Teachers Write 8/6 Mini-Lesson Monday

Good morning! Kim Oldenburgh, you won the drawing for Caroline Rose Starr’s book, MAY B.  Please email me (kmessner at kate messner dot com) with your mailing address so she can send your book.

Today’s Mini-Lesson Monday features guest author Cynthia Lord, who is not only a Newbery Honor author (for RULES) but also a super-nice person and brilliant teacher, too. I have learned so much about writing just from reading Cindy’s blog.

Her debut novel, Rules, was a New York Times Bestseller and has received numerous awards, including a Newbery Honor and six state kids’ choice awards. A former elementary and middle-school teacher, Cynthia even spent a year teaching in a tiny school on a Maine island, the setting for her second novel, Touch Blue. She is also the author of a picture book series, Hot Rod Hamster, illustrated by Derek Anderson.  She lives with her family in Maine. www.cynthialord.com.  Cindy’s joining us at Teachers Write today and Wednesday to talk about plotting.

Plotting: Setting up a Story

When I do school visits, I always meet kids who love to write.  They come up to me, gripping their notebooks full of fabulous ideas. They have done impressive work imagining the characters and their world, but they often struggle with the plot. How do you set up a story, keep it going with steadily increasing tension, and pay it off for the reader? 

To talk about plot, we must also talk about character, because they’re like two strands of a rope twisting around each other, strengthening both. One informs the other. So to help students understand story development, let’s start with a classic plot that has a character with a want or a goal.

 With students as young as first grade, I use this simple formula:

 

What does your character want?

What makes it hard for him?

What will he do trying to get what he wants and deal with that obstacle?

And finally, does he get what he wants?

 

The first two (want and obstacle) are set up very early in a book, because they set the path of the plot. Here’s the first page of Hot Rod Hamster. The illustrator, Derek Anderson, created this wonderful sign.

 Before we’ve even read a word of text, this picture sets the plot in motion. We have everything we need for a story to begin: a character (Hamster), a want (to enter and win a race), and an obstacle (he’s tiny). 

We also know something about the climax–because that’s where we’ll discover if the character got what he wanted.  So if Hamster wants to enter and win a race at the beginning of the story, the climax will be at the race where we find out if he won. 

The rest of the story is what comes between: how the character tries to get what he wants and deal with his obstacles to that big, deciding moment.

For young students, that’s enough to begin. But for older students and adult writers, let’s expand that W.O.W. to include motive. So the character truly wants two things (or more, but they fall into these two categories):  concrete and abstract. 

Concrete: a concrete want is what the character wants outside himself. Here are a few examples:

 •To earn enough money for something.

•To make the football team.

•To have a friend.

•To reach New York City.

•To win a contest.

•To learn to swim.

•To find a lost pet.

•To save his home.

•To solve a mystery.

 Usually this can be answered with a “yes” or “no” at the climax. Either the character achieved this or he didn’t.  So it must be big enough and challenging enough to last for the entire book.  The reader will measure progress against the concrete want. It also sets the path of the story, defines the climax, and controls the pacing. Without a strong concrete want, the book will feel slow. Editors (and kids) will say things like: “I’m not sure what this story’s about.” 

 When I’m working with students, I show a slide with photos of kids doing actions or obviously involved in something (playing soccer, wearing a prom dress, dancing with a group on a stage, hugging a dog, etc). I ask students to choose a photo and tell me what that character might want. 

 Then I ask students to come up with another want for the same character. Sometimes I’ll even ask them to imagine the opposite want for the character (What if this girl doesn’t want to go to the prom? What might she want then?) and how that changes things and adds immediate conflict. Our first ideas aren’t always our most interesting ones, and by making kids look for more than one possibility right from the start, it encourages a revision mindset, more open to change.

 Now that we’ve thought about what a character wants, the next question is why? 

 Abstract: an abstract want is what the character wants inside himself.  It’s the reason why. Here are a few examples:

•To find their place in their family.

•To understand where they fit into their culture.

•To be accepted and valued for themselves.

•To belong or fit in.

•To feel loved.

