Friday, August 17, 2012

Families Write: Clare

Clare is my third daughter and will be in eighth grade this year. She has been the easiest daughter to inspire to write. Clare has always liked to write and we have all always loved her voice. When she was in second grade, she wrote a poem called "I wonder", listing many of her wonders and ending with "I wonder about you." She had loved Eloise Greenfield's Honey, I Love and had modeled it after that.

Clare has been working on a novel this summer and I have to say that she has been a major source of inspiration to me. In an earlier post, I mentioned the prototypes of writers that we sometimes have in the classroom and Clare is the child that sometimes writes and writes and never quite has time enough to get her entire story out within the time limitations of class. Teachers love to read her stuff but sometimes don't have time for it because there is so much of it.

Clare is very clear about her audience. She is writing from the point of view of a 12 year-old girl who is injured in a car accident caused by her mother's texting. (No, this is not auto-biographical!) While she is in the hospital, the girl becomes friends with another girl who has leukemia and not much of a family--I think that she is going to establish that this girl was a foster child but the family could not deal with a serious disease. I know what her plan is for the plot and resolution but out of respect for Clare, I'm not going to reveal it. Maybe you'll read the published version one day. :)

From spending time with Clare, I know that she thinks about her writing during the day. Because of the family dynamics and activities, I have spent a lot of time alone with her and she and I have talked about her book. She has verbalized the plot, the important aspects of the characters, and the background information that her readers should know about prior events. She has used these conversations to propel her nightly writing and, more than any of us, she is the family member who continues to write after we have all shared and sometimes writes during the day. What has struck me the most is how well Clare knows her character and that Clare was not initially sure how the story would resolve itself. When we have talked about her plot, she has sometimes answered that "I haven't quite figured that out yet. I have to see what happens first."

Because I am a special education teacher, I have worked with many students who write too little or lose their way in their writing. Therefore, one of my fallback teaching strategies has been to have students fill in their stories but first determine  the first event and the last event. Clare's work this summer has reminded me that sometimes, writers discover what happens in their stories as they write it. Please be clear--I don't think that this happens for all students or all writers. One of the members of my writing group is extremely plot-driven and I don't think that she deviates much from her initial outline. However, in On Writing (LOVE this book!), Stephen King shares how he creates situations for characters and then writes in order to see how those characters will resolve the situations. When I read this part of his book, I understood and appreciated Clare's uncertainty about her plot so much more!

In my own writing, Clare has reinforced for me the importance of knowing our characters. She and I have spent time answering the questions that Kate Messner posed in a post about creating characters that we loved. I have been working on revising a novel I started a few years ago and it has changed dramatically this summer because I have, like Clare has, taken the time to get to know my character. What great inspiration from my daughter!

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