Monday, December 3, 2012

December 3 Writing Challenge

Greetings! Let’s finish the writing semester with some fun writing exercises this month. Complete one of the following exercises. These seem easy, but try to put some thought into them. Think of an intended audience when you write. Also, try to be original and creative in your message.

Challenge 1:

In 30 words or less for each, create five original greetings for a holiday card. Make at least one card funny. Make at least one card serious, reflecting your religious beliefs around the holiday. (Describe what scene should decorate the card.) Consider making these cards for family and friends. 

Challenge 2:

Make a snow person come to life. If Frosty can do it, so can your snow creation. In 350 words or less, what two things would this snow person want to do while alive in your part of the world. Consider reading this story to a younger relative during the holidays. 

Challenge 3:

I am basing this challenge on tales from friends who are missionaries in Australia, where it is summer (and very hot) when they celebrate Christmas. Write a short tale about spending Christmas day on a hot beach. What would the meal be like? What gifts would work well (they say chocolate melts quickly)? Be descriptive and creative. This is a holiday tale, but in a different setting than most holiday stories.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

November 26 Writing Challenge

Welcome back! Today we want to look at a few things we can think about when editing our work. In my opinion, writers should never try to complete a perfect work on the first draft. Drafts are designed for getting thoughts down on paper. In our first (and even second or third) drafts, we need to get a general plot down on paper and have strong characters forming. As we edit, we need to clean up the details and focus on adding or deleting information as needed.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong! Editing can be quite challenging. How do you know what needs to be added or deleted? Here are a few tips:

What does the reader need to know that we might not have included? In our minds, we may know that the main character has a fear of heights. If we don’t tell the reader, however, a scene may not make sense when a character faces a challenge and backs down because it involves a tall ladder or a steep climb. Make sure you give readers enough information.

Does the order of the writing make sense? Can readers follow your timeline? It is fine to jump back and forth in time as long as the readers can follow your changes.

Have you used strong descriptive language? Have you used enough action verbs? What can you do to make your words come alive for the readers?

Can you take out bits of information that are unnecessary to the work? Do you have too much conversation or too many details in a scene? Don’t add words just to lengthen your story or poem. All words must strengthen the writing or be removed.

When you are editing, get readers to help you. Ask someone to read part of your work and give you feedback. Have someone read the work aloud to you so you can see how it sounds and flows.

Complete at least one challenge:

Challenge 1:

Write 350-450 words (poem or short story) about a Christmas card that was mailed but never received. When you are done, edit the piece so that it is only 300 words long.

Challenge 2:

Write a short story or poem from the point of view of a fish in a bowl on a desk. When you are done, edit the piece as needed.

Challenge 3:

Find an online article that you can cut and paste into a Word document. Edit the piece, making it half of the original length. Tell why you chose to cut what you took out.

Monday, November 12, 2012

November 12 Writing Challenge

Welcome back, writers! Hope you enjoy your weekly challenges. We have been working through projects that take you through the process of creative writing. These steps can also be applied to academic writing. We have looked at details to begin the writing process (brainstorming ideas). We have followed that with a few tools to help with writer’s block if you have trouble starting. We have also worked through assignments that help you add details such as descriptive scenes, consistent and strong characters and a setting right for the characters to develop. In academic writing you would include consistent details to support your ideas and strong descriptive language that adds a depth to your work.

Guidance can come to us a writer when we stop and listen. Can we hear our characters? Can you hear the author you are writing about for a language arts paper? We know what we believe and what our voice sounds like; but unless we are writing our autobiography, that voice is not enough. For example, in creative writing we may put a villain in our story--someone who attempts to stop the growth or progress of our main character. What motivates that villain? What motivates other support characters in your writing? What motivated Thoreau to write while living at Walden’s Pond? Can you hear their voices speaking to you as a writer? They have a voice that you are releasing through your own writing.

These challenges help us think through our listening skills--listening to ourselves and listening to our characters. Complete at least one of these challenges:

Challenge 1:

Everyone has wishes based on things we want, things we need, or things we think we need. Fill in these blanks five times, thinking about your own wishes:

If I had ______________, I could _____________________________.

Now fill in the blanks five times based on a fictional character you are writing or reading about.

Challenge 2:

Find a figurine or stuffed animal in your home. Bring this figurine or animal to life in 250 to 500 words. What would this character need? What would this character think about? What would this character do? Write this in first person from the perspective of the figurine or animal.

