#SOL16: The Beginning

  1. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . “

2. “It was a dark and stormy night . . .”

3. “Look at that sky!” exclaimed Joey.  “It’s such a greenish sky with the weirdest shaped clouds!”

4. Have you ever noticed that Iowa skies take on a greenish cast when the impending storm includes tornado-like winds?

5. It was an eerie calm.  The wind had stopped.  The sky was greenish and the clouds were quickly rolling by. Some clouds seemed to be attempting to touch the ground.

6. I raced for the house and safety as I whistled for Mya to join me. Barking enthusiastically, she quickly passed me.  Were we playing her favorite game of “Chase”?

7. In comparison with other states, Iowa ranks 6th in tornado occurrences with an average of 37 tornadoes each year.

8. Vehicles in a violent tornado (EF4+) can resemble crushed soda cans, almost unrecognizable to the owner, should they ever find be lucky enough to find it.

9. The walls were gone but the toilet remained, isolated and alone, like a throne.  Even the toilet paper was still on the roll and in the holder, waiting to be used.

What was I “practicing”?

When did you “know” the skill I was demonstrating?

“How weird that the wind has completely stopped,” I thought.  I raced for the house and safety as I whistled for Mya to join me. Barking enthusiastically, she quickly passed me.  Were we playing her favorite game of “Chase”?

Just before arriving home, the weather report confirmed that fifty mile per hour winds were in our county. The sudden absence of wind caused goosebumps and a drum began to pound in my head. The sky was greenish-gray and the clouds were quickly rolling by. Some clouds seemed to be attempting to touch the ground.

“Tornado? Straight-line winds?” I wondered.  At the very least, it looked like trouble was headed our way!  In comparison with other states, Iowa ranks 6th in tornado occurrences with an average of 37 tornadoes each year. The old-timers in our area tell tales of houses being lifted off the foundation or, my favorite, the trailer that was reduced to rubble except for the toilet that remained, isolated and alone, like a throne.  Oddly enough, the toilet paper was ready and waiting on the roll and still in the holder.

My house, my fortress of foot thick walls, was the perfect refuge.  Branches fell in the timber. Trees danced as the wind began to swirl and twirl. Mya cowered under my chair anxious for my calming touch.

What seemed like forever in the world of slow-motion-what-if-and-disaster-is-looming thinking was less than five minutes as the sky lightened, the wind slowed yet again and the storm passed us by.  A near miss?  A typical summer storm . . . could be rain, could be hail, could be wind!

How and when do you “rehearse” and “practice” the skills that you ask your students to use in their writing?

What does your evidence look like?

slice of life

Thank you, Betsy, Beth, Dana, Deb, Kathleen, Lisa, Melanie, and Stacey for this weekly forum. Check out the writers, readers and teachers here. 


For more information about opening lines from children’s books, see this source.

Did you name the leads?

(alpha order) Action, description, dialogue, humor, interesting fact, quotation (2), question, and unusual image.

And how did I REALLY begin my story?  With a combination of a “thought” (not included in the 9 possibilities above) and actions!

Did you notice that some of the other “possible beginnings” did make it into my short, short story? Accident?  Design?  You be the judge.

Extra Practice

                                             A Storm (not a tornado)
Dialogue: “Faster, Mya, let’s beat the rain!” I shouted.
Sound Effect: “Booommmmmmm. Booooooooooooooommmmm” rumbled the thunder.
Ask a question: Have you ever tried to “race” a thunderstorm?
Action Lead: I unsnapped my seat belt, opened the door, and quickly climbed out of the car with my computer bag in my hand.
Snapshot of a small moment: A flash lit up the sky and suddently a rumble like an approaching train began. It only lasted a few seconds but I was already racing for the house.
Flashback: I have only been caught in a thunderstorm once, but it was so memorable that I now race to get inside a building instead of outside during thunder and lightning.

22 responses

  1. Practicing what we preach and teach is so humbling! I am very aware that I do not use all of the skills that i would like my third graders to have!

