Category Archives: Education

Reader Wednesday: CONFLICT

To continue our series….

What I'm reading now

From Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress, I’ll share the “four elements that make a first scene compelling,” along with how my novel stacks up. The four elements are: CHARACTER, CONFLICT, SPECIFICITY  and CREDIBILITY.

This week: CONFLICT

CONFLICT:  in real life, we avoid it, in fiction we live for it and so does your story and its readers.

CONFLICT doesn’t necessarily mean an argument or a fight scene.  In Beginnings, Middles & Ends author, Nancy Kress, uses Raymond Carver’s short story “Fat” as an example of CONFLICT. The overall theme of Carver’s story is based on a touchy subject. The writer and reader both know that in our society, weight is an emotional issue.

 

 In my novel,  I show CONFLICT in the following ways:

  • ABANDONMENT: Humans thrive on the need to be needed, loved, connected. We learn early on, page one to be exact, that Lily has been abandoned by her mother.
  • ALCOHOLISM: This disease has far-reaching affects, not only on the abuser, but their circle of family and friends. Lily’s mother’s disease effects Lily’s entire outlook on life: past, present and future. It is what drives her need to flee, yet grounds her at home, where she hopes her mom will return for her.
  • GRANDPARENT RAISING GRANDCHILD: As common as this situation is, it comes with its own set of problems. The age gap, the resentment on both the grandparent’s end and the child’s end, anger at the absent parent, yet a need to protect and defend them. Lily struggles with her Nonna’s prudish ways and strict work ethic on their lake resort. She depends on Nonna for being the only stable thing in her life, yet resents when Nonna bad-mouths her mother.
  • FAMILY SECRETS: anytime secrets are kept within a family, something is about to explode. Truth revealed and the reaction to that truth can cause a riptide in the gene pool.  As the new young guest, Frank, confides in Lily about the horrific secret his family is keeping, Lily discovers a buried box, filled with secrets her own family has been keeping from her.

Ask the Question: What is the CONFLICT and how early is it introduced?

Kress says the First line, or at least the first page,should promise CONFLICT and raise questions for the reader.

So, take the first page of your draft and see if  your CONFLICT  makes its grand entrance. Share your findings with us!

Next week we’ll discuss SPECIFICITY

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Reader Wednesday

This week, I picked another writing book – cause I have a slight problem. With books. And writing. And buying things ; )

What I'm reading now

From Beginnings, Middles & Ends, by Nancy Kress, I’ll share the “four elements that make a first scene compelling,” along with how my novel stacks up. The four elements are: CHARACTER, CONFLICT, SPECIFICITY  and CREDIBILITY.

This week: CHARACTER

CHARACTER:  described by her voice, internal and external dialogue, thoughts, clothing, surroundings and her reaction to them.

In my opening scene I show CHARACTER in the following ways:

  • IN HER ROOM: Piles of mismatched pillows that Lily swiped from the houses of her mom’s long list of “hook-up’s”
  • IN HER SETTING: Lily’s reaction and interaction with the lake, the air, the sun and the island
  • IN HER TASTES: Coffee – no sugar
  • IN HER PHYSICAL APPEARANCE: her complex with her large nose, the scar, her tanned skin, dry chapped feet, long windblown hair, cut-off jeans
  • IN HER DREAMS: culinary school brochures & applications

Ask the Question: What does this promise?

  1. Lily obviously has a problem with theft and possibly her mom’s promiscuity – how will this play into the story?
  2. The Setting of being on a lake and how Lily walks around in that world shows us her skills, her upbringing, her culture and lifestyle. Also may play into conflict later (with weather)
  3. Her tastes and family traditions surrounding coffee and all foods and cooking play a large role in the book
  4. Having a complex about the size of her nose makes her human, relatable. The details of her appearance and clothing pull the reader into Lily’s world – making her believable
  5. Lily’s goal of getting into culinary school is central in the theme of the book. When the Protagonist has a goal, the conflicts stacked up against her are that much more tense. Makes the reader Care!!

So, take the first scene of your draft and see how your CHARACTER stacks up. Share your findings with us!

