7/18/24 Homework

  • Your main character is the friend everyone goes to when they’re unhappy. Your main character is keeping more secrets than they have fingers and toes combined. But two secrets don’t add up. Someone is lying, and someone is going to get hurt. Have them delve into the thoughts and feelings of her friends to find out what’s really going on.
  • Take a minor bad characteristic, maybe something that drives you crazy when someone does it. For example, could be tickling people whether they want to be tickled or not. Make it bigger and write a scene or a whole story about someone who learns to stop or who becomes a villain and does it even more.
  • Your main character, who’s been captured by the enemy, is held in a stone fortress. (You decide what the war is about.) They have a candle and a lady’s fan, determination, resourcefulness, and a bad habit of becoming distracted and losing focus. Have them escape or fail to escape.
  • Write “Little Red Riding Hood” from the point of view of the wolf. Make him the hero. Grandma or Little Red is the villain. 

7/18/24 Homework

  • Your main character is the friend everyone goes to when they’re unhappy. Your main character is keeping more secrets than they have fingers and toes combined. But two secrets don’t add up. Someone is lying, and someone is going to get hurt. Have them delve into the thoughts and feelings of her friends to find out what’s really going on.
  • Take a minor bad characteristic, maybe something that drives you crazy when someone does it. For example, could be tickling people whether they want to be tickled or not. Make it bigger and write a scene or a whole story about someone who learns to stop or who becomes a villain and does it even more.
  • Your main character, who’s been captured by the enemy, is held in a stone fortress. (You decide what the war is about.) They have a candle and a lady’s fan, determination, resourcefulness, and a bad habit of becoming distracted and losing focus. Have them escape or fail to escape.
  • Write “Little Red Riding Hood” from the point of view of the wolf. Make him the hero. Grandma or Little Red is the villain. 

7/15/24 Prompts

  • This prompt combines science and Greek mythology. Scientists have recently discovered that carpenter ants can perform successful leg amputations on injured ants in their own colonies. In Greek mythology, almost all the inhabitants of an island have been killed by a plague. To repopulate the island, Zeus turns the ants that live there into people. In your story, this transformation to human form happens during an amputation. Your main characters are the injured ant, the ant who’s doing the amputation, and however many as you like of the injured ant’s family and friends. Write the story. Be sure to include details about what it’s like to turn from an ant into a person.
  • Your main character is off to meet a friend who is in danger—you decide what the peril is. On the way, by whatever means of transportation you choose, their sensations go haywire: intensify, fade, play tricks. One moment everything is too loud and the next they can hardly hear at all. Same with sight, smell, taste, and touch. Despite what’s happening to them, they need to reach their destination. Write the scene.
  • While still awake, before being pricked by the spinning wheel, Sleeping Beauty or Sleeping Handsome is determined to throw off all the fairy gifts they got at birth and discover their true self. They don’t want to be magically goodlooking or angelically virtuous or graceful or a marvelous dancer or singer or musician—or have to sleep for a hundred years. Write the quest to discover their true self—and if you get to it, how they end up being.
  • You, the main character, are taster for King Jebel, who has many enemies. You stand at the king’s side at meals and taste everything as soon as it’s served. If you live, the king eats. You do not want to die! Seven tasters have already died this year, and it’s only May. You’re just in your first week. The annual royal banquet is beginning. Attending are the king’s family, the nobility of the realm, the king’s ministers, and visiting ambassadors. You take your place next to the king. You have to examine each dish extremely carefully. You need to notice who passes a dish to you for the king. Every sense has to be alert but, to make matters worse, you’re sleepy because you couldn’t sleep last night. You’re also very hungry.

