Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Feedback with Amy Fellner Dominy - Character Mapping

Already Friday again!


I'm super happy today because I have one of my besties here -- or as we like to call ourselves "BVFEs" (You figure it out)!

Amy Fellner Dominy and I were both members of the Class of 2K11 now The Graduates, and we fell instantly in love with each other's writing, and it went from there.

Her first middle grade novel, OyMG (see what they did there?!?) and her second, AUDITION & SUBTRACTION are both chock full of wonderful characters searching for identity, and beautiful writing.

Amy is also an incredible "Beta reader" for me and I believe her insightful feedback on an earlier draft of THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO which sent me frantically revising, was substantially responsible for the book finally getting a deal.

Amy's newest book, a YA this time, A MATTER OF HEART, follows 16-year old Abby Lipman who, on track to win the state swim championships and qualify for Olympic trials, learns she has a deadly heart condition.

Now, Abby is forced to discover who she is without the one thing that's defined her entire life.

School Library Journal said of A MATTER OF HEART, "More than a sports novel, this book delves deep into issues of identity... and the importance of support systems while making life-altering decisions."

I picked up a copy last week and, though I'm still finishing two other books, allowed myself to read the opening breathtaking chapter. It's so very good!

So, without further ado, here's Amy!**

Good Morning!

I’m so glad you’re here for Teacher’s Write and Friday Feedback.

I’m really glad to be here, too!

Today, I want to talk to you about what I think is arguably the MOST important part of your story.

Your characters.

But before I get to that, I want to talk about how RIDICULOUSLY DIFFICULT it is to write a book.

"If you’re writing a book you’re juggling characters, problems, goal, stakes, dialogue, narrative, POV, action, setting, theme, symbolism, language, pacing, rhythm, style, grammar, rising tension, character arcs, growth, subplots, climaxes, denouements, beginnings, endings, middles—well, it’s like juggling ten octopuses who are juggling ten octopuses who are juggling." 

I don’t want to be Debbie Downer here, but if you’re writing a book you’re juggling characters, problems, goal, stakes, dialogue, narrative, POV, action, setting, theme, symbolism, language, pacing, rhythm, style, grammar, rising tension, character arcs, growth, subplots, climaxes, denouements, beginnings, endings, middles—well, it’s like juggling ten octopuses who are juggling ten octopuses who are juggling. In other words, lots of balls in the air. So, when you can, if you can, wouldn’t it be nice to make things a little easier?

Which brings me back to our discussion of characters.

There are many ways to discover/develop your character and I’ve tried most of them over the years: character interviews, 5-page questionnaires, creating monologues, accosting strangers in the mall to ask about their lives (definitely don’t try that one) and on and on. But recently, I discovered another way that seems almost (dare I say it?) easy.

It’s called Character Mapping. I’m going to illustrate it here in case it might be something that will work for you, too.

Start with a blank piece of paper with a circle in the middle. 

See how easy it is?

Now, inside of that circle, write down the thing that defines your character. Usually, it’s what they’re doing in your book. It might be a job, or if they’re a student than maybe it’s what they love to do. So, for example, in my novel A Matter of Heart, Abby is an elite swimmer.

Now, brainstorm all the things that might define that person. Well, if you’re an elite athlete then you must be competitive and disciplined. You follow a certain regimen and you’re tanned from being in the sun and fit from all that exercise. You spend a lot of time in your sport, so your coach is a big part of your life and your friends are swimmers and so is your boyfriend.  If you just start writing, you’ll be surprised at how many details come to you. And then there will be details for the details.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Take one of those attributes and flip it. Turn it around. Make it be the opposite and see what happens to your character—to your story.  Because here is where you just might discover the main conflict of your book. It can be a real “ah ha” moment and one that sparks imaginative thinking. I can flip any one of those attributes and create conflict and questions for my character.  Here’s the one I flipped.

What if Abby, an elite swimmer, is NOT healthy. What would that mean to her—how could she compete? And what if she can’t? In the story, Abby discovers that even though she’s in the best shape of her life and on track to make the Olympic trials—she’s also sick. She has a heart condition and if she swims, she can die.

And that is an example of character mapping.

“But, Amy,” you say, “I can’t think of a concrete character trait to assign my character like being an elite swimmer. My character’s traits are more emotional, like she is anxious,” or “he feels unworthy” or “he's the class clown” or “she brightens people’s day.”

Don’t despair! Although character mapping works best if you can put something concrete in that center circle, if the main thing that defines your character is something emotional, the exercise can can still work. However, instead of a plot twist, you’ll likely flip a trait to discover the emotional arc or conflict or maybe even growth and change of your character. 

Here’s an example from my new book, DIE FOR YOU, using an emotional trait.

Emma, the main character is a caretaker. By using that as the center point, I come up with behaviors that fit her. And while being a caretaker is a positive trait, every positive trait, taken to extremes, has the potential to become a negative. Can a person be too selfless? Too loyal? Of course, and that is where, for Emma, the problem eventually lies.

Note that, unlike in the first example where the flip will actually drive the plot of the story, here, because it’s the character’s emotional center that’s being flipped, the twist or conflict won’t likely turn up until a little later in the story.

So, give it a try and see if it works for you. Start with one thing you know about your character. Or if you haven’t even gotten that far, try creating a story from a character map. Start with TEACHER or LIBRARIAN in the center. (Hmmm, you might know one of those, right?) J

What are all the expected attributes of that person? 
What can you flip?
And what problems does that create?

And now, since we’re here for Friday Feedback, and we’re talking about character traits and  development, I thought I’d invite you to share a defining or pivotal character moment, and I’d share one from DIE FOR YOU, one which I hope reveals the essence of Emma, who she is and what she loves. What works for you? What doesn't? Does it compel you to want to read more? 

If this is your first time posting, please read the FridayFeedback Rules at the bottom of that linked post! 

I look forward to reading your words!

From DIE FOR YOU (Delacorte 2016):

Over the years, I’ve read so much about Pompeii I sometimes wake up hearing the screams of the people and tasting volcanic ash in my throat. To think that I could actually visit and maybe even volunteer makes my fingers itch. The collection of broken pottery and colored tile must be incredible. Pieces of the past waiting to be made whole. It’s what I’m good at, what I love most—fitting together jagged bits of pottery. Dad says it’s a gift I have, like a sculptor who can see a statue in a block of stone. I can picture the original shape of an artifact from just a few pieces, sense the patterns and designs before other people can. It’s the most amazing feeling in the world, too, when you put something back together—turn rubble into real.

-Amy (& gae)

p.s. a gentle reminder from Gae: please, please, please adhere to the 3 -5 paragraph limit for your excerpts as set out in the RULES, 3 if the paragraphs are long, 5 if shorter. Only more if the excerpt consists primarily of lines of dialogue. Several of you shared excerpts of well more last week, upwards of 400 - 500 words which, to put this in perspective, is more than a page and a half of writing. Multiply that by thirty or forty excerpts and that is a whole lot of reading to ask my guest authors to give thoughtful feedback on in one day! 

Also be reminded that Amy is on Pacific time - 3 hrs earlier than me on NY time so will be here a bit later in the EST day! And she will only be here through today. I will continue to give feedback on excerpts posted through Saturday morning. After that, feel free to keep providing feedback for one another, but I will be moving on to preparing next week's post!

p.p.s. If you loved this post and learned from it, please buy, share, borrow Amy's titles and tell your friends about them! 


  1. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 17, 2015 at 6:02 AM

    I couldn't get the formatting to work in WordPress to save my life, but this is a poem that I did this week that is also about the character that I submitted last week. I am just cut and pasting it here. Hope it works. It didn't...UGH! Lots of shuffling around here in the comments, and I think I fixed it.

    In The News

    Every day for 90 years
    The papers arrived in threes.
    The Examiner, Times, and The WSJ,
    Lay littered by his knees.

    He pored o’er every article,
    Reciting facts within.
    Only to finish late at night,
    And tomorrow, start again.

    The joy he took in reading
    Inspired me from the start.
    I’d mine the ink in articles,
    To feed my curious heart.

    Together we prowled the pages,
    Stalked politics and sports,
    Stocks and bonds, and local news
    And the comics, too, of course!

    The paper made him brilliant.
    He could speak on anything.
    Like Vietnam and baseball,
    And Spain’s most recent king.

    Juan Carlos is no longer.
    And time has marched along.
    And Daddy now is older.
    No longer big and strong.

    He still enjoys his paper,
    But three’s too much to read.
    Still, daily he pores over
    Each line with wanton greed.

    On the downside, he’s forgetting.
    In fact, he’s gotten weak.
    On the upside, he’s been reading,
    Sunday’s paper here all week.

  2. Dear Amy -

    Thank you for this post. In some ways your exercise seems so obvious I feel like I've been an idiot. It gives me a totally great way to rethink my mc as I keep hacking away at my revisions. *Thank you!*

    Regarding your share - I love the image you've created of your character piecing together broken bits, that her gift is putting things back together. It implies things about her: patience, problem solving, visual skills.

    What I struggled with is not necessarily a bad thing: I was immediately feeling claustrophobic at the description of her nightmares. So that's good for your writing, but kind of freaked me out. I was really glad the rest of the share was about the positives in her obsession. (I should also say that I went to a traveling exhibit on Pompeii when I was about 6, in Boston, and the horrific images of people frozen in time as they fled the volcano lurk way back in my brain where I never want to go.)

    What I wonder after reading : How does her gift fit with her role as a caretaker? Is the opportunity to follow her dream to work on a dig going to conflict with her care taking? I'm very intrigued.

    This is short bit from my WIP, about a boy on the spectrum who is volunteering in a dog shelter.

    Owen stayed on the floor, watching the volunteers surge in and out of the barn. Two teenagers lugged a folding table into the open area and arranged the chairs around it. The noise was an abrasive staccato of metallic sounds. Owen suffered the pain deliberately, like a bruise poked to punish himself.

    He should have stayed home where it was safe.

    The noise swelled again. Adult volunteers entered the barn and settled around the table, screeching chairs and banging pens and coffee mugs. The remaining high school volunteers left, laughing and slamming the door as they departed. Dr. Rose and Miss Amelia came in, leaning toward each other as they spoke.

    The noise wouldn’t have been overwhelming, but Owen’s heart was ripped in half. The noise became agony. He covered his ears and got up to leave when Miss Amelia held up her hand for silence.

    The barn quieted.

    Everyone had responded to her direction.

    Owen’s mind fit in a puzzle piece where one had been missing before.

    Miss Amelia was the pack leader.

    Thank you-

  3. Susan - I love the line about reading with wanton greed. Delicious.

  4. Oh, my. what an activity. I think this is a game changer! And, I'm so impressed with how fresh something can feel after working through that process. It didn't take me long. And, I worked with a supporting character in my wip who is strong and unyielding. Thanks so very much for this exercise. I will be using it again and again!

    I'm sharing a free verse of a character that got saddled with something/someone she wasn't prepared to get saddled with.

    Mrs. Lesley

    If Elliot hadn’t begged
    a place for Alice at Guilder House
    I wouldn’t have been saddled
    with her care and keep.
    Your getting on in years, he said
    all that bending and lifting at Guilders’
    tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk
    I’d hate to bury you early, like your sister.
    I’ll cancel your bill if you train her.
    This Depression makes for strange bedfellows.
    I’ve half paid-off Francis’ funeral.
    Elliot needn’t have offered such an exchange.
    Daniels Funeral Home is no suitable
    place for this snip of a girl.
    Those big eyes in that delicate face,
    so much like my Francis,
    I didn’t stand a chance at saying no.
    Now, I’ve got a job on my hands.
    I do not believe in reincarnation.

