Teachers Write 7/15/14 – Tuesday Quick-Write

Good morning, Teaches Write campers! I have two quick links to share with you today before we get to the main event…

First…a few people in the comments have talked about being overwhelmed by research & wondering about how to organize a project, so I want to share the tool that I use whenever I start a new project. It’s called Scrivener – and my favorite thing about it is that it has this nifty index card view where you can organize notes for scenes & chapters. They have a free trial if anyone wants to download & play with it. It’s been very helpful to me when it comes to organizing/outlining.

Second…I understand that at least a few of you are thinking that you may want to work on professional books this summer or at some point in the future. Writing about your classroom, your library, and your teaching is powerful for educators. If this is something that interests you, you should know that most of those books begin with a proposal submitted to an educational publisher like Stenhouse or Heinemann. I’ve worked with Stenhouse on my educators’ books, and they share their proposal guidelines along with some great samples on their website. It’s worth checking out if this kind of writing is of interest to you.

Okay…now it’s time for our Tuesday Quick-Write, courtesy of guest author & poet Jeannine Atkins.

Jeannine has written a bunch of wonderful books for kids – and one for writers, too! My favorite of them all is BORROWED NAMES: POEMS ABOUT LAURA INGALLS WILDER, MADAM C.J. WALKER, MARIE CURIE, AND THEIR DAUGHTERS, a book I loved so much I gave a copy to my mom for Mother’s Day.

Jeannine’s prompt for today is one that you’ll want to refer back to often:

Expanding and Compressing Scenes

 Keeping a story moving along, while making sure to deepen important moments, can be done by consciously compressing time, which is showing minutes or hours of action in a line or two, and expanding these with details to show how feeling-filled time may seem to get bigger or even stop. Examples of compressed scenes can be found in fairy tales, such as: The queen gave birth to seven boys. Jack killed the giant. The girl fled through the forest. Any of these great sentences might be, or have been, the base of a novel or a two hour movie.

 We’ll start out writing our own seven sentences, but before diving in, I’ll remind everyone, as you might remind your students, that prompts aren’t about following directions, but starting to write. As long as you’re writing, you’re doing it right. If you want to veer off, feel free. And have fun – even write that instruction at the top of your paper (I have.) Not just because it’s summer, but it’s good for some of what we call work to have some feeling of play.

 Now, take a character from your work in progress – or if starting fresh, grab a name and begin by quickly free writing seven key points of change in your character’s life. A few words will do for each. These important events can go before or beyond the time frame of what you’re considering for the book or story’s plot. Feel free to put in or leave out birth and death. Later, you may find these seven points serve as a sketchy outline or frame, but now we’re going to look at how each point can open out by the way we word it. Still practicing time compression, write each of your key changes as a sentence.

 Then expand time, lingering and bringing out details. What were the sensory qualities of that moment? What did the air feel like? How did the surroundings look, sound and smell? Try to do this with all your moments of change. Some might begin a story or novel. One might serve as a climax. Perhaps they fall into a useful sequence.

 Congratulations. You’ve just compressed and expanded time. You can stop here or keep playing with these seven transitional moments. While sometimes we want just a sentence to move things along, consider adding details you found when you expanded time to your sentences. At key moments in fiction, we often want readers to stick around and bask. An expanded scene might suggest its importance.

 Go over your draft and see what seems to work best as a short sentence and what should flow into a paragraph. When do you choose to be brief and when stroll from one lingering sentence to another? Sometimes a single, short sentence can set up just the sort of tension we want. Another slower sentence may be like a closed paper fan, opening to a glimpse of what was hidden.

 Maybe you’re attracted to developing a sentence into a scene. Wonderful! Maybe this prompt didn’t work for you. Find another! If you wrote seven sentences, I’m happy. And if you tried to reword some, you were already working on revision. I hope that wasn’t so bad. Check the top of your paper: Did you remind yourself to have fun?


Note from Kate: I don’t know about everyone else, but I have totally bookmarked this lesson to use as a novel revision strategy later on – such great strategies! Feel free to share a paragraph or two of what you wrote in the comments today if you’d like.

88 Replies on “Teachers Write 7/15/14 – Tuesday Quick-Write

  1. oh.my.gosh……I haven’t even gotten to the writing part yet. I just have to tell you how star/book struck I am. Borrowed Names…..oh, wow oh, wow! What a book. That book and books in verse are like candy to me. I want to be in that world and live there.
    OK, sorry for the gushy adoring fan mail….not really. I love this help. I have the pile-o-stuff of poems that I want to work into a book but AM completely overwhelmed and confused as to how to do that. Thank you for your help….now back to being a camper….and not so much Hermione. thank you.

    1. Linda, I’m happy to hear you liked Borrowed Names. If you’re working on poetry, you know the kind of compression I’m talking about here is essential. But then we do get left with those piles of poems that can feel overwhelming. Lay them out to make a plan, then take a breath and tend to just one at a time. Celebrate each line.. and move on. Good luck, Hermione, Linda!