Challenge 3:

You get a strange letter in the mail. This letter is from an acquaintance that you knew many years ago. This person made horrible choices and is now in prison. This person writes to you to ask you for something that they think only you can provide. Write a letter from the perspective of the person in prison. What are they asking you for? Why did they choose you to send their request to? 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

November 5 Writing Challenge

Greetings! Welcome back to another week of writing challenges. Here are some questions to make you think: Are you setting aside time to write daily if you have big projects you are working on? Are you reading daily? Are you writing in a setting that works well for you? Are you willing to revise what you write?

Here’s a challenge for you to consider: Set aside one writing project you are working on for at least a full day. When you read through your writing after the day has passed, try to look at the piece with fresh eyes. Do you think your piece still flows well? Do you see edits that need to be made?

Now, back to other business…This week, let’s talk about secondary or minor characters in a book. All books start with main characters that readers can sympathize with or relate to. Books and stories also need the supporting cast, however. These can be friends or enemies of the main character. Consider allies, enemies and mentors to be the supporting characters in a story. Allies assist main characters in reaching their goal or overcoming challenges. Enemies or villains attempt to block characters from obtaining success or become obstacles to a goal. Mentors offer wisdom to characters along their journey.

Characters can move among the various roles. A secondary character in one scene can become a main character later in a story. A villain can have a change of heart.  A mentor can fail at times. Transitions like these, however, have to be believable to the readers. A mean villain needs to have an enlightening moment that the readers can follow if the villain is to become an ally.
Complete at least one of the following challenges:

Challenge 1:

Write a scene (250 to 500 words) in which an ally (a friend or close relative) talks a main character through a challenge. The characters are facing a “person versus nature” challenge (bad weather, earthquake, extreme heat or cold, etc.). You can use dialogue here as well as using strong descriptive language to set the scene. Write this in first person from the main character’s perspective.

Challenge 2:

Write the same scene (250 to 500 words) except have the main character in the same setting with a villain that is complicating the journey rather than helping him/her complete it. Again, you can use dialogue here as well as using strong descriptive language to set the scene. Write this in first person from the main character’s perspective.

Challenge 3:

Write a letter from a mentor to a young traveler. Have the mentor advise the young traveler about some upcoming obstacles he/she may face on the trip. Use your imagination. The details are up to you. Remember--use active verbs and descriptive language.

Just a note: Here's an interesting writing guide if you want to write your autobiography: You Are Next In Line: Everyone's Guide forWriting Your Autobiography by Armiger Jagoe. 

Other options for creative people: 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

October 29 Creative Writing Challenge

Greetings! Welcome back for another creative writing challenge.  Some things to think about as you write: What inspires you? Do you write best after being in a quiet location or after an afternoon out with friends? Where do you write best? What do you do when you feel like you are stuck in a writing project with no direction? How do you handle writer’s block?

These are important questions to ask yourself if you are working on a paper or project that is challenging for you. Get to know your “writer” side. What conditions help you write freely? I write best to George Winston piano music playing on my computer as I write. Other writers prefer total silence. You have to find your own conditions that help you finish a writing project.

If you feel blocked, are you trying some writing exercises to help get the words flowing again? At times, you may need to walk away from writing for a moment to refresh your mind and regain your writing momentum. After that, if you still feel haunted by writer’s block, try free writing on your topic for 30 minutes or try a writing exercise not related to your topic. Also, don’t forget that just going outside and daydreaming can be useful. Creativity does not always mean you are producing something. Daydreaming about what you will produce can be a key part of the creative process.

Try at least one of these writing challenges for the week:

Challenge 1:

Write about the following situation using no more than 300 words: Your character buys a wooden chest at a garage sale. He/she wants to use it as a prop for a school play. When he/she gets home and opens it, he/she finds four surprise objects. Describe what your character finds using complete sentences.

Challenge 2:

Write a poem or story or scene for a book (no more than 250 words) that uses all of the following words: orange, potato, rabbit, cornfield, west, river, fair, and computer.

Challenge 3:

In 250 words or less, write about one of your favorite holidays from the perspective a child between the ages of two and six. Rewrite the same scene from the perspective of a person older than 70 years old.

Challenge 4:

If you are working on a longer writing project, write a letter from a person that you imagine has just read your finished published work. Using 100 to 150 words, what would you like a reader to say about your work? 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 22 Writing Challenge

Greetings! Hope you are beginning a wonderful week. This week I am borrowing some information from the Book Genome Project. According to their website (, this project “was created to identify, track, measure, and study the multitude of features that make up a book. Components such as language, character, and theme are mined and analyzed in order to sift, organize, categorize and ultimately separate one book from another in a crowded and complex ‘bookosphere.’” Basically, they research the content and make-up of books. Another website (, uses the information from the Book Genome Project to help connect readers with books the will enjoy.

