Teachers Write! 6/28 – Thursday Quick-Write

Happy Thursday! Ready for today’s Quick-Write options?  We’ve got two…one for folks who are in the middle of a work-in-progress and one that works for anyone. (Try one, or both, or bookmark to come back later!)

Quick-Write Option #1 is courtesy of guest author Barb Rosenstock. Barb loves true stories best and often pretends to live in the past though she’s thankful every day for indoor plumbing, instant cocoa and the Internet. Her picture books include: The Camping Trip that Changed America (illus. by Caldecott Medalist Mordicai Gerstein), The Littlest Mountain (illus. by Melanie Hall), and Fearless (illus. by Scott Dawson) Upcoming: Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library (illus. by John O’Brien), Vasya’s Noisy Paintbox (illus. by Mary GranPré) and The Streak. You can find her at www.barbrosenstock.com or on Twitter @barbrosenstock.

“What in the world am I writing about?”

I was in the middle of a picture book draft and had just pasted in and deleted essentially the same two sentence six times. I thought I’d created pretty interesting characters, a cool setting and the basic plot outline, but where was my THEME? (I can still hear my 4th grade teacher Mr. Fornek.)  Was this a story about friendship? Or courage? Or plain cleanliness? Here’s a way that might help you figure out what you’re writing about when you’re stuck…

Go to http://www.wordle.net. It’s free, you don’t have to fill in personal information or sign up. If you haven’t used WORDLE™ before, it’s a tool that generates a graphic word cloud from text you insert. The WORDLE™ is based on frequency of use in your text. Click “create” and paste in a good chunk of text from your work in progress (at least two pages.) Hit the “Go” button. SURPRISE! You’ll see a pretty WORDLE™ graphic generated from your very own writing. Now look at which words are bigger and which smaller or missing all together. Are you writing about what you think you’re writing about? You may find that the word “friend” shows up the largest, that nothing describing your setting shows up at all or that a minor character’s name comes out larger than a major one—all useful stuff for finding a theme and revising.

If you’re feeling super motivated today, write a letter to or from your main character using the seven largest words in your WORDLE.

My theme is invention, what’s yours?

Note from Kate: You can do this with any writing…your journal, your work-in-progress…even one or two of your quick-writes combined.

Quick-Write option #2 today is from me (though I am away this week with super-limited Internet, so I may not be able to reply to comments on this post) and it’s about exploring points of view.

For those working on a piece of fiction, or nonfiction that involves people…

Choose a scene in your story that’s important to the main character or primary figure. Write that scene from a completely different point of view — the antagonist, or the character’s childhood friend who shows up, or the clerk at the grocery store. How does the scene change?

For those still brainstorming ideas or working on something without a main character…

Choose a scene from one of your favorite books that you’ve read, and rewrite it from a totally different character’s point of view. You might try this from a few perspectives. For example, a character who is friends with the main character is one option, but what if you wrote from the antagonist’s point of view?  What if you wrote from the point of view of a child? Or someone much older? Or the family dog?

Sometimes, this writing prompt will lead you to discover something you never realized before. Other times, it may help you to see your character through someone else’s eyes.

If you discover anything interesting or fun or important, stop by later on and let us know with a comment!

40 Replies on “Teachers Write! 6/28 – Thursday Quick-Write

  1. I used >b>Word It Out instead of Wordle (mainly because Firefox doesn’t play nice with Wordle anymore because of issues with a browser plugin). Word it Out is at: http://worditout.com/

    Here is a word cloud from the first part of the short story I am working on: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dogtrax/7459738354/

    I’m not sure any real themes have emerged yet anyway from the story itself, but the word cloud brings to the surface some words that hopefully indicate some mystery (which my character is still uncovering). And a comic book is at the center of the story so far, along with my protagonist, Manny. So, that makes sense they would be larger than other words.

    I find the activity valuable just to see another representation of the story — adding the visual element of words — and I have used this same concept with essay writing with my students, particularly around persuasive writing. (ie, does the word cloud show that “loaded words” are being used?)

    Thanks for the idea this morning. Now, back to writing …

    1. Hey Kevin! If you’re still in earlier stages of drafting it’s probably not quite as useful as once you’re starting to nail things down. I find it interesting to watch my word choices in addition to theme, are there lots of adverbs (then I’m probably telling more than showing), “to be” verbs (make those verbs stronger) or common adjectives (then I probably need to hunker down and write some specific descriptions. The most important things is your last three words …back to writing! Good luck.