  5. Amy Fellner DominyJuly 17, 2015 at 6:47 AM

    Hi Terry,
    I'm so glad the mapping provided an "ah ha" moment. It was like that for me!
    Sorry to creep you out with my excerpt, LOL. I visited Pompeii last year but obviously not as a child and it is chilling! Thx for your comments on my excerpt, and you ask a good question about how her gift fits with her role as a caretaker. Actually, her gift COMES from her role. It's natural for a caretaker to want to fix things, to make them whole--so that's why I gave her that particular love. It's amazing how it can all tie together.

    Thanks for sharing your excerpt!! I especially loved the opening. I was immediately caught by Owen, his position on the floor and the idea that he suffered the pain deliberately--the bruise imagery is wonderful. My one confusion was the paragraph about Owen's heart being ripped open. Was that an escalation of the pain? It might be that you don't need that. I can see this is misery for him and I wonder why he's still there. And then you reach another important moment when we see how he learns and what he's learned. I want to know why Owen is there--what he needs that makes him stay. Really fascinating--keep going!

  6. Oh, my. what an activity. I think this is a game changer! And, I'm so impressed with how fresh something can feel after working through that process. It didn't take me long. And, I worked with a supporting character in my wip who is strong and unyielding. Thanks so very much for this exercise. I will be using it again and again!

    First, a response to your work---I deleted my first response as I had neglected to do that in my excitement. SO SORRY!
    "pieces of the past waiting to be made whole" is stunningly poetic and an entire story in a sentence. THIS is a character who cares and is willing to do the work of relationships. And, that draws me to Emma. This works for me. And, Dad gets that about Emma....which is a love. This also works for me. I wonder what pieces of Emma I will need to "read together" in TO DIE FOR ? I will definitely be finding out----partly because I'm already a fan via A Matter of Heart and if character mapping is any indication of the flashes of insight to look forward to, it's going to be an experience. BRAVO!

    I'm sharing a free verse of a character that got saddled with something/someone she wasn't prepared to get saddled with.

    Mrs. Lesley

    If Elliot hadn’t begged
    a place for Alice at Guilder House
    I wouldn’t have been saddled
    with her care and keep.
    Your getting on in years, he said
    all that bending and lifting at Guilders’
    tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk
    I’d hate to bury you early, like your sister.
    I’ll cancel your bill if you train her.
    This Depression makes for strange bedfellows.
    I’ve half paid-off Francis’ funeral.
    Elliot needn’t have offered such an exchange.
    Daniels Funeral Home is no suitable
    place for this snip of a girl.
    Those big eyes in that delicate face,
    so much like my Francis,
    I didn’t stand a chance at saying no.
    Now, I’ve got a job on my hands.
    I do not believe in reincarnation.

  7. Susan, what a lovely poem! I immediately saw the character when you said 3 papers arrived every day. I don't know if it's because it reminded me so strongly of my dad, but I felt like I knew that man--smart, strong and a hero to the girl. The twist is there--a very compelling/universal one--that this man who was defined by what he knew, is now losing all of that as he ages.

    I especially liked the line about mining the ink.

    Thanks for sharing--and I think the formatting was perfect. :-)

  8. Hi Linda,
    YAY for new exercises, right? I'm really glad it worked and I think it's great that you've tried it for other characters in your story. It's not just for a main character!

    Thanks for the nice words about the excerpt--and HEART! It really does mean a lot. <3

    There's so much I love about your verse--especially how at first she's been "saddled" with Alice so she seems unwelcome but at the end, you show the emotional connection "those big much like my Francis" and that's compelling and says a lot about your character. She doesn't want the girl, but she can't turn her away. It's those opposite forces that make characters so interesting. Also, introducing reincarnation is definitely a grabber.

    My only confusion was through the middle section. I wasn't always sure who was speaking, and I think the lines could flow more naturally. Elliot says "I'd hate to bury you early..." and then "I'll cancel your bill..." Would she respond to the first comment, before he adds another?...and then would she respond directly about paying off Francis' funeral? Perhaps if it's more of a dialogue?
    Just something to consider and maybe play with...but very nice--you set up a character and a situation I want to read more about.

  9. yes, those lines are indented and italicized in the original....didn't come out in this blog post. It's dialog.....from Mr. Daniels to Mrs. Lesley. I"ll post it on my own blog as part of TW promo and it will be visible there----but NOOOOO pressure to read again.

  10. Hi Gae! Hi Amy! I love this character mapping idea! I'm such a word doodler/brainstormer...I find that if I have a pen or a marker and a piece of paper, I can brainstorm words and ideas and work through them out of my head. But I've never tried this exactly before. Thanks for sharing!

    In your piece, I love the last line and I'm so curious about this character and how she has sense for putting things back together. In thinking about your character map activity, now I'm curious what challenges she'll face. I can see lots of options!

    I'm working on a first draft this week and am about 30,000 words in. It's YA contemporary (again) but not as innocent as my last ms. Thank you for your feedback!

    Hijacked. I've been completely hijacked by Julian Ramirez.

    I toss my phone down, turn off the distraction of the television, and hug a pillow close to me. For a few minutes, I sit, eyes closed, listening to the quiet, remembering Julian's text on the screen.

    And then, all alone and sitting in the dark, as dumb as it is, I whisper, “I’m in love with Julian Ramirez.”

    As if watching a Polaroid picture develop, slowly the colors deepen and the edges sharpen until I see my heart, solid and tangible and whole, like it hasn’t been since my dad died. A torrent of emotions flood over me and I roll myself into a ball on the couch and cry silent tears until I fall asleep.

  11. I like how you describe the sounds and how they impact your character. I'm wondering about the end when you say Miss Amelia was the pack leader - how long did it take to get that way? How does Miss Amelia have such a knack for knowing this? And is there maybe a way to show this still? Like Owen moves near her because he realizes she gets it and she understands? Maybe it would make more sense if I read this in context but I am curious to know more about your character!

  12. I like how you start with the papers and how that kind of leads into your character. I like the connection between the papers being something *kind of* more in the past and how your character has grown old, too. Nice link between the two.

  13. Hi Amy!
    This character map is a game changer, and I can't wait to use it with my 5th and 6th graders this year! Character development can be so challenging to teach, and this exercise is so concrete! I can see students (and myself) really diving in and coming up with some unique twists!

    Your first sentence totally works for me! I was intrigued immediately, possibly because I've read so little about Pompeii that I enjoy meeting someone who has. This excerpt is enough to hook me! I love characters with unique abilities that I feel like I could learn from. "Turn rubble into real"....great line!

    Here is an excerpt from my WIP.

    Even as a teenage I remember browsing through my mom’s
    cookbooks, marking recipes that peeked my interest, but rarely seeing any through to fruition. In part, this was due to my mother’s love-hate relationship with the kitchen. She didn’t enjoy cooking and certainly
    wasn’t looking for opportunities to mix, chop, roast, or blend more than
    absolutely necessary to feed her family three meals a day. I, on the other hand, thought it might be fun to try something new and create something delicious, so I eagerly volunteered to bring a dessert to a Fourth of July lake house celebration. I’d torn out this recipe from my
    mother’s Good Housekeeping magazine, and the fact that the brownies were made from more than a box, an egg, water and oil was already pushing me into uncharted culinary territory. The recipe for
    mocha frosting required a foreign ingredient to be brought into our home: coffee. Neither of my parents are coffee drinkers, so we rarely ventured down the coffee aisle in the grocery store. I’m pretty sure the small container of instant coffee we purchased for these brownies is still in my mother’s cabinet.

    It was with great enthusiasm that I set out to create these
    brownies, reading and rereading as I meticulously followed each step. The 9x9 pan of brownies was cooling on the table as I began the frosting, dissolving the coffee, melting multiple chocolates, stirring, and whisking. I was so close. The last step. “Stir in confectioners’ sugar until well blended and smooth.” I scooped up that cup of sugar, poured it into my mocha goodness and stirred. Smooth never came. My inexperienced baking skills mindlessly skipped over the word
    confectioners’, never even pausing to question what that word might mean. All I saw was sugar, and all I was left with was a grainy, sand-like frosting, filled with granulated sugar.

    Wait. It gets better. I served them. To people. I poured that gritty frosting onto my cinnamon spiced brownies, packed them in a cooler for the lake house and actually served them to my friends.


  14. Andrew StarowiczJuly 17, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    Good morning, Gae and Amy!

    I am looking forward to reading A Matter of Heart. Being a swimmer (once competitive, now just trying to keep up with the old people like myself), I am always looking for books about swimmers. Due to the popularity of baseball, football, and basketball, most novels have characters that play one of those sports. The kids like those stories, but the kids who swim, tend to like books about swimmers a little more (example: Going for Gold).

    I love this post. I can use this type of character mapping with my students. I could even modify it and have the students use it when they prepare their own narrative writing pieces. The examples are also wonderful and gave me an idea to create an example from my own writing to show my students (and then read to them an excerpt that describes the character).

    As for your paragraph excerpt, I will now be waiting impatiently for Die For You. The descriptive language is beautiful (my favorite line - "tasting volcanic ash in my throat"). I am so curious about this character. You also capture the history of Italy (and other ancient European countries) when stating "rubble into real" - putting the past back together.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I apologize for such a lengthy post, but I thoroughly enjoyed today's lesson. Happy writing!

  15. Hi Jen!
    I'm glad you like the character mapping and really hope it helps. I wish i was more of a doodler, though the map has helped me with that. I think you can discover more things when you're not stuck in a linear format the way I usually am!

    Thanks for sharing your excerpt! The first line definitely grabs and I can see that this character's journey is an emotional one. The imagery of the Polaroid picture developing is really beautiful (though hopefully these characters are not young uns' because do they even know what a Polaroid is?) :-)

    I'm wondering what the text says and I realize you might be withholding that for the mystery but I think it might make the scene stronger if we know. If you reveal it here. Her conflict, I think, is wrapped up in the text. So right now I'm not sure if those tears are happy or not--healing or not.

    But, I'm a sucker for romance so I'd definitely keep reading to find out. Keep going--if you're 30,000 words in that's awesome!

  16. Greetings, it's great to get another way to do a character sketch. For me so many of the forms I find take a lot of filling out that I just skip over it. Where as I think this gets right to the point. I wonder if you could put your plot idea in the center and do that too. Especially like the flipping part.

    Your except is very visual and shows right off your MC likes challenges, has a good sense of confidence and is a hands on type of person. So much info in such a short space. Great work.
    Here's a short piece from my YA novel in verse which I'm currently querying agents about.

    Our refrigerator is full of casseroles from our new neighbors.
    Everyone is so friendly here, Mom says.
    But I know different.
    They're nosey.
    They want details about the shooting
    but they're too afraid to ask.
    So instead,
    they hand Mom
    a casserole

    Thanks again for all the great advice and encouragement you're giving everyone. Appreciate it so much.

