Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Feedback: Flying by the Seat of Your Plot or Pants?


Hey, campers. Welcome back to Friday Feedback! 

Some of you are old pros by now, right? 

Okay, maybe not exactly. But, still, ask anyone. It's fun here and we don't bite. If you haven't been here before, please go HERE and read what this is, why we do it, and mostly the full rules and rationale behind them.

While you're doing that, I've glammed myself up over here because today I have one of my most uber favorite people in the world hosting for me, Geoff Herbach

He's funny, he's talented, he's debonair.

This is Geoff. You should check out all his books because he is
funny, witty and brilliant. Trust me here.
See? Can't you just tell he's debonair?

Truly, there are few people I'd trust enough to leave Friday Feedback with while I'm off gallivanting (it is my 20th wedding anniversary this weekend so I'm with my husband, but will pop by when I can. And, yes, I know, I know, I look way too young. Fine, I don't actually. Whatevs. Just go with me here.) 

Anyway, you're in excellent hands with Geoff. You will love him. And here are just a few quick reasons why:Books

These are Geoff's first YA books, and they are brilliant and oh-so funny. If you want to hook boy readers, these books are the thing to do it. If they're not there already, they need to be in your classroom. But you don't have to take my word for it. They've won plenty of awards. More importantly, Geoff knows his audience and he's on a mission. If you want to understand why (and him) better, read this really incredible post from Geoff at the Nerdy Book Club HERE. I can tell you that when I Skype into classrooms and mention Geoff's books (which I almost always do), the boys who have read them become animated and passionate as they talk about how laugh-out-loud-funny and buzzed up with energy they are.

Anyway, as you can imagine, Geoff will be devoting lots of time here today* so please do check out his books, share them with your students, and ask your local booksellers to keep them well-stocked on their shelves.  

So, I thought it might be great to have Geoff -- who, btw, teaches creative writing at Minnesota State, Mankato, and, who also, btw,  has a new three-book deal with Source Books -- talk a little about the dreaded "How to Get Started" and whether one should "pants"** it or plot it. 

So, without further ado, I give you my pal, Geoff Herbach. 


Me with Geoff, this one time in NYC I can't talk about.
Oh hush. Fine. I can. 

Geoff: Okay, I don’t know anyone who has unlimited time to write.  We have a few hours here and there that, over the course of many months, may add up to just enough time to complete a project. 

That’s why this drives me crazy.

I find it hard to start a story.  Really hard.  I can have an idea and a character and a place and a time and still, I have a hard time getting my story rolling.  I’m writing my sixth novel right now and in all cases but one, starting the thing has made me want to jump off the roof of my house (not much of a jump, but still). 

Here’s the thing I keep telling myself: You don’t need to know everything right now.  You can’t know everything right now.  Part of the joy of writing is the awesome sense of discovery that comes from sitting down, doing the work, putting the characters into motion, seeing what they do.

Here’s the other thing I keep telling myself: You better figure out what’s going on right now or you’ll be writing off in tangents and you’ll go nowhere and pretty soon you’ll hit your deadline and you’ll have two hundred thousand words that add up to a giant pile of melting butter.
Photo of melted butter for blog post, "Goodbye Summer, Hello School: Marshmallow Cereal Bars," on www.SATgourmet.com, by author of Cook Your Way Through The S.A.T., Charis Freiman-Mendel.
mmmm... butter. But I digress...


The first thing I tell myself gives me freedom and joy and not nearly enough pressure to accomplish crap. 

The second thing I tell myself causes me to outline like a wild man until I have a whole story in notes and that removes all joy and all discovery and soon I have no interest in writing that story.

If you go to a lot of writing craft talks, you hear this kind of thing all the time.  One guy will say, as if it’s God’s truth, “Outlining is essential.”  A woman will then come to the mic and say with equal gravitas, “Outlining is the death of creativity.  You’re a hack if you do it.”

Over the course of the last few books, I’ve actually started to do both and neither.  Because I not only enjoy, but need to learn my character and story by writing a lot, I allow myself to write into a project maybe fifty pages or a hundred pages a few times.  Yes, I’ll figure something out about the story or the character or the voice and I’ll start over.  Once I feel like I have my legs under me and I’ve got a really good start, then I’ll outline like a wild man, with the understanding that I may need to break that outline if something amazing reveals itself (I sure hope it does).  In this way, I can find both the joy of writing and (so it seems) the end of the project.

I’ve started recommending that my students go after their short stories and novels in the same way.  Write in, get your footing, then start planning for how this thing might find completion.  You might try it yourself.

(Gae: As a bonus, once we get rolling here, I will share with you in the comments a neat little sort of outlining trick/idea/concept/something-or-other I came up with for myself being the total and utterly hopeless "pantser" that I am, that others have liked and used when I've shared before.)

In any case, below is the current first bit of my new book.  I’ve written in to the story, found my footing, and am now pushing toward completion (which might reveal something amazing that will necessitate re-writing the beginning). 

I look forward to hearing from you and seeing your work.

(Gae: Before Geoff shares his excerpt, I remind you briefly of the rules: 

1. Since this is an opening, tell Geoff if it hooks you or not. 
2. What works for you and why? 
3. What doesn't if something doesn't and why? 
4. Feel free to share your own brief excerpt in the comments for the same feedback. Please     ONLY share between 3 - 5 paragraphs, 3 if they are long, 5 if short. We do not promise to read more if you go over. 


Police Hat Clip Art

Geoff: GABE, THE MAIN CHARACTER IN FAT BOY VERSES THE CHEERLEADERS, IS BEING INTERVIEWED AT THE MINNEKOTA POLICE STATION.

Hi, there. Good to meet you, too, Mr. Rodriguez.
I'm fine.  Feeling great, really.  I slept like a baby.  Nice cot in that jail cell!
Four hours sleep, at least.
I wish they had a dimmer switch on these lights, though.  They're giving me a headache.  On TV, interrogation rooms at the cop shop are always really dark.  What's up with the Minnekota PD, huh?  It’s like noon sun in this place.
The light isn't that big a deal.
No, I'm not hung over. I've never had a drop of alcohol in my life, sir.  This isn't some kind of alcohol fueled riot aftermath.  I robbed that pop machine with a sober mind and a clean heart.
You’re my lawyer.  I’m going to tell you the truth.  I robbed that machine!  Dad and Grandpa told me to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
Me. Rode my bike to the school, which I don't enjoy. (Bikes hurt my ass.)
Nobody else involved.  Just me.  Just me on my bike and my robbing skills, which I learned from the internet. 
Yes.  I stole the money.  I can show you how, too.  If you look in the pocket of my hoodie, you'll find the diagram and the list of instructions.  Can’t believe the cop didn’t take it.  He took the money from me.
I’m not going to help the Po Po, man.  I will have my day in court! I didn’t tell them anything.  They tried to beat it out of me!  Jackass officer ripped my band hoodie and I skinned my damn knee!  Check this out. 
Pretty bad scrape, right?  Police brutality.
Please.  Just me.  Just me.  I'm the one, okay?
I’m the head of Geekers United, but nobody else came with me to the school.
A flock of sheep?  Like, literal sheep?  Baa baa?  In the school this morning?
Holy balls.  Uh huh.  Yeah.  I must’ve let those sheep in by accident.
Sure.  Let’s start from the beginning.

***
Okay, campers, you're up. Be kind to one another, be constructive, be gentle, be real. Happy Friday Feedback!

- gae

*I will be popping in as best I can now and again through the day and weekend, but definitely not as much as last Friday. Geoff will take care of you, no worries. And please don't post excerpts after Sunday morning.

** In case any of you don't know "pantsers" or "pantsing" refers to the concept of writing without an outline = flying by the seat of your pants.

122 comments:

  1. I'm definitely intrigued! A fat kid against the cheerleaders. A boy in a band hoodie robbing a soda machine...LOL - brought back high school memories! I love the comment, "Holy balls" and middle school boys will love that, too. The dialogue was so one-sided it was a little hard for me to follow at times, but I'm so new at this I feel ridiculous for even saying so. :-) Thanks for sharing and for being here!

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    1. No, it's a good comment, Kerri! My editor has asked me to put a "Lawyer's explanation" in at the beginning, to set up the one-sided thing. Whole book is that way. Hope people get used to it fast!
      Thanks!

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    2. That makes sense. Can't wait to read it when it's finished!

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  2. Thank you for sharing.
    I like the one sided conversation but it took me a few lines to understand it. It seems to flow right out of the character's head which is wonderful because I get to know the character right away. The conversation also tells the story. This is a good example for teaching because it as more than one purpose.
    The sheep took me by surprise and made me laugh out loud! I love sheep.

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  3. Thanks for being here Geoff and I'm definitely checking out your books! I have a harder time finding good stuff for my middle school boys than I do the girls. About your piece... I like the pacing. It reads fast, like rapid fire as I would expect a kid being questioned would. And his randomness tells me that he doesn't fully grasp the weight of what he's dealing with. What doesn't work for me is the missing interview questions, if they are missing. I had a hard time following exactly what was going on. Is this kid truly random and nervously rambling or is he answering questions? Either way, it hooked me enough that I do want to know what the deal is with this kid and who Geekers United are.

    My piece is a result of our Tuesday quick write. My MC takes an art class every Saturday with her best friend. She has recently met her white birth mother, learning that she is biracial.

    Sometimes in my sketchbook I have drawn various versions of my mother. I clip pictures from the local paper or celebrity photos from the internet as my models. When the art professor assigns contour drawing I draw nose after nose while staring at myself in the small rectangle mirror.

    During our unit on portraiture, we learned the nose is the only vertical line of the face and can change the way you view a person. I've changed this part of my "mother's" face the most in my renderings. By the end of the unit, I felt I was close to the right effect, but the nose was too sharp. Even blending the shading, I couldn't quite soften the face enough. Staring at my pencil smudged finger, I thought about how I would never produce my mother, even if I did get the lines right. I give up.

    Now, since meeting Sierra, there's a shift in my art. I am ready to try again with this picture I've printed from her company website and clipped into my sketchbook. Sighing, I decide a drawing of my actual mother would be my project for the art show. But, I would not draw her whole. She would be fractured. The parts of her face would be fractured like a porcelain mask finally being pieced together, matching the way my history was slowly coming together.

    A Puzzle Discovered would be the title of my art show entry. Speaking of puzzle, where is Jessica? She always runs late, but she NEVER misses art class. I texted her and began to draft the shape of Sierra's face on the smooth paper, allowing for the fracture gaps. As I listened to my pencil scratch at the page, I thought about the white paper and how it would enhance the pale skin of my birth mother. So different from my own.

    Deferring the sadness and confusion, I checked my phone. Still nothing from Jessica. After two more unanswered texts, I snuck out to the hall to call her.

    No answer. I was more frustrated than worried. It seemed she'd been flaking out on me more and more lately. Other than our art class, I hadn't seen her much until Gracie passed. Then she slipped out of the apartment in the wee hours the other night. I needed Jessica more than ever and she was obviously not able to be there like a best friend should.

    Back in class, I set to working on my portrait of Sierra. I had only (two?) weeks to get this done. Shouldn't be a problem. As many times as I had wanted to draw my birth mother and ached to have answers, knowledge was driving me now. And as Michaelangelo said, "Draw with your brain, not your hands."