I’m borrowing some of their research for you to see:

Many writers want to know how many words a publisher expects a book to be. This chart gives you an overview of the length of the average book in the Book Genome Project. The second chart on the page shows you the most common perspective (first or third person) for each book genre. Of course, you do not need to modify your style based on this information. This information can guide you, however, if you want to see what readers will expect from your book if you are writing in a particular genre.

Take a look at some of the books you are reading. Which genre do they fall into? Do the books seem to follow the average length of other books in the genre (of course, unless you look up the stats on the book somehow, you will have to guess at word count)? Do the books follow the most common perspective for the genre? This is just something fun to think about for readers and writers.

Here’s what writers have to think about when they know a word count expected of them: If you know that you need to write an article for a website or magazine that requires 600 to 850 words, can you write that many words (or that few words) about the topic or person you are considering? Some interviews or topics need more than that to be written about well. Some topics (or people interviewed) can’t fill that many words. Same thing for a novel--if you are considering a story line  can you carry it for at least 40,000 words as an average minimum for a book? Should you write a short story instead? What perspective should you write from? (By the way, we will talk more about interviewing in a future lesson.)

I have three projects for you to choose from this week:

Challenge one:

Write a 250-500 word story about two people traveling to a place new to both people. The travel can be for business or for a vacation. You can decide who the people are and where they are going. You can also decide if the characters are just in the planning stages of the trip, if they are at location, or if they both plan and travel in your story. All of the details are up to you. Write this story in third person (he, she, they). Then write the exact same story in first person (I, we, me, us). Tell me briefly which story you think is the strongest/best and why.

Challenge two:

If you want to try your hand at a novel or short story, write about the setting for your storyline. Where will the book take place? A fictional city or a real one? A rural or urban area? What time periods will the book cover? Have you researched this time period and this location? Give me at least 250 words that answer these questions.

Challenge three:

Write a book review (250 to 500 words) of a book you have read within the last three months that you enjoyed reading. Write this as if it will be published in a local paper or in an online newspaper.  This differs from an academic book report. I don’t want to know academic details about the imagery in the book, etc. I want you to tell other readers about this book. What did you like about it? Why should a reader want to read it? Who would like the book--teens, women, a particular religious group? Don’t retell the book (and never give away the ending). Do give a description and a critical analysis. What was the author’s goal (entertain, educate, inform, persuade)? Did the author achieve that goal? How did this book affect you? Do you recommend it?

Enjoy your challenges! Have a great week!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

October 15 Writing Challenge

Greetings again, young writers! Hope you enjoyed writing your short stories or your thoughts for a novel. We are moving through this semester course quickly. Keep reviewing notes from what we have discussed in previews weeks. Remember--if you get stuck and hit that writer’s block where no words are coming, first step away for a bit. If you come back to your work and still have writer’s block, try some of the free writing exercises.

Let’s look this week at connecting feelings to your characters in short stories or future novels. Characters cannot be flat, emotionless creations. To have strong writings, your characters need depth--they need to feel and to think. When we begin as young writers, we often tell our audience exactly what our characters feel. We simply say things like, “He was sad when he heard of her death.” Consider how much stronger this statement is, however: “He wept uncontrollably as he ran from the house, feeling as if the walls were falling around him as the words of her death filled the room.” This statement draws the reader into the emotion and paints a picture of grief.

Your creative thoughts may be expressions of your own emotions. If you are celebrating a joy or struggling with a challenging emotion such as grief or anger, paint a picture of what you are feeling. You can turn your thoughts into a blog helpful to others experiencing similar thoughts or create a short story giving your emotions to a third-person character.

For now, let’s focus on expressing emotion for a character in your writings. First, get the emotion needed in the story down on paper. Is he feeling grief or anger? Is she experiencing joy? Second, ask yourself how deeply this character would experience this emotion. Is this a deep pain or joy? Is this a shallow, passing emotion? The answer to this question will give you clues to the language you need to choose to express the emotion. For example, a character would not run from the house in grief over the news of the death of a distant acquaintance. Your emotions expressed in a story need to be consistent with the characters and storyline. A rude, heartless employer would react differently than a loving new parent.

Once you get the first emotion on paper, then find ways to improve the presentation. Consider the overall picture you are painting for your audience. Improve your overall sentence structure and strengthen your imagery.

