Monday, February 24, 2014

Using fiction writing as a springboard into analysis -


Please visit for free items and reasonably priced items that make your life easier.

And now. . .

My characterization master unit will be launched in several days. So it a perfect day to broach a heavy subject. Is creative writing, writing prompts, all of these fiction writing classes or courses just a bunch of useless fun, or do they serve a purpose? I avow that fiction writing in many aspects MORE difficult than most of the essays set in our school systems, for one simple reason: a scene or story is often an unchartered territory with guideposts but no formula or template. Write in and remind me who said this, or something like this:  "the question is never 'how do I write a story?' but, 'how do write this story?'"

Championing Fiction Writing in Order to Underscore its Relevance in the Classroom
Every time a person approaches fiction, the degree of critical and analytical thinking necessary to "successfully complete" is staggering. In fact, many people do NOT "successfully complete." The writings are attempts. They are worked on, occasionally at length, and eventually abandoned. I have had the honor of studying under a Pulitzer-prize winner author who regaled us with a story of his many failed short stories, and even novels. Please believe me, the difficulty level, and therefore the degree to which writing "story" challenges a writer, is beyond that of a typical compare contrast. IF THIS IS THE CASE, what skills are they learning in fiction writing and how can students use these skills when going back to the essay form.

1. Elements a writer must contend with - (setting mood, character, plot, point of view, where to begin and end, diction, plus order, grammar, mechanics, style, support of ideas); Some are the same. During this time, students are mastering the same key skills they need to master in traditional essay writing. Even supporting ideas; while nonfiction writing may need the use of quotes, both fiction and nonfiction will need details in order make the reader believe what the writer, or in the case of fiction writing, narrator, is saying.

2. Critical Thinking - Often times, students of fiction need to think ahead in time to figure out a viable path for an interaction between two characters. Writers need to use logic either to explain how a scenario unfolded or to arrange scenes, demonstrate causality through their writing, develop arguments as seen in dialogue between characters, supply pertinent details in order to portray characters believably.

3. When Paired with the Appropriate Nonfiction Essay. . . MAGIC HAPPENS. I am not quite finished with my Master Characterization Unit. However, I think what is very important, whether people buy it, or whether folks just take away the IDEA of it, is that teaching the exhaustive ins and outs of characterization makes it INFINITELY easier for students to then write an analytical essay about the characterization in a fiction story. It is rather simple to choose three to five examples, allocate one paragraph to each example, stating whether each example is direct or indirect, and then analyzing whether the example was successful and why. Students by now are very familiar with making paragraphs. They usually struggle, even in high school and in grade 13 (yes, that's college) with analysis and making sound arguments. If you have spent good time writing and studying characterization, writing a nonfiction essay on a public domain short story and analyzing the effectiveness of its characterization is a fantastic culmination.

4. To close Point #3 after writing your own scene and studying characterization, a student is uniquely suited to then writing an essay about the topic. In short, fiction and nonfiction are two peas in a pod, sorry for the cliché.
Please know that I will be done soon. But feel free to stop by my store anytime. I have freebies and reasonably priced goods. All you have to do is write, or teach! and in a few days we are having a sale!!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Why the "Show Don't Tell" Mantra WORKS for Nonfiction and Essay Writing Too!

Ok, maybe I'm getting a little crazy with giving away all my good ideas. But karma is a great thing. In the spirit of forwarding creative writing, I've got something to say about "Show don't Tell." Many of these ideas are available in my upcoming product on teachers pay teachers, "Characterization Master Course: Fiction and Nonfiction Writing and Analysis with CCSS"

In this upcoming super master course, I separate Direct and Indirect Characterization from the "Show don't Tell" rule. They are different, in that the latter is really a guideline that teachers offer up as a reminder, or, that often attempts to describe the difference between indirect and direct characterization.

The fact is....and here is where you might want to take some notes, folks...

Show don't tell at its worst can be damaging to students who then go on to over explain and guild every sentence with one hundred adjectives, embracing the spirit though missing the goal entirely of what this guideline implies. At its best, "Show don't tell" ALSO offers up simple rules that CAN when used PROPERLY - this being the key word - help fiction writers and NONFICTION writers be stronger, more engaging writers.

Some General Rules People Attribute to "Show, Don't Tell"
One of the guidelines writers have offered up regarding "Show don't Tell" have to do with the use of verbs and adverbs. Many of the rules are tailored for fiction writing. The takeaway is that some of the rules in practice are useful in essay writing. For example:
    - active over passive
    - avoid "to be" verbs
    - use adverbs when necessary, otherwise, again, use a stronger verb
    - It is better to write in simple tenses (present or past) rather than the progressives (ing),
      or with the "As" construction ("As I knocked on the door, I readied my suitcase and calling

There are more. The crux is the by applying these rules to writing, whether it be a story or an essay will yield a stronger product, and by doing this repeatedly over time will result in a stronger writer. As you se below, this is an example of the standard "overwriting" students do in an attempt to be scholarly. The first example is too long and uses unnecessary phrases. The second uses strong verbs.

Nonfiction essay writing example:
analysis of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

First Attempt: In the novel, as Dr. Frankenstein views the creature for the first time, he's horrified
             by the monster he had created.
After: Victor refused the monster he had toiled to create.

Next time... more discussions and freebie ideas leading up to the major launch.

All the best, and until then,
Happy writing, reading and teaching,



Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Characterization Master Class & Nonfiction Writing With Freebie Ideas

Now that I am working, day and night on A Characterization Master Unit – It occurs to me that a lot of . . .

FREE information can be passed along to readers, writers, and teachers. Of course there have been some puzzles along the way too.