 Your character will make progress on this in the story, but it’s moving along a continuum, more than a yes or no.  The abstract want began before the book started, gives depth to the character, motivates his decisions, shows his flaws and strengths, and makes the reader care about the character winning. Without a strong abstract want, the story will lack character development. Editors will say things like, “I didn’t really connect with the character.”

 A strong story has both wants. Your character will want something outside himself for a reason inside. Here’s a classic plot set-up:

 My character wants (concrete want) because (abstract want), but (obstacle) stands in his way. 

 Not every novel follows this format, but most do, and it does produce a strong, satisfying setup. 

 Ready to practice?  Jody Feldman’s random word generator was so much fun that I found one for YA characters.  http://selfpublishingteam.com/chargen/ya/  You can set limits or be surprised!  As an example, I let the program choose everything.

Name: Ethan

·           Age: 12-13 (8th Grade)

Ethan’s Traits

·           Book worm.

·           Cruel, Brilliant, Lucky

·           Unique Trait: Is famous.

Ethan’s Appearance

·           Hair Color: Black

·           Eye Color: Brown

·           Body Type: Skinny

 Looking at this, I asked myself, “How might a middle-school bookworm be famous?” I brainstormed three scenarios:

 #1  Ethan writes fan-fiction, and he’s famous in that world, though he writes under a pen name so no one at school knows who he is. 

 #2  Ethan’s famous because his dad is a rock star who wrote a hit song about him when he was a baby, and the world knows him that way. “Oh, you’re Baby Ethan?!” 

 #3  Ethan’s famous in a school sense:  He’s captain of his school’s Battle of the Books team. Last year his team went all the way to second place at the state championship.

 I would encourage you to brainstorm a few to encourage a revision mindset in yourself. Then pick your favorite and create a plot statement.

 (Character) wants (concrete want) because (abstract want), but (conflict) stands in the way. 

 Here’s mine:  Ethan wants to win the Battle of the Books State Championship, because he longs to feel valued at home and school, but some reluctant-reader teammates stand in his way.

 Fleshing that out to a summary:

 Ethan wants to win the Battle of Books State Championship, because his younger brother has won many sports awards and Ethan wants his own chance to shine. As an eighth grader, this is his final year to compete, and last year, his team lost to Maplewood Middle School. The Maplewood captain goes to the same church as Ethan, so he sees him every week. Ethan’s been daydreaming about winning this year, but at the first meeting, his team’s faculty advisor brings some kids with her who aren’t strong readers. “This will be a great opportunity for them!” she says.  Ethan knows he’ll never win with those kids on his team.

 That has everything a plot needs to begin:  a character, a concrete want that we’ll measure progress on (the championship), an abstract want that makes us care (wanting to feel valued and special for his own talents), and an obstacle (challenging teammates) to create tension.

 AssignmentCreate a character. If you don’t connect with the first character you receive, try again. Or use a character you’ve already created–though it might be easier to practice first with someone you aren’t as invested in.

In the comments, post a quick description of your character and your favorite plot statement or summary.  If you get stuck or want help brainstorming, post as far as you get, and I’ll ask questions that’ll help you finish it.  I’m excited to meet your characters and read your ideas!

(And on Wednesday, I’ll give tips on: starting your story, increasing tension, and paying it off). 

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45 Comments

  1. Posted August 6, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Cynthia,
    I am looking forward to trying this. I will be working with First grade this year so your share here seems doable with younger kiddos. The idea of WOW and  (Character) wants (concrete want) because (abstract want), but (conflict) stands in the way reminds me of the Somebody Wanted But So strategy for teaching summarizing! Thanks for sharing and I’ll be back later to share how it went!
    Amy

  2. Posted August 6, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    That’s wonderful, Amy! I started as a first grade teacher, and that’s such a marvelous age. But so physically exhausting–I moved up to teaching sixth grade and the first day, I couldn’t believe how the kids just stayed in their seats! I admire teachers who work with little ones so much. Your work is so important.

    For any of you who want to try using W.O.W., this is how I use it to brainstorm a simple story with kids at school visits.

