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7 Tools I Use to Organize My Stories

28 Aug

Efriend Sacha Black interviewed author Jillian Davis and asked about the tools she used to build her story. Sacha wasn’t asking whether she used a computer or pen-and-paper, rather what literary tools-such as character profiles and timelines. I found myself nodding my head over every one Jillian mentioned.

But I wonder how many people use the sort of tools I do. When you Google pictures of writers, you often get something like this:

writer

…or this:

writer

I’m more this:

writing

Let me share my writer’s tools and tell me if you do the same:

Pre-draft

I pre-draft in a spreadsheet. It’s about a dozen columns and hundreds of rows. I often rearrange the rows as a plot point changes and add rows to enhance detail. When I’m done with this pre-draft, I convert the spreadsheet to text and start the editing process.

Here’s what it looks like:

pre-draft a novel

Character profiles

I fill out an extensive questionnaire on each character. I want to get to know the traits, motivations, interests that each of their friends or family would know about them. Invariably, it proves inadequate as the story unfolds and I end up looking at events through their eyes to answer the question, “What would my character really do in this situation?”

Here’s an example:

character profiles

Timeline

I build this in Excel/Google Sheets so I can make it as detailed as possible. When I’m trying to find a character’s activity, I Ctrl+F (see my yellow highlights for ‘Zeke’) to find their name! Truth,it’s most beneficial when I’m setting it up as it clarifies actions and points out temporal problems. Once it’s established, it almost becomes cumbersome to use.

story time line

Support Materials

This is information I’ve collected while researching for my story. Sometimes, it’s the entire bit; other times, just a link. For my current story, it’s so long, I had to add a Table of Contents with internal links to the sections so I could find what I was looking for. A simple Ctrl+F search returned too long a list.

Here’s what it looks like for To Hunt a Sub:

THAS_support_materials

Google Earth map

This was to track my character around the world as the story progressed. Often, I needed detail like:

  • How long did it take to get from Point A to Point B (I measured with Google Earth’s ruler
  • What’s around Point C (I zoomed in on Google Earth)
  • Where was a geographic location that fits the needs of the story (for example, I was looking for a North Korean sub base–found it, thankfully in a spot that worked for my story)
  • Needed the latitude and longitude of a location (Google Earth grid lines provide that

Here’s a screenshot of the Korea geographic activity in my story, mapped in Google Earth:

Google Earth for writing

Pictures

So I can visualize what’s going on. Here are some I’ve used:

Cuts

I keep all the cuts from my story in case I change my mind. That happens more than I’ll admit to. For To Hunt a Sub, it’s 11 pages, size 10 font:

novel cuts

How about you? How do you plan and write your story?

More on writing a novel:

Plotting with a Spreadsheet

How to Write a Novel

7 Reasons For and Three Against Critique Groups


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. 

 
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Use Photos to Develop Your Novel

25 Aug

My current ms is so far from its beginnings that I’d almost forgotten it started with photos to draw character profiles. I remember how much fun it was browsing through internet images of paleoanthropologists, staring into their eyes to see if they were Kali or Zeke (my two main characters). Did they have her fragile spirit or his swash-buckling SEAL-gone-scientist persona? Was there that geeky spark in her eye that indicated no wild data point was going to derail her concentration. Once I found the right image, I read everything I could find about that sort of person and came up with a character that worked. Then, I pasted the pictures to the walls of my office so every time they were in scene, I’d see them–notice how they moved, remember how their head tilted in thought or furrowed their brows in confusion.

Look at these pictures. Do you see a character in your story?

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7 Skills Students Need for Today’s Classwork

23 Jul

vocabularyClassrooms are infused with technology. You rarely see a lesson that doesn’t ask for online this or digital that. Students are expected to collaborate and share online as young as kindergarten when they read digital books or draw pictures using iPad apps. By middle school, they work in online groups through forums, wikis, and Google Apps.

