When you try something new, your expectations are set quite high. Some people give up on the new thing when it becomes too difficult or when the high expectations they set for themselves aren’t showing.
Last year I decided to join in on the first #FlashFicHive challenge (hosted by Anjela Curtis). This month-long event challenged writers to create flash fiction stories based on all sorts of topics and prompts.
I’ll admit, I didn’t do so well at keeping up that month or in the following challenges (every other month, which is set to change to a weekly hashtag event starting February 1, 2018).
However, I did learn a lot about writing flash fiction (other than the 1,000-word limit). These skills, which I’m going to share with you, are continuing to help me as I attempt to hone flash fiction in a new goal this year — #52weeks52stories challenge (hosted by Hollie Hausenfluck and Avrin Kelly).
Lesson 1: Start in medias res.
Do you remember this term from high school English class? For some reason, I do. I’m not sure what it was in regards to, but I do remember hearing it in class.
In medias res is Latin for “in the midst of things” — English for “in the middle.”
A flash fiction story most often starts in the middle of the story — at the beginning of the conflict. There aren’t enough words allotted in flash fiction to start with a bunch of fluffy exposition, so the best thing to do is show your character gearing up for the climax.
Lesson 2: Write first without concern for word limits.
It’s true: flash fiction has a word limit. If we wrote the first draft with a limit in mind, then we’d end up missing key pieces to our story.
Therefore, the first draft should be written without any thought to the 1,000-word limit. You can worry about that later when you revise and edit.
Lesson 3: Sometimes you will need to tell instead of show…
Of all the advice we writers hear day in and day out, “show don’t tell” resonates the most. We’re always trying to create the perfect image in our reader’s mind.
One-thousand words doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for pretty little descriptions and extensive characterizations. Sometimes a character is simply an old man with a cane instead of the paragraph or two it would take to describe him.
“I’d rather let the reader supply the faces, the builds, and the clothing as well.”
-Stephen King, On Writing
With flash fiction, sometimes we need to let the reader do a little work… Let the reader imagine what the old man looks like.
Lesson 4: Dialogue can leave clues.
A flash fiction story will likely hold clues for the reader throughout, clues that many readers won’t catch until their second read-through. A great place to stash those clues is in the words spoken by the characters.
Not only does dialogue help the writer leave clues, but it’s another way for character building. What they say in combination with what they do can help the reader better understand the story and relate better.
Lesson 5: Seriously consider the hook, the title, and the last line.
The hook is an obvious necessity in any kind of writing. You want your reader to keep reading, after all.
The last line should echo out to your readers, becoming like a song they can’t quite shake. It can show the growth of the character, the theme of your story, or leave the reader thinking about what might happen next.
The title is probably the hardest task of all. You’ve probably lost sleep over titles before, but a title in flash fiction is another part of the story. It’s one of those clues we talked about earlier. It’s a part of the bigger picture. The meaning of the title should be evident by the time the reader thinks about it again, but it shouldn’t give anything away.
Your turn, so tell me…
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Do you write flash fiction? What have you learned about the genre?
If you’d like a prompt to work with, I’m finding this one from Rowan Fortune to be quite fun!
During the last year, I’ve come across several resources for writing flash fiction. You can pick and choose what helps you:
This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop (hosted by Raimey Gallant), which is dedicated to helping writers become stronger and more confident in their craft. Click here for more information, to continue hopping through other posts, or to join in!
We all know that goals are important in our lives; they give us a purpose. Students need that, too. They need a purpose in the classroom, one they choose.
I’ve been incorporating writing goals in our class for the last couple years. They have changed significantly from when I started due to student feedback and my growth as an educator.
This year, these writing goals have changed again. This post is dedicated to sharing the beginning of this process, how it’s worked in the past, and how it will change this year.
“A long, long time ago…”
Okay, it wasn’t really a long time ago, but that song popped in my head when I moved on to this section.
What are writing goals? How does they look? Are these questions spinning in your mind right now?
When I first started using writing goals in the classroom, my purpose was to encourage a variety of writing. Students had six different sections on their goal sheet to work through.
The top four sections (which can be modified for students who need modifications), were “free” in the sense that the teacher doesn’t choose the topics. The “Word Collector” part is based on Corbett Harrison’s Vocabulary Workshop.
The bottom two sections were assignments that students worked on in class, and they changed based on the unit we were in. Both of these sections encouraged the the writing process.
Problem 1: As the school year progressed, I encountered the problem of students simply trying to fill up space without any cares toward the content or presentation of their writing. Paragraphs that should have had multiple sentences would be written in large print with only one sentence.
Problem 2: I also noticed that many students would wait until the last week of the grading period to complete their goals, which resulted in Problem 1 above.
Solution: In order to encourage students to take their time on pieces and use the entire grading period, I changed the goals again. Drastically.
“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes/Turn and face the strange…”
I decided to keep with the musical headings. Music helps me through planning, so it fits, right?