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    1. Love how much conflict and mystery you set up in this short passage. I want to know who all these people are. I want to know about your MC's psychology, because it's so clearly delicate. I want to know where Jessica is. I love the symbolic structure of producing the mother. It's possible as you lengthen the thing that you'll want to slow down a little. The passing of Grace is another seeming big issue in an open already loaded. Great stuff!

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    2. agree that there's nice longing and conflict in this piece.

      I'm actually struggling a tiny bit technically with the tenses. It starts in present and she's talking about what she's going to do for a future art show but you use would vs. will, which I guess could be hypothetical but I dunno, it feels confusing to me. Then by the puzzle/Sierra para. you move into past tense. So just watch that.

      Keep going!

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    3. Thanks and I totally agree on the tenses. I first wrote this as my someday piece in third person and switched to first when I posted here. After I submitted, I read it. Guess I was a little overzealous about sharing. LOL! I'm definitely proofing before I post next time.

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  4. Thank you for putting yourself out there in such an open way. That is the hardest thing for me to do. My YA novel's first draft has been finished for 3 years and no one has seen more than the first chapter. I need to make the next step.

    Your opening sounds like the boys that I teach in a middle school. I'm sure this story would grab their attention. Getting my students to read is the most important part of my job as a reading interventionist. A story that interests them sharps skills in a way I can't do.

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  5. Okay here is my try at a critique. This definitely hooked me. It made me wonder who is talking and why exactly they arrested him. I got an idea that this character is fat because of his comment about hating bikes because they hurt his ass. I love the humor your character exhibits, but that made me wonder if his humor is because he’s nervous or if he is really just an idiot? Something that confused me was the one-sided conversation. It flows well enough to know what questions he is being asked. Was this intentional or do you have your character just rambling to his attorney because he’s nervous? One final thing I really liked was throughout the conversation your character keeps saying it was just him and he worked along. This made me think maybe he’s covering for someone else and that is what really hooked me.

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    1. He definitely knows he's funny. He's given to bursts of rambling. Definitely trying to control the information he's releasing as part of a cover-up. Thanks!

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  6. That boy definitely makes me want to know more! I love his sarcasm/flippancy, and the sheep comment is hilarious. I REALLY want to know what Mr. Rodriguez is thinking!! I may be back later today to share some of my own writing. Thanks for letting us into your writing world!

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  7. Geoff, I am definitely hooked. Gabe has a distinctive and authentic voice. This snippet also raises a lot of questions, and now I want answers! Why did he rob the soda machine? Who are the Geekers United? Are they the sheep? Or are they really real sheep? On the other hand, letting Gabe do all the talking was a little confusing at first. Would kids stick with it?

    I am more of a pantser. Maybe this is why I have such a hard time with endings. Today, though, I'm sharing the beginning of what I originally envisioned as a picture book that by today's standards, is much too long. My drafts range in length from almost 1500 words to just over 900. Maybe this is really the first chapter of an early chapter book. Or, to use Gae's phrase, maybe it's just crap. (Which is okay.) Ellie is 6 or 7.

    "It's so hot," Ellie moaned as she flopped onto the sofa. "I feel like I'm going to melt. There's nothing to do around here. Mommy, can I go over to Grandma's? It's always so much cooler at her house."
    "I think that's a fine idea. I'll call and tell her you're on the way."
    Ellie flew out the door and was across the porch in an instant. "Come on, Buster," she called. "We're going to see Grandma."
    Buster was hiding from the heat under a fat shrub. He lifted his head as his tail thumped against the ground. "Come on, boy. You know Grandma always has a treat for you," Ellie tempted. Buster never turned down a treat.
    As they raced across the meadow between her house and Grandma's, Ellie's palms skimmed over the waist-high grass, stirring up the crickets, bees, and butterflies.

    I have to say, just revisiting Ellie and Buster to post about them here has me rethinking some things. Thanks for taking the time to read! I appreciate any and all feedback.

    Catherine

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    1. Wish I knew what you were re-thinking! I love the set-up and I love your use of quick, concrete details. In a short burst, I have a great visual of what's going on. Thank you!

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    2. It does feel like a sweet and enthusiastic early reader or simple chapter book. Sweet with, as Geoff said, good concrete details. Keep running with it. :)

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    3. My re-thinking involved the elimination of a lot of extra words. I'll keep you posted as I work through the rest of the story. Thank you, Geoff & Gae, for your words of encouragement!
      Catherine

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  8. I'm from the Teachers Write camp and this is the prologue to my WIP Preacher's Kid.

    Jacob looked horrified as Frankie sped away. Surely he would stop. He had to go back.

    “Frankie, what did you do? Stop, Go back!”

    The hard look in Frankie’s eyes told him that pleading was useless. Frankie continued through the small town to his street. As they pulled into the drive he looked at Jacob. His wild, panicked appearance scared Jacob. Frankie looked scared like an injured animal. Everyone knew an injured animal was dangerous.

    “Don’t you say a word Wingate! You're just as guilty as I am. Remember, your dad’s the preacher. What would he say or do to you if he found out? He’d probably send you away to reform school.” With that, he opened the door and stepped out of the car. He glared at Jacob before he slammed the door and disappeared into the house.

    Jacob leaned his head back against the seat. How could everything have gone so wrong? His dad would kill him. He couldn’t tell him. Someone needed to know what had happened, but who could he tell? If he said anything he was sure Frankie would make good on his threat. If only they had not moved to Florida.

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    1. I love the sense of danger and the "if only" hook here! I know you set up Jacob in the first line, but got a little lost on that first dialogue. Could you add a Jacob shouted attribution? Menacing! Very cool.

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    2. Thanks for the reply. I see what you mean and will go back and do that.

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    3. Sandra, as Geoff says, you have some exciting menacing stuff going on here and I want to know what it is, which is great! I think for me the confusion is with all your "his" and "he" pronouns. I don't know who they are referring to, Jacob or Frankie. And so I have to keep rereading and going, wait, who? where? how? See if you can plug the names in without it feeling too cumbersome or take an extra sentence or two to make the action clearer. For instance, "With that, he stepped from the car." Who? Frankie? Jacob. Also, I guess because Jacob is yelling at him in the first para, I assumed he sped away on a bike so was confused as to there being a car. It seems important to know who is what doing what here!

      Keep going!

      gae

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  9. Does this grab me? Yes. I love the voice and the detail -there is a lot of character developed right off the bat! I like that he's clearly in trouble but has never touched alcohol. Sometimes I think there needs to be more YA characters that are mischievous without being total delinquents -makes them more relatable. Also loved the line about bike seats hurt my ass. So great, so true!

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    1. He is not a natural born criminal! Thanks!

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  10. Here's the beginning of something I've been toying with since last night. It all really started with Jo's quick-write yesterday for Teacher's Write.

    “BRIDGET!!!”
    I can hear Erin yelling all the way from inside the house. She’s really mad. As I scoot up the tree a little be farther I try really hard to think about what I could have done to make my older sister so mad this time. I brush my hair out of my face with the back of my hand. Erin says my hair is always a mess. I can’t help it if it doesn’t listen to me. Maybe if I spent hours in the bathroom doing all the things to it that Erin does to hers it would listen to me. But that’s just a waste of playing time.
    “Bridget! You can’t hide from me very long!” Erin yells.
    I peek through the branches toward the house. Erin is at the back door scowling through the screen as she looks across the back yard. I better stay very still. I am just close enough to tell that her scowl registers about an 8 on the hurt-my-little-sister chart. That’s not good. I really need to figure out what I did this time so I can figure out how to get out of it.
    Just when I think I may be safe Erin’s eyes look into the tree and she spots me. She pushes the screen door open and stomps out onto the patio letting the screen door slam behind her. As she walks toward me she takes her hand from behind her back and I can see she is holding her brand-new shoes. Uh-oh, I know what she is so mad about now. I thought I did a very good job fixing them but apparently I didn’t.
    “I told you to stay off of my side of the room!” Erin yells from below the tree, tears starting to fall down her cheeks. “Look what you did to my shoes! They are ruined! You knew how important this party is to me!”
    Looking down at the shoes I can see that the white flower on top of the sandal had fallen off. I guess school glue doesn’t work well on shoes. “I didn’t mean to hurt your shoes! I tried to fix them. Honest!”
    “Well, it obviously didn’t work! I can’t wait until mom gets home to tell her! I hope she grounds you for the rest of summer! Maybe she will lock you up in the basement! That would make my life so much better!” Erin shouted. She turned around, walked across the yard, threw open the screen door, and let it slam shut behind her.
    I really didn’t mean to break her sandals. She is always telling me to stay off of her side of the room. In fact, she’s told me thousands of times! Doesn’t she understand the more she tells me to stay away, the more I want to go over there?
    I did go into her closet this morning to look at her new sandals. Mom bought them to go with her new dress for an end-of-summer party she got invited to. Those sandals are just so pretty. They are pink and strappy with a big purple flower on top. I just wanted to walk around in them for a little bit to see how they would look on me.
    Erin wasn’t home this morning so I decided to wear them outside to test them out. I saw our cat Puff, who I just love, and ran after her to give her a hug. I was trying to run very careful in her shoes, which was difficult since they are too big. As I was running around a tree I tripped over a root sticking up out of the ground and tumbled down. The shoe on my right foot came off when I fell. When I picked it up to put it back on I discovered the flower had been torn off. I knew that wasn’t good so I decided to glue it back on and put the sandals back in her closet.
    Mom is not going to be happy when Erin tells her. She just went to the grocery store so she will be back soon. I think I will just wait up here in the tree. At least up here she can’t reach me. Maybe when dad gets home from work it will be safe to get down.

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    1. This is really well done. Love the close emotion in the point of view (the interior thoughts). Also love how well this is voiced. We get a picture of the kid just by how she speaks. And, you've set up camps within the family. Great way to take off!

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    2. Wow, well-told! I have been THAT little sister, wondering where on the hurt-my-little-sister scale I fell, so I feel Bridget's emotions very well. The essence of this young character really shines through just with her thought process. Thanks for sharing!

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    3. agree that you have a fun little piece going here. I think you can cut down on some of the unnecessary details, but I know you just started it so it's of course, rough. Just for illustration's sake, i did a minor superspeed flash edit on this para:

      Erin wasn’t home this morning so I decided to wear them outside to test them out. I saw our cat Puff, who I just love, and ran after her to give her a hug. I was trying to run very careful in her shoes, which was difficult since they are too big. As I was running around a tree I tripped over a root and tumbled down. The shoe came off and when I picked it up to put it back on, I discovered the flower had been torn off. I knew that wasn’t good so I decided to glue it back on and put the sandals back in her closet.

      Keep going!

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    4. I agree with Gae. The voice and detail "had me", so the unneeded wording in the later paragraph slowed it down. The cleaner wording says the same idea, but at the pace your reader is ready to go with you. Which is a good thing -- I was drawn along and ready for whatever comes next! Nice!

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  11. Oh my gosh! I am TOTALLY hooked! Robbing a soda machine with "robbing skills learned on the Internet"! Band hoodie! Sheep in the school! First, let me say that after reading this bit of the new book and your post I will be purchasing every book you've written--and I am geeky-chic excited about that! Everything in this works for me---loved having the conversation with "the Po Po" as the opening, loved the "Geekers United"---Just anxiously awaiting more of the story now!

