Teachers Write 7.9.15 Thursday Quick-Write with Tracey Baptiste

Our guest author for today is Tracey Baptiste. Tracey writes both fiction and nonfiction and penned one of my favorite middle grade novels of 2015, The Jumbies. It’s a fantastic, spooky adventure set in the Caribbean, where Tracey grew up reading Grimm’s fairy tales and wishing for books that featured the wonderful stories her family told in Trinidad. She couldn’t find them — so she wrote one.


Tracey has a series of writing prompts for us today – all focusing on VOICE:

One of the things I struggle with most is voice, so I have a few tricks that I use to make sure that every character in my book has their own strong point of view, even if they are just coming in for a quick comic relief.

You probably already know how important voice is. Two people telling the same story won’t say it in the same way, and it’s likely that you’ll find one more compelling than the other. That’s voice. So you want to make sure that your characters all have compelling voices, even if that voice is meant to be annoying, or aggravating, or inciting as needed in your story. Whatever it is they have to do, they have to be able to do it well.

So let’s get to it. For each of these exercises you’ll need a quiet space to work, and a timer. You can do these exercises for all of your characters, but starting with any character you’re struggling to understand is probably your best bet.

Exercise 1: Visualization

Picture your character walking through a door that is far away. All you can see is the shape of their body because there is a bright light behind them. When they step through the door, describe what they are wearing. (Write all you can in 2 mins.)

As they move further into the room, describe the objects that you can see around them. (Write all you can in 2 mins.)

As they stand in the middle of the room, people begin walking toward them. Describe who these people are and what their relationship is to your character. (Write all you can in 4 mins.)

Exercise 2: Becoming Your Character

Put yourself in your character’s shoes and answer the following interview questions as if you are them. What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? Who are you jealous of? If you could do anything right now, what would it be? What is your biggest secret?

Exercise 3: Flip the Switch

Imagine that a bad guy with an opposite-ray dropped into your book from hyperspace. The opposite-ray hits your character full in the face and now they are the complete antithesis of the person they were before. Now answer the same questions above again. What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? Who are you jealous of? If you could do anything right now, what would it be? (I don’t include the secret question because presumably will be the same.)

Exercise 4: Conversion

Take any scene from your current WIP that includes the character you’ve been working on. Strip away all of the setting information, the emotional tag lines and write it as a play with only the characters’ words and any stage directions that move your character into a spot that helps your plot to continue, such as: Moves to door. Door swings open and hits them in the face. Now see how the words your character uses without any props conveys their emotions, or DOESN’T convey their emotions.

Note from Kate: If you’d like to share a paragraph of what you wrote today, please feel free to do that in the comments!

113 Replies on “Teachers Write 7.9.15 Thursday Quick-Write with Tracey Baptiste

  1. Molly’s grandmother came into the room to see if everyone was ready for lunch. She loves to feed people; this is her way of taking of those she cares about and nurturing them. Granny is smart and so kind. She’s Molly’s favorite. Molly looks similar to Granny. Molly has always thought Granny was beautiful. She has brown hair, but when you look closely at it, which Molly does often because she loves “doing” Granny’s hair, it is actually made up of all different colors. She has red, brown, black, blonde and some gray, though Molly doesn’t think Granny will ever go completely gray – she has WAY too much hair. Even though Granny is only five years younger than Grandaddy, she looks twenty years younger. She has beautiful, wrinkle-free skin. Her eyes are funny. Sometimes they are blue. Sometimes they are green. Sometimes they are gray. It is dependent on her mood.

  2. Hi, Tracey.
    I’m currently reading your book, ANGEL’S GRACE and I love it. Next up is THE JUMBIES! Thank you for today’s lesson. I chose one of my protagonists for the exercises, and doing so has really taught me a lot about her. I’m posting from Exercises 2 and 3 because what they revealed surprised me.

    Mrs. Schmidt is a first-generation German-American. The setting is 1918.

    Exercise 2: Becoming Your Character.

    I love my country more than anything else. I hate anyone who makes me out to be anti-American, or not loyal to my country. I am jealous of anyone who has a higher status than I do. If I could do anything, I would convince my husband to ask for a promotion at work, so we could buy a nicer home. My biggest secret is that my mother hated this country. She never wanted to leave Germany, and so she never learned to speak English. I was teased by other children because of her; Therefore I did not love her.

    Exercise 3: Flip the Switch

    I love my family more than anything else. I hate when people are teased or called out for being Anti-American, when they have given their whole lives to pulling their own weight in America and building a life their ancestors would be proud of. I’m jealous of women who can have more children. If I could do anything, I would have my husband take more vacation time so we could go to the shore.

    1. oooooh, Wendy…..this is very provoking. Mrs. Schmidt and her secrets! I want her to have more secrets too….maybe deep seated belief in “blood being thicker than water” but she’s a step daughter or something. Bwa ha ha ha ha!

    2. Hi, Wendy!
      I am fascinated by the nationalistic fervor of America in the early part of the twentieth century. I don’t believe America of the twenty-first century truly understands these feelings. Even more interesting is the nationalism felt in European nations during this same early twentieth century time period. The mother was a very common character during this era, and often she was misunderstood. I want to know more about Mrs. Schmidt and your story.:) Keep on sharing, and I will keep reading.

    3. Whoa…now that’s an antagonist. So much much hate and anger driving her and yet….you give us a glimpse of something that could allow us to have a bit of sympathy for her. Her childhood and being teased. Nice.

  3. Awesome! Tracey Baptiste…..just pinch me. Love your work. Keep writing with your incredible voice. These exercises are super. NOT easy….and not ones I would do on my own….because, they are, well, not easy. Thanks for the rich choice of ways to get into our character’s heads.

    My submission (always in verse from me) is a Two Voice Poem….so the formatting will NOT work here. I shared it on my blog. Thanks to EVERYONE for the comments left yesterday. Confidence builds…when sharing is rewarded by “atta girl”. Hugs to you ALL! Great week of camp so far.


  4. Tracey– Just want to say that I’m ordering The Jumbies and can’t wait to read it. I am already picturing the students I will recommend it to! Thanks!

    Now, off to try today’s exercise…

  5. Whoa! You guys are up early! Janie, Wendy, Linda, these are great! Keep ’em coming!
    Beth, thank you! Please share your writing if you feel comfortable.

  6. Maryse picks up her latest discovery, the camera she purchased at Saturday’s flea market. She moves toward the window of her flat above the florist shop. Across the alley and behind the bakery, two old men are engaged in a game of chess they have set up on a small red wooden table. Maryse points her camera and waits. Just as the large bald man on the left picks up his knight, she pushes the shutter button. When she looks again, the men, the table, and the chess set have disappeared. She turns around and discovers they have reappeared in her living room. The men continue their play as if no disruption has occurred. She watches and then returns to the window….

    1. Wow Pamela, what a great hook! I totally want to know more. My current work in progress involves a camera as well with special abilities as well, so your piece really intrigues me. I’m blown away by the fact that she notices the men, and then just returns to the window. Anyway, fascinating, it grabbed me and made me want to hear more.

  7. Converted the end of yesterday’s scene, as per Tracey’s instructions… Interesting wrinkle to boil down to mostly dialogue; thanks for the challenging perspective!