  17. Love how the character is shrinking .....behind Mom, behind the casseroles? Those neighbors ARE nosey!

  18. LifetimeDracutResidentJuly 17, 2015 at 8:26 AM

    Good morning Amy and Gae,

    Thank you for the character mapping activity. I have used character maps when I teach reading to my first and now my second graders but it never occurred to me to use them in writing. Duh! When I looked at your character map, I thought "She just perfectly described one of my twin daughters!" Her very best friend's grandfather was rushed to the hospital and is in a coma and her first reaction was "I need to bake them some cupcakes!" Her high school friends all call her "Mama Molly" with the way she takes care of them and cautions them to follow rules, think of how there actions will impact others. I can't wait to read your book now. Your line "It's the most amazing feeling in the world, too when you put something back together - turn rubble into real." really rang true.

    Here is an excerpt from my WIP:

    The teacher was smiling as she greeted the new girl and the adult. Make that two adults because it was then that I noticed another tall, pretty woman standing behind them. She was smiling but the smile didn’t reach all the way to her eyes. Her eyes looked like she was worried. I knew that was the way my mom and dad looked when they had to bring me to new places too like when I went to Megan’s birthday party last weekend. The thing is, I like Megan and the rest of the girls at the party. I wanted to be a part of the celebration…..I really did….and at the same time I didn’t. My mom asked Megan’s mom if she needed help but she didn’t so Dad convinced her to leave. I remember the look on her face as she asked me if I was okay and I nodded yes. Although I didn’t feel okay. Did they know that my heart felt like it was going to burst right out of my chest as I entered the room? Like all the air was being sucked out of my lungs? My heart raced a bit just remembering it again.

    You see in my head, I know that ten year olds should be able to stay and have fun at a friend’s birthday party but it isn’t that easy to convince the rest of my body. I wanted to run after my parents but my feet felt like they were glued to the floor with superglue. So I stayed and tried to have fun. I hit the piñata and pinned the tail on the monkey. I watched Megan open all her presents. When everyone sang “Happy Birthday to you!”, inside my head I sang along. I ate birthday cake and ice cream. And I tried to ignore the hushed whispers when Megan’s grandmother asked her mom why I didn’t answer her when she asked me if I wanted chocolate or vanilla ice cream. “Oh, that’s Natalie from school. Megan says she never talks.” I feel my cheeks get red and I just want to leave. I should be used to the whispers by now but I’m not.

    Thank you for taking the time to do Teachers Write!

  19. That's the first thing I thought of----this activity is so DO-able with students. I may just try this in the library this year....even though I don't "teach" writing (I do, I do, I do)

  20. whoa! way to concentrate a conflict into a paragraph, Jenn! I'm so curious as to whether this is an opener or at the climax of your story! Take a bow!

  21. Hi,
    I like how you started the scene out with the noise, this will especially work well if you've established before hand why Owen is so affected by the noise. I like how visual the sounds become as well. I am curious as to why Owen is in a place that make him uncortable. What is he trying to over come? Was he forced to go there? Is he trying to prove something to someone. You've done a good job creating a wide range of thoughts such as these. Good writing.

  22. Hi Joy,
    I love that you might use the map with your classes. I'd love to know how it goes. I used it at a workshop last weekend with 11 and 12-year-olds and I think it worked well but I'd love to see how a real teacher would make use of it. :-)

    I really enjoyed your excerpt and felt I understood the character--possibly because our culinary skills are similar. (I have a chocolate fondue story from New Years to rival the brownies.) I especially loved the opening--the old cookbooks and the sense of mom's pantry and the fact they didn't drink coffee--those were lovely details that helped ground me in the character and her world. It feels like a sepia-toned memory. (I do think the tone changes a little toward the end, maybe because of the "Wait. It gets better." You may want to look at that as you revise down the road.)

    I think her actions at the end are telling. She makes a mess of it but she serves them anyway. This is a character defining moment. Perhaps Mom would have thrown them out. Perhaps she was raised to be perfect--she is meticulous you say. But instead of going out to buy a jar of frosting or bringing them unfrosted, she serves them. I'd like a little more of "why" to understand if she does it out of pride, because she doesn't care, because the heck with what people think, because she hates her mother, etc. etc. This scene is a great way to reveal her character.
    Thanks for sharing!

  23. Thanks Andrew!

    I love the idea that you can use the exercise--I hope it works for your students.

    And yay for swimmers! I have great respect for anyone who swam competitively. I know a lot of kids who swam in college--friends of my kids--and no other sport requires such intense workouts. I hope you'll like HEART and will share it with students. I haven't read Going for Gold but I'll look for it.

    Thanks for the comments about my excerpt. I did a lot of research into Rome and Pompeii as the story developed. I'm so fascinated by that time period, it was fun to give Emma a passion that I could relate to. This makes me more excited to share the book. :-)

  24. Hi Martha,

    I feel the same way you do about other mapping tools. I've printed a lot of stuff out but I tend to give up if it's too complicated. This method feels good for trail and error because you only need to invest a little while to complete one. If it doesn't work with one trait, you can try another. You might also be able to plug in a plot situation--I haven't tried it but why not.

    I like your excerpt a lot. It feels very matter-of-fact in the tone and the word choice but then you have that line about the shooting and that is a great counterpoint--because it's not matter-of-fact at all! I get a sense of the character from this passage--she's not cowering or hiding. She seems defiant. The only suggestion I might make is whether it would bring more life to the scene to add a few details. What type of casserole, for instance, or a sense of the setting--are they staring from a front stoop or behind a screen door? I few evocative images...just something to play with.
    Thanks for sharing!

  25. Maureen:
    I'm going to follow Will Ritter's LAW: Love/Alter/Wonder response strategy from last year's TW.

    I love how you've captured the feelings of anxiety (how logic doesn't help) so well in this scene about the birthday party. I'm drawn into your characters and want to know more about their problems.

    I wouldn't necessarily alter anything - but not knowing the context within your ms, I worry that the segue to Natalie's thoughts about her own anxiety might distract us from the introduction to the new student. But it makes a wonderful connection for Natalie to empathize and be ready for the new student to have a common trait, so it might be exactly where you should place this piece.

    I wonder if your Natalie has selective mutism. I wonder how she will relate to the new student. I wonder what the new student will be like if her mother is exhibiting these signs of worry.

    I hope to read more of your WIP in Friday Feedbacks!

  26. Your arrangement of the final 4 words are a great demonstration of why verse can pack such a punch compared to a paragraph form. I, too, want to know about the shooting and am too afraid to ask!

  27. Maureen,

    You have a very sweet daughter, it sounds like. I'm glad to know that Emma in my story is similar because that's what I was trying to create with her.

    Thanks for sharing your excerpt. I especially like the second paragraph and the sense of anxiety and yearning inside of Natalie. I definitely want to know more about her, why she doesn't speak, how she interacts, what she wants and how she'll grow and change.

    I was a little confused switching from the classroom to the memory of the party. The memory goes on so long that I lost track of the opening and that Natalie is actually in a classroom. You might want this memory to go in a different spot, maybe a little later in the scene after you've established who this new student is, or perhaps it might even play out in real time. (It's so hard to know when you only see an excerpt.) But if you're introducing a new character here--an important one--I'd let that play out more before cutting away.

    Keep going! :-)

  28. OOOOhhhhhh! Well, modern technology sometimes let me down. But that makes sense then!

  29. LifetimeDracutResidentJuly 17, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    You are right, Terry! I based Natalie on a former student who has selective mutism and the new student is also based on another former student who has Rett Syndrome. I wanted to make them "normal" girls with normal feelings who also have disabilities but it doesn't define them. Thanks for the kind response. It's scary to post an excerpt for the first time!

  30. Hi All,
    I'm heading out for an hour or so, but please keep posting comments and excerpts and I'll look forward to reading when I get back!

  31. Hello, happy camper-writers!

    First -- lovelovelove the character mapping activity. I use mapping with my students but haven't ever thought to flip an aspect. Brilliant stuff that I can easily put to use in my classroom of 4th grade writers! This is a technique I can see them grabbing ahold of and using again and again. Thanks so much for sharing it with us. I'll have to tweet out some student examples later in the year! :)

    Next! Amy, your short excerpt is such a great example of how to show important information about a character in few words that give plenty of tangible insights into their life. I m intrigued by how and why she is possibly going on a trip to Pompeii. This is such a fascinating piece of history, so even without knowing much about the story, I'm already buying in. But then you've layered interesting tidbits about the character -- a young girl with a definite sense of purpose and passion -- and I become even more invested in knowing more about her story. The closing words, "turn rubble into real" are just lovely, and make me wonder if there may be more than just old artifacts that she will be rebuilding in this story. :) I'm eager to read more!

    Last... since you've invited us to share a snippet that defines a character in our story, I thought I'd share a couple paragraphs from the prologue of the memoir I'm working on this summer. This bit introduces the journey of healing the narrator is on throughout the rest of the memoir. :) As always, thanks for reading:

    A few years ago, my 13-year-old son piled boxes and bags filled with all his belongings into his dad’s old pickup truck and ran out the door with a wave and an awkward, “Bye, Mom.” Raising a child with Asperger’s should have conditioned me for his lackluster goodbye, but as I watched him bound down the walkway and hop in the truck, my breath caught in my throat like a lodged arrow. He was gone. The boy I raised alone, whose tantrums and triumphs had become the landscape of my life, chose to leave.

    The door closed behind him, and something deep inside me broke wide open. I sank to the floor, curled in on myself, and let the tears finally fall free. Face pressed to cold tiles, I wailed until my voice faded into a hoarse whisper, and I was left with only silent tears and shuddering shoulders. My husband of seven months sat next to me, folded over my body as if protecting me from oncoming gunfire. But he was too late. The damage was done, and I lay in the wreckage, inconsolable. His breath was hot against my face, his words foreign sounds that met my ears and slid away. I was deep in the forest, paralyzed in quicksand that seemed to spring up spontaneously beneath my bare feet. The landmark where I had made my adult home was gone, leaving me lost and afraid. I was an abandoned child all over again; Daegan’s choice to walk away forced me back into a world I thought I had left behind years ago.

  32. Okay...I am going to be better today with following the rules. This is a short piece for my WIP.

    Glancing at the calendar, I notice Xs on certain dates. On several weeks, I saw Xs blocking out all of those days. I remember when I would ask grandpa to play Hangman with me, he would chose nearly impossible words for me to guess. I would often fail. I would make one botch guess after another. As I did this, grandpa attempted to draw the head, then the body, legs, feet, arms, and hands. But he always gave me a few more chances, like two. Two more extra chances to spell a
    word I had no clue of. Those two chances created the complete death of the stick man. As I bungled my last two chances, he drew an X for each of the eyes of the stick man.

    Utter death.

    As I looked at the calendar, those Xs reminded me the corpse I created playing Hangman. Those Xs written in black sharpie were dad’s creation. I think those were days that inside, mom was slowly dying.

    Thanks in advance for the feedback Gae and Amy...and everyone else. : )

  33. Love the imagery..."as if watching a Polaroid picture develop.." LOVE IT.

  34. Amy, I love your post today! I'm maybe hooked on your excerpt because of my love for archaeology- the phrase "turn rubble into real" especially grabs me and my senses. I can feel who your character is even in this short piece. Thanks for sharing this flipping it lesson with us today.

    My excerpt is from an MG historical fiction - an early draft- set in 1900 when young boys like Rivet worked in shipyards carrying hot rivets to the ship building gangs to hammer into the huge steel plates that made up the outsides of the ships. He's 11 or so. I "found" him in a photograph of a shipbuilding gang in a photo collection from an archive of maritime images.

