Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Ten Prompts for NaNoWriMo

Okay, guys!  It's officially NaNoWriMo and the month is getting away from us!  Next week is Thanksgiving and before you know it...

You know where I'm going with this.  If you are finding yourself lacking motivation to get started, here are ten prompts to help pen the first chapter for that award-winning, best-seller:

Ten Prompts for NaNoWriMo

1) A C.E.O. gives a keynote address at a convention when overtaken by a panic attack.

2) A passenger discovers an unattended carryon when flying over the ocean.

3) A book club hostess receives a threatening anonymous note at her own home.

4) A disgruntled claustrophobe finds himself locked in an elevator at work overnight.

5) A weary taxi driver picks up a sinister stranger contemplating suicide who wants to drive around town first.

6) A couple celebrates their anniversary at a cozy restaurant when a mysterious bouquet of flowers is brought to the table.

7) A daughter cleans out her parents’ attic and discovers an urn of ashes.

8) A valedictorian gets arrested for shoplifting right before graduation.

9) An unappreciated secretary calls in sick and goes shopping where she runs into her boss’s wife with another man.

10)  A first-day-on-the-job nanny takes the children to the park where she loses the master key only to have a burglar find it.


Remember, the first rule to writing that novel is No Excuses!  I have to remind myself of that everyday.  NaNoWriMo is a great time to get started, so write on!




Monday, October 2, 2017

Students Acting Slothy? Teach Them Something Gothy!

The honeymoon is officially over, and it's about this time that students reveal subtle symptoms of slothy sluggishness.  Consequently, around late September/early October, I reach deep in my literacy bag of tricks for my go-to Gothic Literature unit.  Reading spine-tingling excerpts from DraculaFrankenstein, or Edgar Allan Poe are all but guaranteed to reignite enthusiasm from my students and possibly even the most reluctant of readers who have yet to reveal their literary chops.  (My hope is, in keeping with the theme, they are merely keeping me in suspense!)




That said, before plunging into the dark world of castles, chambers, and creepy cloisters, students require background information on Gothic Literature itself.  It is at this time we examine five basic elements of Gothic Literature, which I have classified into the following categories:


5 Elements of Gothic Literature

1) Elements of Superstition
  • Presence of ghosts, vampires, etc.
  • Unexplained sounds, sights, occurrences
  • Eerie atmosphere
  • Mysterious tone adds to building of tension

2) Emotions and Passions
  • Emotion surpasses rationality
  • Spells of hysteria, lust, and anxiety
  • Frequent crying and screaming
  • Detailed sensory description revealing characters’ passions
  • Characters experience terror and hysteria due to miasmic atmosphere


3) Broken Families
  • Families are often broken, incestuous, or murderous
  • Women subject to lustful wrongdoings 
  • Male characters are tyrannical
  • Women depicted as damsels in distress
  • Family unit confining, from which characters must escape

4) Eerie, mysterious setting
  • Claustrophobic, dark venues such as an old castle, mansion, or abbey
  • Places of fear and dread that portray the world as deteriorating
  • Desperate, dark ruined scenery
  • Surrounding area is dismal and rotting, often adding a haunting flavor of impending doom


5) Distinctive Characters
  • Characters are lonely, isolated, and oppressed
  • Presence of a tyrannical villain 
  • Action revolves around an unrequited love, or illicit love affair 
  • A vendetta or vengeance is a prominent theme

After my students are fully inducted into the world of Gothic Literature, it's time for them to write their own stories.  For inspiration, I offer some creepy music, telling them to listen at their own risk.  (Note to Blog Reader: Play at your own risk!)




Assignment: Write a Gothic Story...

The requirements are as follows:
  • Setting must be a large old house or graveyard
  • An unexplainable, scary event occurs in the house or graveyard 
  • Presence of the supernatural, such as a ghost, vampire, or werewolf
  • Unexplained phenomenon, such as doors slamming shut or lights turning on/off by themselves
  • Highly emotional characters who cry and scream
  • Implementation of Gothic symbols, such as a staircase, shadows, or a full moon.  

With a little inspiration from the darker works of the literary canon, students can't help but get their Goth on.  Whether you are a teacher, writer, or simply have a nagging nostalgia for Manic Panic, it's the perfect time to reach inside YOUR creepy bag of tricks and write your own Gothic tale.  



