Teachers Write – 7/10 – Tuesday Quick-Write

Good morning, Teachers Write campers! I’m  on a four-day writers’ retreat myself this week, scribbling away with 18 other authors at a big old inn on Lake Champlain. (I so wish all of you could be here, too!)  I’ve been writing-writing-writing, and not commenting so much. But rest assured, I’ll check in and get caught up by the weekend. Keep cheering for one another, too, okay?

Our Tuesday Quick-Write guest author today is Megan Miranda.  Megan was a scientist and high school teacher before writing Fracture, which came out of her fascination with scientific mysteries—especially those associated with the brain. Megan has a BS in biology from MIT and spent her post-college years either rocking a lab coat or reading books. She lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, where she volunteers as an MIT Educational Counselor. Fracture is her first novel, and Hysteria will be forthcoming this winter. Learn more at her website: http://www.meganmiranda.com/

 

I have a confession: I am not an outliner. And because of this, my first drafts are very much discovery drafts. This is an exercise I do whenever I get stuck with the external plot (and as someone who typically has to write nearly an entire draft before finding the right plot, this happens a lot):

 

 

Add rain.

 

Rain makes things happen: Things go wrong in the rain. Accidents happen. Houses flood. People are late, appointments are missed, plans are canceled. Evidence gets washed away. Strangers help each other on the side of the road, people share umbrellas, people meet. Or people don’t meet.

 

 

Rain reveals character: Do your characters carry umbrellas, or are they totally unprepared? Do they stomp in the puddles? Does she run with a newspaper over her head? Or smile because she gets to wear those totally impractical neon green galoshes she spent way too much money on?

 

 

Something as simple as changing the weather opens me up to many other possibilities. It’s my way of brainstorming inside a scene. Truth is, the rain doesn’t always make the cut during revision, but the heart of the scene—the events, the character reactions—they become my story.

So, as an exercise, whatever scene you’re currently writing (or if you’re starting something new), try this: make it rain. And if it’s already raining, make it snow. See what happens. See how your character reacts.

 

 It’s always a surprise for me.

 

 

(Right now, I’m about halfway through a first draft. I’m pretty sure it’s been raining for a month straight.)

Note from Kate: If you don’t have a fiction work-in-progress, try this quick-write with a favorite scene from any favorite novel. Play weather god and change one of the scenes by making it rain. What happens?

 

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35 Comments

  1. Jamey
    Posted July 10, 2012 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    The night was a mess. Her hair was a mess. His new shoes were a mess. The car started to smell like a wet dog. But it wasn’t as heavy as the silence.
    Trey had had a crush on Heather for years. He glanced over at her. Heather turned to face him. Her hair looked like seaweed. Long strings with clumps. Her hazel eyes just stared at him. Trey’s mind started to race, he had thought about kissing her for along time. He broke the contact. The rain creating a simple techno mix. Trey summed up courage. If she looked at him that way again, he would lean in and go for it. He turns to her.
    Heather looks up at Trey. Her eyes full. Trey swallows, he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. Trey starts to lean in.
    “Whooo, what are you doing?” Heather leans the opposite way. “Oh no… This night is not ending with a kiss,” and she opens the door and is gone before Trey can sit back up. What a mess.

    • Brian
      Posted July 10, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      Messy weather, abruptly messy situation — I like it.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      I like this a lot, Jamey, seems very true to life!

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      I agree with the others! Love how the weather and the situation seem to compliment each other here. I like it a lot!

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

      Thank you all for reading. The writing prompt just shouted out “mess” to me. And the worst time to get in a mess is when a first date is involved… 🙂

  2. Brian
    Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I returned to a scene from last week when the main character lost his soccer ball…