    I use the example of a child who wants a dog, because most kids have asked their parents for a pet and been told no. So they always have lots of ideas. I say to them, “So if you wanted a dog, what might be something in the way of getting one? Why don’t you have a dog already?”

    They always come up with great obstacles: Mom says you’re not responsible enough, you don’t have enough money, Dad is allergic, you already have a cat who doesn’t like dogs, there’s a baby in the house, puppies are messy, you live in an apartment, no one is home during the day. . . .

    Then we choose an obstacle or two (I choose money and allergies) and we brainstorm what the character might do trying to solve the problem. “If you want a dog and you don’t have enough money, how could you try to solve that problem? What could you do?”

    After lots of ideas, I say, “Now let’s pretend the problem is allergies. Dad is allergic. What could try to solve that problem?”

    Finally we decide if that character will get a dog. Kids always want yes. 🙂 But then I also have them brainstorm for no. “Let’s say you tried all those things for Dad’s allergies and he’s still allergic, what might be a happy ending for our story where we didn’t get a dog?”

    They come up with lots of other pets (lizard, fish, bird, etc) and occasionally they think of endings like Grandma gets the dog and lets the kid have it at her house or the child gets a job at the animal shelter taking care of dogs.

    On their own, most young kids write a timeline story or as we used to call it when I was teaching, the “bed to bed story.” I woke up, had breakfast. . . ..brushed my teeth and went to sleep. The idea of want and obstacle is a step past that when you think they’re ready to take that next step.

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Thanks for this great idea! I am laughing right now because my son does want a dog, my husband is allergic and we have a 20 month old (lil’ sis) in the house right now who would probably terrorize the dog! So we’re not getting one…
      Any way, that said, here is what I came up with so far…
      Teachers Write 8/6
      YA character generator
      Name: Nathaniel
      Gender: Male
      Age: 16-17 (11th grade)
      Traits

      Role: Jock
      Basic Traits: Unique, Disengenuous, Neat
      Unique Traits: Is impersonating someone else
      Appearance:
      Hair Color: Red
      Eye Color: Blue
      Body Type: Athletic
      Plot summary:
      Nathaniel Everhard-all around good guy, Mr. Sociability, is stoked for an exciting future as he moves on to walk in his Dad’s shoes and play college ball.  He wants to be even better than his dad but his mom’s doubt and “the what-ifs” live rent free in his brain…then a phone rings and changes everything…

      • Posted August 6, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

        Very good! So his concrete want that we can measure progress on would be to beat his dad’s reccord? Is that what he wants most in the story that’s outside himself?

        Why is that so important to him? What empty hole is in Nathaniel that he thinks beating his dad will fill? Does he feel second best?

        His mom’s doubt is a nice obstacle. And I’m guessing that phone call brings an obstacle with it, too. 🙂

        Nice job!!!!

  3. Posted August 6, 2012 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    This is terrific, Cindy. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Posted August 6, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    So excited for this post. I teach second grade and the W. O. W. strategy is perfect. I am going to try it out later and will post what I do-it may not be today, though! I also read your “about me” page and some of your blog, Cynthia, and love what you have there and have bookmarked it to read some more later. I start each year off with Fantastic Mr. Fox so you can I share a common love (and we both live in Maine)!!

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      Hi Kim! Hey, neighbah! Where are you in Maine? I live in Brunswick.

      As a child, I had an aunt from Massachusetts who gave us books for birthdays and Christmas, and she’s the one who gave my sister and me Fantastic Mr. Fox. Most of the books we had as children were very sweet, and I remember being shocked by Fantastic Mr. Fox and loving how dark it was–like Roald Dahl trusted me to hear the not-so-sweet side of things. It really stayed with me–not just as a reader, but as a writer. I still have that childhood copy on my desk.

      • Posted August 6, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

        Cynthia, I teach in Orono, but live in Enfield (36 miles north of Orono). My sister lives in Topsham and my daughter just moved to Lisbon Falls, so I know your area well! Off to school to work, then I hope to have time to write tonight!

