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All posts for the month January, 2013

James and Jamie

Published January 28, 2013 by Elsa Pla

Woman Writing

A few years back, I did an “Author’s Study” with my 6th grade Language Arts class. I worked alongside my students, modeling the process. We chose Roald Dahl as the author whose body of work we would analyze and emulate. We studied  several of Roald Dahl’s children’s novels (James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Witches), and developed a list of recurring elements of style, plot, and characterization. Here’s a list similar to the one we created:

Roald Dahl’s Elements of Style

1- humorous names, figures of speech, sound words, adjectives, and poems.

2- wacky characters and preposterous circumstances

3- black humor and grotesque scenarios

4- foolish and/or evil stereotypical characters (often abusive adults) that can be ridiculed and who always get their comeuppance

5- criticism of abusive authority figures and of social issues such as spoiled children and violence

6- good children who rise above negative circumstances and punish the evil characters (usually adults)

7- good characters (including adults) who help and support the good children

8- unexpected but happy endings where the villain gets his/her comeuppance and the child gets his/her heart’s desire

The goal of the unit was to write a short story that incorporated as many of these elements as possible. The students had fun with this assignment and created and shared excellent little stories.

As part of the modeling process, I wrote the beginning of “The Famous Story of Jamie Jones,” a story about a 6th grade girl who is bullied into locking herself in her locker for a class period. The students loved it and encouraged me to finish it. A few months ago, I finally decided to do so.

I’ve shared this because the exercise I’ve been working on is a characterization study of the main character in a well-known story or novel and of the main character in one of my stories, and I chose James from the novel James and the Giant Peach and Jamie from my story “The Famous Story of Jamie Jones.”  You will notice the parallels between the two (there are also parallels between Jamie and Matilda from Matilda).

Here’s the characterization chart:

Know Your Character 2

MC = Main Character

The interesting and great thing about doing this exercise was that as I was describing my MC I realized that there are revisions I need to make to develop or “round”  my MC more. That’s the point of the exercise, of course; I just didn’t expect it to be as helpful as it was. In other words, I highly recommend it.

(A round character has a complex, realistic personality. A flat character is stock-like and simple. A dynamic character changes in some way during the story. A static character remains the same throughout the story. Usually the goal is for the MC to be a round, dynamic character.)

I plan to continue revising the Jamie story, and I’m also revising a collection of poems I intend to self-publish. I’ll be working on “showing, not telling” through the use of imagery and figurative language. I’ll share more on my next post.

Happy writing!

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Back on the Writing Wagon!

Published January 7, 2013 by Elsa Pla

my youngest daughter (right) and me (left)

I fell off the writing wagon for a while (a couple of months!). That’s okay, though. It happens. It’s part of the adventure of writing. The important thing is to get back up, get back on, and not give up.

I’ve decided to change things a bit in The Write Town. Instead of blogging only about writing exercises, I’ll be blogging about anything having to do with writing and the writing life. That will give me more topics to blog about and, thus, make my writing life a lot easier.

As a start to the new year, I’d like to share a bit about myself and my work:

I’ve loved poems and stories for as long as I can remember. My father, a kind of renaissance man, instilled in me a love for literature, philosophy, and science. My grandfather was a poet, and from him I learned to love poetry, as well. The first book I owned was a collection of fairy tales my father gave me when I was six. I still have — and treasure — that book.

I’ve always been an avid reader, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. In high school and college I wrote romantic poems and musings, but I put aside my writing dreams when I became a wife, mother, and science teacher. I barely had time to scratch my head! I still read a bit and sporadically wrote in my journal, but that was pretty much it.

Sixteen years ago, after moving to Denver, I decided to give my writing dreams a chance. I took a writing class and started experimenting with stories and articles for children. But since I was a single mother of three and a middle school teacher, it was still difficult to find time to “really” write. I was always so tired! But in spite of everything, I pressed on.

I obtained an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. The experience at VCFA was life-changing. I became part of a wonderful community of like-minded writers who have stayed in touch throughout the years, encouraging each other and celebrating each other’s successes.

My MFA qualified me to switch from teaching science to teaching reading and writing, but, of course, it didn’t guarantee that I would become a well-published author. In seven+ years, I’ve only published one short story in a minor magazine and one poem in an obscure poetry collection. I’ve also had a storybook almost published by an imprint of an important publishing house (the imprint folded and my story ended up in publishing limbo). I don’t give up, though; I continue to send my stuff out to publishers whenever I can.

A year-and-a half ago, I decided to use the internet to communicate my work, both as a writer and a teacher of writing. I dove in, sink or swim, and started a writing website (www.writecook.com) and a reading blog (www.elsapla.wordpress.com), both for middle school kids. A year ago I retired from full-time teaching and started a journal blog (www.catchabutterfly.wordpress.com) where I share thoughts on living a simple, spiritual life. I also began selling middle-school writing lessons on the TPT marketplace (www.teacherspayteachers.com/Browse/Seller/Search:elsa+pla), and I started this blog: The Write Town.

My online presence has been slowly growing, which is super exciting. Writers need readers and vice-versa. Thanks to the internet, a writer can have an audience, whether or not his or her work gets formally published, and a reader can access a world of enjoyable and useful text.

Now that my children are grown and I’m semi-retired from the classroom, I finally have time to “really” write. My present goals are to continue to use the internet to grow as a writer and teacher and to be a part of the growing community of amazing writers who share their talents through cyberspace.

I have accepted that the publishing world is changing and that writers must adapt and search for creative ways to communicate their work. I’m learning to have faith, stay calm, and carry on, no matter what; to love the work and stay true to my dreams; and to continue to strive to be the best writer that I can be.

“The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.” –Ray Bradbury

“Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing… the rest will follow.”  Jane Yolen

That said, the last writing assignment I shared was:

Do a character analysis of a main character(s) in a favorite book and then of a main character(s) in a story or novel you’re working on.

Here’s a useful character analysis chart:

Know Your Character

I’ll be working on this exercise this week. Please join me!