    That’s when he noticed, on the far side of the field in the opposite direction of the fence, a thin, dark figure who seemed to be cradling a soccer ball at the end of his unusually long arm. He was wearing a dark wide-collared coat that reached below his knees, maybe a cape? Ben noticed this because the ends of the coat-cape had started snapping in the wind, and the wind was strengthening into cold gusts as thick clouds broiled overhead. Unbothered, the man still stood there. Ben moved towards him and felt a fat drop of rain plop on his ear. He kept going, his eyes flicking between the soccer ball and the face of the figure holding it. Ben could barely make out an expression there, but thought the man’s mouth seemed turned up in a smile. No, just the ends, more of a smirk. More drops pocked the dirt around Ben as he crossed the field, enough rain now to dot his glasses. The man didn’t move from his spot. Ben had covered half the distance, breaking into a jog as the rain ran through his hair and down his neck. He felt water soaking the elbows of his jacket. A dozen steps from the man, Ben slowed, then stopped, then shivered. It was even colder. Ben’s confidence from a moment ago fled. The man cocked his head, expecting Ben to say something first, but it was hardly an inviting look. Ben’s voice barely made it through the now drumming rain: “That’s my b-ball. Can I have it back?” He’d meant to order, not ask, but too late now. “No,” the man whispered, “it belongs to me.” His voice was a snake slithering over sand, but Ben heard each word unmistakably through the rain sounds.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Very eerie scene, Brian. I like how it builds, the stormy backdrop is fitting. I like how the scary guy is seemingly smiling at first, then smirking and then really creepy once Ben gets up close to him.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      Ohhh, this is deliciously creepy! I love how the storm builds — first clouds, then a single drop, then full-on rain. Adds building tension and creates such a perfect tone for this scene. Love it.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Great description. I can see the scene clearly and feel the rain and the wind. The weather accentuates the anxiousness Ben feels. Like yesterday’s exercise, here we are getting to know Ben from his actions and reactions.

    • Heather
      Posted July 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      I enjoyed the continuation of the story! The change in weather seemed to mirror the change in mood very nicely.

    • Mary
      Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

      Fat drop of rain plop on his ear- my favorite phrase. 🙂

  3. Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    A wonderful exercise, really helpful, thanks, Megan! The first paragraph is from the original story I’m writing, and the rest from the exercise today.

    It was just a lighthouse! What’s the big deal? But as I saw it turn around, I saw it wasn’t a house at all, but a ginormous, evil-looking, black cat, light flooding out of it’s eyes and out of it’s sneering, sinister mouth. And not just a light. Now it started to emit this low, rumbling howl, like a million meowing, suffering kitties joined together to make one horrible, petrified cry for help.
    Neither of us could move for what seemed like an hour, as the boat rocked gently beneath us. Finally I was able to croak something out of my throat.
    “Melvin!” I hissed, “Turn the boat around, let’s get the heck out of here!!! He didn’t need any coaxing as he adjusted the sails.
    But then it started to rain. First, just a couple of innocent drops, but one little drop led to another, and soon it was a major downpour.
    Melvin looked frantic. “We can’t sail in this weather, we can’t even stay in the boat in this weather. If we don’t get up on those rocks soon, the waves will be too dangerous and we’ll be trapped. We have to get out of the boat now, Anthony!”
    “I’m not getting out of this boat with that awful thing up there!” I cried. I don’t even know if he heard me, the wind was starting to howl like crazy.
    “Get out of the boat now, Anthony!!” Melvin screamed as he held on to the rocking boat and leaped onto a flat rock. I took one last look at the scary, monster cat on the hill. The light was slowly slithering over the rocks, heading our way.
    “Now, Anthony!” I grabbed Melvin’s outstretched hand and jumped onto the nearest rock, almost sliding right into the ocean. We quickly ducked down beneath the ledge, just as the light passed over our heads. I heard an ear-splitting, crunching sound. Our boat was gone, splintered into a million pieces of useless driftwood.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Diane! And thanks for participating! I love with you’ve done here — how the weather forces your character into a terrible choice: to stay on a boat headed for destruction, or to seek “safety” on shore with a monster. I’m intrigued!

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      I have to ask, is it a real “cat” or a metaphor? I might be reading something into it that’s not there (English teacher). As they were looking or saw a lighthouse first… Good work, as a reader I want more of the story.

      • Posted July 10, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

        It’s not a real cat, and I’m not sure yet what it is exactly. I’m just on the first draft, and myself write away and see what comes out of it. I was picturing a rotating cat lighthouse type thing. The story right now is called “Lost Kitty Island” partially about this sort of mad scientist/ t.v. personality, Dr. Cat–a famous cat whisperer that no one would suspect is up to no good. Thanks for asking, Jamey!

