Teachers Write 8/7 Tuesday Quick-Write

Good morning! I’m still on the road, presenting to amazing educators at the Pennsylvania Writing Institute at Millersville University today, but fabulous guest author is here with today’s writing prompt.  Laura writes magazine articles, poetry, and educational titles for kids. Learn about her work at her website: www.laurawynkoop.com

“Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse…and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

                                                ― Rick Riordan, The Sea of Monsters

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt that families are kind of a mixed blessing. They love you, bug you, help you, hurt you, make you laugh, make you cry, and just generally drive you crazy.  But you know life wouldn’t be the same without them.  And you wouldn’t be who you are without them.

I find it interesting to think about my favorite characters and take a good look at their families. 

Take Percy Jackson for example.  Unbeknownst to him, he’s the son of Poseidon, and at the age of 12, he’s sent to a camp for demigods.  If not for his father, Percy wouldn’t be one of the most powerful half-bloods on the planet.

And then there’s Harry Potter.  After the death of his loving parents, he has to be raised by his aunt and uncle.  As cruel and cold-hearted as they are, the fact that they share the bond of blood offers Harry protection from Voldemort.

And speaking of protection, the entire plot of The Hunger Games hinges on the fact that Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place in the reaping.  She would do anything, make any sacrifice, in an effort to keep her little sister safe.

These are very brief examples, of course, but I think it’s helpful to evaluate how characters are affected by their family dynamics.

So for today’s Quick-Write, I’m asking you to take one of your characters (it can be from your WIP, or an entirely new character), and examine his/her family.  Who does your character live with?  Which family member is your character closest to?  Why?  What special bonds do they share?  Who is the biggest source of tension?  Why?  What has happened to strain their relationship?  How do specific family members influence your character’s beliefs and actions?

I hope that by taking a good look at your character’s family, you’ll get to know him/her a bit better and develop a deeper understanding of his/her motives.

Happy Writing!
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16 Comments

  1. Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Coach David Riner was sipping coffee. The apartment was dark except the light over the stove. He was already feeling the anticipation of the first practice. He felt good. The team had about 90 percent of the kids in the weight room over the summer. He even played a few nights during their touch football games they held on Tuesday nights. He downed the last sip of coffee. Rinsed out the cup and left it in the sink. He walked the few feet to their bedroom to give his wife a kiss. Even if she was sleeping, she always wanted a kiss goodbye. He swore she was dead asleep one time, and when he returned she was on his case because he had not kissed her goodbye. He had never left the house without kissing her since then.
    “Ready?” she mumbled as he bent down to kiss her.
    “I think so.” He sat down on the edge of the bed.
    “Huum, I think this could be a good year. Are we still going out tonight for dinner?” Julie turned from he side to her back to look at David.
    “Yes. Yes, we are. But not until after seven. Tonight’s practice starts a 4:30. But we won’t go the full two hours and I’ll need to shower.”
    “OK, if I’m not here when you get home I’m at school working in my room.” Julie taught fourth grade for the Twin Valley district. This was both of theirs first job. They had met in college. David had asked Julie out after an educational class they were both in, “Discipline in the Classroom.” They had been on opposite sides of a class debate, the role of parental input regarding discipline guidelines for the classroom.
    At the end, it was just them debating, the rest of the class silent but in awe of the energy in the room. Both of them snapping off statistics and philosophy as the debate simply came down to the moral obligations of a teacher in a society that did not always provide those guidelines. But their grade level of teaching kept them separate, David pressing for more student responsibility in their own development and Julie standing strong that with out the guidelines directing them, the students couldn’t develop the freedom to use the guidelines to self discipline.
    It was love at first site, well on David’s side. Julie was not so free with her heart, yet they were married within two years of their first date.
    “Alright, I got to go,” David said.
    “Love you,” Julie said as she sat up to kiss her husband.
    “Love you.” David headed out the apartment as the first rays of the sunrise broke the darkness. He thought to himself, this is the year.

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Jamey,
      I’m guessing that this is a WIP because of the way you developed the characters in this excerpt. The dialogue helped to move the story along. I enjoyed reading it! Thanks for sharing!

      • Posted August 7, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

        Yes, kind of. I’ve had an idea for a story brewing in my head for a long time. This workshop has allowed me to get some of those “scenes” in my head on to paper. Most of my response here have been connected to this idea (yeah, the football ones). Thanks for reading.

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      I liked the beginning especially. Nice work, Jamey!

      • Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for reading. I found writing a flashback isn’t as easy as I thought. Transition, what to share, stuff like that.