    B’day guest: Cannonball, you okay?
    Cannonball: I think so. My face hurts.
    Chuck: Your face hurts, kid? Well, it’s killing me. No, on second thought, it’s really my back that’s killing me. You sure pack a wallop.
    Cannonball: It’s not like I was trying to hurt you.
    Chuck: Never said you were. But it must be hard to run that fast and watch where you’re going… [Sweeping room with mouse-costumed arm.] There’s a lot of people here.
    Cannonball: And one of them was trying to tag me, so I ran.
    Chuck: Straight into me.
    Cannonball: You should probably watch where you’re going. It must be hard to see out of those eyeholes.
    Chuck [Steps closer]: Watch it, kid.
    [Cannonball’s dad approaches through knot of other kids, trailed by a uniformed Chuck E. Cheese employee.]
    Dad: You okay, Chris?
    Cannonball: Fine, dad. Just a little crash.
    Dad: Your crashes are never little. [Turning to Chuck.] And you – how’re you doing?
    Chuck: I’ll survive. [Holds lower back, just above tail, with both hands. Turns to take in other kids.] What do you say, kids? Last one to the ball pit is a rotten egg! [Runs off gingerly.]
    [Small crowd disperses, leaving Dad and Cannonball momentarily alone.]
    Dad: I know I’m always telling you to be more careful, so add this time to the list.
    Cannonball: Sure, Dad. [Poised to dash away.] Can I go, please?

  8. I enjoyed this activity, and wish I had more time to spend on it, as it made me look at my character through someone else’s eyes. I haven’t gotten to the last last exercise (conversion), but here’s what I did so far.

    The slump of her shoulders and the dowdiness of her clothing gave Krisanna an air of not caring to her teachers. although deep inside, she did care. She was just coming into her teen-aged body, though, and still struggled with extra pounds that made boys snicker as she passed, sometimes calling her “fatty,” “lardo,” “whale-butt,” you get the idea. Her clothes weren’t hand-me-downs, but loose fitting and comfortable and of dull colors that would keep her from sticking out. Her hair was the thing that gave her away, though. She was a true redhead, and it was always radiant – what some might call carrot, but she preferred copper colored. It was wavy and longish – down past her shoulders to the middle of her back, and she kept the front, grown out bangs, pulled back in a big barrette..
    She wore her backpack slung over one shoulder, and made her way to her seat (always one of the seats closest to a wall or door, somewhere that offered easy egress if she needed to get up, so she wouldn’t bump into other students’ desks, prompting more whispered comments. She usually came about 30 seconds earlier than her classmates, I think so she could find the seat that suited her best, but I think also because she didn’t have a lot of close friends in this class to talk in the halls with. This was a level 2 class, and most of her closest friends were in the honors classes, a place I believed she belonged, but she was as lazy with her work as her appearance indicated.
    This was a particularly tough class for her, because of her classmates. They weren’t close friends, and she felt uncomfortable sharing in front of them. She was a good writer, but when I asked them to team up for peer editing or conferencing, she was usually unable to find anyone she felt comfortable with. We were all aware of the name calling and teasing, she wasn’t the only victim, but we were told, “boys will be boys,” by the vice principal, who didn’t like to make waves.
    I learned a lot about Krisanna from her writing. Unlike most teens, she loved her parents and would do absolutely anything for them. They were both much older than most of my students’ parents, in fact, an unknowing eye would think her grandparents attended her conferences (a mistake Mr. Reid, Krisanna’s homeroom teacher made first quarter). Krisanna hated when that happened, and she hated how her friends all felt awkward around her parents, never wanting to spend time at her home. But most of all, Krisanna hated the idea of losing them. Despite all of the doctor’s cautions, her mom was 49 when she had Krisanna, which made her 63 now, and her father was 20 years older than that! Yep, 83. It was easy for me to understand the fears that Krisanna had, but not her friends, and she envied their carefree attitudes concerning their own parents.
    From her writing, I knew Krisanna dreamed of having young, sporty parents who lead the PTO, were active in her life, and that her mom could be the “Kool-Aid” mom (her term – don’t you love it!), and her Dad. Ward Cleaver, going away in a business suit every day and coming home in the afternoon, to read the paper and discuss world events. Instead her mom worked as a librarian, and her dad was retired from Dartmouth College where he had been a troubleshooter for 45 years, and now kept busy doing odd jobs for neighbors and friends. Krisanna was glad he kept busy, but was embarrassed that he went around town wearing the grubby , stained uniforms from years past? She even wrote a poem about one pair of pants he held together with duct tape.

    1. I haven’t done my own writing yet- waiting for the baby to fall asleep to be sure of the free time- but I read your post and loved the awkwardness that comes through for your character. She would be an interesting MC. My own baby sister was born when we were in high school, parents in early 40s and 50, so some of this reminds me of her.

    2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this character sketch. I think it’s cool that it’s through your character’s writing that this teacher gets to know her. It’s so true that teaching English/Writing means that we get to see sides of our students that other teachers are not privy to. Even though Krisanna has a unique situation, being the child of older parents, I think teen readers or pre-teen readers will be able to relate to her ’embarrassment’ about her parents, as it seems a thing about teens: to be embarrassed by their parents. There’s always something they’d change. LOVE the description of the “pants he held together with duct tape.”

    3. Your description brought me to the front of the classroom looking out at my students. I want to know her story. I am eager to read more.

    4. WOW! You really grabbed my attention. I love your description and voice. I can truly see your character and feel what your character is going through. You have given me so many ideas on the piece I am writing. Thank you!

  9. Hi, Ms. Baptiste and TWer’s!
    I find that it is very difficult to teach writing voice to sixth grade students. They are extremely literal and self-centered (they look at the world through their own eyes), so it is difficult for them to describe what others are feeling. All of their main characters are exactly like them (this may be because they write do so much narrative writing in school – not enough creative writing).

    I am going to try these activities with them. First, I am going to try the activities with characters from the novels that they are reading, and then, I will have them try the activities with their own writing. THANK YOU!

    Visualization activity:

    Kim walks through the back door with the usual backpack full of schoolbooks flung over her back. Her long, lean athletic build is masked with a bright-colored mini-skirt, a turquois female golf shirt, and white, low-cut Converse sneakers. At least, that is what Sammy thinks because she used to wear the same things he wears to school, which is sweats with lacrosse stick logos and WNBA t-shirts, but that all changed for her in middle school. She heads right for the desk and the computer. Not to check email or her Screen Face page like all other middle school kids, but instead, she begins typing a social studies essay on the impact of the Industrial Revolution on America. Within minutes, books, sticky-notes, and highlighters surround her. She is in another world (Sammy calls it the “Nerd World”) when Mom walks up to her and asks her about her day. She doesn’t even answer her, but before Mom makes her way out the back door, she does say, “Can you ask Sammy to go into another room? He is annoying me with his chomping.” Sammy didn’t even think she realized he was in the room, and he ate his after-school snack ten minutes ago. Before Sammy even moves, she stands up, packs all of her materials into her bag, takes her thumb drive from the computer, and makes her way to the door. “Mom, will you drop me off at the library on your way to the store? No one gives me any peace and quiet in this house.” And out the back door she stomps. Drama.

  10. Billy, sporting a pair of well-loved Levi’s jeans, a rusty t-shirt, and a blue and white flannel shirt, approaches the room from the dark hallway. The muted yellows of the flourescent lights create a glow around his dirty-blond hair, swept to the side and hanging just above his collar. The other jocks get up and slap his hand, shaking it while doing a simultaneous low-five. They see him for what he is, a god. As the posse of boys part, the girls are sitting in their desks, tossing their Farrah Fawcett curls off of their faces, while licking their lips and darting their eyes, acting like they are ignoring him, while seeing every move in front of them. Grace watches all of this from her seat in the far front of the room, knowing that it is just part of the soccer-god worship and has nothing to do with the boy who loves her and only her. He reaches out, touching the desks of people as he walks by, saying a quiet “hey,” leaving a trail of swooning girls in his wake. As he slides into the desk behind Grace, his hand brushes her shoulder, moving her own Fawcett curls behind her shoulder. “Morning beautiful,” he whispers, as Mrs. Heller rises from her desk in the front of the room, calling even Shakespeare to attention.