  4. Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I hadn’t considered how weather can influence plot and character development in my writing, and I am excited to see how this turns out! We can’t have perpetual sunny skies in YA, with all of its angst, right? Ok. Here comes the rain. And thunder. And lightning.

    The low rumble of thunder in the distance jolted Beth from her slumber. Opening her eyes, she surveyed the damage. Half-empty glass, perched on top of the pile of homework on her nightstand, discarded mini-skirts and dresses lying rejected on the floor, and makeup containers strewn across the dresser. All of them reminders of last night and the garbage that she had become.
    Flecks of rain began to tick on the window beside her bed, each tiny tap intensifying the thudding inside her head. Slowly sliding her feet onto the shag rug, Beth wobbled her way to her bathroom, using the wall as both a guide and support. A crack of lightning illuminated her reflection in the mirror as she perched in front of the sink. Streaks of mascara and smeared red lipstick punctuated the sickness erupting from inside. As the thunder cracked loud and close, she lurched over to the toilet and heaved. Her only thought, her only reprieve, Maybe Dad won’t hear my shame over the raging storm outside.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Great description, feeling sort of stomach-achy myself in sympathy with this character!

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Yuck! I feel sick too. This is my favorite line, “Flecks of rain began to tick on the window beside her bed, each tiny tap intensifying the thudding inside her head.” The weather guides this scene so well.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I just love this. I could really *feel* her. My favorite part is the contrast in how the lightning illuminates her, but the thunder hides her shame. So powerful!

      • Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

        Wow. Thanks for all of the feedback. This was a great exercise for me and was helpful in revealing another layer of my MC that I hadn’t considered before.

  5. Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Hi, Megan! I just wanted to say it was a lovely surprise this morning to find that you were our guest mentor today! My niece and I got the chance to meet you when you did a pre-pub event for Fracture at Anderson’s in Aurora/Naperville, Illinois. We loved the book and can’t wait for the next one to come out this winter!

    I took your advice and added rain to the opening scene of my WIP, and I think it’s added another notch of tension to the scene:

    “Look at him staggering around down there. He’ll wander into traffic, T-Paul! He’ll be killed!”
    “I rather think that was the point, Clarence.”
    The two watched with concerned eyes as Marlon Grunt’s stocky 17 year old frame lurched drunkenly from one side of the golf course pathway to the other.
    “Well, for heaven’s sake, we have to do something!” Clarence, ever the drama queen, was beginning to get that thready, panicked tone to his voice that suggested that he was about to go off his nut and attempt some sort of a miracle.
    From the disheveled clothes and glassy stare the boy was exhibiting, it just might take a miracle to get him back on track. Marlon slid down the rain-slick grass embankment toward the road that wound through the country club’s neighborhood, losing his balance and skittering through the gravel. Through his chemical haze and the pounding rain, he surely didn’t see the pickup truck that was barreling towards him, just about to round the curve and take the senseless boy out of existence. Clarence gasped and T-Paul rolled his eyes and waved an annoyed hand at the speeding truck.
    The driver of the pickup truck screamed and slammed on his brakes to avoid the squirrel that had leaped, kamikaze-style, onto the hood from an overhanging branch. The squirrel clung madly to the windshield wiper, tiny body frantically tossing from side to side, as the truck tattoed the road with tire tracks and screeched, spinning, to a halt. The clattery old truck rattled to a stop a mere fifty feet from where Marlon Grunt was picking himself up from the muddy shoulder and lurching off on his mysterious journey once more, oblivious to the violent death he’d just barely avoided.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Jessica! So nice seeing you here! You and your niece were so sweet at Anderson’s — I’m so glad you guys came out for it 🙂

      I really enjoyed reading this opening, and I agree with you — I think it added another layer of tension (the slick embankment, the truck barreling toward him in the pounding rain). And I ADORE the visual of the squirrel clinging to the windshield wiper on the truck!

