Running to Promote Reading in Young Readers

Why We Run?

welcome runners

Hands down, one of the most inspiring days of my life was running the Boston Marathon. There are many reasons for this but none more than the events that exemplified the power of the human spirit.

Not surprisingly, many of these moments came from waves three and four, the last waves compiled of teammates who fundraised and ran for a cause. My team was Dana Farber, and as a team we raised over $5 million for cancer research—$5 million!

Personally, several people in my life (my grandfather, neighbor Charlotte, student Jake, uncle Paul, and grandmother) inspired my call to run, which made the athletic feat (for me) far more meaningful than a twenty-six mile course—I was running for patients, families, and friends experiencing a painful time that my family/friends understood.

People with stories; people in need of support and compassion.

During my training, I fundraised for DFMC (Dana Farber Marathon Challenge) and raised (with the help of so many generous spirits) just under my individual goal of $10,000. Meanwhile, my tremendous cousin, Michael, raised his individual goal of $5,000.

Amazing! But with such success, Michael and I wondered if we could help another cause we felt needed support…

michael and me

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Moving Forward

Well, we found one!

This year, Michael and I are tying up our laces again for a half marathon in Niagara Falls. Although there is no fundraising requirement to enter this run, we agreed that we wanted to find a group to run and fundraise for any way; an organization that shared something we are both passionate about.

What is that cause?

Promoting reading in young readers!

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Bound by our collaborated passion for stories—our belief that sharing stories can unite (and sometimes save) people from all races, genders, sexualities, and backstories—Michael and I have decided to run for an organization/company that believes/supports this same cause.

But with so many wonderful organizations out there, we’re reaching out to you to help us make this big decision: What company/organization promoting reading in young readers should we run for?

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We Need Your Help!

If you have the time, and if you believe in the importance of encouraging young readers and children to read, please check out the organizations that we are considering below. I’ve provided a brief description of the five organizations, as well as a three-question survey that can enlighten our perspective on the company you would most support.

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Give them a read and then take a couple minutes to complete our survey, which you can find in the attached link.

We so appreciate your feedback and your contribution to the powerful change people  make when we choose compassion for others first.

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Organizations/Companies for Consideration

If you want more information than provided, click the pictures to link to a video campaign for each organization/company.

1) Sparking Literacy

sparkingConcerned with the literary crisis in America, with one in four kids growing up with an inability to read, Sparking Literacy promotes reading for pleasure in young readers. Results have improved literacy rates, prevented dropouts, and changed the future for young people by creating Sparking Literacy book clubs in schools, hosting author events, donating books, and developing audiobooks to help kids with disabilities learn to read.

2) We Need Diverse Books

diverseA spectacular company that works to put more books with diverse characters in the hands of children. Donations help this organization diversify the classroom, support diverse authors, promote diverse programming, and develop educational kits through various programs WNDB internships, scholarship grants, and book giveaways.

3) United Through Reading unitedUnited Through Reading helps the children of active military personnel bond with their deployed parents through reading. Representatives from the nonprofit visit military bases all over the world film parents reading books to their kids back at home, building the emotional bond between parents and children through literacy.

4) Book Aid International book aidDistributes books to libraries, schools, hospitals, prisons, refugee camps and rural communities in order to encourage literacy and access to reading materials in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The NGO has sent roughly 30 million books to underserved areas since its founding in 1954.

5)Project Night Night

night nightProject Night Night sends over 25,000 “Night Night Packages” to homeless children each year. These packages contain blankets, stuffed animals, and children’s books that help kids in poor living conditions “feel secure, cozy, ready to learn, and significant.”

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Take the Survey!

So there you have it, five stellar nonprofit organizations doing all they can to support reading. Though there are several organizations out there with a similar vision, these five tugged at our heartstrings the most. How about you?

Take our SURVEY to help us decide a) what organization we should fundraise/run for this October and b) why you would donate to this company.