For more literary Goth inspiration, go to Kimberly's teaching store at:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

A Parent's Guide to Surviving Middle School

Back to school is right around the corner.  Only this time your child is entering middle school – that rite of passage where they will undergo academic, social, and developmental challenges like never before.  While your eager middle schooler is raring to go, you may be secretly asking yourself if you’re truly ready for this auspicious journey.  The answer is Yes!  With today’s challenges, middle school may seem like the new high school, but below are six tips on how to make the transition seamless for both you and your child.  Get your brave on and learn how to survive (and thrive) as a parent of a middle schooler…



6 Steps to Swinging Into Middle School With Ease

Prepare:  Middle school isn’t exactly The Hunger Games – but you will fare much better if you know the rules.  Procure a copy of the school’s handbook and read it, ideally with your child.  Be familiar with the school’s policies.  For instance, does the school have a dress code?  Is there a general class supplies list?  What is the protocol for absences, medications, cell phone usage, etc.?  Make sure to complete all emergency card information with several contacts and up-to-date phone numbers for easy communication.

Volunteer:  Join the PTA, PTO, or Booster Club.  Introduce yourself to the principal, counselor, and teachers letting them know you are available to assist wherever needed.
With school funding at a premium, some ways parents can help are volunteering in the computer lab, chaperoning field trips, selling concessions, leading a book club, or supervising dances.  If working with students one-on-one, be sure to check the district’s policy on parent volunteer fingerprinting and/or background checks.

Be a Study Buddy:  Check homework once a week or more if your child is struggling. Designate a study time and place free of distractions with adequate supplies, including pencils, paper, dictionary, and calculator.  Calendar long-term projects, and be available for assistance or hire a tutor if needed.  Many schools offer free after-the-bell tutoring programs or intervention services.  Encourage and teach time management and organization skills – before social networking, cell phone, and television time.

Communicate:  In elementary school, teachers call home if there is an academic issue, but in middle school the report card is often a parent’s first notification that their child is struggling.  To avoid Report Card Shock Syndrome and address problems early on, attend Back-to-School Night and all parent/teacher conferences.  Introduce yourself to your child’s teachers, provide email contact information, and let them know you want to work as a team.  In middle school, each teacher has their own way of posting homework, grading, and communicating with parents.  Ask for a copy of the class syllabus. Communication is key to your child’s success.

Get Social:  Your child’s circle of friends will most likely be at the top of their priority list. This is a good time to rally your own parental BFF’s, if nothing else for moral support.  In short, get to know the parents of your child’s friends.  Arrange a lunch to establish common norms for sleepovers, social networking, etc.  Discuss bullying and implementing appropriate safety precautions.  Talk over the school’s vision and what you can do as parents to make it the best place it can be.

Be a Cheerleader:  As your child enters middle school, he or she will tackle academic, social, and peer related issues.  There will be laughter and there will be tears.  Let your child know that you are their greatest fan and support.  Encourage their strengths and interests with extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, band, and foreign language. When a problem arises, be there to help but also just to listen.  At the end of the day, sometimes a tween just needs a sympathetic ear.  Middle school is a challenge, but never let your child forget that you are their ultimate BFF and secret cheerleader.

Have a tween going into middle school?  Make sure they feel positive and prepared with Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School: 




This nostalgic read is both fun and informative in its perspective of middle school existence. The author's use of tweenie vernacular adds to character development and theme relevance.  - Readers Favorite

(Dana) knows her audience well, and has pitched this book to them perfectly, packing useful information into a fun, frothy read....Any sixth grade girl who's facing middle school as if it were a firing squad will find great comfort here.  Both entertaining and useful, How to Survive is a winner.  Starred Review - BlueInk Review 

Lucy and CeCee's guide to middle-school survival is a fast-paced, funny, and insightful book that will serve to clarify typical teen lingo and behavior for adults and give guidelines to tween and teenage kids who are having trouble navigating the middle-school milieu. - Clarion Reviews

But while the girls' teachings are often amusing, what really makes Dana's book exceptional are the girls themselves....Lucy and CeCee's target audience may consist solely of tweens, but this is a book that can educate readers of any age. - Kirkus Reviews

With plenty of humor and adventure, "Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School" is a strongly recommended addition to young adult fiction collections, not to be missed.  - Midwest Book Review


Monday, August 14, 2017

Join Me at Killer Nashville!



Join me Saturday, August 26th, at the Killer Nashville Writers Conference as I present about writing suspense for Young Adults.



Saturday, August 26th, 2017 
Embassy Suites Hotel - Franklin, TN

Event description: The Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference was created in 2006 by author/filmmaker Clay Stafford in an effort to bring together forensic experts, writers, and fans of crime and thriller literature.  It is indeed a killer conference (pun intended!) as aspiring and established writers connect with other industry professionals at panel discussions, breakout sessions, agent/editor roundtables, a moonshine and wine tasting party, and a killer mock crime scene!  Let the thrills and chills begin!!

