Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holiday Spying

Tis the season when we get together with many of those we usually don’t spend time with, be they relatives, old neighbors, or far away friends.  Tis also the season to quietly note their quirks, faux paus, and missteps as tidbits to use in future writing.  Whip that notepad out before you forget the cousin who has the same name as the dog, or the gigantic mole on the side of “you know who’s” nose that you tried not to look at during dinner.

Here are the top ten notables of my holiday season:

#10: Format error
Blu-ray for regular DVD player – now mom will NEVER see the genius of Will Ferrell in ELF
 #9: Muttonchops
Please tell me they’re not back in style except for reincarnated civil war presidents
#8: Loss of personal space
No there is not enough room for you to join us on the couch
#7: Using salt instead of sugar in the Christmas cookies
Maybe to bake a fine salt lick for the neighborhood deer
#6: Ear picking with gusto
Enough said
#5: Leaving leftovers on the counter for 3 hours and declaring you can still eat them without dying of botulism
Just say no, or discreetly spit out the unfortunate bite when no one is looking
#4: Playing a version of Christmas carols that sound like a funeral requiem
You can feel religious guilt seeping from the speakers.  Is there an ABBA Christmas album?
#3: Spilling the Santa beans to someone else’s child because your kids have figured it out and you stopped being careful
Quick, break out the Santa GPS tracking on line and lie your head off
#2: How many husbands did you say you’ve had?
Turn your filters ON before holiday get togethers

And the #1 highlight of my Holiday 2010:
The singing, twitching, light-up elf hat
Especially inappropriate when placed in lap instead of on top of head

Love to hear some of yours.  I promise not to steal.  Cowabunga 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

View From the 5th Grade Trenches - Special Holiday Edition 2010

The perfect story to teach kids not to judge a book by its cover is Barbara Robinson’s novel, THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER.  From her first words, “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” to the heart-warming ending, our class was riveted to the delicious chaos of this story.

As a tribute to the book that brought my class crashing into the holiday spirit, the best kids in the history of the world have created this acrostic poem to remember the Herdman children.

H – Hilarious pranksters
E – Ears that grow pussy willow plants
R – Rambunctious kids
D – Dumb as a sock full of rocks
M – Mary and Joseph in the Christmas pageant
A – Always in trouble
N – Naughty, no manners at all
S – Smoke cigars

Alex, Aryanna, AshleyD., AshleyS., Ava, Cade, Caleb, Cameron, Cammie, Carlos, Fernanda, Gage, Hazel, Hunter, Ilker, Jerry, Kait, Kathleen, Kayla, Kyle, Lexie, Lisa, Mark, Melina, Pratik, Rian, Robyn, Rylee, Sal, Sierra, Tyler

I wish you all joy and peace.  Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Designing a Character: Shape

Shape, an area defined by line or color, evokes emotional responses similar to line.  We are surrounded by both two and three-dimensional shapes in our world.  In writing we want to avoid two-dimensional characters, those with only length and width, like the plague.  B-0-R-I-N-G.  It’s that third dimension of depth that adds spice to our puppets.

The fun begins when we manipulate shape.

Are you asleep yet?  Balance can be a story device you employ as a baseline only if you’re intent on utterly destroying it quickly.  As an overriding plot element, it can be deadly.

Once upon a time there were little pig triplets with ungodly trust funds.  The loving pig brothers, all equally intelligent and motivated, left tail in snout to find their way in the wide wide world.  Using their unlimited Renaissance Pig talents, they build a compound with three identical houses where they could live together in harmony.  Best of all they had a bushy-tailed wolfy neighbor who refused to eat anything except stupid pigs who never wore clothing.  The End.     

I know which X you are looking at!

Once upon a time there were little pig triplets with ungodly trust funds.  The first pig made a horrendous investment due to his lack of online research, and was left destitute.  His brothers shunned him, and he had to live out his porcine existence in a cardboard refrigerator box under the forest overpass.  Since he was stupid and did not wear clothing, his brothers’ bushy-tailed wolfy neighbor ate him.  The End. 

A shape we recognize and are able to assign meaning, is always dominant.

One upon a time there were two amorphous blobs and one pig with ungodly trust funds.  The blobs had no hands or faces and therefore no means to access their riches.  The pig opened a small bookstore under the oak tree with his money and was wildly successful since animals who wear clothing, also read.  The indefinable blobs could not communicate with the non-blob world so no one in the forest had any clue what they were thinking, doing, or planning.  They hung aimlessly in the air below the branches of the oak tree, doing nothing, for the rest of all time.  The End.

Note: If you speak “blob” and can order the last mini-story in their original tongue, “blob,” thus being able to identify their unique culture and language, you’ll find the journey of the blobs hanging in the forest is actually an epic to rival Tolkien.  Who knew?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Designing a Character: Light/Purpose

Why do we need light?  Illumination, right?  Ding, ding, ding…correct.  Ah, but illumination has a myriad of subtexts.

DIRECTING OUR FOCUS: We look where the light is strongest.  It guides our line of vision.  Is your current action bathed in the brightest light?  Are distinct pools of light guiding your reading through moments?

CONTRAST:  We may be looking at the light, but who or what is lurking in the shadows.

MOOD: A character walking out in the midday sun projects a different purpose than a character strolling through the dappled sunlight filtering down along a tree-lined path.

STABLE VS. UNSTABLE: Dependable electric lights shining in a room at night give a secure feeling, safety from the darkness.  The light of a candle or the fire in a fireplace is not so constant.  What are we missing in a character’s face lit sparsely by a flickering light?

STRONG VS. WEAK: Are you exposing your characters with sharp, crisp rays, or do more diffuse beams gently reveal them?

Play with the concept of light.  Let it be a tool to bring an added layer of dimensionality to your characters and scenes.  Try visualizing light that would not be expected in a given situation.  How does that change intention or outcome?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

View From the 5th Grade Trenches - December 2010

One of the hardest lessons to teach a child is to celebrate and value their authentic self.  There are so many messages in the media, movies, and on television of what we “should be,” that sometimes who “we are” pales in comparison to all the larger than life examples.  This is especially true of children who are still puzzling out their unique place in the world. 

In his book, LOSER, Jerry Spinelli, gifts the reader with a joyful guide to celebrate one’s true self through his character, Donald Zinkoff.  This awkward, out of step hero teaches us that everyone has their own distinctive note to sing in our global symphony, and that note is a precious treasure.

Here are some insights from the 5th grade trenches on the extraordinary story of Donald Zinkoff. 

Zinkoff never gave up, he’s sweet, and doesn’t get discouraged by what people think or say about him.  JERRY, LEXI, SIERRA
Zinkoff is a true hero.  CADE
It is amazing to see such a positive person.  KAIT
The lesson, don’t judge a person without knowing them, is plain awesome. PRATIK
I love the old lady and the sandwich.  CALEB
If I got stuck in the snow, I wouldn’t put used gum in my mouth.  CARLOS
The best part is when Zinkoff went looking for Claudia.  I almost cried.
Zinkoff is always joyful.  KAYLA
Zinkoff is very responsible to his friends.  If he were real, I would be his friend.  SAL

To quote Jerry Spinelli, from LOSER:
“And the Z shall be first.”

Thank you Jerry Spinelli for bringing Zinkoff into our lives.