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for sharing this, Jamey! I enjoyed the flashback of how David and Julie met. Those can be SO challenging to write! You included some nice concrete details, and I felt like I was right there in that college classroom watching the debate between them. Best of luck getting all of your “scenes” down on paper! 🙂

      • Jamey
        Posted August 7, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for reading. The cool part is that I do have scenes down for this story, and for another story. This has been a great jump start for me. Thanks for the idea.

  2. Posted August 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Laura,

    Thank you for the wonderful mini-lesson. I am in the revision stage of my middle grade manuscript, so this was a great activity to flush out some concerns that I have about my characters. I was hoping to create a relationship between my main character and his grandma that was intricate (confusing but easy enough to follow for a middle school student), thought-provoking (with various lessons to be learned by the reader), and leaves the reader guessing about what the main character will find out about his father. I jotted down some answers to your character questions in my notebook and was happy with the answers – the relationship I am hoping for is coming together. Here is an excerpt:

    Who does your character live with?
    Steven, the main character lives with his Grandma Birdie.

    Which family member is your character closest to? Why?
    Steven believes that he is closest to his father, but as the story plot develops, he realizes that his father isn’t the man that he originally thought that he was while growing up. The relationship is driven by money – the father buys Stevie everything he needs and wants. Steven has never developed a selfish attitude, so when he begins to learn the truth about his father, he begins to question his motives. Through learning these truths, Stevie becomes close to his Grandma Birdie.

    What special bonds do they share?
    In the beginning of the story, the only bond that Stevie and Grandma share is the father (Grandma’s son). But they soon find out that this does not bind them, but instead divides them. When Stevie begins to trust Grandma is when the relationship/friendship begins to blossom. While the relationship grows closer, Grandma teaches Stevie that there is much more to life than concrete objects (computers, cell phones, televisions, video games) and she helps Stevie (who is extremely shy and unconfident) find his voice.

    Who is the biggest source of tension? Why?
    The father is the biggest source of tension because his secret life is being uncovered by Stevie has his relationship with Grandma grows stronger.

    How do specific family members influence your character’s beliefs and actions?
    Grandma Birdie’s intentions are not to let Stevie know about his father (at least it seems this way), but as the relationship take form, Stevie begins to question is father’s past and Grandma can’t let the strong trust that has formed be broken by lies. Stevie not only learns about his family, but also learns many life lessons from his confident, strong, and caring grandma.

    THANK YOU AGAIN!

    • Gae Polisner
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Peeked in here… as always, great stuff!

      Andy, love to see you pushing yourself. Still waitin for MY email. 😉

      Keep going, all!

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

      Wow. Andy, I’m completely intrigued by your characters! I’d love to know more about Stevie and the secret life of his father. And Grandma Birdie sounds like a good, strong, honest woman. You’ve got the makings of a great story here–hope I’m able to read it someday! 🙂

  3. Posted August 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    I always thought Dad was the one I was closest with. But when he left, I felt completely confused. Who was this man to disappear like that? It was such a shock to us all: Mom, Leelee and me. I don’t know how they made sense of it in their heads, but I didn’t think I could ever connect how I used to feel with how I feel now. He was so dependable back then, and seemed so happy with all of us. Was it an act, or was I so out of it I didn’t see the signs that must have been there. Mom now remembers times that were mysterious. Like when he’d come home late from work sometimes–not just 5 o’clock late, but really, really late, like 11 or 12. And that didn’t make sense for a high school teacher. But like I said, we were all so happy, that nothing seemed suspicious at that time.

    I searched my memory. I started thinking of some of the annoying things that Mom could do, like the way she was so over-focused with what all of us wore.. She was always bugging Dad about his shirt not being tucked in, or his collar not pulled out correctly. She would constantly mention that he needed a haircut when he never really did, as far as I could tell. Or she would bring up how he needed to be kinder and not so direct with people. I don’t think it’s because she was concerned with whether he was hurting anyone’s feelings but more to do with how people saw us. She’s always concerned with how we look to others.

    • Margaret Simon
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

      Diane,
      This is so real! Is it fiction? Sounds like a family I know well in which the father left when everyone seemed to think they were all happy. These feelings can get very complicated. I am curious about how you will deal with them. Will dad return and try to make everything better or will they have to go it alone?

      • Posted August 7, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for your comment, Margaret! It’s fiction, but I put in some of my own annoying qualities for the mom 🙂 The dad will return, still concocting this story, but he returns…

    • Posted August 7, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      I really like the authentic voice here, Diane. You’ve created a raw and honest look at the MC’s parents, and I’d love to know how the plot will unfold. Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

    • Jamey
      Posted August 7, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      To keep it simple, this hit a personal note. And that is what good writing does, connects to the reader.

      • Posted August 8, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        Thank you Laura and Jamey! It’s great getting feedback.

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