HOW TO WRITE – Ep 1 – Your Opening Lines

professormattSmileHOW TO WRITE w/ Professor Matt is an animated web series that teaches the basics of narrative writing.  

Teachers: The best way to utilize this series is to first have your students read the sample scene, comment individually, then all watch the video together. 

In this episode:
-Openings
-The “Waking Up” Problem
-Cliches
-Tense Shifts

Step 1

Read the Scene

Writer: Dominic
Title: “Rocky”

My neck was sore when I woke up. The car ride was 3 hours long; I was asleep for 2 and half of those hours. I realize that we must be close. A few minutes later, Dad tells me we’re here.

We get out of the car. It’s cloudy out. It was raining before we got to the farm. The house stood off to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Even through the fog you can see rolling hills covered in trees and long grass meadows for as far as the eye can see. The farmer comes out not long after we park. I stood with mom while dad went forward to introduce himself. His kids are there too. A girl that doesn’t look much older than me, and a boy who must have been about five or six years old. I try to wave at them, but they both shared the same blank expression on their faces.
The kids didn’t hold my interest for long. They weren’t the reason we came all the way out here. The farmer leads us over to the pen. There’s two of them in there. They’re both young, no more than 6 weeks old. Their fur is brown, like cinnamon. Their ears flapped through the air as they chased each other around the pen. Mom and Dad are talking to the farmer, but I’m not listening to what they’re saying. My attention is on the two puppies that are running around in front of me. It’s only when the farmer talks to me that I take notice.

“Want to go in there?” he asks me.

Before I can answer the door is already open. Now I’m running around with them. Jumping, laughing and rolling around on the ground. I try to reach out to the first pup but the second one tackles me before I can reach it. I get back up and I continue the chase. This goes on for what feels like hours. In reality, it was probably only ten minutes.
After the three of us are tired out, Mom calls me out of the pen. The farmer and the Dad shake hands and Dad heads over to the car. He opens the trunk and takes out a large, black slab of what looks like metal bars. He quickly unfolds this into a small cage. I look back to the farmer and he’s holding one of the puppies in his hands. I can feel the joy bubbling up inside my chest.

Until I look past him into the pen, where the second pup sits there, crying. The further his brother gets from the chain-link fence, the louder his cries become.

“What about him?” I ask Mom.

“You know we could only take one honey.” she tells me.

I can feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I start to cry along with the lonely pup in the pen. Mom picks me up and carries me to the car. Through the tears, I see the farmer’s children, with the same blank expressions on their faces. They watch me as Mom puts me in the backseat, with the first little puppy in the cage with me. I look out the window and I watch as the two children brings the second puppy into the house. I begin to calm down. At least they won’t leave him outside all alone.

Then I realize that the puppy next to me is crying too. I put my fingers through the bars and tell him “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you.”

When we get home, Mom gives me the new collar. I slide it over my new dog’s head and hold him close. It has two things written on it; our home phone number, and his name, Rocky.

Step 2

Watch the Video

Now watch the tutorial and see the text the way a published author sees it.  You can apply what you learn to your own writing.

*If you’re a teacher showing these videos in class, you can have your students add their feedback in the comments before watching. 1) Favorite line or image, 2) What you liked about the scene overall (what is its potential?), 3) How can it be better?

Matthew Ross Smith is an author and award-winning writing professor.  His first novel, Lizzy Legend (Aladdin Books/Simon and Schuster) is out in early 2019.

 

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HOW TO WRITE – Ep. 2 – Dramatize!

professormatt_BackgroundHOW TO WRITE w/ Professor Matt is an animated web series that teaches the basics of narrative writing.  

In this episode:
-First drafts
-Figure out what’s working
-Dramatize, don’t summarize
-Eliminate repetition

Step 1

Read the Scene

Writer: Ariana
Title: “Play Ball!”