  11. Exercise two:
    My name is Magnolia Marie Palmer, but I go by Maggie because Magnolia is just too much. I don’t know what my mother was thinking, but I’ll never know because she died when I was three. I push down feelings of jealousy towards my friends who have moms because it’s sick to feel that way. I love the smell of Confederate Jasmine, eating hot chocolate chip cookies, and hanging out at the beach with my friends. My greatest love is also my biggest secret – I am in love with Brice, my best friend’s brother. My biggest fear is that I will never have the courage to find out what might be with Brice for fear of hurting Jen and breaking all kinds of friend code. I hate keeping a secret this big. It makes me feel like a fraud. I wish I could find the right way to tell Jen about my feelings for Brice without jeopardizing our friendship. But how do you tell someone a secret that you’ve kept from them for like forever?

  12. I’m just starting the process of developing my story and characters from the little daydreams in my head, so today was a great exercise for me. What I’m including below is less of a narrative or piece of a story and more of my musings about my characters inspired by the 3rd prompt under the 1st activity:

    Ellen’s sister, Lydia, also stands at the table folding linens. She’s two years older than Ellen and taller. She is the calming force in her family, who loves them all just as fiercely and fully as Ellen, but she is more of a quiet protector. These sisters appear to contrast each other on the surface – Ellen, the reactive dreamer and Lydia, the realistic pacifist. Their roles within their family are so clearly defined and expected by others that the girls often only play on the singular notes of their personalities that support these labels. Both girls want “something more” from life outside of their family’s plans, but struggle against different self-imposed obstacles. Ellen wants break free of the expectations of others, but she doesn’t really know who she is if she’s not raging against something. Lydia fears losing control of herself so much that she suppresses her desires. Ultimately, neither wants to disappoint others – Ellen, because she hates being trapped and controlled by others’ feelings (and her own self-doubt), and Lydia, because she struggles with the guilt of knowing her actions hurt others. They’re both motivated by similar wishes, but they project them very differently.

    1. Wow – you’ve really looked several layers deep into what drives each of your characters, as well as what obstructs them. I’d be very interested to see how this plays out in their day to day relationships. Well done!

  13. Tracey,
    Thank you so much for this quick write! Flipping the switch revealed a character I have never encountered, but his voice was much louder than my original character. Here is my initial character interview, and then the interview with a new teenage boy character:

    Teenage Girl Character (middle school)
    I love hanging out with all of my friends.
    I hate the woman my father is dating. HATE her!
    I’m a little jealous of my friend ___. She was always so nice at basketball and then boys started giving her a lot of attention and now she isn’t so nice. I don’t want to be like that – but I kind of wish boys would give me that kind of attention.
    If I could do anything right now, my friends would help me plan a way to break up my dad and the devil he is dating.
    I wish I had one friend I could truly trust. I’m not sure I have a real best friend.

    FLIPPED Character

    Teenage Boy (High School)
    I love being alone. I don’t see a need to interact with all of these people.
    I hate kids my age. Why do they need to talk so much? Why do they share all of that crap online? I don’t care about your clever hashtags or the new ways you have found to use the “F” word. For God’s sake! You’re all so damn loud!
    I’m jealous of adults. Adults can choose not to talk and get away with it – even seem mysterious. They don’t get in trouble for not talking. In fact, people seem to think that adults that don’t talk are automatically great listeners – a respected attribute. It seems to me, if you are a kid and don’t talk you are punished. Somehow the tables turn when you reach a certain age. Johnny is no longer awkward and antisocial. Adult Johnny is reserved and contemplative. This is such b.s.
    I would move away from people. Buy a small house in the middle of a cornfield. Get a job doing some sort of manual labor. Ditch digging? Is that really a job? Google that later. Maybe I’ll become a freelance writer… nah too much communication with the outside world.

  14. Thanks for the prompts, Tracey. I disappeared into my character for a while there. Here are a couple paragraphs:

    Other character and relationship
    Chaz heads over to Mike. They are best friends—have been since they were young. Their parents were friends going way back. Met at church. Tight. Chaz is much of what Mike isn’t: confident. Boisterous. A storyteller. He comes over to Mike with a whirlwind of excitement and energy. “Dude! Where you been? We’ve got a table in the corner so we can see the open mic.” Mike would rather hang out one-on-one. But at the same time he’s thankful to have a place to go–a table to welcome him rather than having to search the place for a spot like it’s the first day at a new school and he’s just gone through the lunch line and is standing there holding a tray and hoping for a friend. Sometimes he feels like that. Thank God for Chaz. It’s good to have that friend to pull you along when you need it.
    I hate people who do nothing but talk. People who only talk but never stop to listen and ask questions. People who think they are the center of the world and don’t give much care to being quiet and see who is revolving around them… or who they are revolving around.

    The rest is here:

    1. David, these characters were real to me. I tried to write from the male perspective today to challenge myself. Although, it was uncomfortable, I felt like your interaction was similar to the interaction between my two characters. It’s great to see more male teachers here this year.

    2. I like the contrast of Chaz and Mike, and would be interested to see what layers their are in Chaz, as well as what brings them together.
      You’ve definetly drawn me in to want to learn more about each of them.

  15. Tracey,

    Thank you for the awesome quick write. The flip the switch activity went somewhere I had not predicted it would – and it was so much fun! Below are my two characters. The first is quite familiar to me, the other was one I have never encountered before. But, he seems to have a strong voice.

    Character 1 Interview – Middle School Girl

    I love hanging out with all of my friends.
    I hate the woman my father is dating. HATE her!
    I’m a little jealous of my friend ___. She was always so nice at basketball and then boys started giving her a lot of attention and now she isn’t so nice. I don’t want to be like that – but I kind of wish boys would give me that kind of attention.
    If I could do anything right now, my friends would help me plan a way to break up my dad and the devil he is dating.
    I wish I had one friend I could truly trust. I’m not sure I have a real best friend.

    Flipped The Switch

    High School Boy Character Interview

    I love being alone. I don’t see a need to interact with all of these people.
    I hate kids my age. Why do they need to talk so much? Why do they share all of that crap online? I don’t care about your clever hashtags or the new ways you have found to use the “F” word. For God’s sake! You’re all so damn loud!
    I’m jealous of adults. Adults can choose not to talk and get away with it – even seem mysterious. They don’t get in trouble for not talking. In fact, people seem to think that adults that don’t talk are automatically great listeners – a respected attribute. It seems to me, if you are a kid and don’t talk you are punished. Somehow the tables turn when you reach a certain age. Johnny is no longer awkward and antisocial. Adult Johnny is reserved and contemplative. This is such b.s.
    I would move away from people. Buy a small house in the middle of a cornfield. Get a job doing some sort of manual labor. Ditch digging? Is that really a job? Google that later. Maybe I’ll become a freelance writer… nah too much communication with the outside world.

