like it. It has punch. I wonder if the girl has taken to cutting her skin? It’s rampant in middle/high school these days.

      1. Thanks for the kind feedback.

        Yes, she has moved on to the cutting on her arms. I was trying to lay the inference without making it explicit, but wasn’t sure the best way to do that. I’m open to any ideas!

        1. I’m not sure this speaks directly to your question, but “He noticed the cutting in her words” resonates with me and I’m aching to hear that be more developed.

    2. Thank you Greg!

      As to your question, the complexity of the vocabulary will depend on your characters. For example, in my work in progress, a character was describing the air at 14,000 feet elevation. I really wanted to use the word “hypoxic”, but had to settle for “thin” because the former was completely out of character. For a different character, however, “hypoxic” may have been just right.

      All that said, one of my personal cardinal rules of writing is that simple is nearly always better. Kate DiCamillo is a master at this, in my opinion. Best of luck with your story–I think the “cutting of corners” and “cutting in her words” is brilliant!

  29. Question: do I need to be careful posting parts of my WIP online? I wonder if excerpts shared her or on my own blog count as “pre-published” for consideration of a final manuscript.

    1. If you’re just posting small excerpts, that’s not at all “pre-published” and won’t be an issue when you submit. No worries.

  30. (thoughts in italics) “News flash–I’m a wrestler now! My days of behaving like Cameron’s mat in these hallways are about to end.”
    “Hey, Jeremy! Wait up!”

      1. Thanks, Melanie! Without your prompt, the wrestling mat would have remained part of the setting in my story, never part of my character development.

    1. You’re very welcome and congratulations on finding a new way into your story. Brava!

  31. My WIP is a picture book idea that I’ve been percolating for a couple of years. After reading Melanie’s prompt this morning, I realize that I’d been holding back on visualizing my main character, thinking it was the illustrator’s job to handle that. Now I understand that it is my privilege and responsibility to bring this character completely to life by fully imagining her. Thanks Melanie!

    1. Ha! Bernice. Shut ‘yo mouth!! I am enjoying reading the others’ writing too…and my blog is brand new…for participating in TW. Hope to keep it up tho. I am feeling brave….sort of.

  32. Thanks for this push, Melanie! Here is my character sketch as a scene, though it’s a little more object-focused than image:

    Mom pulled Jemma gently into the hospital room, and they stopped next to her grandmother’s bed. Though Mom still held her left hand firmly, Jemma snuck her right into her jacket pocket and touched the magnifying glass. It was there. It always was. The hard metal case felt firm and solid as she gripped it. Jemma spun the glass out of its case and then back in again. Click, click. The reassuring sameness of the sound reminded her of the day her grandmother has given her the glass …

    My question is: how do you get inside a character’s head in an authentic way when that character might be substantially different than you? I strive to include a diversity of characters in my writing, but I have only my own POV.

  33. I have so many questions! I’ll start with the biggest ones. How long do you spend on rewrites in relation to the time spent on the first draft? Do you start the work from scratch for the second rewrite or simply go page and chapter? How much resemblance to the first draft does the second one usually have? Okay, I have a thousand more, but those are the ones that eat at my brain.

    1. Hey, Heather:
      I wish I had an exact ratio to offer you, but I don’t. Some books need TONS of revision and take me ten times as long to get right as they did to draft. Some only four times. One picture book came out super clean and only needed a tiny bit of revision, less than the drafting time. I know it can be frustrating to hear, but it takes what it takes. I think you’ll find that for most authors, though, the drafting is the short part.

      1. That’s actually a great answer. Thank you. Drafting is the easy part for me. It’s the cleanup that terrifies me. I often wonder if I’m the only one who suffers from Rewrite Paralysis – the debilitating terror that the first draft is irreparable drivel.

        1. I wonder if you could turn that “paralysis” right around for yourself, though, maybe: I LOVE revising because it makes even a terrible first draft BETTER. So if you sneakily tell yourself while writing the first draft, “Don’t worry! It’ll all be fixed in revisions!”–and then sneakily tell yourself when you’re revising, “Don’t worry! The hard part’s already done, and now we’re just making everything better!”–then every stage is the easy stage of the process. That’s what I tell myself and my students, anyway, and sometimes it works! 🙂

  34. Mia didn’t know if she had enough courage to sign up for the school’s talent show. She knew the key to getting her classmates to truly see who she was inside was through her music, but none of her friends even knew she wrote music and played the piano. If she signed up for the talent show, they would get to see all of her. But did she really want them to have access to that intimate part of her heart? Would they understand her longing to keep her music secret? What would they think of her if she played what she had been writing these past few months? Would they make fun of her? Would they trample her heart? This was the melody that kept playing in her head.
    The next day at school, she hurried past the bulletin board with the sign-up sheet on it. She decided she couldn’t unlock the part of her heart she had kept hidden for so long. She couldn’t let herself be that exposed. As she went to recess, she chatted with her friends and didn’t so much as glance at the sign-up sheet. She made it all the way to the end of day without adding her name to the list. But the crescendo inside her head wouldn’t be stilled, and before she walked out the front doors of the school, the bulletin board pulled her feet like a magnet to the sign-up sheet. She didn’t know why, but she couldn’t leave until her hand grabbed the pen. With little flourish or fanfare, she added her name to the list.