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      Kim, I think you were here commenting before I updated the post, but congratulations! You won the weekend drawing for MAY B! Email me with your mailing address, please, and Caroline will send out your book!

      • Posted August 6, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        Woo-hoo! I don’t think I’ve won anything since I was a young teen and used to call the local radio station and win lame 45’s!! I’ve heard a lot about this book and look forward to reading it. I’ve enjoyed reading some young adult literature this summer even though they are not books I can share with my 2nd grade! I just finished, “See You at Harry’s” by Jo Knowles because of reading her posts on here. What a story.

  5. Posted August 6, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I love this for teaching story writing. I’ll be teaching 3rd grade this year and will definitely use it! Thanks, Cynthia! You always have great writing/teaching tips, especially when it comes to plot. I’m starting a new story of my own and will use it with that, as well. Sometimes we forget about both motivations – concrete and abstract. Thanks, again!

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Laurie!

      It’s a very, very common issue. I’ve done lots of critiques at writing conferences, and usually the writer has done a great job on one type of want, but not both. As adults (and more often adult women) we are fascinated with feelings and inner lives. And most of us live less active lives than we did as kids. So usually I find it’s the abstract want that writers have done a great job on, but they haven’t given the character a solid goal for us to invest in and to measure progress on.

      I did a program on writing for middle graders once at a conference, and in prep for that conference, I made up a fun survey with cloze statements and had kids fill it out for me about what they liked in novels and didn’t like. It struck me how much they loved and craved plot.

      One of the questions on the survey was:

      I give up on a book when. . .

      “The action stops.”

      “There is too much telling me about things and not enough action or things
      happening with the characters.”

      “It’s just too LONG!”

      “I’m just not hungry for more.”

      And this one I keep on my bulletin board because it speaks to the concrete want.

      It’s important for a main character to be. . .

      “Doing something.”

      • Posted August 6, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Cynthia, although the replies might be rather obvious, I’d be interested to hear responses to what the poll revealed about what keeps them continuing to read as well.

        • Posted August 6, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

          It was a simple poll and a blank copy is here: http://cynthialord.livejournal.com/397557.html

          I’ll hunt up any of the answers you’d like, but I did list out one on my blog when I was working on that program. The question was:

          One thing I see in books that isn’t *really* true about kids is. . .

          The kids answers are here: http://cynthialord.livejournal.com/400386.html

        • Posted August 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          Linda, I tried to answer this, but I used links and I think that tripped the need for the comment to be moderated. So please check back in a few days after Kate has a chance to unlock it. I know she’s very busy traveling this week.

  6. Gae Polisner
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Wow (every pun intended), great stuff here, Cynthia. I’m diving into two old manuscripts and they’re scaring me (mostly because they’re reading like crap ;)). Whenever stuff reads like crap, I know it’s because I haven’t internalized my characters, so I’m going to force myself to do this today and see where it takes me.

    Yay, for Teachers Write! #shouldalsobecalledWRITERSLEARN!

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      I don’t know if this is true for you, Gae, but for me, one reason that plotting is scary is that it’s the place where I truly have to commit. And suddenly the book isn’t about every possibility I dreamed it would be, but it is only this book about this character and this moment of time and these events. That’s surprisingly hard. But after giving up what the book won’t be, it’s freeing, too. All those things that now maybe don’t belong can be in another book or maybe can be shaped better for this one.

      • Gae Polisner
        Posted August 6, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        <3

      • Posted August 6, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        I was thinking about the process…when you say commit…I thought to myself when I was write about the character “why would anyone want to read about this?”. It makes me strongly consider how to hook the reader…just being reflective on the process…

        • Posted August 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          Oh, writing about my character…sorry
          Need editable comments…
          speaking of committing… 🙂

        • Posted August 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          The plot makes it interesting and exciting and compelling, but I think it’s often the characters that we connect to. Many wonderful stories have rather basic plots. Look at the Frog and Toad books, for example. The plots are graceful in their simplicity. Frog and Toad want to stop eating cookies. Toad wants to go for a swim in his new bathing suit. Simple and yet, they speak to what it is to be human (or amphibian!). It’s the friendship between them and the characters themselves that take those simple plots to wonderful heights.