For the week, complete two of the following assignments:

Challenge 1:

Let’s work on getting some emotions down on paper. Write down three quick sentences that describe your feelings about each of the following phrases or words:

*fall leaves
*summer vacations
*burned dinner
*loose tooth
*brown sculpting clay in your hands

Challenge 2:

Now look back over what you wrote for Challenge 1. Do you think other people would share your thoughts on these common subjects? Could you incorporate these thoughts into a story if you improved your sentence structure and imagery? You may have expressed surprise or grief or joy or anger in connection with these words. Images trigger different responses based on personal experiences in life. Characters in a book may cry over fall leaves because it was the last image shared with a loved one. Other characters may delight in the beauty of the scene and walk through fall leaves to bring back memories of past joys.
Take one of your emotions shared above and write a scene (300 words or less) that describes a fictional character experiencing your emotion.

Challenge 3:

Write a poem expressing a strong emotion of any type (joy, grief, anger, etc…). You can choose the length and the style of poetry. Use strong imagery throughout your poem.

Challenge 4:

If you want to continue planning for a future novel, write a character sketch for two of your main characters. In this sketch, discuss how their emotions may run throughout the book. Will these characters express strong emotions throughout the book? Will the emotions change as the characters develop throughout the story? Will the characters hide their emotions from others or be overly emotional in a crowd?

Remember--to improve your creative writing skills, write something every day. Write in a journal, blog, write a poem, or just get some thoughts down on paper by using a variety of writing exercises. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

October 8 Writing Challenge

Many students will be relaxing for fall break this week, so we will have no assignment posted that you need to turn in. Look back over some of our past assignments and complete any parts you left undone in previous weeks. Also, take some time to journal this week if you don’t already do so. Journaling is an excellent way to get your thoughts down on paper. A journal can be a place to explore senses and emotions in depth. These emotions don’t even have to be your own. You can journal about the anger you saw in a driver on the street or the pain of someone you saw as you past a funeral.

Have you ever written a “sensory journal?” Twice a day (and this can be brief if you are busy), sit down and try to capture in words the sights, sounds, smells and tastes you have experienced since your last writing. You don’t have to explain the situation around each of the senses if you don’t want to, but write about the smells from the bakery you passed or the odor from the cat litter box or fumes from a bus. Write about the taste of the fresh apple from the market or the feel of the dirt from your garden.

A journal can also be a place to sketch out your hopes as an artist. What are your goals? What are you doing to prepare yourself to reach them? What blocks you from reaching them? The blank page on a journal can be a free space to explore many aspects of being a creative person.

Also, explore other forms of creativity. Buy or create some pottery, read a book or watch a live performance. Not only will you be supporting other artists when you do so, but you will be giving your own creativity some new forms of expression to explore.

Our thought for the week:

To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, if to have kept your soul alive. --Robert Louis Stevenson

Sunday, September 30, 2012

October 1 Creative Writing Assignment

Again, great job! I am enjoying working with such a talented group of writers. It is fun to see how you are strengthening your skills. I can tell that some of you are stronger in using your creativity in the marketing and journalism field, while others of you are going to be part of the next generation of novelists. And of course, you can always do both! Never limit yourself as a writer.

Now, on to work…did you notice how each assignment had you use fewer and fewer words? Last week we were down to mere taglines and slogans. No, it wasn't because I didn't want to grade a lot of papers! I am trying to show you how each word matters. Even if you are writing a novel, a misused word can affect how the readers feel about your book. I picked up a book by a new author this week, but I never got past chapter two. For me, the descriptions were weak and uninteresting. I was not drawn into the story enough to relate to or care about the character. The images fell flat.

Similarly, someone recommended a book to me that I checked out at the library. For me the downfall of that book was the foul language. The story and images drew me in instantly, but then I kept coming up to a word that strongly offended me (and caused me to quit reading the book). The story could have been just as powerful without the foul language.  You can express anger, pain, frustration, loss or grief through strong, well-chosen words without using words that may be offensive to your readers.

If you are a Christian author, you are not limited to what types of books you write. You can write wonderful mysteries, love stories, family dramas or espionage tales if you choose fiction.  You can choose to write historical fiction or nonfiction also. Whatever path you take, the words you choose become your identifying style to your readers.

David McCullough’s nonfiction books become best sellers quickly. If you read through the NY Times fiction and nonfiction best seller list every weekend on their website, you will soon recognize author’s names that have a large following. Either their book stays on the best seller list for weeks, or they publish books quickly with each one hitting the best seller list as it is released. That’s not to say you need to imitate their styles. You have your own voice that you need to stay true to. But you can see that they have a consistent style that draws their readers back again and again. You can also see what is already selling if you want to study the writing market.

Now I’m going to ask you to think about your own writing style. Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain as artist once he grows up.” Here are some questions I want you to answer just for yourself. Do you consider yourself an artist or a writer now? Do you think you will be an artist in five years? Ten years?