Until next time, thanks for all your help.

And happy reading!

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.” —Vera Nazarian

 

The Importance of Reading & Discussion: Jurassic Park – How Crichton’s Descriptions Shows v. Tells

Reading Isn’t Enough.

Nothing scares a creative writer (and if you’re reading this, that’s probably you) more than a lesson that looks like this:

boreing audience

I know, shocking. Lectures that drone on and on don’t keep eager learners interested. Yes, I said eager learners – that’s how ineffective rambling is.

In fact, undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail. That’s crazy! So crazy that educators at Harvard University like Eric Mazur believe it’s “almost unethical to be lecturing if you have the data…it’s outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.” Learners who don’t like to read might say the same goes for long-winded books (Twilight anyone?).

Thank the Word Lord us writers are blessed with a love for quiet places and worn bindings!

And yet – in many cases – reading isn’t enough…

Hold up! You’re telling me that if I read a bunch of books, I won’t become a better writer?

Heck no! Literature is the foundation of every great writer!

But that doesn’t mean I’ll get everything I can out of a good book – maybe even a life-changing book – if I don’t discuss what I think makes it so freak-funkifying-fantastic….

The Importance of Reading & Discussion

 As a creative writing teacher (and writer in the works myself), I deeply believe in the importance of reading with a purpose.

It’s the same reason I require my creative writing students to dig up one book from four important categories (for writers) each semester.

What are they?

  • Competitive Books
  • Informative Books
  • Contemporary Books
  • Classics.

These books, I emphasize, will force writers to think new thoughts, learn new words, and harness the inspiration needed to keep going.

And yet, for us writers, reading isn’t enough. We need to communicate and comprehend what we’re reading.

In a 2013 lecture, bestselling author Neil Gaiman lectured on how our future relies on libraries, reading, and daydreaming. He stressed how people who do not understand each other cannot exchange ideas or communicate. He went on to discuss how in a time where noise continues to build across media, “words are more important than they ever were.”

I’d like to take this one step further.

Yes, reading is crucial to humanity’s wellbeing – a people’s intellectual and commutative survival.

But without discussion of what we read, we cannot communicate or comprehend the words for everything they’re worth.

Our goal as authors is to soil ideas that blossom into full-blown conversations. It’s a giant reason why we love reading so much!

So why don’t writers discuss what we read more?

In fact, why don’t we discuss right now.

Lesson 1: Jurassic Park – How Crichton’s Descriptions Shows v. Tells 

Oh boy – you just received that rejection letter from that agency and it’s a big hunking PASS. Maybe it doesn’t quite “resonate with us”. Maybe the agent isn’t “enthusiastic enough about this piece right now”. Bummer rama.

Don’t get down!

There’s a good chance that you have talent but need a little work on your voice and style. Perhaps you have an editor who keeps advising you to show more than tell.

Ah, the famous show don’t tell recommendation.

That’s right.

We’ve all heard it before. Likely, you possess a bookshelf filled with advice on writing skills to avoid just this…

But how many of us identify how bestselling authors show in their writing?

Do you?

Have no fear! Right not, I’ve designed a quick five-minute (max) lesson to help you analyze how Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) shows in his writing! If you participate, maybe (just maybe) we can create a virtual discussion that will not only strengthen your writing skills, but your ability to read with a purpose!

If not, you still get to read a pretty scary-sick passage about velociraptors. That’s a win in my book! What about you?

Great! Then keep reading…and let’s discuss!

Let’s Discuss

Objective:

Analyze how Michael Crichton introduces the Velociraptors with description that shows vs. tells. Then, write your own passage that continues to show these dinosaurs in action!

Essential Questions:

  1. How can I break up description of a character with action to develop a character or advance a plot?
  2. How can I use sounds, visuals, and textures to bring life into my voice?

