Great Authors ~ Born or Built?

Is It Writers Block When You Can’t Get Started Writing in the First Place?

Getting middle school students to write is a challenge, because frankly, most of tsuper hero ideahem just don’t want to. And it doesn’t matter what the assignment is. I can say, write me a story, about anything you want (school appropriate) and they would still groan, and moan, and waste as much class time as they could get away with. I’ve been fighting this battle for thirteen years so far. Different grade levels, different classes, different schools, same reaction. Every time.

At the beginning of the school year I have them write a narrative to get back into the swing of writing, and to practice creating a plot with dialogue. This sounds somewhat easy, but believe me when I say I could spends months on just this one writing assignment. So many of the students lack the ability or willingness to actually use their imagination to create a  true narrative.

I would say approximately 75% of my students turn in an essay type paper using the transition words first, next, then, and finally, essentially creating an informative text about some random event that happened in their lives. It’s disappointing.

I teach English to non-English speaking students. I consider myself lucky in that I usually get to have my students two years in a row, unless they test out of the EL program, so I really get the opportunity to learn their strengths and weaknesses.

One of my male students, now an 8th grader, struggles in all of his classes. He didn’t qualify for SpEd. services, but he does process information very slowly. He takes longer to read, to write, even to speak. He’s super sweet, and not a classroom distraction at all.

I try to provide him with as much support as I can in my class, as well as with IA’s in his content area classes. He’s a high level EL student, meaning his English is very close to that of a native English speaker, so language is not his primary struggle.

I was worried about his progress on the narrative story assignment. He seemed to spend much of the class time dedicated to writing daydreaming, but every time I asked how he was doing, he would answer, “Fine.” Just that one word ~ fine.

The day came to collect their finished products, and I settled in that night at home with my cup of coffee and red pen to to see how well this latest class of students could tell me a story.

There were a few decent narratives among the many informative texts, then there was my struggling student’s papers. I was shocked. Honestly, I grabbed my laptop and plugged in a few of his sentences just to see if I could find a match. There was nothing. Zip.

My little struggler had written me a two and a half page story about a young boy who discovers his friends are all super heroes. His exposition included how his friends approached him with their identities because they felt he could become one of them as well, and they needed his help.

His detail was incredible. I could see each of his characters develop though-out his mini-plot. I could visualize his settings, the costumes, the weapons, and the epic battle at the climax. His protagonist was a well developed round and dynamic character. It was a pure joy to read!

He had made his customary grammar mistakes, and the majority was written in simple sentence structures, leaving me no further doubts that this was his work, but his plot was complete, and he even included internal as well as external conflicts!

This student is going to struggle for the rest of his life. I have my fingers crossed that he will be able to graduate high-school. I fear that he will never fully understand the talent that I truly believes he has, therefore, he will never make it a priority in his life.

I didn’t make one red mark on his story. With his permission, I displayed it on my bulletin board. I look at that story every time I have to meet with him and his teachers over his failing grades. I agonize over his struggles, and I agonize over his natural talent that may never be allowed or encouraged to grow.

What do you think? Are great authors simply born with the ability to weave a fascinating story that captures readers effortlessly? Or do writers become great authors through courses, and classes, and failures, successes, great agents, and editors, and publishers?

Un~original Originals

Imitation. The Sincerest Form of Flattery? Or Lack of Imagination?

Books with various subjects on wooden shelves

It’s third trimester and I have my students working on an informative essay. This is not new to them. We’ve done them before, and my 8th graders, who had me last year, did several essays for me as well.

7th grade is writing about their favorite animal, and 8th grade is focusing on their dream destination. Easy topics? I thought so! I even helped them narrow the topics down to manageable main ideas with step-by-step directions, including an example essay I am writing right along with them.

My essay is about adding insects to our lunch menu. No, they’re not on board with the idea yet, but I am having fun watching them squirm! My “hook,” my first sentence is, “Would you like a side of fried worms with that?” They loved it! BUT – I did show them three other topic or focus sentences I could have used. One was another question, one was a statement, and one was an imperative.

We talked about why one might be better than the others, and they all agreed on my choice. Great! Right on track.

So, we reviewed what I expect in an introductory paragraph and I showed them how I searched for information to support my main idea. I also had them help me create a thesis statement for my essay. We ended up with, “Adding insects to the menu is a realistic idea that could feed many and save money.” So far so good!
Then.
Then NINETEEN students took turns showing me their first sentence for approval and I got NINETEEN questions similar to this –

“Would you like a tiger for a pet?”
“Would you like to have a shark?”
“Would you like to go to China?”
“Would you like to live in a volcano?”

Do you see where I am going with this? DOUBLE UG! This is how every single one of their papers started out! I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Or stare at all of them blankly.
I explained to them that I wanted to “see them” on their paper. Not me. I got the trademark middle school blank stare. I went back to my examples of other topic sentences I could have used. Blank stares.