Not all of you will answer these questions the same. Many people who go into other professional fields as a career still enjoy keeping alive their creative hobbies such as painting or writing. Others of you have expressed an interest in pursuing a career in writing. I am going to give two assignments for the next few weeks. You can choose which assignment will nurture your writing goals the most. Read both assignments to get a feel for your options.

Assignment 1:
Well, since this is October…Make a list of three “monsters” that kill your creativity the most (example: the time “monster” because it eats up your spare time and you never have time to write creatively; the blocked mind “monster” because your mind becomes blocked and the ideas and words just don’t flow like you want them to; the ink “monster” because you don’t have any supplies when you want to write or the sleepy “monster” because you think of your best ideas when you are trying to go to sleep and can’t write). Choose one of these “monsters” and write a story for children (about 300-800 words or so) that portrays this “monster.” How does the other character in the story defeat the monster? How does creativity win out? This can be somewhat scary or can be just funny.

Assignment 2:
Write a summary of a book you seriously want to write. Make the summary about 500 words. Think of this as if you are writing a book proposal to an editor. A good book proposal includes a brief overview of the book, like a summary that you would read on a back cover. It should be interesting with strong words (remember your last assignments) and informative. Tell the editor what the book is about and who your audience is. Break your audience down by gender and by age group. Make sure that you are clear what genre this book will fall into--is it a mystery, science fiction, historical fiction, etc.? Tell me why you want to write this book and why you think someone would want to read this book.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 24 Creative Writing Assignment

Great job so far! I had some really good results from last week’s assignment. I’m enjoying reading your works. Remember: editing is never personal. If you work in any field that requires writing, someone will edit your work. Also, my one middle school student has been able to keep up with the high school assignments, so I am only going to post high school assignments each week.

Quotes from last week:

“…a healthy option for a kid’s favorite meal…”

“…stringy cheese covering up all the delicious noodles…”

“Stop worrying if you have time to make something …”

“…the smell of cinnamon and sugar mixed together floated up to my room…”

We are building up to a couple of longer writing assignments that I think you will enjoy. For a couple of more weeks, however, I want us to continue working on some fundamentals that will lay the foundation for your longer pieces. We have worked on descriptive language--text that paints a picture of a product or object. This week we are going to work on communication that relates more to underlying messages or feelings.

In business, this comes through what is known as the tagline or slogan. With taglines, an image is put into words. These words shape how people feel about a product, a company or a service. Example: Hallmark: When you care enough to send the very best. These few words convey a lot to an audience. Who doesn’t want to care enough to send the best? Why not make sure you buy the best? This is a special time or a sad time in life--someone needs a card--I need to make sure it is the best.

Why doesn’t Hallmark say, “You’re on a budget, so buy an affordable card,” instead of using their slogan? That is not consistent with who Hallmark is. They aren’t Dollar Tree offering cheaper cards. Their cards and gifts cost a little more. So you have to justify to someone why they should come spend a little more.

This goes hand in hand with what we talked about last week: using a few memorable words to say a lot. A tagline or branding slogan is a phrase that sums up the feelings about a company, product or service. Sounds easy coming up with one, but it can be really hard work.

For a product, you need a phrase that is easy to remember and sets your product apart from other similar products. You have to convey feelings that help a consumer desire or need your product over another. Your words have to be credible--you can’t imply you have family-friendly prices if you know your product costs more than others. People will lose trust in you.

Effective business slogans (some of these are older slogans):

Allstate: You’re in good hands (implies that they may not be the cheapest, but they care about you and are going to take care of you--they are dependable)
Coca-Cola: It’s the real thing.
Disney: The happiest place on earth.
FedEx: When it absolutely has to be there on time.
Ford: Built for the road ahead.
Kodak: Share moments. Share life.
Nike: Just do it.
Raid: Kills bugs dead.
Skittles: Taste the rainbow.
Dell Computer: Get more out of now.
General Mills: The company of champions.
Wheaties: The breakfast of champions.
Target: Expect more. Pay less.
Staples: That was easy.
Nestle: Good food. Good life.
Home Depot: More saving. More doing.
Dunkin’ Donuts: America runs on Dunkin’.

If you are writing or producing a movie, you won’t necessarily have a slogan or tagline. You will, however, want one really good memorable line to represent your film. People remember “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” from Jaws 2 or “to boldly go where no man has gone before” from Star Trek. I’m sure you can think of a memorable line from your favorite movie that was used for advertising.

