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A monster of a sentence diagram

Here’s an inspirational quote for the start of a new year:
“Often what seems unworthy is precisely the thing that contains a universal, and by catching it honestly, then stepping back from it, you may achieve the authorial distance that is an essential part of significance.”

Janet Burroway  and Elizabeth Stuckey-French

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft

Friday Blog

After discussing in media res in class last week,  this morning we used a prompt for an in class writing exercise that would start us in the middle of things. Here are two we liked:

She dropped the mask and everyone gasped. They hadn’t expected her to actually do it. It was a joke; everyone dared each other to drop their masks all the time but no one actually did it. Until now.
She looked at them, her soft eyes set above purple bags that suggested how tired really was and an indentation from where the mask had sat ran across the bridge of her nose. She pulled the pins from her hair one by one, setting them on the table beside her until a small mountain had accumulated. And then she smiled. Everyone gasped again but this was not out of shock, but awe.
The masks were supposed to make things easier, make everyone beautiful but they had been wrong. This one girl, with an ordinary face and wild hair, was more beautiful than any mask. She was brave and happy, and when she smiled, you could see it. One by one, the others pulled the masks from their faces, pulled the pins from their hair, and then they smiled. And they were so  beautiful.


She dropped the mask and everyone gasped. The mask was porcelain, and heavy. Its glaze was cracked in places and dots of color were just barely visible crowning its brow. When she dropped it, she thought for just a moment how beautiful it was, and how long it must have taken someone to make. She’d promised her mother–promised– that she’d be careful with it. Now that it lay in shards on the floor, she was surprised to find that she wasn’t thinking about what her mother would say. Only about someone’s hands bending the mask into a shape, taking pleasure in its form. And, she remembered a doll she’d had when she was five. Susan had come over, and of course,  sh’d had to show the doll to Susan, who always wore pink skirts and barrettes covered in plastic gemstones. The doll’s face had caved in when it slipped from Susan’s hands, and Susan had just stood there, looking at it.
That was how she felt now. It didn’t matter that the mask was from a rare collection and that her mother had to bend the rules to get it for her for Show and Tell. It didn’t matter that it was worth over a thousand dollars, and was over a thousand years old. when she looked at the split pottery, all she saw was her own five-year-old face, tear-stained, as Susan must have seen it. Somebody had made this mask. Somebody had loved this mask. And it was broken.
The teacher rushed in with a broom and dust pan and tried to salvage what was left. She just stood dumbly in front of the class. The teacher handed her the fragments in a Ziploc bag, and, quietly, she sat down.

Friday Blog

It’s here– the end of the year vocabulary test! We’ve been playing with these words all year and the challenge of retaining 92 new words has been a big one but well worth our time. On Wednesday, in preparation for today’s test, we made groups of words that “felt” like they went together and created stories around them. Here’s one we liked, featuring derelict, saturate, putrescent, dwindle, harpy, lamia, brazen, and eclectic. We called this the “Teen Dystopian Novel” group.

The derelict building might have once been part of a grand estate. It might have once housed important guests visiting a manor house that long before ceased to exist. Or perhaps it was the home of a well to do family, sheltering the sleeping heads of sweet children before the roof collapsed and left the uppermost floor exposed to the elements. Years of rain had saturated the floorboards, leaving them dangerous to walk upon and smelling of the putrescent stench of rotted wood and the decaying bodies of small animals. They must have lived there before we did, turning the attic into their home before dying in their beds. I wonder if we will face the same fate, lying down for another restless night only to reach an even deeper rest than intended. I suppose it is preferable to never returning. We don’t know what happens, or rather, we won’t admit what happens. Instead we turn to the fact, what we know for sure.

There were eleven of us when we found the old house.
Last week there were eight of us.
Marna didn’t return yesterday.
Now there are seven.
It is my turn.

The rations we had managed to collect are rapidly dwindling, although less so now that there are less mouths to feed, so every other day we send someone to go gather what they can from the forest that twist toward the sky.  There are rumours about the creatures that lurk there: harpies, lamias, the- no. Thinking this way doesn’t help. Sometimes when I start to think about them, I turn my thoughts instead to a rebellion. Perhaps it is brazen for me to think that way, but I don’t care. If the people who are supposed to help this world let children disappear and fend for themselves, then I don’t care if my thoughts turn to a war. We may just be an eclectically thrown together group of kids, but we could do something.