    "Rivet stopped for a moment outside the door. Some days he almost couldn’t bear to go home. He remembered the way it used to be, the warm feeling of being a family together, Pa reading from a favorite book, he and his Mam listening as they worked on chores or school work.

    Then Pa had died, lost in a terrible accident at the shipyard. That was the end of school for Rivet. He had to go to work to help take care of Mam. They had been sympathetic at the shipyard, been willing to take him on as a way to say they were sorry for the loss. That was one reason he worked so hard, happy for the chance to prove himself a man.

    It was so hard to take his step-father’s criticism, the constant chafing at him for reading, as if reading were a weakness somehow. His own Pa had taught him differently, that knowing how to read gave a man power, gave him an advantage. Now it was something he had to sneak, and he knew his Mam didn’t dare stand up for him, either. She needed to keep the peace, and though he understood that, it still hurt that she didn’t take his part."

    Thanks again for sharign with us today!

  35. Thanks for the wonderful characterization exercises! I really enjoyed reading your excerpt. The first line really works for me. It draws me in with the vivid imagery and gives me such tremendous insight into the character. There isn't anything that doesn't work; however, I would like to see more between the mention of the burning of Pompeii to the discussion of her gift of putting broken pottery back together. I am definitely compelled to read more, if for no other reason than I love Pompeii and the character intrigues me! Thanks for sharing.

    Here is my excerpt. It is from a piece about a girl who is sent to stay with her elderly great aunt for the summer. Her aunt is a very mysterious woman who seems to be keeping something from the young girl.

    Lying in bed in this strange cottage, she found herself
    thinking back to all those nights putting herself to sleep when most kids her age were being tucked in with a bedtime story. Night after night, after an unsatisfying dinner of cold mac and cheese and an apple, (she had to feed herself, but she wasn’t allowed to use the microwave without her mom’s supervision) she would lie in bed with her quilt resting on her feel reading tattered copies of Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia. She remembered struggling with the words, but willing herself to keep going so she could find
    out what happened next. Then, when she couldn’t keep her eyes open, she would fade into sleep and join the characters on their adventures. In her dreams, she was always Lucy or Hermione, always the hero, always happy until she woke up the next morning with her book next to her and the quilt still at her feet.

    A sound in the hall brought her back to reality. She grabbed
    the quilt from the chair next to the bed and placed it at her feet and began reading.

    Light was shining through the windows, blinding her momentarily. As her sight adjusted to the early morning light she took in her surroundings, slowly remembering that she wasn’t at home, but in the cottage of her great aunt. As she rolled over to bury her head under her pillow, she felt more comfy than she could ever remember feeling. It took her a moment to realize that while she had slept, the quilt had been pulled up over her body and her book had been placed on the bedside table.

  36. Thanks for this great exercise! What a good way to brainstorm and also to focus on what a character wants.

    I really enjoyed reading your excerpt. It gives such good insights into your character and their personality. I especially like the last line. Reading this section makes me want to read more of the book -- I will be looking for it!

    Here's a short part of my middle grade novel:

    Once they’ve told me, everything happens at Super Mario speed. Mom bustles around, getting Whisper’s crate ready. Whisper’s nails clatter on the floor as she circles the sofa. She’s so nervous, I can’t even get close for a goodbye hug. When Dad heads for her with
    the leash, she bolts down the hall. He was prepared for that and closed all the doors to our rooms and the door to mom’s studio.

    She doesn’t squirm once she’s in his arms.

    I stroke her head gently. “Be brave. It’s going to be okay.”

    Dad puts her into the crate and whisks her to the door. It clicks shut behind them.

    “I’m so sorry.” Tears slide down Mom’s cheeks. She hands me a tissue. “You both helped each other. Maybe it’s time now for you both to try on your own.”

    I don’t want to try on my own. I want Whisper.

  37. Martha, I really like this piece! A lot comes across here about your narrator.

  38. I didn't realize it was your first post! (I've been absent much of this session.) Be proud of your bravery!

    We have a student at our school with selective mutism and I once considered a mc with it. When I researched it, I realized that its cause was an entirely different source, and I think you've reflected that well here.

  39. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 17, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    Thank you, Jen. I like your observation about the newspapers being more in the past. I guess without realizing it, in my pieces about this character this week, I am slowly coming to know that he is approaching obsolescence, just like the newspapers. No less loved, but no longer as useful as they once were. Thanks for helping me see that!

  40. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 17, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    Thanks, Amy for the kind words. I have yet to conquer the formatting in WordPress. I ended up cutting and pasting from Word. Minor irritations. I appreciate your feedback. Writing a lot this week about my dad, since I am at our cottage with Mom and Dad for a bit. I am a "write to make sense of my world" kind of writer, so in many ways this is what needs to be explored right now.
    I loved the mini lesson and fully intend to use it in my class in the fall. Thank you for so many good ideas.

  41. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 17, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    Thank you!

  42. LifetimeDracutResidentJuly 17, 2015 at 11:05 AM

    Well, not my first TW post but it was the first time I put part of my WIP out on a FF. I'm a bit confused by what you mean by mc.

  43. hi,
    I love that line about Whisper being so nervous that your MC can't get close enough for a goodbye hug. Spot on with how an animal facing something scary or unknown would react. Anxious to see why Whisper is going away and if she's coming back. Nice job.

  44. Mc=main character.
    I had the hardest time initially with some of the writing shorthand. pb for me always meant paperback. (I came from book selling.) Still have to remind myself that it means picture book.

  45. Thanks for the comments. Good idea about adding a few more images. I'll have to try it.

  46. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 17, 2015 at 11:09 AM

    Hi, Amy.

    What a great exercise you've given us! I'm working on a map for my MC and will do one for each of the secondary characters as well. Such an eye-opener!

    Regarding your excerpt:

    I'm simultaneously drawn in and feel compelled to read more because I'm a lover of history, and your MC's fascination with Pompeii is intriguing. The description of her ability to visually reconstruct artifacts in her head is compelling. There's really nothing that doesn't work for me.

    Here's my excerpt, from a MG historical novel (I hope it's not too long. There's mostly dialogue). The orphanage where my MC lives is on fire. All the children escaped, but the MC is missing:

    “I need to find Lily. Have you seen her?”

    “Oh, have you lost Lily, Sister?” Over in a corner, Sister Norbert sits on a crate, smirking.

    “Enough, Sister Norbert,” Mother Superior rebuffs. “Let me check my list of children who are being temporarily housed with families.” She retrieves a small notebook from her inside pocket and flips the cover over. She turns the pages slowly. Sister Mary Rose’s heart is in her throat as she waits. She looks around at the faces of the orphans. Who’s missing? The Schmidt children aren’t here. Would Lily be with them?

    “Where are the Schmidts?”

    “They’re with Mr. And Mrs. Miller,” Mother Superior replies. She catches Sister Mary Rose’s eyes. “Lily’s not with them.” She continues flipping, too slowly for Sister Mary Rose’s liking, finally reaching the last page.

    “In fact, Lily doesn’t seem to be on my list.” Mother Superior’s face shows shock at the discovery of a child missing from her care. “Oh, dear Lord.” She crosses herself.

    Sister Mary Rose’s heart drops from her throat to her feet. She steps back outside into the freezing rain that has increased in intensity. The night is getting colder. She imagines Lily roaming the city, alone and cold. She knows Lily can’t possibly make it very far without proper clothing and no shoes. But she also knows the power and determination of love. Lily will go to any length to find her mother.

    Sister Mary Rose goes back inside the bard, grabs a cow blanket and lighted oil lantern off the hooks by the door. She plunges into the night. “Ave maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum…”

  47. Hi Kelly,
    I'm so glad you like the mapping exercise and I hope you will share some of your student examples!!

    Thanks for the comments about my excerpt...I'm so encouraged that you see in it much of what I hoped might come through. It's always hard to know!

    Your excerpt really resonates with me as a mom with a son who is going off in the world. I especially love "whose tantrums and triumphs had become the landscape of my life..." Wow. I learn about this woman from these paragraphs, and you show me through the way she reacts rather than telling me so that's great!

    One note: You have so much lovely language and metaphor in the final paragraph and I know it's hard to cut a single bit of beauty, but I feel like the metaphors start working against each other--or maybe pulling from each other like "forest" and "quicksand." I wonder if it would be stronger if you trimmed a little? She's devastated, and laying in the wreckage (which I love, by the way) and her husbands words slide away. At that point, I think you could cut to "I was an abandoned child all over again..." Just a suggestion!

    Keep going--and thanks for sharing! :-)

  48. Thank you, Amy!

    Your 8 sentence paragraph is so dense. So much is gleaned from it...characterization, a new opportunity, relationship with father and a skill and metaphor of putting "rubble into real" that will probably be prevalent in the book.

    How long would it take you to craft that paragraph? How many times have you rewritten it? Sometimes I think it's amazing anyone writes, but look at the results. I've been revising & developing a lot this summer & I hope I'm getting closer.

    It's always great to see different ways to approach the thought process and develop characters. Everything helps a little bit more. I've realized I'm working with the perfectionist/ fear issue with my character:

    I climbed on the large, metal gate before Dad unlocked it, beginning the long, slow swing carrying me into thebarnyard. “One, two, three!” he said smiling, and I let go, pushing myself off
    the gate to land, sending the gate to a rattling finish. “Nice
    one,” he laughed, as my rubber barn boots squelched into the edge of a large, fresh cow patty.

    “I can’t do anything right,” I moaned, rubbing the edge of my boot on the ground to scrape off the soft,slightly goopy cow poop.

    “Hannah, that’s not a big deal. I’ll hose it off before we go back
    to the house.”

    It wasn’t just that, I thought. Theend of the school year was so busy. There were piano exams, tests and the school gymnastics competition. I had froze in every one of them, forgotten
    whole routines. I knew them. I had practised. But, put me in front of an audience and, poof,gone. It was like an evil magician lived in my brain erasing everything. The end of Grade five had been a blow-out.

    Again, thank you so much for your time and expertise,


  49. Hi Valerie,

    Yay for another archaeology lover! Writing DIE FOR YOU really let me play around in history a little. :-)

    I have a soft spot for historical fiction and I think the time you choose is really interesting and I love that you came to the character through a photo! Rivet comes through here and I feel like I get a good picture of the type of boy he is and what matters to him. I also like the moment in time when the scene starts--outside his door and he doesn't want to go in. Here's my question for you (and possibly a suggestion):

    Could you have Rivet open the door and then SHOW us the things he's thinking above? For instance, he might be tired from working that long day as he takes off his coat or his shoes etc. but does he have a coin to lay on the table so we see that he's providing like a man would? Is his Mam there--we might learn a lot through how they greet each other. Or perhaps Rivet might see items that remind him of his dad--or maybe a book that would have been there before his step-father's time. If you wrote the scene in that way, you might convey all the same things but also bring the time period and the characters more to life.

    I hope that's helpful--I'd love to see you continue with this!! :-)

  50. Oh, thanks, Amy! That is very, very helpful. You've expressed so clearly how to do that work, too. Your response is immensely encouraging. And as always, showing works best to draw the reader in, thank you! Back to work.:-)

  51. Hi Kelly,

    Great piece! The pain of watching a child leave is palpable and makes me want to cry too.

    The sentence at the end, "I was an abandoned child all over again," was intriguing. It shows this is a repeating theme in her life and leads us to want to know more about her background. It also provides another reason why the pain is so intense.

    I did like the "warfare" imagery, but I got distracted when you added in other metaphors and it stopped the flow of my reading.

