This past week, my students explored the wonderful use of personification in their writing. When not overused, this form of figurative language can enliven tired writing. The trick is knowing when to employ it.
December has been a month of writing exercises. We've written about who we are not and--with the assistance of Kobe Bryant--taken time to say goodbye to something in our lives.
This week, let's play around with personification (attribution of a personal quality or human characteristic to something nonhuman; representation of an abstract quality in human form).
As soon as my new crop of young writers turn in their permission to be published forms, I'll share their clever lines. In the meantime, it's your turn to try.
Before you tackle the usage in a current piece of writing, practice. Our parents and coaches told us "practice makes perfect," and they were right. Nearly. Practice makes the game easier. Perfection is a whole other story.
1. Have a seat in your favorite writing space with your favorite writing tools (pen and paper work well for this exercise).
2. Create a T-chart on your paper (or simply draw a dividing line down the middle).
3. Look around the room and select one object that's not alive (a book, clock, floor tile, painting, curtain, chair...).
4. Record that object at the top of one side of your T-chart.
5. Beneath it, list the item's traits and/or actions (one per line). For example, if you choose a clock, you might list: face, hands, quiet, numbers, glass, ticks, tocks, hangs.
6. On the other side of the T-chart, list human traits and actions--again, one per line. It helps to think of one person when you do this. For example, using myself, I might write: laugh, stand, cry, listen, ponder.
7. Now, consider the two lists, and find a trait from each side that complement each other. In my examples, I might pair face and ponder: The quiet clock listens to the children's conversation.
Some examples to get you started:
The tired leaves dropped to the ground.
The empty paged mocked me.
The angry sea tossed the boat.
Still stuck or want a challenge? Study the picture above and write your best personified line. Share it below.
Considering sharing your personification practice or other writing tips with us.
A few weeks ago, Laker phenom, Kobe Bryant, announced his retirement from basketball. While I was not a huge fan of the sport or even the player, I am now. Kobe wrote a lovely tribute to his passion in a goodbye poem published on a sports website. (Of course, he's not the first athlete to put pen to paper. Check out this book.)
I shared this poem with my writing students as they viewed highlights of his career. They were equally impressed with the man's words.
Then we wrote our own goodbyes to past-times, passions, or activities in our world that we will soon give up. For them: middle school, friendships, sports, hobbies, habits. A girl wrote goodbye to horse tournaments, another said so long to a K-pop musician, a quiet boy wrote a moving tribute to cross country.
This week, I continue a month of writing exercises. Today's is inspired by a professional athlete.
we part ways.
Time for a
You offer me
Once, we cried together
over MASH, the goodbye.
with the Wonder Years.
Sitting with my dad and Marlin Perkins
we marveled at
animals in the Wild Kingdom.
Now my time
Not with you.
Thanks for the memories.
What will you say goodbye to?
Share yours below.
In light of Friday's tragedy in Paris, I decided to locate authors and characters who promote peace.
Our words speak as loudly as our actions. While you work to write the next great novel, consider the messages your characters share through their words and actions.
Consider these wise and thoughtful words from some of our most creative writers.
Why can't people just sit and read books and be nice to each other?”
― David Baldacci, The Camel Club
“A quiet conscience makes one strong!”
― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
“If you love me as you say you do,' she whispered, 'make it so that I am at peace.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
“Peace is always beautiful.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
“I do my best thinking at night when everyone else is sleeping. No interruptions. No noise. I like the feeling of being awake when no one else is.”
― Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places
“In his face there came to be a brooding peace that is seen most often in the faces of the very sorrowful or the very wise. But still he wandered through the streets of the town, always silent and alone.”
― Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
“I have never been carried around by a large boy, or laughed until my stomach hurt at the dinner table, or listened to the clamor of a hundred people all talking at once. Peace is restrained; this is free.”
― Veronica Roth, Divergent
“How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads; to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams.”
― Bram Stoker, Dracula
“It is better to be small, colorful, sexy, careless, and peaceful, like the flowers, than large, conservative, repressed, fearful, and aggressive, like the thunder lizards; a lesson, by the way, that the Earth has yet to learn.”
― Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume
“Thus Gotama [Buddha] walked toward the town to gather alms, and the two samanas recognized him solely by the perfection of his repose, by the calmness of his figure, in which there was no trace of seeking, desiring, imitating, or striving, only light and peace”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha
“Let the peace of this day be here tomorrow when I wake up.”
― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
Find your words of peace and infuse them in the stories you tell. Let your characters rise above the horrible acts of human nature and be the trumpets of a new world, a peaceful world.
Today, write only words of peace.
The turn of weather is a great time to take your writing through a poetic carwash. Fall is my absolute favorite season, and I love the poetry inspired by the leaves' changing colors, the biting cold that whips through my hair, and the dulling sun in the late afternoon sky.
Take a moment to visit these sites, read some verse, and give your writing a seasonal lift.
Here are my go-to sites and a few seasonal writings that offer dimensional imagery and language to my writing.
1. The Poetry Foundation
Grace Paley's Autumn.
2. Academy of American Poets
Noah Falck's from "You are in Nearly Every Future"
3. The Poem Hunter
John Keats' Ode to Autumn (I recommend you mute the computer-generated narration)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's The Autumn
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo and need an infusion of color and life or if you simply wish to take in the beauty of this season, discover again the color of poetry and let it drench your prose with folly.
Share your whimsy here. Do you have a favorite verse or site you like? I'd love to know.
This is my first official year joining the throngs of crazies who attempt to write 50,000 words in November. Are you one of us?