With books, authors want short quotes from readers and reviewers on the back cover. Turn over a paperback book you have at home and see if you can find examples of short quotes from people (other than the author) used to sum up the feeling and purpose of the book. Teen and adult books have this more than children’s books. Here are a few examples I found here at home:

“…abounds with tales of motherly wit and wisdom…”
“… she has not only packed a lot of useful information in this book, but she’s also an entertaining writer…”
“…spirited and humorous…”
“…real kids in real places…”
“…a thrilling story of disaster and incredible heroism…”
“…her fans won’t be disappointed…”

Books also have longer plot summaries and reviews on the cover or inside pages, but they know that readers often just take a quick glance in a store before deciding to read more, buy a book or walk on.

Do at least two of the following options. If you have time, feel free to submit answers for all of them:

Assignment 1:
Take two of the company taglines above and tell me in 200 words or less why you think these are effective and what they would mean to you as a customer. I gave you a short hint of how to do this with the Allstate slogan. Why did the writer choose the words they did? How do the words make you feel about the product or company?

Assignment 2:
Think of the meal you wrote about last week. Give me three possible slogans you could use for the meal if you packaged it to sell (or you could create taglines for a restaurant that would sell your type of meal).

Assignment 3:
Let’s sell homeschooling! You can think of the umbrella school you are registered under or homeschooling in general. Let’s think of slogans that we can put on an ad in a magazine that covers traditional schools and education in general. (Go to a few school websites if you want to see their slogans. My college alma mater uses: Dreamers. Thinkers. Doers. ) Write at least two taglines that would go with a picture of students who homeschool or pictures of homeschool books (or any other picture that represented homeschooling).

Assignment 4:
Create an original quote that could be put on the back of your favorite book you are currently reading (or have just finished). Do this for three of your favorite books. Look at the examples above to see that these have to be short, but still say a lot. These entice the reader to find out more.

What’s the point of this assignment? To help students see how specific word choices bring about specific feelings with people. Every word matters when you write. If I say something is “cheap,” some people will immediately put it down because it implies to some people that it is lower quality or not up to their standards. Restaurants are trying to get consumers to stop thinking of “fast” as unhealthy. In the past, if you told me you were going to pick up fast food on the way home, I wouldn’t picture anything healthy. So if your audience reads health-food ads, you would never want to imply that your product was “fast food.” Words make people feel a certain way. The trick is to put together the right combination of words to make your audience understand what you are trying to tell them.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September 17 Creative Writing Assignment

Welcome back to our creative writing class! Hope you enjoyed last week’s assignment. If you have any questions, don’t forget to e-mail me. Quick reminder based on questions: you can cut and paste your assignment into an e-mail, or you can save it on your computer and attach it to the e-mail as a Word document--whichever one is easier for you.

Let’s look at some basic writing reminders:

*             The goal of writing is communication. As writers, however, sometimes we say a whole lot of nothing. We use too many words or “empty” words that sound impressive but don’t tell the readers much. We also tend to overuse words. For example, if I am telling you about a product or describing a person and I use the word “special,” what does that really mean to you as a person who may not be familiar with that product or that person? The word “special” has been used so much that it really doesn’t always mean a lot to the reader (unless you’re telling a parent, child or other relative that they are special, then that can mean a lot!). You have to tell us what is extraordinary about your product, person or belief rather than say they are special or extraordinary. Example: Mike is an extraordinary cyclist! Buy his book today to read about his wonderful adventures. (This is weak and empty writing.) Mike amazed the cycling community when he completed the 2,007-mile bike route in three months. Buy his book to read about his trek along the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route. (This is specific and communicates details.)

*             Always think of your objective to decide if you are communicating effectively. Why are you writing this? Do you want to sell something? Are you explaining a belief or a thought that you want people to agree with? Do you want people to take a class or answer a survey? Are you writing something to entertain people or teach people? Do your words match your objective?

This week we are going to use two writing styles to communicate to your audience: persuasive and descriptive. Persuasive writing encourages the reader to do something (support an organization, donate money, buy a product, vote for a candidate, etc.). The language actively encourages someone to do something. Descriptive writing, however, uses words to paint a picture or relay a thought or feeling to someone. In descriptive writing, you may choose to use more adjectives or more emotions to tell your story.

Examples of persuasive writing:

Vote for John Smith!
Buy today while prices are reduced!
Donate online today or send your check to______.

Examples of descriptive writing:

“…the old, ivory piano keys and the brass harp from underneath the worn structure cried out the soft notes that her every finger touched within the seconds, her foot pressing lightly on the dampening peddle, making the notes she played even more forlorn…” From one of our student assignments from last week
“…a sweet and perky yet diva-like personality…” From one of our student assignments from last week

Assignment 1 for all students:

As a writer, you can’t just tell me that something or someone is special or extraordinary or unique. You have to choose descriptive words and active verbs to convey the same meaning. If you are in marketing (writing ads and website material), you have a limited amount of space to do this. Look at ads this week to see how effective ones use 5 to 50 words to capture your attention and sell an idea or a product.

