Last year, Ms. Kyles introduced me to a wonderful book,  Home of the Brave.

It's about a boy who comes to America from another country. 

I'll share the first three pages of his story with you. You'll see that he is unfamiliar with many things he sees in America--can you figure out what he means by how he describes them? There are many reasons why he describes them as he does--not just that he is from another country. Can you guess what those reasons might be? 

A good writer is not only willing to look at topics or objects from all different angles, a good writers is willing to look at topics or objects as if he or she has never seen them before. A good writer is also aware of how he or she is influenced by his or her own background. 

This week is Halloween. Make a list of all the things you might see on Halloween (at least 5)--pumpkins, costumes, black cats--For each of the items on the list, write a description as if you were Kek--seeing it for the very first time, not knowing anything about Halloween. See if a classmate can guess what you are writing about. 

Assignment: This week, write a short letter to Kek and tell him about your Halloween. Use the graphic organizer I provide to write 3 paragraphs: 
  1. an introduction explaining who you are, what Halloween is, and how you feel about it. 
  2. a middle, giving specific examples of what you experienced on Halloween that would show why you like or don't like Halloween,
  3. and a conclusion, including a summary of what Halloween is, what your main feeling is, and a final thought you'd like to share about what Kek might see if he came to visit on Halloween. 

Unpack as many abstractions as you can, use metaphors or similes that Kek would understand, and be sure that Kek understands what Halloween is like here in Asheville. 

We've been looking at alot of ways to make our writing more interesting--by digging deeper for more information and details, by unpacking abstractions with specific details, by creating word pictures in our reader's minds...Today we'll explore the way in which exaggeration, metaphor and simile can help our readers to FEEL what is important and UNDERSTAND what is important.

Exaggeration is a way to get across a strong feeling or point of view. Sometimes, it can be funny.  Almost always, it shows the personality of the writer's voice. 
I had 5 assignments to do in one night vs. I had a ton of homework. 
I was tired vs. I was so tired that I had to hold my eyelids up.
My mom was angry vs. My mom was so angry, she had steam coming out of her ears. 
I had to dig a hole vs. I had to dig a hole that went all the way to China. 

The cool thing about metaphors and similes is that they engage more of  our big brains than a simple descriptive statement might, according to neuro-scientists  (folks who study our brains). There are so many studies about how humans use metaphor to understand and think through all sorts of situations. 

So, it's not surprising that writing to change the world would involve using metaphors and similes. Martin Luther King's most well-known speech, I have a Dream, is full of them. 
Check it out:
"I Have A Dream"
by Martin Luther King, Jr, Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Source: Martin Luther King, Jr: The Peaceful Warrior, Pocket Books, NY 1968

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity. But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free.

One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. we must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" we can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Good writers show more than tell.  And they do this by unpacking words and sentences like you would unpack a suitcase. They pull out the images and the feelings and the details that help a reader to SEE and EXPERIENCE.  What does this mean?
I can TELL you that I had a bad morning, but what does that mean? What you think is a bad morning might be very different.

Or I can show you...

I thought there was nothing worse than getting in the shower and discovering that there is no more hot water. But it turns out that what is worse is a shower in water that must have come all the way from Antarctica, so cold it made my teeth chatter and my lips turn blue.  I got through it and then discovered that I had no power in the house. I did have daylight, so I had light--but daylight doesn't equal heat, doesn't equal a hot breakfast, and it sure doesn't equal COFFEE.
I figured I'd just get ready for the day as fast I could and then get breakfast and coffee at the Dunkin Donuts down the street. As soon as I walked in there, I could smell the muffins and the coffee and felt a big smile on my face. And I kept on smiling until I had the coffee cup warming my hand, the muffin in a bag on the counter and I reached into my pocketbook for my wallet.

Uh oh.

I always think of a first draft of a story ( fiction or non-fiction) like a garden bed. I know that I want to dig deeper and find more of the story. One way to do this is to ask someone to read my first draft and ask questions. Just like empathetic listening and questioning, I ask for empathetic reading and questions.

This means that a reader isn't going to give suggestions or correct my writing and even tell me if he or she likes what I have written. 