A scene from my childhood that I hold dearly to me would have to be the first time that I played softball. I remember distinctly waking up in the morning to a clear blue sky and a warm breeze coming from my bedroom window. I was ecstatic for what the day was going to hold and in my haze slowly creaked out of my bed and made my way to the bathroom. As I climbed up my little step stool I stretched my arms as high as they could reach and displayed the biggest smile that I could give. Directly after smiling at myself in the mirror I turned to my right to see my Mom in hand with my outfit for the day. Next to her was my tee ball bag that had my miniscule bat and glove along with my cleats. I have never felt so much excitement, I had been waiting for this day for what felt like ages! With all of these thoughts in mind I decided it was time for me to start getting ready for my full packed day of fun. My Mom helped me get dressed into my uniform and before I knew it I was ready to venture downstairs so that I could get a hearty breakfast in before I headed off. As I made my way down the stairs step by step I came to the table where I was welcomed by the most delectable looking breakfast. Some mickey mouse shaped pancakes with chocolate chips, a couple pieces of bacon, and a small glass of cold refreshing orange juice. It was exactly what I needed to start my day off right. Once I was done shoveling my breakfast down I grabbed my lunchbox which was filled with snacks and a water bottle and made my way to the infamous minivan where I was to venture off onto my journey in. One of my favorite parts of riding in the minivan is the fact that we have a television that sits directly in the middle of the van which was always very exciting for me because I adored all 1movies especially while in the comfort of a vehicle. As I sat down a little lower in my seat I was quickly mesmerized by an episode of Rocket Power and before I knew it the ride was over and we were on the field. I had in one hand my water bottle and in the other my lunchbox with my parents not far behind carrying my bag. Once I make my way to the benches I look up at the sky to see the glimmer coming from the sun and how it reflects off of the batting cages. It is quite beautiful and leaves me in a momentary trance. I realize that I am up to bat as the game has started and as I make my way to the plate I take a deep breath and pull back my bat and full force slam right into the ball on the tee.

Step 2

Watch the Video

Now watch the tutorial and see the text the way a published author sees it.  You can apply what you learn to your own writing.

*If you’re a teacher showing these videos in class, you can have your students add their feedback in the comments before watching. 1) Favorite line or image, 2) What you liked about the scene overall (what is its potential?), 3) How can it be better?

Matthew Ross Smith is an author and award-winning writing professor.  His first novel, Lizzy Legend (Aladdin Books/Simon and Schuster) is out in early 2019.

“Getting it on the computer.”

I’m most comfortable writing longhand, in pen,on a legal pad.  Although my prose almost always improves when I type it out (I think?), I still dread “getting it on the computer.”

The other night, as an exercise, I decided to type out the first page of one of my favorite novels, The Sportswriter.  I was curious how such sacred prose would look in an ordinary, bland Microsoft Word document.  Would it still lift off the page in the same assured way?  Create the same momentum?  Would I worry about evening out the lines as I typed, trying to make the paragraph blocks as symmetrical as possible, even altering my prose to do so?

No, I didn’t care about the shape of the text.  (A relief.)

And yes, when I re-read it, it still drifted right up off the page.

So maybe something for you to try if you’re stuck or bored.

My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.

For the past fourteen years I have lived here at 19 Hoving Road, Haddam, New Jersey, in a large Tudor house bought when a book of short stories I wrote sold to a movie producer for a lot of money, and seemed to set my wife and me and our three children—two of whom were not even born yet—up for a good life.

Just exactly what that good life was—the one I expected—I cannot tell you now exactly, though I wouldn’t say it has not come to pass, only that much has come in between. I am no longer married to X, for instance. The child we had when everything was starting has died, though there are two others, as I mentioned, who are alive and wonderful children.

I wrote half of a short novel after we moved here from New York and then put it in the drawer, where it has been ever since, and from which I don’t expect to retrieve it unless something I cannot now imagine happens.

Twelve years ago, when I was twenty six, and in the blind way of things then, I was offered a job as a sportswriter by the editor of a glossy New York magazine you have all heard of, because of a freelance assignment I had written in a particular way he liked. And to my surprise and everyone else’s I quite writing my novel and accepted.

And since then I have worked at nothing but that job, with the exception of vacations, and one three-month period after my son died when I considered a new life and took a job as an instructor in a small private school in western Massachusetts where I ended up not liking things, and couldn’t wait to leave and get back here to New Jersey and writing sports.

My life over these twelve years has not been and isn’t now a bad one at all. In most ways it’s been great. And although the older I get the more things scare me, and the more apparent it is to me that bad things can and do happen to you, very little really worries me or keeps me up at night. I still believe in the possibilities of passion and romance. And I would not change much, if anything at all. I might not choose to get divorced. And my son, Ralph Bascombe, would not die. But that about it for these matters.

Why, you might ask, would a man give up a promising literary career—there were some good notices—to become a sportswriter?

It’s a good question. For now let me say only this: if sportswriting teaches you anything, and there is much truth to it as well as plenty of lies, it is that for your life to be worth anything, you must sooner or later face the possibility of terrible, searing regret. Though you must also manage to avoid it or your life will be ruined.

I believe I have done these two things. Faced down regret. Avoided ruin. And I am still here to tell about it.

 

The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford

Arresting Motion

The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.

-Faulkner

Eyes of a Blue Dog

Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.  Eyes of a blue dog.