          So in my opinion, you hook the reader with a character they will care about because what that character wants inside speaks to something universal in all of us.

          And then an interesting world to live in, exciting developments, etc. But all that will feel hollow if we don’t first have a character who makes us care.

  7. carol osler
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Hi,
    It was funny how easy this came to me. My character, wants to be BRAVE, so she can save the lobsters that are trapped in the tank at her nana’s resturant. But there is just one obstacle she’s to little. So she is trying to find the courage each day as she talks to the lobsters….Sorry, true story! Ithink thats why it was easy.
    This is a really great lesson. This would be great to use with social and emotioanl developement. THANKS AGAIN

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Excellent! So she wants to save the lobsters from the tank, which is a fabulous concrete want. It’s very measurable, can be answered with a yes or no at the climax, and kids love animals so it’s also something that a child reader would buy into immediately.

      Now think about why freeing the lobsters is important to her, so important that it overrides her love for Nana. Because small kids do understand about people needing to make money to live, etc. So what’s her reason inside herself that makes freeing the lobsters so satisfying? Because she talks to them, she obviously relates strongly to them. Is there a way that she feels trapped, too? And letting them go feels like letting something in her life go, too? That’s where the character’s depth comes from.

      You have obvious conflict that Nana owns the store and therefore also owns the lobsters.

      Excellent, job! I live in Maine, so I see those tank lobsters all the time. And I have to admit I also feel sorry for them at times.

      • Posted August 6, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        In fact, in Touch Blue, my second novel, the characters let a blue lobster go. I think you and I are kindred spirits, Carol!

      • carol osler
        Posted August 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        oh yea….I like where this is going….Thanks

  8. Linda Urban
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    This is such a great tool for writers of all ages.
    One of the things I like best about playing with this notion is how the various obstacles might actually shift the character’s initial want — or clarify a deeper need beneath it.
    Thanks for sharing this here, Cindy.

  9. Posted August 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Cynthia,
    Thank you very much for the mini-lesson and the excellent website. I will definitely be using it with my soon-to-be sixth grade writers. I have a four-day bell ringer schedule to start each language arts class. Day 1 and 3 is for read aloud, which I love, Day 2 is for reading skills, and Day 4 is writing. I will be incorporating this activity into my Day 4 plans. Unfortunately, due to the NYS language arts standards (writing narrative, descriptive, persuasive, and a research paper) we don’t have a ton of time for creative writing, so I use Day 4 for exactly that.

    I have been meaning to email you and thank you for contributing to a creative writing class that I taught to middle schoolers. We all read Rules together, and I picked it to show them the importance of developing strong characters and conflict, which we discussed, but we spent most of the time discussing the abstract wants of the characters (a BONUS:). I also used your “substitute activity” from Real Revision. This led to one of my language arts students asking me to include Touch Blue in the choices for literature circles. I now have a literature circle set of Touch Blue that I will be using for years, so another THANK YOU for that.

    Keep on writing, and my students and I will keep on reading!

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      Andy, you absolutely have made my day! Thank you so much for telling me this. 🙂

  10. Margaret Simon
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I love this lesson. I plan to use kidblogs this year and have already posted the character generator site on as a writing prompt. I also love all the great conversations going on here.
    My character from the generator is Alyssa. She wants to lose weight to get a part in the school play. An obstacle to her is that she is adopted, so her family does not have the same body type, so they are not too supportive of her goal to lose weight. She becomes bulimic, and ends up very ill. She will learn through hardship and loss that loving herself is important.

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      Very good! What a nice set up!

      Alyssa wants to lose weight because she wants a part in the play (concrete want), but her family isn’t understanding and supportive (conflict) because that’s not an issue they have and maybe they even sabotage her efforts? Maybe the mom equates food with love and it’s scary to her that Alyssa is rejecting that and therefore rejecting her efforts to love her?

      So Alyssa’s concrete want is the play (the weight is a means to that end, what she tries to get the part), so if you wanted to take this to the next step, you would think about her abstract want. What inside herself does Alyssa think the play will fulfill?