Friday, July 28, 2017

20 Ways to Collaborate With Your Literacy Coach

After twenty years in the classroom, this school year I will be transitioning from English teacher to literacy coach.  In the past, I have worked with some amazing coaches who inspired, collaborated, and brought out the best in teachers and some not-so-wonderful coaches who took extended coffee breaks only to discuss the latest rose ceremony on The Bachelor.   I’m hoping to be the first type (not that there is anything wrong with The Bachelor)!

Coaching is a collaborative process that has the potential to maximize learning and enhance classroom instruction.  However, many teachers are apprehensive about working with coaches, especially if trust and confidentiality have not been firmly established.  That said, a literacy coach can be your most valuable go-to resource.  Specifically, a coach can help with planning, data analysis, and that oh-so-important non-evaluative instructional feedback.  (Isn’t it better to know you’re not providing sufficient wait time before your unannounced observation?)

Literacy coaches want nothing more than to build on your instructional strengths, helping you be the best in the classroom.  If you don’t think you possibly have enough time in the day to collaborate with your literacy coach, think again!  Most coaches have clocked in hundreds of lessons, strategies, and assessments and understand what comes with the daily challenges of teaching like no one else in the building.  Through their experience and expertise, they can help you work more efficiently, cogitate on lessons, and close the achievement gap because that is exactly what they are trained to do.  

Whether you are a first year teacher or a seasoned veteran, make it a goal this year to work closely with your literacy coach.  By engaging in a trusted partnership, you will naturally refine and reflect on your own instructional practice.  Not sure how to start the process?  Below are twenty ways to initiate collaboration with your literacy coach:  

20 Ways to Initiate Collaboration 

1) I’m starting a novel unit on (____________________title of book).  Would you help me brainstorm a kick-off activity that will spark interest?

2) These are my latest benchmark scores.  Will you help me analyze my students’ data for strengths and weaknesses?

3) I need a new strategy for teaching vocabulary besides drill and kill.  Do you have any go-to’s?

4) Will you observe my class for questioning patterns?  I always feel like the same students answer whenever we have a discussion. 

5) I need to make new reading groups based on differentiated ability level.  Can you look over this data and assist me?

6) I want to try close reading annotation of complex texts but need some guidance.  Do you have any suggestions for resources?  

7) Do you have any good rubrics for narrative writing?  (or expository, argumentative, descriptive, etc.)

8) Will you help me evaluate my students’ group projects?  I need a second set of eyes.  

9) I’ve been thinking our department could benefit from a study group but am too overwhelmed to lead it.  Are you interested?

10) My evaluation is coming up next week.  Can I show you my lesson plan?

11) I need a quick formative assessment to check for understanding before ending my lesson.  Can you help me?

12) A few of my students just are not getting the concept of active/passive voice (or another skill).  Can you come in and do a small group lesson?

13) I’m doing a gallery walk today and want some feedback on student engagement.  Can you come in and share your observations?

14) I’m feeling overwhelmed with the next nine week’s Scope and Sequence?  Can you help me plan?

15) My students do not understand the importance of transitional phrases.  Would you like to co-teach a writing lesson together?

16) I could use some professional development on using anchor charts in the classroom.  Can we have a session during the next PD day?

17) My morning meetings are getting stale.  Do you have some SEL ideas that will set a positive tone for the day?

18) My Tier 1 RTI class has off-the-chart scores but is bored.  Do you have any inspiring PBL activities?

19) I want to set some new instructional goals for the next nine weeks.  Can you help?

20) So what did you think of the last episode of The Bachelor?  Let’s process…



As posted on Edutopia:  


Monday, June 26, 2017

Mood and Tone: A Lesson in Author's Style

Teaching tweens the nuances of mood and tone can be a challenge.  The terms are often interchangeable i.e., misused, and in a middle schooler's mind, they are sort of formless and abstract.  Yet, mood and tone are a very powerful literary concept.  They are literally what give text its "texture."


Enter my go-to visual Mood/Tone guy:




As the little guy above illustrates, the drive-through version of tone is the author's attitude toward the subject, and mood is the feeling of the reader.

Specifically, to teach tone, I refer to the anti-phony Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye:

  • "All morons hate it when you call them a moron.
  • “If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late? Nobody.”
  • “Catholics are always trying to find out if you’re Catholic.”
Holden’s tone is bitterly sarcastic and critical as he ruminates on the nature of things and the hypocrisy of people.  Salinger's tone is achieved through word choice.