  2. This was a good one for me. I am writing about a girl who is fishing on the pond. I wrote from the perspective of her stepfather who is at the pond with her. It helped me see what a grownup eye saw vs. my characters. Thanks for this! I feel like I am totally back in the saddle again. Now I just need to figure out how to round out my story and bring it home. I could write about this day for pages and pages, but a picture book can’t be too long and sometimes saying too much is just that, too much. What’s that quote about brevity?

    1. Shakespeare’s “Brevity is the soul of wit?” or my favorite from Thomas Jefferson (who must have been a children’s author at heart) “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” I’m curious Kimberley, what did you find your theme to be? What is the story about?

        1. Isn’t it interesting how your story looks as a graphic? How do you think kids express or understand self-development or is this an adult oriented story from the stepfather’s point of view? I know it’s about fishing, but I found myself wondering about other meanings of the word lure. Who else is being lured in the story and to/from what? Who is growing/changing in the story
          and why?

          1. Oh you are so thought provoking. And yuck, I never thought of the word lure in the adult context. But I guess it could mean lured to peace, quiet, and understanding.

            The self development is definitely kid-oriented. She is learning how to remove herself from distraction in order to figure out who she is. She aligns herself with fishing because she loves it, but also because it means peace and quiet with her Stepdad and away from her loud sports loving brothers. The world is not just hers usually, so she must take it when she can get it.

            I LOVED the graphic version of my story. i would most definitely do this again and I would do this with my students.

            1. Even if you don’t wind up going in those directions, I do think it’s important to think about other meanings of your biggest theme words–you never know what you will discover…

  3. Shakespeare’s “Brevity is the soul of wit?” or my favorite from Thomas Jefferson (who must have been a children’s author at heart) “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” I’m curious Kimberley, what did you find your theme to be? What is the story about?

  4. I am writing a middle grade novel, the title of which is Sunshine. When I did the Wordle, the title came out large and clear. Wish I could paste it here. The shape was something like a fish with the word Sunshine jutting out of its mouth. The other loud words were Momma and think. My character is healing and Momma will be key to her healing.

    I love to use Wordle with my students, and they enjoy it. We use it at the beginning of the year to make a page “about me” for our journals. I think I’ll use it this way next year. Thanks.

    1. Glad it worked for you, Margaret. I first used wordle for fun, but once I started using it with my picture books, it surprised me with what it showed me about my own writing (including a predisposition toward the use of weak verbs!) Glad to know the Sunshine came through. If you use it with your students’ writing next year, will you let me know how it goes?

  5. I love this idea! Sometimes I have such a difficult time pinning down or sticking to one theme. I took a completed short story for younger readers I had written a few months ago and copied the words into Wordle. The two biggest words are Kadie and Muffin, which seemed like good news to me since the story is about a little girl named Kadie who badly wants a dog of her own. Her mother doesn’t think Kadie is ready for the responsibility, so she arranges an opportunity for Kadie to dog sit for a neighbor one weekend. Muffin (the dog) is super cute, and Kadie really loves her. But Kadie learns a valuable lesson, namely that she isn’t quite ready for the responsibility of her own dog. Anyway, I definitely see the value in this tool and plan to use it later today when I sit down to work on my novel. Thank you!

    1. Bridget, I almost always have a difficult time sometimes sticking to one theme and since I write picture books, it’s kind of essential (without beating people over the head and using the same words over and over.) I have an editor who always says, “We try to remember that readers are almost always smarter than us.” Another thing I do with wordle is to make a word bank of synonyms, antonyms, related words, rhymes (depending on title) for the words in the wordle cloud. It helps to have them available to expand the language while working within a narrower theme. Let me know how it works with a few pages of your novel if you get the chance, since I’ve never used it with a novel.

      1. Hi Barb,

        This worked great with my novel. The setting is Paris, France, and I loved how the wordle appeared in loopy French-looking writing! The largest words included the main character, as well as the causes and reasons for being in Paris. The novel is a major work in progress, but this activity really helped me get focused today. I used the 7 largest words to write a letter to the main character from me, which I felt helped me to understand her and my reasons for choosing her.

  6. http://theamyrudder.blogspot.com/2012/06/i-love-wordles.html
    I wrote a post with pictures of how my wordles turned out and pasted the link here to my blog. I shared two other wordle resources I have used in the past: tagxedo.com (which I like because you can pick out the shape) and abcya.com (which is very kid friendly). I have yet to write my letter to the character using those 7 main words but I am still pondering how that will go. I will add the letter as I complete it. I never would have thought to use it as a measure of words! This was an excellent idea! Thank you for sharing and inspiring! I love wordles!