  35. I’m having a tough time deciding on the gender for a character i’m working on. The WIP is a series of children’s books (picture books or easy reader) dispelling the myths and fears about certain household insects. There will be one main character throughout that will narrate and in part inform the young readers about certain bugs (the bugs themselves will also do some informing). I’m wondering if anyone has advice on deciding on gender since this will be a book to inform both young boys and girls (as well as parents). Thanks!

  36. My rag doll child self
    Skinny. Dad calls her spider ghost and says she weighed less than a sack of sugar at birth. She had to stay in the incubator for a month.
    Smallest in the class so she occupied the same front corner of every class picture.
    Big brown eyes, head always tilted on her skinny neck.
    Hollow expression, shell-shocked from a violent home.
    Walks on eggshells, but once used her red tennis shoe to temporarily end the violence.
    Won’t say anything when questioned by the nurse at school.
    Reads a lot alone and does dishes standing on a chair.
    Pulls out little yanks of her hair while she reads.
    Wets the bed.
    Stress and shock made her forget where her mom worked when she rode with her bloody little sister in the ambulance after the car accident.
    Ray of light- she likes the bright colors in her grandma’s quilt- someday she will shine.
    She hid under the quilt in the closet with her brother and sister when the fighting started.
    Now, she makes bright quilts and teaches Navajo gifted students that they can be anything they want to be.

  37. I am new to blogging, but wanted to start. So this experience has gunned me into it. Here is what I wrote today… find it at http://mortonwy.blogspot.com/

    My question is… Do you base characters off of family members? How do you build a character without reveling too much about that family member?

    1. My characters are never based on a single person – rather, they’re more like collages of bits and pieces of personality and physical traits gleaned from a whole collection of people, real and imaginary.

  38. It was the beginning of eighth grade, and Jenny felt grown up. Like something happened over the summer that put her across a creek and through the woods, standing in a wild flower meadow, but with some dark clouds in the left-hand sky. Beautiful but dangerous on the edges. On thursday of the third week of school, she stopped at the Salvation Army thrift store on her walk home from a pretty decent day at school. She had an idea about finding a man’s shirt and tie that fit just right. Her friend Shauna, who was, at the moment, at cheerleading practice, being tossed high in the air by her teammates, would roll her eyes a bit–but laugh too– while hugging Jenny in this “mannish” outfit Jenny was hoping to find among the racks of thrift-treasure. She’d wash the shirt tonight–ideally it will be crisp, satiny blue cotton. She might take in the sides a little, using her mom’s sewing machine. None of the other girls in her class would be wearing anything like it to school on Friday. She said a little prayer to the thrift-shop gods for a bow tie, or maybe a wide, short, really vintage-y looking grandpa tie. She felt just right, lately. Her new back-to-school glasses were tortoise-shell and smart looking. Her long, straight, golden hair had a new, purple stripe on one side. She shifted her shoulder bag, sunlight shimmering on her stack of bangle bracelets. She almost skipped up the steps, pushing open the heavy shop door.

  39. Building on my white page idea- My character is a little boy constantly asking for something, nothing bad, just at inopportune times. For example, when Mom is doing dishes or laundry. I’m planning to let my first-graders help with more ideas. Twenty-four heads are better than one. They come up with out-of-the-box ideas 🙂

  40. Thank you for this challenging prompt. I’ve always thought of myself as a visual person. Just beginning to think of myself as a writer. Below is my go at it. My questions first – Do you ever hate what you’ve written? Do you throw those away or save for another time? Do you ever calendar time in to reflect of past starts to keep or let go of?

    Long hair, draped across her face. Always a downward glance. Her quietness flowed into the space around, like fingers spidering out to find something in the dark. Whispers of thoughts trailed her, glistening. Every step, tentative, unsure what would be found beneath the her sole. And in her hands, books. And their safety.

    With each page she read there was calm. That deep soothing the brain offers when it feels the warmth of community. The embrace of belonging.

    This feeling, of being wrapped in her grandmother’s quilt, hadn’t come for such a long time. With others, with people, she felt only the rawness of exposure. As if each person could pierce into her soul. Like the sting of lemon in a fresh cut. Skin sliced open, even just a tiny bit, can bring such pain. And so books became her life, her sanctuary, her place to connect with others without actually doing so.

    Walking across campus, books in hand as a shield, she was sure not to have to talk to anyone. And that was the goal. Get to where she needed to go, without incidence. She didn’t want to bump into anyone. No stops for coffee or a muffin. No small talk waiting for a seat. Looking at how everyone else seemed to do it so easily made her jealous.

