We wrapped up our six week session today by finishing the round of critiques that we started last week. By now, everyone should have received critique on at least one story, and depending on how many pieces you have given me, will be receiving all final critique by the end of this week. If you have not sent me three pieces yet, there is still time! I am happy to continue working with you over the summer. In addition, all pieces can be revised and/or edited and re-sent to me for a second look.
Thank you so much for creating and sharing your work with our circle of writers! It really has been an honor to hear your stories each week and work with you individually on developing your talents even further.
Publishing to The Writer's Community
After revising/editing, students may send me their favorite story from this course and I will publish here on The Writer's Community where they can share and/or tweet to friends and followers.
Next week I will send out an email with my recommendation of which pieces I think should be published. The students are free to make a different choice, or decline to publish. I do think it would be a great record of their work!
Free Writing for Fun
We closed class with two free writing exercises. For the first, each student was given one word and three minutes to write something, anything, about that word. I was really impressed with the quality of the writing that emerged in such a short time and I think everyone agreed that they would have loved more time to develop their ideas.
The second free write involved images. Students chose one or two images that I had prepared ahead of time, and wrote for five minutes. Again, we had some really interesting ideas! For this free write, students could choose to begin a story, write a poem, or simply describe what was in the picture.
Free writing is a great activity for the summer! Have students select a block of time, say five minutes, and write from a word, images, or a prompt. The only rule with free writing is that you don't stop writing until the timer goes off and that you do it consistently. Even if you write nonsense, the idea is to keep the words coming without hesitation. This will come in handy later when students are expected to write in a more formal environment. It will help them "think on their feet."
Have fun and enjoy your summer!
Sharing and Critique
After a couple of students read their short stories this afternoon, I jumped right into sharing my feedback on three of the stories I received on Friday. My comments are highlighted in yellow and are suggestions for further developing each piece. In most cases, I have also made notes when I see punctuation or other minor errors cropping up. Primarily, I want to focus on each student becoming a better writer. They will become better self-editors the more they write and the more time they take to review their own work. In all cases, I have asked the writers to think more deeply about their characters, plots, dialogue, and story details. They may wish to make these changes and send their stories back to me for a second review. There is no deadline for the second review -- I'm here and ready to help when they've had a chance to implement their edits.
This applies to the two stories they sent me on Friday. If they haven't yet sent me two stories -- please have them do so by today, Monday, May 12. Any feedback that I don't get to by Monday, May 19, will be emailed to you shortly thereafter.
Review and Revision -- Final Project
Since today's class was all about feedback and reviewing and revising our work, we spent some time discussing what edits the students need to make. We talked about macro-editing and what that entails. I provided everyone with a handout which lists different things they should be looking for when revising their final project. Which bring me to…
The Final Project: Students are to select a third piece that they have written during this course and review and revise it based on the macro-editing guidelines. It cannot be one of the two pieces they have already sent me. This final project should be emailed to me no later than Friday, May 16.
To re-cap, by the end of our six weeks together we will:
I have truly enjoyed each and every one of your children, and have so enjoyed getting to know them and listening to their wonderful stories. See you Monday!
Sharing and Critique
I had the pleasure of hearing three very good short stories today -- all were different, but each had great story lines and have the potential to be developed into even better pieces. Hopefully, I'll be seeing these again, as I'd love to take another look and be able to give more detailed feedback.
Students -- please be sure to read the homework note at the end of this post for more information about getting some of your work to me by this coming Friday (May 9).
Dialogue, Take 2
We spent the rest of class practicing writing dialogue and discussing certain dos and don'ts, as well as some basic dialogue punctuation rules.
First, we did a fun exercise that I call "Dialogue Mash-up." We were given two lines of random dialogue that were to form the middle of a story. Half the class wrote one - two lines of dialogue that could come before the snippets and the other half wrote the dialogue that might come after the snippets. We then "mashed" them together to see what we had come up with. Even though the students were all thinking of different plot lines, surprisingly the dialogue made sense in many cases! Most importantly, everyone was able to correctly write dialogue that followed the flow of the random snippets. We had some fun with this, and the kids did a great job of coming up with some fun and creative dialogue!
We then learned a few tips, including showing your characters feelings through their words instead of the dialogue tag. For instance, try to avoid tags such as "she said angrily," and show us how the character speaks instead of telling it. This is something new writers tend to need more practice with. It's perfectly okay to use the simplest dialogue tags (say, tell, and ask). In other words, try to rely on spoken words to get emotions across instead of the dialogue tag.
Lastly, we practiced punctuating dialogue by writing two lines of dialogue that related to our invented characters from the first day of class. Our invented characters have been following us along nicely for the last three weeks. Who knows what they'll do next!
I collected these papers and will check for correct dialogue punctuation, returning them next class. Which brings me to the last and most important bit from today...
Homework -- Students Please Read!
By Friday, May 9, please email me two of the stories you have written thus far (one can be the story you write this week: see Three Elements Challenge handout from today for ideas). If you are writing one continuous story, make sure you are adding to it weekly – in this case, you may email me the story after next week, instead.
Make sure to follow the formatting requirements. Before you send to me, proof your work for content and punctuation, grammar, spelling and paragraphing. Reading pieces aloud usually helps tremendously with self-editing. Next week we will devote part of our class to Review and Revision. I will also give everyone individual feedback on at least one of their stories.
Please email me your third and final story for critique no later than Friday, May 16 (I'll remind everyone again next week). At our last class I will continue to give feedback on individual pieces and we’ll do some fun in-class writing exercises. Any feedback that I don’t give by our last class, I will email to everyone individually.
If you have a piece ready to go, please feel free to email me prior to Friday -- I appreciate any extra time so I can give as much detailed feedback as possible. Thank you!