  2. Okay…this was another great prompt for character development as well. What has happened in my character’s life and story. This has actually helped the plot along too. A cow is going to have to die. Hannah needs to see that thoughtlessness has consequences…being mean to my character/baby here…but it will make the finding of Pluck sweeter, I think. I’ve also realized I have no idea what I’m doing with the UFO plot and I’m going to have to play with the last sentence a lot to get this story to work! Come on fingers. Know something my brain doesn’t!

    Forgetting the dance routine in the show…
    Seeing the UFO…
    Saving a chicken & finding a pet…
    A cow dying due to a forgotten gate…
    Reunited with her chicken…
    Overcoming fear of sleeping in room alone…
    Hannah & Adam deiscover the secret/reality of the UFO.

    Thanks so much for this.

    1. Wonderful that you have the all so necessary nerve to let your characters fall in trouble. And I’m betting with you that your fingers know more than your brain — mine usually do! Glad this was helpful.

    2. Stefanie,
      I like how you said, “Hannah needs to see that thoughtlessness has consequences…being mean to my character/baby here…but it will make the finding of Pluck sweeter, I think.” Your sentences definitely outline a story I want to read!

  3. I did the seven sentences but then just used the first four in this part of the story…

    One day as she got the mail she noticed a letter from her mother, which was curious since she lived in the next town. As she opened it, a newspaper clipping fell out of the folded notepaper. She read the short note:

    ‘I didn’t know how to tell you this over the phone, so I am sending you this. ‘

    Her mother had never known how to approach her in difficult situations. She studied the article. It was an obituary. She found a chair and sat down hard. He was dead. It was an obituary. Garan. Larger than life, the most vitally alive person she had ever known. The boy she had never forgotten, never stopped loving, never stopped comparing every other man to. He had died at his own hand. How had it come to this?

    1. Kristen,
      You have me hooked! I love the ides of the letter coming from her mother in the town next door. I also love the staccato nature of your last 3 or 4 sentences…the structure helps the reader see the “punch in the gut” this news is for the main character. Well done! I want to keep reading.

    2. Yes, that is some hook. You might come back and think of expanding the moment by studying that one line note, hoping for an answer for her question, which isn’t there.

    3. Kristina,
      I’ve bitten the hook, and I’m smitten with your intro. I want to know what made Garan larger than life. Why had her love for him never taken root? What led him to take his own life?
      Is the ARC available on my Kindle? 😉

    4. oh, my. I want to know more about why the mother has an issue with talking! but, the poor receiver of the letter. great beginning. I wonder if it would be a bit more intense in first person?

    5. There’s so much already here. I want to know more about her mother- seems like there’s a background to their relationship here: Her mother had never known how to approach her in difficult situations. Great hook – lots to draw a reader in!

  4. Perfect timing! I’m going to keep this in mind as I do some scene expanding today. I like how you break out the process so logically. Makes it managable.

  5. This is a great exercise, and will work well for me as an outline. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

    1. Lily’s father dies in a horrible streetcar accident, throwing the family into emotional turmoil and financial distress within a few months.
    2. Lily and her mother move into a studio apartment that is dull, drab, and depressing. In their old apartment, Lily had her own room, the atmosphere was light and beautiful, and their kitchen table seated four comfortably.
    3. Lily’s mother places her with a family while she looks for work. Lily is devastated because she already lost her father, and now she thinks she’ll never see her mother again, despite what the adults say.
    4. The family places Lily with the orphanage because Margaret doesn’t return when she says she will, and Lily is being difficult.
    5. Lily escapes the orphanage during a fire, when no one is watching. She goes out into the city in search of her mother.
    6. Lily becomes sick and is hospitalized while searching for her mother. She’s with her friend Sam, but the hospital won’t let him stay because (a) he’s not her family and (b) he’s black.
    7. Lily is reunited with her mother after Margaret hears about the fire and goes searching for her.

    1. Wendy, I’m happy this worked for you. Sometimes the idea of outlines freezes me up, but I think Oh I can write a list, which works better for me. Sounds like there will be lots of trials before that happy ending — great!

    2. oh, wow. your lines are very familiar. Loss and longing and wanting to be complete. I’m curious about what age you are writing for and the time period. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to seeing what comes from this.

      1. Jeannine and Linda ~ Thank you for your feedback. The time period is 1918-1919, and I’m writing for MG. I’m hoping to share an excerpt on Friday Feedback! 🙂

  6. So I was a bit stuck on what you were really asking of me in this prompt, so I took the idea of time and wrote. 🙂
    I want to expand on the intro and give a location, more details about where they are and what occurred prior to her walking into the bathroom, but I don’t want the reader to know anymore about their relationship because that is the story.
    he stared at the + on the tiny screen. Her knees bobbed up and down as the reality of the situation settled deep in her stomach and made her feel sick. What was she going to do? The tears started flowing slowly, one at a time and then the deluge let loose.

    Suddenly a knock on the door brought her back to reality as Peter called softly through the door.