    How was it that people knew what to say to each other? Why did they want to? Was is something innate, or something one learned to do? In the end it probably didn’t matter because it wasn’t what she wanted. She was fine with her reading, and studying, and not trying to connect. At least that’s what she told herself. Until that moment, waiting in the hall way when her silence was interrupted.

    1. You grabbed my emotions from the outset and I got wrapped up in your writing. Thanks so much for posting. Now I want to know what interrupted her silence–and why is she in so much pain?

  41. There’s so much fabulous information here. I’m so glad I signed up this year.

    I loved Kate’s suggestion for keeping it simple. I have a bunch of characters sketched out, and random post-it notes of ideas that I’d love to turn into something. I write with my students, but have not completed much with a logical and interesting beginning, middle and end. The posts today have given me some direction.

    How much stock should you take in writing what you know? On one hand it makes total sense, but on the other hand, it seems like it could be limiting.

    1. I suspect you “know” way more about way more things than you think, though. We tend to think of ourselves as simpler than we are! But if you start scribbling a list of your interests + the places you’ve lived + the strangest papier-mâché puppet you made in fifth grade + your favorite music + your talents + “something your kids don’t know about you” –etcetera!–you might find nooks and crannies in your experience that open up into new worlds. PLUS, as someone who writes fantasies and historical novels, I do believe that “writing what you don’t know” can be a lovely way to go, too!

    2. I write what I want to know more often than what I know, I think. If you’re passionately interested in something, I think that makes it good material and a place to begin research.

  42. Melanie – Thank you for the wonderful examples you included in today’s writing! My thoughts are definitely formulating although I have nothing on my ‘white” paper yet. I had never thought about my characters “quirks” and exactly how these characteristic would strengthen several of my story elements, so again thanks!

    One of my goals for the summer is to find ways to help students grow in their writing. Whether they are writing fiction or non-fiction, they need to include a plot line. What steps do you suggest for students to take in developing his or her plot? How and when do you formulate the main plot line of your story?

    1. You’re welcome! I’m glad you found the prompt to be helpful!

      A great book for aspiring young writers is What’s Your Story by Marion Dane Bauer.

  43. My question: As mothers and teachers, how, when and where do you find time to write?

    I also am posting the result of my character study, although a little nervous to do so.

    Anyone glancing over from a nearby booth would see nothing out of the ordinary about the Krikalos family. They might notice Amara’s tossed mahogany brown hair boasting a rainbow hairwrap, a souvenir of their week spent along the crowded boardwalks of Ocean City, Maryland. Or perhaps they’d focus briefly on her oversized, highlighter yellow tank top that drapped loosely over a hot pink bathing suit. They probably wouldn’t see the plain white Adidas that tapped and twisted beneath the booth seat. No one would comprehend the magnitude of eleven-year-old Amara’s desperation as she sat giggling and sipping tropical-flavored smoothies with her brother, Dorian. Just 11 months younger than his sister, Dorian already had the popular kid look–perfectly coiffed boyband hair the color of Kraft caramels. His olive skin, like Amara’s, had darkened after a week at the shore. Their noses bore peeling pink reminders of a summer day spent too long in the surf.

    At first, George Krikolos seemed relaxed with his two offspring. His gold-rimmed sunglasses were perched atop his curly salt and pepper hair, which from the front hid the circular patch of baldness that was about the size of a dessert plate. He’d left his charchoal grey Armani suit back at the office, and instead was dressed in nearly all black athletic gear, suited up for the squash game he’d scheduled in an hour with his business partner, Alex Warner. Despite the impending court time, George was determined to make good on the promise he’d made these two kids.

    “All the gadgets in the world can’t replace time with you,” his exwife had reminder him a zillion times, most recently at the door for tonight weeknight pickup. Yet gadgets they had. Between laughter and slurps, Amara and Dorian’s restless fingers reached repeatedly for their state-of-the-art iphones. Nothing but the finest for the Krikolos kids. That’s what the world imagined. That’s what every student at Freedom Middle School assumed–and frequently whispered to Amara at her locker, as the masses passed her in the hallways, or as she sat alone rereading Harry Potter for the eighth time.

    Forty two minutes is all he could give. One ring and Amara’s father snatched up the glistening black Samsung Galaxy S6, the latest gadget in his work-is-more-important-than-family arsenal. Amara’s hopeful eyes clouded over. She sunk into the booth, twisting her rainbow hairwrap until her scalp burned.

    1. Thanks for sharing Martha! As to the time question, start small. Carve out a tiny piece of your day that is only for you and your writing and protect it. The amount of time will grow over time and so will your writing. Good luck!

    2. I write first thing in the morning, before life gets in the way. Ideally, especially when I have a deadline for a novel or picture book, I write the bulk of the day. But if not, at least I know I did something. I take little pieces to revise while I’m on line in a store, or waiting for an appointment. I don’t wait for huge blocks I might never have. I use the pieces I get to my advantage.