He or she will simply ask the questions to help me dig deeper. When I consider the questions and answer them for my story's benefit, then I might dig a little deeper. 

I think of those questions like the tops of potato plants. They are green and leafy and when you grab one and pull it up, you'll find the potato. Sometimes the potato that comes up is big and fat, sometimes it's tiny. I find that questions are like that, too. Some questions are about specific details and to clarify something (like: what time of the day does this happen?). I think of these as small potato questions--because they can be answered pretty quickly. Then there are the big potato questions and they usually involve more thought and more writing. They also usually involve WHY or WHAT (Not always!)  For example, why did the girl want her father to move away? Or, what did the prince want most of all and why? 
Many of us are able to think of small potato questions--what color was her hair? What kind of house did they live in? Sometimes we have to think a little harder about questions that will pull up a big potato. Some people call these questions "open ended"  because the answer might go on and on. But, for our class, we'll call them big potato questions. 

Now, the other reason I ask a friend to read my first draft and ask questions is to see if I am being clear and to see if I have raised questions that will make my reader want to turn the page and find out the answer. So, if I get asked some big potato questions that I know will be answered later in the story, I can assume that I'm doing a good job with creating suspense. Remember, our reader will  be pulled along in a story by what he or she wants to find out. 

A good writer listens well and asks questions that will help him or her to understand and clarify. Here a couple of quotations that I try to live by:
You are not really listening if you aren’t willing to be changed by what you hear.

Listening requires us to do only that—one cannot truly listen and be doing something else at the same time.

To often, we listen to our friends, teachers, family etc while doing something else, or while thinking about what WE WANT TO SAY. I am quite guilty of doing both. But I try, every day, to do this a little better. I am always amazed about how just listening to someone else encourages them to tell me more--and I get to learn more. Asking questions that show I've really been listening really makes the other person feel like they've been heard. In the months ahead, you'll use the same principles when reading a classmate's writing or when interviewing someone you don't know about their concerns.

Below is the poem Fifth Grade Autobiography by Rita Dove. She describes a photograph in the poem, with very specific and clear details--all chosen to create a feeling about a particular point in time. After we talk about the poem a bit, it will be your turn to describe a photograph to a partner--think of one that is about a specific time in your life--a birthday party? Going swimming? First day of school? Think of all the details in the photograph--and all the memories you associate with it. Then, we'll practice  Empathic (trying to put yourself in the other person's place or point of view)  listening and questioning.

Divide into pairs...
  • Sit, directly facing each other
  • Take turns speaking and listening
  • Ask questions only during the question round
The Speaker:
From your memory, describe a photograph that you really like from your own life. Give as many details as you can and say why you like the photo, when it was taken, talk about any memory you have about the photo or any stories that you were told about it.

  Look directly at your partner. If you finish speaking before time is up, just sit quietly.
The Listener: While the speaker is talking, listen only. Don’t comment or ask questions. Look directly at your partner.

During the question round:


1. Make sure you heard your partner right--

So, what I heard you saying is…

2. Ask a question of your partner that will get them to expand on what they said.
 Do you think…

 Do you feel…

What memories came up for you?

    Speaker: Answer the questions as best you can.
Switch roles and repeat the process...

 Using the memories that the photograph prompted, write a personal reflection story. Use as many specific details as you can. Just like your thumb story, focus in on details, the setting, the characters, the time. Your reflection will have a  beginning, middle, and end--in this cas
(If you want to--you can write this as a story poem).

Fifth Grade Autobiography by Rita Dove

I was four in this photograph fishing

with my grandparents at a lake in Michigan.

My brother squats in poison ivy.

His Davy Crockett cap

sits squared on his head so the raccoon tail

flounces down the back of his sailor suit.

My grandfather sits to the far right

in a folding chair,

and I know his left hand is on

the tobacco in his pants pocket

because I used to wrap it for him

every Christmas. Grandmother's hips

bulge from the brush, she's leaning

into the ice chest, sun through the trees

printing her dress with soft

luminous paws.

I am staring jealously at my brother;

the day before he rode his first horse, alone.

I was strapped in a basket

behind my grandfather.

He smelled of lemons. He's died--

but I remember his hands.