    Keep working! It's going to be great!


  52. Hi Carrie,

    Thanks for the comments about my excerpt--I'm glad that it drew you in. There is going to be more about Pompeii in the story, I hope it'll feel very satisfying. :-)

    Thanks for sharing your excerpt. There's something very touching about this scene. I can see that girl--picture her wanting nothing more than to find the quilt pulled over in the morning. I know so much about her from these few paragraphs. She's not a whiner--she's had to be strong--but she's so vulnerable.

    That said, I think the way the scene is laid out can be confusing. She's in a new place remembering about falling asleep reading in a different place, just before she grabs her book and then falls asleep reading. And then it's morning. I saw where you were going at the end, but I wonder if it can be streamlined.

    So, perhaps, she starts out in this new, strange place and she's thinking it's the same as before. She's reading in bed, quilt at her feet, alone. There are strange creaks in the house, an aunt she doesn't know, a sense of cold, but nothing important has changed: still no one to tuck her in. She falls asleep. The light wakes her, and a sense of warmth, and it's morning. And then she realizes the quilt is pulled up. I hope that makes sense...I think the important things are here, it's just creating a clearer flow.

    Good luck and keep writing! :-)

  53. Glad it makes sense. I always say we shouldn't be called Writers. We should be called Rewriters because that's most of what we do. :-)

  54. Hi Jen,

    It's a really powerful four paragraphs. The idea of a heart being hijacked is perfect. It seems to be an unexpected romance in the midst of a really hard time. I also like how she allows herself to say that she is in love and needs the solidity of saying and hearing the words, even though she thinks it's dumb.

    The Polaroid simile is great too. I'm jealous...



  55. Amy, your character map exercise was "spot on" for me - it is really helping me to define my character in terms of her changes. Thanks so muchfor this.

    I truly cannot wait to read A Matter of Heart : my 24 year old daughter has been a competitive swimmer most of her life and I find that whole world fascinating.


    I love how you describe Emma's gift for sensing patterns - this really makes me want to read more to see how this talent plays out with the plot. I love the last lines, "Turn rubble into rust."

    It might provide a more immediate read / build interest if you flip the first sentence;

    "I sometimes wake up hearing the screams...(you know the rest)

    My WIP is an infant, I'm just getting started.

    A 12 year old girl is on a plane, leaving Pittsburgh for Singapore because of her father's work. She was a rule follower but....

    I patted my shirt, just under the neckline to make sure it
    was still there. I felt it attached to the chain. It was kind of funny to be reassured by a plain old key that had the number 205 written on a bit of masking tape. And no one knew I had it. That last time at school I told the team that I’d put the newspaper “to bed” and lock up. That night at home, I took out the silver locket that I’d gotten as a birthday present ages ago and replaced it with the key. I like to think that the paper wouldn’t go on without this key, or me.
    I will be leading this exotic life in Singapore and no one
    will be able to open that door. No all nighters eating popcorn and beef jerky while polishing our stories about student council elections and food poisoning in the cafeteria. No more hanging out doing our homework together. No! This would all cease because I had the key around my neck.

  56. Ha! How well I know that! My more current WIP is on round 4 or 5ish of re-writes - in a good way, I promise...

  57. Hi Andrea,
    Way to make me sad with the poor puppy! ;-)

    This definitely feels like middle grade and I love the Mario reference. It's also great that you've created lots of questions--what's wrong with Whisper, why does she have to go...where is she going and will she be back? I especially love the last line about trying on her own--I want to find out what that refers to

    But I'm also wondering about our main character. She's passive in this section and so I don't learn as much about her as I might. Would it make sense for her to be the one to get Whisper? It might be worth considering. And if she is just watching, then why? Dad is taking action and Mom is the one who is crying--I'd love to see you bring the MC more into the action and through that, more of her might be revealed.

    Thanks for sharing the excerpt--and for your comments on mine!! I hope this helps as you continue writing. :-)

  58. Hi Valerie! I love that you found Rivet in an old photo. I've been mining old photos recently too, and have noticed how much can be lifted for a character in just one photo from a certain era. I'm thinking of using them for quick write possibilities in class this year -- tying photos from the history we're learning with our writing. I love using photo prompts, but haven't ever tied them to history before, so I'm excited to try!

    But on to more important things! ;) I enjoy the nostalgic feeling you've set up in your first paragraph. I can feel the warmth and love in the room with Rivet and his mom and dad. There's a coziness and familiarity there that makes me want more of them, the way I sense Rivet misses those moments as well.

    I wonder about the accident that stole Rivet's father away, and how it must feel for him to return to that same shipyard each day. That is a conflict I'd love to hear more about. You've also set up an interesting conflict between Rivet and his stepfather. Not just in the difference of beliefs, but also it makes me wonder how long he's been in the picture and why his mom needs to "keep the peace." Was their marriage forged from love or a need for stability and a man of the house due to the time period? All questions that make me want to read more and learn about Rivet and his family!

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  59. Hi Wendy,

    It's so great to find so many history lovers--thanks for the nice words about my excerpt. it's been fun to combine history in a contemporary novel.

    As I said below, I love historical fiction and this reminds me of one of the novels I read as a child. I loved stories about orphans--don't ask me why.

    What I find most compelling here is Sister Mary Roses's mounting tension. You give me a good hint of that when the Mother is flipping pages too slowly--that makes me tense too--which is great. You've got me empathizing with your character. If you can, add more of that. What physical signs might she have of her impatience? Any nervous tics etc.? It would also reveal more about her character if she spoke up before she runs out--or if the Mother orders her to stay put and she goes anyway. But only if that's within her nature.

    So, I'd say keep going, keep building--and I'd want to keep reading! :-)

  60. Thanks, Kelly! What great things to focus on. I do address why Mam married Rivet's step father (stability, not love, yep), but not the tension that Rivet feels in going to the shopyard after losing his father there. Such a powerful thing to explore.

  61. Such powerful word choice in this piece, Kelly. I agree with Amy's suggestions - almost too much rich language at the end might muddy this stark picture you've painted. I am very excited that you'll use the flipping the map with 4th graders. My favorite age to read with in my library....

  62. Hi Stefanie,
    Writing is such a hard thing--no doubt. It's an easier thing to do once you realize that it's hard for most everyone and revision is just part of the process.

    I don't remember how long I spent on that excerpt, but I can tell you it came in bits and pieces--encouraged by my agent who provided feedback to me in the same way that I'd doing today. She wanted me to explain more about why Emma loves archaeology, and why Pompeii. I had the bit about Pompeii, but the rest came from Emma--from getting to know her and realizing that what she would love most is not just the research and the discovery, but "fixing" and making things right again. That's the fun part of writing--when something occurs to you that you didn't know before.

    So, about your excerpt. I think you've chosen a character with such a compelling (and universal) issue. Wanting to be perfect--and always feeling that she comes up short. I like how you illustrate that through jumping off the gate, because that's something meaningless--and yet it means a lot to her. We get a sense of how hard she is on herself.

    The one struggle I had at the beginning was it felt like the jump was a fun thing. I didn't see any of her angst until she moaned. Is there a way to start more in her mind with her determination to swing and jump just right? For instance, she wouldn't be focused on Dad smiling. She'd be planning her jump--and maybe it goes perfectly until she lands in the poop. Dad laughs--he's not being mean--but it can feel that way to her. It can remind her of kids laughing when she forget her routine at the gymnastics competition. Maybe that's a way to connect this moment with what happened at school, so it feels less like she's just telling us how she feels rather than us seeing it.

    Keep going--it's a brave and wonderful thing you're doing. And I want this girl to work through this problem because it's one I can relate to! :-)

  63. nothing to add but about it's loveliness, Susan. Would LOVE to see you play with this in non-rhyming verse too. SO much to mine here. Terrific!

  64. And as to photo prompts, I often get grabbed by photos in museums. I make notes about them and keep them as story starters...Our middle school humanities teacher printed out all the mug shots from a labor riot in our area and had the kids choose characters to write about, from that person's point of view, when they were studyign local history. Fascinating way to use images as inspiration, I thought! I suggest the NAtional Archives visual collection as a wonderful place to start looking for images...

  65. Amy – Thank you for the wonderful lesson! I did not really
    have a direction in mind for the story until I went through your brilliant steps. I have also decided this would be a great lesson during the “how-to” writing lesson. Students could add in a paragraph regarding what could go wrong.
    . So again, thank you

    DIE for YOU –What works and what hooked me were the story
    connections to the broken pottery. I enjoyed your description of her burning
    desire to fit the pieces together. I am very excited to read more!

    A piece of my writing from today

    He unknowingly mis-measures –

    The time element of the contest is really getting to Uncle Molly really is worried. He seems flustered, he is sweating, like he is in the dessert on a 120 degree day, and worst part is his brain seems to be on a complete computer circuit overload. With a shaky hand, he slowly pours his tester of Belgium triple chocolate batter
    in the waffle iron. I watch from the edge of my seat as he carefully closing the lid. The light turns red, knowing it will take a few minutes to cook he turns his back to reach for his lucky neon orange spatula. Just like a slow motion movie, I watch as the waffle iron begins slowly oozing batter out of the sides. Then, “whoosh”, it begins to explode like Mt. Vesuvius. Lush warm,
    chocolate goo erupts from the sides of the waffle iron.

  66. Or was his heart ripped in half from something earlier and that was magnifying all the sound. A lovely piece that does really reflect Owen's character. Keep on, you!

  67. Tiny thing: This: The noise was an abrasive staccato of metallic sounds.

    You have noise, staccato and sounds, all within the same realm of word. Can you eliminate sounds to this?: The noise was an abrasive staccato of metal. Or It created an abrasive staccato of metal against metal. Or whatever.

  68. Hi Carrie -- What a fabulous juxtaposition you've created here for your character between mornings waking up at home and the morning she wakes up at her great aunt's cottage. I had this sense of something sliding into place for your MC when she woke up feeling taken care of (maybe for the first time?)
    I do agree with Amy that this excerpt may be stronger if reordered. All the pieces are lovely, and rearranging them could bring some clarity to the reader, which I think may give the whole piece a stronger effect. :)
    I am curious about why she is staying with her great aunt, and itching to know more about the relationship between your MC and her mom as well.
    Thanks for sharing!

  69. Hi Jen,

    I'm glad the character mapping helped--and congrats on starting a new piece of work! That's always an exciting and scary time.

    I really like the image of this girl on the plane with the key. I love the bit of detail--205 written on masking tape. Makes it very real! I got a tiny bit confused in the sentence about the locket. It might be enough to say "she told them team she'd put the newspaper to bed and lock up. She didn't tell them she'd take the key." And then move on to the rest of her thoughts. I feel like I understand her character from this--she doesn't want to be left out, she doesn't want the team to go on without her. That's very relatable!

    Nice work--keep on going.

    P.S. -- let me know what you think of HEART! That's wonderful you have a daughter who swam/swims. You must have a world of patience to make it through all those swim meets. :-)

  70. Ooh, great idea! Thanks -- I think I know how I'll be spending a majority of my day now... :)

  71. good stuff, Linda! So glad Amy's mapping exercise has resonated with you. I'm actually going to do it for the two MC's in my ms that already just sold. Never too late to get to better know your characters and sometimes it's fun to do it after the first draft and see how many place you can deepen, etc. :D

  72. Thanks for the great feedback! I can see what you guys mean about having too much in the last paragraph. I do tend to wander off and get lost in pretty words, which is definitely not always a good thing! >_<
    I think cutting the forest sentence really does strengthen the overall image. I appreciate the help!