    “Sadie, are you okay,” he asked sweetly.

    What would she do? They were only 18 years old. Her parents would kill her and then him. Could she have a baby? Could she have his baby? Her mother loved her and was pretty cool about almost everything, but this was a bit much. This was probably going to push the limits of Mom’s cool factor. This was going to ruin everything.

    Sadie wiped her nosed and sucked in a deep breath. “I’ll be right out, Peter.”

    10 years earlier
    It was the first day of 2nd grade and Daddy had walked us down to the bus stop like he does everyday. Today was Maddie’s first day of kindergarten and she was getting on the bus with me. As we stood at the corner waiting on the bus, another family came to stand with us. They were new and must have moved in down in the cul-de-sac this summer. I had never seen them before.

    Their daddy walked up and shook my daddy’s hand and said his name was David Mercer. His boys were Peter and Cameron, and they had just moved in last week. The boys were in 2nd grade and kindergarten just like me and Maddie. I looked over at Peter. He was okay. He looked like he liked to play outside and that was cool because that’s what I liked to do.

    1. Jennifer, I’m sorry that you were confused. I have a problem as a teacher of sometimes trying to layer in too many tasks in one prompt, but my hope is that one of the layers will work for all, as it did for you. Thank you for pushing onward! Adding details to the opening scene, full of drama, looks like a great way to go. And you are right that some must be held back, so the reader moves forward. That is hard to do. Good luck with the rest.

      1. That was not your fault! 🙂 I have an awful tendency of over analyzing a task and making it a whole lot more difficult than it really is! 🙂 I have looked at PD tasks with trepidation, only to have it explained and the task was nothing more than a reflection! Thanks for the feedback!

  7. There is a photograph that I cherish, that I hold close to my heart. It is a yellowed copy of 2 hands: One large and careworn, and the other, small and new. It is my hand propped up by my grandmother’s. By the time I came around, my grandmother was dying. Gone was her salt and pepper hair that her daughters always begged her to color. Gone was her strength to stand and support her own body. But, present was the amount of love that I felt when she held me. It radiated from her body into mine as I lay on her chest and she played with my fingers in hers. It whispered I love yous into my tiny ears from her thin lips. It came over me like a wave that has never left my consciousness. I am loved. I am loved.

    1. What a wonderful memory of a life-changing connection. There could be a story in those generations — the daughters who begged your grandmother to change some of who she was, or at least her hair, and the acceptance of hands just as they are between grandmother and granddaughter. What a gift.

  8. This was a terrific exercise. I was so overwhelmed about just STARTING. With 7 almost incomplete sentences I have an outline and characters with names I had never met before ( except for Genevieve, she was my Great Aunt that I spent summers on her farm, as a child ) .
    I have only compressed so far, the expansion may take a while. For instance “Genevieve’s story’ needs its own 7 sentences.

    1. Jenna decides to become a professional photographer……

    2. The Barn seems to call to her (Jenna)……

    3. Jenna meets Genevieve…

    4. Genevieve tells her story……

    5. Genevieve succumbs to gender discrimination…

    6. Adam discovers Jenna’s secret…

    7. Genevieve confronts Jenna about her own troubled relationship…

    1. What a great start. Congratulations. I’m not only eager for Genevieve’s story, but that calling barn. (see Kate’s first post on place — I so agree re developing setting to find directions). Starting is almost always the hardest, so yay!

    2. Ooh, Janet, you’ve got lots of great sentences here that I want to know more about! Adam discovers Jenna’s secret…, Genevieve succumbs to gender discrimination…, etc.

    1. The above comment was supposed to be in response to #3. Now I can’t figure out how to delete it. Every time I try to post it asks me to redo the math, like I got it wrong. I’m not sure why because this English teacher can add 9+63… it’s 87, right? 🙂 Something clearly went wrong.

  9. Hi everyone! I’m new to Teacher’s Write this year and here I am, taking the plunge! This is the first adolescent piece I’ve written, ever, and I, like many people here, am a late bloomer when it comes to writing. Here goes.

    “Ever since Fiona was little, she had always preferred the grey, overcast, drizzly days to the bright, blue-skied, puffy cloud days that almost everyone else she knew preferred. It wasn’t that she was a morbid person or one of those goth types who always dressed in black. It was just that the bright sunlight made her feel so…exposed.

    Even at 12, Fiona realized that her tendency for the muted things in life perhaps had something to do with the blah, somber atmosphere of her home. Her mother was often crying, the reason for which her father had told her in confidence. Sure, her mother loved Fiona fiercely and Fiona knew it, but “the tragedies” seemed to have made her mother permanently faded and subdued, much like the weather Fiona preferred.

    Their lives were predictable and rhythmic, as they had been since Fiona had entered Kindergarten. Her father left for work before she went to school and returned home at dinnertime. Her mother was always up to make Fiona breakfast and see her off to school and then she spent her days at home or the gym, occasionally taking on part-time jobs to pass the time until Fiona returned from school. It was if her mother was waiting, always waiting, on the event that would change her life and make her smile again. But until then, Fiona knew everything would remain scheduled and orderly.