  44. TW Day 3 Connecting a Character to Image with guest author Melanie Crowder.

  45. I’m new to Teachers Write this year and still feeling nervous and somewhat hesitant to share my writing.This is from my WIP, which, really, is the story of my life. The “character” I’m describing (in free verse, like my shared piece from Monday’s white page assignment) is the “boy-girl with the tousled brown curls”, my sister..

    She faces the world with a wide grin above her dimpled chin, a smile that includes everyone,
    In return, the world loves her, even though she keeps so much of who she really is inside.
    She sings and rocks, her brown curls covering her face, her cherished guitar always at her fingertips.
    Dreaming and creating, stories and music, ideas tumbling out of her mind.
    Her magical thoughts and wild schemes become the adventures she leads us on, through the fields and forests surrounding our house. We follow because we must.
    Her bright blue eyes shining, she shares her quests with us and we know that our days will be filled with climbing trees and building forts and creating kingdoms (Queendoms?).
    Her guitar holds the secrets that she doesn’t share with us.

    We thought she loved Bob Dylan.
    She thought she was Bob Dylan.
    Or so we discovered.
    But he, the little golden boy lost,
    He knew.
    He called her our boy-girl,
    And, in many ways, her ability to relate to everyone through the tunes from her guitar, the creations from her mind, the smile from her face, surrounded by those tousled brown curls,
    In many ways, she was our boy-girl.
    She was our everything.

    My question is regarding the inclusion of real people and real situations from our lives in our writing. I know that our best writing is based on what we know, but when we start to share our writing publicly, how much should be shared? Do you worry about holding back to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or to avoid sharing “secrets”?

    1. I’m not sure I have an answer to your question, but I do have a book recommendation: SKYSCRAPING by Cordelia Allen Jensen.

    2. I borrow lots of bits and pieces and character traits, but I also definitely try to respect living family members and wouldn’t take direct inspiration from a story or situation that was uncomfortable.

  46. Hello.
    I am surprised by just how hard it is to be brave enough to share.
    I am an elementary teacher who loves to write and teach a love of writing…

    Here is my attempt at a character sketch:

    curly hair
    silver highlights woven through curls of dark brown
    not long, but not really short either
    fair skinned, delicate
    blue eyes
    blue eyes that light up and come alive when she talks
    she talks with her hands
    delicately flying about punctuating her words
    she comes alive when she talks
    so animated
    her whole body is part of the conversation
    she is tiny
    barely adult size
    but comes across as powerful
    I lean forward to hear
    but she is several tables away
    and I can only see the conversation
    and hear the sound of words from afar
    muffled, disjointed
    she wears cool boots
    not-quite-to-her-knee grey boots
    with interesting pattern of leather scroll work on leather
    grey on grey
    they totally fit her
    worn with thick cabled tights, also grey
    a dark charcoal grey cardigan worn over a pale soft grey tee
    a flowy a-line skirt in a perfectly medium shade of grey
    falling beautifully in range between the light grey tee and dark grey sweater
    her friends seem to be hanging on her every word
    how I wish I could hear
    I wish I was one of her friends
    oh, to be so bold as to just walk over and say hello
    to join in
    to become a friend
    but, I am grey in another way
    I am shy, quiet and mousy
    I silently observe
    alone, at my table for one

    1. I am another elementary teacher who loves to write and loves to teach my kiddos to write. I like the focus on grey and how at the end your narrator felt that way.

    2. Congratulations on finding the courage to share! I hope you will continue to post your work–this is a very kind group!

    3. Thank you for summoning the courage to share! We each have a unique voice that deserves to be shared, and this is an inviting, encouraging community where you can shout out your voice bravely!

      I love the many layers of grey – monochromatic and yet subtley different. I also enjoyed the vulnerable honesty of yearning to go over to the other table and be included, yet feeling to timid to do so.

    4. “She talks with her hands” gets my attention (I do that too!) I want to *see* more about that, from the narrator’s perspective.

  47. Melanie,

    Thanks for being here and for this idea/prompt! It really got me thinking about my characters and what little things I could use to reveal characterization and also help the plot along.

    My question is related. While I was doing a quick write about this for my characters, I was wondering how such an object would be introduced. It’s not as if ribbons are all of a sudden a part of Jane’s ensemble when it becomes relevant (of course, this is different in film than in writing). How do you introduce these objects and weave them into the story? What does it look like the first time they’re mentioned (even though the reader may not realize it at the time)? Do you find it easier to go back after a draft and insert these moments, or do they arise organically?

    1. Hi Brian! Great question.

      I usually find that some part of the image system appears in the first draft organically. In fact, I may be trying lots of different things as I get to know my characters. It’s when I reread the story that a particular image will resonate, usually because it has a deeper significance than its outward appearance, and I will work to draw that image out and echo it throughout the story.

      So yes, it is something that appears in the first draft and that I spread throughout the story in the subsequent drafts, and yes, the reader doesn’t know that object is significant in that moment. The resonance will build as the story progresses. In my above example with Pilar, the first time the image system appears, she is walking home from school with an empty chrysalis. They studied butterflies and life cycles in her class, and she took the part nobody else wanted home.