Accomplishing this so it serves educational goals isn’t as much about knowing how to use the tools as constructing knowledge in an organic, scalable way. Doing a project that uses Google Docs or MS Word doesn’t mean students will apply that knowledge to the year-end PARCC and SB tests. Creating an online graphic organizer on the animal kingdom doesn’t necessarily conflate with knowing how to compare-contrast (a skill mentioned thirty-eight times by Common Core between kindergarten and eighth grade).

To prepare students to make the cerebral leap between tools used for a particular project and tools available as-needed requires preparation in eight areas:

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Writer-Teacher? Join Me For an Online Class

22 Jul

If you’re a writer and a teacher, we have a lot in common. I’ve published over a hundred books/ebooks on teaching in today’s classroom. At my other blog (Ask a Tech Teacher), I talk a lot about teaching, technology, and balancing the two. I write on organic topics, publish how-to’s on everything from using images to running a Genius Hour, and teach online webinars and classes.

In fact, I have two classes coming up:


tech-infused teacherThe Tech-infused Teacher: The 21st Century Digitally-infused Teacher

College credit (MTI 562)

Next class: July 27th, 2015

Next: September, 2015

(email askatechteacher@gmail.com for more information)

The 21st Century lesson blends technology with teaching to build a collaborative, differentiated, and shared learning environment. In this course, you will use a suite of digital tools to make that possible while addressing overarching concepts like digital citizenship, internet search and research, authentic assessment, digital publishing, and immersive keyboarding. You will actively collaborate, share knowledge, provide constructive feedback to classmates, publish digitally, and differentiate for unique needs. Classmates will become the core of your ongoing Personal Learning Network.

Price includes course registration, college credit, and all necessary materials.

Assessment is based on involvement, interaction with classmates, and completion of projects, so be prepared to be fully-involved and an eager risk-taker.


Diffeentiated TeacherDifferentiation: How Technology Makes Differentiation Fast and Easy

College credit (MTI 563)

Next class: August 10, 2015 

Differentiation in the classroom means meeting students where they are most capable of learning. It is not an extra layer of work, rather a habit of mind for both teacher and student. Learn granular approaches to infusing differentiation into all of your lesson plans, whether you’re a Common Core school or not, with this hands-on, interactive class. Ideas include visual, audio, video, mindmaps, infographics, graphic organizers, charts and tables, screenshots, screencasts, images, games and simulations, webtools, and hybrid assessments.

Price includes course registration, college credit, and all necessary materials.

Assessment is based on involvement, interaction with classmates, and completion of projects, so be prepared to be fully-involved and an eager risk-taker.


Others you might like (that are coming soon):

webtools for education20 Webtools in 25 Days (How to Find Webtools that Serve Your Classroom)

College credit

Next class: email askatechteacher@gmail.com to be notified when available)

Participants will explore twenty popular digital tools educators are using in their classrooms to extend learning and differentiate for student needs. Participants will review between one and four during the five-week class (by themselves or in groups) and present their review to classmates in a weekly Google Hangout. Participants will respond to the reviews of their classmates with comments, suggestions, personal experience, and questions. Both curations can be used as resource tools in the participant’s upcoming school year.

Assessment is project-based so participants should be prepared to be fully-involved and eager risk-takers.


Click for take-aways from the last sessions of these classes.

I’d love for you to join me. Questions? Email me at AskATechTeacher@gmail.com.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

 

6 Tips to Avoid Email Phishing

21 Jul

phishing‘Phishing’ is an attempt to steal your personal information by posing as a trusted source (a friend, your bank–like that). Kaspersky reports that while spam is declining, accounting for only 66% of email last year, phishing attacks have tripled. Why? Because it works. People think it won’t happen to them, until it does. To clean up after a successful email box invasion can take months, cost thousands of dollars, and give you many sleepless nights.

