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.

MORE!

SUBSCRIBE ON YOUTUBE

EPISODE ONE – YOUR OPENING LINES

EPISODE TWO – DRAMATIZE!

 

Comments

  1. Alex Gerlach says

    “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.”
    In the scene I loved how you could feel the joyfulness and the excitement of the narrator as he got to get a puppy, and specifically I like the above quoted line, where it connects to every reader, because every reader has had that moment in childhood where you have so much joy from something, and minutes feel like hours of fun.
    It could be a lot better if the narrator paid attention to tense, such as in the line “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.” Changing this to Mom and Dad talked keeps the tense, and does not take away from the story with the awkwardness of broken tense.

    Like

  2. Anonymous says

    “Their fur is brown, like cinnamon. Their ears flapped through the air as they chased each other around the pen”
    It was a sweet story and even though the breed of dog wasn’t said, the readers have pretty good idea of it.
    Some of the sentences are a bit choppy and don’t really flow well.

    Like

  3. Anonymous says

    Favorite line: Their ears flapped through the air as they chased each other around the pen.
    I liked how the scene had a very clear setting. I could clearly imagine every action portrayed.
    It could be better by eliminating a lot of the small fragment-like sentences, thus making the story flow better.

    Like

  4. Anonymous says

    1. My favorite scene is when the boy comforts the dog at the end.
    2. What I like about the story overall is the innocent tone that the story is portrayed in as it matches the mindset of the child since he is the one telling the story.

    Like

  5. Anonymous says

    My favorite image created is: ” 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.”

    I liked the dialog, it moved the story forward in a natural way

    I would’ve liked more description on the pup. How did he feel like?

    Like

  6. Ariana Loret de Mola says

    1) Their fur is brown, like cinnamon. Their ears flapped through the air as they chased each other around the pen
    2) What I really like about the scene was how emotional it was without having to express the emotions the main character was feeling. It was descriptive enough to make you feel as if you were the main character. Plus, who wouldn’t be excited about getting their first puppy.
    3) The author doesn’t really need the first small paragraph about the ride to the farm. Though it may be important to him, it’s unnecessary for the story because it doesn’t set up the scene.

    Like

  7. Joseph Gomes says

    1) “There’s two of them in there. They’re both young, no more than 6 weeks old. Their fur is brown, like cinnamon”
    2) I like how the scene tries to evoke the joy of being a little kid getting his first puppy
    3) The sentences were extremely stop and go and the story was rushed.

    Like

  8. Damo T. says

    1. “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.”

    2. I liked how this scene gives the reader the sense of being in the author’s shoes. The author gives descriptive details to make the reader feel like they are there playing with the puppies with no sense of time.

    3. One way I would improve this quote is to cut down on the abruptness of each sentence. The sentences end very suddenly and detract from an otherwise great image given by the author. If these sentences could be extended and filled with more detail, the immersion of the reader would be much greater than before.

    Like

  9. Anonymous says

    1. “Their ears flapped through the air as they chased each other around the pen”
    2. What I liked about the see what was the overal imagery and the happiness that you could feel coming from the child. You could see how the tiny little puppies brought the child so much joy and it is visible how the child wanted to take both of them home.
    3. I think the scene could have been better by removing the farmer’s children from it because I feel they are just extra parts in the story and they don’t hold a purpose or meaning throughout the scene. I think the scene could also be improved by providing more detail about the body languaging of the other puppy who was in the cage watching his brother being taken away because of how emotional of a scene it’s intended to be.

    -Ahmael

    Like

  10. Anonymous says

    1) 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. This image, while not pleasant, is good at drawing emotion from the reader.
    2) How it makes the reader sad about the second puppy. In sync with how the narrator feels.
    3)The section before she starts to play with the puppies is a bit long and unnecessary. Less exposition with more focus on the emotions of the story would be better.

    Like

  11. Kevin Diu says

    1.” Their fur is brown, like cinnamon. Their ears flapped through the air as they chased each other around the pen.”