First, some history...
Despite its Viking Helmet which suggests the phenomena began in Sweden or Denmark, NaNoWriMo started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999. The lyrical title stands for National Novel Writing Month. The fist one took place in July begun by founder Chris Baty. Starting in 2000, the event moved to the chilly hibernating month of November.
Now there's a whole team of people who run the website and support coffee-guzzling authors.
Writers are challenged to pump out 50,000 words in thirty days. That's about 1,667 words per day. There's even a challenge for young writers.
Yesterday, November 1, I managed 2100 words. That was a Sunday with that extra hour of sleep, no work, and no kids running around asking for anything.
We'll see what I manage during the work week.
Join in the maniacal fun, and be my buddy! Cheer me on, and let me cheer you on.
I look forward to connecting with you at NaNoWriMo. If you need help getting started, drop me a note below.
Every writer experiences a block on occasion, a point in your writing where you just aren't sure where to go next. I've written before about how to unblock a creative stall. Sometimes it's about the plot, but sometimes it's about the character.
Unstick your writing with a little drawing.
If you've distanced yourself from your character, you might need time to see her more clearly.
Sketching characters, making maps of settings, and practicing dialogue out loud are not new tricks for writers. You simply need to find the one that works best for you.
Try it. Grab a sketchpad or sheet of paper, pencil or pen, and sketch your character. Try to capture her root emotions, her angst, her concern, her hopes, fears, and dreams. Draw her high school graduation picture or her face in the mirror when she wakes up. Create a series of portraits.
Once you've got her, ask a friend or stranger to tell you what they see. What emotions does the image evoke? If they see things you didn't intend, consider why they're visible in what you drew. If you meant her to appear scared, but the stranger sees anger, maybe that's her root emotion. Work from there. Why might she be angry?
Drawing your character brings her to life. Set her next to you as you write and see what else she has to say about her journey through your story.
Share your drawings and thoughts with us.
No matter how far afield I travel, I always return to the senses. This past week, my creative writing students explored writing about sensory detail by describing their hair. (As soon as I have parent consent forms signed, you will be able to read their amazing work.)
We spent time old school talking about the five senses and listing words a writer might use to evoke these senses. Next, we took a color walk to capture all we could find around campus of a specific color. Finally, we closed our eyes and listened to the sounds in the building and room. We even plugged our ears and closed our eyes to see what me might smell.
By the end of the week, students were ready to hone in on one idea and explore their senses. I read them "Hairs" from Sandra Cisneros' THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET to inspire them.
If you want to help your writing come alive, tap into the senses. Five easy ways to add detail to your writing.
1. Sight: select one visual piece of your story (a building, bench, street, tree; something minor). List ten qualities that describe it. Choose three and exaggerate them. Come up with a metaphor to add dimension. (EX: In winter, her neighbor's tree bent like an old woman, dragging its limbs along the tired sidewalk.)
2. Sound: as above, but this time you are finding something your character will hear. (EX: The wheels thumped along the pavement, a steady heartbeat in the night.)
3. Taste: as above, but maybe applying taste to something one wouldn't normally put in their mouth. (EX: I could taste the assignment. Its bitterness coated the tip of my tongue, and I wanted to spit it out onto the just waxed classroom floor.)
4. Smell: as the taste exercise. (EX: His angry words burned in my nostrils; their ashiness wafted inside me.)
5. Texture: this sense offers a variety of options. (EX: Her jagged words cut through me. The night air caressed my cheeks.)
If you are in the middle of a project, find a scene that's lacking life. Infuse it with sensory detail. If this is your first draft, go crazy. Go overboard. Write drunk, edit sober. (Thanks, Mr. Hemingway.) Have fun.
Share your thoughts on the senses below. What works for you?
What happens when you have nothing to say but you've committed yourself to saying something?
That's when you write crap.
That's when you need to write like you're at the edge of a cliff, like you're scared, like you're about to die, like you don't know what's going to happen next.
This isn't about writer's block. This isn't even about finding your muse. This is about unleashing your passion, firing up your writing, releasing that sludge of unimaginable creative juice clogging your critical writer's mind.
However you do it, whatever you call it, every artist--writer, poet, painter, sculptor, etc.--needs to find a way to stick his hand down his throat and withdraw that hairy, slimy, gritty clog of filth that's blocking the juice of his work.
Try it. Close your eyes. Shut out the world. Hide inside a closet. Drive to a remote patch of dirt far from lights, sounds, people, animals. Crawl inside a cave. Whatever you can manage. Get there. Go there. Now.
Are you there?
Did you bring a journal?
No. No. No. Where we're going, we don't need any journals.
Sit inside your proverbial cave, melt within the darkness, shut out the world. What do you most fear? See it. Smell it. Go further. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Go deeper. Get pissed. Fight for your life. Fight for your family. Fight for what you love. Curse, yell, scream, punch, spit.
Keep your eyes closed.
Unmelt. Find a light inside. Who is it? What is it? Feel its warmth. Offer your gratitude. Sense a peace. Let this love, warmth, and calm wrap around you. Feel yourself as whole.
Open your eyes.
Find your way back to your writing place. Tell your story to you. It may be a few sentences, a few paragraphs, a page or more. It may be a poem, scraps of sentences and words, or an essay. Structure and form are unimportant. This is for your eyes only.
Now go back to your project. Who wants this energy? Who needs it? Let your experience breathe new life into your writing. Don't judge. Don't expect. Let it have its own path.
Make this part of your writing ritual.
Share your journey.