Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Enjoy noting down a generous portion of family conflict for future writing projects, followed by a dollop of delicious potential dialog from the dinner table.  Enjoy the effects of tryptophan and have a relaxing, yet productive story-fodder gathering, day.

See you next week with another view from the 5th grade trenches.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Designing a Character: Light/Direction

Reveal your characters with light.  Illuminating people differently will project their qualities.  In particular, changing the direction from where a light originates can model a figure in a variety of ways, each creating a unique specific effect.

FRONT LIGHT: Car headlights.  No secrets.  Let it all hang out.  Projects a huge shadow behind.  Character revealed.

BACK LIGHT(Directly or offset to one side)/DOWNLIGHT: Sunlight/Moonlight/Streetlight.  Separates the character from their surroundings.  Allows them to pop out and be distinct.  No one melts into the scenery.

UPLIGHT: Unnatural direction.  Burning sewer grate.  Candle under the chin.  Creepy.  Monstrous.  Beware the up-lit character.  

SIDELIGHT: Room lamps.  Sunrise/Sunset.  Adds dimension.  Fills out the form of your character.  Depth, complexity.  Brings out the folds in their clothing.

What type of light is catching your characters?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Designing a Character: Color/Schemes

Individual colors each have their own subjective emotional impact, but start putting them together and you can create dramatic, sympathetic, or powerful structures.  Assign your characters colors and then play with combining them into scenes to create discord, harmony, mystery, or chaos.   

Monochromatic – This is when you take a single color and add either black or white to it.  Think of it as the shadings of your character.  Your protagonist might start out their journey as a primary blue until the obstacles they face darken them into a more mysterious midnight shade.  On the other hand, a character may lose burdens and lighten into a powder or sky blue, moving closer to the white end of the spectrum.

Triads – Play colors like chords on the piano, three notes of different hues.  The color triad of red, yellow, and orange stimulates appetite.  Think about the color scheme of many fast food restaurants.  These three colors are also high value, suggesting energy and vitality.  I imagine three teen friends on an adventure when I think of this triad. (Probably all boys, stopping to eat often at fast food restaurants)

The triad black, white, and red radiates power, and may suggest villainy.  Picture the flag of Hitler’s Third Reich.  

Complimentary – Colors in opposite positions on the color wheel work against each other in dynamic harmony, red/green, orange/ blue, yellow/purple.  Complimentary schemes may signal conflict between characters.  Picture a romantic entanglement where opposites attract and join for an exciting relationship.

Analogous – Any neighboring colors on the color wheel – ex: purple/magenta/red or blue/turquoise/green.  You feel them fading in to one another and getting along.  An analogous scheme may signify the calm family life of a character before their quest/problem throws their life into turmoil.  At journey’s end analogous colors reflect the happy well-balanced land to which a hero returns in triumph after slaying literal or figurative dragons. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

View From the 5th Grade Trenches - November 2010

One of the hats I wear is that of fifth grade teacher.  Yes, I am deep in the middle grade trenches, and there isn’t a better place to be.

In August at the SCBWI, Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, summer conference, I had the delight of breaking bread (well actually folding fajitas) with the inspiring author, M.T. Anderson.  I asked which of his books would be a good choice to read aloud to my fifth grade class, winning me the title of “Cool Teacher.”  He suggested the middle grade science fiction adventure, WHALES ON STILTS, from his PALS IN PERIL series, and boy oh boy, was he right.

The class and I LOVED it.  We laughed at his clever voice, bigger than life situations, and delicious craziness.  Best of all, it fired the kids up to read more of his awesome works.  It is a privilege to fill my class library with the works of M.T. Anderson. 

Here are some of the comments from the trenches:  (SPOILER ALERTS)
·      My favorite part was when Larry wrote on a piece of paper, “My mom is a fish.” ASHLEY
·      I was very interested in three amazingly intelligent kids.  KAITLYN
·      Jasper Dash made me laugh, he never made fun of anyone, and his bubble suit was hilarious.  HAZEL, FERNANDA, CALEB, ARYANNA
·      Half whale/half person, what gets more gross than that?  KYLE
·      It kept me hanging in suspense. CARLOS
·      I hope a whale with laser beam eyes never goes after my gramma. MYSTERY STUDENT

Thank you M.T. Anderson for making me a “Cool Teacher.”