  73. Amy makes some good points ... darn kids we write for who don't know what an effing polaroid is! But they may. Poll a few.

    As you know, your writing just sucks me in. You are the world's girliest girl and it instantly takes me back to feelings I remember SO well.

    Great stuff! Keep going. LOVE the first two lines.

  74. Hi Sheila,

    I love the idea of having your kids add in a paragraph of what could go wrong. I'll try that next time I teach a workshop!

    Thanks for the comments on DIE FOR YOU--I love that you have a Mount Vesuvius reference in your excerpt to tie in with Pompeii.

    I like the moment in time you're showing us here. The cooking contest, the batter, the neon orange spatula. I'm not sure if Molly is the main character--is she the one watching from the edge of her seat? What's she worried about? Is it medical there a lot riding on this contest? You might want to hint at that here to add tension to the scene. Also, I'd read this passage out loud and you'll find places where more/different punctuation will make it a little clearer.

    Thanks for sharing and I hope you'll keep writing. The world needs more lush warm chocolate goo! :-)

  75. Thanks that is a great idea! I have a hard time picturing characters at times and Google isn't always the best resource. I'll try that.

  76. 4th grade is simply the best (not that I'm biased)! While I sometimes think about moving up to middle school, I just love my 9 and 10 year old writers. We have tons of fun all year long - and they will eat up the character mapping. Right now I'm envisioning putting up old historic portraits and letting them think through what their lives were like through some character mapping. Enriched with a little mentor text reading to set the tone... hmmm. :)

  77. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 17, 2015 at 1:37 PM

    Thank you so much! Yes, I'll add some more details about how she feels. This was a very quick rough chapter that I haven't looked at in weeks!

  78. Thanks for the encouragement and the direction. Very valuable.

  79. Gae, I'm a big fan of companion never know what you might "flip" to in this exercise! A companion novel perhaps? It's very encouraging to see that this is something you pros like as much as us TW campers.

  80. Amy,

    Thank you for the idea of flipping specific traits to provide conflict or tension in the story! What a great twist!

    I loved your paragraph in DIE FOR YOU! It gave me a real sense of how Emma identifies herself as someone who puts broken things back together. A healer. It definetly compels me to want more from her, and to know where the obstacles will challenge her identity.

    Here is a pivotal point in a WIP I am working on. The main character Everett begins to see transition going on with his identity as starting quarterback / coach's son / golden child / popular figure at school:

    Heading back out onto the field, ready to finish out our drills, I could hear some yelps from the sidelines. Something exciting going on out on the field. Maybe some great tackling, or a crisp run from Matt Jones. I knew it probably wasn't anything Phipps was doing as my fill-in. He was a nice kid, but not a threat at quarterback. I had taken over the throne in my sophmore year, and he had been second fiddle ever since.

    "Yeah! That's what I'm talking about! Heckuva pinpoint pass!" Dad was calling out.

    And then I saw it. To my utter dismay, Maddox was in at QB. The new kid, just off the bus, was throwing the ball with tight spirals all over my field. To my receivers. Cheered on by my Dad. Encouraged by my team.

    I wondered if my season was beginning to spiral out of control.

  81. ooooh, ouch. very tender spot for the tough guy....the throne was his. Reminds me of the concept of Quaterback Season by Fred Bowen. Your character's slip is showing here. I like that we readers see....but not the characters in the book. Very nice. That works for me.

  82. Amy - Amazing technique. As a new writer this absolutely opened a door for me. Thank you for that and for your time and effort today. Very generous of you!!

    Your writing - WOW. The first sentence is almost ethereal to me. The taste of ash drew me right in, immediately. And then the delicacy of being someone who could put pieces back together. I can't wait to read more!

    My writing - This character is a Latina middle school student. She is the first of many thins: to reach 8th grade, to read in English, to be born (or so she thought).

    Aurora awoke to hear her mother's weeping. This happened from time to time. Although it worried her, Aurora didn’t say much. Sometimes she might drape a loving arm around her mother’s shoulders. Foreheads touching, they would sit on the edge of the bed. As if together they were cradling, protecting, what was between them. Then her mother would rise, wordless, and go about the day’s business. Aurora would too.

    This morning was different though. This morning her mother began to talk. And when she did an entire history cascaded from seemingly nowhere. A history that began with just Four words, "You're not my first."

  83. Wendy Watts ScalfaroJuly 17, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    I got chills when I read your last line. What a hook!

  84. Pamela TallmadgeJuly 17, 2015 at 3:40 PM

    Thank you for the character mapping. I especially like flipping an attribute. It has opened up many ideas. I hope to post some writing about it later. Die for You-what works: the poetry of the writing combined with the character's knowledge and excitement of combining it with her skill to put broken pottery together. I am compelled to read more and wonder where piecing broken things together and seeing things as a whole will go. What rubble awaits?
    Thank you for such beautiful writing.

  85. Hi Dawn,

    Let me just say "WOW" to you too! :-)

    I love how your excerpt begins. Already, there's a sense of conflict and I'm on Aurora's side. Also, I can sense what kind of person she is because she doesn't roll her eyes or ignore her mom. And I like the feeling I get of a home where they don't talk much but they communicate with love. I really like the line about cradling what's between them.

    I also really like the moment of change "This morning was different though." And I agree with Wendy. Great hook in that last line.

    Now, I'll want to see why this morning is different--why her mom chose today to tell Aurora and of course how does this news knock her out of her normal life.

    Very nice--keep writing!

  86. Thanks so much for your comments! The bits about the pottery came together the same way the character did--piece by piece. It can be a process, that's for sure, so good luck as you work on your own ideas and see what feels inspiring to you.

    I hope you'll share in the future--this is such a great community! :-)

  87. Joy, Amy's feedback esp. in her last paragraph is spot on. Makes a mess and serves them anyway = defining! And, now, Amy is right, push this for us, let us know more - the why of it, if not in this scene, another! Keep going.

  88. Always so happy for your chiming in, Andy! Hope there's an excerpt of yours floating around somewhere here. <3

  89. Wow, Martha, this brief piece really does pack a punch! Agree with Amy that the tiniest bit more detail -- tiny -- would really add a depth to it. Great stuff! Good luck querying! <3

  90. sometimes it means paperback too! O.o

  91. Thank you so much.

  92. Sheila - These lines really stand out to me "he is sweating, like he is in the dessert on a 120 degree day, and worst part is his brain seems to be on a complete computer circuit overload" Wonderful way to draw us in and show us what's happening. And juxtaposed against waffle making. I wouldn't have thought making waffles could be so important. I'm hooked!

  93. Julianne BatelliJuly 17, 2015 at 4:38 PM

    Hi Amy! I love the character mapping! I'm such a visual learner and I feel like my students (who are also visual learners) would really benefit from this technique. It's so difficult to start a character from scratch, and this seems like such a perfect way to visualize it. I have never thought about "flipping" an attribute. What a clever way to help create the problem. I'm definitely bringing this into my classroom!

    Okay, so I'm a brand new writer, this is my first attempt at a WIP (or really any creative writing). It's autobiographical about my backpacking trip through Europe when I was in college. Any suggestions are welcome!
    I should have worn different shoes.

    I glanced over at my pristine purple converses I had kicked off an instant before in disgust. I had eagerly taken off the tags no more than 72 hours previously and did not take a moment’s consideration to think that bringing a brand new pair of kicks to travel across an unknown continent would not be the keenest of plans. I massaged my blistered toes as I considered how to mask my pain for the next day so my traveling party would not see my discomfort.

    I’m in a country I’ve never been to, about to embark on what
    everyone around me keeps calling “a trip of a lifetime,” yet all I really care about is how to avoid others seeing my agony. I really should be focused on something worthwhile, like the gothic architecture of the Notre Dame, or how all the natives seem to live off bread and cheese, but everyone seems so skinny.

    I considered my options. Would the Parisians mark me as an uncivilized American if I just wore my five-dollar flip-flops from Old Navy tomorrow? I packed them as shower shoes for the hostels, but if we walk 12 miles tomorrow like we did today, I might sit down in the middle of the Champs-Élysées and protest another step forward.

    What a great way to start a three-week backpacking adventure in Europe.

  94. Hi, Maureen! Nice to have you on Friday Feedback! Not too bad sharing, eh?

    I love this piece you're working on here and you have some really nice details that, in their observation by your character alone, tell us a lot about her. Like this: She was smiling but the smile didn’t reach all the way to her eyes.

    I love that. It means something to this kid and I'd love to see you push it more. Also watch the amount of times you tell us how she feels vs. just letting her feel it -- the latter can often feel (hah) less immediate: Watch what I mean:

    Here's a part of yours and then I'll revise it without all the feels:

    Although I didn’t feel okay. Did they know that my heart felt like it was going to burst right out of my chest as I entered the room? Like all the air was being sucked out of my lungs? My heart raced a bit just remembering it again.

    You see in my head, I know that ten year olds should be able to stay and have fun at a friend’s birthday party but it isn’t that easy to convince the rest of my body. I wanted to run after my parents but my feet felt like they were glued to the floor with superglue.


    Although I didn’t feel okay. Did they know that my was going to burst right out of my chest as I entered the room? Like all the air was being sucked out of my lungs? My heart raced just remembering it again.

    You see in my head, I know that ten year olds should be able to stay and have fun at a friend’s birthday party but it isn’t that easy to convince the rest of my body. I wanted to run after my parents but my feet were superglued to the floor.

    See how the minor changes make you feel as the reader... since we know her feet aren't really glued we can insinuate it's just a feeling.

    Keep going!!

  95. I love this idea as part of a lesson plan for my high school students. Perhaps taking a main character they've read about and deconstructing the map to find out what that character's flipped attribute is. I'm thinking someone like Holden Caulfield would be great to do this with! Thank you! As for my own WIP, I'm working on a children's picture book series for my writing program and I'm wondering how deep I would need to go with mapping my main character's attributes. He will be a constant throughout the series, and the readers will know a bit about his likes/dislikes/fears (he'll be most afraid of bugs). I'll have to give this a try!

  96. Hey, John,

    I SO love the whole hangman thing and that the grandfather chose words too hard for him and how he felt doomed and the X's... maybe because I played So much hangman as a kid... just love it. Tells a lot about both characters.

    I know this is a first rough draft and am so excited that you're plowing forward!

    I agree with Amy wholeheartedly and had started to do a few lines of super speed edits in my head right where she did -- and you'll just have to get to all that on revision once you finish this draft. But I want to give you a specific place -- same place as Amy -- and a WHY: The "I would often fail" seems somewhat stiff or self-conscious of the character and the line after that about botching is so perfect of the age and you don't need them both! So from :

    he would chose nearly impossible words for me to guess. I would often fail. I would make one botch guess after another.


    he would chose nearly impossible words for me to guess and I would botch one guess after another.