    Or so she thought.

    Until one, ordinary, drizzly January day that her father came home from work and announced that there was going to be a “big change,” and to get ready because once summer came, they would be moving halfway around the world.”

  10. Thank you so much for posting the proposal guidelines! I know what i’m writing today. Having a clear plan makes it seem so much more doable. I’m excited to try!

    1. Some people like plans, and some people like to start with a sentence and walk into the dark. I think this way gives you a bit of a map, but with lots of room for detours. So great you’re exited!

  11. Seven key points in Everett’s story: (compressed)

    1. Defacing the quote billboard in the locker room.
    2. Insecure when Dad recruiting star qb – my replacement?
    3. Everett breaks hand in fit of rage.
    4. Stunned by mom’s inner-beauty and passion as she is blowing glass.
    5. Everett turns down college football scholarship for a small school’s writing program.
    6. Captivated by Taylisha’s beauty through her written & shared words.
    7. Discovers sis is addicted to pain killers after she runs child biker off road.

    Seven key points in Everett’s story: (expanded)

    1. After splashing “BULLSHIT” across Dad’s beloved quote, I took a moment to gaze at my craftsmanship. My body flashed with a surge of adrenaline, as if my last-ditch pass had just been caught in the end zone as time expired. Then I quickly slinked out the back door, unsure if my heave had been a touchdown, or an interception.

    2. I had been used to visiting campuses with Dad, with top-notch programs looking me over as their next star quarterback. But today was different. This was our campus. My school. And Dad was showing a new kid around our practice facilities. Our lair. My domain. Dad was glowing. This was Maddox. This was the prodigy he had spoken of in such giddy terms. This was my replacement.

    3. His words scalded my mind, especially one, directed solely at me. “Disappointment.” Bursting through the locker room doors, I slammed my helmet down on the bench, instantly realizing all that had just broken. My season. My helmet. My hand. My desire to play football. My need to please him.

    4. As she spun the glass emerging from the furnace, I was taken by the heat. This wasn’t radiating from the furnace, but the glowing passion I detected in Mom. She had always been considered beautiful by typical standards, but this beauty transcended those terms. She glowed from within. A soul brimming with confidence, creativity, and awe. I had never realized how lovely she was until that moment.

    5. This was my declaration of freedom. I didn’t need to attend a school that had all it’s games televised in order for me to be somebody. I didn’t need to earn a diploma from a premier program to communicate my worth to others. I knew who I was. I enrolled in Wesley’s writing program to discover who I could become.

    6. Regal. Her air. Her presence. Her gait. And especially her words, all regal. She towered over the rest of us, both in frame and in fortitude, her words gushing forth with confidence and purpose. Her words turned to movements as she danced about the room. Her words inflamed us, enthralled us, convicted us, and comforted us.

    7. I had suspected this truth for some time. Her erratic behaviors. Her intensified mood-swings. Sadly, she had a mounting bitchy streak towards me over the years, but I accepted that. I deserved it. Years of trying to “keep her in her place” had spilled over into hatred. The last few months it had been venomous. I began pulling away. Then the accident happened. She almost killed a little boy riding his bike by the road. Now I’m visiting her. Hoping to mend a fractured relationship. Hoping someday our former sibling rivalry can become a cohesive collaboration. It starts today. In rehab.

    1. I like your theme of self-worth and inner beauty coming from creativity and self-awareness. I’m also really interested in the plot line between the sister and brother. Are these two different what ifs of an over-bearing father? Will we get glimpses of her back story? I’m also wondering how your MCs mother fits into the mix. Can she buffer and balance? Is she ineffectual in the family mix? She doesn’t seem worse for wear? So many areas for exploration. Fascinating!

    2. That first scene really grabbed me, and in your development I liked how you wove in the football elements so gracefully, as just part of his thinking. You’ve got a complex, engaging protagonist. Looking at the seven parts, I’m wondering if 6 might come before 5 , which feels like an ending. But 7 might be the secondary story not yet woven in — which is fine! I’m impressed by how much you developed here!

      1. Jeannine,
        Thank you for the positive comments and thoughtful direction. This was a wonderful, challenging strategy today that I can use with my students. I do have a skeletal outline of the story, but today’s exercise really brought some new dtails to life for each of my characters, thanks to you!

    3. It’s clear you know your protagonist well, as it seems you inhabit this character. It makes me think your draft is already well developed. I’m looking forward to reading more.

    4. Stunning. Very rich description that contrasts so well…the gritty feeling of grafitti v. inner beauty of mom. This is no quick write. You know your characters and they have relationships…there is story here. I hope you are not only completing this but have plans for it. This is a wonderful example of following a prompt for me to see and try to do. Thank you!

      1. I am so grateful for the kind feedback. These are all developing potions of a story I have been working on for the past several months. I’m glad to hear people are interested in where this is going.