Resources: Excerpt from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (130)

Assignment: Read the selected passage from page 130 in Jurassic Park. Identify one sentence that shows me something about the velociraptor instead of tells about her. Then, identify two words that create texture (or touch) in the description.

Don’t forget to share what you find in the comments section! The more people we can get to chat, the more we can all learn!

Passage (Page 130):

Amid the ferns, Grant saw the head of an animal, it was motionless, partially hidden in the fronds, the two large dark eyes watching coldly.

The head was two feet long. From a pointed snout, a long row of teeth ran back to the hole of the auditory meatus, which served as an ear. The head reminded him of a large lizard, or perhaps a crocodile. They did not blink, and the animal did not move. Its skin was leathery, with a pebbled texture, and basically the same coloration as the infant’s yellow-brown with darker reddish markings, like the stripes of a tiger.

As Grant watched, a single forelimb reached up very slowly to part the ferns beside the animal’s face. The limb, Grant saw, was strongly muscled. The hand had three grasping fingers, each ending in curved claws. The hand, gently, slowly, pushed aside the ferns.

Grant felt a chill and thought, He’s hunting us.

For a mammal like man, there was something indescribably alien about the way reptiles hunted their prey. No wonder men hated reptiles. The stillness, the coldness, the pace was all wrong. To be among alligators or other large reptiles was to be reminded of a different kind of life, a different kind of world, now vanished from the earth. Of course, this animal didn’t realize that he had been spotted, that he –

Discussion (What I Found):

How can I break up description of a character with action to develop a character or advance a plot?

When coaching my creative writing students, several stumble over the same question:

Mrs. Perry, they’ll say, how can I show more about my character without describing their physical aspects?

The truth is, you do need to describe your character’s physical aspects, but physical appearance isn’t the peanut butter and jelly in the PBJ of your description. You need to break it up with action!

For instance…

Notice Crichton goes into physical appearance of the raptors, how the raptor Grant sees is “two feet long” with a “pointed snout” and “row of teeth.” Great, super intimidating. Scary indeed – or is this scarier because I’ve seen the raptors in action in Spielberg’s masterpiece? (Who wasn’t scared by the raptors?!)

Reading for Thought…

Yes, it’s great to provide an initial description of a character so the reader can dig out the bread for the character’s sandwich, maybe cut off the crust. But that’s not the delicious goo of what they’ll take away from the character when they finish the chapter, which is exactly why we need action in the description.

I’ll Explain…

1.Notice how right before we hear Grant’s internal dialogue “He’s hunting us” we see the raptor’s hand “gently, slowly” push “aside the ferns.” Keeping its giant body in camouflage, while moving with such slow, eerie confidence is a testament to not only this predator’s intimidating intelligence, but Crichton’s brilliant display of showing v. telling in his introduction of antagonist numero uno – the terrifying Velociraptors!

2. In addition, Crichton seasons his physical description (a telling method to describe the raptors) with textures. For instance, words like “Grant felt a chill” add texture to the description that is much more effective than stating his internal dialogue (“He’s hunting us”) alone. It creates an icy realization that effectively shows how Grant feels (and if Grant feels it, you feel it!).

This same method of “showing” (description that uses texture) explains why Crichton describes the raptor’s skin as “pebbled” instead of eliminating the texture of the raptor’s skin completely. The bumpiness of the scales sparks Grant’s comparison of dinosaurs to crocodiles, and how reptiles in particular frighten men with their “stillness, their coldness, their pace” – how it’s “all wrong.” All of this creates tension, builds fright in the reader, for what is about to happen next…

Bonus Challenge!

Use sight, smell, sound, taste, and/or touch in your description of a raptor attack that could follow this passage!

Don’t forget to share your paragraph in the comments below, and comment on someone else’s work so we can make this a Discussion!

Did you find different texture diction than I did? How do you think this passage developed the Velociraptors (or Grant) or advanced the plot? Share your answers with the class – I’d love to hear from you! Use the hashtag #LetsDiscuss & #LessonJurassicPark

 

 

Add Tension to Your Scenes

Stop reading this blog if you…

Don’t want to hear about how to revise my writer’s kryptonite – tension in scenes and how my novel needed MORE fun and games.