At the end of that school year, I asked for student feedback about the writing goals. I already knew the things I wanted to change, but I wanted their insight, too.
“There were too many entries.”
“I never felt like I had enough time to finish what I started.”
“I didn’t like the limit in how many poems I could write.”
“We should get to choose how many entries we want.”
These insights helped show me how to change their goal sheets. Along with many other comments, students showed me the things that worked and didn’t work from their perspective.
As you can see, the format of the goal sheet completely changed. The calendar at the top served as not only a visual reminder of writing days, but it also served to help students keep track of their stamina over the grading period.
Each section of this new goal sheet was differentiated per each student’s needs and modifications.
Stamina – dedicated to improving handwriting and writing daily (or semi-daily).
Craft – dedicated to improving grammatical errors, which depends on skills each student needs to work on.
Format – dedicated to improvement using the writing process. (The STAAR writing process I teach excludes the 2nd draft.)
Problem 1: Students wrote fewer stories, essays, and longer pieces.
Problem 2: Some students still waited until the last week to complete their goals.
Problem 3: I did not conduct regular student-teacher conferences to address progress in the craft section.
Solution: I again reached out to students, researched better ways to incorporate goals, and looked back at what did and didn’t work from my end. These wonderful goals have once again changed. I changed the goals a few times during the school year, which changed the goal sheet slightly throughout the year.
“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone/I can see all obstacles in my way…”
Okay, maybe I’m having a bit too much fun with the songs in my head… And I definitely can’t see every obstacle I could encounter, but I do know what I hope will happen.
Student feedback at the end of last school year helped me focus on what needed to be better.
“The stamina goal didn’t help me. I felt like I was just writing a sentence sometimes to get my day.”
“I didn’t like doing just one skill for the whole six weeks.”
“I liked the format goal, but some people chose easier ones than I did.”
“The revising and editing on the rubric should be part of the goals.”
I started researching different methods earlier in the year when students first started having issues with their writing goals. During this research, I came across Jeff Goins and his 3-Bucket Writing System.
Each bucket represented a different part of the writing process, and I wanted to see if I could incorporate this into writing goals since students wanted the revising and editing to be a part of their goals.
I added a bucket to his system and created a foldable that will help students identify which step of the writing process they’re on.
front and back
As a writing teacher, I know students are constantly making lists or creating idea banks for when they don’t know what to write. The list above helps students take those ideas and write something with them.
I’ve used a version of this list every year, and students find it quite helpful. In Google Classroom, there is a student-created prompt list to help with generating ideas, too.
What can they do with these buckets, and how do they relate to this year’s writing goals?
I’m not sure why they look like different colors, but this document is front and back (I always use the back for the rubric to encourage responsibility). Click here for a Google Doc Copy of Goal Sheet.
On the front, you can see the incorporation of the bucket system. These sections are differentiated per student by allowing students to choose their own goal. Buckets 1 and 2 allow for us to focus on whichever skills we’re currently learning in class as well as the skills students already know.
There are still lines to fill in, which was a problem the first time around. The difference here is that every single line does not need to be filled.
For example: If a student chooses ‘7’ for their Bucket 1 goal, then they only need to complete seven different planning tasks. I would encourage them to leave the other lines there (instead of marking them out) in case they plan a lot more than expected.
These goals also follow the S.M.A.R.T. Goals format. They are a bit ambiguous when it comes to the ‘what,’ but that is where student choice comes in.
Specific – Who: each student; What: differentiated per student, each section tells what is needed; Where: may work on in or out of class; Why: to improve writing skills; Which: minimum is the set goal, and maximum is more.
Measurable – Students can visually see when they’ve reached their goals, and there is a rubric with it.
Attainable – Each section must be reachable; there is no point setting a goal you’re not ready to reach.
Relevant – All skills are needed for class and writing in the real world.
Timely – Work on throughout the grading period, and due at the end. Students may need to set short-term weekly goals to complete their long-term six weeks goals.
“In the future when all’s well…”
School starts here next Monday (8/28), and we’ll set up our writer’s notebooks before we talk about goals.
The first few weeks — During the first few weeks, we’ll work on different assignments in class that will help students complete items for each bucket. They will learn how to add it to their notebook and their goal sheet.
Student-Teacher Conferences — One of my most successful years of teaching involved one-on-one conferencing. Students have what Corbett Harrison calls Sacred Writing Time. Students will meet with me during that time once or twice every two weeks in order to conference about their writing.
Students should complete pre-conferencing before their day. During pre-conferencing, they will answer a few questions and find examples of each answer in their writer’s notebook.
What are two things I’m doing well?
Where have I worked on my “conference” skill, and how am I progressing with it?
What is one thing that I don’t understand?
Do I have any other questions?
Foreseeable Problems — Not taking time to do the best work possible or waiting until the last week to complete goals.
