First of all, thank you to #TeachersWrite. You motivate me and give me enough structure to take ideas and play with them. The structure makes me write and the feedback...lined with knowledge...makes me feel like I'm not writing in a vacuum and want to continue. Hopefully this knowledge and joy transfers to my class, so I can give those students who want to play with stories and spark and those who don't, the discovery that good things can come out of your brain when you actually sit and write.
Another connection is I saw an amazing image on Twitter yesterday, so I saved it. It is the culmination of what good PD does. Good PD inspires you to think, process your new information and figure out how to act on it. I love it!
Here is me processing something I just learned through the free PD of #TeachersWrite:
You Can Write in Scenes!
This year I read Lynda Mulally Hunt's One for the Murphys and I was amazed at how smart she must be to craft her book almost poetically and for a whole whack of other reasons I won't get into here, but you should read One for the Murphys. It is amazing.
Much to my delight she is one of the #TeachersWrite guest authors for the Summer of 2014 and when I read her guest post on Kate Messner's website, her structure made sense to me. She writes in scenes.
When I write a book I write the first two chapters and then I write the last chapter. All the middle chapters are written out of order. I don’t plan it that way—it comes to me that way. While I’m in the kitchen making coffee I have no idea what will leak out of my fingers that day.
She also wrote, "Thing was, characters dropped into me. I’d imagine things that would happen to them almost as if coming back to me as a memory. So, I started taking notes. Soon, those notes became scenes."
This was a revelation to me. I figured you had to write a story from the beginning to the end. I am currently trying to write a story that ties together my childhood memories of my pet chicken and my obsession with UFOs. I had written a draft and returned to it this summer. When I reread it, the story I thought I had finished turned out to be a bit of the story with an ending tacked on. I love the fresh eyes that come from leaving a piece for a while. Stephen King's On Writing helped me discover that one.
In Class Scene Applications
One of the aha's that came to me from reading Lynda's post was that my students don't have to write full stories. We can come up with characters. We can find stories and their underlying emotions. We can study Mentor Texts looking for a mix of dialogue; reflection, and action; sensory writing; or whatever literary devices we need to explore. We can experiment with different formats including and beyond memoir, fiction and script writing. We can embed it into Quick Writes. We can play with point of view and it doesn't have to be a two month unit of study. We can write a scene, or two or three...
With such a visual society, why not imagine a scene and flesh it out. I can see a couple of benefits for me. First, I will have a lot less intensive reading when I have 30 students next year and, secondly, students who are serious can stash their writing away, explore it throughout the year and, hopefully, come back to it when they are ready for it. A student could focus on one piece off and on for an entire year, and some could just play with topics they love that can differ from day to day.
My Own Application
So I tried it. A scene I wanted to be in my story dropped into my head. I have a number of other scenes that circle this one, but here is the entirely fictional account of brother and sister duo, Hannah and Adam, sneaking out to try to get photos of the UFO they've glimpsed a couple times over the last few months.
Within the parameters of #TeachersWrite we are allowed to post three to five paragraphs on Fridays for feedback and the feedback I received was valid for the five paragraphs. I think reading the whole scene provides the details and answers the questions that arose in the readers' head during their readings.
So here it is:
The glow from Adam’s digital watch lit up parts of his face a ghastly green. “It’s ten-thirty and their lights been out for a while. I think we’re safe to go out now.”
“Adam, this is ridiculous. What are we even looking for?.” I sighed. “Do you think an alien ship is going to pop out of the sky with a sign saying take my picture now!”
“Braaaawck! Braa, Braa..” Adam started with his annoying chicken imitation…again.
“Stop it.” I snapped at him.
“Come on, Hannah. If we don’t go, nothing will happen. It could be exciting. We could...”
“Enough.” I cut him off before he could make up something else my mind didn’t need to focus on. “Okay, let’s make a plan first though. I don’t want to just wander around the yard, making noise and getting caught.”
“Okay…a plan. Where have we seen the UFO before?”
“We’ve seen it behind the barn and up above the barn, so far. So let’s explore around the barn. Maybe we can go down to the back field. That way, we’ll be away from the house, at least.”
“Let’s go. I’ve the flashlight.”
“Where’s the camera?” I asked.
“Over on the table. You grab it. I can’t handle both.”
I hung the camera around my neck. Other than that we’d been ready for a while now, so I slowly opened the metal door to the trailer. Nothing odd was there. Again, there was just the bugs around the back porch light and a couple bats doing their dance around the poplars lining the back yard to big maple tree in the centre. There was also a full moon. We wouldn’t need the flashlight much after all. We stepped down and walked towards the barn yard gate, not talking, just taking quick peeks at each other. We were actually doing this.
“Open or climb?” Adam whispered.