7/15/24 Homework

  • In 1277, in England, there were no banks and no paper money, only silver pennies, which were worth more than pennies are today. For example, two dozen eggs would cost a penny; a fashionable gown, sixty-three pennies; a horse to pull a plow or a wagon, 240 pennies. An unskilled laborer would earn two pennies a day, and a master carpenter, four. People kept their money at home, in wooden chests in the “counting room.” These chests were locked, but locks weren’t very good back then.  Front doors had no locks, but they were guarded at night. During the day, visitors knocked, and, if the family was even a little rich, a servant would let them in. In the spring, a wealthy widow is robbed. The coroner is called (as he would be). As the law requires, he appoints twelve jurors (who would be free men of the community—not serfs) whose job is to investigate the crime, identify a suspect or suspects, and charge them. There are no detectives and no lawyers. Possible suspects are a blacksmith, a soldier, a shoemaker, a butcher’s wife, and an innkeeper. A roofer and a shepherd are possible accomplices. Write the story or as far as you can get.
  • In medieval England, forests were dangerous, and much of the kingdom was forested. There was no Robin Hood, but there were brigands who robbed and sometimes even killed travelers. Everyone believed in magic, and forests were thought to be full of enchanted creatures. English kings regarded the forests as their private hunting grounds. People were allowed to travel through them but not to hunt. When people had to travel, they did so in groups for at least partial safety-in-numbers. Your main character has to travel through a forest to Oxford to live with their cousins. They’re traveling with a group of wool merchants heading to London and pilgrims hoping for a miracle cure in Canterbury. Write what happens on the way, or as far as you get.
  • This comes from my family, history-not-to-be-proud-of. The New York City subway fare until 1948 was a nickel. Some turnstiles were full height, as some still are today. Here’s an image of a historical one: https://www.deviantart.com/rlkitterman/art/NYC-MTA-Iron-Maiden-Turnstile-659112427. During the Depression (in the 1930s, before I was born), my very plump grandmother and my very plump great-aunt put a nickel into a full-height turnstile, squeezed in together, started to move through, and got stuck. Write a story about what happened next. How did they get out? Did they have to be rescued?
  • Write a story that’s based on your family’s history. (Don’t hurt the feelings of anyone who’s still alive.)

Dialogue Helper

Start with quotation marks, like this (double, not single, in American English):

            “Ouch! My toe hurts.”

Punctuation in dialogue, including exclamation points, question marks, periods, commas, belongs inside the quotation marks, like this:

            “Ouch! My toe hurts.”

It’s called a speech tag when a speaker is mentioned by name or by pronoun, like this:

            “Ouch! My toe hurts,” Fred said.

            “Ouch! My toe hurts,” he said.

Notice that the period becomes a comma after hurts, and the sentence ends after said with a period.

But the exclamation point doesn’t change:

            “My toe hurts. Ouch!” Fred said.

            “My toe hurts. Ouch!” he said.

Same with question marks:

            “Your big toe or your pinky?” Sonya said.

            “Your big toe or your pinky?” she said.

The speech tag can come first:

            Fred said, “Ouch! My toe hurts.”

Or a speech tag can be in the middle of a speech:

            “Something fell on me, too,” Sonya said, “when I stood in the graveyard.”

Or, when there are two sentences:

            “I’m scared to go to the graveyard,” Fred said. “Everybody comes back maimed.”

An action can interrupt speech, too:

            “I’m scared to go to the graveyard.” Fred pressed his hands together so hard the knuckles stood out. “Everybody comes back maimed.”

When a character quotes somebody, it looks like this, in American English:

            “Sonya and Fred are wimps. They’re all like, ‘Ooh! The graveyard is haunted,’ and it isn’t,” the zombie said. “It’s just home.”

Notice that the quote within the quote starts and ends with single quotation marks: ‘

Laughing isn’t speech. This is correct (notice the punctuation):

            Sonya laughed. “Some part of Fred always hurts!”

Not:

            Sonya laughed, “Some part of Fred always hurts!”

If you aren’t sure as you’re writing, look at the dialogue in any novel you like, as long as it was published in the U.S. (Rules are different in the U.K.)

These are for clarity, which is the most important thing in writing, bar none:

Start a new paragraph whenever a different character speaks, even if neither says much:

            “Where?” Jay asked.

            “There,” Meredith said.

Start a new paragraph whenever somebody else does something or something happens  during a dialogue passage:

            “Something fell on me, too,” Sonya said, “when I stood in the graveyard.”

            Fred rubbed his toe.

            Sonya added, “It was after my great aunt’s funeral.”

            A wolf or something worse howled in the distance.

            “I’m never going there again,” Fred said. “Everybody comes back maimed.”

Below is from my book, Writing Magic. It’s on dialogue, too.

