Lesson 1 from an English Teacher

Yep, school is definitely sucking up my time and energy. Also, the newness of having a blog is wearing off, so I’m not posting as often. Just thought I’d start off with some honesty.

This is a series for my blog I realized I could write, since much of what I teach my students crosses over with what makes a good writer. After all, I am trying to help them be good writers! So, I am keeping a (mental) list (maybe I should write my ideas down so I don’t forget any) of lessons that I give to my students that I could also be sharing here on my blog.

So here is lesson #1!

Six-trait writing.

Did any of you do that in school? Did you think your teacher boring whenever he or she went over these with you? I hope not, because they are more valuable and helpful than you ever thought they could be when you were a student.

Let’s review what the six traits are:

Ideas and Content: Your own original thoughts. What you are writing about, not how you are writing.

Organization: The order in which you present your ideas and supporting details.

Word Choice: Self-explanatory; what words you choose to use in your writing.

Voice: The tone of your writing. Should be individual, unique and appropriate.

Sentence Fluency: The flow of your sentences. Using variation in your sentence structure and transitions to move from idea to idea.

Conventions: Punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc.

I think you can already see why these are not just important to freshmen with their high school and college career before them. Fiction writers can learn so much from these traits. The next time you are revising your work, you might consider applying the six traits to what you’ve written.

The six-traits are graded using a scale of 1-6. 1 means that you are completely lacking in that trait. Six means that you have perfectly executed that trait in your writing. If you had to grade yourself on each trait, where would you fall?

Of course, this doesn’t cover everything a fiction (or even non-fiction) author needs to look out for, but it’s a great start for a basic review of your work.

Should we take a more in-depth look? I’ll just go over one for now. I’ll look at others in further posts in this series.

So, Ideas and Content. As a fiction writer, this to me screams PLOT! It’s the most obvious, logical relationship between six-trait writing and creative writing. But I think it could encompass more.

Like complex, compelling, flawed characters. Rich settings. Interesting conflict!

All of these require time to flesh out and make whole. This is where all your ideas come into play. Who is your hero? Who is your villain? What is so special about them? What are their weaknesses? What does your hero want? What gets in the way of that? What else can you believably throw in her/his path to make obtaining the goal harder? How does the setting fit in with your characters and plot? What kind of setting do you need to pull your story off?

These are the questions that I came up with off the top of my head. I didn’t even get into considering theme or symbol. You know. The really heavy stuff. If I actually put some thought into it, I’m sure the list would expand exponentially.

Did I just use a math term? Must have been a fluke.

It should go without saying: if you don’t have any ideas to build your story with, you simply don’t have a story. Think of ideas and content as the foundation of your story. It gives the rest of your story and the six-traits something to stand on. Like any foundation, it needs to be sturdy. Strong. It needs to be able to hold up all the beautiful words you plan to write about this story because no matter how beautiful those words are, they will crumble and fall without that strong foundation.

So, let me make the same suggestion to you that I make to my students (and that I need to practice myself more often).

BRAINSTORM!

Put down all the ideas you have about a story in writing. It doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to have any rhyme or reason. Put down anything and everything that you’d like to include. Pick your locations. Start fleshing out those characters. Figure out the villain, the hero, the conflict. All those basic building blocks to writing. Write it all down.

Of course, you probably won’t end up using it all. In fact, you’d be crazy to try (see my previous post wherein I talk about realizing that I needed to cut a couple of characters out of my WIP). Once you’re done brainstorming and before you actually start writing, you might want to do at least a little trimming. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself.

Or your story.

And remember that the great thing about writing is that you can add and subtract whatever, whenever and however much you need.

Why isn’t it that simple in cooking?

Next time: Organization and Word Choice.

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