Friday Blog

As we do every week, we started today with a free association writing exercise. We’ve been reading about narrator point of view for homework and today the two merged:

The brain. Da mask. Damask. Shakespeare. Now to write using different points of view as the narrator. She continued writing, her pencil moving across the page as the words appeared. (Omniscient narrator.) She felt happy because she found writing from different perspectives interesting. (Not omniscient, intrusive narrator.) Beth was also writing and Cade. They all wrote together. (Limited narrator to a small group.) Although they didn’t know it, everyone else in the world was, at that moment, also writing. (Not limited.) So, my pencil keeps on going like it’s repeating the same words but from different points of view. (First person.) Perhaps you are wondering how much longer I can write about the fact that I am writing. (Second person.) Well, the answer is I can’t because I can’t remember any more points of view except free association and epistolary. This is not a letter, and I already did free association in the beginning. Bye.

Friday Blog

20170505_103128Today’s exercise was to write for three minutes on the question: How did this turtle knickknack get on this windowsill? Here are our responses…

*They had left a window open. One open window, on one house, on this one street. The same street that I happen to be on. It was Fate! I wondered what the people would be like. Will they notice me? I hope they will. Beneath the window is a flowerpot. I can reach the flowerpot. I can reach the window. Looking into the open gap of the window, I met the eyes of a little girl with dark hair and pretty eyes that sparkled like my back. She smiled. I smiled too. She noticed me. I’m going to be so happy here.

*Pamela had always loved sparkles. Ever since she was a child, she’d been obsessed with them. So, when Rachel saw the sparkly glass turtle in the shop window, she knew it would be the perfect present. There were other glass creatures, but turtles were Rachel’s favorite. The small creature seemed to wink at her, saying, “Look at me! Take me home and put me on a desk!” So, with a rush of delight, Rachel did just that.

*With a sickening shatter, the turtle with coppery sparkles was slammed through Rachel’s bedroom window. It was so loud that Lucky (the only one in the house) could hear it, despite being deaf. He bounded up the stairs only to see a figure through the shattered glass on the street below. It was…

*He was once alive and could walk upon the skin of the earth. Back in the time of magic, before science and rationality had shone their light into all the dark corners of the world. In the time before, there were no rules preventing a transparent turtle filled with glittering copper chips from existing, from living. So, he could walk and feel the sun. Now, after the advent of the new world, he remained motionless on the windowsill he had come to rest upon when the laws of physics suddenly became immutable.

Friday Blog

After our Shakespearean vocabulary quiz this morning, we returned to last week’s storytelling and vocabulary in-class exercise.  Here’s one we liked a lot:

The cloud of dandelions perched lightly on the edge of the hill, the, at a strong gust, rose up and was disseminated through the town. The people in the town, especially the children, looked up in awe as the soft white fluff rained down upon them. One child, who had just been informed of magic and could not be convinced it was fake, took this as the final proof needed for magic to exist. In the park, a group of teenagers were playing soccer when they encountered the dandelion fluff. One boy stopped, looked up and kicked his shoes from his feet. He grabbed his friend’s hand and twirled him around. All of their friends laughed and, in turn, took off their own shoes and joined the impromptu festivities. In this way, dancing barefoot became quotidian.

Friday Blog

As we enter the final quarter of the year, we’ve been focusing on reviewing this year’s vocabulary list. So, for a fun Friday morning exercise, we write one sentence featuring a vocabulary word at the top of a sheet of paper,  one on the bottom, then pass the paper and have a second person connect the two sentences.  Here’s one that we liked from this morning:

He gave her a brazen smile and, flexing his muscles, leaped backward off the rock into the lake. She blushed and g;lanced down, both pleased that he would flirt with her and  furious that his arrogant confidence could still induce her cheeks to redden. After they left the lake, his lazy “later, babe” still echoing in her ears, she decided to write down her feelings. Yes, a letter. She would tell him exactly what she thought and he would finally know her, see her. When it came time to find a place to leave the letter for him to find in the rented summer cabin, she became stumped. She found herself staring, trance-like, into the junk drawer. The eclectic jumbling of hairbands, keys, gum wrappers, and coins seemed to contain her personality in a way the letter had not.

Friday Morning Writing Exercises

This week we decided to evolve one of our favorite in-class writing exercises, Exquisite Corpse, into a group storyteller exercise. Each person writes a sentence. Unlike Exquisite Corpse, all of the sentences are visible while the story is written.

Here are a few of our favorites:

The butterfly landed softly on the tip of her outstretched shoe and she froze so as not to disturb it.
“Hello, old friend,” she whispered.
In a croaky, timid voice, the butterfly responded…
“Um… wrong re-incarnation, I think you have the wrong butterfly.”
“I think you’re right, sorry,” she responded.
She missed her friend. She must if she was seeing them everywhere. “Maybe the next butterfly,” she thought as she watched the current one stretch and flutter in the sun.