            Said is a magical word.  Boring, maybe, but magical nonetheless.  It’s magical because it disappears.  It becomes invisible. The reader finds out who’s talking and moves on.

            What I’m about to tell you may differ from what your teachers have told you.  Your teachers may want you to use lots of variants on said instead of said over and over.  The reason is probably that they want you to vary your vocabulary and not use the same word repeatedly.

            That’s often fine advice, but not when it comes to said in stories.  Asked is as good as said if the line of dialogue is a question.  Asked also disappears.  And so does added, if it’s used when it makes sense and not used too much.

            But you should almost never write,

            “‘Where did you put the aardvark?’ she queried,”

            or,

            “‘Don’t you hate aardvarks?’ he questioned.”

            Query and question call attention to themselves and away from your story.  The reader saw the question mark and knows that the character is querying or questioning.

            Same with exclaim. “Wow!” doesn’t need she exclaimed.

            Avoid other noticeable words, like affirm, allege, articulate, assert, asseverate (a word I’d never heard of before I started writing this), aver, avow, claim, comment, confabulate, contend, declare, express, hint, mention, observe, opine, pronounce, profess, remark, utter, voice.  I don’t mean that you shouldn’t ever use these perfectly fine words.  I just mean, don’t use them as a substitute for said.

© Gail Carson Levine

Prompts, 7/11/24

  • Your main character, Sam or Sami, can’t make up their mind, regardless of what the options are. After graduating from space travel academy, Sam or Sami is offered a choice of destinations: a planet inhabited by dragons that may or may not be friendly; a planet where the air is only sulfur, but the creatures are friendly; or a planet a lot like earth except that the only food that isn’t poisonous is bitter, gluey jellyfish stew. Sam or Sami has an hour to choose and pack and be ready to leave. Anyone who isn’t ready is sent to the booby-trap planet, where few survive. Write what happens.
  • Two friends find a wallet, you decide where and how much money is inside. They each have different ideas about what they should do with it and the money. They also disagree over whether to read what’s written on the folded-up piece of paper inside. Write what happens and reveal the character of each friend.
  • Two friends are guarding the home of the beloved grandmother of one of them, because they have reason to believe she’s the next target of the Old Lady’s House Burglar. Grandma, who doesn’t think she’s in danger, is asleep inside. Write the story and reveal the characters of as many as you can: the two friends, the grandmother, and the burglar.
  • It’s Wish Week at Pimson Middle School, when every eighth grader gets to make a wish and have it come true—for a week. Students are not allowed to reveal their wishes to anyone ahead of time. Two friends make their wishes—and discover that one conflicts with the other. Write the story, revealing the character of each friend.

Homework—7/11/24

  • The year is 1997. No one has cell phones, and there is no online banking. The Pimson Town Bank is crowded. A person enters the bank, intending to rob it. The teller whose station the robber chooses has been on the job for only four days. Among the bank’s customers are a deaf person, a teenager who shoplifts, and a journalist. Pick one of these people to be your main character and write a page of the story. Stop and pick a different person to be your main character and write a page. Stop and pick a different person to be your main character and write a page. Make the story change when you change the main character.
  • A family arrived on the western frontier in 1840, and this is their first winter. They’re city people hoping for a better life. Lazy snowflakes are falling. Pa goes out to the barn because their cow is about to give birth. The teenager in the family goes out to chop wood. Grandfather is in the rocking chair, saying nothing about the sudden pain in his side. Ma is spinning wool and fails to see their ten-year old leave the cabin to look at the snow, which quickly turns into a blizzard. Pick one of these people to be your main character and write a page of the story. Stop and pick a different person to be your main character and write a page. Stop and pick a different person to be your main character and write a page. Make the story change when you change the main character.
  • A dragon has a secret desire. It flies over Plimson Castle and sets the pennants on fire as a warning and lands on the tournament field. The royal family, their most powerful knight, and their most loyal advisor go out to meet the dragon, who tells them they have three days to satisfy its secret desire and they can ask it three questions to help them figure out what the desire is. If they fail, the royal family and all their subjects will fry. Pick one of these people to be your main character and write a page of the story. Stop and pick a different person to be your main character and write a page. Stop and pick a different person to be your main character and write a page. Make the story change when you change the main character.
  • This comes from Greek mythology or history, because there really was a Troy. An enormous wooden horse, filled with Greek warriors, stands outside the walls of Troy. The Greeks will win the war against Troy if the Trojans bring the horse inside the city walls. Otherwise, they’ll lose. Sinon, a Greek soldier pretending to have defected from the Greek cause, says that the Greeks want the Trojans to leave the horse outside, which will anger the goddess Athena. Cassandra, the prophetess whom no one believes, warns King Priam and Queen Hecuba not to bring the horse inside. Present also is Helen of Troy, who doesn’t know the horse is full of soldiers but who isn’t sure which side she’s on, the Greek or Trojan. Pick one of these people to be your main character and write a page of the story. Stop and pick a different person to be your main character and write a page. Stop and pick a different person to be your main character and write a page. Make the story change when you change the main character.

