Monday, July 08, 2013

Fletcher: Breathing Life Into Words

All writers want to "breathe life into words" and Ralph Fletcher provides insight into that process in his book, Live Writing, Breathing Life Into Your Words.

Fletcher writes, ". . .every writer has a toolbox," then he proceeds to provide practical strategies to make us better writers. Below I've outlined his main strategies and used several quotes from his book. I plan to read specific chapters of the book to students as they employ his craft. Hence this post is not a replacement for buying or reading the book.

Read Like a Writer
". . .reread the writing to figure out how the author managed to pull off the effect." and learn how to "create your own kind of writing magic." (p.13)

Build Characters
Start with what you know.
Use all five senses to describe a character's physical traits.
Describe active characters with strong verbs about physical, emotional, and psychological actions.
Use dialogue and conversation.
Every character has "good" and "bad" so introduce a well rounded character, a realistic person.
Name your characters with intention--names should reveal a trait, personality, role.
"Too many characters confuse the reader," so choose a few.

". . .give the narrator a compelling voice."
Voice="a sense of the author's personality that comes through the words on the paper."
"Think of writing as chatting on paper."
"Follow your passion," "Think audience," "Be Honest with the Reader," and "Experiment with Different Kinds of Voice."

Conflict: "In a good story something happens."
"Person Against Person"
"Person Against Nature"
"Internal Conflict"

Setting: "It's important for a writer to know a place and know it well."
The setting helps you develop characters, shape the plot, and create a mood."

Time: "When you write you need to be actively involved in cutting, editing, reordering, and slowing down" time.

Leads: "A lead gives the reader important clues about what to expect in the writing that will follow."

The Last Word: "Endings matter in writing too."
"I usually try to give the reader something at the end: a memorable quote, statement, or idea that will linger in the mind."

Small Important Things: "Details are the lifeblood of writing."
"Select odd details that will stick in the reader's mind. "
"Use details to make complex ideas understandable."
"Pick out details that create vivid pictures for the reader."
"Select details that make your writing sound authentic."
Important details are often repeated in the story.
Invent details.

The Golden Line: "Golden lines. . .do at least two things: they breathe instant life into any piece of writing, and they work as a wake-up call to your reader."
"Use strong verbs."
Surprising comparisons.
Don't overwrite.

Putting it Altogether: "It's important to know when to end a piece of writing."

Magic: ". . .there's still an undeniable magic in the air when a person puts pen to paper."

As I think about teaching fourth graders, and all the wonderful strategies Fletcher shares, I wonder how I can relay this work without overwhelming them. As with any new, enlightening information, Fletcher's strategies make me reconsider the efforts I've planned for the year.

Since, I'm starting the year with a short, wonderful fourth grade read aloud, "The Gold Threaded Dress," I think I'll now use this book first to introduce reading comprehension strategies, story elements, and the culture unit, and then the students and I will reread the book, as Fletcher suggests, as writers.  When we reread the book, we'll focus on the practical strategies above and discuss how the author utilized those strategies in The Gold Threaded Dress to capture the reader's attention, understanding, and heart.

This first read and second read will serve as a wonderful vehicle for tying the reader's and writer's workshop together as a literacy studio, and for providing students with a wonderful start-of-the-year example of what it means to read like a reader and read like a writer.

As always, I open to your ideas and suggestions as I embark on embedding Fletcher's work into students' fourth grade program.

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