Solid objects are good for making sculpture, but liquids and gases aren’t.
Who would have thought?!
This is why I vowed to be the first artist to create a sculpture only out of liquid. I’d show them!
I studied the arcane art of magic intently, seeking a way to control the essential nature of liquid.
After many nights and days on the subway or in between shifts at work, I had read through the entire “Book of Liquid Magic” PDF she had printed from the deep web.
Eventually, I realized that, to quote the PDF, “Water doesn’t work that way.”

The eagle’s sharp talons clicked against each other in anticipation.
Its beak, gently turning either way.
The fish glittered like a ripe cherry in the bottom of the pool.
The fish was so beautiful, so the eagle decided to be friends with it.
It was an unlikely friendship for sure, the predator and the prey, but who was to judge something as pure as true friends.
So, the eagle and the cherry-fish rejected all the haters and opened up a detective agency together, solving all sorts of wildlife related crimes.

Chickens are modern dinosaurs. . .

This is a note to a student from Learning Outpost’s science tutor, Dan Wellehan.

Hi Pam and Cade,

I am shocked and saddened. I thought you two should be the first to know. I should have connected the dots long ago, as I’ve known the facts individually for quite some time.

You see, I might not be destined to rise again from the fossil record in a post-human-extinction distant future, resurrected by 6-foot tall cockroaches in lab coats, and populate my own little island of “Anthropocene Park” (or whatever the future-cockroaches will call the attraction in their native tongue. Actually, my money would be on ants or wasps. And in the dinosaur’s time, who would have bet on little rat beasts coming up to dominate life on Earth? But I digress.) In Jurassic Park, as we all know, geneticists and paleontologists tag team the effort to extract dinosaur DNA from the red blood cells in a fat mosquito encased in amber. My own little genetic time capsule, stashed away over 20 years ago in a fat mama mosquito on a spruce tree in the Bigelow Mountains (not too far from the hut by the way!), should be ready for show time whenever the big bugs get here. But I was just watching (for perhaps the 10th time) this great TED talk by paleontologist Jack Horner about his dino DNA hunt, and as he was saying something completely unrelated to me (in fact the entirety of his talk was not related to me), a light bulb went off in my head. You should watch the talk Cade. And yes, though I’m not assigning it to you Pam, it is, in my opinion, well worth watching.

chicks 2
So Horner plainly states one seemingly insurmountable problem in his quest (not to be confused with Michael Crichton’s plot). That is your first homework question: Specifically why has this guy and his team failed to resurrect a Tyrannosaur?

(Now… I am sending you this Sunday afternoon. When is this homework due? I don’t know. BUT I do want to see a completed genetics exam Monday so that we can wrap up that unit and focus on evolution. Genetics will of course inform our study of evolution, but I do not want you (and me) to be further distracted by a bio exam that’s hanging over your head. Slay the beast. Then let’s move on to some fun stuff. And, that first question should land on your lap over the course of the 16 and a half minutes, so it’s not arduous work, but interesting science… according to me.)chicks 1
New more powerful tools are developed, and so one could optimistically suppose that we can eventually find a way around the seemingly insurmountable challenge he highlights with his Tyrannosaur. But even assuming that best case scenario, a second problem with my own brilliant plan deals a near fatal blow. So even if Horner’s team (well, team future-bugs) develop better lab techniques, the odds of my genetic comeback in a distant future just got 1000 times less likely. (Okay, fine: I acknowledge the odds My second question looks further down the road. Inevitably lab techniques improve. weren’t super amazing to begin with, and perhaps, considering the staggeringly slim possibility, with my success at the whim of future bug-society paleontologists, this doesn’t significantly change the odds. But at least I have some plan, right? Albeit, a plan that seems 1/1000 as robust as it did yesterday. (I would like to write here how sad that makes me feel, but then I might sound eerily similar to our president. SAD!) So your second homework question is: What about my (or your) biology makes the Anthropocene Park plan virtually impossible, even if the Jurassic Park plan worked out all the kinks for dinosaurs?

The answer is not obvious. But happily, you do not need to sneak into the Restricted Section of the library to find the answer. It is yours to discover, and just as “What is Fluffy guarding?” took some time to answer, this likely will too. See if you can crack the mystery.

And lastly, for what it’s worth, while Michael Crichton is a fascinating sci-fi author, he has for many years spewed some wildly unscientific “alternative facts” in his personal life. Good writer. Bad policy advocate.

See you Monday with the genetics exam done. And then… Inner Fish? Magic of Reality? This TED Talk or others of Dawkins? We can pick up the conversation in whatever order you choose.

Hasta mañana,


PS: A third baby dinosaur just hatched today! So cute…