  97. Thank you for the line edits! And yes - his heart was ripped out earlier, and he's blaming himself.

  98. I know I'm late today...that's OK. I just had this sudden (if infrequent) desire to post, and so here is the result of my character web exercise (all in one long sentence): She was a good mother, by many accounts a great mother, someone who loved unconditionally, who learned from her mistakes (though they were few), who understood what it took to provide for her children--warm meals, sturdy shelter, soft, cottony clothing--and did so magnificently (everyone said so) as demonstrated by her kind, brilliant, joyful oldest daughter, one who led a charmed life, who smiled with two perfect dimples, who never left the beach with sunburned shoulders or threw tantrums in public, who did as she was told (90% of the time), who was breastfed an acceptable number of months, who loved sweets but also ate her fair share of cucumbers and baby carrots, who her teachers always described as "bright," a "sweetheart," "such a pleasure to have in class," just like her mother was at that age, and so she knew she had done well as a mother, had passed all of the tests, her devoted husband and the number of "Likes" on her Facebook page confirming this fact daily, until the day she realized, as her youngest daughter stood at the bottom of the stairs weeping the fat, rolling tears that only the heartbroken can weep, screaming that she wished she were dead at the tender age of six, that perhaps she wasn't as good a mother as she thought she was.

  99. Hi Julianne,

    Thanks so much for sharing your excerpt--especially as a new writer--I know how hard that is!

    So, I love the voice of this. The first line draws me in and I immediately feel like I relate to the character, and that you're going to take me on a journey I'll enjoy. The humor is wonderful and just the universal experience of traveling with blisters creates common ground.

    I'd like to know a little more about this character. She doesn't want her travel party to know about the blisters yet she might just sit down and protest another step. Which one would it be? Also, she wonders what the Parisians would think so she obviously cares about what people think of her. So you've given me some hints about her but I think you can do more to bring her fully to life in a consistent way. Also consider creating some stakes -- a reason why she can't just stop. If there are some consequences that will give her more trouble to deal with. Trouble is always good in a story. :-)

    Definitely keep going--it's a great start!

  100. Kelly/Amy, I cut a line from Kelly's excerpt before I read your (amy's) response and here is the line I cut to paste: "He was gone. The boy I raised alone, whose tantrums and triumphs had become the landscape of my life..." Oh that is beautiful. Agree with Amy that when you've written it all and are revising, pull back. Too many metaphors etc. actually take away from your beautiful writing. The forest/quicksand was exactly the place I had stumbled. Also, and this may just be me, but I have a hard time with breath being stuck like an arrow because one is soft and can almost disappear and the other is pointy... I stumbled on it. But the good news is, you have MORE beautiful writing than you need and you sure communicate the pain and poignancy of this moment. So just remember that often less really can be more. Keep going. beautiful stuff, Kelly.

  101. Hi Andrea,
    I've thought about doing the map for characters in books before because I do think it will help illustrate for students. I haven't tried one yet, but Holden Caulfield would be interesting!

    I also write picture books and I think this can be helpful for that. PB characters need to be consistent, too, and I even wonder if you might get ideas for a series from mapping. For instance, take Curious George. If you put "curious" in the center and start brainstorming things he might be curious about...maybe something interesting would turn up. I'm just thinking off the top of my head so I'm not sure, but it's a thought. If your character is afraid of bugs that could be great--and fun to flip.

    Good luck with your series!!

  102. Oh, my. A switchback trail of perfect to the razor tip at the heart. Would love to see where you take this....because that kind of perfect is all that so many see on the outside.

  103. yes! that's what I"m thinking about doing in library with middle schoolers and characters they choose from books they a way to lead them to new books....still a vague thought. But, I think it could work.

  104. Thank you, Linda. It's actually nonfiction written as if it were fiction. I find that I write about this (true) moment's a thread that I discover all over my writing, but one I am usually hesitant to share. I really appreciate how involved you are in TW and the encouragement you give to so many!

  105. I think there should be a collection of short stories titled: I Should Have Worn Different Shoes---and this should be the first story in the collection ;)

  106. Shawna,

    This is so much fun to read. I wasn't sure at first where you were leading me but it swept me along and I wanted to read more. It was such a great surprise at the end to find that the daughter was six. And it makes me smile--this mom is still in the beginning messiness of it all and Oh, I can imagine the challenges coming her way.

    It also tells me a lot about this woman, this mom, so I think as a character exercise, it's excellent.

    Thanks for sharing and keep going with it!

  107. Thank you Amy! Your exercise was fantastic--so helpful and interesting. I can't wait to read A MATTER OF HEART, as that six year-old I wrote about (who is now nine) is a devoted competitive swimmer. :)

  108. oooooh, love the latin. What really works for me Sister Mary Rose's concern and determination. There is such a strong connection to Lily. This works for me.

  109. Thanks Amy!

  110. Amy, what an amazing and revealing organizer. I love it and will be thinking of ways to use it in a primary classroom. Do you do this for both protagonist and antagonist?

    What works for me in your piece? It leave me wanting to know what rubble is in her life. I could connect to her. I love to fix the broken, in lives, not art. I can already get a feel for her compassion and empathy in your short selection. What doesn't work? Never easy to say in such a small excerpt. I am left with questions, but I am sure they will be answered. So, yes I am compelled to read more.

    Here is a little piece written based on the exercise you gave:

    That evening Caitlyn lay in her bed, unable to grasp what she had seen. She had only known life as stable and grounded. Her feet always stood on solid rock and dirt with tall trees surrounding her, guarded and protected. She did not know or understand things of mystery or magic. These shifting sands were pulling her into unknown territory. The misty air unveiling the unexplained. Yet, Caitlyn knew she couldn’t allow this to rest, it would not stay hidden. She needed answers, and if that meant walking into a world she didn’t understand, she would do it...cautiously. A piece of her heart was ready to take flight, curiosity and intrigue were beginning to pump through her veins.

  111. Shawna,
    This was a rollicking blast to read breathlessly, until you took my breath away at the end. I'd love to see where this goes, and really enjoy the authenticity, but my heart is also hurting for the tumult that awaits this mom.

  112. Amy, I appreciated the way you illuminated character discovery not only with the map, but with the idea of flipping a detail. It's so true that the texture of a character often comes from ways they are not what is expected.

    In your piece, I really loved the imagery of rubble and reassembly, and found that to be an interesting new perspective for a teen character, so I was definitely hooked.

    For my own work, I'm using today's exercise to steal some focus back on my novel, which has lost time to writing I'm doing for a client this week. (Just like teaching, freelance writing can be so distracting from our own creative work.) This piece may not go in the novel, but I wrote it to play with my character's natural settings, to see what they might reveal. If parts of it work, I may use it in my second chapter -- I need to start this character in one place before setting him in motion, and this may work. One thing that throws people: the boy's name is Michael, but is nicknamed Mick - it's the same person.

    In late summer in Ridell, at fourteen, Michael Roonan hid beneath the churchyard wall. Vines ranged dry with the heat, rising a thorny cathedral dome over him, fat globes of rosehips bobbing like festive lanterns. High above, gulls rose up from Blackrock, and fell, gliding weightless or dropping like stones. Their cries crept between his ribs as if he too might wail and caw. But Michael Roonan, with his face pressed against his father’s black collie in the shadow of the lichen
    covered wall, was practiced in silence. Smell of her sun warmed coat. Smell of the hose run recently onto the stones, of soil turned and exposed to the day.

    In summer, fresh earth was turned with the even prediction of the
    villagers expected not to make another winter. Gravediggers balanced a spade in the crook of an arm and counted out fingers, naming the coming dead. Sometimes luck prevailed and a hole went through winter unfilled. His father had taken one of those, the year before. Shallow. A horse dealer dug in the six feet below, some fifty years back. His father, a motorcycle racer, might have approved. Mick and the dog, Valvoline, rested near enough to where grass thinly covered his father’s mound to hear advice. There were only the gulls, and the wrens, the sparrows, the creep of beetles through the brush. The headstone was glossy black. Yesterday, widows came in their weekly visit with rattling buckets and brushes to scrub the stones. He’d watched his mother take her turn with the hose. Watched close to see if her lips moved. Watched her hand lift
    and replace the row of discarded motorcycle parts that bodiless fans had deposited in supplication, in apology, an altar of detritus lined in military formation. In the dark, when he could stand unseen, Michael knocked them to the ground.

    Today the widows were gone. The gravediggers – gentlemen enough not to work on the widows’ day – had made a morning of it. One hole, knee deep. The eldest stood at the edge. Pushed fists into his back to crack the dry bones that might rather take a lie down than dig the hole.
    Press deeper into shadows at their approach. Kiss the ruff of
    Valvoline’s neck in praise that she knew not to growl and give them away. The grave diggers had names. His father might have known them – from the pub, if not from burial experience – but these were the gaps in what Mick knew or understood, gone mute, sleeping rough, no parents to guide him.

  113. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 17, 2015 at 7:57 PM

    Already hooked with "I should have worn different shoes." Simple, yet interesting. I want to know why.

  114. Susan MacKay-LogueJuly 17, 2015 at 8:05 PM

    I have no idea what i'm doing, Gae. I feel like there is something in all of this, because the exercises keep coming back to these same topics. I feel like I am coming at all of this from a bunch of different angles, but I also feel like they will work themselves out. At this point, I AM playing and I can only hope that my words connect on some level with folks who feel the same. I'll keep at it.

  115. Andrew StarowiczJuly 17, 2015 at 8:05 PM

    OMG! I posted 12 hours ago, but I forgot to leave an excerpt. Gae, I swear that I am not as flighty as my actions indicate. It has just been very busy around our household. Here goes (the main character is beginning to change):

    They talk on and on about how many books their mom will let them check out today. I didn’t know that they read books. Jack has a favorite author? Justin is checking out three books to read in the next two weeks? I am so tempted to jump out and start picking
    on them about reading, but I am beginning to think that reading is pretty cool.

    “Hey, Sammy.” My heart starts beating a
    million beats a second. What is Kim doing here?

    “Shh… Get down!” I whisper and pull her
    behind the cubbies.

    “What is wrong with you?” She whispers

    “The guys from the soccer team are here,
    and I can’t let them see me.”


    “Because they would never let me live it
    down. Soccer stars don’t hang out in

    “And here I thought that
    you were growing up. Ugh!”

    Thanks for letting me share. So sorry about the delay.

  116. Dayum! I'm hooked!

    I loved the tenderness between daughter and mother, and then the shocking twist that thi revelation brings!

  117. Julianne, this is great. I agree with Susan: I was hooked at the simplicity of "I should have worn different shoes."

    Not only is this a great voice, drawing me in, but it is the kind of essay that travel sites like Lonely Planet feature. Keep writing!

  118. I agree with Linda on her encouragement, and with Greg on praising Linda's encouragement - absolutely, on both counts. Greg, this character's voice is really believable. You use some sports lingo, which anchors it on the field, but his dilemma is equally relatable for readers who don't play. What you deliver clearly: that moment of not yet seeing the risk, still reading his own confidence until (ouch) his own father cheers. Well delivered. I'm glad to get to read more of this.

  119. Linda, I really appreciated reading this - I seem to connect with you most in Facebook and comments, so it was great to spot one of your shares, here. The sensory details and tension worked well for me, and I like how the story occurs in verse. It's impressive how much story texture - including past detail - you can get into individual lines. Look forward to reading more.

  120. Hi Elissa,

    Just checked back in one last time and saw your excerpt. I really enjoyed reading it. The writing is really beautiful--evocative imagery and a unique setting. I have no idea where Ridell is but this makes me think of Ireland for whatever reason. Maybe it's the name Michael/Mick. :-)

    Anyway, I especially like the first paragraph for setting the scene. Though I find the info about the gravediggers really interesting, it does seem like you'd want to hold that for another spot. If you start with him in the graveyard, it's great that we see he's hiding there and then if you let us know he's mute, sleeping rough, it sets up questions of why, and from there you can lead us in to what it is that Mick needs or what he's hiding from...and into the story problem.