It was a long metal gate with a chain hooked around the fence post. “Climb. I’ll hold it steady. It’ll make less noise that way.” The fact that not opening the gate meant we wouldn’t forget to close it was kindly left unsaid. Large dark spots with no moonlight reflected meant large cow patties left by Rosie and her calf and were easy to avoid. A patty bombed shoe could be a dead giveaway that our night in the trailer had been more than just that.
We made our way past the apple tree, barn and manure pile, up the fence-line to the creek and trees that divided our two fields with some stumbling and giggling. We’d taken the fence-line since the ground was flat there without the hay furrows. If you squinted just right the path up the side of the field almost glowed in the light of the night sky.
It felt different when we reached the cover of the trees. There were shadows and places to hide. Adam turned on his flashlight. “Turn it off.” I said. He swung around and my eyes followed the light trail. A pair of glowing red eyes reflected at us from under the brush. “Adam, turn it off.” I knew it was a rabbit or fox. I’d seen their eyes glow red in the winter when they ate the shrubs around the front of the house.
The noise in the trees was louder too. There was the gurgling of the creek and the rustling of leaves. Adam turned off the flashlight and walked away, when his foot caught. He tripped into the brush, sounding like he was bringing the forest down with him.
Suddenly, a small, round, white object, glowing slightly in the moonlight, erupted with a squawk from below him, floating erratically down the creek side.
“Camera!” Adam yelled from the bush. “Camera!”
I took off, branches breaking under my feet and snapped random photos,hoping to capture one of the escaping object. The glowing object disappeared from my view, as the bright light of the flash was blinding. My eyes had no time to adjust. I had probably clicked the button eight times when my foot caught something hard. I felt myself hurtling down, while managing to think, ‘Camera. Save the camera.” Time slowed as I twisted myself, holding the camera high in the air, just before landing butt first in the creek. Luckily, it was neither deep nor wide. My body was in the creek and my head firmly planted in the mud bank on the other side.
“Need a hand?” Adam smirked after wrangling out of the bush.
“I don’t think you’re much better.”
“Did you get a picture?”
“How would I know? Do you think mini low-flying spaceship? Did you hear it though?” A thought was percolating in my mind. “I swear it sounded chicken-like.”
“I couldn’t hear anything with all the sound you were making!”
Me! You were the one..” I paused. “You know, we have a bigger problem than that right now. In fact, we have two.”
“How are we going to get cleaned up and get the pictures developed? “
We headed back, wet, dirty and scraped. Luckily we had pajamas in the trailer. “Okay. The film is easy. We’ve got another roll. We were at picture twelve on the first roll. So we’ll just take eleven photos with the cover on so Mom will thinks the camera was messed. Next time we’re in Northover, you and I will ask to go up to the candy store and drop the film by the Qwick Photo for one hour developing.”
“No wonder you get away with so much. How do you think of all that? What about the clothes?”
“Can you make Mom believe you have a sudden interest in laundry, Hannah?”
One scene. A ton of fun for me! Thank you #TeachersWrite. I feel like another piece of the puzzle of my story and of the teaching of writing was put in place.
Thanks, Megan, for a great Thursday Quick Write idea with a super name, Word Hoard. This would be great for use in a class, as it's quick & can get results.
This is also timely. I was thinking that I had to actually get into writing mode & sit down and fill in a sheet like this one, written by Caroline Pignat, when she was developing her characters for her fabulous novel Egghead.
I was even jealous of a student of mine who this year was writing a story and did this. I only found out about it because she is an over-achiever with a learning disability so her work is always late and she gets very stressed. Her mother was telling me about the sheets of paper all over her room outlining tiny details about the characters that she would never use in the story and I loved my student for it all the more. You could see the thought, details and background throughout her story and I knew I needed to do this.
Here is my very quick Word Hoard on Hanna, Adam & Pluck the Chicken. It's already helped me find phrases & traits & I may go hard core like my student & Caroline tomorrow morning.
Hanna – aliens, comics, quiet spots, darn, Adam!, It’s not impossible, try, help, forget, crash, where?, why? , please, dark, fear, my sweet girl, hums Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, secrets, You do it!, trees, flowers, sky, spit bugs on Indian paintbrush, birch groves, gets caught up in small details,
Adam – Ha!, chicken, scaredy-cat, I don’t care, come on, Let’s…, bikes, dirt bikes, hammers, kind to animals, stubborn, water guns, tricks, trouble, You’re not in charge of me, rabble-rouser,
Pluck – feisty, tough, persistent, empowered, queen of barn, gentle silent, a chicken, an alien or possessed by one?
Hmm? I believe I need more plot development too...
Who Am I?
I'm a Teacher Librarian and Grade 7 Language Teacher.
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