    1. Erika,
      Humbling is true. When I was in a classroom on Friday, I was reminded of how easy it is to collect “beginnings” from books, but how do I really make decisions about how to begin my own writing. Too easy to pull out and copy. Much harder to USE! I’m still a work in progress!

  2. This practice looks similar to my recent writing exercises I did with a memoir writing group. We picked one idea and wrote in three forms: narrative, letter, and poem. It really fleshed out the images beautifully. This is a great idea for adding more detail and description. What an amazing practice. Amazing Fran

    1. Sarah,
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’ve often talked about taking one idea and writing in many forms but I’ve been short on the doing. I like the idea of a memoir as either a narrative, letter and poem. It won’t be this week but it’s on my list.

      Thanks for the idea!

  3. Fran, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this!! We are revising the leads in our personal narratives. I used my writing and revision to model. Now I have another model for my writers. Thank you!

    1. Michele,
      You are so welcome! My “story” didn’t go anywhere YET! But I had so much FUN practicising that I don’t care YET!

      So many craft and elaboration decisions in every piece that we write. I truly don’t understand how non-writers can teach writing. I feel like I am barely keeping my head above water! ❤
      (See you at NCTE16)

  4. Your leads flew me back in time to the tornado of my college days in Stillwater, OK. Maybe I need to work on that story. And yes, Fran, I did notice how some of your beginnings made it into your story. Lovely example, sending a link to teacher friends at my middle school!

    1. Ramona,
      Yikes, I can picture a tornado in OK! And now I’m remembering a friend who was on the phone with her daughter as a tornado struck her college town. Hmm. There was a reason I was struggling with “who” was going to tell the story. Maybe mini-stories!

      I can’t wait to see where this story REALLY takes me!

      And thanks for sharing!

  5. When I practice the skills I tell my students to try, and show them my attempts, they are so much more engaged. Thanks for sharing your work and not just the final version.

    1. Adrienne,
      It was very, very hard to not “delete” and just write. Purposeful writing really does feel different. (However, this would have been so much easier to talk out with a writing partner!) This takes me back to the butterfly video -maybe 2 posts ago – revision is worth the time and effort. We need to make sure that our students understand we REALLY do value and model its importance!

  6. Oh, my Fran! This is amazing. Not just the story, but the reflection and practice you so beautifully share. I love leads and your list of leads. Each and every one could have taken you on a slightly different writing path. Perhaps the generating process of leads gets the narrative juices flowing.

    1. Julieanne,
      When it comes to narratives, I still need all the help I can get! So much more learning needed! More data about why writing teachers must also be writers! ❤

      See you next month!

  7. This could (should) be in a teacher workshop, Fran. It’s an awesome lesson. Your work caused me to read through it twice! And yes, I grew up in Missouri; the skies are green before those storms!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Linda!

      Well, I’m already trying out the “endings” – similarly so there will be more on this. I’ve done similar mini-works on structure. Just need to continue to write, write, write!

      It’s a color of green that one remembers for sure!

      1. Wonderful to hear all that you’re doing with these writing ‘lessons’. Sounds very helpful to me!

  8. Fran, what a great way to show students the power of a strong opening. When I taught I often rad just the opening paragraphs of several stories and had my students discuss how the author drew them into the story and made them want to continue reading. We would then write several openings for our current work, myself included, to share with each other in order to see which had the greatest crowd appeal. Thanks for sharing.

    1. That was exactly what I saw in a second grade classroom, so my challenge to myself was to “try out similar” work in my own writing. I want to go back to those first lines but I don’t want it to be about “identifying the type of lead” as I’ve mistakenly done in the past. I want it to be about the real application. ❤

  9. […] See this post from this morning to learn how the story developed as I practiced multiple opening leads. When I hit publish it looked like this: […]

  10. I love your beginnings, Fran! You will be happy to know that my writers have been experimenting as well, and they are coming up with some snappy ideas! I shared yours with them today, and they loved your writing. You sparked some more ideas!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. It was definitely time for me to practice MORE so I’m glad the ideas were useful!

  11. […] The Beginning – my blog post […]

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