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    1. I feel this way about his writing too, Mrs. S. Funny, quirky, crazy, hopped-up real. Now you know why I love him so much.

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  12. Hi Geoff,
    I am from the teacher's Write camp. As a teacher, I find learning to critique well challenging..but know learning to do it well is the heart of growing young writers. Practicing this on a published author is a bit intimidating...but here goes. Not sure if I should post any of my writing, as I don't (at least haven't yet) write stories....have been more of a personal narrative sort of writer. Does that fit here?

    So my ideas about your excerpt follow now:

    It was amazing to me how much you can pick up about a character by just listening to what he says. This is a great monologue. As a reader, it is always readily apparent to me when dialogue doesn’t feel authentic (Though I would not always be able to explain exactly what it is…the mechanics of it still feel ephemeral to me). I find dialogue really hard to write. Poorly written dialogue can stop a great story cold. Great dialogue slides the story forward like melted butter. This dialogue rings true. It feels authentic.

    I get the sense this is a middle school boy. His witty, cocky demeanor is a cover for a boy who is much more uncertain underneath. He doesn’t yet realize how funny he is. I get the feeling he uses humor as a deflection, that maybe he has often been the butt of jokes. I get the sense he is working hard to prove something to someone by wanting to get attention for having stolen the sodas. He wants all the credit…or perhaps maybe he is choosing to be the fall guy (Though he had the evidence in his pocket)

    Picking up this story where we did, I found it a bit sticky at first. Some parts felt like dialogue on the first read, but other parts like “four hours of sleep”, and “ The light isn’t a big deal” seemed at first read maybe they were introspective thought. I read it a second time. In the second read I finally figured out he must be talking to his lawyer, but I puzzled about why the responses were missing. Then a light went off. I don’t know why I was so slow to pick it up, but when I finally figured out I was likely actually evesdropping on one side of a phone conversation, it all made sense and I could hear the correct expression and intonation. There may have been a clue before this excerpt that would have helped me. But as a reader, I need that help to set the stage.

    I want to meet this kid and find out more. He seems so like many of the middle school boys I have been around. Not quite in touch or comfortable with himself and the qualities that will make him the unique and valuable person he is meant to become. I want to know what drove this character to do what he was done. I want to see him grow and become recognized for his brilliant sense of humor.

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    1. Thanks so much, Julie! I really appreciate the close read!!

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    2. Julie, you SHOULD post some writing here. We'd all love to see it, and Friday Feedback is a great place to share and learn. That's my own opinion from last summer's experience.

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  13. It only took me a few lines to realize that it WAS a one-sided conversation, and then the challenge to keep up with this kid's thought process and replies really grabbed me! And he is hilarious. It's possible that a lawyer's brief would help folks get it from the start, but there is also that element of figuring out a story which for me is part of the fun.
    Thanks, Geoff, for your description of how you start - I didn't know it at the time, but that is really how I got going on my WIP, a historical fiction for middle grades. I knew I wanted to tell the story and the only way I could get myself going was to choose a moment and start writing it. I'm on my third real go, cleaning up, working on making it stronger, and now the outline is serving to be very useful. But some days I must "pants" just to get stuff onto the page to find out who these people are!
    Last summer I posted my opening paragraphs here, and I'm actually going to do it again because it's different now. I had the character, I had the description, but she didn't have a goal or any real reason to be headed where she was.I'm hoping that folks can tell me if some of her reason for being here shows even in these first few paragraphs. WOW. I didn't expect to be nervous all over again!*wipes brow, plows on*
    This story is set before and during WWI, and based on a real person, a shirt-tail (I love that term!) relative of my husband's who has fascinated me for years. Hopefully you don't actually need to know any of that to get the beginning of the story...but since there's so little time, it might help to put it into context:

    She flinched when the whistle blew, though she’d been anticipating it since the conductor passed down the aisle some time before.
    “Almira! Next stop, Almira, Washington!”
    Kate perched on the edge of her seat, a rising excitement taking hold of her as she peered out the window to catch a first glimpse of her new home.
    The landscape was familiar at any rate, from her years at college in Pullman way down south and east beyond the Palouse, but she’d never made it up this way. Dry hills and high sky were very different from the green cedar forests of home, but she’d come to appreciate the free feeling of the open country out here.
    She wondered again if she should be feeling guilty for leaving Papa to run the store on his own. Don was getting old enough to help, after all, even with his schooling.
    Right now she felt only a great sense of relief at getting away, at knowing that her employment would keep them from calling her home to help at every turn.
    True, they’d allowed her to go to college, to get her coveted degree in something she truly loved. That was something, she had to admit. It had been too many years that she’d been at Papa’s beck and call, though. She’d taken off school every other term, almost, to go home and help out. Five years it had taken to complete her studies at the college.
    Ever since Papa had married Leola, she’d been the one to give up her own dreams when it suited them. That was half her life ago now. It was high time for her to make her own way.

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    1. Yes. That's doing it! You have loads of interior conflict, an action that puts her hopes and dreams into the physical realm, and a situation in her near past that threatens to pull her back. I'm hooked.

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    2. Oh, thank you, Geoff! That is solid, clear input that really helps me immeasurably - I know I"m on the right track, and effort to make it better is all worth it. Can't wait.

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    3. Nice to see you and Kate back here, Valerie! Keep going!

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  14. Geoff, at first when reading the opening I was a little lost but was able to figure things out. I actually like that as a reader; not knowing quite what is happening at first makes me read on and reread certain parts. I am very intrigued by the situation set up. I certainly have questions running through my head. Why did he rob the machine? Was her really the only one involved or is he covering up for someone? Why does he seem to hate the police so much? Why the sheep in the school? I love having questions in my head as I read!

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    1. I'm going to have some clearer markers about the one-sided thing, but I'll try to keep a little of that "what's going on here?" hook.
      Thanks!
      Geoff

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  15. I am hooked. I like having to spend some time figuring it out. It makes me think and gets me involved in the story quickly. It creates questions that I can read to find out. It's the thinking about the story as I read that makes me want to continue to read.

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  16. Hi Geoff, I read Stupid Fast this year and absolutely loved it! It is definitely a great addition to my class library and a great book to recommend to boys. I didn't realize that it was part of a series so now I have ordered the other two books as well. Your excerpt absolutely hooked me. I really liked the part about the lights being so bright. It is so true that those rooms are always so dark on shows. As other people have mentioned, it was a little hard to follow the one-sided conversation at first, but after a few lines it made sense. I think this style is perfect for catching a teenagers thinking. I am intrigued and I want to know why this kid would be robbing a vending machine and why he is so insistent that he was the only one.

    The excerpt I am sharing today is really rough. I left out a flashback in the middle (to make it shorter) so I hope it still makes sense to the reader.

    As I approached the lakefront I felt the ground soften underneath my feet until I was sinking into the sand at the lake’s edge. The lake smell washed over me and I just stood there for a moment breathing in the familiar smells. There were no sounds out here besides the lapping of the small waves against the pier. I crept down the length of the old wood pier, avoiding some of the creakiest boards but still hearing the cracks and groans beneath me as the structure reacted to my weight. When I was at the end of the pier, I lay down on my back. I knew that there was sand getting in my hair as I felt the gritty texture under me, but once I looked up at the sky those small annoyances disappeared. Tonight was a clear night and it was close to being a new moon, which meant very little light and a sky peppered with stars. I gazed up to the sky in wonderment and could just make out the ghost of the Milky Way in this glorious black canvas. I took a deep breath and felt my nose tighten slightly in the cool, crisp air. On this pier, at night, while watching the stars spread out in the sky, I felt tiny and insignificant. This was the only place in the whole world in which I still felt the pull of religion. I never doubted the existence of a higher purpose when I was lying here contemplating the entire universe from my very insignificant perch on Earth. This is also the only place I ever felt him with me.
    I never went to visit his grave. The cemetery freaked me out to tell you the truth and I rarely felt anything except stupid trying to talk to a rock when I was there. I had to go for the compulsory visits with the family, but those were less and less frequent and I was grateful for that.
    The place where I felt his presence the most and went to visit him was right where I presently was. This spot gave me hope that there was an afterlife and that I would be reunited with my father there. While lying on this pier I could hear his warm chuckle as he ruffled my hair after a long day at work. I could see his earnest face reminding me that I needed to study in order to learn the habit of studying, even if I already knew it. On these summer nights, I could feel the bear hugs that I missed so much and I could smell the stench of coffee on his breath in the morning.
    I started to feel the warm trickle of tears down my face as I stared up at the sky. This is the one spot that I could let myself cry as well. Everywhere else, my family needed me to be the strong one. I didn’t have time to cry. As the tears welled up again, I started to whisper to the heavens and share my latest news with my dad.

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    1. Andrea, first, thanks about Stupid Fast. I appreciate it!

      This is super well-drawn. The concrete detail of the dock (especially the touch detail -- the gritty sand) is excellent. I can feel where the character is. That's great. You'll have to turn quickly from situation (missing dad) into conflict (does that mourning need to be resolved so she can move on?). Get into the conflict and you'll have a really great start!

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    2. Agree you have some lovely stuff going here, Andrea. Because you said it's rough, I'm just going to barely mention to watch out for repetition of words (smell (x2) and pier (x3+)in the first para -- so, for example, I think you can end this description with the end: I was at the end of the pier). Also just a general rule for all. Almost always "started" or "began" to do something can be eliminated for more potent writing: I started to feel the warm trickle of tears down my face as I stared up at the sky. vs. I felt the warm trickle of tears down my face. The trickle tells you it's just begun or is slow. Merely food for thought. Good stuff, keep going!

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  17. Hi, my name is Gretchen Meyer, and this is my first Teacher's Writing Camp. I am not a published author by any means, but I do want to move forward with my writing so that I can be a better teacher to my students.
    The following is from a quick write this week and a story that has been dancing around in my heart and head for a while.

    Oh Nana, can you smell the bacon and pancakes that Gramps is cooking? Today is going to be the best ever - can we go swimming, and do that fossil dig, and make a craft, and bake cookies? Can we?

    We can do anything and everything that you want, Eli, it is our summer together. Let's get out of this bed you sleepy head; we have adventures to find today!

    Eli snuggled down next to Nana and breathed in one last deep breath of her sweet perfume. He loved the nights he got to sleep in her bed during their summers together. Nana told great stories and in the dark he could tell her anything - she was his safe place and his special person!

    Ok Nana, I'm hungry let's get out of this bed and get to the bacon before Gramps and Abe eat it all.

    Eli - Eeeee LI - time to get up or you will miss your bus and be late for school.

    Eli heard the call of his mom's voice from some far off place and tried to figure out where he was, and then it came again - ELI NOW!!! You can't be late for school!

    Eli felt like a rubber band that is stretched too far. He snapped awake and back to the sting of his life. He hated and loved those dreams about what life use to be like with Nana. When she came to his dreams he could remember, really remember, who she was before she got sick.

    I'm up mom - chill already! I'll be down in five.

    Eli threw on his clothes and smoothed his hair with his fingers. He ran from his room and bolted downstairs taking them two and three at a time - until he hit the landing. He paused there and bent low so he could peek through the spindles. He never went downstairs without checking to see where Nana was and more importantly what mood she was in. Today she was sleeping on the couch and he lingered an extra minute to let his thoughts drift back to his dreams. For just a second - while she was sleeping - he could pretend that everything was ok with Nana and that she was still HIS Nana! Eli drew a deep breath and physically shook off the dream. Morning had come and he'd have to spend it with the real world Nana, the Nana who was broken, and angry, and sad. The Nana who had been body snatched by Alzheimer’s, the one who had killed the Nana from his dreams.