Some words used to identify tone could be:
  1. Anxious
  2. Bold
  3. Confrontational
  4. Curious
  5. Dismissive
  6. Encouraging
  7. Hip
  8. Hopeful
  9. Open
  10. Overbearing
  11. Passionate
  12. Sarcastic
  13. Smarmy
  14. Suspicious
  15. Uncouth
  16. Upbeat
  17. Urbane
  18. Wisecracking
*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

To teach mood, I present Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken":

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

The gloomy, somber mood belies a voice and feeling of regret.  The speaker took the road less traveled, but wishes he could have traveled both.  The reader is left with the grave, somewhat melancholic fact that we only have one life to live, and choice is everything.

Some words used to identify mood could be:
  1. Alarming
  2. Brooding
  3. Buoyant
  4. Comical
  5. Confining
  6. Cool
  7. Dark
  8. Fantastical
  9. Hopeful
  10. Light
  11. Melancholy
  12. Ominous
  13. Oppressive
  14. Relaxed
  15. Sexy
  16. Spooky
  17. Suspenseful
  18. Warm

So forge ahead.  Demystify mood and tone, and teach author's style with aplomb.  Your students will catch on in no time, hopefully eager to hone their own writing style.

For more classroom activities and lessons on mood/tone and other literary concepts, visit my store at TeachersPayTeachers:

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Sensational Teen and Tween Summer Reads

As we all fondly recall, summer vacation is the ultimate!  Staying up late into the night, basking in the golden sun, slurping up frothy ice cream concoctions, and yes - hopefully reading a good book or two or three...or three in one day.  And why not?  It's summer, after all.

Here is a list of twelve of my 2017 fave summer reads for tweens and teens.  The list includes some classics and some contemporary, depending on personal choice.  Either way, tweens/teens will have a blast getting their read on!!!



Kimberly's 2017 Summer Reading List for Tweens and Teens


1) The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

2) Lord of the Flies - William Golding

3) The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros

4) The Upside of Unrequited - Becky Albertalli

5) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou

6) To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

7) The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

8) The Best of Roald Dahl - Roald Dahl

9) Once and For All - Sarah Dessen

10) The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

11) Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

12) Kill All Happies - Rachel Cohn


HAPPY READING!!!!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Junior League Sponsors All Booked Up!

I had the pleasure of participating in the Junior League of Nashville's All Booked Up this weekend.  It was a fun-filled event that served to inspire young readers with readings from local authors, character meet and greets, and writing workshops!  Additionally, the JLN reached out to young minds ranging from Kindergarten to 4th grade with a registration drive for the Nashville Public Library’s Summer Reading Challenge.  The best part of this inspiring event – kids left with a bag full of books to start their very own home library!



All Booked Up is sure to gain momentum and public awareness in the upcoming years!  I know as a local author, teacher, and literacy specialist, the JLN's community focus on local literacy is invaluable.  Thank you, Junior League of Nashville, for your strategic partnership in achieving literacy competency across the cradle-to-career continuum!  For more information on All Booked Up or to become a Junior League of Nashville sponsor, visit https://www.jlnashville.org




Friday, April 21, 2017

Start a YA Book Club!

Starting a book club for young adults is a great way to share the love of literature!  Not sure how to lead the discussion?  Below are 25 engaging questions that can be applied to any book or novel:

1) What is the title?
2) Who is the author?
3) Who is the main character or protagonist?
4) Describe their physical traits.
5) Describe their personality traits.
6) Describe the protagonist using three adjectives.
7) What is the major conflict (problem) the protagonist is facing?
8) How do they resolve their conflict?
9) What is the setting (time and place)?
10) What is the genre?
11) What words would you use to describe the book?
12) What is a new word you learned?  Use it in a sentence.
13) Give a general plot summary.
14) Give the main character some advice on a problem they are facing.
15) Would you want the main character as a best friend?  Why or why not?
16) Change the title of the book to something different.
17) What confused you about the book?
18) What is the overall theme or author’s message?
19) How did the main character change?
20) What question would you ask the author if you could?
21) Would you recommend this book to a friend?  Why or why not?
22) Who would you cast in a movie based on the book?
23) What will you always remember about the book?
24) Do you like the cover art?  Why or why not?
25) What is your favorite quotation from the book?



There are many benefits to leading a book club for young adults!  Besides creating literary luminaries and a love of reading, you will help tweens and teens voice opinions, encourage literary analysis, make predictions, solve problems, and expose them to new authors and genres.  Be a literary role model, and start a Young Adult Book Club today!


For more Book Club ideas and activities, check out my Book Club Bundle: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Book-Club-Bundle-3121010

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Celebrate National Poetry Month!

