a few things

March 23, 2009

spring break is over an i am officially back at my second home.  my classroom.  i chose this room, when there were 2 others available, for the view.  huge old trees that line louisiana street and look equally stunning in spring, winter, and fall.  having survived fall and winter, i am happy to report the coming of spring.  buds are appearing on my beloved trees and soon there will be green green everywhere green.

over spring break alex and i put an offer on a houe adn almost immdeiately had offerers remorse, if sucha  thing exists.  we were wooed by the economic stimulus package ($8000 back if you buy this year) and in a rush b/c first tiem homebuyers are blowing up the housing market in lawrence in the 125k-150k price point.  but, we did not get the house, and we are thankful.  we realized we need to go back to the original plan.  wait it out, look more, june 15th closing date.  i know teh right house is out there, and i know you will all be invited to the rocktastic housewarming once it is found.

things i am looking forward to: ku vs. michigan state friday night: this game will blow the doors off it, people; my dad’s 60th birthday on 4/12–my pops is the COOLEST; omaha in may with mom to see wicked–our first trip together!; indiana in early june to see cory and the rest of the gard family for cory’s high school graduation; becoming an aunt to b & t’s abby bean in august; a summer of reading and writing my own stuff; the first time we get to let zelda out into her own back yard.

the world is greening up again, and so am i…thankfully.


16 rules of fiction

March 10, 2009

I found a list of 16 rules of fiction writing online at the site listed here, and then added my own comments to it for my CW students.  I think it turned out OK…



1.     Show, don’t tell.

Your story should reveal itself through what happens, not what is explained.

2.     Be readable; grasp the reader’s attention.

Don’t use fifty cent words just because you can.  Find something compelling about the story you want to tell and START there.

3.     Don’t explain.

If your reader can’t tell what is happening from what you’ve written, rewrite it.  Don’t tell the reader the man had to duck to enter the low ceilinged room BECAUSE HE WAS TALL.  We already know that from the first part of the sentence.

4.     Know your characters.

What is his favorite food?  What does she wear to bed?  What TV show do they love?  What book do they hate, and WHY?  The better you know your characters, the more real they are to your reader.

5.     Drop the reader right into the middle of the action.

Explaining what happened before the story begins only makes your reader wonder why you didn’t start with the event.  Angela hurried down the wet sidewalk, scuffing her three hundred dollar shoes is more active and engaging than Angela’s three hundred dollars shoes were scuffed from her walk down the wet sidewalk.

6.     You can do anything.

And so can your characters, as long as you set it up so that their actions (and your choices) are believable.  Think Spiderman…a nerdy boy is bitten by a radioactive spider and can suddenly fly through the air, cling to buildings, and get hot girls.  Really?  The supporting details are believable, so we buy it.

7.     Write what you know.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to write about sailing around Antarctica, but you hate the cold and are afraid of water.  This is not a good match for you.  BUT, if you want to write about a character with a fear of water who WISHES s/he could sail around Antarctica, you’ll be more informed about your topic choice.

8.     You can’t talk about fiction.

Don’t tell me what’s going to happen: MAKE IT HAPPEN.

9.     Be true to the characters and let the story flow from them.

Your characters are the ones that should move the story forward, even if you use an omniscient narrator.  The plot moves because things happen in the characters lives.

10.                        A relieved sigh ALWAYS brings trouble.

A character who heaves a sigh of relief needs to have something to be relieved about, which means she needs to have something to have been worried about, which means you need to set up the point of tension, which means she needs to be invested in something, which means………trouble.

11.                        Truth is stranger than fiction, so appeal to the sense of absurd to gain credibility.

Remember the dog story?


12.                        Never, ever, let your readers be confused about the precise geographical locations of your minor characters.

If Helga’s maid, Beatrice, was upstairs washing windows when Helga arrived home from her spa treatment and then, when Helga calls for Beatrice, the maid enters from the door adjacent to the courtyard, readers will question how Beatrice got form the second story to the courtyard instead of focusing on why Helga called for her.  Pay attention to little details, they can make or break you.

13.                        The narrator can’t die.

This may seem like a tragic twist of such amazing proportions that you simply-can’t-help yourself, but WHO IS GOING TO NARRATE THE STORY IF THE NARRATOR DIES?  The only way the narrator can die is if the final line says, “I took a breath and———-.”  The narrator can’t even say he died because he’s dead, so he wouldn’t be there to witness the death.  Of himself.  Enough said.