Next week we’ll discuss CONFLICT

 ~~~~~~~~~~

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No Degree? No Problem!

Tuesdays with..guest blogger, Justin Birch.

A College Degree isn’t Necessary to Become a Writer

While many students are taught that it is imperative for them to receive a college degree to be considered a great writer, the truth is attending college isn’t always necessary. All it takes for a writer to be successful is perseverance, focus and a willingness to take advantage of the resources available to them. In fact, writer’s workshops, online education opportunities and movement grants can provide a writer with all the tools of the college graduate without the expense or the time. Not everyone can attend college but anyone with a love of words and the work ethic can become a successful writer.

For example, Gore Vidal never went to college and he is arguably one of the most respected writers of the 20th century. He received his literary education from the fine literature available to him in his grandfather’s library. Similarly, Jane Austen wrote some of the most memorable books of the last 200 years before a college education was even an option for a woman.

One of the primary ways that people learn to write in college is by reading. It is a given that anyone who wants to be a writer also loves to read. Yet while pursing a college education one is forced to read books that they wouldn’t ordinarily read. It might not be a science fiction lover’s first instinct to read seemingly dry 19th century literature, but writers learn from extending themselves and challenging their minds. As such, aspiring writers should read anything and everything available to them. They should read interviews of famous authors, and read those authors’ favorite books.

In order to be successful, it is crucial for writers to find an outlet where they will have the opportunity to workshop their manuscripts and receive feedback from other writers. Yet, this doesn’t need to occur in a college classroom. Check local newspapers, bulletin boards at bookstores and Craigslist for writing groups in your town. However, of you can’t find a group in your area, you can always start your own. All it takes is a group of writers who take their writing seriously and will commit to meeting regularly, although it is of the utmost importance that they understand the concept of “constructive criticism. There are also many wonderful online writing groups like Coffeehouse for Writers .

Those interested in writing can also attend online writing classes and receive professional critiques and coaching at sites like Gotham Writers Workshop. Likewise,  Writer’s Digest , has a Web site that offers webinars, tips and prompts, and books for the writer who wants to learn the craft without sitting in a classroom.

Another option for writers with the financial resources, is attending large-scale workshops. Going to workshops can be an invaluable experience. These conferences provide the opportunity to attend seminars and meet with industry professionals like agents and editors, as well as best-selling authors. Like any other career, writing involves networking, and the connections made at a conference or workshop can make a big difference in launching a writing career.

The best way to become a writer is to write. While the blank page can become daunting and it is easy to assume that only people with impressive degrees are qualified to write, all a writer really needs is a platform for sharing their work and the courage to plough forward. An enterprising writer who would like experience writing and building an audience should consider blogging. A blog can usually be set up for free and from day one the writer can begin interacting with readers and finding their voice.

As with most things in life, practice is the key to success. As such, the more one writes the better they become. In the current publishing culture it is more and more difficult to get your foot in the door. Thus, any writer waiting for permission from the establishment to write will never compose anything but e-mails.

Ultimately, one of the reasons many writers pursue a college education is that while they’re in school that they are often having their education paid for by student loans, allowing them to use any surplus loan money to support themselves while they write. For writers who begin their careers without a degree the National Endowment of the Humanities provides many grant opportunities. Better yet, the organization provides awards to a significant number to authors who are inexperienced and not college graduates. The National Endowment for the Arts is another resource for grants to help support fledging writers.

Being a writer doesn’t require a college degree. A reader won’t refuse to read a book or an article because the writer is completely focused on their craft and not necessarily on the pursuit of a degree. An aspiring writer simply needs to be willing to take advantage of the resources available to them and success will be theirs.

Justin Birch wanted to be a high school teacher, and then a college professor, before encountering the difficulties of graduate school and professional academia. Now, as a writer and editor, he works to promote the quality and availability of undergraduate education in America.