As a educator, you’ll want to teach students how to protect themselves as soon as they start using open email networks. Here are six suggestions:

  1. don’t open attachments–especially from strangers. Request that the sender embed it into the message portion of the email so you can preview it. Truthfully, I open lots of attachments, but they’re always expected. When someone I know is sending me an unexpected attachment, I ask them to include a code (something no one would expect, like their initials) in the first line of the email so I know it’s legit.
  2. don’t click links in emails–especially from strangers. I routinely make exceptions with this if it’s from someone I know and/or an expected email. DO NOT EVER click links from a financial institution no matter how legit it looks. Spammers are very good at spoofing legit financial institution websites, and thus persuading you to enter your highly-private user name and password. Instead, log into your account and enter that way.
  3. check the email address of the sender. Does it match the name? Does it look representative of the sender (for example, would Wells Fargo use an email address like wellsfargo@yahoo.com)?
  4. check for misspellings and misphrasings. More than half of phishing attacks are from Asia which may not be your home country.. That means they aren’t fluent in your native language and make mistakes.
  5. if you know the sender, does the email sound like their communication style? If not, send them a quick message to ask if they just contacted you.
  6. if the email passes all of these tests and you’re prepared to click on a link, PAUSE FOR ONE MORE TEST: Hover over the link and see what the address is. If it doesn’t match what the text says or doesn’t look legitimate, don’t click.

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How to Talk to People Online

18 Jul

social media chatTalking to people online is nothing like in person. Sure, you must do this to build your PLN, but quickly, you realize how much communication is transmitted by body language, pacing in speech, facial expressions–all characteristics that can’t be conveyed with the black-and-white of words. That makes sarcasm challenging. Even humor–how often do you know someone’s being humorous because of their grin, exaggerated expressions, or laugh. None of that comes through online.

As a result, online conversations need to be sorted differently than in-person conversations. Consider these quick rules:

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Tech Ed Resources–Classes

15 Jul

I get a lot of questions from readers about what tech ed resources I use in my classroom so I’m going to take a few days this summer to review them with you. Some are edited and/or written by members of the Ask a Tech Teacher crew. Others, by tech teachers who work with the same publisher I do. All of them, I’ve found well-suited to the task of scaling and differentiating tech skills for age groups, scaffolding learning year-to-year, taking into account the perspectives and norms of all stakeholders, with appropriate metrics to know learning is organic and granular.

Today: Classes

Overview

Ask a Tech Teacher offers a variety of classes throughout the year. All are online, hands-on, with an authentic use of tools you’ll want for your classroom.

Diffeentiated TeacherDifferentiation: How Technology Makes Differentiation Fast and Easy

College credit (MTI 563)

Next class: August 10, 2015

Differentiation in the classroom means meeting students where they are most capable of learning. It is not an extra layer of work, rather a habit of mind for both teacher and student. Learn granular approaches to infusing differentiation into all of your lesson plans, whether you’re a Common Core school or not, with this hands-on, interactive class. Ideas include visual, audio, video, mindmaps, infographics, graphic organizers, charts and tables, screenshots, screencasts, images, games and simulations, webtools, and hybrid assessments.

Assessment is based on involvement, interaction with classmates, and completion of projects, so be prepared to be fully-involved and an eager risk-taker.


tech-infused teacherThe Tech-infused Teacher: The 21st Century Digitally-infused Teacher

College credit (MTI 562)

Next class: July 27th, 2015

Next: Sept. 21st, 2015

(email askatechteacher@gmail.com for more information)

The 21st Century lesson blends technology with teaching to build a collaborative, differentiated, and shared learning environment. In this course, you will use a suite of digital tools to make that possible while addressing overarching concepts like digital citizenship, internet search and research, authentic assessment, digital publishing, and immersive keyboarding. You will actively collaborate, share knowledge, provide constructive feedback to classmates, publish digitally, and differentiate for unique needs. Classmates will become the core of your ongoing Personal Learning Network.

Assessment is based on involvement, interaction with classmates, and completion of projects, so be prepared to be fully-involved and an eager risk-taker.


webtools for education20 Webtools in 25 Days (How to Find Webtools that Serve Your Classroom)

College credit

Next class: September, 2015 (email askatechteacher@gmail.com for more information)

Participants will explore twenty popular digital tools educators are using in their classrooms to extend learning and differentiate for student needs. Participants will review between one and four during the five-week class (by themselves or in groups) and present their review to classmates in a weekly Google Hangout. Participants will respond to the reviews of their classmates with comments, suggestions, personal experience, and questions. Both curations can be used as resource tools in the participant’s upcoming school year.