    5. I love the juxtapositions of anger and beauty, frustration and realization, rejection and captivation. Everett’s story is certainly complicated and one that I want to read!!

    6. Greg ~ First of all, you are a beautiful writer (I hope it’s ok to say that!). I’m not a football fan, but I would read this novel. Second, I can’t help but think that you would need more than 7 points to cover what happens in this story. It seems that point 7 would be a sub-plot in this novel, so I’m curious about that relationship, also I’m eager to see how you resolve this. Very nice.

      1. Wendy,
        Thank you for the kind words. Wait, not a football fan? 😉 This exercise really gave me some ideas for point #7. I look forward to seeing where it goes! Thank you for the thoughtful response.

  12. I can’t post the comment I want to because I keep getting an error message that tells me I’m trying to post inappropriate material or spam, which of course, I totally am :D.

    So I’ll just give you the first and last part of what I was trying to post and leave out my list and see if that works.

    I chose my protagonist’s mother and the story starts with the mother’s last key point of change. I just thought it might be helpful for me to know the mother’s character more thoroughly. I think it does.

    Now that I have these key points of change for the protagonist’s mother, I’ll have to make some decisions about which ones to reveal and from whose point of view. I imagine these details about her mother’s life being revealed through conversation between mother and daughter as they begin to build a relationship.

    1. Debbie, I’m sorry for your computer frustrations. Thanks for hanging on. I think your idea of doing the exercise with your protagonist’s mother is great. And I think I’m going to try this with a secondary character in the novel I’m working on. Realized that while he’s intriguing to my main character, the boy needs his own life and issues. So thank you for pushing me toward that!

    2. pov is soooooooooo important and soooooooooo difficult for me to decide on. I want to describe the story to those I want to know about the story….but I try to remember that the reader doesn’t want to know about the story but to enter the story. I hope the dialog you develop shows you which direction to go.

  13. It’s always interesting for me to see how different people interpret a prompt. 🙂 I saw this as a prompt to “shrink a century, explode a moment” as Barry Lane would say. I’ve been working on my sentences all morning, so I am just going to go with that!

    She flopped into her seat. Before she knew it the bus was pulling up in front of the school.

    She started to read her book. It seemed like one minute had passed & her teacher was already saying, “reading time is over for today!”

    Somehow she managed to make it and it was soon her birthday.

    She’d just finished the 4th chapter when thd receptionist called her name.

    Looking out the window, she saw bare branches in the oak tree. Fall was almost over.

    This exercise helped me to see that I have a fall-back phrase or two that I might need to avoid overusing. It also helped remind me how powerful each sentence can be. I’m going to go work on my expansion now. 🙂

    1. Thank you for just going with where the prompt led you (with students, I usually cut short their questions and say, Just write!) Sounds like you learned something important. Have fun with your expansions! Also nice quote from Barry Lane – thanks for sharing!

  14. I enjoyed this exercise a lot! I’m about halfway trough my WIP, and I did outline before I started writing, so the seven sentences were very easy from me – I already have a good idea of where I’m going. I’ve been getting a little stuck lately with the middle, and was feeling anxious to get to the ending. This activity gave me a chance to “play” with the ending a little bit for the first time today. It’s just a quick-write, so I’m sure I’ll make plenty of changes, but it was refreshing to work on a different part of the work today. I feel like I have to write in order (I know I don’t really have to, but I just haven’t been brave enough to break out of that habit yet), so this was a good excuse to jump around. Here’s a snippet of what I wrote today:

    “Cora, this is Mr. Arthur Muller. I own the distribution center that your father works at.”

    Cora’s heart started pounding. Was her father going to lose his job? How much more bad news was she going to get this summer? And why would Mr. Muller call her to tell her about it? She almost missed the rest of his words…

    “…saw the news story about your Firemen’s Carnival. It was an admirable effort that you kids put into saving the fire station. I can see that you are going to be a very successful young lady when you grow up.”

    “Thank you Mr. Muller,” Cora responded. She had no idea where he was going with this conversation.

    “Cora, when I first heard about the town closing the fire station, I thought it made sense, but your letters and your news story have convinced me otherwise. I would like to help you save the fire station. I am going to donate the one million dollars to pay off the fire house’s mortgage. I wanted to tell you myself.”

    Cora couldn’t believe her ears. She felt a little dizzy as her emotions seesawed from despair to elation.

    “Mr. Muller, I can’t thank you enough! This is amazing!”

    “You don’t need to thank me, Cora. Our community should be thanking you. The work that your father does, and all of the firefighters, is a benefit to our entire community, and you helped keep it that way.”

    1. Those middles can make even the best-organized minds feel stuck, so I applaud your bravery in jumping to the ending. As you mention, there are no rules of chronology in the process, and I hope allowing yourself this jump makes you feel good about the end, and you can go back to getting there in the best way that works for you.

      I do like this exercise for revisiting structure in the middle of the process, as sometimes it tells me that I’m not as on track as I thought. Congratulations on moving through the middle — that’s a big accomplishment!