    Nice work--and I know what you mean! It's hard to write on the side when you've spent the day writing for a job. I had that problem when I wrote advertising copy. Good luck with this!

  121. Jen, I love this, too. The voice/character are immediately clear to me. Even if I don't know where the tension is going to lead yet, you have revealed so much about her love and loss in those few details. I love the contrast between, "I've been hijacked by" and "I'm in love with."

    Technology and its darn advances... I have to chime in with Gae and Amy: I immediately reacted to the Polaroid, that a current youth might know what a Polaroid is, but not in a way that would make this a natural reference. I used Polaroid as a metaphor in a story and had the same feedback from readers! They seriously have to bring those cameras back for the sake of writing, because that slow-dissolve is the perfect metaphor. :)
    Thanks for sharing - I'd want to read more.

  122. Morning Greg,
    Great plot line...the new kid taking over your spot in high school. I connected automatically. I was the only Stefanie forever in my town & in Grade 11 a new girl moved in & I swore, every time I heard someone say my name, they were talking to her. Hearing his dad cheering the new guy on is powerful too.

    I liked the phrase spiral out of control. Very appropriate football imagery.


  123. Thank you, Amy,

    I wrote a very awful rough draft two years ago & I'm seeing how I like to "tell" with my writing. I've been studying various books...thanks to a great 59 Reasons To Write lesson (p. 28) and now I'm truly seeing how authors embed facts into actions. Although I have always read voraciously, I've never been a very critical reader. This was a revision to show her nature that I worked on today....with your help to see the flipping of character traits.

    Thank you for helping me see what else needs to be done. I'm going to be happily revising away this morning.


  124. Wow, Amy makes great suggestions! (Why I keep having her back here! ;) )

    LAW: What I love: the authenticity of your writing. Feels so spot on.

    A: Alter (is that what Will's A stood for?) I think Amy makes good suggestion about pushing the scene if you choose to!

    W: Wonder. I was craving to know how Rivet feels about getting that job in the Shipyard when we just learned that his Pa died in a terrible accident there. Was he fearful of it in addition to grateful?!

    Great stuff! keep going!

  125. Carrie,

    Wonderful evocative excerpt – and, yes, agree with what Amy said!

    So much lovely writing in here that I feel it is worthy
    (yes, that’s how I hope we all view it *coughs*) of a super speed flash edit. But it's true: I crave to do them when some minor writing quirks are slowing down or distracting from otherwise beautiful writing! Bearing in mind that I know – I promise I know – that many of these excerpts are super rough and unedited. Still a perfect opportunity to show how
    the removal of unnecessary, passive vs. active eg. “Was ____ ing” instead of just the simple past tense, and the repetition of certain words or phrases can
    really help the piece pop and shine.

    For purposes of this superspeed edit, I’m not going to monkey with your order as suggested by others and just take as is:

    She found herself in bed in this strange cottage, thinking back to all those nights putting herself to sleep when most kids her age were being tucked in
    with a bedtime story. Night after night, after an unsatisfying dinner of cold mac and cheese and an apple, (she had to feed herself, but she wasn’t allowed to use the microwave without her mom’s supervision) she’d lie in bed, her quilt resting on her feet, reading tattered copies of Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia. She had struggled with the words, but willed herself to keep going so she could find out what happened next. Then, when she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer, she’d fade into sleep and join the characters on their adventures. In her dreams, she was always Lucy or Hermione, always the hero, always happy until she woke up the next morning with her book next to her and the quilt still at her feet.

    A sound in the hall brought her back to reality. She grabbed the quilt from the chair, placed it at her feet, and began reading.

    Light shone through the windows blinding her momentarily. As her sight adjusted, she took in her
    surroundings, slowly remembering that she wasn’t at home, but in the cottage of her great aunt. As she rolled over to bury her head under her pillow, she felt
    more comfy than she could ever remember feeling. It took her a moment to realize that while she had slept, the quilt had been pulled up over her body and her book had been placed on the bedside table.

  126. Margaret Boling MullinJuly 18, 2015 at 7:54 AM

    Amy, Thank you so much for the excerpt from DIE FOR YOU. Because I feel that metaphorical writing is a stretch for me, I particularly admire it in others' writing. I can really see Emma as a caretaker, even without the web you'd already shared. I can also see where this could be a challenge for her - when to step back and take care of herself.

    However, people, especially women/girls, can fulfill that caretaker role in many contexts. Placing her in the ruins of Pompeii and perhaps working an active archaeological dig is fascinating. I spent the day yesterday in Maya ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula and my husband has books filled with volcanic ash. Your excerpt has me itching to read Emma's story. You are such a tease. :)

    As for my own writing, I finished the first draft of an early chapter book - the plot is in decent shape. The major area of work is creating distinct voices for the four characters. Your character web with the flip and an idea from the first week of #teacherswrite will help me significantly. I won't post today, but maybe next week. Thank you everyone.

  127. OMG!!!!!!!! HOW COULD YOU!?!?!?!?! WHISPER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Also, I actually think the writing in this section is so perfectly succinct, evocative and without a spare unneeded word. Like Amy, I adore the Super Mario reference -- way to find that reference that your audience will know! Terrific!

    As for Amy's suggestion/thoughts, if you want a place to do a really minimal addition, it might be here:

    I stroke her head gently.

    For example, does she, "...stroke her head gently and say the prayer mom once taught me..." or "... stroke her head gently and fight not to cry..." ? Something really minor might tell you a bit more about her, on the other hand I felt it even from the last line you share in this excerpt!

    Keep going!

  128. I've got nothing more to add except that it is beautiful and now I am worried for them both! Love the drama of the line, "she plunges into the night." Keep going .

  129. Let me just say this, Stefanie, you are certainly getting the showing over telling part right! Great work! And I love your excerpt. Keep going!

  130. I love the excerpt, the key, the fact that no one knows she has it, AND Amy's edit! It actually adds punch to it having that sentence "She didn't tell them she'd the key" like that.

    Keep going!

  131. Echoing Amy here...

    good stuff that will shine even more with some fine tuning.

    keep going!

  132. Thank you Amy, Linda, Greg, and Susan for all your kind thoughts and suggestions! I definitely hope to continue this story, and I will take your suggestions into my writing process as I move forward!

  133. Greg, I love this excerpt, especially because I feel like I am really seeing (reading!) you settle into the authentic voice of this story. If I remember correctly -- and I may not -- last year you were just trying to find it and had not quite settled in on the authentic male teen athlete voice yet? Love it especially in the "... he was a nice kid..." but not threat line (and wonder at the "to my utter dismay..." feeling.

    When you're ready to revise, one place that will even make your writing shine more is the switch from some passive ("could hear some yelps from the sidelines" to "heard yelps from the sidelines" or maybe even something more active like "yelps rang from the sidelines"

    Such good stuff. Brings me back to the exact moment a new center fielder came in and instantly stole the spotlight from my poor sweet younger son. BRUTAL.

    Keep going. Lots for YA's to take from a story like this!

  134. I can't wait to hear that too -- what is the impetus that that makes her mother speak this morning. Very compelling! Keep going!

  135. Lots of great feedback from others up there -- I agree with that first opening line too!

    Offering some guidance on a more specific particular level, especially when writing in first person (which I do a lot!) watch starting each sentence with "I had, I did, etc. and maybe condense some simple things like using contractions to not trip up the reader with so many small words in long sentences. So maybe this:

    I glanced over at my pristine purple converses I had kicked off an instant before in disgust. I had eagerly taken off the tags no more than 72 hours previously and did not take a moment’s consideration to think that bringing a brand new pair of kicks to travel across an unknown continent would not be the keenest of plans.

    to this?:

    I glanced over at my pristine purple Converses I'd kicked off an instant before in disgust. Having eagerly yanked off the tags no more than 72 hours earlier, I'd never considered that bringing a brand new pair of kicks to travel across an unknown continent would not be the keenest of plans.

    Just a few less words and condensed words can really liven the pace.

    What say you?

    Keep going!

  136. Wow I love that lesson plan idea, Andrea! Come back in the fall and tell us how it works!!!

  137. What Greg said! And this. How I love this:

    weeping the fat, rolling tears that only the heartbroken can weep,

    Glad you posted! Keep writing!

  138. Noting all the swimmers here or parents with kid swimmers! Do help Amy spread the word of her beautiful book! So perfect for them!

  139. Terry, I think maybe your excerpt came in late and got sandwiched between other and Amy didn't see it... at any rate, glad her exercise world for you and I love the piece that has come out of it. Especially love the juxtaposition of solid and ethereal here: "Her feet always stood on solid rock and dirt with tall trees surrounding her, guarded and protected. She did not know or understand things of mystery or magic."

    Good work started here! Keep going!

  140. Beautiful writing as always. Just will sit here and admire this: Vines ranged dry with the heat, rising a thorny cathedral dome over him, fat globes of rosehips bobbing like festive lanterns.


  141. Andy, you are doing great things here with dialogue!

    Great little exercise. Hope they learn how cool books are as the story goes on! <3

  142. So excited for you that you finished the first draft! Yay for you!!!!!

  143. Just the fact that you remember what I shared last year speaks volumes about you! You made my day with your kindness! Teary-eyed in Chicago.

  144. Oh stop being such a wuss and mail me some cake! :D

  145. And so they are! Even in the rhyme scheme which can really limit, this felt so connective and compelling which is why I crave you to be even freer... interesting that it keeps calling you back. That tells you a lot, eh?

    Keep going, Susan!

  146. Thanks, Amy - it's good to know that this was getting across some key themes and setting (yes, it's Ireland!). I don't disagree with you about the gravediggers - it fits a key theme, but they feel old fashioned to me, had me wondering if I were imitating a style, or something. If I use it, there's tweaking to be done!
    I really appreciate all your feedback this week - here, and on everyone else's. I look forward to reading your work!

  147. Thanks, Gae. It's one of the stages of revision that I am going through - making the most of settings - so I feel like I am writing "samplers" that may or may not get used. :) Thanks for the chance to share here, to see what is working. And huge congrats to you on the new contract this week - so glad to know that we'll soon(ish) be reading more of your work!

  148. Thank you both! I will definitely keep writing. So appreciate your responses. :)

  149. Thank you Greg. That's quite a compliment coming from you. Encouragement seems to be the manna for this weekend - it tastes so good! Much appreciation for your kind feedback.

  150. Thank you for the tip Amy! I hadn't yet thought of why the mom chose today. You've got me thinking!

  151. Thank you Gae. I LOVE FF and TW. I've never done it before and it is sparking so many positive things for me!

  152. Wendy - I very much appreciate your feedback. I've never once expected to hear something positive about my fiction writing. I savor each time someone responds!

  153. Congrats on finishing your first draft! That's a big accomplishment!

  154. I really liked this piece. It intrigued me!

  155. Thank you, Martha.

  156. Thanks, Gae. What a great suggestion!

  157. Thank you, Amy. You've hit upon something I need to work at -- making sure my main character is active and not just observing. I appreciate your thoughts.

  158. Thank you so much for the incredibly helpful feedback and flash edit! I can't wait to get back to work!!!

  159. Thanks so much for the helpful feedback!

  160. I really appreciate the feedback. I was definitely struggling with that confusion while writing. I can't wait to get back to work!