So I made it easy on them, I simply said no one could use “Would you like…” to start their essay.
Yep. Easy. We needed a whole other class period for them to come up with another topic sentence. It was brutal.

So this got me to thinking about writing in general. We have genres because we have similar plots that introduce similar subject matter that provides us with enough similar characteristics to be categorized; fantasy, science fiction, drama, comedy, horror, mystery, and any combination thereof.

So it’s to be expected that multiple authors could use similar plots to develop their unique twist on an old story. Kinda like the recent onslaught of 80’s movies remakes. Well-made remakes can bring back in the original 80’s fans, along with the current generation. Win win. But when does a story-line get old? When does it get too repetitive and sound too much like the next one on the shelf?

My current “active” story has a familiar plot but hopefully enough of my personal spin on it to make it a worthwhile read. Hopefully. If I finish it.

So Dear Readers, if you will, take a look at my unoriginal original and let me know what YOU think.

Supernatural Romance

Werewolves, Vampires, & Warlocks! Oh My!

Here’s just a few of my favorite supernatural romance writers w/ their main characters. They are written in alphabetical order, not from favorite to least!

Iiona Andrews w/Kate Daniels
Kelley Armstrong w/Women of the Other World
Kerri Arthur w/Riley Jenson & Nikki & Michael
Jenna Black w/Morgan Kingsley
Patricia Briggs w/Mercy Thompson
Mary Janice Davidson w/Queen Betsy
Charlaine Harris w/Sookie Stackhouse
Kim Harrison w/Rachel Morgan
Tanya Huff w/Vicky Nelson

Who do you love? What characters could you see actually hanging with in “real” life? Which supernatural hunk sets your heart a-flutter?

Supernatural word cloud

Why I Love Fiction

Feed Me Fiction!

Life is brutal. Life is a lesson with little to no instruction. It’s a game without any practices. It’s an endless span of emotions. You’re happy, or sad, or bored, or excited, or angry, or ? You’re always feeling something; exhaustion, hurried, over-whelmed, under-whelmed, complacent, and the list goes on and on. The average person gets some degree of education, gets a job, a family, a mortgage, and occasionally a decent vacation. Sound familiar?

For me, fiction is a mini vacation every time I can pick up a book. And for me, a true vacation isn’t a stay-cation, it’s a complete break from my reality. So when I pick up a book, I want to be transported away from mortgages, and car payments, friend drama, and family obligations. I want a world completely different from the one I created for myself.

And that leads me to fantasy & science fiction. I choose books for entertainment, so I am completely O.K. with vampires, werewolves, witches, and magic. I have gotten totally addicted to some fun supernatural romance series, and I could totally see myself falling for one of their super sexy supernatural beings! For me, a vampire or werewolf would be a vast improvement over the mortal men I’ve been involved with. Sad, but true!

So when people roll their eyes when they get a glimpse of my current book cover or title, I just shrug, and kinda feel sorry them. Reading a good fantasy is like being a kid again. It’s a chance to suspend my beliefs, let my imagination run wild, and willingly accept the story the author is sharing with me. Much like believing in Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy. Fiction can be another chance to get lost in the magic again and again. A literary breath of fresh air in a sometimes very stale world.

How about you? What kind of fiction do you like? Share with me your favorite characters and authors. I’m ready to travel more worlds!

He Wasn’t Ready to Go

Old Dogs, When to Say Good-bye

One of my old dogs (15 yr. old border collie) has been suffering from OneHappyBoychronic diarrhea for the past six months. I know, TMI, but stick with me here. After a lot of tests and a lot of money, our vet determined my good dog Rebel has cancer. Not only that he also has a grade 6 heart murmur and end stage congenital heart failure. I was/am devastated.

Watching him lie on the floor of the vet clinic, detached from the situation, the brutal reality that I had not really “seen” him horrified me.

I knew, on some level, that he was old. I knew he had lost a little weight and slept a whole lot more, but I hadn’t really realized that the hairy hyper-active go-getter canine was now essentially a tired, brittle, little “old man”. I kept asking myself, “When did this happen? How did I miss it?”

Yes, I got up every morning and let him out with the other dogs, fixed his breakfast, patted his head, gave him a treat and left him safe in my bedroom while I went to work. I got home, let him out, fed him dinner, patted his head, went to sleep knowing he was sleeping at the foot of my bed, like he had done practically every night for almost 15 years.

But I hadn’t REALLY seen him. My crazy, hyper, curious, healthy, young dog was gone, and in his place was a tired, frail, and very ill old dog. My heart broke. When did this happen?

He gets up slower. He falls down easily. He doesn’t hear me call his name (BUT, he can hear a treat bag being opened two rooms away!) He no longer tolerates the younger dogs pestering him, and he has accidents at night, something he hasn’t done since a very young puppy.

