Grades 9-Forever

What Is It?

Three new insects have recently been discovered. Write a description for each one. (Don’t bother with Google—these won’t be there.)

Three-Horned Goat Beetle

Slingshot Moth

Simon Says Fly

Choose the definition you like best. Modify and improve it by finding/adding more interesting adverbs and adjectives. For example, if you described the insect as ‘small,’ change that to a less-common, more visual adjective (‘minute’, for example.) If you wrote the insect ‘eats,’ find a word to modify and add interest to the verb.

Write a first person account of how ‘you’ discovered this amazing insect. Who are you? What challenges did you face? Where did you find it? Who was with you?

Before beginning, take time to think about ‘You’— the fictional main character in this exercise. Try to imagine details about their personal story that will manifest into their telling of the tale. You don’t have to include these details in your story—simply use them to create a better picture of your character in your mind. Answer these questions for yourself before you begin writing: Is your character telling the truth? Is your character hiding something? Is your character an expert, or did they discover the insect accidentally?

Creating Characters

Creating interesting characters is challenging for all writers. Whether your story is character-driven or not, something central must exist for the reader to grab onto. Characters can surprise readers, but they can’t completely defy expectation. If your reader puts down your writing and says, “They would never do that,” you probably haven’t developed your character well enough for yourself.

The best way to convey solid characters in your writing is to answer set questions about them. If you can understand and empathize with your characters, your readers will, too.

Start with the simple questions:

What does the character look like?

What does the character sound like?

Where does the character live?

Then ask some more complicated questions:

What does the character like?

What does the character not like?

Where has the character been?

And finally, the most difficult questions:

What does the character want most of all in the whole world, and what are they willing to do to get it?

These last two questions are two secrets a writer holds about their character. The first drives the character’s motivation, and the second provides a finish line, where a story meets it’s climax. When you reach a character’s breaking point, what then will it take to push your character past that point, into uncharted territory?

The best writers can show us what their characters want without ever telling us. “Show, don’t tell” is a common mantra.Often, characters don’t even know what they want, or they don’t realize what they want—that’s what makes them interesting, and what makes their story a journey. That is also a journey for a writer. We often don’t know what our characters really want until they begin to come alive on the page. That’s why it’s important not to tell the reader exactly what the character wants—we might change our minds along the way, as our characters develop.

First try this exercise:

Write a page about your character, and tell us something material they want… Without telling us what it is. (Eg. “She knew he kept them here. Twisting her head left then right, she scanned the polished steel cabinets with her eyes, not daring to move, lest she alert him to her presence. There—in that drawer next to the dishwasher. She recalled witnessing him replacing them into their respective slot, confining them next to the spoons. She tiptoed over and slowly slid the drawer open. They were there. She exhaled, realizing she had been holding her breath. Tines sparkling, cradled in the narrow rectangle designed to hold them apart and yet together, they waited to serve.”)

Now try this:

Using the “Random Genre Generator” on this site, find the genre that matches up with the first letter of your first name. When you have the genre and have read the description, write a short piece about WHY they want the item in the first exercise.

Good News, Bad News

For this exercise, you will need to find a news article. Rewrite the article from the point of view of one of the people in the story. Use the character development questions above to help you write.

Shades and Shadows—Poetry

First, visit a website for a store that sells paint, and look at all the colors.

AFTER choosing a color, look at the name of that paint sample. That is now the title of your poem.

Think about the color you chose. Why did you pick it? What else is that color? Use your five senses to write five sentences about an object (The ocean? A painting? A shirt? An animal?) that could be that color:

Describe what your object looks like.

Describe the smell of the object you chose that is this color.

Describe what you would hear if you were looking at the object.

Describe what the object feels like.

Describe what the object might taste like.

Finish your poem with a sentence that includes the words in your title that came from the name of the paint.

For a second poem, pick another color:

Where have you seen that color before? It could be the sky, or a mural, or a plant. Tie the color to an object in your mind.

Now that you are picturing something, put that object into a setting. Where are you? Use your five senses to write five lines about where you are. A city? A forest? The ocean?

Describe how your surroundings look, smell, taste, sound, and physically feel. This might take five sentences, or three, or seven.

In the last line of your poem, describe how all of these things come together to affect you emotionally. Show us, don’t tell us. For example, don’t write, “I’m lonely.” Instead, try tying your emotion to an outside force or an action, such as, “If only he stayed,” or “A single ticket home.”

Go back through and remove all unnecessary words. Make the piece as concise and descriptive as possible. You want to leave us with a sensation, drive us toward an emotional reaction. Complete sentences are unnecessary. For example, I can turn this:

The chair smelled like an old shoe box filled with cigars.

Into this:

A rotting shoe box filled with long-forgotten cigars

The title—your paint color—will surprisingly tie it all together.


No matter what you’re taught, I believe there are no real rules in poetry. That’s what makes it poetry. However, Haiku traditionally have three lines. The first line has 5 syllables, the second has seven, and the last has five. Haiku describe nature, and focus on particular seasons.

I recommend you go outside or look out the window before you write Haiku. What do you see? Now think about what you only notice about that natural object during this season. Take that, and narrow it down to it’s very smallest element. So, if I choose my lemon tree, I will look at it and see exactly what it does at only this time of year. My lemon tree is pretty bare in spring. There are a few blossoms starting to appear… I will write three lines. The tree. The blossoms. And lastly, a surprise line telling how I feel in that moment of nature. Remember, show, don’t tell.

Write the three lines without counting syllables, then go back and choose your words more carefully, until you can count out five, seven, and five.

Branches are lighter

Tart lemons have come and gone

Bitterness lingers

Don’t write Haiku when you’re in a hurry. This is a meditative exercise, and can give you joy from something very small that you might not have noticed or appreciated before. Take your time, and think about your five senses to come up with descriptive words.

Two Sides to Every Story

Debate provides stellar opportunities to write persuasively about topical issues. The writing is research-based, and must hold up “in court.”

The challenging part of writing for debate is having to support both sides of an issue. You must be able to offer adequate points to each point of view. Learning to do this will give you a foundation for relating to characters you disagree with. Seeing the world through other people’s eyes allows you to empathize with them. (It also helps you win arguments.)

Consider this statement:

Civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified.

Write two paragraphs, one supporting this statement, and one defying this statement. After you have gotten your own views out of the way, and guessed at the other side, find two pieces of research supporting this statement, and two pieces refuting this statement. Rewrite your paragraphs using this supporting information.

An Author’s Voice

“An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.” —Francois-Rene’ de Chateaubriand

Authors are obsessed with the concept of “voice.” Some are born with it, but most are not. Regardless, every one of us has our own story to tell. No one ever has or ever will see the world exactly as you do. For a writer, ‘voice’ is about putting that very special view of life that is not like anyone else’s into words that no one else would use.

I will be distance-teaching classes about finding your voice over the summer. I hope to ‘see’ you then!

Please fill out the ‘contact’ page if you’d like to be notified when new lessons are added, or if/when classes will be back in session!

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