      Being adopted and having a family that looks different than you do would create some identity issues, I would think. And being in a play you are pretending to be someone else. . .so I see a connection there. The reason why she wants the play so much is the thing to consider next. 🙂

  11. Posted August 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Name: Isabella
    Gender: Female
    Age: 10-11 (6th Grade)
    Role: Rocker T
    Basic Traits: Responsible, Unlucky, Indifferent
    Unique Trait: Speaks another language fluently
    Body Type: Curvy

    Isabella wants to fit in because she hasn’t fit in at the ten schools she been to before, but her intelligence and weight stand in her way.

    Isabella is super smart and knows five different languages fluently. This is because her parents, two well-known writers, are always moving to different countries where Isabella must learn the language. She has been to 10 different schools in her life, never staying long enough to get to know anyone or to be part of any group. Her parents finally see this and decide to settle permanently in a small, upstate New York town. Isabella decides that this is the school where she will finally fit in. She scopes out the school, and targets the rocker clique as the group she will join. She chooses this group because she notices they aren’t that selective and she has a good chance of being accepted. All they care about is if you wear the right thing and talk the right talk. She buys the appropriate rocker clothes and learns the appropriate lingo. But while this group accepts her, she feels that she isn’t honoring her true nature. She has to come to terms with if she would rather fit in or rather be true to herself.

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      I love this Diane! I like this character very much. She’s quirky and appealing. She has also developed a lot of skills that could be used to create humor or conflict (the lanugages she speaks, the places she’s been).

      I see a powerful abstract want in your summary: to belong (and how do you do that and still be true to yourself?). Strong stuff and very relatable to kids.

      I think you could strengthen her concrete want by making “fitting in with the group” more specific. How will Isabella know when she has fit in with this group? What does fitting in look like to her?

      Fitting in is a great goal, but it’s hard to measure progress on because it means something different to different people, and it feels like she will be fitting in as soon as she is accepted by the group. . .and that seems to happen pretty early on. If it’s dressing and speaking the lingo that Isabelle uses as her definition of fitting in, it looks like she achieves that before the climax (and we don’t want that because once she gets what she wants, tension plummets and the story arc is over).

      What concrete thing could Isabella use as her “fitting in” litmus test?

      Since they’re rockers is there a band she might want to join? And even though she learns the talk and gets the clothes, there are other people trying for that same spot in the band? At or near the climax we find out if she’s the one chosen.

      Or is there an event or rock concert the group wants to attend that she can promise them (given all her connections), but isn’t really in her control to pull off? Near the climax she has to pull off the event (or not).

      Or maybe with her connections she blurts out that she can get a certain cool German band to come do a concert, when she really can’t do that? And now she must do her best to make that happen or risk being without a group again?

      Those are just some ideas, but making that concrete want more specific would give the reader something tangible to invest in. Just reading this summary, I want Isabella to succeed! So what does that look like to her so I can want it for her (even if in the end, she realizes it’s not who she really is–and indeed, learns she can fit in to the world as herself).

      • Posted August 6, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        Thanks so much, Cynthia–a lot to mull over! I appreciate all the thought you put into your response.

        • Posted August 7, 2012 at 7:28 am | Permalink

          I’m modeling for you what my editor does for me with a novel. She takes what I’ve given her and then opens the door and pushes me through to take the next step. 🙂

          Creating a tight set up is something an author can think about in revision, but it’s often a large revision if you haven’t nailed these elements down at the beginning. For Rules, I had to start the book over with my first editorial letter. And for kids, that feels like failure. So teaching them how to set it up before they get started saves some of that.

  12. Melanie Ellsworth
    Posted August 6, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Basic Information
    • Name: Eli
    • Gender: Male
    • Age: 17-18 (12th grade)
    Eli’s Traits
    • Role: Jock
    • Basic Traits: Graceful, Neat, Flakey
    • Unique Trait: Has a big secret
    Eli’s Appearance
    • Hair Color: Blond
    • Eye Color: Brown
    • Body Type: Average

    Scenario 1: Eli has loved the Nutcracker since he first saw it as a six year old. He has always wanted to do classical dance, but doesn’t know how to break that to his parents. His father went to college on a sports scholarship and assumes Eli will do the same with basketball.