      I don’t come out and say: Pilar’s mother left her, so she begins collecting all sorts of unwanted/abandoned things and surrounding herself with them. The reader may not even connect her trauma with her behavior, but it’s there, and it has a subtle and visceral effect on the emotional tenor of the story.

      1. I’m grateful that you go in detail explaining how the imagery becomes part of the story. As a reader, it is this imagery that often helps weave different characters, settings, and moments together for me, delivering a texture to the story that makes it richer for me to experience.
        I’m thankful that this is an organic process through writing, and not one I need to force into the story.

      2. Thanks for your response! It’s nice to hear about how this process works for someone who has successfully published their works! Thanks for being part of Teachers Write 🙂

  48. I don’t have any writing that I’m working on, but wanted to try a new experience this summer and challenge myself, so this is based off an observation from this morning:
    Standing at the edge of the pool, I tug on my ponytail and wrap it around my chin as I listen to the swimming coach,”Come on, Kya! You can do it! Jump in! I’m right here. I’ll catch you. Come on!” She barely takes a breath before she starts again, “It’s okay, I’m right here. I know you can do it! Come on, Kya!” I wonder how long she’ll keep at it before giving up. The tip of my ponytail is in my mouth now. I have a gap where my front teeth should be and I push my hair through that empty space. My coach still has a hopeful smile on her face and now I hear her say, “Okay, how about sitting on the ledge? Can we try that today?” I pull the ponytail out of my mouth and think that I just might be ready to sit on the ledge.

  49. I steadied the camera. She didn’t see me

    I saw an insistent toddler holding out her shoes demanding.
    “Outside? Outside, Mama?”

    I heard her calling for help with the rollar blade buckles…
    “Mom! Hurry up! I can’t get these on!”

    I recalled the nights cozied up next to her in bed.
    “Can you snuggle me, Mommy? I can’t sleep without you.”

    I felt my fingertips brushing her face and eyes as I sprinkled “sleepy dust” to send her off to sleep.
    “Love you, Momma.”

    I recalled singing gently to scare away the tears.
    “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine……don’t ever take my Allybird away.”

    I heard the parents cheering as she forged ahead running, tipped forward towards the soccer goal.
    “Go ALLY!!!”

    I felt her frustration when she told me about the best friend she no longer trusted.
    “Why wouldn’t she listen to me, Mother. She knew it was wrong. She knew it would hurt me.”

    I stroked her flowing blonde hair as she cried about a boy who wouldn’t answer her texts the way she wanted.
    “He is such a jerk, Mom.”

    I smiled at her story about the auditions at school that day.
    “I won’t get the part, Mom.”

    I loved her courageous stance as she led the church arms raised in song.
    “I just love worshipping, Mom!”

    I struggled to answer her questions about why he did what he did.
    “Is he in a lot of trouble, Mom?”

    I helped her decide which eyebrow pencil would be the best.
    “They’re all gone, Mom. My eyelashes too.”

    I listened to her describing the appointment.
    “She just gets me, Mother. Better than the last one. We are working on strategies.”

    I watched her fumble with the tassel.
    “Which way, Momma? I know it’s one way till they tell us to move it.”

    That’s what I saw through the lens.
    The toddler, the athlete, the singer, the worship leader, the broken one, the love of my life.
    Graduating. Tonight.
    My Allybird.,

    1. My twin daughters just finished their sophomore year in high school and this piece really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing!

  50. I have actually been thinking about this a bit lately, in my own writing and for my students. How do you fine-tune your writing (word choice, sentence structure) to portray an image to produce the mood you are aiming for? What process do you use? Does it happen in the first draft or somewhere in the revision process?

    1. I think many authors have many different methods, but one that I find repeated often is the idea that during each writing session they write a set number of pages (choose what works for you), but that prior to beginning that new writing for the day, they read through the pages they wrote on the previous day, both to help them settle into the tone and voice, as well as to fine-tune things like word choice.

      Myself, I tinker with each sentence until it has the right sound and rhythm to my ear, which I may get right on the first try, or I may keep changing it up until the very last edit.

  51. Thanks for the great prompt, Melanie. I was working on my quick write during my son’s park and rec baseball game, struggling with it really, so I put it away to live in the moment. After the game, gathering my things together, I almost wanted to smack my forehead. What I had observed during the game — -people-watching/ eavesdropping had provided me with all that I needed: a definite character and his requisite object. Sometimes I think that the most important thing that we can do as writers is to get out of our own way. Here’s my piece for today:

    Park and Rec Baseball

    He was a hanger-on in his orange shirt and backward-facing Angels cap. Taller than the blue-shirted kids on the team. And with hairier legs.

    “You need another player?” he asked with a mix of eagerness and bravado.

    “How old are you, son?”


    “Hmmm… I’ll have to check with the other coach.”