April is National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world.

Why should we devote an entire month to honor words written in verse?  Because poetry is the language of the soul.  When life drowns us with its dark moments, poetry throws us a raft – a verbal sanctuary of healing and beauty.

So I urge you to release your inner poet and succumb to the sensory language, rhythm, flavor, call and response of poetry.  Feel the human spirit and universality of life's shared stories in a stanza.  Read or write a poem this month.  Restore your spirit.  Restore your soul.





Ten Favorite Poems

  1. “Sick” – Shel Silverstein
  2. “Phenomenal Woman” – Maya Angelou
  3. “Annabel Lee” – Edgar Allan Poe
  4. “Oranges” – Gary Soto
  5. “The Road Not Taken” – Robert Frost
  6. Sonnet 130 – William Shakespeare
  7. “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” – Robert Herrick
  8. “The Kiss” – Sara Teasdale
  9. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” – Dylan Thomas 
  10. Fragment 31 – Sappho




April Challenge:  Write a Cinquain

A cinquain is five line poem that follows this lyrical pattern:

1) a word for the title
2) two adjectives
3) three verbs
4) a phrase
5) the title again – or synonym


Example:

Chocolate
Dark or milk
Smooth, silky, sweet
Best thing ever
Yum! 


Eyes
Large, mysterious
Watching, rolling, blinking
Tell more than words
Soul-windows


Cinquain
Short, sweet
Five, simple steps
Maybe not so easy…
Voila!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Help Them Do Their Best on the Test!

Standardized Testing is:

A) Stressful
B) Necessary
C) Something students can succeed on
D) All of the above

Correct Answer - D!



It's that time of year again!  Standardized testing is just around the corner, meaning the anxiety at most educational institutions is off-the-charts!  Never before has there been so much pressure to perform well, as standardized testing determines school ratings, student funding, and a child's classroom placement.  To offset test-taking anxiety, it is paramount we prepare our students with knowledge, skills, and guaranteed-to-succeed test-taking strategies.

For classroom activities and lessons that use humor and positive reinforcement for maximum buy-in, visit my store at TeachersPayTeachers:


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Want to Publish? Know Your Audience!

When authors sit down to write, they often ponder the title, setting, or inciting incident. The first question they should actually be asking is, For whom am I writing this story?  To be successful, it is imperative authors understand the genres and formats associated with books for children and young adults.  I am the first one to admit it can be overwhelmingly confusing, as one can find a host of definitions for what constitutes a picture book.  Alas, I have compiled quick and dirty guidelines for those ambiguous children’s/YA publishing genres.

Quick and Dirty Guidelines for Children’s Publishing Genres 

Picture Books
Age 2-8
Word Count – 500-800
Pages 24-36

Description – Picture books are large in physical size and combine words with captivating illustrations.  Picture books center around a child’s world - usually home, school, or neighborhood.  The illustrations play a significant role in telling the story with some picture books have no words at all.  The plots are simple with one main character/animal who embodies the child’s emotions, concerns and viewpoint. 
Examples: Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, Heart and Soul, The Polar Express, Fancy Nancy 


Early Readers/Easy Readers
Age 5-9
Word Count – 500-1,500 Words
Pages 32-64

Description: Early or Easy Reader Books are written for children to read on their own.  They have short sentences, limited vocabulary, and center around a child’s world - school, neighborhood, or home.  Early/Easy Readers have more words and fewer pictures than a picture book, with some stories broken up into very short chapters.  The plot is told mainly through action and dialogue, with books averaging 2-5 sentences per page.  Genres can be fiction or nonfiction.  
Examples: Madeline’s Tea Party, Marley: The Dog Who Ate My Homework, Amelia Bedelia, Nate the Great, “I Can Read” Series 


Chapter Books
Age 7-10
Word Count – 4,000-12,000 Words
Pages 45-60

Description: Chapter books are a child’s first “real” book written for children who are becoming fluent, independent readers.  The main character is usually 8 or 9 years old and includes real-life and fantasy settings.  Stories contain a lot of action with short paragraphs and 3-4 page chapters.  Humor, mystery, and adventure are popular genres. 
Examples: Captain Underpants, Clementine, Magic Tree House, The Time Warp Trio, Amber Brown