7/8/24 Homework

Pick one. Write up to five double-spaced pages and email me, either the link to your Google document or your pages as a Word attachment. If you send me the link to your Google document, be sure to give me permission to edit it. You don’t need to finish the story. Just write as far as you get.

  • The king of Sanobia has been assassinated, and the three suspects are imprisoned together in a single cell: the king’s younger brother, Duke Bunda; a dairy maid named Jorn; and a talking unicorn. The king’s son or daughter is disguised as a prison guard. By watching and listening to the prisoners, the son or daughter discovers who the murderer (or murderers) is. Write the story and solve the mystery—or as far as you get.
  • A priceless portrait, The Man with the Purple Moustache, was stolen from the national museum during daytime hours while the museum was open. Museum security is tight, so employees are the main targets of Detective Bluenose’s investigation. Write what happens and recover the painting—or as far as you get.
  • Mother’s wisdom cap is missing. No one in the family can think straight, and the mayor is coming for a visit. The cap must be found! Write what happens. Find the cap and the reason it went missing—or as far as you get.
  • Tessie, the family’s sweet but excitable terrier, has been kidnapped. The ransom note demands more money than the family has. They have to get Tessie back without paying. You decide who’s in the family. Write what happens—or as far as you get.

7/8/24 Prompts

Pick one. You can change anything.

  • Your main character doesn’t know they can turn into a spider (any kind) if they want to, but they can. They believe they can turn into a wolf, but they can’t. They know that sometimes, whether they want to or not, they have to turn into a table for half an hour. A person or pet they love has been kidnapped—or some other disaster that you make up. Write what happens.
  • In this world, any dreadful deed or event can be reversed within a week if something (you make up what—like a magic spell or a heroic deed or a contest win or anything else) is done or said. Make up the terrible deed or event and write what happens.
  • Aliens land. They mean no harm to humans, but on their home planet dogs are evil geniuses. They don’t speak any human language. Write what happens.
  • Your fantasy world includes one imaginary creature, one unknown weather condition, and one hidden place. Your main character has one super power and one super defect. Your main character’s home town is about to be destroyed. Write what happens.

7/27/2023 Prompts

  • When the mirror tells the evil queen that Snow White is the fairest, the queen doesn’t decide immediately that Snow White has to die. The queen hasn’t killed anyone before. She loves her husband and knows he’s fond of his daughter. She invites Snow White to the throne room for a chat. During that meeting something happens that turns her into a villain and seals the future of each of them. Write the scene.
  • Jack has a magic coin that will grant a single wish. Jackie wants him to use it to make her own wish come true, or to give her the coin entirely. (You make up the wish.) They’re walking home from school together when she begins to do the things she thinks will either persuade him or overcome him. Write the scene and make her clever and dangerous. Make Jack smart too.
  • Evan wasn’t invited to the birthday party of the most popular kid in school, and his best friend Evie was. While she’s at the party, he sneaks into her bedroom and takes out his anger by planting a series of practical jokes in her bedroom. Write what happens.
  • Sherlock Holmes (or his sister, Sherry Holmes) is called to the crime scene of Humpty Dumpty, where yolk, egg white, and eggshells make a puddle below the wall the beloved egg used to perch on. The police think he was pushed. They give Holmes the task of finding out if this really was murder and who did it. Write Holmes’s investigation.