  7. So, I tried both quick-write activities and found success with combining the two. The first step was to paste my middle grade novel into Wordle, and then the next step was to take the most used word (Grandma) and write about her from another character’s (not the main character) perspective.

    I was pleased to see Grandma was the most used word because she is the person teaching the lesson within the plot of the story, but the other highly used word “home” was unexpected, but “home” plays a subtle part of the theme. With quick write option #2, I learned a bit about Kalie, the other supporting character, and found that she was destined to meet the main character, which made my story seem real. I have been having my doubts lately about the story, so this brought renewed confidence.

    Thank you for both of these activities! Back to writing and revising!

    1. Kim, thanks for posting that. I appreciated that story from your sister’s point of view, which version feels more authentic to you? Did it give you any insight into which way you want to go ahead now?

  8. Hi, everybody – I’m still away (& now nursing a sick-on-vacation kid), but I wanted to check in for a quick wave and a cheer for the writing you’ve done this week. Keep at it!

  9. Wrap up. Frustration raised through his chest. He told himself to breathe. The whiskey was wearing off and reality was becoming sharp. His son, Jay, still made the tackle but it was a shoe-string tackle. Whiskey made games easier to enjoy, the expectations stayed below the surface and he could high-five fans around him. He was a good old boy when the whiskey stayed.
    “Let’s go, Jay!”
    He wanted it to be positive, but fatherly frustration bellowed the words. What kind of defense was this coach running anyway, a 3-5? He didn’t know how they were leading the game. Greg was feeling antsy, the crowd was too close, the lights too bright. He didn’t bring a flask anymore, last year was an embarrassment.
    The clock read 1:34 left. Third down. All they needed was to make this last defensive stop. He watched his son set his feet as middle linebacker, filled with a mix of pride and desire. Desire to flood this anger.

  10. Hi Everyone,

    I am posting rather late but hopefully there is someone still out there to see. I didn’t really have a long enough piece to do the word cloud exercise, but I LOVE the idea of using this tool to help find theme and focus for revision.
    I wrote a short piece from another perspective but switched it up to be the perspective of an inanimate object. You can see my writing here: http://payanwriting.blogspot.com/

    1. WOW Andrea, I would have never thought to write a concert from the viewpoint of the stage! Love the idea of the stage as a character. In your post, I like your brainstorming a few phrases and actions first too before you got started writing. Now I wonder where this whole “stage viewpoint” could be headed? How does the rest of the equipment feel? What if it rebels? Or quits? FYI: You can do the wordle exercise with any amount of text, but it’s more helpful for theme once you have a first draft or at least one chapter completed.

  11. Sorry this is late but I had to send it.
    So my WIP is a picture book….And I never thought that the Lobsters in my story had any opinion regarding their fate. I guess I need to hear their side of the story.
    This just made me giggle.

  12. Hey, all, posting this everywhere, but the link Kate used to my blog (hi, Kate! Sorry to hear about sick kiddie 🙁 ) is to my women’s fiction blog, not the YA one. Please go here to the YA one if you are looking for Friday Feedback (and apologies to anyone who went there instead and was greeted with an f-bomb ;)) **http://ghpolisner.blogspot.com/

    xo gae

  13. I tried the wordle exercise with a non-fiction piece I have been working on this summer. I put all my notes into a wordle and the result really helped me see the focus of what I have been working on! I compared the wordle to what I think my audience will get out of this non-fiction book, and I learned a lot. Just wanted to say that this can work with non0fiction as well as fiction. Thanks!

  14. Dear Donovan,

    Because of the hurt, embarrassment, and just plain heartbreak, I can’t hear your voice right now. My mom thinks I am being juvenile to throw almost 14 years of friendship down the drain, but it is ironic how I felt you did the same thing about you. Why couldn’t you have told me that you were moving? Why did I have to find out with the rest of the world that you were leaving us, leaving me? Do you realize how hard it was for me to admit that I liked you, loved you? This is what I was afraid of . . . opening my heart for someone to break it. Hold up . . . I really didn’t expect you to break my heart. It would just break my heart for us to ruin a beautiful friendship. My dad said that I should reflect on how you didn’t want to hurt me so you were just trying to figure out the best way to tell me . . . He still believes you should have told me. You already know what Nicole has been saying; the same thing she said to your face . . . I have been hearing it too.

    Loving you will never change, but I don’t know if I can be your friend right now. It just hurts. Will I ever get over this? I don’t know, Donovan, I don’t know. My mom says that time heals wombs and I hope that is the case for you and I. I really hope so . . . Until then, please give me my space.