  15. Thank you for this great prompt. I’m definitely bookmarking it!

    Gracie moved away one cloudless day at the start of the summer, before the Junebugs had even come. We’d had a marathon sleepover, four days straight, full of all our favorite things—going to the playground after dark, making up codes in the treehouse, ice cream sundaes at Towers. All the things we’d planned to do through the long months, we had to cram into four tiny days. And was just standing there, off to the side, with three new friendship bracelets tied on my wrist, watching Gracie’s mom struggle with the trunk door, watching Gracie’s orange bike bobbing on the rack every time she tried to slam it shut.

    Sticky goo hardened on my elbow, a remnant of our very last super sundae. Gracie rolled down her window and shouted that I should put a letter in the late mail so it would beat her to Michigan. I didn’t catch whatever she hollered as they started down the street, her mom already rolling up the windows on account of the air conditioning.

    And I just stood there, next to the fence I cut my knee on when I was five, waving my stupid hand until I couldn’t feel it anymore. We didn’t even get the summer.

    1. Wow. I could feel the bittersweet disappointment as her friend drove away. She had four wondeful, jam-packed days, and now it was all over. Lovely details made me feel as if I was in her shoes, waving my hand until the numbness came over me.

  16. I never really have an idea of what I want to write before I read the prompt. This was a great starting point – and I can see how it will help students as well! Thanks!

    Shannon approached the dark house. Where was everybody? She expected to be greeted by bright lights and loud voices. But, instead, utter silence. Total darkness. Something is not right!

    Shannon enters the quiet house with trepidation. Even though there is no one there, she is hesitant to make any noise….tiptoeing to the kitchen without even turning on a light. Slowly she opens the cupboard. CREEAAAKKKK…it sounds so loud. Pure silence, even when disturbed by a tiny squeak from the rusty hinge, sounds like a monster’s scream. Shannon lunges her hand into the darkness. Where is it? Where did it go? Wait! Is that it? Shannon grabs the object, disbelief cursing through her veins.

    Her eyes scanning the dark room. Nothing is out of place. With her treasure in hand, she takes off, walking down the dark street, disappointment and relief washing over her simultaneously.

    Dare she go? Have they forgiven her for what she took that night many years ago. She hopes so. Why else would the invitation arrive? Unless.. Unsure, Shannon decides enough time has passed. Time to make amends. If forgiveness has not been offered up, it is time to ask – no – – beg for it. With firm resolution, she packs a weekend bag. Surely that will be enough.

    This is the reunion she expected all those years ago. The house is full of noise and bright lights. Music is blaring; Shannon can hear it from down the block. Joy starts to fill her entire soul. Yes! This is exactly what she was hoping for. They have forgiven her – they must have forgiven her….why else would they invite her? The house emits cheerfulness.

    Shannon rushes in without knocking. She stands in the entryway -every eye is focused on her. The blood rushes from her face. There is no forgiveness here – just revenge – the end of the line.

    1. I am hooked! I want to know what she faced when she rushed into that room, and why the invitation? Good stuff!

  17. This has been a great exercise for me in developing a character as well as possible storylines. I took a piece I started last week for one of the exercises and worked on it. Not much to show it, but it’s already showing me some interesting possibilities.

    1. Tammy, I’m happy you found it helpful. Piece by piece — I’m usually working for weeks until I have something I feel ready to show. Yay for interesting possibilities!

  18. Ruby, age 8, is sent by train to Arizona to live with her sister (year 1920)

    Ruby arrives back to Missouri at the age of 14

    Ruby, now age 15, meets Roy, age 18 at a church social

    Suicide of another sister who struggles with health issues

    Courted by Roy

    Marriage ages Ruby, 16, and Roy, 19

    First child 7 months in to marriage

  19. Apologies if this shows up twice. I thought I posted successfully before…..but it looks like it didn’t make it. Great exercise!
    I would like to know if anyone can guess at the tensions/bonds between the characters (some yet un-named) in the lines below. This is a very quick write. But, I”m pleased with the direction it has taken me.
    -The pressed Iris, as thin as the Bible’s pages now, held memory of blue by mother’s bedside.

    -Turning at the top of the stair Alice saw the newlyweds. Brother solemnly said, “congratulations” holding out his hand as Father’s eyes shined thank you.

    -Pearl gently held out a clean, folded set of underthings that smelled scrubbed and felt stiff from drying in the sun.

    -Dad’s job was small, almost nothing until it was everything that fed them and kept them at home.

    -Brother beamed in his patched too-small pants holding out the certificate to Dad.

    -One bedroom meant a room for Dad and Ma, a couch for brother and a pressure that Alice must lift.

    -Why would Mrs. Guilder’s girl run off to get married with this kitchen so full of light and electricity and warmth. Alice couldn’t believe she would be paid to work here and would sleep just down the hall.

    1. Linda, I can’t really guess the particular tensions and bonds, but I love the way you use imagery to mark the moments. It will be fascinating to see what echoes, and the images leave lots of room for changes and layers.