  16. Thanks for the amazing exercises, Tracey. I really got into my character\’s voice, which is kind of scary. Please note that although my character is an English teacher, like me, the following response to Exercise 2 is completely HER voice, not mine. 🙂

    What do I love the most, you ask? Listen honey, I’ll give you a good piece of advice. When you ask in the superlative like that, you’re going to get the standard answer: fam-ily, oc-cu-pa-tion, world peace. Of course, I love my husband, my kids, my job (well, I’m trying to bring back that feeling of love for my job, in any case). You have to be more specific if you really want to get to know me.
    It’s your second question: What do you hate most? that’s going to really put me in my box. I hate the rolls of flab building steadily around my middle. I hate waking up in the middle of the night to my sister’s voice. I hate that I’ve failed her, that I wasn’t there when she needed me. I hate the mould I’ve created in my life, the schedules, the lists, the ordinary day to day slogging that I can’t seem to break out of, that I can’t find gems in any more. I’m tired. I hate that I’m tired. I hate that when I look at my students, I can hardly see their faces any more, just a blur, faded and needy and wanting more from me than I have to give.
    Who am I jealous of? Huh! I’m jealous of the girl, I mean ‘teacher’ in the next room. She’s young and beautiful and she’s filled with that enthusiasm I vaguely remember from all those years ago. Her students love her. Yeah. I’m jealous of her. But even more, I’m jealous of my sister. I know this is going to sound ugly, well, it is ugly, but she got to die first. She didn’t have to console herself in the middle of the night, when she woke up sobbing, sweating, angry, choking on guilt. She didn’t have to pick up the pieces that used to be mom and dad. She didn’t have to wonder what it felt like to have tumours filling her body, smothering her organs into total submission. Scratch that last part. She knew how that felt.
    What would I do right now, if I could do anything? I’d get on a plane and go far away, just me, as far away as possible, to some beach somewhere, a sandy secluded beach. I’d bring a book, bury my nose in it when I got there and stay in it. Read it over and over again if that’s what it took. Dis-remember.
    My biggest secret, you ask? Good question. You’ve hit the jackpot, sweetie. I talk to my sister. Yeah, she’s dead, but she talks to me, and I talk back, and I know that it’s me doing it all, but it’s like I’m not really controlling it, and I can’t stop, and I worry that I’m falling deeper into it, that I won’t be able to hide it for much longer and that I’ll end up, you know, . . . really crazy. Now look what you made me do, a run-on sentence from an English teacher, no less.

    1. Hi Rhonda,
      I really enjoyed your draft! This idea of communing with those that have passed is a good one, because the sister left behind is just that…left behind. I especially loved your word choice when you said, “picking up the pieces that used to be mom and dad.” When my brother passed 10 years ago, I felt the same way. You captured that feeling of grief and struggle here.

    2. Rhonda I felt your character’s anger and regret. You did a wonderful job showing us who she is in such a short piece of writing!

  17. ii.

    This room is unfamiliar to her. Her hand alights on the back of a chair to brush the silk. The four-poster bed is soft with a feather mattress, and cloaked in heavy blue drapes. All around her are the trappings of royal luxury. The brush and comb on the nightstand gleam in the light of the roaring fire.

    There isn’t a speck of dust, nor a single smudge of dirt. This room has never seen untidiness. The air inside is still, like a museum – or a crypt.

    The rest of Esphyr’s introduction to her room at the palace is here.

    1. Argh, oops: I’ve added THE JUMBIES to the list of books to be purchased as soon as I get back to my library after vacation. This is exactly the sort of thing our school collection needs.

  18. Ok… I gave it a try!
    I tossed my keys on the kitchen table and looked through the sliders at the deck. Anna sat hunched over, feet propped up on the metal rung of the glass patio table. Her long hair was shoved into a messy bun beginning to droop onto her neck. Her eyes were focused on her phone in her right hand. Her thumb slowly moved the screen bottom to top. She seemed frozen in place except for the slow movement of her thumb. The sun was beat down on her shoulders, but her head was ducked just under the shade of the umbrella. The dog was nestled right beneath her bare feet having found a useful patch of shade. It was hot, 88 degrees and humid. Behind her the pool was alive with activity. Three were in the pool laughing and jumping, splashing enjoying the murky blue/green coolness. “Anna, Anna, come swim with us,” I heard them shout. She never even looked up.

    1. This really drew me in. I’m pretty sure something dramatic has popped up on her phone, or maybe she’s wondering if she should hit the send button. I’d love to read more.

  19. Ben loves his dog. He hates racism and indifference. But he doesn’t talk about this to his friends because he doesn’t want them to think he s too sensitive. He is jealous of the students from his high school who could afford to go to college because he secretly wants to be a writer. He is working at the oil change station in his dirty coveralls when his best friend, Sam pulls up to show Ben a used car he just purchased with his own money he’s been saving all through high school.

    Ben: Hey! (Ben walks over to Sam’s car as he pulls up next to the oil change business to catch Ben on his break)
    Sam: What do you think of this?
    Ben: Nice. How much?
    Sam: I was able to talk the guy down to 7500.
    Ben: That’s great. How many miles?
    Sam: 73,000
    Ben: Cool. Well, I should get back. Will I see you tonight?
    Sam: Naw. I’m helping my parents finish the fence.
    Ben: Maybe, I’ll stop by.

  20. Thanks, Tracey! This was an excellent challenge and one that I will return to again and again. I may add these to the list of questions my third graders brainstorm about when they are developing their own fictional characters!

    Here\’s a section from my visualization free write, combining the outfit/objects prompts:

    As Jemma entered her bedroom, she tossed her bookbag down in the corner, raced over to her desk, and pulled out her Wonder notebook. Flipping to a new page she added her question from earlier in the day, “How does a squirrel learn to build a nest?”

    That done, she quickly changed into her favorite outfit – cargo pants with lots of pockets and her “Science Rocks!” t-shirt with all the different minerals on it. Her dark, curly hair had been pulled back into a ponytail in the morning but was now mostly out and about, doing its own thing. She pushed the longer strands back behind her ears, a constant battle.

    Checking her pocket for her magnifying glass, Jemma headed out to the backyard after grabbing a handful of crackers on her way through the kitchen. She was ready for a new discovery.

  21. Father Thomas paused at the threshold, a dark shadow silhouetted against the bright orange sunset. He couldn’t look into the house, into the expectant faces. This was not God’s work, this was not what he was sent to do. He took out a cloth and wiped the grit and sweat from his wrinkled brow, then paused, looking at the cuff of his shirt. Still buttoned, still portraying the illusion of someone he could no longer be, maybe never was.

    He tucked his cloth back into his pocket, and stepped through the doorway, unbuttoning his cuffs, rolling up the sleeve of his black gone dusty gray shirt.

    Whispered acknowledgment followed his heavy steps across the room, little Andreas jumped up from his game and ran to the sink to fill a glass with water.

    Father Thomas stopped at the wooden table, finished rolling up his sleeves, and lowered himself into the big wooden chair. The family emerged from the late afternoon shadows and gathered around him. Andreas squeezed through the crevices of his family and carefully placed the water in front of Father Thomas.

    The young priest looked at the glass, and back to Andreas. Such empathy was a miracle in a small child, living in such times he thought. Before taking the water, Thomas pulled out his plastic clerical collar and tossed it on the table.

    Ten pairs of eyes watched the man unbutton his collar and then push the glass of water away. He turned to Andreas, “Thank you my son, but I am not deserving of your blessings.”
    There was a small moan from Thomas’ left, one of the aunt’s or maybe a cousin, Thomas didn’t know. Oh why are there so many people here, he thought.

    A small, shattered echo of “No, no, no, no” came from the other side of the table. With electrical quickness, acknowledgement flowed through the little group standing around the old wooden table. Hands grabbed forearms, faces turned to the ceiling. Emotional shock swept through the group faster than Father Thomas could spill out the words. Only little Andreas, oblivious to the emotional storm around him, looked on with hopefulness, waiting for Father Thomas to tell him he fixed everything.

    Thomas turned to the little boy and his fall from grace was complete with one more lie, “I am so sorry, there was nothing I could do.”

    1. wow. I totally want to read this and find out more and I also am afraid to know more. Awesome.

    2. I really want to read more! You’ve done an excellent job of pulling in readers and making us wonder what has happened not only to Father Thomas, but also with Andreas. Nicely done!

  22. Hi everyone, I’m Jennifer and this is my first summer of writing camp! I’m really excited to be here and have been enjoying all of the exercises and comments so far. I’d like to share my “becoming your character/flipping the switch” piece today because it really surprised me:

    Put yourself in your character’s shoes and answer the following interview questions as if you are them. What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? Who are you jealous of? If you could do anything right now, what would it be? What is your biggest secret?

    Love: animals.

    Hate: feelings she can’t stop or ignore.

    Jealous: people who seem content and unruffled. People who know what they want and persevere until they get it.