    2. The scene overall was heartwarming. It provided a nice story about the experience of getting a new puppy.

    3. There were too many breaks.

    Like

  12. Anonymous says

    1. “Their ears flapped through the air as they chased each other around the pen.”
    2. This line gives a vivid description of movement, joy and life.
    3. The description of the children of the farmers were quite unnecessary. It would have been more interesting if there was a description of the farm and nature. The pups could have been described a more a bit.

    Like

  13. Zeke Zacierka says

    1)”Their fur is brown, like cinnamon. Their ears flapped through the air as they chased each other around the pen.”
    2) I thought this passage was well written, and the emotion in it made me feel like I was there. The tone change was really sudden but still pronounced. It showed how all his initial happiness quickly gave way to the bittersweet reality of the situation.
    3)I personally do not like how the story concluded. The arrival of a new pet is supposed to be fun and exciting, and that should be overwhelmingly the ending tone. It went from total happiness to total disappointment to the end. The disappointment is understandable and adds more emotion to the essay.

    Like

  14. Anonymous says

    1. 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.”
    2. The story was good overall. There was a lot of detail that I was able to imagine that I was there and the story was able to make me feel sad for the puppy that was left behind.
    3. The sentences could have been combined instead of making multiple sentences with only a few words.

    Like

  15. Matthew Lipsit says

    1. “I try to wave at them, but they both shared the same blank expression on their faces.” I really like this line as this is something I have experienced before. My first dog we also got from a farm where there were child. Who weren’t allowed to talk to us. It was an eerie feeling that is reminded to me by this line.
    2. “I try to reach out to the first pup but the second one tackles me before I can reach it.” This line could be simply shorted down to one of the pups tackles me as soon as I reached for him.
    3. I) The boy arrives at the farm II) The boy plays with the puppies at the farm III) The boy leaves with only one puppy and is sad
    4. The arrival could have cut down, the details about the weather
    5. Time with the Dogs could have been developed more.

    Like

  16. Shanewaz Chowdhury says

    1. ” Their fur is brown, like cinnamon. Their ears flapped through the air as they chased each other around the pen.” I enjoyed this line because it is very vivid imagery and I can picture the exact image while reading it in my head.
    2. “This goes on for what feels like hours. In reality, it was probably only ten minutes.” I feel like the addition of how long they ran around for in reality is a bit stretched out because I feel as though one could assume that the narrator didn’t actually run for that long from the previous line. The lines could be connected and shortened to, “This goes on for what feels like, but only a couple of minutes”. OR take out the second line entirely so that it is only This goes on for what feels like hours.”
    3. Boy sleeps through car ride,
    Boy arrives at farm, see two interesting kids
    Boy goes to pen, sees two puppies in it
    Boy chases puppies
    Dad takes out cage ,takes only one pup,
    Other pup and boy starts crying
    Arrive home, tells pup not to worry
    4.The boy and girl, as they weren’t important parts of the story, more environment related and appeared only temporarily.
    5. Develop the relationship between boy and pup more, have pup connect to boy in some way through some sign of affection.

    Like

  17. Anonymous says

    Copy and paste a specific line, image, or description that you liked, and say why you liked it.
    Find one line that can be made shorter, clearer, or both. Fix it.
    Outline what happens in the story, overall. (Ex: I. Boy Wakes up / II. Boy is abducted by aliens / III. Boy falls in love with alien girl / IV. Boy has to decide if he wants to go back to earth or stay with alien girl / V. Boy chooses love)
    Which section could be cut down? Why?
    Which section could be developed? How?

    1. ” I try to reach out to the first pup but the second one tackles me before I can reach it” I like this line because it efficiently conveys a sense of frantic action/movement in the scene.
    2. “He opens the trunk and takes out a large, black slab of what looks like metal bars” This just seems like an odd and unnecessary way to describe the cage, especially because exactly what it is is revealed in the next line. One way to improve it would be to remove some of the descriptors/simplify the description: He opens the trunk and takes out a black slab of metal bars.
    3. I. Child wakes up at the end of the car ride. II. Meets the farmer and two puppies. III. Parents take one puppy. IV The child and puppies start to cry V. He comforts his puppy on the ride home. VI. He names his puppy Rocky.
    4. I would cut down the beginning a little, and cut straight to the puppies.
    5. I would develop the end more, it seemed very abrupt.

    Like

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