This weekend was my birthday, and a very nice birthday it was. On Saturday, my husband and I went out to lunch with our younger son. The restaurant where we ate decorates it’s wall with plaques containing rhymes, quotes, and other thought-provoking or food-celebrating sayings.
Across from our table was a plaque that read:
- If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you say you are?
Hmmm? Pretty apt for a birthday lunch.
Now, I’m not going to tell you how old I am or how I’d reply, but I couldn’t help thinking that was a darn good writing prompt. How old would you say you are? Why? Write about it.
Writing fiction? Choose a character you are still trying to figure out and ask him/her the question and demand an explanation.
If you feel like sharing your responses, please reply. Maybe you will even tempt me to share my response with you!
Last weekend I attended the fabulous SCBWI Oregon Spring Conference, in Wilsonville Oregon. The conference consisted of a Saturday full of workshops–my two favorites: Rosanne Parry‘s “Character and the 7 Deadly Sins” and Susan Blackaby‘s “Poetry: Rhyme, Reason, and Tricks of the Trade.” In Rosanne’s workshop I learned how to use a character’s primary temptations, as well as his or her inherent cardinal virtue, to deepen and better delineate his or her character in planning, writing, or revising my novels. It is a strategy I am eager to apply to my works in progress as well as my future writing.
In Susan’s class we got to play with words. How I love to play with words! She taught the techniques of poetry–assonance, consonance, alliteration, rhythm, rhyme…and we got to practice them crafting poems. These techniques, Suz pointed out and I have always believed, are also useful in crafting memorable prose.
Sunday was the day for intensive workshops. Since YA is primarily what I write, I spent most of my time in the YA track. However, I strayed, and was glad I did, for the midday session offered by Susan Dobinick on “Fantasy and Magic in Middle Grade.” It turned out what she had to say about fantasy and world building was every bit as applicable to YA as it was to MG fiction. And, she led us in a fabulously fun, group writing exercise for turning a realistic story into a fantasy story and then describing its new realistic storyline. The products we produced as a group were hilarious, and the effort underscored the fact that magic is not what fantasy fiction is about. Excellent fantasy fiction, like all fiction, is about an individual or group of individuals challenges and struggles and how their experiences alters them.
This year’s SCBWI Oregon Spring Conference was outstanding. Thank you so much Judi Gardner, Susan Ford, and all the members of the steering community who worked so hard to make this a memorable event.
List three things only a good friend would know about you.
List three things only a character’s good friend would know about him or her in one of your stories.
Now write a scene between this friend and your character where the friend demonstrates what he or she knows about your character without saying a word describing it. (Don’t get me wrong. There can be dialogue. The two can talk, whisper, or scream, whatever the scene demands. The only words they cannot exchange are those about what the friend knows.)
When done, read what you’ve written with your writing partners or share here as a comment. Compliment one another on the strengths of the dialogue: its realism and the effectiveness of word choices to reveal mood, tone, and what lies beneath the surface of what is being said and done.
This prompt was adapted from Emily Whitman‘s YA novel talk at the SCBWI Oregon Spring Conference last May. For information on this year’s Spring Conference, click here.
Happy new year and welcome back for another year of literate living!
Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes.
Think about what you have read.
Choose a character from your reading. What would be a good new year’s resolution for this character? Explain why you think this. When you are done, share your responses with your reading partners.
Steven Spielberg once said, “I dream for a living.”
Create a character who truly does dream for a living. It could be a realistic or historical character. Or it could be a fantastic, out-of-this-world character. As you develop your character, consider the following questions:
- What is your character’s occupation?
- How does dreaming relate to his or her work?
- Give your character a name?
- Where does he or she live?
- What does he or she love?
- If someone met your character on the street or at a party, describe what he or she might see.
For a bonus exercise: Put your character in a scene that contains action, dialogue, and conflict. Have fun!
When done, share your work with your writing partners. Enjoy the variety of characters you came up with as a group. Compliment one another on the strengths in his or her character description. Identify the details you like or find particularly vivid.
As usual, I invite you to share your writing as a comment. I would love to see the scenes and characters you have created.
Also, to help me serve you better please answer the following questions and post them as a comment to any of this week’s (May 20-26) blogs.
- Are you a writer, student, teacher, or parent? If none of these, how would you describe yourself?
- What part of this blog is most useful to you?
- Which part of this blog do you most enjoy?
- What would you like to see more of?
This week’s creative writing prompt will ask you to practice your characterization skills or to exercise your descriptive writing with a focus on setting.
Look at the picture below:
Choose a chair for a setting or character-based writing exercise.
Choose one chair.
Describe the character (or critter) that would have that chair in his home or her office or its bedroom, or who might wish to own the chair. What does that chair say about that character’s personality? About her hopes and plans, his fears and challenges. Now create a scene in which this chair is featured. Reveal what you’ve learned about your character through his or her actions, speech, and thoughts.
Describe a room in which this chair sits. What sits beside it? What other furnishings are in the room? Is it carpeted, slate floored, out-of-doors? What is the mood of the space? Time of day? Now, create a scene that takes place in this environment you have created. Bring in two or more characters and have them interact. Be sure your chair makes an appearance in the scene.
When done share your choice of chair and your writing with your writing partners. Compliment each other on the strengths you see in the writing. Ask questions concerning the things about which you would like to know more.
Have fun together!
For Preschoolers: Show him the picture of the chairs. Ask her to pick a chair she likes. Talk about the chair a little bit. Ask him who the chair belongs to, what this character or critter is like, and what kind of things the character or critter who likes this chair would like. Write down the child’s response and leave room for her to draw her own picture of the person and the chair.
When done, read the child’s words back to him, pointing to each word as you say it (to reinforce the one-to-one relationship of spoken and written word). Display your child’s handiwork somewhere she can enjoy it and share it with others.
These chairs were featured in an ad for Furniture by Lee, in the November 2010 issue of Traditional Home magazine.
Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.
Pick two characters from your story.
Get out your colored paper, felt pens, glitter glue, stickers, whatever “crafty” materials you might have on hand. Make a valentine that you believe one of these characters might send to the other.
Share your valentine creation or write a written explanation describing why this valentine suits the character it is from and why it is the sort of valentine this character might send to the intended recipient.
For Pre-readers: let your little listener choose two characters and make a valentine as explained above. When he or she is done, ask the child to tell you about what he or she has made.