    While the coach walked across the field to consult, the boy ambled over to the bench, rifled in his shorts pocket and pulled out a handful of lighters. The cheap, disposable plastic kind, in rainbow colors. He put back all but one, flicked it with his thumb, nothing happened.

    “That’s what $2000 worth of fireworks will do,” he said to no one in particular.

    He scanned the group at the bench, boys ranging in age from ten to twelve, waved the lighter around a bit more and tried again.

    “That’s what $2000 worth of fireworks will do.”

    Some flickers of interest.

    The coach was heading back across the field.

    “I’m getting a Zippo next week. And a switchblade,” he added, slipping the lighter back into his pocket.

    “Sorry son,” said the coach patting him on the shoulder, “but thirteen is too old to play.”

  52. Here is my character sketch inspired by Ava, from All the Answers. Wonderful though provoking exercise. Excited to see where Emma goes.
    age 14
    freshman in High School- all girls school
    goes to all girls school to feel elite
    carries her Annie doll her Nonni gave her
    anxious about taking big tests- brought good luck charms with her to exams
    hates being away from home and friends- even though it’s a day school
    caught another girl talking about her when she walks into the day lounge
    feels unaccepted
    wants to feel accepted
    tries to rationalize that being at this elite school will help with college
    really wants to experience high school: prom, basketball games, boys, dances,
    feels like she makes friends with “losers” and not the popular girls
    feels safe with “losers”
    does not handle conflicts with teachers well
    struggles academically
    starts getting annoyed by middle school friends that went to school with her
    feels guilted into staying
    doesn’t really know herself
    Annie doll is comforting
    journals constantly as an escape to release feelings
    joins drama club- nunsense.
    does not get part she wants
    jealous of friend who does
    feels like shes in her friends shadow all the time
    tries out for softball
    makes it to JV- not varsity (hates it)
    goes into a slump because on team with losers and not cool girls

    carries a notebook and favorite book with her at all times

  53. Today’s exercise was excellent and I actually “learned” a few things about my main character, as well as a couple of minor characters. I was always focused so much on plot in the past, but have been reading and thinking about character a lot lately. I would like to try the letter idea, as well as the interview idea (and others) from “59 Reasons”.
    My question for authors: What else do you do for getting to intimately know your characters, beyond what is written into the main text. (I think of JK Rowling herself knowing all along that Dumbledore was gay, without that ever entering the Harry Potter series.) Do you keep actually “Character Profile” pages or documents or even templates for information?

    1. I’m so glad to hear that David!

      I’ll let the other authors answer your question–I’ll just chime in to say that some keep a journal in their protagonist’s voice. Sounds like fun!

    2. I do a lot of off-draft writing (and sometimes drawing) when I’m developing characters. I design bedrooms, look in drawers and under the bed, examine what a character has on her bulletin board, etc. I’ll also write imaginary letters from one character to another to explore relationships.

  54. Thanks for the wonderful prompt, Melanie. My husband and I love that movie, but have never listened to the commentary. It’s on our list now! My question for you – and other authors: How do you decide what form to tell your story in? Poetry? Prose? I’m curious about how this becomes clear to you. Thanks again for your time, TW authors!

    1. You’re welcome!

      You know, for me, the form sort of asserts itself on the story. Sometimes I push back, and sometimes I go with it!

    2. For me, this is a matter of choosing a structure and point of view and diving in. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve chosen the right path, and other times I end up starting over, which is also okay.

  55. I am over-whelmed with all of the replies Any suggestions on how to focus in and still gleam riches from the conversations? I have tried to read some comments but I just don’t have them time to plug through it all.

    1. I have to remind myself it is okay to do what I can. The responses are like looking at a giant menu of delicious entrees, all of which I want to sample, or devour. But I’m limited in my budget, both caloric and financial. I enjoy my order, and trust that I will have other opportunities in the future to savor more.

    2. You should try responding to them all. 🙂 All kidding aside, you can’t expect to catch everything that goes by in a Teachers Write summer. It’s fine to dip in and sample, and also, know that these blog posts don’t go away after the summer ends. If something looks interesting, bookmark it to read more later on.

  56. I tried 2others before I found one that I think I can continue to develop. Her name is Bridgett. We call her “Queen B” or our “Reluctant House Cat.” This is the back story I made up for why she’s so scared of everything.

    She knows what fear smells like. She knows what she smells like when she’s afraid….and she’s afraid all the time. It all started when she was small; when she was living in that other house. There she learned to be afraid. She learned not to trust anyone. She never knew what was coming. Were they going to pull her fur….spin her around by her tail….”forget” to feed her? She loved her long fur, or had at one time. That was before the small one started pulling it just for fun. That was before he stuck gum in it and before she escaped.

    That’s when she learned about a new kind of fear. Outside there were dangers she had never known before. There was the big raccoon who chased her down the alley, and the red fox who came ambling up the street; sniffing, always sniffing. There was also the problem of food. What little she could find and manage to catch was never enough to ease the gnawing pain in her gut. And then there was the bone-chilling cold. How she had survived that winter she’d never know.