Assessment is project-based so participants should be prepared to be fully-involved and eager risk-takers.


Who needs these

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4 Reasons for a PLN and 13 Steps to Building One

14 Jul

plnWhen a colleague tells you s/he heard about a writing competition from someone in her PLN, do you first wonder what she’s talking about–not the contest but the three-letter acronym? Or maybe you think, ‘Of course [Amanda] has a PLN. She’s a geek.’ You might even understand the purpose of a PLN–to provide writers with a collaborative learning environment–but think you don’t need one, or the two yearly conferences you attend is all you can handle.

What is a PLN

According to D. Johnson, a PLN is:
..
“a self-created set of experts, colleagues, and resources…that meet one’s daily learning needs.”

More simply, it’s:

…an extended group of knowledgeable people you reach out to for answers, and trust to guide your learning.

These individuals can be anywhere in the world, but are always carefully selected by you for their expertise in your subject area. It doesn’t mean they have all the answers. It means that when you have questions, you trust them to inform your thinking, guide your research, and provide answers and directions scaffolded from their personal experience. You may never meet them in person, though you likely collaborate through Google Hangouts, Skypes, or pre-arranged TweetUps.

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What’s a Tech Teacher Do With Their Summer Off?

13 Jul

summerSoon, the school year will end. For ten weeks, I’ll stay home, feeling like I have an endless span of hours to do all the activities that got sidelined by grading,  projects, training, and general ‘school’ stuff. Once I get through reading until I’m bored (or  I run out of food) and straightening up the house (I won’t get carried away), I’ll start on the meat of my summer activities. Truth, that list is more of an overstuffed file cabinet than a carefully-constructed To Do page, but here’s what it looks like:

  1. Finish a tech thriller I’ve been working on this for four years. I’m 80% there (40% to go). Of course, it has lots of cutting edge technology and a quirky AI named Otto (after the palindrome). If you follow my blog, you know this is on my list every summer, as predictable as the Golf Channel. This time, I’m doing it!
  2. Under the file folder, “The world doesn’t change in front of your eyes; it changes behind your back,” I realize a few tech trends are passing me by. This includes 3D printing, Maker Spaces, and Google Classroom for starters. They are seeping into tech conversations regularly on my social media and there’s little I can contribute other than questions. I need to fix that this summer. Any suggestions?
  3. Learn a new tech tool every week. I’m teaching a volunteer program starting in June to do just that for homeschooling parents. I’ll share a video, a project, and academic tie-ins each week. Best part–it’s free! I’ll tell you more once it’s live.
  4. I’m also teaching a variety of other online classes, one on the tech-infused teacher and one on using tech to differentiate. These do require a sign-up but there’s still time if you’re interested.
  5. Get back to my inquisitive, curious roots. I used to spend hours figuring out how to solve problems, find solutions, determine what made something tick. Now, I’m too busy. I can feel the rift in my spirit, my sapped energy, my fuzzy brain. This summer, I’m getting back to that. Here’s my promise:

When I see something techie I don’t understand, I’ll ask:

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What’s Trending on WordDreams

08 Jul

applauseIn the past quarter, I’ve posted about 40 articles on topics ranging from writer resources, how-to’s, descriptors, and opinions. During this quarter, I hit the 1 Million Visitors mark (cue the applause!) and got more comments from my community than in any other quarter.

I like to step back a few times a year and determine what readers are most interested in. WordPress makes that easy with their statistics. Here’s this period’s run-down:

  1. 51 Great Similes to Spark Imagination
  2. How to Describe Nature
  3. 178 Ways to Describe Women’s Clothing
  4. 103 Most Beautiful Words? You Decide
  5. How To Describe Noses, Mouths, Legs, and more
  6. How to Describe a Landscape
  7. 35 Weird Traits Your Characters May Have
  8. How to Describe an American–if You Aren’t
  9. How to Describe Your Character’s Home II
  10. How to Describe a Person’s Clothing

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