14.                        Create a believable universe out of nothing.

You have lived on this planet for awhile, and you’re pretty used to the way things happen, but you don’t have to stay on this planet.  You can make up a planet made of tofu where animals ride humans to work and the only form of money that exists is the excrement of the animal race.   But it must be believable.  You need to know and how things have happened, not just THAT they have happened.

15.                        It is not real life, but it must somehow honestly represent something of real life.

In the stories you write, eight year olds shouldn’t have in knowledgeable conversations about Plato and Aristotle any more than eighty-five year olds should be singing “Riding Dirty.”  Those events aren’t representative of real life.  Outlandish and wild things can happen, but only in so much that they represent the way real people function and participate in the world.

16.                        The voice may be yours, but the characters are just characters.

Do not write about your personal life.  Do not write about your personal life. 

Do not write about your personal life. Do not write about your personal life. 

Do not write about your personal life.  Do not write about your personal life. 

Do not write about your personal life.  Do not write about your personal life. 

Do not write about your personal life.  Do not write about your personal life. 

Do not write about your personal life.  Do not write about your personal life. 

You cannot be objective about it, and writing about yourself is non-fiction. 

BE CREATIVE.  Dream up characters, settings, events. 


In Seymour: An Introduction, by J.D. Salinger, the narrator, Buddy, transcribes a letter he received from his elder brother. The letter is something of an advice to writers everywhere — or, as Buddy puts it, “A Nineteen-Year-Old Prescription for Writers and Brothers and Hepatitis Convalescents Who Have Lost Their Way and Can’t Go On” — elicited by one of Buddy’s short stories. Seymour’s advice is simple and impossible all at once:


“If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it, Buddy ! Trust your heart. You’re a deserving craftsman. It would never betray you….I think I’d give almost anything on earth to see you writing a something, an anything, a story, a poem, a tree, that was really and truly after your own heart.”



i teach high school english.  i love it.  i love seeing kids get excited about literature, their ability to write a strong essay, make a valid and supported argument, have their voices heard and their views expressed.  but as of today, the end of the third quarter, 30% of my students are failing my classes.  30%.  that is a holy shit number.  especially since i have a couple of small sections so i only have 85 students.  that means 25ish students are failing, and the majority of them are failing because they don’t follow the goddamn directions or write in complete sentences or do the homework.  in comparison, i also have about 30% who have A’s.  the weird thing is, there is almost no midle ground anymore.  you’re either a good student, or you’re failing.

the kids who have support at home, were taught to value education, and who want to go to college and realize they need to work to be prepared for that next step: those kids do well.  they aren’t always the brightest or most insightful kids, but they work hard and they pass.  in fact, it isn’t even all that difficult to pass my classes.  pay attention, do the work correctly.  that’s it.  if you only do that much you will–at least–get a C.

and the worst class is my creative writing section.  7 of 17 kids are failing.  that’s 41%.  those kids don’t turn anything in and, when i asked them how they thought grades should be determined, the majority of them said completion.  COMPLETION.  like just doing the work was enough to pass.  they do not think they should have to do the work correctly or well, they should just have to complete the assignment.  ARE YOU KIDDING?

i became a teacher because i want to make the world a smarter, more conscientious place, and because being a teacher means i believe in the things i say and the value of the material i teach.  but it is spirit crushing to be surrounded by kids who don’t seem to believe in anything, and don’t value anything.  do you know what they care about?  cell phones, text message, face book, their own lives in so far as they are impacted by the interruption of school.  that’s all high school is.  an 8 hour interruption to their social calendar.  for many of them, school is social time only.  see friends, hold hands and make out in the hallway, plan the weekend.  just get through it.  

they are totally unresponsive to inquiries about the material they are responsible for learning because they choose to remember things rather than learn them.  there is no intrinsic motivation.  i asked students today: if grades don’t motivate you, what does?  several kids said they are motivated by their personal experiences, or by getting to do fun things.  so you are motivated by failure and rewards.  you have to fail to realize you need to do something different–there’s a helluva personal experience–or you want me to give you candy and hugs.  ummm, not gonna happen.  

when did the knowledge you acquired and the skills you built upon stop being enough?  what is happening to america?  and what will make it stop?