Sitting in the clean but sterile room, watching him lie on the floor and stare at the door, I could truly see just how tired he really was. Images of our last walk popped into my head showing me a dog following behind, not trying to tear my arm off pulling ahead. Last Jeep ride, he had been sitting through most of it. Last game of ball, he had tired out so much quicker…

In my shock, I made an appointment to have him put down. I didn’t want him in pain. I didn’t want him miserable because he no longer enjoys life. I completely agree with vets and other people who’ve had to make this difficult decision that a week too early is better than a day too late.

I let everyone know my plans so they could see him and say good-bye. I took a day off work to spoil him one last time. And I cried a lot. And I wondered if he had had a good life. Had I treated him good? And I agonized how I didn’t really notice my good boy getting so old.

On what was to be his last day, I got up early to let him out and feed breakfast as normal. I was going to give him stuff like bacon and eggs, but our appointment wasn’t until the afternoon and I didn’t want him to spend his last day sick to his tummy, so he got treats, a lot of treats.

After breakfast we went to a pet store (I had to lift him into the Jeep he used to sail into with ease), he stood shakily in the back seat and I had to drive slowly and carefully not to knock him down. He showed some interest as we walked into the store, and I got him a sweater and let him pick out a chew toy. By then, he was ready to go. I lifted him back into the Jeep and this time he simply lay down in the back seat. Oh how I missed the crazy dog who could bounce back and forth across the seat for FIVE HOURS STRAIGHT when we drove to see my parents in another state…

I took him to my parents (who now live five minutes away), and he immediately trotted to their front door, tail waving merrily, greeted both of them, ate their little dog’s food, and once more indicated he was ready to go.

I took him out to the barn to see the horses (he had always been enamored of them and had spent many a weekend on camping trips where he lead the way for myself and other trail riders). He didn’t show all that much enthusiasm, sniffed around a bit, then stood staring at the Jeep, so I really thought he was ready to go. I cried the five minutes home…

There was one more “test” I felt I needed to do to make sure he was ready to go, and I had been putting it off since his terminal diagnosis. His ball. My good boy could have used a 12-step program over the past few years when it came to his tennis balls! But I was afraid. Afraid he wouldn’t have that light in his eyes when I took his ball out of hiding, and afraid that he would.

I sat at the front of my short hall and pulled the ball out from behind my back. His whole world lit up! He instantly gave me his classic border collie stance and stare and trembled in excitement. My heart leapt, and crashed… I rolled the ball down the hall and he trotted gamely after it, laying it right in front of me with a huge canine smile on his face. Again and again. Did he stumble? Yes. He even fell down once when turning too quickly. But he didn’t stop until I made that bright yellow ball disappear.

He wasn’t ready to go yet.
And I wasn’t ready to let him go.

Dear Reader,

He is still with me today; two weeks later. I know he’s on borrowed time – and I watch him closely for any signs of discomfort. I have turned him into an accomplished begger with treats at the ready whenever he goes outside, comes inside, I’m in the kitchen, he’s in the kitchen, or he just looks cute! I make sure I really “see” him every day. When he is ready, I will hold him in my arms and let him go.

He taught me a lesson that day that applies to both my life and my writing, and I will share it with you soon!

A’s Question of the Day –
Animal Stories. Best told from the animal’s point of view? The owner’s? Like them both? Hate them both? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this genre.

Prologues

Prologues – Like ‘em or Leave ‘em?

The definition of a prologue is a separate introductory section of a literary or musical work.

For Beth’s story Fury I initially started with a prologue, but after I finished my exposition, I really didn’t think the prologue was useful as a prologue anymore. So with some editing, I think I successfully integrated it into the body of my story and it felt right.

So that got me thinking, are prologues in literature necessary? Do they truly serve an important function for the whole story?

The definition of an exposition is that it is a literary device used to introduce background information about events, settings, characters, etc. to the audience or readers. If a good exposition gets the reader up to speed on the story, why use a prologue?

Now, full disclosure, my current “active” story has a prologue. I think it is serving some purpose that benefits the over-all story, but more so, I think it acts as a hook. It “jump starts” my story. It also foreshadows some critical future events. It’s a few pages long, told by a minor character who makes a very brief appearance later in the plot that ties everything together.

I think it works, but I had a friend of mine read what I had written so far (approximately 40,000 words) and she was confused by the prologue. I had to explain it to her. Is she the exception, or the rule?

So Dear Readers, what’s your thoughts on prologues? Like them? Hate them? Or does it depend?

Which Came First, the Character or the Plot?

Troll and the traditional work of the Norwegian mastersI am a fairly longstanding member of the I Remember Club. You know that club where people are always saying things like, I remember when we only had THREE T.V. channels to choose from and you actually had to get up to change the channel. Continue reading “Which Came First, the Character or the Plot?”