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    1. Pretty great voice! Just to keep things straight, I'd use some quotation marks around dialogue to set it away from the narration. Some postmodern writers don't use quotation marks, but I think it's best to use them to start out with! Like I said in the above comment, you'll want to move away from situation (Nana with Alzheimer's) to conflict or quest pretty quickly. Is Eli going to try to cure her? Bring her back somehow? The story will be so tragic if this poor kid gets into action trying to fix her.

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    2. Hey, Gretchen, agree with Geoff's comments. Love the way you start. The immediacy of this kid with his Nana asking for stuff as if it is all right there for him, then learning that it isn't.

      Funny little edit/thought on my part, but I feel like the drama of this sentences is stronger/ more poignant without the exclamation point: For just a second - while she was sleeping - he could pretend that everything was ok with Nana and that she was still HIS Nana.

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  18. Geoff, thanks for sharing. I teach in a middle school (5-8th grades) and this is exactly what the kids like to read, especially the boys. And the national push, which I don't get because I have a ton of boy readers in class, is to have more boys reading.

    I like the dialogue. I like it so much that I want to read more. It sounds exactly like a middle school/high school teen. I also agree with another post about the teen not being a drinker but still a bit of a delinquent. In fact, there are more kids out there like this than bad boy drinkers or druggies (not sure about that spelling).

    My favorite part was the sarcasm - "flock of sheep" and "holy balls" - I actually laughed aloud. Can't wait to read more in the next book. Thanks again for sharing.

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    1. Thanks. Yeah, he's really more of a kid criminal than a future felon. I love going to my son's band concerts at the high school, because so many of them (especially the males) still look and act like 12-year-olds (even though they're 17!).

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    2. Hi Geoff; this string of conversation gets closest to the feedback that I might offer. I was intrigued with the role I, as the reader, had to play to make this conversation complete. I think it is definitely something I got used to and because I can do that so quickly, the rest of the book will unfold more smoothly. The questions that has stuck with me since reading your work this morning is "how old is he?" Some of the lines--like the first two--make him feel like an old soul. The fact that he spent a night in jail (for robbing a vending machine?) and his comments about the dimmer switch, alcohol, hangovers, etc. put him in high school, but early high school since he can't (or doesn't) drive). Lines like "Dad and Grandpa" make him seem a little more "green," like a middle schooler experimenting with identity. I imagine this is part of the plot and I am interested to get to know him better.

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  19. Hi! This is my first year with Teachers Write, and my very first time showing anyone my writing. This quote from Donalyn Miller really struck me: “We are writers because we write—nothing more, nothing less.” I have never considered myself a writer, although sometimes I write. I am not currently working on a particular project (well, that’s not entirely true, but that’ll be for another day), but sometimes I’ll get in a zone and put down some random thoughts on paper. I have a journal for just that! Today I am going to provide one of these musings. It was not written to be anything in particular, so I thought it might be fun to revisit it and see what it has the potential to be, if anything. Therefore, it’s not from a particular place in a story, although it’s definitely not an opening. I’m interested to see what you make of it.

    I am very excited to read all the other excerpts and try my hand at giving some critiques, but that must wait until this afternoon, as the possibility of being late for work is fast approaching. But I’ll at least start by including my excerpt so you all will have time to take a look at it. Here you go:

    She put down her mug and gazed out the window. The tips of the bushes bobbed up and down lightly in the breeze and the sun was just rising above the tree line of the mountain across the street. She felt the urge to leave the building and hike to the top of that mountain, to breath in the cold air and feel the weak winter sun on her back. There she could look down on the scene below her, where people walked around bundled in their cold-weather clothes, busily going about their day running errands or going to work, while she stood frozen in time amongst the evergreen trees watching it all unfold below her. Would her mind be free and blissfully quiet up there, or would the escape bring clarity to her thoughts and provide answers to questions she had yet been able to properly formulate? The phone rang, cutting off her daydream abruptly and reeling her back into the routine of the day.

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    1. Ericka,
      I love your descriptive writing. It was almost calming to read it...then my 3 year old interrupted me! ;)

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    2. Hi Ericka,
      So many of my students -- even those who are in the MFA program -- have difficulty calling themselves writers. I'm with Donalyn. If you're doing it, you're doing it. We have to claim it! What I see here is great building material. You are observing specific detail and you're able to translate from eyes to page. That's huge. You also have a critical moment captured. Robert Olen Butler says the basic ingredient in all stories is yearning. We're definitely getting a whiff of that from your passage. I'd say you've got great tools ready to put to use. This passage shows it!

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    3. Hey, Ericka,

      Agree... very nice descriptive writing, very evocative of the mood and scene. And because I seem to be on a roll and can't help myself, if I did a super tiny, superspeed flash edit and just pulled back on one or two (or three) little unneeded words, would this lovely bit of writing flow and shine even more?:

      She put down her mug and gazed out the window. The tips of the bushes bobbed lightly in the breeze as the sun rose above the tree line of the mountain across the street. She felt the urge to leave the building and hike to the top of that mountain, to breathe in the cold air and feel the weak winter sun on her back. There, she could look down on the scene below, where people walked bundled in their cold-weather clothes, busily going about their day running errands or going to work, while she stood frozen in time amongst the evergreen trees watching it all unfold. Would her mind be free and blissfully quiet up there, or would the escape bring clarity to her thoughts and provide answers to questions she had yet been able to properly formulate? The phone rang, cutting off her daydream abruptly and reeling her back into the routine of the day.

      Keep going! -gae

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  20. Hello Geoff! This is my first time joining #TeachersWrite and I’m both excited and grateful for this experience to connect with published authors and other teacher writers!
    Does it hook me? Yes…what is not to be hooked by “Fat Boys Versus The Cheerleaders”?! I wanted to know why he was in jail right away. I was then curious to why he robbed the soda machine…especially if he’s not the type of teen to drink and did so with a “clean heart”, there must be some major reason he did it. I’m curious to find out about his life.
    I also had to read the first few lines a few times before I realized it’s a one sided conversation. Once I figured that out, I was good to go for entertainment reading the rest. Being an elementary person, I was a tad thrown off by the language, but I’m sure this is fine for YA novels.

    Ok, here goes to share some of my writing. This is from a MG novel I wrote and want to continue to revise to hopefully find a way to get published some day. This is in chapter 2 where Nathan is playing his favorite game (called Blockworld here, but it’s really written for the crazy Minecraft obsessed children!):
    As he was playing in his new castle, finding places he wanted to add more details to, he heard Alex near him say, ‘ooh a tweasuw chest.’ Nathan turned around, but Alex wasn't there. Nathan thought he must be hearing him from the upstairs hallway telling Dad about what he saw in his castle. Nathan continued on and again heard Alex, "I'm hiding, you can't find me!" ‘Seriously,’ Nathan thought, ‘this kid is SO annoying!’ “Ok, Alex, I'm coming to find you!” Nathan shouted, but he just kept on playing at the computer and made little stomping sounds with his feet to make Alex think he was looking for him. As Nathan turned a corner in his Blockworld castle he came to a complete stop when he came to a character that looked just like Alex. The little Blockworld character started laughing and said, "Aah! You found me!" and started running away.
    “What in the world?” Nathan said out-loud to himself. He's never made a character to look like Alex before, plus Blockworld characters and creatures can't talk. ‘Maybe Amber discovered how to make the characters look just like people and is messing with me,’ he thought. Nathan ran down the hallway after her (well, the character that looks like Alex, but it had to be Amber). The Alex character kept stopping, turning towards Nathan, laughing with his hands over his mouth (just like his brother does all the time) and then turn to run away again. ‘Ok, this is weird, how did Amber do that?’ Nathan thought. He clicked on the chat box to ask Amber, but saw she was offline.
    ‘How could that be?’ Nathan thought. ‘There's no way she could have created a character that can talk and laugh like that unless she was online with her headset on to talk into.’ Nathan finally came to the Alex character in a corner and he turned and said, "You found me Nafan, now it's you toon to hide!" He turned to the wall with his eyes covered and started counting outloud, "one...two...free...seben...ten...free...seben," just the same way Alex always tries to count. "Holy crap!" Nathan said out-loud, then covered his mouth with his hand, because he is not supposed to say the c-word. But seriously he thought, ‘this is really happening, that is really Alex in Blockworld! How is this possible?’ Then he remembered his parents would be downstairs any minute since he just heard the coffee pot start brewing (Mom has it set on an automatic timer). ‘Oh man, mom hates how much I play this game already. She is going to ground me forever if she sees that Alex is actually in the game. I have to get him out of there.’

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    1. Hi Principal J! Oh yeah, I have two Minecraft freaks in my house. I could light off dynamite right next to them and they'd not pull their eyes away from the screen. This does feel like a great MG plot (and one that will speak to our children!). You've set up a way of being and a quest (that will generate the conflict). I would slow the discovery down just a little. Stretch Nathan's disbelief. Give him a snack or something, where he has to pause over Alex's disappearance/absorption by the game. You want your reader to freak out with the kid as he realizes what's going on. Draw out that drama a bit and your reader will be raring to go!

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    2. "give him a snack or something..." Hah! Geoff cracks me up. But he's right! This is a HUGE moment in the story -- (I love the idea -- we've seen it with kids being sucked into TV, but LOVE it with a video game...too much fun and intrigue and agree the audience will eat it up)-- so give it a minute to sink in with the reader realizing along! Since you said you are revising, I won't do it for you, but watch your tenses. You seem to be in past mostly, then in present, then maybe in past again. Also, instead of "the Alex character" vs. live Alex, maybe "Blockworld Alex?" seems less confusing?

      Oh, and I love the funny bits: Nathan stomping his feet to pretend he's coming, and Alex's adorable counting. Keep going!

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  21. Geoff, I just really wanted to read more...and when you got to the SHEEP, I couldn't stand it that I couldn't read more RIGHT NOW!!

    Really looking forward to this book!

    Shelley

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    1. Shelley, hope we'll see you sharing soon? ;) ...

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  22. My first share of the summer (I am so nervous). I am working on something new - a children's book geared towards 2-4th graders. I am trying to hook the kids that love sports. This is the opening:

    How is this fair? Three on one!
    Three phantom players have me surrounded. Their wildly kicking their feet and the only thing they’re hitting are my legs. Ouch! I don’t think any of them even hit the soccer ball.
    When you get three guys on ya’ someone must be open. That’s what Coach always says during practice. So, I look around the field and he’s right, Jimmy Walton is open. As I kick a perfect pass to Jimmy, I push the three Panthers off me and run towards the goal.
    “Jimmy, right here, I’m open.”
    Jimmy delivers an awesome pass that lands a few feet in front of me. It's just the goalie and me. I look to the left and kick it as hard as I can into the right corner of the goal.
    4-0.
    Ten seconds left in the first half.

    Thank you for letting me share. Happy writing!