      • Posted July 10, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        I like that squirrel paragraph, too–funny image of Marlon walking around in such an oblivious state.

  6. Posted July 10, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    It’s actually raining here today. I like where this activity took me. Mystery keeps wanting to make its way into my WIP. I guess I’ll just follow my characters into the chapel and see what happens.

    As soon as we finish burying the squirrel, as soon as I see the nun again, the sky opens up and dumps out.

    Harmony raises her arms and twirls around singing.

    “Glory Halleluiah, God sends us the rain.
    Rain, rain, rain,
    Come on down and wash us clean.
    Clean, clean, clean,
    I sin no more.”

    Harmony sounds like a gospel singer belting it out with the fullness of her lungs.

    Then the lightning strikes, the thunder sounds, and…

    She grabs my arm and tries to tuck herself into my armpit. I set off in a sprint toward the covered walkway. I see the nun. She goes into the tall chapel doors.

    “Let’s go,” I tell Harmony and now I grasp her tiny hand into mine and lead her toward the chapel doors.

    “The nun went in here, “ I whisper to Harmony.

    “Who? I didn’t see no nun. What chou talkin’ ‘bout?”

    I don’t explain. We reach the doors, high smooth tan wood. The black metal door handle is too big for my hand. I wrap my fingers around and awkwardly turn. Creak! I close the door. Try again, quicker, still creaking. We jump into the front room. The chapel is dark and musty and smells of oil candles. I stand still, waiting for my eyes to adjust, but Harmony just bounds on in to the main sanctuary.

    She calls out, and the sound echoes, “Anybody here?”

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      This is my favorite part of writing — following my characters and seeing where they lead 🙂
      I love how the weather pushes the characters to a place they might not have ended up at naturally. This definitely has a mysterious air to it, and as a reader, I’m really curious to see where this goes from here!

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      Love your dialogue in your piece. I can see Harmony singing and twirling!

  7. Posted July 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    As soon as we exit the hospital, Grandma is running again and heading down Pelican Boulevard South towards the island. I hurry to mount the seat of the old ten-speed bike and have to put my foot down on the pavement to get my balance. My frantic state is being caused by how quickly Grandma is getting away from me. Is she trying to lose me? Once I get my balance, I anxiously pedal the bike down the boulevard. When I finally catch up to Grandma, sweat is covering my forehead, and the fatigue is slowing my pace.

    Just then the clouds open up and the dark sky releases thousands of buckets of water all at once. Oh no! Now I have no chance at keeping up with Grandma. She isn’t even fazed by the torrential downpour. In fact, she slows down only to pull a rain poncho from her backpack. I had no idea there was anything even in that backpack.

    “Do you have one for me?” I scream, but either she doesn’t hear me with the noise of the rain or she is ignoring me.

    Vrooooom, boooom, varooooom. The sound of thunder sends a rush of fear through my body and nearly knocks me off of my bike. Not even three seconds later, a flash of lightning lights up the entire coast. Where did this storm come from? Why wasn’t their any warning?

    “Grandma, shouldn’t we take cover?”

    “No. It’s just a “Southern Quickie” is what I like to call it. This storm will be over in a few minutes.” She still hasn’t slowed her pace. “Most northerners, like yourself, run for cover. Trust me, you’ll be fine. Keep up!”

    I just keep my eyes glued to the road, riding along while ignoring the booming thunder and streaking lightning, and praying this storm will end.

    Megan,
    The italicized type (the first paragraph) is from my WIP. The rest is added when the rain starts to fall. Thank you for this activity. The characters acted as I knew they would, and this solidified the personality and actions of these two characters (at least to myself). I am going to incorporate this into my sixth grade writing lessons this school year (with narrative and creative assignments). Thanks again!

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      I was really impressed with how much I felt I knew about your characters in just this short snippet — and Grandma seems like an awesome character 🙂
      Thanks, Andy! I hope your students find it helpful.

  8. Posted July 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Just jumping into the puddle to say how much I’m enjoying everyone’s posts. Megan, what a wonderful prompt for character revelations! I’ll have to use it, myself. 🙂

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      I’m so impressed with everyone’s posts, too. There are lots of good writers here!