Keep reading if you want to learn how to add tension and the magic of F & G.

Welcome, comrades –

First, let’s answer a couple questions. 1) What is tension? And 2) What is Fun and Games.

I’ll tell you.

Tension, above all else, is what makes the reader cringe – aka bite their nails off as they read – about your character when they do…well, whatever it is you’re having them do. Fun and Games, I understand thanks to the magnificent screenwriter Blake Snyder (thank God his book landed in my hands), are those “trailer moments” – the moments a person comes to a movie, or buys a book.

TWO sugar in the cake elements in writing that I thought I was good at, but (longer than I’d like to admit) learnt I lacked when reading draft number one. But I’m not writing this blog about my writing skills. This blog is for you – just in case you’ve read your first draft and thought – dang it, I need more tension in my scenes and fun and games in my outline. And because this is a blog and blogs are for discussion – and hopefully you’ll comment at the end and help me learn from you, too!

OK, so here we go.

Just because everyone has already stripped Star Wars to the bone…and no wonder (it’s fun – F & G!)…let’s try a different story with the same genre.

Movie: The Lion King; Genre: Golden Fleece

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Sweet. I Already Love This Movie. Lion Cub and a Baboon in a kingly entrance.

All right, let’s ignore the play-by-play and immediately target those scenes that stand out in tension INSIDE the F & G.

The F & G ones that come to mind are:

1.) Looking Over Pride Rock

3.) I Can’t Wait to Be King

2.) Elephant Graveyard

3.) Stampede

4.) Hakuna Matata

5.) Can You Feel the Love Tonight

6.) Rafiki Finds Simba/Remember Who You Are

7.) Timon and Pumba distract the hyenas

8.) Simba v. Scar

9.) Remember Who You Are (reprise)

But wait…you’re probably thinking, if you’ve read Blake Snyder’s book on screenwriting, Fun and Games only happens in the first beat in the beginning of Act Two. So did I. And then I realized, wait a second, that beat in the story might be called Fun and Games – but Fun and Games is needed throughout the entire film/novel. If they truly are the moments “readers/viewers” come to the movie/read the book – they should be everywhere! The difference between good F & G and – as I like to say – too convenient/incongruent F & G – is how they fit together to mold the character arc – i.e. your hero’s transformation.

SO, to answer your question, yes, F & G does happen in Act 2…but also in Act 1…and Act 3. Let’s look at these moments again and identify why they qualify as F & G.

F & G Major Moments in Lion King

1.) Looking Over Pride Rock

  • it’s a cool and what a breath-taking sunrise!
  • it’s bonding time with Dad – and Mufasa radiates coolness – not only because Simba thinks he is (so inevitably we do, too) but he’s KING OF THE PRIDELANDS- a pretty bad-ass, strong, confident, respected lion, so there’s that

3.) I Can’t Wait to Be King

  • a band of safari animals taking advantage of an annoying bird – hilarious F & G!
  • reinforcement of Theme Stated – Simba’s calling to be king – through song!

2.) Elephant Graveyard

  • it’s a graveyard of elephant bones filled with dangerous hyenas, which means chase scene!
  • TENSION!!!!!

3.) Stampede

  • another chase scene – with cool Mufasa to the rescue
  • TENSION!!!!!

4.) Hakuna Matata

  • an unlikely group of friends eating bugs and other “who cares” actions that we all admit sounds fun – despite being disgusting
  • Hi, I’m in a tropical getaway that appears outside a life-sucking desert

5.) Can You Feel the Love Tonight

  • Romance!
  • Nala returns – and it’s magical!