  20. One of my moments is when Bea moves in across the street from Darla.

    Darla moved the oak branch just enough to poke her small binoculars through to focus on the new house across the street. She didn’t really need them to see what was going on, but it made her feel a bit hidden and apart from the action. A huge moving van had just pulled in followed by a sleek dark gray car. Darla eyebrows moved up her forehead as she whispered, “ Whoa, that’s a fancy pants car.”

    The car door opened followed by a stout man, with a bad comb-over, and a good- sized tummy. Not dressed to move obviously as he wore a three-piece suit with a green tie. While Darla moved forward to look closer with her binoculars she saw the man open the back door. Another man, taller and more refined looking stepped out, he gave a tug to his jacket as he lifted his nose up as if to sniff out if the neighborhood was worthy, before walking towards the house. Comb-over man put his hand back inside the car helping out a tall thin woman adorned in a lacy mauve dress like Darla had never seen before. The lady had two strands of pearls around her throat, large pearl earrings on either side of a face that must have been cut out of a high fashion magazine, and short gloves matching her dress. Just as Darla was thinking to herself, who wears that kind of dress, a girl gracefully stepped out. This must be whom Mrs. Overply was talking about at the market yesterday.

    Mrs. Overply was one of the town’s realtors, and gossip extraordinaire. She made it a point to know everyone’s business and share as if were an newly found book of the bible that Reverend Alexander had professed it as God’s truth from the pulpit. Mrs. Overply said the new family was recently from Canada, but originally from London, and the girl was an only child.

    Seeing the girl, Darla tried to whistle under her breath, but couldn’t, mainly because she couldn’t whistle at all. The girl had lovely smooth strawberry blond hair tied back in a pink ribbon that matched the pink sweater covering her pale pink dotted Swiss dress that was so crisp looking it might have stood up on its own.

    Darla sat back in the crook of the tree, her hand finger combing her own dark unruly hair. She had never seen a dress like that. Not that she ever wanted to because she never wore dresses.

    The family quickly went into the house while the driver stood by the car and the moving men began to unload the truck. Out came a long shape wrapped in paper carried by two men and then lots of items of all sizes wrapped up in paper, bubbled plastic, or boxes. Seeing this got Darla thinking why a family like this was moving to her town.

    1. I like your description. My favourite is “comb-over man”. I like how it both identifies the character with a strong visual, and also speaks to the experience of your narrator,

    2. I really enjoyed Darla and the tone of gentle humor, starting with the binoculars, and how she didn’t whistle because she couldn’t whistle. And “a stranger comes to town” is always intriguing!

  21. Jeannine: Your book, Borrowed Names, sounds like a book I need to have. I even taught at a campus that was named after Laura Ingalls Wilder. Your tips for expanding and compressing scenes using the writing prompt to quickly free writing seven key points of change in character’s life really have me thinking. Time to write. Thank you for your contributions to Teachers Write! ~Suzy

  22. This was a great exercise. I will definitely use it with students. It helped me a lot. Since my story is inspired by my childhood, I was having difficulty finding conflict. I just didn\’t think there was a big overarching conflict, but several things I\’ve read helped me let go of some of the real things, and started thinking of what would make a good story. That helped a lot. I wrote my 7 sentences, and chose the first one to use as a story lead. 1. I have to move from the country to the suburbs.
    Lead: \”This is going to be the year!\” I tell them. I set up the cardboard box in the mudroom a week ago, complete with a hanging lamp to keep them warm, wood chippings, a food and water bowl, and no dogs. The peeping coming from inside makes me smile. They\’ve already grown in the week I\’ve had them. Even though this is the third year I\’ve brought new ducklings home, they still amaze me by how cute they are. I stick my hand inside the box to touch one. They scatter, sound alarm, and huddle up again. \”Your name is Lucky,\” I tell the one in the middle. He (is it a he?) seems stronger than the rest. The other ducklings gather around him, all yellow fluff. He sticks his head higher, looking like a prince. He\’s the protector. He even seems to catch my eye and wink. \”This is going to be my year, Lucky, and you\’re going to help me.\” I touch my index finger to his little regal head. It has to be. I sigh and lean back. I close my eyes and visualize that trophy in my hands. I\’m going to win this year. I\’m going to win this year. \”I\’m going to win that champion trophy!\” I say aloud and a little too loudly. Scritching and scratching comes from inside the box as my grand champions startle and scatter, and then huddle again.
    \”Honey! Your dad and I need to talk to you!\” my mom calls from the family room. I groan. This can\’t be good news. It\’s never good news when Mom says that. I sigh again, take one more peek back into the box. They\’re eating now. That\’s a good sign. A sign of champions!

    1. I love this, Holly. And I understand that struggle with writing something that’s inspired by real life history – it can make true plotting difficult because there can be that real sense to keep true to the facts. But you’re right to let that go and let the kernel of truth inspire a well-crafted story instead.