Middle Grade Novel
Age 8-12
Word Count – 20,000-40,000 Words
Pages 100-150

Description: Middle grade novels are geared to 10-12 year olds, also known as tweens, with genres similar to those of adult fiction: mystery, adventure, humor, historical, contemporary, fantasy.  Most plot lines, characters, and settings are acceptable, although intense subjects, such as divorce, peer pressure, and drugs/alcohol should be handled skillfully.  Manuscripts are 100-150 pages with complex stories involving subplots, secondary characters, and sophisticated themes.  Protagonists should be 9-13 in age and embody the worldview and emotions of middle graders. 
Examples: Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, Loser, Holes, Hoot, Stargirl


YA Novel
Age 12 and up
Word Count – 40,000 – 75,000 Words
Pages 100-150

Description: YA books are for ages 12 and up with genres similar to those of adult fiction: mystery, adventure, humor, historical, contemporary, and fantasy.  Plots are complex involving several major characters, although a single protagonist should emerge as the focus of the book.  Themes should be relevant to a teenager’s world.  “Edgy YA” includes subjects such as sexuality, drugs/alcohol, bullying, and mental illness. 
Examples: The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, Between Shades of Gray, Twilight, 13 Reasons Why 


To write is to know your readers.  The first step is to read as many books as you can for your target audience and then of course, write on!  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tween Fever Hits Coffee County Middle School!

I had an amazing time last night at Coffee County Middle School's Author Night!  The tweens came out in droves eager to discover new and exciting books penned by local authors.  Thank you CCMS!


Saturday, March 4, 2017

How to Write a Thrilling Short Story

The Bennies of Short Story Writing

Just about everyone I know wants to be a novelist.  But let’s be honest.  Writing a book is a long and tedious process that can take years to finish.  To that end, almost every wannabe novelist I know never even comes close to finishing that elusive manuscript.  Even writing that first chapter can be a daunting task!

But writing a short story is an attainable endeavor with many benefits to the aspiring writer.  At 1,000 – 4,000 words, there is power in the short story.  It’s lean and mean, and can be read in one sitting.  The short story allows the writer the opportunity to explore the uncharted territory of a plot, character, or setting and make it pop!  In addition, one can experiment with other genres, develop their style, and use their short story to expand their platform as a marketing tool.  But most importantly, crafting a short story teaches the writer a vital skill: word economy.  To paraphrase my idol Stephen King, writing is “refined thinking.”  Nothing could be truer than when writing a short story, where the prose must be clean, compact, and concise.  If you are prone to a producing a bloated manuscript, trim the fat and turn it into a short story.  It’s quicker to write and if you’re lucky, quicker to sell.  


SWBS – Somebody Wanted But So…

Okay, so the benefits of writing a short story are clear, but the question still plagues most spinners of words.  How do I write a compelling story in a condensed timeframe, i.e. one sitting?  One word – conflict!  Conflict creates the need for story in the first place.  It is what adds tension and moves the story forward.  Without conflict, there is no story!

You need proof?  Think back in school when you first learned about story structure through Freytag’s Triangle.  Do you recall what’s on top?  Climax!  It is the decision-making, sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat moment of the conflict-ridden protagonist that determines the story’s outcome.
When I teach my middle school students about conflict, we use the following SWBS Statement:
Somebody ___________________________ Wanted ___________________________ But_______________________ So __________________________________.  (It is the “but” that is the heart of the conflict in the story).

Let’s look at a few examples of conflict in three classic short stories: “The Necklace,” “The Monkey’s Paw,” and “The Lottery,” paying particular attention to the “but” element.  Note: Major Spoiler Alerts!

“The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant
Somebody Madame Loisel wanted to appear rich at a party BUT lost the fake necklace she borrowed so she spent years paying it off.

“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs
Somebody The White family wanted to wish for money on a cursed monkey’s paw BUT their son Herbert got killed so they unwisely wished him back to life.

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
Somebody The Hutchinsons wanted to uphold the town’s traditions BUT Tessie won the lottery so she’s stoned to death.


The Thrilling Threesome 

Okay, conflict rules.  But how do I actually get started?  It’s literally as easy as 1-2-3.  Think of a thrilling threesome story prompt consisting of 1) character, 2) setting, and 3) a compelling conflict.
Here are ten short story prompts just begging to be penned into a story:


Ten Thrilling Threesome Short Story Prompts

1) A C.E.O. (character) gives a keynote address at a convention (setting) when overtaken by a panic attack (conflict).

2) A passenger (character) discovers an unattended carryon (conflict) when flying over the ocean (setting).

3) A book club hostess (character) receives a threatening anonymous note (conflict) at her own home (setting).

4) A disgruntled claustrophobe (character) finds himself locked in an elevator (conflict) at work overnight (setting).

5) A weary taxi driver (character) picks up a sinister stranger contemplating suicide (conflict) who wants to drive around town first (setting).