    So, when the big man started putting food out on his deck for her, she allowed herself the luxury of eating it….always watching, and running away if one of the humans came too close. She couldn’t trust them. Humans had hurt her before and they probably would again. So she lived on the edge.

    The real trouble began the day they started moving the food closer to the door. She knew what they were doing. They wanted to trap her. They wanted to hurt her. She was too smart for them, but she was also hungry….so hungry.

    One day it happened, though she never understood how she could have been so stupid. They had moved the food again. This time it was just inside the door. She walked in and suddenly the door was closed. Trapped! She was trapped! Where was she to go? She decided to run; and found herself going further into the house. She saw the stairs and ran down them. There were so many places to hide! Now she’d be safe….at least until she got hungry again. She was in trouble now and she knew it. She also smelled it. There it was again, the smell of fear…….

  57. This question isn’t really about the writing process but rather about publishing. A friend of mine wrote a children’s book and self published it. Which method do you think is the better option, the traditional publishing method or self-publishing?

    1. The answer to that question depends entirely on your goals–both methods have positive aspects. Myself, I would not want to put a book forward without the team of professionals all working toward the same goal that traditional publishing provides.

      1. I am a long way off from publishing but it helps to hear your opinion on this. I think I would feel the same as you. Thank you!

  58. Today’s exercise is helping me to sort out the siblings in my story. So helpful in figuring out where my character fits among them:
    I am the youngest of five. The incomplete pairing. By the time I came along, there weren’t any mistakes left to make, no lessons left to learn. I studied hard in math, I ditched English class when I knew my mom was too busy not to call me in, I didn’t take things–including myself–too seriously, and I tried to stretch the most out of every moment, even if it meant pressing my naked butt to the window of a French bakery just to see the reaction on my girlfriend’s face.

  59. A little snippet…. Sitting on the porch of the cottage, guitar on her lap, she strums the strings while checking out her surroundings. Once again, she’s been shipped off for the summer to a distant relation of her mom’s. Ever since her mom didn’t have day care to watch her in the summers, she’s been spending the summers with strangers. Each pluck of the string brings back the memory of a different house and a different set of rules, rules she is not fond of following, hence the different guardian each year. She picks up the guitar and begins to play, one note at a time until a song begins to form. The sound of the water rushing over the stones in the creek creates a rhythm, and before she knows it, she is lost in the music, her hands moving of their own volition. In fact, she’s so engrossed in her music that she doesn’t notice the wrinkled hands that settle on her shoulders.

  60. Another helpful prompt.
    I thought about my main character and decided she had a collection of stolen wallets she like to look at. Especially the tiny photos of families she wished she were a part of.
    Now I\’m thinking of some interesting ways to describe the wallets in ways that connect to my main character. Lots of great possibilities….folded over, beaten down, disorganized, bursting, impractical, filled with memories….

  61. She used to be skinny. She’s not no more, not since she come over to live at Grammy Sparks’. She likes Grammy’s cookin’, especially the hamburgers, fried in a pan. She likes those a lot.

    She has brown eyes and blonde hair, but not same kind of hair as Sleeping Beauty\’s got, unless Sleeping Beauty slept a real, real long time and her hair got all dusty and kind of grey.

    She don\’t like school. She done been to Principal\’s office so many times that they don’t bother with the teachin’ no more. Teacher puts the sum sheet on her desk but don’t say nothin’ when she crumples it up and drops it on the floor. Most people think she’s stupid. She’s not stupid. She knows better is all. Ain’t no reason to learn two and two when her Mamma done gone to jail for doin’ math.

    Her front tooth is gone. It shoulda growed back two year ago when it first come out, but it didn’t. She didn’t even get nothin’ from the tooth fairy for it, neither. But she don’t believe in the tooth fairy, anyways. Except maybe she wishes she did.

    She likes Grammy Sparks’ house good enough. Except for that cat. She hates that cat. He don\’t like her much, neither. He squinted up his one good eye and scratched her good and proper the first day they met. He’s a mean old cat. He prowls outside her room at night and yowls. The same sound. Ra’o, ra’o, ra’o, over and over again, like he forgot he already said it.

    He\’s always there, that cat, always bein’ mean. Sometimes he takes the food straight off her plate, just plops up in a chair and snakes out that stripey paw, and next thing you know, he\’s got her french fry. No one knows where he come from, but she sure wishes he\’d go.

    Auntie June says Grammy Sparks is good at dragging in strays.

      1. Thank you for reading. This piece is the one I’m the most uncomfortable writing and sharing. I’m not sure how I feel about dialect in the story. It feels inauthentic to tell the story without it, but the grammar nerd in me is weeping.

  62. I use to be a part of an online writing community called The Red Dress Club. They had weekly prompts and I loved the writing exercise and feedback. I was browsing through some of that writing and looking for an idea I want to actual make my work in progress. The one I found was totally out of my comfort zone, but I enjoyed it. Do you feel some of your better writing is out of your comfort zone? Also, I have never gone beyond a short story, how do you move to young adult length books? What is your process? Does your character tell the story, or do you map it out? Thanks!