    Do anything: take off clothes, take a long shower and sleep dreamlessly for three days.

    Secret: Believes she is cause of her parents’ divorce, which led indirectly to her father’s death.
    Exercise 3: Flip the Switch

    Imagine that a bad guy with an opposite-ray dropped into your book from hyperspace. The opposite-ray hits your character full in the face and now they are the complete antithesis of the person they were before. Now answer the same questions above again. What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? Who are you jealous of? If you could do anything right now, what would it be? (I don’t include the secret question because presumably will be the same.)

    Love: hunting, bbq. Demonstrating power.

    Hate: weakness, shyness, lack of confidence. People with these traits, they are not productive work with, be friends with or love.

    Jealous: landowners. People with big families, matriarchs and patriarchs.

    Do anything: ride a horse bareback across an open plain, jumping fences and streams.

    My thought on reflecting on this dichotomy is that it represents two ways of dealing with danger – fight or flight. If this resonates with anyone or you have ideas on how to bring that dynamic tension out in a single character, I would love the feedback. Thanks!

    1. I enjoyed your reflection on the exercise a lot. It resonated with me. It made me think that inside every character, these seemingly polar opposite ideas tend to battle it out behind the scenes. I imagine that when a character acts “out of character” this is what you are seeing. Interesting. I’m excited to see what you do with this.

  23. Tracey – I’m so looking forward to reading Jumbies. These exercises were so helpful – I’m beginning to feel like my character is becoming more flesh and blood and less a series of scratches on paper. Thanks!

    School loudspeaker: All clubs will be meeting directly after school. Report to you clubs assigned room.

    Art (places his cafeteria tray on the table next to Sidney) :Howdy!
    Sidney: Hey! Are you going to stay after to work on the paper?
    Art: Nope.
    Sidney: But aren’t your parents here in Singapore because they’re journalists?
    Art: Yup
    Sidney: I was going to be the art editor of the paper in my old school. We had a blast! Why don’t we work on it together.
    Art: Nope.
    Sydney: Why not? I bet you’d be an awesome reporter. Or have you forgotten how to say anything but ‘Yup’  and ‘Nope’
    Art: Too many rules.
    Sydney: What?
    Art: Listen Sydney, this is how it works here. The editor gets a list of story ideas from the principal and then the principal has to see every article and photo before it gets printed.
    Sydney: Well, that might not be so bad. – at least you would still get to see your articles in print.
    Art: Never!

  24. I am writing a narrative inquiry dissertation and your prompts helped me develop a description of one of my co-workers. I may not be able to share it until later when I change names and make participants anonymous, but know that your prompts have been very helpful. Thanks!

    1. Work can be a veritable orchard of characters for the picking. I struggle with disguising them without losing the “meat” of them. I can’t wait to read what you’ve come up with!

  25. Tracey, What great exercises. I just ordered The Jumbies and can’t wait to read it with my daughter. Here is the scene from your final exercise: Zoe: That’s a haunting melody my dear. (Phoebe turns around and Zoe’s hands slip from her back.)
    Phoebe: How long have you been standing there?
    Zoe: Long enough.
    Phoebe: I hope I didn’t disturb you. I didn’t realize I was playing loud enough for you to hear inside.
    Zoe: You would be surprised what I can hear.
    Phoebe: Okay, well, I guess I’ll just go in to bed. (She stands and walks to the door, but Zoe steps in front of it.)
    Zoe: I’m glad you are here my dear. I’ve waited a long time to see you again.
    Phoebe: Yeah, well thanks for having me.
    Zoe: You are everything I hoped you would be.
    Phoebe: Ummmmm. (She moves slightly attempting to give Zoe the hint to get out her way. Zoe grabs her hands.)
    Zoe: Yes (looking at Phoebe’s hands). It is wonderful to have you here at last.
    Phoebe: Look, I really appreciate it, but I’m tired from the trip and I really need to get some rest.
    Zoe: Ah, rest. Yes, I suppose you must. In fact, I insist, get some rest. You will need your energy tomorrow. (She steps aside and opens the door for Phoebe. Phoebe, looking confused and a little uneasy walks through the door. Zoe walks over to the edge of the porch and looks out at the moon. Once the door opens, she speaks). Yes, Marian, I think I will see you soon.

    1. You do a wonderful job of creating tensign between Phoebe and Zoe. I could tell that there is a complicated history between them and this excerpt does make me want to know more.

    2. This scene is very engaging. I can tell that Zoe is keeping something from Phoebe and that Phoebe is not quite sure what is going on. She doesn’t seem to worried about it, but something about Zoe tells me that maybe she should be!

  26. Tracey, thank you so much for these exercises! I have to say that this might have been the most challenging kind of writing I’ve ever done and it gave me great insight into how hard it might be for my students to create interesting characters in their writing! Would you recommend these types of exercises for third graders? I am envisioning trying something like this periodically with my class to help them plant seeds in their writers notebooks.

    1. Isn’t that the TRUTH?! We ask our students to do things….and sometimes, it’s just really hard. I always feel bad after a lesson when I am grading papers and see that I’ve given the kids something too much/hard. Doesn’t happen often…but doesn’t take much to push some kids too far either. It’s one reason I just love TW.

    2. I agree. I like how Tracey created steps for us, evening limiting the time we spent on each one. I will definitely introduce this type of challenge into my 6th grade classroom. I think you could easily tailor to any grade, based on the questions asked. 🙂 Like you, loved this assignment.

  27. Just wrapped up challenge #4: http://mrsrombachreads.edublogs.org/2015/07/09/character-visualization-teachers-write-day-4/ Thank you, Tracey, for the thought-provoking prompts. You had me thinking from entirely different perspectives, which was quite eye-opening. Here’s the result of the opposite ray:
    I am obsessed with HGTV, and have already dreamed up every detail of my designer house. I detest all this talk of climate change. It’s inconvenient, intentionally scaring the crap out of little kids like me, and I happen to believe it’s all cyclical. FOX News confirms it, and that’s good enough for me. I’m sketching rooms I want to create, not worrying about shrinking rainforests and rising sea levels. What am I jealous of? Jackson Millner’s family bank account. They have five new cars in the driveway and their kids aren’t even of driving age yet. They jet off to a Carribean vacation one week and then announce a European tour the next. I don’t even have to look online anymore to preview the newest Jordans hitting the streets; Jackson Millner is wearing them into school the day after release. If I could do anything right now, it would be convince my mother to replace the outdated countertop in our kitchen with poured concrete or cork. It’s quite embarrassing to invite a friend over and have to excuse away our laminate.

    1. Wow! How do you know about my son’s starburst wrappers, pennies and one lone skittle? Nicely done…..and you really got in to this exercise! I really enjoyed your opposites the most, though. I didn’t do that one….might have to try it later today.

  28. Brilliant prompts! I need to do this will all of my characters. It was fascinating to me that many of my character’s answers were the same on both sides of the flip, but her reasons were different. I understand her a little more. I almost like her.

    “Who am I jealous of? That’s easy. Jodi. I know. It’s pathetic, but there you go. She’s fat, she wears culottes, for Pete’s sake! She’s single, she’s still showing her mother’s dogs. She doesn’t even TRY to date. But I’m jealous.

    Expectations on her are so low that people go nuts any time she does anything. “Jodi got a new job! It doesn’t pay crap, but look at her go!” I’m jealous of that. And she has peace. She loved Tracy, too, but she doesn’t know the whole truth, doesn’t have to live with it. ”


    “Who am I jealous of? Jodi. No question. She has parents who love her. There’s a steadiness about her that I admire. How does someone commit to one thing and see it all the way through? Big things. Like life. She does what she loves, and she doesn’t care what other people think of her. She’s the same person she was when we first met, only better. I can’t say that.”