Possible prevention for those problems — Since we are working on most of these as class assignments this six weeks, students will hopefully feel the need to do their best from the start. This will also keep them from waiting until the last minute. I’ll walk them through setting short-term goals to see how much they need to accomplish each week, which will also help encourage “timely” completion.
All in all, I’m looking forward to this new format, and I’m hoping that it goes well! I’ll definitely post an update sometime next grading period.
What are your tips and tricks for writing goals and writing in the classroom? Which resources do you use? Share with me in the comments.
I’ve already added the links above, but I’ll create a comprehensive list here in case you need it.
I’ve been nominated! Woohoo!! I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award! I’ve been nominated for the — wait a second…
What exactly is the Liebster Award?
The Liebster Award
Questions. I was nominated for the Liebster Award by Dianna Gunn, but I was left with questions. What is this award? Who’s it for? Why pick me? These were some of the questions in my head.
Dianna answered a few of them on her blog post, which also listed the rules. Yes, rules. Rules the nominee has to abide by should he/she choose to accept this award.
I wanted to know more.
From what I can gather, this award originated sometime around 2010. It’s an online award intended to encourage new bloggers as they settle into the life of blogging and build their readership.
We definitely need encouragement. That’s for sure!
Rule 1: Thanks!
Thank you Dianna Gunn for thinking of me and for nominating me with this award!
Rule 2: Display the award.
I did this up there! ^^^
Rule 3: Answer the questions.
Dianna asked 11 questions, so I will answer them here!
What is your favorite color?
Tie-Dye! I’m not kidding. Josh and I even had a tie-dye wedding cake!
If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would do?
I would like to say pay off debt or set aside enough for a college fund for our kiddos, but who am I kidding? I’m more likely to upgrade my phone and buy a laptop.
Cats or dogs?
So… I used to be a cat person, but I am slowly becoming a dog person.
Cake or pie?
Cake… Sometimes pie, but mostly cake.
What’s your favorite genre?
Historical fiction. This is my favorite book in that genre:
What’s your favorite series?
A tough question to answer…
Favorite book to screen adaptation?
Books are almost always better than their movie counterparts. However, the movie was better this time. (Given, it could be because this one was based on a short story and not a full-length novel, but still…)
If you could be any character from a book or movie, who would it be?
I think I’d be Hermione Granger. Not only does she get to use magic, but she gets to ride a dragon, too!
Do you read one book at a time or many?
What are you reading RIGHT NOW?
I’m about to start a Middle Grade fantasy. I checked out four from the library.
What’s the one big thing you really want to accomplish before 2017 ends?
I want to have the third draft (yes… I said third) of my novel written by the end of this year.
Rule 4: Random Facts…
Random facts? What in the world do you want to know about me? I’ll try to think of 11…
I’m semi-ambidextrous. I write with my right hand, but I do most everything else left-handed: bowling, tennis, playing pool, etc.
I’m the oldest of four children.
Only my little brother and I were born in the same state — my parents, sister, and baby brother were all born in different states.
Oddly, only my youngest son and I were born in the same state — hubby and oldest son were born in different states.
I love Judy Blume books, but I haven’t read any in quite some time.
I am one of those weird teachers who can’t wait for school to start again!
I hate having my hair up, but I hate having it in my face, too…
I played French horn in band, and before that I played the trumpet.
I can solve a Rubik’s Cube (I still have to look up the patterns online for the yellow part, though).
I don’t believe in ghosts… sort of…
I can’t play video games with the music on.
Rule 5: Nominations!
Elizabeth (Lizzie) Dunlap — Lizzie launched a new book last month (second in the series), and she’s working on reaching her readers.
G.R. McNeese — George not only shares his stories with his readers, but he also shares his struggles.
Cori Miller — Cori writes about family, parenting, and the trials and blessings of motherhood.
Remus — Remus writes about writing and how to get a little better at it.
Leigh M. Lorien — Leigh encourages writers with helpful tips on writing and self-care.
Rule 6: Your questions… And some non-question type questions…
If you could meet any author (alive or from the past), who would you meet and why?
Describe your first happy memory.
What is your favorite scent, and has it ever appeared in your writing?
Describe your favorite place in the whole world.
If you could only listen to music from one decade in history for the rest of your life, which decade would you choose and why?
Describe how it looks outside right now.
What do you remember about your favorite teacher?
Describe your ideal vacation.
If you could live in one fictional world (that you didn’t create), which one would you live in and why?
Describe a time when you wish you had a camera, but didn’t.
What would you do with a million dollars?
Rule 7: List the rules.
Already done, too! ^^^
Rule 8: Inform your nominees!
I linked them in, but I’ll let them know, too!
That was fun! I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about me, and I can’t wait to hear more about you!
What now? I’d like to hear a few random facts about you. So, feel free to share a couple or answer a few of my questions above about yourself in the comments section below!