Monday, August 1, 2011

It's Still Summer!

In our household, time-telling is a big deal.  "It can't be Tuesday," my four-year-old said the other day.  "It's still summer." 

Indeed, it is!

Seeing all of the back-to-school displays at the store this morning, my daughter was very worried.  "Is August fall?"  She has been having nightmares about her first grade locker, and in all honesty, I'm having nightmares about my husband going back to work and leaving me with all of the household chores he's been doing all summer long. 

But... while those of you in the south are savoring your last moments of summer vacation, we've got a month to go (not to rub it in).  I just finished teaching and taking my summer classes.  I'm sorry, but I'm not quite ready to think about going back to school.

While our vacation plans have paled in comparison to April's, we've had a little beach time and a little NYC time and this coming week, Hersheypark (and a chocolate martini!).  I was working while we were at the beach, so now I've been doing my "beach reading" from the comfort of my recliner -- the divine Jennifer Weiner for my grown-up book club and some great "boy books" for me.  Since all of my favorite kidlit authors are women, I made a concerted effort to branch out, and as a consequence I'm now in love with Dan Gutman, Anthony Horowitz, Rick Riordan.  I also can't wait to meet Zachary Ruthless.  (Have I piqued your interest? Don't forget to enter our current book giveaway contest.)

At the SCBWI retreat I attended last month, one of the speakers was well-known boy-book author John Coy.  He gave us a number of writing-intensive workouts, which probably work just as well at school visits with fifth-graders as they do with writing conference attendees.  I am not, as I have mentioned before, typically a fan of such exercises.  However, these were helpful to me in noodling on a new character/premise, so I will (thank you, John Coy!) share them here.

Writing Workout
1) Picture your main character in a scene that involves a conflict.  Now... describe what he/she is wearing.

As an aside, I am not a visual thinker.  I rarely describe much about my character's appearance, and I can't get through a book that goes on in detail about Jimmy Choos or Juicy Couture. 
I hadn't given a thought to what my character was wearing -- nor would I ever stop to describe it in this particular scene -- but I definitely had a better mental picture of her when I was finished.

2) Describe what she's wearing on her feet.

I'd already done this, down to her nail polish, so I was amazed to find how much more there was to say about her feet.

3) Describe her hair.


4) Describe the sounds your character would notice in the room.

5) Describe the smells.

6) Describe tastes. 

Adding sensory detail to scenes is, we all know, what makes them come alive.  I am much more apt to add smells and tastes to my descriptions than I am visual details, but I am strange! 

When my students write descriptive essays, I typically have to do a great deal of prodding to get them to move beyond cliches and to use strong, evocative sensory details.  The specificity of this exercise was helpful, and I look forward to repeating it with my Comp 101 students.   Oh, no, I'm thinking about school!  --Jeanne Marie

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