    1. Wow.

      I really enjoyed two different perspectives, and their reasons for liking Jodi. Their ability to see strengths that maybe others are blind to. There ability to see Jodi’s bleessings, and how she may have learned life-lessons that still elude them.

      I’m hooked for more!

  29. Exercise 1:
    Here goes nothing, but hoping for something 😉

    He travels with an entourage these days, one in front, and one in back, frequently hangers-on crowd along his side. His gait is deliberate. People take notice when he enters a room.

    Sh*t! THAT was two minutes?! Not nearly enough time. I suspect this is because I edit on the run and do it while I write. I’ll have to come back to this one.

    As they move further into the room, describe the objects that you can see around them. (Write all you can in 2 mins.)

    The door is held for him, wide and welcoming. Heads turn at a table nearby, all eyes on him. People smile, and titter, and make way. Someone standing nearby quickly moves an errant chair out-of-the-way as he heads toward a chosen table. The table is covered with the bounty of summer.

    Crap! Too much to say in too short a time. Don’t want to be a cheater, so I will remain true to the process, but I am coming back here.

    As they stand in the middle of the room, people begin walking toward them. Describe who these people are and what their relationship is to your character. (Write all you can in 4 mins.)

    His daughter, noticing him at the door, leaves her position at the table and heads over to him. She moves efficiently, yet gracefully, in his direction. Her sun-kissed nose and checks reflect the flickering light. Her hair curls softly about her face, the blonde dulled with age, but still lovely. She smiles comfortably as she approaches, and holds her arm out to him.

    A little more comfortable with the pacing of four minutes, but still…

    1. Great post, Susan!
      I really enjoyed how you set this up. I choose to ramble with little revisions and my timer was a stubborn eight-year-old that used a counter (on the iPad) to keep me on the structured pace. She did not let me cheat and I’m not thrilled with my post, which is annoying, but I did learn something about my supporting character (and made modifications on my WIP). Also, on the drive home, she was using this method with her own story, and I got to time her.:)
      Your descriptive details are awesome (I loved “sun-kissed nose”), and I am very curious to hear more of your story. I hope that you will share more in other posts. Happy writing!

      1. Thanks, Andy, for the kind words. I giggled at the idea of the stubborn 8 year old with the timer. Great image. So relatable. Since I’m a teacher and I KNOW that kid ;-). I haven’t figured out how I can see someone else’s work without scrolling all comments. If someone out there knows, that would be great, because I would love to read your pieces. Based on your comment, I think I would enjoy them.

  30. Kenny’s small frame came busting through the back door of the old house. He was out of breath and clutching his cap in his hands. Standing in the middle of the kitchen, he shouted, “Dad? Where are you?”
    Dad appeared in the doorway holding up his rough hands. “Whoa, what’s got you in such a hurry?”
    With his chest still beating, Kenny said, “Is it true? What Paul said? Are you really going to Alaska to work?”
    A deep gush of air escaped from dad and his shoulders dropped like he had carried a load of bricks right into the kitchen with him. “I wanted to tell you myself,” he began.
    “But how could you? You’ve got a family here, and Alaska is so far away. It’s not even a state yet!” Kenny could feel the room getting warmer in spite of the chilly October temperatures outside.
    Dad leaned against the cabinets he had built himself. “I got to, Kenny. There’s no work here for a carpenter. People say there’s good wages, and land, and the hunting and fishing…” Dad’s voice trailed off as he looked out the back door beyond Kenny.
    Kenny let the silence hang there, watching his father struggle with that load of bricks weighing him down. Finally as the first tears started to break loose, Kenny managed, “But what about me? What about us?”

  31. My quick write. This was cool. She just popped into my head. Maybe she’ll linger there and I can do something with it. It’s very rough but here goes:
    She is in a room of bright lights, an office setting with a chic stylish new layout. She’s a female in a male-dominated business setting. Other attractive girls are sitting in open cubicles around her. She is walking toward a conference room with men in suits waiting for her arrival. She is holding a legal pad and her laptop close to her chest. The men are careful not to stare too long; she is aware of this constant attention from men, and they are aware of this as well. She is the kind of pretty that others admire, not envy, and the kind of woman men are drawn to for more than just a one night stand. She is, as she has been told, a total package of beauty, talent and brains. This does not affect her, it does not embarrass her or inflate her – it becomes her. Her boss, also a woman, is sitting in the room at the head of this table of men. She is in her late 40s -a large-boned woman who does not fit well into her role or her outfits. She is aware of this and therefore becomes more aggressive to counter her outward appearance. Even men are afraid of her. She is the kind of woman who will enter a restroom and not be embarrassed by the noises she makes. She is feared by some in the office and today she is about to be feared by all.

    1. Wow, Andrea, there is some male vs. female tension here! It is a male-dominated business setting, but it sounds like the women are about to take control. Good for them! I am interested in the story that is driven by these strong characters. Happy writing!

  32. Picture your character walking through a door that is far away. All you can see is the shape of their body because there is a bright light behind them. When they step through the door, describe what they are wearing:
    Soph is wearing well worn jeans that have tears in them; her shirt is an Oilers jersey. Her hair is down, brunette, about shoulder length (an easy length to pull back into a ponytail). She has boots on, like a workboot but, because her feet are small, they look petite. She has braided bracelets around her wrist that show her compassionate side, otherwise you may not think she has a soft/kind spirit. Tough exterior, or just unassuming?

    Put yourself in your character’s shoes and answer the following interview questions as if you are them. What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? Who are you jealous of? If you could do anything right now, what would it be? What is your biggest secret?
    I love my down time, hanging out at home with a book. The quiet soothes me. Intrusions into my peaceful world really irritate me, I might get that from my mom. She is really routined and, being the 2 of us, we are in a place where few words need to be spoken. A lot of my friends are jealous of the relationship I have with my mom, many of them call her “Mama Thomas”, to me, she is just Mum. This reaction I have been having with this group of kids at school may upset her so I don’t know if I should tell her or not. Its the first time I haven’t shared something this big with her…even the small things seem more real when she knows.

    1. Well done, Heather!
      Soph sounds tough – at least on the outside. The dynamic between Mom and her is intriguing, but the dynamic between the kids at school and her is even more interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  33. Tracie – thank you for the exercise for today, I found it Exercise #1 to be helpful because it forced me to focus on one pinpointed aspect of the scene at a time. The time constraint was difficult, however I feel this will really help students quickly focus on getting the important details out on paper.

    Exercise 4 is the one I could use some clarification. Feel free to offer advice on my attempt:
    Molly skips down the hallway and enters the back of the kitchen
    Molly: Morning Uncle
    Uncle: Morning Sunshine! It sure looks like it is going to be another fabulous day!
    Molly: I agree the weather does look like it will be incredible today. The waffles smell delectable; do they happen to be ready?
    Uncle: they are, grab yourself a plate and belly up to the counter.
    Molly: Thanks. YUM! These are delicious; no wonder you received the award for the 2015 best breakfast diner in town. I say more like the whole state!
    Uncle: Ha, ha, I’m unsure about that but here’s to hoping!

    Again – only a very small snip-it and welcome all of your feedback. Thanks again for the lesson.

    1. Tracey’s exercises produce pretty interesting results, don’t they? Here, for instance, exercise #4 forces us to think about the kinds of words Molly and her uncle use. I’m guessing from the stage direction about Molly “skipping” into the room that she’s pretty young, right? The stripped-down format of the exercise makes her use of “delectable” really stand out: I’m instantly wondering why she has chosen such a long, grown-up word. Is she the kind of kid who reads dictionaries for fun? Some do!
      I know one piece of advice I’ve often gotten and sometimes tried is to read everything aloud. It really helps me figure out whether my dialogue works–even the FEELING of the words in my mouth gives me a clue. If the words trip over themselves or I can’t quite get them out smoothly, then I figure I may have a problem!
      And now I want some waffles! 🙂

      1. Anne – Thank you for your comment and suggestion! To answer your question, yes, Molly does read the dictionary for fun. Glad her word made you come to that conclusion!

