Good morning, Teaches Write campers! I have two quick links to share with you today before we get to the main event…
First…a few people in the comments have talked about being overwhelmed by research & wondering about how to organize a project, so I want to share the tool that I use whenever I start a new project. It’s called Scrivener – and my favorite thing about it is that it has this nifty index card view where you can organize notes for scenes & chapters. They have a free trial if anyone wants to download & play with it. It’s been very helpful to me when it comes to organizing/outlining.
Second…I understand that at least a few of you are thinking that you may want to work on professional books this summer or at some point in the future. Writing about your classroom, your library, and your teaching is powerful for educators. If this is something that interests you, you should know that most of those books begin with a proposal submitted to an educational publisher like Stenhouse or Heinemann. I’ve worked with Stenhouse on my educators’ books, and they share their proposal guidelines along with some great samples on their website. It’s worth checking out if this kind of writing is of interest to you.
Okay…now it’s time for our Tuesday Quick-Write, courtesy of guest author & poet Jeannine Atkins.
Jeannine has written a bunch of wonderful books for kids – and one for writers, too! My favorite of them all is BORROWED NAMES: POEMS ABOUT LAURA INGALLS WILDER, MADAM C.J. WALKER, MARIE CURIE, AND THEIR DAUGHTERS, a book I loved so much I gave a copy to my mom for Mother’s Day.
Jeannine’s prompt for today is one that you’ll want to refer back to often:
Expanding and Compressing Scenes
Keeping a story moving along, while making sure to deepen important moments, can be done by consciously compressing time, which is showing minutes or hours of action in a line or two, and expanding these with details to show how feeling-filled time may seem to get bigger or even stop. Examples of compressed scenes can be found in fairy tales, such as: The queen gave birth to seven boys. Jack killed the giant. The girl fled through the forest. Any of these great sentences might be, or have been, the base of a novel or a two hour movie.
We’ll start out writing our own seven sentences, but before diving in, I’ll remind everyone, as you might remind your students, that prompts aren’t about following directions, but starting to write. As long as you’re writing, you’re doing it right. If you want to veer off, feel free. And have fun – even write that instruction at the top of your paper (I have.) Not just because it’s summer, but it’s good for some of what we call work to have some feeling of play.
Now, take a character from your work in progress – or if starting fresh, grab a name and begin by quickly free writing seven key points of change in your character’s life. A few words will do for each. These important events can go before or beyond the time frame of what you’re considering for the book or story’s plot. Feel free to put in or leave out birth and death. Later, you may find these seven points serve as a sketchy outline or frame, but now we’re going to look at how each point can open out by the way we word it. Still practicing time compression, write each of your key changes as a sentence.
Then expand time, lingering and bringing out details. What were the sensory qualities of that moment? What did the air feel like? How did the surroundings look, sound and smell? Try to do this with all your moments of change. Some might begin a story or novel. One might serve as a climax. Perhaps they fall into a useful sequence.
Congratulations. You’ve just compressed and expanded time. You can stop here or keep playing with these seven transitional moments. While sometimes we want just a sentence to move things along, consider adding details you found when you expanded time to your sentences. At key moments in fiction, we often want readers to stick around and bask. An expanded scene might suggest its importance.
Go over your draft and see what seems to work best as a short sentence and what should flow into a paragraph. When do you choose to be brief and when stroll from one lingering sentence to another? Sometimes a single, short sentence can set up just the sort of tension we want. Another slower sentence may be like a closed paper fan, opening to a glimpse of what was hidden.
Maybe you’re attracted to developing a sentence into a scene. Wonderful! Maybe this prompt didn’t work for you. Find another! If you wrote seven sentences, I’m happy. And if you tried to reword some, you were already working on revision. I hope that wasn’t so bad. Check the top of your paper: Did you remind yourself to have fun?
Note from Kate: I don’t know about everyone else, but I have totally bookmarked this lesson to use as a novel revision strategy later on – such great strategies! Feel free to share a paragraph or two of what you wrote in the comments today if you’d like.