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5 prompt Friday

         Here we go again…

  1. The empty feeling in my stomach spread to my chest and head, threatening to pull me inside out.
  2. How do I say this to you?
  3. On her wrist was a bracelet made from multi-colored paperclips.
  4. His voice crackled through the walkie-talkie, “The Eagle Has Landed.”
  5. Are you ready to do this?

Have a story or prompt to share? Post it here : ) Happy writing!


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Young Writers Workshop: Jump In!

     FRoG (Friends of the Gifted & Talented) has opened registration for Super Saturdays!

Young Writers (grades 3-8):  Come out to ONeill Middle School in Downers Grove, IL to learn and write with an award-wining author – Me!

Workshops are filling fast – REGISTER TODAY!!

Details:

Writing Workshop I  Grades: 3-8,  50 min classes: 10 am

Five weeks: Jan 29-Feb 26, 2011 $45

Do you love making up stories? Learn how to bring out the stories within you in this exciting class. Improve your writing skills by using the same process and style strategies used by professional writers to bring your creative ideas to life. Through reading and working together with other students, your inner author will emerge! This is also a perfect opportunity to prepare for the PTA’s Reflections program.

 

Writing Workshop II  Grades: 4-8, 50 min classes: 11 am

Five weeks: Jan 29-Feb 26, 2011 $45

Are you ready to take your writing to the next level? Young writers will learn advanced techniques to improve their craft: how and when to use symbolism, subplots, transitions, figurative language and more.  We will learn how to give and receive constructive criticism in a workshop setting. Come prepared with a first draft of a short story or several chapters of a novel-in-progress and we’ll help you make it shine!  This is the class you need if publication is your goal.

Prerequisite: Writing Workshop I or Writing Sample submitted to Instructor

Testimonials:

“Thank you for being a great teacher to Grace. Her love of writing has grown because of you!” ~ Katie, Downers Grove Parent

“Mariah had such a great time learning from a pro.” ~ Reyna, Downers Grove Parent

“Thank you for all your help! I couldn’t have gotten this far without you!” ~Melissa, 8th Grade Student

“Garrett wishes your class was everyday, now that’s exciting!!!” ~ Shari, Downers Grove Parent of two writing students

“Yemi and her mother have nothing but great things to say about your workshops. ” ~ Reyna, Bolingbrook Parent

“You’re like the Dear Abby of Writing! U Rock!” ~Kate, 7th Grade student

“Every time I would pick up Jay after the workshop he was almost hysterical.  If you know my son, he is very composed most of the time.  But he would drop all his inhibitions and brainstorm through the workshop.  He really ENJOYED the writing classes with you.  The classes prompted him to take his journal with him while travelling rather than a hand held video game.” ~ Rupa, Downers Grove Parent

“Thanks again for including Anika – she had a blast. ” ~ Newenka, Darien Parent

 “Allison was very excited about writing the whole week.  Your “what if…” exercise gave her a fun way to think about things to write about (at home, for fun, when she only has 15 mins or so to do some writing).” ~Betsy, Downers Grove Parent

 “YOU ARE THE BEST! Never before have I had such a fabulous writing teacher. I want to write books that get published and turned into movies, like my uncle’s. I want to do this for my passion and my future fame. You rock Mary Jo!” ~ Katie, 5th grade student

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Degree Programs and Free College Courses for Writers

 As we head into our New Years’ Resolution Season, some of us may be thinking about going back to school. Brian Jenkins shares his research on the best programs and classes for writers:

Writing degree programs present great opportunities for writers. In addition to honing their writing skills, students have the opportunity to network and get feedback on their writing from instructors and other students. Many colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in writing. Here’s a list of writing programs available at traditional campuses and online:

  • Associate of Arts in Creative Writing
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing
  • Bachelor of Arts in English Literature/Creative Writing Concentration
  • Bachelor of Arts in English/Creative Writing Concentration
  • Master in Fine Arts  in Professional Writing
  • Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing

 

The Database of American MFA Programs in Creative Writing provides essential information about full- and low-residency creative writing programs in the United States (as well as in other English speaking countries).

Many students are interested in attending schools that provide “superstar writers,” however the Atlantic stated in 2007 that well-known writers typically teach as little as one course every year and a half and are typically on staff for their notoriety and not for their teaching. Check to see just how much time these top writers spend teaching classes and mentoring at the schools you’re considering.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing: Students in these programs read authors of classic literature and often integrate these styles into their own writing. Students write extensively and instructors and other students provide feedback. The programs include courses in craft and technique and offer workshops.