  34. What is your biggest secret?
    Hmm… well, okay, but don’t you dare tell my mom. She would kill me.
    So, sometimes, when I go to work at the museum with her in the summer, I like to walk through the collection storage shelves when no one is around and I touch the old costumes. I always make sure my hands are clean first though. And I just kind of slide my hand over some of the costumes. It’s almost like I can feel the movies that they were in or the actors and actresses who wore them so long ago. Sometimes I just close my eyes and feel the energy.
    You probably think I’m crazy. But really, it’s true. I can feel it.

    1. ooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhh the sense of touch. Wonderful. I definitely want to know more about this place and the secrets in touching forbidden costumes

    2. Oh, Emily, you capture the curiosity of the character and you also captured my attention with the details. The sense of touch has sparked the sense of curiosity (and wonder). Good stuff! Thank you for sharing!

  35. Hello Tracey, Kate, and Campers,

    Voice is always the most difficult writing trait for me. I’m so glad I trusted in the process and followed your directions. This writing task revealed an important piece I was looking for in my WIP! Thank you for pushing us today.

    I am posting writing responses on my own blog. I have to say it was a challenge to write dialogue with stage directions and no other details. They kept creeping in on paper…

    Here is the ending conversation between 5 year-old Gabriel and his grandmother and cousin:


  36. Marvin’s mom: I love my husband and son; I don’t like people who show off just because they have money or prestige, but on the other hand, I like to look my best because of our station; I don’t admit to jealousy, but if you pushed me, I think anyone who knows how to exhibit more grace than me, in our station, that is. If I could do anything, it’s hard to say, I’ve had so much, but I’d want to make my husband and son happy and proud of me, I’d like to be good example for the citizens of our city. My biggest secret is that I’m extremely insecure and feel like a fraud. Antithesis of her character: I love lounging around, going to the beach, having a drink with the guys at the bar, just wearing shorts and an old shirt, swearing a lot. I hate people that think they are better than me, who do they think they are, we’re all the same when we’re naked, ha ha. Honestly, I’m jealous of rich people, I hate them but I’m really envious that they have so much money and I’ve got nothing, it’s not fair. What did they do to deserve more than me, the losers. If I could do whatever I wanted right now, I think I better not say, but it would involve a yacht in the Caribbean and doing a sh**load of nothin’. That is, with a bottle of tequila, ha ha. My biggest secret, I think my dad hated me, my mom didn’t think much of me either. Well, I don’t think, I know. But they weren’t much themselves, so that’s the luck of the draw. That is with a bottle of tequila, ha ha. My biggest secret, I think my dad hated me, my mom didn’t think much of me either. Well, I don\\\’t think, I know. But they weren\\\’t much themselves, so that’s the luck of the draw.

  37. Thank you Tracey for sharing your time and talent with us. It is highly appreciated. I liked the idea of the different exercises being used for the same character, it truly drives home the power of voice and how it relates to point of view. Here is an excerpt from my exercise 2 where I become my character. If it peaks your interest, the remainder of the paragraph can be found on my blog.

    I am a very blessed man with good health, a beautiful wife, three happy, healthy kids, and a business that is more profitable today than when my father handed the reins to me ten years ago. My shrewd dealings have earned me the high honor of securing deals with some of the most prominent men in my state. “A chip off the ol’ block,” is what my father proclaims proudly in our elite circles. I see myself more as the block, than a chip off of it, but my father deserves the right to brag on his only son. Yet I can’t shake the darkness that still hovers over me. I hate having to live a lie; not being able to reveal who I really am because that could jeopardize all the things I have worked so hard to achieve. Not to mention tarnishing my family’s name forever!

    1. Love this, Beth! Just so you know, more people will see your work if you post a snippet in comments rather than a link to your blog, simply because there are so many participants that our guest authors can’t take the time to follow all those links.

  38. Exercise 1

    She flipped on every light as she walked through the house. She stands in the doorway and reaches in to turn on the bedroom light. her hair is mussed up and hangs around her face. She is wearing her favorite bell bottom hip-huggers, the yellow and lavender plaid with a yellow bodysuit. Her coolest outfit. Grass stains on the back.
    She sees the familiar dresser, the contents of her dad’s pockets scattered across the top, Her dad’s work clothes are wadded in the laundry basket. Her mom’s pink chenille robe hangs on the bedpost.
    Her parents are sleeping peacefully, her dad’s arm stretched protectively across her mom. “Mom,” she says softly. The sleeping form stirs slightly. “Mom,” she says again, a little louder, voice trembling. Her mother’s eyes flutter open, slowly registering the light and her daughter standing there in the doorframe. Suddenly she sits upright, reaching one hand toward her daughter, frantically shaking her husband awake with the other.

    1. I tried to post this before so apologies if it’s a repeat. I can feel your character. The line about turning on the all the lights grabbed me. And the mom waking up her husband has me hooked. Can’t wait for more!

  39. I loved the character exploration. I jhave always enjoyed getting to know my character. I am not sure I realized I was building on the voice when I did that. I am including one of the exercises here. It made me realize just how alone my character is feeling.
    Her mom is the first to greet her. The embrace is warm, full of love. Her Dad is right behind. His hug is quiet and yet complete. She looks up and doesn’t see anyone else coming. Possibly in the distance, her friend from childhood. She catches a glimpse of her and begins to run. As she becomes clear, the smile brightens and the steps from both of them quicken. You can hear the laughter and they run and jump into a hug. The room seems to empty as their thoughts tumble from their hearts. So many things to catch up on. It is like they haven’t missed a beat over the last few years. She reaches up to touch her face lightly, wanting to remember that smile and simple giggle again. They grab hands and walk off to a corner. Mom and Dad are watching on, content and happy to see them together again.

  40. Calista bursts through the door and I sense anger. She is wearing her yoga pants, bright orange with zebra-esque pink stripes overlaid. She has a girls tank on, and looks to be getting more muscular. But mostly mad. Boiling. Hair spraying out in all directions. I can’t see her face, but her breathing is heavy, like she is out for blood. She has her soccer ball under her arm, coddling it, or preparing to whip it at me. Now what have I done to piss her off? I’m not in the mood for yet another blow-up with her. She has been on a witch-hunt all week, and I’m tired of being her prey

    I try to avoid eye contact with her, and instead lower my eyes to inspect whatever is ground level in our family room. I notice a few football handbooks that Dad brought home, as well as some dvd game film. Mom’s journals and sketch pad are lying next to her chair, and the white blur streaking across the room to duck behind the curtains is our timid cat, Abby, who has the good sense to steer clear of my tempestuous sister.

    Mom is the first to enter the room. She senses that Calista is ready to lose it, but Mom tries to soothe her. “Welcome home, honey. So glad to see you! I’ve already made a pitcher of your favorite lemonade iced-tea. Come with me to the kitchen, and I’ll pour you a tall glass.

  41. Wow! Quite the in-depth assignment…
    I liked it and was surprised by how into it I got!
    I am loving this Teachers Write!
    Here is the first bit….

    The girl was slight in size and young, 10, maybe 11, two dark brown braids resting on her shoulders. Her chocolate brown eyes were wide with wonder and curiosity. Her mouth was slightly open as she slowly looked around the room, nervous energy radiated from a little body, she was clearly both brave and fearful all at once. Curious, yet cautious. Intelligent and aware. This one had potential. She was wearing faded blue jeans with ripped knees, but not the fashionable kind, the kind that come naturally from adventure and exploration. Her worn red All-Stars clashed playfully with her bubble-gum pink hoodie. One braid had an untied sunny yellow ribbon, while the other was unadorned.