6) A couple (character) celebrates their anniversary at a cozy restaurant (setting) when a mysterious bouquet of flowers is brought to the table (conflict).

7) A daughter (character) cleans out her parents’ attic (setting) and discovers an urn of ashes (conflict).

8) A valedictorian (character) gets arrested for shoplifting (conflict) right before graduation (setting).

9) An unappreciated secretary (character) calls in sick and goes shopping (setting) where she runs into her boss’s wife with another man (conflict).

10)  A first-day-on-the-job nanny (character) takes the children to the park (setting) where she loses the master key only to have a burglar find it (conflict).



Need Suspense?  Implement G.E.M.

Okay, now that you have a thrilling story starter, throw in a little suspense, which of course is the secret sauce to story telling.  It’s easy with G.E.M. – an acronym I created to front-load my students when teaching the craft of suspense writing.  G.E.M. stands for Gothicism, Expansion of Time, and Magic of Three.

GOTHICISM: All suspense stories can benefit from an element of the gothic genre, such as the supernatural; an eerie, mysterious setting; emotion over passion; or distinctive characters who are lonely, isolated, and/or oppressed.  Throw in a tyrannical villain, a vendetta, or an illicit love affair - you've got Goth gold!  Why Gothicism?  It explores the tragic themes of life and the darker side of human nature.  What’s more, readers are innately attracted to it.  No one wants to read about someone’s perfectly wonderful life.  It’s boring.  Remember – conflict rules!

EXPANDING TIME: Next, I introduce the art of expanding time using foreshadowing, flashback, and implementing "well, um ...maybe…let me see” dialogue."  Expanding time allows the writer to twist, turn, and tangle up the plot.  “Tease your audience,” I tell my students.  “Pile on the problems and trap your protagonist with a ticking clock.  Every second counts with suspense!”  There is an old writing adage that says to write slow scenes fast and fast scenes slow.  By delaying the big reveal, we build tension and punch up the plot but with one caveat.  Expanding time demands a fine-tuned craftiness when writing a short story because of course, your time is limited.  Remember, every word counts!  

MAGIC OF THREE: Finally, the Magic of Three comes into play.  The Magic of Three is a writer's trick where a series of three hints lead to a major discovery.  During the first hint, the protagonist detects something is amiss.  The second hint sparks a more intense reaction but nothing is discovered - yet.  And then - BANG!  The third hint leads to a discovery or revelation.  During the big reveal, I teach my students to use and manipulate red flags and phrases, such as Suddenly, Without warning, In a blink of an eye, Instantly, A moment later, Like a shot, To my shock, and To my horror.      

Adding suspense to your short story tantalizes your readers and breeds amazing results.  It’s what makes a perfectly adequate story “un-put-downable.”  So go ahead, and write a short story that explodes with tension!  1) Start with a thrilling threesome.  2) Punch up the plot with conflict.  3) And, sprinkle it with suspense.  Not only will you hone your craft and have your readers begging for more, it could morph into something bigger - like that elusive novel that no longer seems so impossibly unattainable.  Write on!

(As featured in Killer Nashville's "From the Classroom")
http://www.killernashvillemagazine.com/from-the-classroom-writing-a-thrilling-short-story/

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Serendipity YA Finalist!

Thrilled to learn a WIP (Work In Progress) manuscript has placed in the 2017 Serendipity YA Discovery Writing Contest.  It is now off to renown agents and editors who will help choose the top five and...Grand Prize Winner.


Writing contests are one of the best ways to garner the attention of agents and editors.  For tips on how to win (or place), see my blog post: Seven Tips for Winning a Writing Contest.  Write on!!


Seven Tips for Winning a Writing Contest

So you’ve written an amazing manuscript.  Now what?  Before shopping it around (only to have it die in the slush pile), why not distinguish it as an award-winning manuscript?  Quite simply, agents and editors are more apt to read your manuscript with interest if it has already been vetted and stamped with approval in a writing contest.

Easier said than done, right?  Perhaps.  After all, prominent writing contests receive thousands of entries.  However, the bennies are worth it!  To give your manuscript the best chance possible of clinching a win, I’ve compiled a list of Seven Tips:

Seven Tips for Winning a Writing Contest

1) Be a rule worshiper!  When it comes to writing contest rules, follow the guidelines precisely.  Nothing will get you disqualified quicker than shrugging off formatting rules or having your name on the manuscript.  In other words, read the rules and then read them again! 

2) Titles matter.  A title is the judge’s first impression of you as a writer.  Find something inviting and perhaps a little mysterious.  A zany title or one that uses alliteration is sure to get the attention of the judges.  One word titles can be effectively potent! 