MFA Popular Fiction Programs: There are at least a few low-residency creative writing graduate programs that specialize in popular fiction. Students typically write and attempt to sell thrillers, horror, mysteries, science fiction, historical fiction and fantasy.

Online Writing Programs: There are plenty of online writing programs to choose from, and many allow students to complete writing and reading assignments at their convenience. They communicate with instructors through email, telephone, and in chat rooms. However, online programs rarely give students the feeling of being part of a writing community.

Full-Residency MFA Programs: Students spend two to three years at school taking creative writing classes before completing a thesis. In full-residency programs students get immediate feedback from instructors and fellow students in workshop-style courses. Students also feel like they are part of a writing community and have the opportunity to discuss writing topics with each other.

Low-Residency MFA Programs: These programs typically consist of four semesters of coursework. Students usually spend 7 to 14 days on campus at the beginning of each semester to participate in workshops. They correspond with faculty members online. Some programs also provide students the opportunity to communicate online with each other. Low-residency programs are popular with working adults who have busy schedules.

 

The University of Iowa in Iowa City:  In 2010 the school’s MFA program was ranked as the best in the United States for poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by Poets & Writers magazine. The University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop has trained some of the country’s poet laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Students can also receive a Bachelor of English Literature with a concentration in creative writing.

University of Virginia in Charlottesville: This school provides a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. English majors also have the option to focus on poetry. In 2010 the university was ranked #3 overall for creative writing MFA programs and ranked #2 for poetry by Poets and Writers .

MIT: Offers many past courses for free online via OpenCourseWare. The Creative Spark was provided by Professor Karen Boiko in 2004. MIT offers other courses for free in fiction and non-fiction writing.

Other schools that offer free writing courses are Utah State University, Open University, Western Governors University, the University of Utah, and Purdue University.

Clearly, there are many options when considering undergraduate and graduate degree programs in writing. Be sure to keep this information in mind when deciding which program is best for you.

Brian Jenkins writes about career and school information for writers, among other topics, for BrainTrack.

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Young Writers’ Workshops I and II – REGISTER TODAY

Super Saturday registration has started!

Registration for the 2010 fall session of Super Saturday classes is now open.  Classes start on October 23 and end November 20 and are held at O’Neill Middle School in Downers Grove, IL.  Each week, there are three one-hour class periods starting at 9:00 a.m. 

Join me….

Writing Workshop I  Grades: 3-8,  50 min classes: 10 am     $45

Five weeks – Begins Oct 23-Nov 20

Do you love making up stories? Learn how to bring out the stories within you in this exciting class. Improve your writing skills by using the same process and style strategies used by professional writers to bring your creative ideas to life. Through reading and working together with other students, your inner author will emerge! Students will participate in the world-wide event: National Novel Writing Month! This is also a perfect opportunity to prepare for the PTA’s Reflections program.

 

Writing Workshop II  Grades: 4-8, 50 min classes: 11 am     $45

Five weeks- Begins Oct 23-Nov 20

Are you ready to take your writing to the next level? Young writers will learn advanced techniques to improve their craft: how and when to use symbolism, subplots, transitions, figurative language and more.  We will learn how to give and receive constructive criticism in a workshop setting. Come prepared with a first draft of a short story or several chapters of a novel-in-progress and we’ll help you make it shine!  This is the class you need if publication is your goal.

Prerequisite: Writing Workshop I or Writing Sample submitted to Instructor

Last year’s classes filled quickly – REGISTER TODAY!

 

Go to www.dgfrog.org for a complete list of classes and registration information. You’ll find old favorites like Chess, Cooking and Robotics, plus some interesting and fun new subjects – Know Your Nature, Silk Screen Painting, and Rock & Roll.  In all, we have over 40 classes to choose from!

As always, Super Saturday classes are open to all students in grades K – 8, regardless of school district. There are no eligibility requirements beyond an interest in the subject and a desire to learn!

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