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    1. I played a million imaginary games (football, not soccer) when I was that age. I think this evokes that situation perfectly! I think you'll want to move very quickly into evidence for why he plays alone. (I was an only child with a mom strict enough to ground me quite a bit!) The story almost has to move from imagining, loneliness, to some kind of connection made because of the sport. I would've read this when I was that age, no doubt.

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    2. Welcome to Friday Feedback, ajs, glad you braved it. Agree with Geoff that I love that this starts with the imaginary game, and, yes, the rest of Geoff's comments apply.

      Fun stuff! Keep going!

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  24. I'm going to be really embarrassed if this posts one hundred times, but for some reason I wasn't getting a preview... so, apologies.
    Thanks for doing this, all you writers. This is fabulous!

    As a hook, I find this effective. I certainly want to know what happened, and I'm suspecting that this situation isn't as simple as Gabe wants his lawyer to think. This is compelling, and as a reader I'm not convinced by Gabe that he did this all on his own, but I'm curious and want to find out more. I think it's also appealing to your audience... The language, the soda machine, the hoodie, the sheep... As a character, Gabe really works. Not all (right??) readers have spent a night in jail, but there's something really relatable about Gabe. For the most part, Gabe's voice is striking because of its clarity...his character seems firmly established. When I reread, this is so minor, but I got hung up on the lights being like the noon sun. It didn't 'click' with me as something he or other middle schoolers might say. I really admire your work because of the way students connect with the plot, characters, language...


    Feedback Friday: A section from the early middle of the story
    Tommy rotated the train in his hands. The rear was stamped: The Ives Railway Lines, it read, in a black font that surely was old. Older than Grandfather old. It was a dingy dishwater ivory. A bulb, round and displaying its filament, protruded from the front. He studied it, heavy and clunky, as he spun it. Something didn't feel right about it. It was heavy, as it should be. It had that metallic smell, as it should. But the very feel of it, well, it didn't feel as it should.
    It wasn't the first time Tommy had taken liberties with his grandfather's curious cabinet. There were all manner of odd things inside, and when Tommy nicked the train, he didn't imagine it was one of them. It looked deceptively ordinary between the shrunken head (was it real? It couldn't be real!) and vicious purple flower with spiny pink thorns, so he didn't hesitate when slipping his hand inside the cabinet door, deftly, with precise, practiced dexterity.
    Tommy muttered to himself. "What... is... the..." He spun a wheel with spidery spokes, tilting the train to reveal its underneath. Nothing looked unusual. Tommy's heart fluttered when his door, opened just a crack, was pushed to reveal his grandfather. He slipped his hand, train impeding his speed a bit, behind his back.
    "Dinner. Five minutes. Look decent, will you? I've got a friend from the university joining us." Royce's voice maintained his usual, and odd, articulate grumble. Tommy didn't get a chance to paste a reaction onto his face before Grandfather swung the door closed. A creak sounded, and his puff of white hair appeared in the doorway again. "And no Grace, not tonight, please. She'll just muck up dinner conversation."

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    1. Wow. I love the control here! I'm a sucker for third person pov with close emotional distance (so we can hear thoughts). You language is so specific and evocative. I can see, hear, feel the whole scene. And, I definitely jump when that door opens, so you've built great tension. Love the nod to a broader conflict at the end. This is good stuff!

      (I will consider your noon sun reaction, too -- you clearly have a tuned ear! Thank you!!)

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    2. Sarah, agree with Geoff... also feel that you have so many amazingly painstakingly chosen descriptive words that, if in the very fewest of places, you pulled back, the excitement of the action wouldn't be overwhelmed by the wonderful language (in one spot you have four adjectives in a row... makes it sometimes too much work to try to picture it all and not needed. Also, depending on target age of the audience, make sure all the vocab doesn't make it feel inauthentic or un-understandable):

      Tommy rotated the train in his hands. The rear was stamped “The Ives Railway Lines” in a black font that surely was old. Older than Grandfather old. It was a dingy dishwater ivory. A bulb, round and displaying its filament, protruded from the front. He studied it, heavy and clunky, as he spun it. Something didn't feel right. It was heavy, as it should be. It had that metallic smell, as it should. But the very feel of it, well, it didn't feel as it should.
      It wasn't the first time Tommy had taken liberties with his grandfather's curious cabinet. There were all manner of odd things inside, and when Tommy nicked the train, he didn't imagine it was one of them. It looked deceptively ordinary between the shrunken head (was it real? It couldn't be real!) and vicious purple flower with spiny pink thorns, so he didn't hesitate when slipping his hand inside the cabinet door, deftly, with practiced dexterity.
      Tommy muttered to himself. "What... is... the..." He spun a wheel with spidery spokes, tilting the train to reveal its underneath. Nothing looked unusual. Tommy's heart fluttered when his door, pushed opened just a crack, revealed his grandfather. Tommy slipped his hand behind his back.
      "Dinner. Five minutes. Look decent, will you? I've got a friend from the university joining us." Royce's voice maintained his usual articulate grumble. Tommy didn't get a chance to paste a reaction onto his face before Grandfather swung the door closed. A creak sounded, and his puff of white hair appeared in the doorway again. "And no Grace, not tonight, please. She'll just muck up dinner conversation."

      Great stuff! Keep going!

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  25. I like this, and I enjoy the technique. Sometimes I found myself wishing for easier clues as to the other side of the exchange. For example, in this kind of technique, it helps me if a character reiterates the question somehow, or includes more hints about it in his/her own responses... "Are you really asking me if ..." Or, "When you say X, do you mean X?" Or, "I kind of resent that question. If I intended to X, wouldn't I..." Even just starting with yes or no, or versions of yes or no ("Sure, I slept okay," Or, "Of course I want to cooperate...") help transitions when people are getting used to follow the one sided conversation, I think.
    I would definitely read more with this character. Thank you for sharing it.

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    1. That's great advice. Thank you!

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    2. I actually think it's great advice too: recapping the Po Po's question from Gabe's perspective could be a great way to solve some of the minor confusion. :)

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  26. Hi Geoff. Great advice! The personality of your MC really came through in his dialogue - snarky and ballsy :) I was immediately brought back to high school where I was a band geek and and athlete...I know! There's a story there! I wrote the initial beginning of my story when the MC continued to pop into my brain while I was try to write a MG last summer. He's never really gone away, so I brought out that excerpt and reworked it. Here goes...
    “Aaron? Can you hear me?”
    The voice sounded like I was deep in a cave wearing headphones. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. I opened my eyes. A blur of long, brown hair and white shirt hovered over me.
    “He’s waking up,” the voice said.
    The fluorescent light on the ceiling made my eyes ache.
    I lifted my head in an attempt to sit up. A roll of pain thundered across my forehead and I quickly quit that idea.
    “Aaron? Can you hear me?” The voice was clearer now, but my thoughts were still hazy. Where was I?
    I wriggled my mouth. “Mom?” I pushed out the word.
    “Don’t worry,” the voice said. “She’s been taken into custody. You’re safe now.”
    ********
    My name is Aaron White. My friends call me Whitey. Everything you are about to read is 100% true. (I’m not sure why anyone would make this stuff up.) I’ll start from the beginning and tell you everything I can remember.
    My first memory of being sick was the Saturday before my fourth birthday. It was the first time I had a kid’s party. I had invited friends from my class at Apple Tree Preschool. It was going to be at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Twelve kids were coming- eight boys and four girls. I was reading the names on the goodie bags when Mom walked over and felt my forehead.
    “Hmm, you fell a little warm,” she said.
    “I don’t feel hot. I’m OK.”
    “I better take your temperature.”
    She returned and I obediently turned my head to the left. I felt the pressure in my ear and heard the beep.
    “Just as I thought,” Mom said. “You have a fever. And right before your party, too.”
    I knew the word fever meant the pink medicine and no outside play. It didn’t mean the doctor but I didn’t know about birthday parties. Chuck E. Cheese’s was inside…so was that OK?
    “Can I still go to the party?”
    “We’ll see how you feel in the morning. I’ll go get the pink medicine.”

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    1. Holy cats, there are good writers on this board! The voice is this thing is dead on. I have heard this kid before (he's real). That quick action prologue is really doing its thing. I know there's a weird situation. I know there's an epic conflict. I'm already in the kid's head. Then right away you give us the overriding tone of the piece after the break. It feels good to release that tension right away, but you don't give up the drama with the new voice. We get the illness. This thing is working!

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    2. Jessica, you've got a great hook here -- poor Aaron. WHAT is going on?!

      If you were to pull back on a few sentences in this opening which is chock full of drama, it might be even more compelling. I do this because it always amazes me how pulling back can add more. I wish I had pulled back in MY excerpt from last week in one place. I've done so now in revision. See if you agree or disagree. They're small things, perhaps unnecessary details, which is partly my point. Do you not miss them but they increase the drama?:

      Aaron? Can you hear me?”
      The voice sounded like I was deep in a cave wearing headphones.

      I opened my eyes. A blur of long, brown hair and white shirt hovered over me.

      “He’s waking up,” the voice said.

      The fluorescent light made my eyes ache. I lifted my head in an attempt to sit up. A roll of pain thundered across my forehead and I quickly quit that idea.

      “Aaron? Can you hear me?” The voice was clearer now. Where was I?

      I wriggled my mouth. “Mom?” I pushed out the word.

      “Don’t worry,” the voice said. “She’s been taken into custody. You’re safe now.”

      Keep going!

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  27. So, I'm not quite ready to post an excerpt yet. I started this adventure fresh on Monday with no idea what I wanted to do. I'm finally starting to flesh out an idea, but I'm hoping it's OK if I ask a question to help me finish my thinking before I really get into the writing.

    My story is going to be realistic fiction with characters who are the children of volunteer firefighters. My husband is a volunteer firefighter in our town, and my kids at school are always fascinated by his "adventures." Yet, there's not a whole lot of literature out there for grades 4-6 with much firehouse action. So, that's the direction I'm going.

    My question is...how dangerous is it to steal a lot of the setting from my own hometown? We live in such a cool, unique place, it would be great writing inspiration, but I'm afraid if I steal too many people/places/events from this small town - even if I give them different names - people who are from here are going to start jumping to the conclusion that everything I say about these people/places/events is true, when I'm really just using them as a springboard for my imagination. Does that make sense? Chances are, it will never even get published, and I can't imagine anything I would write would be that controversial, but for some reason, this thought has been on my mind as I try to figure my story out. I figured I'd put it out there for the experts. Thanks!

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    1. I a bad one to ask about this! For the Stupid Fast books, I pretty much stole my hometown. I changed some things around (and changed the name of the place to avoid people complaining to me about where I'd located schools, etc.), but really it's that place. I even used lots of last names from people I grew up with, because they just sounded right. Here's what I've found so far: everyone from there seems super happy to recognize locations and loves seeing local names. I haven't had a single person say: that's me and you're terrible! It's been a good experience.

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    2. That's great info! Thanks! :-)

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    3. Kerri, I agree with Geoff. Many of us write what we know, especially setting wise. We model characters off of people, but then bend, exaggerate, or change them. I think the truth is, even if we're not modelling off of real people, someone we know is going to be sure we are. Decide some character is them. Especially mother in laws. They always think we're dissing them in our books (er. *coughs*) ;)

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    4. And if they do say something about things the recognized in your book, at least you know people are reading it. lol!