Sharing and Critique
We kicked-off class today by sharing three more short stories. First, I am very happy that the students are writing more than just the bare minimum. Everyone seems engaged, enthused, and hopefully -- inspired! We will continue taking turns sharing our weekly at-home writing -- some weeks we may be able to squeeze in slightly more stories, or slightly less. I am keeping track of how many times each student has shared, and will make sure everyone has equal voice by the time we wrap-up on the 19th!
Second, the group is also becoming slightly more comfortable with the critique process. This is really difficult to master, and only becomes easier with time and practice. Hopefully, in the next four weeks we'll gain more confidence and be able to share more freely with one another. When you're trying to become a better writer yourself, it's not always easy to give another writer specific suggestions. Through this give and take process (give critique constructively and receive it graciously) we all can become better writers.
The next element of story-writing that we covered today was using specific detail to help control the reader's imagination. The more information you give the reader, the closer the reader's mental picture will be to the one you intended.
After a speedy grammar review (nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs) we read some examples of using and abusing adjectives and adverbs. Ultimately, "saying it" with fewer words that pack the most punch is strategically a better choice. We don't want to weigh down our readers with clunky and overloaded text. We also don't want to be too cryptic either! Using detail in just the right way is probably one of the most challenging aspects of writing, and I'll be giving each individual student more specific feedback on his or her pieces in the final two weeks.
Before moving on, everyone wrote one sentence that gave as much detail as possible (without over-using adjectives or adverbs). This was trickier than we thought -- some were spot-on, some were nearly-there, all were on the right track.
Writing Great Dialogue
We finished up the day by starting our unit on dialogue -- what it should sound like and when to use it. I gave everyone a handout which reviews some of the dos and donts of dialogue writing. They may want to refer to it if they choose one of the Dialogue Prompts from the homework sheet.
Next week we'll practice by writing dialogue in class!
Prompt choices this week are Specific Detail, Dialogue, continue working on any story you have started at home or in class, or start a new one. If you are writing one continuous story, just make sure that you are adding to it weekly.
See you next Monday!
Three Steps of Critique
We started class today by going over our objectives when critiquing another writer's work. I have no doubt this group will develop into a great circle of literary critics -- they just need a little practice!
Each week we will have three to four writers share their work at the beginning of class. If you don't share one week, you will automatically share the following week. You can read the story you wrote that week, or choose another that you haven't had a chance to share yet. We'll also take turns sharing our in-class writing, as well.
Remember, in critiquing another's work, we:
Plot Structure and Narrative Viewpoint
Next we reviewed plot structure and narrative conflict. Many students are probably familiar with these concepts but I provided them with a handout which they can use in crafting their future short stories. We took our invented characters from last week and gave them a major challenge to overcome. After writing for only a few minutes, the students came up with some great challenges for their characters. I appreciate how each student uses our in-class writing time -- some write easily and without hesitation, others take a few moments to gather their thoughts. Both approaches have merit and I encourage each individual to continue to utilize the one that works best for him or her. Our in-class writing time is meant to provide an extra challenge -- thinking creatively "on our feet" so to speak!
Then we moved on to talk about narrative viewpoint and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of writing in the first person vs. the third person narrative. We wrapped up class by starting another short story prompt. This time the task was to present the same story from two different viewpoints. Students can continue this story at home, or the earlier prompt involving their invented characters. Additionally, I gave everyone four more prompts -- two that focus on plot structure and two that focus on narrative viewpoint.
We spent a few minutes today discussing what each class will look like. Every Monday we will:
At our fifth class, I will ask the students to choose three of their stories and I will work with everyone individually to polish their writing. This will be done partly in class and partly via email.
For the stories we began today, please transfer what you have written thus far to a word processing document.
For this class, all short stories should utilize the following formatting requirements:
We also talked about how long our stories should be. This will depend on each individual's experience and comfort with writing. I do expect them to challenge themselves, but I encouraged them to focus on quality over quantity, especially in the beginning. At this level, all stories should be a minimum of one - two typed pages, but again, this will vary depending on the student -- any questions, just ask!
Creating Great Characters
Without further ado, we jumped into our first lesson: Creating Well-Developed Characters. To illustrate how interesting characters can be developed (in some cases very quickly), each student drew a random name out of a bag. You can have some fun with this by going to a web-site like behindthename.com and generate your own random character names! We drew some really great ones like Finnbar Fromm and Dand Hobbes. We took turns describing our characters -- what they looked like, their age, and occupation. We ended up with a fantastic cast of characters, and I hope that some of the students will consider incorporating these folks into their short stories this week! They also received questionnaires which they should try to use when developing all of their characters. They can finish filling them out at home, or create a new list for each new character. We discussed that while all this information might not be used in our stories, getting to know our characters more deeply will assist in shaping the story and helping our readers get to know the characters gradually as the story develops.
Show, Don't Tell!
Next, we talked about showing the reader what we want them to know, instead of telling them. Sometimes it's perfectly ok to tell the reader something -- maybe it's not that important, it's boring, or just background information you need to communicate. In short story writing we're going to be getting to the point more quickly, so it will be more interesting to read if we "show" instead of "tell." To practice this, everyone wrote at least two sentences that "showed" me it was a hot day, without using the word "hot." We had some great, descriptive sentences -- nice job!
At the end of class, I handed out a list of writing prompts. Some prompts address character development and some tackle showing vs. telling. Students chose one of the prompts and began a story. They should continue to develop this story at home this week, finishing it before Monday. Please don't forget to bring your typed short story to class each week! Alternatively, they can scrap the story they began in class and start a new one. For more ideas you can go to: http://www.creative-writing-now.com/short-story-ideas.html
See you next week!