    Scenario 2: Eli has been taking a boat-building class during his senior year of high school, leaving the high school for a couple hours each day to attend the career/tech school. His parents think he’s in an AP English class during this time. They expect Eli to pursue a medical or law degree while he dreams of getting a boat building apprenticeship after high school.

    Scenario 3: Eli has been a star basketball player for years but secretly hates basketball. In middle school, he playfully overturned the inner tube he and the high school basketball coach’s daughter were riding in on the river and she drowned. The basketball coach reminds him of his debt each time he thinks about leaving the team to pursue his real interest, drawing and sculpting.

    Plot Statement: Eli wants to be an artist – he loves sculpting and drawing because it helps him understand himself and process the accident that happened with the coach’s daughter, but he feels tied to basketball through guilt and his coach’s threats.

    Summary: Eli has a chance to take a trip to Florence with a few senior students chosen from local high schools to participate in a two-week sculpting workshop. The dates for this workshop conflict with the basketball finals which the coach is sure they can win this year with Eli’s star performance. Eli hates basketball and resents the coach, but is tormented by his role in the coach’s daughter’s death in middle school.

    • Posted August 6, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      I want to read this book, Melanie!

      Excellent! You have everything you need for a compelling story here. A concrete want of the trip to Florence and being an artist, an abstract want of wanting to process and heal the accident and feel whole (and art helps him feel that way), but his conflicts of the coach and his feelings of responsibility and the looming deadline of the conflicting events all stand in his way and add confict.

      Awesome! I liked all three of your scenarios, but the third one has the most at stake and that makes it especially powerful.

      • Melanie Ellsworth
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        Thank you so much for your feedback, Cynthia. It’s very encouraging! I liked the way you set it up so that we needed to brainstorm at least 3 scenarios. I felt like that forced me to get a little more creative each time. Love the YA character generator! I tend to think of abstract wants for my characters, so the push to have both a concrete and an abstract want and to articulate them in one sentence was extremely helpful.

  13. Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    My Character: (I thought of a character my 2nd grade students would love-and they always like when I write about my dogs. I’m thinking of developing this into a story written in Daisy’s voice.)

    Name:Daisy
    · Age: 9

    Daisy’s Traits
    · Lover of the outdoors
    · Affectionate, Curious, Fortunate
    · Unique Trait: She has a great sniffer!

    Daisy’s Appearance
    · Hair Color: Brown and White fur
    · Eye Color: Brown
    · Body Type: Muscular

    Plot Statement:
    Daisy wants to find out what’s inside a bird house, because there’s been a scratching noise coming from it for days, but there’s only a tiny round hole in the front, so she can’t get whatever is in there, out.

    Fleshing out to the summary:
    Ever since the bird house fell down from the tree on that windy afternoon, Daisy had been curious about what was inside. She just knew there was something scratching to get out and she wanted to be the one to rescue it. She dragged the bird house all around the yard, she threw it up in the air with her strong jaws but once she realized the hole was only big enough for her twitching nose to fit into, she decided the only way to get inside was to chew and chew at the rooftop.

  14. Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    That’s adorable, Kim! I have no doubt that your second graders will love it!!!!

    Now if you wanted to add a little depth to these fun events, why does Daisy want to rescue the baby birds? Is she lonely and wants a friend? Does she remember what it’s like to be left home while she people are out and thinks they might be afraid? Has she been told to “stay” while her people leave to get help, and Daisy wants to prove she can do it? Just think about why she chooses to help.

    You’d only need a sentence or a few of reason, but kids might worry about those baby birds being tossed in the birdhouse, so if you give Daisy a strong reason to want to save the birds, it would keep us focused on her through her actions. Love it!!!

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

      It was actually a mouse in there!! Thanks for your ideas-you are wonderful!

      • Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Now THAT is an awesome surprise ending! Love it!!!

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