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  28. Fun to read, and easy to slip into the mindset of the speaker - and my sixth graders will love the wise ass-ey tone. Now, here's a character who knows what he is all about!
    I'm as nervous as all the posters above about sharing a work in progress, but, hey, YOU did! So, here goes...it's a picture book (hence the weird page breaks), for the younger set, about a town's farmer's market:

    Summer would not be summer without the farmer’s market and the promise of “Jersey Fresh.”


    Every Sunday morning, when Sophie is still fast asleep, family farmers from far and wide pack up their trucks with tables and tents, just-picked fruits and vegetables, fresh baked bread and pies, bouquets of fragrant herbs and cheerful sunflowers.


    Before the sun begins to rise in the summer sky, rusty old pickups, cherry-red Chevy’s and forest green Fords back out of barns and wind their way through country roads. Soon sleepy fields of ripening cornstalks give way to the New Jersey Turnpike. Delicious food is on the move.


    The train station in Sophie’s town is empty, not a single car sits in the parking lot to greet the farmers and their trucks. One by one they swoosh into the big, open space and park where they always do - everyone has their favorite, this- is- where- we- set- up spot.


    While Sophie’s parents pour steaming mugs of early morning coffee and make their farmer’s market list, tents and tables are being unloaded at the station. In the quiet of early Sunday morning, everyone at the train station is busy unloading crates and arranging glorious feasts in the making.


    Soon, Sophie is awake, too. Breakfasting on her backyard deck, she can’t hear the farmer’s market … but she can feel it. She can close her eyes and picture all the yummy food, the neighbors and visitors, kids and dogs, parents and grandparents at the farmer’s market. Sophie can’t wait to be there!


    Soon, Sophie’s family is there! Mom parks under the cool shade of a tree and everyone grabs a shopping bag. Sophie picks her favorite - the straw basket with its handle of sea green ribbons. It feels light as a feather now, but Sophie knows that won’t be for long!


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    1. Hi Tara, this is not my area of expertise! I think it reads nicely and I can definitely imagine great illustrations to go with everything!

      Do we have anyone here with good picture book knowledge? I'd really love to hear what a picture book person might say!

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    2. Gah, I'm not a pb person either -- wish I was... dream to write one -- but I love the sleepy, fresh feeling of this and can also imagine the drawings that go with it and how that will add to it, which I think is a goal. I particularly love this sentence: Delicious food is on the move. I think it's a concept that will intrigue kids and that I haven't seen much of.

      I had one thought -- a hook thought -- even though I don't know whether they are needed or not with pb's, but would imagine they are. What if in the opening, we learn this is going to be a big day for Sophie for some reason (is it the first time she'll get to "work" the market or stand with her mom behind the table to sell because she's old enough now? something like that?) If you were to establish that in the opening, would it give everything a greater purpose? A heightened sense of excitement that we'd feel through Sophie. It would keep us alert with her, paying every bit of attention to every detail with her because now she has more responsibility/a new role? Just the thought that I was thinking as I read...

      Either way, I love this. Keep going!

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  29. Hi, Geoff! I'm Stephanie--a first-time Teachers Write! camper and 6th/7th LA teacher. I'm immediately drawn in by your opening because I've never read anything from a one-sided POV at this pace before. I'm intrigued by the main character's predicament. He seems mischievous, which excites me. I did have to read it a few times to get the hang of the pacing and one time I even tried to insert the questions that were being asked of him, which just slowed me down. I think it is just a matter of taking a few seconds to get up to speed with what's going on. Sort of like how it might feel to wake up in the harsh light of PD and to be interrogated at a lightning quick pace. I want to go back to the beginning with him!

    I am taking a giant leap and posting the beginning of a real-live WIP that was inspired by Jo's quick-write prompt yesterday. I am a stranger to MG/YA writing so I question the authenticity of my voice and the suitability of my word choice. But, the fact that what follows came spilling out of me this afternoon really excites me. I look forward to your thoughts and thank you for taking the time to hang with us today. (PS, this is sooo pantsing it. And the words in all caps are really in italics in my doc.)

    ---

    Caroline Madden had always been envious of her friends who attended summer camp. The closest she had gotten was sharing a bunk bed with her little brother in a closet-sized room at their grandparents’ house. Though the counselors loved her and the food was the best you could get this exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike (her grandparents were caterers,) Bingo every Wednesday night was nothing compared to the swimming, campfires, hiking, and crafts her friends did together for six weeks every summer. The stories they told in late August when school started again were always filled with adventure and mischief, which left Caroline wishing her mom would give in and finally let her go one year. So why did she feel so uncertain, so annoyed, so downright depressed as she sat in the backseat of the family minivan...on her way to summer camp?

    Well, first, Camp Dragonfly was not THAT kind of summer camp.

    Second, Caroline’s best friend, Maggie Duncan was spending the summer with her aunt, who lives only a half an hour from Caroline’s grandparents. Since she found out, the two had spent every recess with their heads together, plotting ways to be able to see each other as frequently as possible, preferably on Wednesday evenings.

    The van slowed and turned onto a long, gravel driveway. Faded green letters painted on a battered, wooden sign spelled out You’re Now Entering Camp Dragonfly! and as Caroline read the enthusiastic welcome, her heart sank. She leaned her head against the window and sighed as small, wooden buildings and groups of counselors and kids came into view.

    Mrs. Madden parked the car and Caroline reluctantly opened the van’s sliding back door. She stepped out into the sunshine, usually bright and blazing hot at midday in late June. But here, the rays were soft and diluted. The warmth was comforting as the light filtered through the canopy of oak leaves that spread endlessly from thick, gnarled branches above her. Caroline looked up at the dappled canvas of green and yellow and took a deep breath. The tranquil scene buoyed her spirits for a few, short seconds. Then she heard a grating, yet familiar voice.

    “Hiiiiiiiii, Caroliiiiiine.” The drawn out vowel. The high-pitched, artificial tone.

    Caroline forced herself from the consolation the trees’ protective embrace had provided. She immediately knew who the voice belonged to. As she lowered her chin, her gaze locked with a pair of glistening hazel eyes. Long, curly red hair brushed the girl’s shoulders and a waterfall of freckles spilled across the bridge of her nose.

    WHAT was Ellie Masterson doing here?

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    1. Oh yeah, you've got a really nice tone going. Seems very much on the young end of the MG/YA spectrum. But, that's great! Your specific details are really good, too. I wonder, after you've gotten more of a draft out, if you might return to the beginning and not spend time trumpeting camp when actually what the kid wants is to stay with grandparents! Why is this year different? Maybe the grandparents got old, who the parents don't trust them or something. Getting a voice down is a huge part of the battle. So great, great job!

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    2. I'm glad you mentioned that-perhaps I just need to say why she is going to camp this summer (it is a grief camp for those who have lost a loved one; was going to be her dad, but maybe now grandparents?) so the reader understands sooner why she doesn't want to go even though it is camp. I didn't want to give it away right at the beginning but I think it seems I need to! Thank you for taking time to give feedback!

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    3. Oh! That's great. I'd just write in to this and figure the proper rhythm for entering the story later. It's a good idea!

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    4. I agree with Geoff that you've got a good enough voice/tone/story started here that you should keep writing into it and go back later. You're doing great. FYI, it might be as simple as taking out some of the descriptive detail from that first paragraph (and move it somewhere else later) which kind of gets you for now to the impact of the story:

      Caroline Madden had always been envious of her friends who attended summer camp. The closest she had gotten was sharing a bunk bed with her little brother in a closet-sized room at their grandparents’ house every summer. So why did she feel so downright depressed as she sat in the backseat of the family minivan...on her way to summer camp?

      Well, first, Camp Dragonfly was not THAT kind of summer camp.

      Second, Caroline’s best friend, Maggie Duncan, was spending the summer with her aunt, who lived only a few miles from Caroline’s grandparents. Since she’d found out…

      Keep going...

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    5. Yes, I see how that helps! Thank you so much for taking the time to read our excerpts. And the edits are very helpful for me--they do exactly what you intend: illustrate a topic you're trying to help us work on. Seeing an edit helps me much more than just saying 'get to the point more quickly.' I appreciate it so much. I left my 'Rome' story to try my hand at something for a younger audience. I am not sure I am entirely comfortable with it yet, but I am going to keep working! Thank you again.

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    6. I love your Rome story too. Love when the creative irons are all over the fires. Or something like that. And glad to hear that this helps! Yay! Onward!

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  30. This definitely hooks me. I was a bit confused when I began and had to go back to reread a couple of times. But I love him already and want to read more! Why the soda machine? Sheep!? And Geekers United sounds right up my alley!

    Here goes with mine:

    OK. I’m really cool but you see, no one knows this. I’m super quiet at school. In fact, I play a little game every day and see if I can get through the day without saying a single word. Yup. I’m pretty good at it too. This year, I went 35 days without saying a single word at school. I don’t even think half of my teachers know I exist. I think a lot of words and I have these awesome, deep conversations with my friends in my. head. In my head, I’m a very witty conversationalist. But this whole not talking thing? It’s the thing that I hate the most about myself. I wish I could be normal like everyone else. But you see there’s a reason I don’t talk much. I’m afraid that if I talked, everyone would learn the truth about me. And the truth is there is something really weird about me. And I mean really weird. Like, if the kids at school knew, they’d run away screaming. I have a feeling though that I won’t be able to keep my secret for very much longer. This really weird thing about me? It’s getting worse because I’m beginning to know about things that I shouldn’t. These things I’m starting to learn? Yeah, well, I think you better know about it too.

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    1. I love the kid already. Anyone who would go that long without saying a word (in a totally self-aware fashion), has my attention. You definitely have a cool voice down, too. We get a ton of information very, very fast. I think you could slow down, pause over the kid not talking (make a scene out of that) and you'd have a great hook. You're on your way!

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    2. I really like this. When we think of odd tics a character might have that make them unique, silence is an intriguing one -- the kind of thing no one knows is happening. And then I started thinking, I wonder how often there are inner monologues going on like this in kids' heads in school, that we wouldn't guess at, which had me thinking my 7th grade son would find the voice intriguing. In other words: hooked me and I think you'd hook MG readers.

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    3. thanks for the feedback! I'm encouraged to keep trying!

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    4. add my encouragement! very intriguing!

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  31. Geoff, I'm completely hooked! I love the idea of a one-sided conversation and I can't wait to see how it will sustain itself throughout the book. I want MORE!!! I've heard so many great things about Stupid Fast! I've pushed it to the top of my TBR list this summer. Thanks so much for reading. I'm going to share the beginning of a story. Thanks in advance for the feedback!