3) Proofread!  Make your persnickety high school English teacher proud and proofread!  Judges will literally judge you as unprofessional when grammar and usage errors run amok.  Have someone else look over your work for spelling, punctuation, and tense shifts.  Strive for active rather than passive voice. 

4) Submit Early.  Most judges begin reading as soon as the entries come in.  The smart play is to have your work read while they are fresh.  An editor once told me eighty percent of entries are submitted during the last few days of the contest, so judges will be inundated towards the end.   

5) Include a bio if possible.  Some contests may not allow this, so check it out first.  A bio outlining your credentials will give credence to your writing and put the judge in a good “head space” before reading.   

6) Lead with a great hook!  It’s just a hard fact that judges will write off (pun intended) entrants with weak openings.  Start with a powerful, moving, or hilarious first sentence, and you will hopefully snare the judge for a win. 

7) Write the most compelling piece you can!  Kind of obvious, but submit your absolute best work possible.  Incorporate a lively theme, memorable characters, and vivid words that evoke imagery.  It’s trite – but show, don’t tell!

Still feel intimidated?  Don’t!  Remember the number one golden rule of writing contests: You never win what you don’t submit.  Write on!!


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hooking Reluctant Readers: A Guide for Parents

            Hearing the words, “I hate to read!” can be a parental nightmare, conjuring up images of below basic standardized test scores, remedial classes, or worse – dropping out of school and not going to college.  Yet, it is a universal reality that many parents have reluctant reading spawn – even those parents who firmly classify themselves as voracious readers.  When I meet with parents at conferences, the following scenario is not at all uncommon:

            “What can we do about Tommy?  My husband loves to read.  I love to read.  Tommy’s older sister loves to read.  Tommy’s younger brother loves to read.  The dog loves to read.  But Tommy hates to read!  I don’t understand it.  Help us – Pleeeeease!”

            Seeing the panic in their eyes, I tell the parents the first step is to determine if their child is in fact a reluctant reader (R.R.) or just a passionless one.  To determine where the child is on the Reluctant Reader Richter scale, I ask three questions:

1 - Does your child avoid reading whenever possible?
2 - Does your child complain when doing it?
3 - Does your child have little to no retention or comprehension when they are finished?  

            If the answer is yes to all three questions, I tell them it is safe to assume that their child is in fact allergic to books.  And that’s when I smile and say, “Let’s give them an antihistamine they’re going to love.”
           
RR Strategy#1 - Ownership

            Parents should allow children to choose their own books.  If children “see” themselves in what they read, they will naturally become more interested in reading.  Guide your child to books classified as Hi/Lo (High interest / Low Level).  These books have major RR appeal: humor, a face paced plot, kid relevance, and visual appeal.  I also encourage parents to give their child a monthly or weekly book allowance so they can start their own personal library.  Make their bedroom a literary lair by preparing a reading corner with comfy pillows and beanbags.  Decorate the walls with book cover posters or have your child design their own.  

RR Strategy #2 - Keep It Fun!

            Eventually kids will read independently, but before they to, they need to have a series of positive experiences.  Make reading relaxing and low key.  Allow them to read graphic novels, joke books, and choose-your-own adventure books.  Encourage them to read aloud funny or interesting parts of the book.  Utilize technology and download audio or e-books.  Dispel any Rigid Reading Rules your child has picked up in the past.  For example, it’s okay not to finish a book.  I even tell my students I have my own page 7 rule.  If a book doesn’t grab me by page 7, I put it down and choose something else.  A reluctant reader might have a page 1 or 2 rule, and that’s okay.  On the flip side, it’s okay to reread a favorite book, as this builds fluency and confidence through repetition.  Be patient with your child and don’t EVER use reading as a form of punishment.  Remember, positive associations are essential.

RR Strategy #3 – Be a Buddy

            Finally, be your child’s reading buddy. Schedule regular library or local bookstore visits.  Assist with comprehension in a disarming way by asking open-ended questions:


·      Why do you think the character did __________________?
·      What would you change the title to?
·      Who would you want as a best friend?
·      What was your favorite part?

When your child has a book report at school, work with the teacher to ensure a positive experience.  Ask if they can choose their own book and if extra time is needed, request an extension.  Most teachers understand the plight of the reluctant reader and want to be a part of the solution.

            A love of reading is a lifelong gift parents can give their children.  Like any pursuit, some children are more receptive than others.  Nevertheless, by giving your child ownership, making reading, fun, and being a partner in child’s journey as a reader, your reluctant reader will turn voracious in no time.