The Teachers Write! challenges continue, including my own struggle to find time to write. I’m thankful for the timed element of today’s challenge. I have bathrooms to clean, so the teacher-writer in me is slightly slammed for computer time. I am committed to catching up the pack, though, so it’s now or never. Today’s guest author is Tracey Baptiste. who penned 2015’s middle grade book, The Jumbies, a spooky adventure set in the Caribbean, where Tracey grew up.
Exercise 1: Visualization
Picture your character walking through a door that is far away. All you can see is the shape of their body because there is a bright light behind them. When they step through the door, describe what they are wearing. (Write all you can in 2 mins.) As they move further into the room, describe the objects that you can see around them. (Write all you can in 2 mins.)
Slightly faded black Einstein t-shirt with fluorescent graphic of wild-haired Einstein, stonewashed, faded and a little too short blue jeans, showing wear on knees, hint of neon orange socks peek out from beneath frayed jeans bottom, grey and black Nike trainers
mahogany desk, probably purchased at a yard sale, that’s missing one copper drawer pull, Apple computer with NFL channel showing Top 100 players of 2015, dusty globe at the corner of the desk, a few books stacked beside the computer mouse, each with a torn book mark (all are partially read), swivel chair that squeaks when it turns to the right, an oriental style rug on the floor that’s fading where the sunlight streams in from the windows, a pair of Adidas black and white soccer slides askew under the desk, Starburst wrappers, two pennies and one lone Skittle on the desktop, a black and white dog nestled beneath the desk, its head resting on the back end of the soccer slide, the active chirps of birds coming in through the screens
As they stand in the middle of the room, people begin walking toward them. Describe who these people are and what their relationship is to your character. (Write all you can in 4 mins.)
Older brother, Connor, six foot four, towers over Braeden, his little brother. Obsessed with Magic the Gathering card game, regular at downtown DC hackfests, relatively quiet, but has a wicked sense of humor, adventurous. Likes to give his little brother a hard time, in a loving, big brother kind of way. Has serious asthma, which keeps him from venturing far from home. Knows Braeden idolizes him, and likes to show him off to his high school buddies now and then. Happy to share with Braeden on his terms.
Mother, Chase, blonde, book editor and athletic trainer on the side. Comes in to let Braeden know his time his up for YouTube/computer. Gives him a choice of either cleaning his room or cleaning hamster cages. Braeden ignores her until her tone of voice changes from sing-song to serious. He chooses to clean his room, since he can close the door and stretch out on his bed listening to music until Mom comes to check again.
Exercise 2: Becoming Your Character
Put yourself in your character’s shoes and answer the following interview questions as if you are them. What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? Who are you jealous of? If you could do anything right now, what would it be? What is your biggest secret?
I love football, which some might consider wierd since I don’t play the sport. Mom was terrified I’d end up with a head or neck injury like her brother and Dad so when every other guy in my class was wearing shoulder pads and helmets to crash into their scrawny neighbors, I was playing flag football (if I was lucky) or just tossing around the pigskin with my Dad or older brother. Despite the physical absence of tackle football in my life, I’m a diehard fan of the gridiron. Pittsburgh is my team; my Dad’s from Pittsburgh so the entire family claims allegiance to the black and gold. Still, I’ll admit to cheering for the Seahawks during last year’s Super Bowl. When ESPN was broadcasting the combines, my butt was parked in the corner recliner, remote control in hand–not because I had any intention of changing channels but to claim ownership of the TV. NFL draft day? I had a countdown on my iphone to remind me when to turn on the TV. Seriously, I’m obsessed. Player positions, teams, stats, I guarantee I know more than any kid in my 6th grade class. To them, though, I’m not a player so I don’t “get” the game. Ha. J.J. Watt, number one player of 2015, that defender can kill it. Marshawn Lynch is a beast. Did you know Andrew Luck congratulates every guy who tackles him? Don’t even get me started on AB, Antonio Brown, number eight on this year’s list. This Steeler is freaking amazing.
I hate all the excuses the politicians and so-called-adults make for why we can’t do something about climate change. Monster storms. Debilitating droughts. Rising sea levels. Contaminated water supply. World-wide food shortages. This is the stuff that swirls around my head when Mom sends me up to bed to get some sleep. Right. How about I get started on solving the most pressing world issue to face mankind instead? Except I’m 11–and can’t even ride a bike down to my best friend’s house because I outgrew my brother’s hand-me-down Raleigh.
Who am I jealous of? Kids who are taller and more athletic than me. I know I’m smart, and I’ve accepted I’m nerdy in a cool and approachable kind of way. However, sometimes I just want to be the best soccer player on the field instead of the one who loses sight of the ball just as my foot is about to connect with the leather. I wish my eyesight was close to 20/20 without the thick-lense glasses. At least Mom insisted I pick out a new set of frames for sixth grade. I must say, I noticed a few more girls looking my way. If I could do anything right now, I’d be standing atop Blarney Castle in Ireland, about to bend down to kiss the Blarney Stone for the second time in my life. Ireland is an adventure I’d embark on any day of the week. What’s my secret? I have an identical twin brother. Or did. He only lived a week after we wore born. I don’t tell anyone because it sounds creepy, but sometimes I feel Brent’s presence. Even though there’s no way I remember him, I get the idea he’s here with me for a reason. I’ve never told anyone–not even Mom or Dad–about how I talk to Brent. They’d probably lock me up in a mental institute.
Exercise 3: Flip the Switch
Imagine that a bad guy with an opposite-ray dropped into your book from hyperspace. The opposite-ray hits your character full in the face and now they are the complete antithesis of the person they were before. Now answer the same questions above again. What do you love the most? What do you hate the most? Who are you jealous of? If you could do anything right now, what would it be? (I don’t include the secret question because presumably will be the same.)
I am obsessed with HGTV, and have already dreamed up every detail of my designer house. I detest all this talk of climate change. It’s inconvenient, intentionally scaring the crap out of little kids like me, and I happen to believe it’s all cyclical. FOX News confirms it, and that’s good enough for me. I’m sketching rooms I want to create, not worrying about shrinking rainforests and rising sea levels. What am I jealous of? Jackson Millner’s family bank account. They have five new cars in the driveway and their kids aren’t even of driving age yet. They jet off to a Carribean vacation one week and then announce a European tour the next. I don’t even have to look online anymore to preview the newest Jordans hitting the streets; Jackson Millner is wearing them into school the day after release. If I could do anything right now, it would be convince my mother to replace the outdated countertop in our kitchen with poured concrete or cork. It’s quite embarrassing to invite a friend over and have to excuse away our laminate.
Exercise 4: Conversion
Take any scene from your current WIP that includes the character you’ve been working on. Strip away all of the setting information, the emotional tag lines and write it as a play with only the characters’ words and any stage directions that move your character into a spot that helps your plot to continue, such as: Moves to door. Door swings open and hits them in the face. Now see how the words your character uses without any props conveys their emotions, or DOESN’T convey their emotions.
Love the 4th exercise, but I’m plumb out of time. Those bathrooms are not cleaning themselves so it’s upstairs I go. It’s catch-up day; no additional time for editing. 🙂 Wow–what a learning experience this was. Difficult…but eye opening. 🙂 I can definitely use these ideas in my classroom. Thank you, Tracey Baptiste!