    Silence fills the sixth grade classroom as Miss Leone enjoys a cup of coffee. Soon, students will be pouring into the doors of Stapler Academy and straight to Room 229.
    The bell rings and sixth graders fill the halls. Their laughter reverberates around the locker bay while they gather their supplies for the first block of the day. Miss Leone takes a deep breath, ready to greet her first block.
    In the front row sits Jack peeking through his glasses looking for his new adventure. Miss Leone asks, "How are you today?" Jack smiles as Miss Leone asks the question because she was the kind of teacher who really wants to know. He thinks, Sixth grade is going to be a good year.
    Miss Leone nods, “It will be a good year!”
    Jack scrunches his nose and thinks, Weird, I didn’t say anything out loud. Hmmm? Miss Leone ignores Jack’s confused expression and continues walking through the maze of desks and to meet and greet her new sixth graders.
    Zoë sits next to Jack. They met in pre-school when Zoë bit Jack, and have been best friends since. Miss Leone notices the unruly mass of blond curls first. “Good morning Zoë. How are you today?”
    “Fine,” Zoë answers, but inside Zoë thinks, Ugh! My mom is driving my crazy!! I don’t know why she won’t let me stay home alone after school!!! Otis only ran away that once and Dad found her in the neighbors’ yard. Mom is so MEAN!
    “Isn’t it scary when dogs run away?” Miss Leone asks. The curls jump quickly as Zoë’s head shoots up and looks questioningly at Miss Leone.
    “WHAT?” Zoë demands.
    Miss Leone quickly replies, “Oh, before I heard you telling Jack that Otis came back after running away again. My dog ran away once when I was a kid. I was so scared that he would never come home. My dad finally found him at the neighbors’ house.”
    Zoë’s mouth drops wide open and she nods, “That’s the same exact thing that happened to my dog! Wow!”
    Miss Leone walks to the front of the class to begin the lesson on onomatopoeia. Earl sits diagonally behind Jack, almost hidden from Miss Leone. Legendary for being the class clown, his eyes constantly scan the classroom searching for his next victim. Miss Leone hears him think, Oh Jack…perfect position…the eraser?...will bounce?…forehead…YES!
    Once the instructions were complete, she walks around monitoring the students writing examples of onomatopoeia. As she gets to Earl’s desk, she leans down and quietly whispers, “Do you really think bouncing an eraser off someone’s forehead is the best use for it?”
    Earl froze mid-onotaopoeia. How did she know what I was planning? "Teachers know everything,” she announces to the class in a smiling voice.

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    1. Formatting gets changed on the blog! I had some italics and spacing is different. It looks different on my page, in case anyone suggests italics or something. Thanks!

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    2. Hi, Michelle, have you worked on this (revision?!) since last week? If so, I like it a lot! It's working (and italics/spacing will probably be helpful. But I got it. Didn't need it). I think you're on a roll here, so keep going. Two things to watch for: some of your vocab may be sophisticated for the age group, and watch your tenses: You've got present then past mixing, for example, here:

      Once the instructions were complete, she walks around monitoring the students writing examples of onomatopoeia. As she gets to Earl’s desk, she leans down and quietly whispers, “Do you really think bouncing an eraser off someone’s forehead is the best use for it?”
      Earl froze mid-onotaopoeia. How did she know what I was planning? "Teachers know everything,” she announces to the class in a smiling voice.

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  32. Okay...I just officially finished school today...up here in Canada, but I knew I wrote this last weekend and wanted to post it today. Tomorrow morning with coffee, time & quiet I will review the post in more detail. I've heard of Stupid Fast and find this Teachers Write camp an amazing experience on many levels. So many insights!

    The phrase "William was three and needed to pee" popped into my head and I knew I had to find a pen to write. It is based on my youngest child's issues with bed wetting, years ago. He was so ashamed that I decided to relieve him and tell him it wasn't his fault, especially since it wasn't. It was the Pee Monster who came into his room and peed in his bed. Someone else to blame stopped a lot of tears.

    I can see issues already. I'm not sure the Pee Monster should introduce himself like that . I think the last line in the first stanza definitely needs some work. I can hear a rhythm that I really like in it, but I'm not sure others can. I'm pretty pleased with the second stanza.

    Mentor authors & texts I can feel in this are Dennis Lee, Phoebe Gilman & Jillian Jiggs series and Sherri Radford & the Penelope series. I can hear them coming through. Here's a really rough, mostly unedited introduction that has NO idea where it's going...

    William was three
    and needed to pee,
    but was sound asleep in his bed.
    "Ah Ha!" said a voice
    giving William no choice,
    "It is the time he will dread.
    For I am the Pee Monster,
    Tall, sly and yellow
    Not a small child's favourite fellow.
    I pee in the beds of children at night,
    giving them no sense of delight.
    They take the blame,
    leaving me with no shame.
    Then I move on to the house of another."

    In the morning William's mother came into the room.
    These words out of her mouth started to zoom,
    "William O William just look at your bed!
    There are 21 things I need to do instead."
    William sat & William stewed.
    He was three, not just two
    It couldn't be him. He was better than that
    and he certainly knew it wasn't his cat.
    "Mommy," he stated. "It wasn't me.
    I'm much too big. I'd never pee."
    "Then who do you think it was?" she said.
    "Do you think someone came in and peed in your bed?"
    "Yes! I know it wasn't me!
    I'll catch him, Mom! I catch him, you'll see!"

    Thanks so much to all for time and expertise!
    Stefanie @ColishS


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    1. This isn't my area of expertise, although I'm with Sandra below, I think kids would love it!

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    2. agree: not an expert. Agree: love!

      Keep going!

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  33. I really liked this. I am reliving the potty training right now with my grandson. This would be a wonderful book to read to him. Especially as he is sitting on his potty chair. Can't wait to see how it ends.

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  34. Geoff, I thought that excerpt was really fun. The first couple lines, I was thrown off -- 'hearing' that a person was speaking, it wasn't clear at first that it was one side of a conversation (right?). But then it kicked in quickly, within the first couple paragraphs, and the voice took over. The voice is compelling. I'm curious about the character -- he's endearing, even as he says he's bad, and the detail of internet instructions in his hoodie are funny. One thing did not necessarily resonate completely clearly though: until the first appearance of "ass," the voice is literate, not slang, so ass stood out. As more street language kicks in, the voice becomes consistent, but it did leave a slight question of the speaker's race, which I don't know if was intentional. Overall, I liked the character and was curious to hear more from him.

    Yesterday, I used the character interview/warm up to discover more from the point of view of the 4 yr old son of my adult main characters. Here is the answer that came to "what is your pet peeve" -- which began to hint at his stress over having an absent father. I think his voice sounds too old, but liked the detail that came out.

    Hannah never pushes in her chair. That’s the rule. When it’s time to go, we wait for the mommies and daddies to come to the door. Don’t stand yet, not until you’re called. Wait for Mrs. Smiley to call your name, then stand and push in your chair, Hannah. Like this. Then get your painting and your backpack from your cubby.

    It’s always Hannah, and always on the days her daddy isn’t working because then he picks her up and lifts her up high. She sits up in his arms, up over his head, and turns to make sure we all see her there, then raises her hand, just one finger extended, looking back at us to show she can touch the sparkly daisy sticker on the foamy ceiling tile. I know she’s going to do it so I look out the window instead. My mom will walk up soon – she’s always one of the first, and I bet she could lift me to reach the daisy if I asked.

    But Hannah never has to ask. It’s just what daddies do. Same as Ryan’s daddy that time he came, wearing a suit like Fr. Kerry, and just like that lifted Ryan to the ceiling. Not where the daisy was, but just the same. Into his arms and up, up, in arms like the lift of Lofty the Crane, beep beep, and Ryan touched the ceiling with both palms so the ceiling tile popped up and Ryan’s daddy was embarrassed. He nearly dropped Ryan, he set him down so fast, stumbling over his words. “Ryan! Sorry. I’ll fix that.” It was the same voice you were supposed to use if you smeared the paint on someone’s painting or opened the door to the potty by mistake when someone was still in there but hadn’t turned the sign to tell you, “Stop.” But just like that, no one lifting him, Ryan’s daddy barely had to stretch to touch the tile. Just like that he reached up and fixed the sky.

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    1. Elissa, I think you may be stuck with me instead of Geoff -- he's off to ALA -- but I love this. I know it's just a writing exercise, but love the voice. Love the writing. Some of the moments are just sparkling.

      Keep going!

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    2. Thanks, Gae. It was great how the exercise made me realize how much more I know about this voice than I thought -- he had been essentially silent (due to his age), even though I'd realized his conflict was key to the story. (Here's where I'd posted about his role in my story, before: http://elissafield.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/october-fiction-challenge-3-raising-the-stakes-on-character-motivation/ )

      So thanks Teachers Write, for the prompt, and thanks for the feedback.

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  35. I like this kid (I'm a middle school teacher -- you have to like kids like this to teach middle school), and I definitely have a sense of who he is and what kind of a kid I'm dealing with right from the start. His personality is intriguing, and I want to know more about him. --- I'm one of those who is having trouble with the one-way dialogue. At first I was uncertain whether he is reciting a monologue or if I'm only getting one side of the conversation. Then, I wondered why the author was using this technique. Is there is some reason that I will find out about very soon why you are doing this? If not, then it just makes me wonder why you're doing it, which could get in the way of getting into the story.

    OK. Here's mine.
    The story starts with a Prologue section where you read several short vignettes about people who have, over the last 25 years, had something going on with their brains that appears like something or someone is trying to telepathically communicate. The section here is the end of Chapter One. We've met the character, Maggie. We know she is 40, single, and has worked for the CIA as an analyst since college. She has driven to CIA headquarters in Virginia and is waiting for a meeting to start that will explain to her her new assignment.
    I'm just looking for your opinion on general tone -- does it "sound like a book," and am I being successful at setting a scene and writing dialogue. Feel free to mention anything else you notice.

    She opened the door and walked into a small room with a long table that could seat six comfortably. Computer workstations were embedded into the conference table at each place. Overhead, a projector was permanently attached to the ceiling; It projected the CIA seal onto a large white projection board hung on one wall.

    The long wall of the room was one large window. Maggie stood and looked out on the courtyard between the Old and New Headquarters Buildings (OHB and NHB to those who worked there). At this time of morning there were only a few people, each walking purposefully to whatever important task they were headed to. The dogwood trees had just passed their peak of blooming. They each wore a skirt of fallen pink and white leaves on the ground surrounding their delicate trunks.

    “Special Agent Margaret Eldrich.” It was not a question. It was a statement, made by a tall, grey-haired man as he entered the conference room. He didn’t have to ask. Who else would it be, in a sixth floor conference room of CIA Headquarters at 7:30 in the morning, but the woman he expected to meet?

    “Sir,” Maggie said automatically as she turned to face Associate Director James Duggan.

    “Jim Duggan,” the director said as he held his hand out.

    “Maggie. Maggie Eldrich,” she returned, hating to hear herself referred to as Margaret since she was a little girl.

    “This is my assistant, Luke Taylor,” he said as a handsome, younger man of about 30 stepped around the director to shake hands.”

    “Hi. Welcome to Langley”

    “Thank you,” Maggie replied as the director took a seat at the head of the table.
    As Maggie sat at the director’s left, Luke took a seat at his right and produced three file folders marked “Top Secret — Eyes Only,” placing one in front of each person.

    Maggie looked at the folder and said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but I only have Confidential clearance. This is two levels above what . . . “

    Director Duggan interrupted her, “Not anymore. You now have Top Secret clearance, with Eyes Only clearance at my discretion. Luke will have you sign a new PSCA before you leave today.

    “It’s the first page in your folder, Miss Eldrich,” Luke said.

    “Maggie, please,” she said.

    “Fine,” the director said. “Now, Ms. Eldrich, before we start, I have a question for you.”

    “Yes sir?” Maggie replied.

    “Have you ever heard of anything or anyone referred to as Transmissioners?”