Is there a difference between Showing vs. Telling, and Indirect vs. Direct Characterization?

It has occurred to me that there aren’t many definitions out there for showing versus telling, or for that matter, direct versus indirect characterization, only a lot of explanation and writing, with many examples that take up PAGES. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized these three truths:

1. Showing versus Telling is a “golden rule” that describes the difference between indirect and direct characterization. However, in some respects, it goes beyond the realm of character because showing involves setting as well.

2. As a result, direct and indirect characterization aren’t exactly the same as the “Showing vs. Telling” mantra. There is some overlap however. Direct and Indirect characterization, which I will speak about a little later, each have guidelines, and yes, a definition. “Showing vs. Telling” oddly enough, over time has turned into a broader definition for STRONGER more visual writing which serves in fiction writing as well as nonfiction and essay writing.

3. Contrary to even the idea of “Show don’t Tell,” direct characterization (or telling) is often needed and can be indispensable to writing fiction. Simply put, you can’t write a novel of 400 pages with pure indirect characterization. Sometimes, you must directly state. The art comes with knowing when to show, and when to tell.

Today’s Discussion – So What is Direct Characterization and Indirect Characterization? Clarified!

Direct- When the writer states or reports information about the characters to the reader, resulting in distance between the reader and the characters. The reader feels this way because the strongest voice is that of the writer/narrator who is delivering information directly and who in a sense stands between the reader and the character. The information may be the same as that given in indirect characterization (appearance, physical description, mood, even speech) but it is reported by the narrator,  and not shown visually. As a result, it is told a lot quicker. It's benefits are that it can pick up the pace of a slow story, can advance the story and help readers read past the less important characters and differentiate major from minor players.

Indirect Characterization – unlike direct characterization where the writer or narrator directly provides information to the reader about a character, in indirect characterization, the writer “tricks” the reader into feeling that the information is coming from the character, which results in a deep connection with the character.

This includes dialogue in which the reader can pick up accent, opinion, and attitude; movement, including physical ailment or energy; responses, actions or reactions to a major event a discussion or comment, whether it be a large body movement or even a small facial expression; physical description, which may indicate something interesting, ordinary or ominous; Thoughts, feelings, dreams or even daydreams, which provide a close intimacy with the character that people do not have with others in real life; name, an optional indirect characterization move that offers information about a character; responses of other characters, through their dialogue or body language; character choices; and friendships.

I hope that helps….

More tomorrow, and always feel free to pop into my store for reasonably priced writing goods as well as free stuff.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

THE Importance of Old Teachers, & Free Exercise Idea Inspired by Him. . . “Make Your Verbs Sweat!!”

I am now working on a very arduous project that has kept me from keeping in touch with readers, writers, and teachers.

Currently, it’s a 35-page, everything-but-the-lamppost unit on characterization, including fiction writing exercises, identifying and analyzing the differences between direct and indirect characterization, a definition overview on all character types (including foil, doppelganger, sidekick, flat and round, etc.), with quizzes that are easy, and then more challenging for different levels of students, plus writing beyond the stock character, analyzing characterization in a short fiction piece……ARGH.

I suppose you understand why it’s taken so long for me to get back to writing?

One of the things I am including is “The Rules of Showing versus Telling” which has some things in it that frankly go beyond fiction and push all writers to be better, stronger writers. Period.

ONE. Use active verbs, and if at all possible, precise verbs.

TWO. AVOID adverbs more often than not.

THREE. Stay away from unnecessary words. Really, truly, I mean it. Are you getting to the point where you sort of know what I mean? (Ha).

Sure, this is a characterization unit. But quickly, you see how important style, economy and strong sentence structure is to the whole, regardless of whether you are writing in fiction, or an analytic essay about characterization. Which brings me to. . .


One in particular. As a teacher, I lament that students will forget me, or toss me into the garbage heap of their teen memories. Sure, on occasion a few find me and say thank you. I delight in knowing that the work I performed mattered. It doesn’t happen all the time, though. I loved English, and one of my teachers always said, “Make your verbs sweat!”

It was because of him that I developed a love of English, and in particular, of words, and of language.

Why say walked? When you can:

  • Amble,
  • shuffle,
  • shamble,
  • meander,
  • hot-foot it,
  • skip,
  • march,
  • proceed,
  • hoof it
  • made a beeline for
  • minced
  • waddled
  • and more?

And while we are talking about VERBS, why not also discuss ADVERBS? Why do we “say morosely” or “say accusingly”? Even WE are guilty of this. Let alone our students. What my teacher Mr. Prior gave me, was a love of words though perhaps not the mind of an editor. Years ago, we wrote short themes and were meant to use adjectives and colorful language, including adverbs. Instead of ANY type of “say” with an adverb after it, why not use a STRONGER VERB. As Mr. Prior said, “Make your Verbs Sweat!”

Instead of Say, feel free to choose of these appropriate verbs:

  • accused
  • inquired
  • infer
  • pronounce
  • announce
  • respond
  • reply
  • reveal
  • whisper
  • breathe
  • promise
  • retort
  • assert
  • cry
  • and MORE

I find that it is heartening and validating that such simple exercises exist to improve writing.


1. Simply provide a verb as above, or substitute out another one, such as: try, go, or make.

2. 3. Allow students to try their hand at writing out acceptable substitutes on their own, and then, with a thesaurus.

4. Students will write the best, most active sentences they can. Your choice how many they write. Perhaps five sentences per verb, each using a different verb of their choice.

On a FINAL note, I think it is a hopeful thought indeed that all of us, I’m sure, have a fond recollection of an old, dear teacher that at least in part, makes us who we are today. If you have any heartwarming stories, we’d all be delighted to hear them.