Find one ad (in a paper or magazine or on a website) that caught your attention and seems to use effective communication to get an idea across. Send me the best quote from that ad. It doesn’t matter what the ad is for, and it doesn’t matter how short or long the quote is. This can be from a church ad or a nonprofit group flyer. It can be an ad for a product or asking you to support a person You can search a newspaper or a magazine or a website.

The more you read “good” writing, the more you strengthen your own skills.

Now to the next assignment for all students:

This assignment has two parts. First, think of your favorite homemade meal. This can be a dish you make or one that another family member cooks for you. (Take a few minutes to jot down notes on what you like best about this particular dish or meal.)

Part one: Now you have to market this meal or dish. In 60 words or less, tell me about your product and try to convince me to buy this dish as if you had it for sale in my local market or restaurant. This assignment will be persuasive writing.

Part two: Now you have to write about this dish as if you are including it as part of a short story or novel. In 100 words or less, describe this meal as if a character in your book is cooking it or eating it. Make the reader picture a scene with the food in the kitchen or just coming out of the oven, or write as if the food is already on the table with a character tasting, smelling and enjoying this food. This part of the assignment will be descriptive writing. (I don’t have to know anything about the character or your “book”--I just want to have the food scene.)

Notice how your objective will be different for each part of the assignment. In the first part, you are trying to market or sell your product. You want someone to take action. In the second part, you are entertaining your reader and drawing your reader into a story with specific details of a meal. Your word choices will be different in each part.

How does this help me at all? Each assignment helps you strengthen your writing skills overall by just getting you to write. As with any skill, the more you practice, the better you become. Also, this assignment helps you identify your objectives for writing. At times in life, you will need to use persuasive writing to convince someone to hire you or consider you for a scholarship. You might be trying to influence someone to publish your book or hire your band. At other times, you are going to be writing to convey an idea or entertain a reader.

This assignment also forces you to choose strong, active, specific words to convey your idea in a limited amount of space. If you write a newspaper or magazine ad, you aren’t allowed to use many words. Same thing goes for a resume or a job application--you don’t get much room to tell someone about yourself.

Quote for the week:

 “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” - Helen Keller

Example of persuasive writing from a university website:

“It's never too late. Increase your earning potential. Each year hundreds of adults complete their degree program at the University of ______ leading to increased salaries, better jobs and greater satisfaction with their lives. We're here to help you succeed. Let us show you how to reapply, help you decide what courses to take and, together, we'll map out a plan for you to graduate. For additional information about the Back on Track program, please contact …..”

Example of persuasive writing from another university website:

“_______University offers an intellectually challenging academic program with a commitment to continual spiritual formation while engaging the world. For more information…”

Both are very descriptive, with neither using “empty” words such as great, special or extraordinary. They give details that will capture the reader’s attention.

Designer’s note selling a kitchen design to a future homeowner or someone remodeling a home:

“Dark walnut cabinetry builds a modern foundation for this kitchen. Materials such as stainless steel, custom glass backsplashes and granite further the modern aesthetic while remaining elegant. Butter yellow hand-tipped leather stools add the perfect accent to a very monochromatic color palette. This kitchen is anything but cold.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

Southern Writers: Suite T: Reassessing My Reassessment

Southern Writers: Suite T: Reassessing My Reassessment: by Chris Pepple, Staff Writer for Southern Writers Magazine  Recently, I felt as if my writing and marketing projects weren’t he...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

September 10 Creative Writing Course Assignment

Greetings! Welcome to our online creative writing course for the 2012-13 homeschool year. This course will run from September through May with a minimum of three lessons per month. Why study creative writing? How will studying writing affect my personal or career goals? If you want to see my thoughts on this, you can read my notes from this blog post:

Some key notes and tips as we begin:
  • Creative writing is just that--creative. I will note problems with grammar or spelling that affect your message, but I will not be working with you to perfect your grammar or spelling. That needs to come through other language arts materials you are using. (Some assignments will actually require you to break certain grammar and spelling rules.)
  • Your assignments will vary each week. Some may seem difficult for you, while others may seem ridiculously easy. Each assignment has a purpose, however. If I ask you to write a poem one week, I am not assuming that each student will go on to be a poet. However, practicing a variety of writing styles helps you think through creative options for other assignments and strengthens your overall writing skills. 
  •         If you get stuck, try 30-second free writing exercises. What does that involve? Set a clock alarm or timer for 30 seconds. Write about your subject in pencil without stopping for the entire time. If you are writing about birds, for example, your writing may look like this:
         Birds are colorful and musical. They live in my backyard. I saw an owl when I was hiking last week.      My grandmother had a pet bird that was yellow. Some birds migrate depending on the season. Big Bird lives on Sesame Street. Robins live in our backyard. Our birdfeeder attracts hummingbirds. I can’t think of anything else to say. I don’t know how to identify bird calls. I saw a pelican by a pier on vacation. It ate a flounder. (Notice that I kept writing even when I had no thoughts on birds--the topics change frequently--some thoughts are about food while others are about children’s TV shows. But now I have some thoughts down on paper that may lead to paper ideas, poetry ideas, story ideas or ideas for an ad.)
  • Think of your intended audience. Are you writing for friends, for potential customers, for unknown readers, for church members, for siblings? Your word choices will be different for different age groups and different social groups.
  • Think of your purpose. Are you trying to inspire someone, cheer up someone, make someone laugh, make someone think deeply about a subject? Your tone affects your purpose. 
  • You may have heard that some writers got paid by the word, but in today’s market, concise writing wins the prize. 
  • E-mail questions during the week if you need more information. When you are done--e-mail the assignment to me. 
  • It’s hard to proofread my own work even though I proofread for several organizations/magazines. Please pardon any errors on my part!

We will discuss more of these topics each week, but now for your first assignment--something just for fun:

Each of these assignments should be written in paragraph form with complete sentences. You can choose the tone (funny/serious/inspirational). You can write in first or third person (saying I/we/me or he/she/they). Students can choose which assignment they want to complete. You do not have to stick with your exact grade level--these are just suggested grade levels.

Skills you are working on: descriptive character development and exaggeration.
You are going to create a larger-than-life, idealized version of you. See below to see why I started with this assignment.

High school:

To help me get to know each of you, tell me about yourself as though you were a larger-than-life character in a movie you are writing the script for.  Write as if you are selling this character to me-- a person who might fund your production. The character must stay true to who you are (your gifts and talents) and what your interests and beliefs are, but must have exaggerated characteristics. In other words, if you are a scout, your character should be the best scout in the nation--more badges and more leadership than normally expected. If you are a singer, your character should shock the audience with the beauty of your voice. In 500 words or less, answer the following questions.

1. Where does your Movie Self live? A rural area? A City? Another planet? All three places? Near a church or a gym?

2. What five adjectives describe Movie Self? Adventurous? Charismatic? Introverted?

3. What are the spiritual practices or motivation for Movie Self? Reflective prayer? Modern worship? Teen retreats? Silent retreats? Intense study? Inspiration of others?

4. What will you title the autobiography for Movie Self after the film is a success? Travels of a Restless Mind? Following the Heart of an Athlete? Path of a Peaceful Heart? Adventures of an Avid Angler?

5. What two other things should the audience know about Movie Self?

If you have trouble answering these questions, think of movies that have been popular lately that were inspirational, yet entertaining: Courageous, The Blind Side, Fireproof, etc. Think of the characters that were based on reality, but still seemed larger than life in the films. Write yourself into a similar movie based on the reality of your life for this assignment. Are you more determined than others, more motivated than others, more talented than others, more faithful than others as your Movie Self?

Middle school:

To help me get to know each of you, I want you to tell me about yourself as though you were in a television show based on your life. In 500 words or less, answer the following questions, adding some details that are fictional, but would be interesting to the story:

1. What would the title of the TV show be?

2. What type of setting would your character live in?

3. What would your signature clothing be? A leather jacket? Jeans? A bonnet?

4. How would the show always end? With music you play? With your favorite quote? With a joke? With a prayer you say daily?

5. What two things should we know about your character in the show?

If you have trouble answering these questions, think of TV shows that have been popular that were inspirational or targeted for families, yet entertaining: Little House on the Prairie, Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, The Waltons, etc. Think of the characters that were based on reality or seemed realistic, but still seemed larger than life in the shows. Answer these questions as if you are selling this character and show to me-- a person who might fund your production. 

How could this assignment possibly be helpful to me?

Writing a character profile can be helpful in many ways. First, many of you will be writing college essays one day. You can begin by sketching out your strongest gifts and traits. You will need to magnify (never exaggerate as we did here, however) your strengths. Also, you may choose to write family biographies for a genealogy book or profiles for a website or magazine. If you interview someone, you will need to learn to identify the traits and talents that should be highlighted in a feature. Most features are limited to 850 words. Shorter profiles run from 250-500 words.

Here are some examples of features articles I wrote:

Quote of the week just to make you think:
“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” --Thomas Merton