Aspiring writers at Sandy Hook School learned about “Oh no” and “A-ha” moments and other writing secrets from Nutmeg Book Award nominee Kate Klise on Wednesday.
“I love a good ‘Oh no’ moment,” she told the students. "They're always my favorite part of the story."
Sponsored by the Sandy Hook School PTA, the day began with a presentation to the third and fourth grade classes and then smaller workshops where the students wrote their own stories based on a character called Little Bunny, created by Klise, the author of the 43 Old Cemetery Road and the Regarding series
“I wanted them to be inspired to write and get some ideas on technique,” said Yvonne Cech, the school's library media specialist. “The students have been really looking forward to this and are excited to meet her.”
Klise’s Nutmeg nominated book, Dying to Meet You, is the first one in the 43 Old Cemetery Road series. It is the story of Ignatius B. Grumply, a writer with writer’s block who decides to rent a house in the fictional town of Ghastly, IL where he encounters a boy named Seymour, his cat, Shadow, and a ghost named Olive C. Spence.
The story itself is told in a series of letters, newspaper clippings, drawings, and other devices, making it a timely visit for fourth graders, who have been studying the epistolary writing style exhibited in the books.
Yet writing style was far from the only topic covered in Klise’s presentation. Aided by an oversized pad of paper and a slideshow, she engaged the students by encouraging them to write.
“She’s a Nutmeg nominee, which makes it very exciting for our students and also her books are very creative,” said Cech. “Also, after speaking with her, she relates very well to our age group.”
Klise began her presentation asking the students what they had planned for the summer. After being answered with various activities from going to a Broadway play, watching movies, playing video games, and summer reading she posed a question.
“I know you are going to do all those things but what if this summer, you wrote a play? Or maybe you wrote a video game? Or maybe you wrote a book?” she asked.
Klise then shared her insights into the world of writing, beginning with her first piece of advice, which was “don’t make everything up.”
“Sometimes I see you guys making stuff up, you set your stories on Saturn and your characters have three heads,” Klise said. “You know what starts happening? It starts getting boring very fast because you’re making everything up.”
Klise gave the students ideas based on her own life and advocated for the use of library resources. She gave an example of this with her book Stand Straight, Ella Kate whose title character was based off of a real person named Ella Ewing. Ewing was a Missouri woman, who was considered at the time to be the tallest woman in the world.
“Guys, take anybody in the Guinness book of World Records and do this. Do the research,” Klise said.
The author also discussed the use of circular narration, in which the story starts with a problem, progresses to a journey, and then in the end has her characters coming home.
She stressed the importance of adding an “Oh no” moment, where everything falls apart and it seems that there is no hope for the main character. More importantly, the moment should be followed by an “A-ha” moment as the story begins to come full circle, she said.
While the ideas and prompts were inspiring, Klise also stressed the importance of edits and revisions. She showed the students examples of three of her drafts, pages riddled with cross outs and notes.
“It’s the hardest things to do,” Klise said. “You know what I look like after a day of writing like this?” She clicks a button on the computer and a picture of a grumpy old man comes up. “Like that!”
She also encouraged students to read the stories to their parents for feedback, giving them her 10th secret: “Your mom is smarter then you think.”
The presentation was concluded with Klise reading Stand Straight, Ella Kate and was followed by a smaller group of about 20 third-graders eager to get her advice on writing.
Putting some of the advice they were given into practice the students applied the model Klise spoke about that morning. In the smaller workshops Klise circulated two lunch tables giving the students encouraging advice and ideas on how the story could proceed.
After a half hour of writing, Klise read some of the student’s work out loud and offered advice on how to strengthen the plot.
She concluded the workshop by showing the kids the drawings for another story she was working on with a new title character named Larry the Lamb.
“Who drew the pictures?” one student asked.
“My sister Sarah, she always draws the pictures,” Klise replied.