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Margo! Hope you find it helpful. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s posts — they’re all so impressive!

  9. Posted July 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I am loving these posts! This is a great activity, I can’t wait to use this with my students after a read aloud or even to rewritea historical event and how it may have been affected if there was a change in the weather.

    • Posted July 10, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      I totally agree! I am so impressed and inspired by the posts. I feel like I have learned more this summer about writing than summers that I took classes at the local college. I have so many ideas and activities for the start of the next school year.

  10. Mary Meihaus
    Posted July 11, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    “So, we decided we are going to bring our bathing suits and probably spend most of the evening in the pool. It’s been so stinkin’ hot and the crawfish boil is poolside. I’m not even going to wear make-up because I will just sweat it off anyway.”
    When Lora told me this, I felt like I’d swallowed a cinderblock. As I looked for my swimming suit the panic started to rise. I hadn’t had my suit on all summer and it was no accident. I’ve gained so much weight and feel so fat – I’m afraid I’ll scare all the small children. How frightening to see a whale in their community pool, with a humans head, no less!
    Then the thought hit me – I wonder if there is a new blade in the razor? Maybe I should just use the hedge trimmer from the garage? This is pitiful, really. Maybe I could come up with a sudden excuse not to go. It’s finally happened. My angst over my developing weight issues has finally interfered with my social life.
    It’s not helping to think about Lora and Gail and how beautiful their slim tan bodies are going to look in their swimming suits. I wonder if she was hesitant to make this phone call? She was probably thinking that I needed a warning so I could prepare myself for the humiliation of being seen in public with practically no clothes on. She was right.
    Not only can I look forward to trying to hide my rotund figure by getting to the cover of the water as soon as possible, but I would have the pleasure of eating while wearing a swimming suit. What if my beach towel not longer fits around my waist? Now that is a scary thought. My beach cover-up looks like something Mother Hubbard would wear (my daughter’s words, not mine), so that is out of the question.
    I console my self that I will probably not be the only fat person there. Surely not. There are a lot of fat people in this country and, in this heat, everyone has to “come clean”, right? So, I gather my beachwear and head for the car.
    My anxiety increases as I get closer to the club. I am almost in tears by the time I arrive. I devise a plan to have a strong drink to bolster my courage before I go into the dungeon of the changing room to wrestle with the elastic sausage skin disguised as swimwear.
    Oh, there they are, waving at me from beneath the umbrella. As I suspected, they look adorable, no, they look sexy with their slick, low-cut suits. Their tanned skin, glowing. Neither of them are even wearing cover-ups – of course not! What’s to cover up?
    The smell of the food is making me nauseous. I order a drink from the waitress and say I’m going to have a cocktail before I change.
    Then, out of the corner of my eye I see a flash. Someone must be taking a picture in the large crowd at the table next to us. I am searching the pool deck for fat people – my compadres.
    A welcome breeze floats past us and I see that the leaves of the trees surrounding the pool area are rippling in the light wind.
    The waitress brings my drink and as I take it from her hands, I look up and see dark clouds approaching. A whistle blows 3 times. The lifeguards announce that all swimmers need to exit the pool immediately. Lightening has been seen and a storm is coming this way. Everyone is advised to go indoors to the lodge if the weather turns. There is a moan from the crowd.
    Large, beautiful raindrops start to fall from the sky and within seconds the pool deck is splashing
    rifled pellets of water. The cinderblock in my gut starts to dissolve.
    The wind is blowing hard now and we gather our things to head indoors.
    I say a secret prayer of thanks for the saving talents of lifeguards. I vow to never put myself in this situation again.

  11. Kelly
    Posted July 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    We play. Every game this spring and their scheduled make-ups have been “weathered” out. Not this one. We play. It really dowsn’t matter how cold it is. We play. Those? Those are just clouds. We play. That’s just a little mist. Don’t mean nothin’. We play. Just a few drops. Man Up. We play. No, that’s not ice. They call it sleet. We play. Getting a little thick for a raindrop. We play. Hail… Thunder… Lightning… HEAD FOR THE CAR BOYS! Game’s over.

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