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    1. Hey, David,

      Geoff is off to ALA (!), so you’re stuck with me. I think Geoff chooses to do the one-sided interview style here because it’s going to be the unique voice that he's chosen for this particular book (and since it's a three-book deal, I assume his editor has asked him to run with it! ;)). Like everything writing-related, it will probably work for some (me! Mrs. S, a few others!) and not for others. It -- and his voice in general -- exhilarate me as a reader, but we all react differently to voice and that's part of what I hope to show here as we all post. We can’t please everyone as writers, and trying will kill you. BUT, you can take feedback for what it’s worth – it always gives us information. What we choose to do with the information is up to us.

      As for you excerpt, I really like your piece. You strike that formal official tone of the genre really well, and the piece definitely is intriguing with the hook at the end.

      I think your biggest writing pitfall at the moment is over-dialogue tagging, and including "business" especially, “As he,” and “as she” business for nearly every spoken line of dialogue and tag which slows the intrigue down. So if I just take a tiny bit of that back by taking the liberty to do a superspeed flash edit, I think your already terrific piece might shine that much more? See what you think. Also note that I think some of your singular pronouns (“each”) don't match the plural noun to which they refer (“people,” “trees”) so I was trying to fix those in the edit too, especially since I love your dogwood trees with their skirts of fallen blooms...).

      She opened the door and walked into a small room with a long table that could seat six comfortably. Computer workstations were embedded into the conference table at each place. Overhead, a projector was permanently attached to the ceiling; It projected the CIA seal onto a large white projection board hung on one wall.

      The long wall of the room was all window.Maggie stood and looked out on the courtyard between the Old and New Headquarters Buildings (OHB and NHB to those who worked there). At this time of morning, only a few people walked purposefully to whatever important task they were headed. The dogwood trees had just passed their peak of blooming and wore skirts of fallen pink and white leaves surrounding the base of their delicate trunks.

      “Special Agent Margaret Eldrich.” It was not a question but a statement from the tall, grey-haired man who entered the conference room. He didn’t have to ask. Who else would it be, in a sixth floor conference room of CIA Headquarters at 7:30 in the morning, but the woman he expected to meet?


      “Sir," Maggie said automatically, as she turned to face Associate Director James Duggan.


      “Jim Duggan.” The director held his hand out.


      “Maggie. Maggie Eldrich.” Maggie had hated to hear herself referred to as Margaret since she was a little girl.


      “This is my assistant, Luke Taylor.” Duggan referred to the handsome younger man of about 30 who stepped around the director to shake hands.


      “Hi. Welcome to Langley,” Luke said.


      “Thank you,” Maggie replied as the director took a seat at the head of the table. Maggie sat to his left, and Luke took a seat at his right and produced three file folders marked “Top Secret — Eyes Only,” placing one in front of each of them.


      Maggie looked at the folder and said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but I only have Confidential clearance. This is two levels above what . . . “


      Director Duggan interrupted her, “Not anymore. You now have Top Secret clearance, with Eyes Only clearance at my discretion. Luke will have you sign a new PSCA before you leave today.


      “It’s the first page in your folder, Miss Eldrich.”


      “Maggie, please,” she said, firmly eyeing the young assistant.


      “Fine,” the director said. “Now, Ms. Eldrich, before we start, I have a question for you.”


      “Yes sir?”


      “Have you ever heard of anything or anyone referred to as Transmissioners?”

      Delete
  36. HOORAY FOR TEACHERS WRITE AND FRIDAY FEEDBACK! I actually got my act together and wrote something this week after all the assignments and exams I took for my summer courses. *weeps* *wipes eyes* *sniffles* The important thing is I survived, I'm here now and ready to share! Yay! Better late than never, right? Thanks in advance for reading. Glad you are here, Geoff! I met you in Vegas at NCTE last fall...I was the girl waiting for you to show up and sign my book...can you tell I'm Gae's friend? :)

    “Fine, Nina.” She chucks the plum on my bed and turns to me, hands on her hips. “Then kiss me.”

    “What?!”

    I put my hands up to deflect her but she clamps her hands around my neck and pulls my face to hers with the power of a girl on a mission. Seeing Ev’s face coming at me, her eyes closed, lips slightly parted officially freaks me out a hundred times more than when she was trying to get me to kiss the plum she snagged from my mom’s fruit bowl. I squeal, slip under her arm and dive into the bathroom, locking the door just as she tries to turn the knob.

    Her hand slaps the door and Ev grunts with frustration.

    “Nina May Whitmer, I’m so over all your whining about not knowing how to kiss a guy. You’re sixteen, you’ve got your license, you have a job. You have to get over what happened with Hayden and move on already." She pauses, "Seriously, why can't you at least listen to my advice?"

    When I open the door, Ev;s holding out the plum and eyeing me. I groan but grab it from her. It's going to be a long night.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Jen!

      The scene is really funny. The voice is really familiar, definitely has the rhythm of real teen speech. You've done well to open up a conflict, too. Nina wants something (to kiss or be in love) but something about her is holding her back. Good, simple internal conflict that grows good story!

      Delete
    2. totes ditto on what Geoff said. You know I love your girly writing and, per usual, you have the tone/voice spot on in this little offering. Go, girl!

      (yes, I wrote "totes ditto." What of it?)

      Delete
    3. Jen, I am so "along for the ride" on this one! What a great combination of action and voice, creating tension -- I want to know the story this fits into.

      Delete
  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Happy Friday, Teachers Write! This week's work has broadened my definition of writing community. And thank you Gae and Geoff for hosting today. (I posted a comment above without ID'ing myself...oops! Hope it doesn't cause too much trouble). I completed this excerpt as a "try-it" on my blog last year (tryitmentor.blogspot.com) and would love feedback. I've realized there is a vulnerability that writers put out there that is repaid in more trusting relationships and a deeper sense of living, so here goes:

    Aboard the cargo ship for more than a week, I was starting to get anxious. This morning, I surfaced and could hear chatter coming through the radio on the bridge. My senses were alert, desperate for a sign that would let me know everything was all right, that our mission was still a go. We left our last port two days ago, and we didn't have much time.

    Disappointed that a sign wasn't waiting for me above deck, I retreated below and headed for some chow. I grabbed a page off the stack of freshly printed daily briefings. And this morning would have unfolded like the last two if I hadn't given that collated stack a second glance:

    News Briefing
    June 30, 2012
    News Briefing
    June 30, 2012
    News Briefing
    June 34, 2012
    News Briefing
    June 30, 2012

    And just like that, I knew today would be different. Today was the day we'd sink the ship or die trying.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my gosh, Morgan, love, love, love your fascinating little hook right there. Just a wrong date yet so clever and intriguing...

      One thing I'd love to see you do, is make the writing a little more immediate for max impact. What I mean, is when you start with those dangling participles (help me here, English teachers, what are they really called... starting, "Aboard the ship for more than a week..." or "Disappointed that a sign wasn't waiting for me..." What are those called) it takes away from the drama/impact for me. It may be subjective -- so others PLEASE chime in if you disagree, but to me, just simply flipping it (and you do it in at least two places) would really suck me in that much faster (also note that you are one of the "start ___ing" or people and if you pull out the start, you don't lose anything:

      I was getting anxious. We’d been aboard the cargo ship for more than a week. I surface and could hear chatter coming through the radio on the bridge. My senses were alert, desperate for a sign that would let me know everything was all right, that our mission was still a go. We left our last port two days ago, and we didn't have much time.

      All was quiet above deck. Not a single sign I was hoping for. Disappointed, I retreated below and headed for some chow. I grabbed a page off the stack of freshly printed daily briefings. It was only on second glance, that I knew everything was different:

      News Briefing
      June 30, 2012
      News Briefing
      June 30, 2012
      News Briefing
      June 34, 2012
      News Briefing
      June 30, 2012

      And just like that, I knew today would be different. Today was the day we'd sink the ship or die trying.

      What say you?

      Awesome stuff. Keep going because i need to know what the heck that date is! :)

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Gae, for taking the time for such great feedback. I do hear the difference and I see the way it gets to the action; I will be on the lookout for this in my writing from now on. I tend to write in very long sentences and now have a way to revise for it. It's also interesting that I have taught those lessons on eliminating "ing" verbs to make the impact... Hmmm. Thanks again.

      Delete
    3. Oh, Morgan, for all of us, it is way easier to teach it and see it in other's work than notice we've used it in our own. ;) Join the club. <3

      Delete
  39. Well, I was away longer than I expected yesterday! Here's my post, the opening to my short story:

    I don’t see Stephen’s car as I pull into the driveway. I stare for a moment at his empty space before finally turning off my headlights and killing the ignition.

    Something is not right. I rack my brain trying to remember if he had mentioned going out of town again. I can’t come up with anything. My stomach tenses as I grab my purse off the passenger seat and open the door.

    The chilly late autumn air hits me in the face. I quickly retrieve the three grocery bags from the back of my car and head toward the side door. I wish I’d remembered my gloves before leaving this afternoon. Now the damp cold seeps into my bones and chafes my skin. My wedding rings slide up and down and nearly over my knuckle as I fiddle with the key in the lock.

    Slamming the kitchen door against the intruding cold air, I lug the bags to the table. Then I see something out of the corner of my eye.

    An envelope on the island counter.

    The stark contrast of the plain white missive against the black granite countertop is disturbing. The thought that something is amiss creeps up on me again.


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wendy, remember this from last summer, yes? If so, it's reading well. Very evocative and intriguing.

      I wonder if you switched up this last para. you could avoid the over-cliched "tada" of "Then I see something out of the corner of my eye..." because the build up is rarely worth the payoff and the payoff will come without it. In fact, maybe the payoff is bigger (esp. since it's not really the envelope that's the big deal but what's in it and/or who it is from)? If that makes any sense (something I learned from my first editor). So:

      Slamming the kitchen door against the intruding cold air, I lug the bags to the table. I see the envelope out of the corner of my eye.

      The stark contrast of the plain white missive against the black granite of the island countertop is disturbing. The thought that something is amiss creeps up on me again.

      What say you?


      Keep going!

      Delete
    2. You have quite the memory! Yes, last year one of my problems was switching tenses, so I've worked on that.

      I say your feedback is dead-on. Thank you!

      Delete
  40. From Gae:

    Hey, all my Friday Feedbackers: Geoff Herbach is off to ALA and I am still with spotty internets... So let's close yesterday's post to comments and I will finish reading when I get home! If you we're hoping to post, don't worry, another chance next Friday when I will be back with full attention, with another terrific guest author: Alissa Grosso whose books are: Popular, Ferocity Summer, and Shallow Pond. Can't seem to post on my blog from here and Geoff is en route, so if any of you want to reiterate or cut and pâste this comment at the bottom of the comments on the blog, please do! Huge thanks to Geoff for hosting. See all of you in the comments when I get home later. Great writing its week. Keep going!

    ReplyDelete
  41. Hey, all, in case any of you are here looking in the comments for that info I promised on my uber-secret way of outlining after I have pantsed an entire manuscript, it is here: http://ghpolisner.blogspot.com/2013/07/friday-feedback-bonus-post-pantsing.html Will only leave this post up for a few days because it contains more info on my raw ms than I usually would put out there...

    xoxo gae

    ReplyDelete
  42. If your interested in getting paid for blogging you check this out: http://www.empowernetwork.com/vernial_berry/2013/07/16/how-to-blog-for-money/?id=vernial_berry

    or simply watch this video www.EveryDayMillionaires.org

    ReplyDelete