    She glanced up and down at the tall stone walls and the piles of books strewn about. She had yet to spot me, she had the unguarded look of someone who believes they are alone. She glanced up at the cavernous ceiling way above, then quickly back down to the books stacked here and there. Then she noticed the fire roaring in the massive stone fireplace, and finally she noticed Ivan, my faithful Irish wolfhound, resting just to the right of the fireplace. I watched as she assessed him and her personal safety, she hesitated, but continued to take in all the books that filled the space, occasionally glancing at Ivan to make sure he posed no threat. (Ivan was dreaming whatever it is dogs dream about while sleeping peacefully in front of a warm fire, and was blissfully ignorant of the young intruder. Although, and I say this with certainty, Ivan would calmly observe the girl, and most likely continue his snooze.)

    1. What a wonderful way of describing her attire. My favorite was the reasoning for the holes in her jeans – that tells me I’m really going to like this girl! She already reminds me of Kate the Great Wetherall (one of my all-time favorite girls in an MG story) from the Mysterious Benedict Society.

    2. Wow! Such a vivid character – I can really see her in front of me! I love the image of one braid with a ribbon and one without as well as the description of the ripped jeans “that come naturally from adventure and exploration.” I was never that type of girl myself, but having two sons, I immediately connected to your character’s spunk and curiosity! My favorite line of all: “This one had potential.” Makes me want to read more!

  42. This task intimidated me a bit as I don’t quite have a work in progress or a character to develop, but I dove in nonetheless and was surprised how quickly character and voice developed! Thank you, Tracey, for nudging us out of our comfort zone – something we ask students to do on a daily basis. My entire post is located here: http://bit.ly/1GbvFQc, but below is a snippet from a question in Exercise 1:

    People start to approach your character. Who are they and what is their relationship with your character? (4 minutes to write):

    As she entered the room, the eyes followed; after all, everyone was there to lend her support. She, however, didn’t want their support, didn’t want their attention, didn’t want to justify their pity. She wasn’t here for them. She was here out of obligation, a forced requirement that did nothing to build her up nor tear her apart. She wanted to scream. Hit something. Hit someone. Make the past 48 hours reverse in time.

    But she walked forward. Eyes dull, she nodded as Uncle John gave her an awkward hug, his arms not quite knowing how tight to squeeze. Aunt Jill patted her hand, which only made her feel even worse, like a 10 year old receiving a correction for misbehavior.

    This was not her fault. She had done nothing wrong.

    1. Intimidating for me to. But your writing is so intriguing. I felt like I was there. The anger bubbling over. I do want to know what’s next!

  43. This series of tasks was incredibly useful. At first I doubted this this would work for me as I am compiling and writing about some family stories, but it worked incredibly well. To take a real person (my 98-year-old grandmother whose mother died when she was a toddler and whose father remarried an abusive woman) and imagine her being hit by an opposite-ray was so much. Here is what I came up with in answer to “What do you hate the most?”

    **I hate that my father did nothing to protect me and my brother from our wicked stepmother. He was not a powerful or very intelligent or loving man. But he should have done better by us. That imposter he made us call mother beat us and demoralized us on a daily basis, and he did nothing to stop her. He should have protected his children. He should have protected me.**

    Tracey, thank you so much for the ideas. I’m looking forward to reading and sharing The Jumbies with my son and students!

  44. This took me completely out of my comfort zone. Thank you. I loved how quickly the writing came. I had never thought of being interviewed as my character or her antithesis. Here’s what they said:
    What do you love the most? I’m not really sure. It depends on who loves me I guess. I mean, I wouldn’t want to love someone who didn’t love me back. Right?
    What do you hate the most? Myself. How could I hate someone if I didn’t hate myself.
    Who are you jealous of? Social people. They make everything look so easy. A conversation starts automatically, with no effort. And then a friendship blossoms. Me – I just don’t know how to start.
    If you could do anything right now, what would it be? Pretend I was someone else. Be anonymous to myself and not worry about how people feel about me. Then I would talk to people, and connect, and be with them instead of trapped with me.
    What is your biggest secret? I want to connect. I don’t want to be alone.

    Flip the switch:
    What do you love the most? What I love the most is being happy, or at least satisfied. And learning, oh yes, learning. And friends. And sharing ideas. And being in community, with family. And I love being true to myself, fully.
    What do you hate the most? I hate being down on myself. I don’t like to second guess. I hate the negative stories I make up for myself, about myself. I want to lock those in a room and never open the door.
    Who are you jealous of? Right now, today, no one. I am enmeshed in doing what I love. I have no reason for jealousy.
    If you could do anything right now, what would it be? (I don’t include the secret question because presumably will be the same.) Live with abandon. Without fear. I grow into who I am without wondering if I am OK.

  45. Love- I love my Abuela Maria. She is my Daddy’s mom. We live with her. She tells me all about my mom and my Daddy too. I have my own room that she decorated with cowboys for me. My grandpa was a cowboy. One day she will bring me to their ranch in New Mexico and I can ride a real horse. She cooks all my best things too. I help her in the kitchen and she tells me good job. She teaches me some Spanish when Paulina is away. Paulina wants me to be American. Americans don’t speak Spanish.
    Hate- I hate Paulina. Abuela says no one hates. If God is in your heart you have to love. In church I pray to like her but I don’t.
    Jealous-I wish I was in the early reading group. Mrs. Z loves them and they get her all to them self. I go early but just get to eat breakfast and talk before lessons start.Then I watch.
    Do- If I could do anything I would go swimming with my mom. My Abuela Maria said my mom loved to swim and would take me to the beach when I was little. I don’t know her too much. I have a picture of when she and Daddy got married and I was in her belly but I don’t have no pictures of her and me for real. Paulina says my mama ain’t never coming back cuz she don’t love me like my Daddy. I don’t know about that one. If my mama was here then Paulina would have to stay with Raphael. Maybe Daddy would be here too. Anyways I just wanna go swimming at the beach again so’s I could remember my mom.
    Secret—I do have a secret about Daddy’s girlfriend, Paulina. She don’t take care of us like she tells the school. She don’t care about Abuela Maria too. She’s just waiting on Daddy to come back and she told Raphael she don’t have no where to go now. I see her going down to Raphael’s at night. I know he is her boyfriend now but I don’t tell Daddy cuz his phone is off now. When he gets money from his job he will call and he will come back too. He just needs some money.

  46. This exercise was hard for me! I feel like what I have written is just surface level. I truly admire all the other writing I have read on this post and have been inspired to continuously improve my writing. Here is what I have ( I know I am also late to this post, but I finally found time between packing for Disney and getting the boys to bed!)

    Exercise 2: Becoming Your Character
    Put yourself in your character’s shoes and answer the following interview questions as if you are them. What do you love the most? I love daydreaming- especially after I read a good book. I try to imagine myself as that character and what my life would be like as that character.
    What do you hate the most? I hate rejection. I hate to not be liked and to not feel like I fit in.
    Who are you jealous of? Right now I am jealous of the girls who are getting all the attention from the boys at school. I am jealous that other girls have more confidence than me and I get shy around boys.
    If you could do anything right now, what would it be? I would go to Starbucks with Bryce and order an ice tea. We would people watch and hope that our crushes walk in.
    What is your biggest secret? I took money from my mom to buy grapefruit lotion at Bath and Body Works. I also used the money to buy hair dye so I wouldn’t have to keep putting peroxide in my hair.
    Exercise 3: Flip the Switch
    Imagine that a bad guy with an opposite-ray dropped into your book from hyperspace. The opposite-ray hits your character full in the face and now they are the complete antithesis of the person they were before. Now answer the same questions above again.
    What do you love the most? I love being alone and listening to music- dark music like Marilyn Manson
    What do you hate the most? Popular people at school
    Who are you jealous of? The kids with normal families
    If you could do anything right now, what would it be? (I don’t include the secret question because presumably will be the same.)