    2. Hi, Holly, Real life can be a great source of details, but as you say, sometimes it’s hard to get the distance to set up conflicts, as you say, or when we’re close, we may want to protect our characters instead of letting them get in trouble, or showing their flaws and letting readers see them change. I fight this with historical characters that I love, too. So good for you for seeing the issues and moving through them!

      I like the two plots you’ve set up here, and how the narrator is giving her ducklings a sense of home even while hers is about to be pulled away, giving us the sense that there will be another question of what is a home. And the ducklings are an engaging hook, too!

      1. Thank you, Kate and Jeannine! I’m continuing to explore how I can merge real life and fiction. Home is a theme topic I would love to explore in this WIP!

  23. I wasn’t sure what I thought of this writing exercise until I found myself with full paragraphs I hadn\’t expected. It may have provided the structure for my ending too. Thanks!

    Owen was born just after sunrise at the hospital. The nurses wiped him clean of blood and amniotic fluid and laid him on his mother’s chest. She stroked his red wrinkly skin and it was so soft she felt he would melt under the touch of her tentative finger. He was so warm and quiet, she thought he was asleep until she saw that his dark eyes were wide open and aware.
    Looking back, his mother often wondered if she should have known right then that he was different.

    Learns to read
    Owen stopped napping at 12 months. His mother, sleep deprived and exhausted from chasing a toddler, gave up on her refusal to let Owen watch television. Every afternoon Owen watched one hour of television while his mother took a nap. Maisy was his favorite. Nothing bad happened in Maisy. Everyone was kind. Also, Owen found the close captioning and learned to read from listening to the narrator. Once he knew how to read, Owen furtively read for hours. His mother caught up on her sleep, and everyone was less cranky.

    Starts school
    On the first day of school, the children waited for the bus, bouncing up and down, pushing, and giggling, finally waiting in a line as it actually approached. A storm had passed through the night before, and the street was strewn with worms. It took Owen nearly an hour to move them all to safety. His mother waved the bus on and drove Owen to school late. It was easier to bring Owen in late than try to dissuade him from his worm rescue.

    Spider incident
    Owen had no particular passion for spiders. No greater a passion than his fascination for ladybugs, grasshoppers, moths, worms, or any (and all) other animals, which had attracted his interest and subsequent research binge. But it was a spider that trapped him between the rules of society and the rules of his own cosmos.

    Demonstrates agility
    Logically, Owen recognized that there were more children in his school than people gathered to watch him perform. Logically, Owen did not have any concern for their opinion. Logically, Owen realized that whether the crowd bothered him or not, he had to either demonstrate his agility course or pack his bags for boarding school.

    But his subjective brain was tapping into his objective skills to determine how many eyes were watching him and the number tangled in his stomach where he suddenly realized he had been storing his courage. He tried to remember if he’d been given any advice on public vomiting.

    Returns to school
    Each year the classrooms were emptied, cleaned, and rearranged according to the needs of the fall classes. The smell of new crayons and cardboard mingled with the smell of strong disinfectant. Owen held the yellow slip of paper with his class assignment in his left hand as he opened the door.

    The room glowed. Sunshine poured through clean windows. Not even dust mites drifted in the air. Owen stretched his arms, trying to catch the light.

    He was interrupted.

    “Hey, Owen, you nut! Come in and sit by me.” Christopher yelled from the front row.

    Owen smiled and entered.

    1. Terry, I’m so glad you found some helpful surprises while doing this. I’m more a moving into the dark than outlining sort of writer, but I like a loose structure, a sense of where I’m going, and it’s exciting that you might have found such a place for yourself, too.

      And I’m already smitten with Owen! I love the worm story, full of devotion and tension, and your description of the rules of society and the rules of his own cosmos. This is a kid I want to know!

  24. Thank you so much for being here. I actually have a very specific question for Kathryn. I\’m excited you are here!

    When you were working on Mockingbird, did you have a Beta reader to give you feedback on Caitlyn? I work as a para with preschoolers, many of them on the spectrum, but my WIP is on an older child and I really want to be sure that his voice and reactions are authentic and respectful.

    I hadn\’t seen your research links until just now, and I\’m excited to check them out. Thank you for that list!

    1. and that is why you should closer your extra windows. Sorry for the misplaced comment!

  25. Really enjoyed this exercise! It would be great for my students, too. Here’s a snippet of how I expanded one of my compressed lines…

    My mom had just bid me goodbye and was headed to the airport. I looked at the two large suitcases of clothes and belongings that I had to unpack. When I first arrived, I had cracked open my window and a warm breeze now rattled through the blinds. I glanced at the empty loft bed and desk. I knew I should dig out my bedding and school supplies and start unpacking but couldn’t bring myself to do it just yet. Had I made the right decision? I had never planned to attend an out-of-state school…In the maddening silence I thought these things and headed toward my desk chair. Sitting in new dorm room and fighting the urge to call my mom so soon after she had just left, I felt truly lonely for the first time in my life.