Archive for February, 2013


The Notebook

February 12, 2013


Twice a month I teach writing in my daughter’s fifth grade class. On the first day, I asked each student to begin a writing notebook. Much to their chagrin, I had rules. Fortunately they liked the rules, and I wasn’t run out of the room.


First, no one sees the notebook but the writer.

Second, who cares about spelling?

Finally, you can draw when you want.


With that, we set about creating personal notebooks.  To help the kids organize, I asked them to use sticky notes and create categories for each topic we made. For example, one sticky note is titled, ‘animals’. As a warm up, I often ask kids to list animals that live in Africa. On a different day, they might jot down animals in their neighborhood.


We’ve made sections for colors, breakfast foods, and amusement park rides, among others. Not only are the lists a great way to break writer’s block, but they generate ideas, offer prompts for more writing, and help create focus and detail to one’s writing. Plus, they’re fun.


(And, you don’t have to be ten to try.)


Character Names

February 2, 2013

Samantha. Olivia. Ashley.

Jacob. Tristen. Jessie.

Do these names mean anything to you? If you’ve recently had a baby, they might. Samantha, Olivia, Ashley, Jacob, Tristen, and Jessie were last year’s most popular baby names.

How do parents choose names for their kids? Maybe they want a family name continued. Perhaps it’s important to them that their child be named after a biblical figure. Then again, Mom might want to remember a secret crush. Okay, hopefully not.

Choosing names for your characters can be fun. Maybe you want revenge on your worst teacher and give your villain her name. Sometimes authors combine names of people they know, secretly adding private information into their manuscript.

The point is, lots of reasons are factored into naming a baby. The same can be said for naming characters in a story. Often, names can play a role in the tone or time period of your book. If the book is set in 1975, likely names could be Amy or Mike, but if the story took place in 1940, the author might choose Sally or Frank.

Some names become iconic, providing new meaning to a word. If you call someone a Scrooge, you know what he or she mean. Charles Dickens gave a lot of thought to the names he created. Mark Twain choose names like Huckleberry and Tom Sawyer to fit the time period and location for his books. J.K. Rowling reigns as a master for contemporary characters. Not only is Harry a quintessential British name, but Voldemort can’t be beat for a serious bad guy.

While it might be fun to name your hero after an old boyfriend, think again. Research the location, tone and time period for you novel to choose appropriate names.