    1. Beginning with short stories is a great way to learn story structure. As to plotting methods, google “plotter or pantser” and you will get many different takes on the idea.

      I find that each project has a slightly different process; sometimes I outline thoroughly, sometimes I don’t. If you’re feeling at all unsure, go ahead and make an outline. What can it hurt? However, if your story wants to go in a different direction than what you originally planned, roll with it!

  63. I see those guitar strings symbolizing the individual sorrows of feeling discarded, but when they are strummed together, they make beautiful music! Her life can be put together when she plays the guitar. What a great ending – I want to read what\’s next!

  64. I absolutely love how you talk about your process Melanie. Thank you for that! I am thinking that I need to explore writing in different genres. I have explored personal narrative and nonfiction in a variety of vessels. I have not worked with fiction much at all because it frightens me. My mind goes blank and I can’t think of anything. I am going to try the exercise that you encourage in your post. Not ready to share yet, but you have got me thinking. 🙂

  65. Hi Melanie! I’m trying out this exercise in my notebook, but one thing is bugging me. My character sounds a lot like me as a kid! Is it ok to give a lot of your own characteristics to your main character?

    1. There’s no reason not to, unless you feel it’s getting in the way of your character having their own personality in other ways. Or maybe this is just how it sounds starting out, and your character will take over soon and begin to sound less and less like you. There is always something of the writer in a story, whether it is an aspect of the character, or a circumstance, or a relationship.

      If it still bugs you, add some things to your character that are very different from you and that will change their speech patterns, such as a dialect, or having a British parent, or some sort of temperament that is really different from you. Good luck!

  66. A comparison of then and now, separated by /
    -Rounded, both in boundless love and in stature. / Jillian Michaels on dvr for the nightly workout. Work off those pizza calories!
    -Wiry ebony hair woven tightly into a nest atop her head. Function over beauty, as a mother bird could commiserate / Like a religious pilgrimage to the salon every six weeks, hi lights and a trim.
    -dark worry circles that will be passed down through generations appear under her eyes. These charcoal shadows become a stamp of remembrance of her struggle for her daughters and their daughters and so on / The latest Sephora bounty will all but erase the under-eye circles that have become the bane of her existence
    -Thick, woolen dress and apron saturated wight the oils and aromas of stews that have kept the children warm and healthy through the winter/ curbside take-out on speed dial…do they have fat-free dressing for the salad?

  67. She sits with the sun beaming on her face and the glow of contentment radiating from her. This is her place of serenity. The melodic notes from King Triton’s kingdom tickle her ears while the hot sand beneath her cradles every curve of her motherly body. She is no longer in her youth, nor does she desire to be. As she looks at her hands – the ones that have changed countless diapers and wiped innumerable tears – she wonders when they began to look like her own mother’s. They were no longer smooth and blemish free; these foreign objects she now studied seemed to belong to someone other than herself. They belonged to someone older than herself; perhaps someone that had been hardened by the daily grudge of life. As she ran her hands over one another, she stroked each line and crease and examined every sun spot and wrinkle. Whose hands were these, she wondered. Did she become so busy with living life, raising children, and pleasing her husband that she forgot what this intimate part of her body looked like? She touched the glittering band that embellished her left ring finger and smiled fondly remembering the day her lover placed it carefully on her delicate, blemish free finger. After almost twenty years of marriage and fifteen years of rearing children, she realizes the tan, wrinkly things at the end of her arm represent something more than age. Each wrinkle represents a time she showed someone love. Each crease represents a time she made someone laugh. Each blemish represents a time she wrapped her loving arms around someone. No, these hands don’t represent a woman hardened by the world around her; they represent life: a life full of the good and the bad; the magnificent and the horrific; and the absolutely breathtaking humanity of life on this earth. These hands represent wisdom and growth. In her place of solitude, she pats her trophies and buries them in the sand like a treasure to be found. She smiles at this wise realization and allows the song of the mermaids to lure her back to the rocky shores of reality.

  68. I attempted writing to your assignment yesterday, but I became aware that I didn’t have a character that I wanted to move one with. After some reflecting, I decided to move forward with an old, unexplored idea.
    Library day. The best. Jody picked out Little Women even though the librarian reminded her she checked out and returned that book five times since September.
    The April winds would mean she would have to read with both hands on the book. She strapped the book to her back and ran to the tree. Her tree. Today the tree was swaying enough that maybe the ground would be the best place to read. Jody leaned into the tree and opened the book. ” (get a copy of the book to get excerpts from)”
    (jody’s questions)

    Burial plans. She had planned for this day. Her wishes were clear. “I want to be buried beneath the big tree in the front of the cemetery.” A plot was open, but the caretaker warned that sometimes trees die or are damaged in storms. Jenny said, “That’s okay. We’ll help plant a new one.”