6.) Rafiki Finds Simba/Remember Who You Are

  • Well, a blue-butt baboon with a sweet walking stick is toying with our distressed hero – yup, that’s funny
  • Umm – helllllllo – Mufasa in giant spirit cloud form gives Simba a reality check – magic!

7.) Timon and Pumba distract the hyenas

  • straight up “enemy-disguise” comedy

8.) Simba v. Scar

  • The moment we’ve all been waiting for

9.) Remember Who You Are (reprise)

  • Simba is victorious!
  • Reinforcement of Theme Stated

All these sound like reasons to read a book (if it was a book) or watch the movie – yes? And I’m sure if you’re a Lion King fan, these scenes immediately triggered pictures in your memory with no effort whatsoever. How do they do that!? Well…

  1. They reinforce Theme Stated – The Circle of Life
  2. They add tension that creates Character Arc…the reason for this blog. 

So TENSION – how do you create it in scenes? Simpler than you’d think, actually, if you can remember three major points that need to happen in EVERY – I repeat – EVERY scene of your story. In this order, your hero MUST have

1.) A Goal

2.) A Conflict (that gets in the way of that goal)

and they must make

3.) A Decision (the hero is called to act!)

If your scenes don’t have this – and especially in your F & G – I’m putting your book down, no matter how hard I’ve tried to read it.

Let’s look at one of these moments from Lion King to see how they could have worked and why they actually  work.

Scene: Stampede

  • chase scene that causes cool Mufasa to the rescue the hero
  • Obvious Tension: Yes, it’s a chase scene, so of course we’re nervous because it triggers some key primal goals – survival! protection of loved ones! fear of death!
  • The Less Obvious – and probably more important tensionSimba thinks the stampede is his fault

Why is Simba’s misconception what creates the real tension in this scene, or, arguably, the more important tension? Because it sets-up Simba’s need for a transformation – his character arc! – and it pulls us back to the theme stated.

How? Let’s look at how to create tension and break the scene down…

  • Goal: Simba wants to practice his roar so he can be an impressive king
  • Conflict: Simba thinks he causes a stampede, which results in Mufasa’s death as the king saves him – aka – Simba killed Mufasa (a secret! a lie!)
  • Decision: Simba abandons the Pridelands out of shame and fear – with the intent of “never” coming back (The YouTube video does not play all the way to this moment, but I’d like to consider it the real end of the scene, so stay with me in this next part)

Hot damn, that’s a pretty good scene.

I’d like to point that this scene (not shown in entirety in the video) doesn’t end until Simba makes his point of no return decision – to “leave” his ordinary world. This decision is what really ends the scene – and a lot happens in it. Simba thinkhe causes the stampede. He runs. He almost dies when the tree he climbed up breaks. Mufasa climbs a giant cliff. Mufasa dies because Scar betrays him. Simba curls up under Mufasa’s giant paw telling him to wake up (tear-jerker). Scar manipulates Simba. Simba runs away.

Tension. Tension. Tension. Because of misconceptions. Because of secrets (this one, from Scar – who knows who really killed Mufasa but keeps this from Simba, foreshadowing a confrontation at the end of the story), and trailer-moment actions.

And all because of a heated moment of hot, effing F & G!

But do your scenes do this? ALL OF THEM? I know mine didn’t. And it wasn’t until I realized I needed this Goal-Conflict-Deicsion tension in ALL my scenes – and the multiple moments of F & G – that I discovered my weakness. So it was time to admit it, and turn those writing weaknesses into writing strengths.

I mean, can you imagine if Simba didn’t think he caused the stampede? No movie. NOO! What a less-fortunate story-world we storytellers would have.

And NOW, I encourage you now to do two EASY (one, anyway) things:emerson

1.) COMMENT on how you think tension and F & G applies to the other Lion King scenes suggested in this blog!!! I’d love to hear from you, and continue the discussion!

2.) Revise the tension and F & G in your novel – and comment again to let me know how it went!

Until then, waiting for you here on the web.

AKLambert, out.