Sky challenge

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Craft Challenges for the Writing Life

Whatever you write – novels, poetry, picture books, nonfiction – it’s important to keep your craft growing and improving. I take this seriously and find ways to challenge myself.

One way has been the Friday Ideas group, which has kept me searching for viable picture book ideas.

This year, I’m taking the Sky Challenge.
John Constable sky
(click to enlarge)

When I went to New York City for the SCBWI Mid-Winter conference, one day, I visited the JP Morgan Library, where they had an exhibit of landscape paintings. One was a painting of sky by John Constable. The label beside it said that Constable had spent a year studying sky and clouds, so he could improve his landscapes.

So, I decided to take Constable’s Sky Challenge and write something about the sky every day. Study the sky, find ways to describe it, without repeating or being boring. After a month, here are some things I’ve learned.

  • It’s fun. Focusing my attention on something like the sky has been fun. It is, of course, always changing, so there’s always something to notice, a habit that writers should always cultivate.
  • It’s challenging. OK, how many ways can you write blue? Or grey clouds? I’m finding that the verbs are very important; but that comes with challenges, too, because how many times can you write that the wind sculpted the clouds? The wind becomes a major character in this challenge and it’s hard to find another agent of action. Hard, but I’m finding hints here and there.
  • I’m better at metaphors than I thought. I don’t use many metaphors in my writing, but I’m finding that I watch the sky, then mull over what I’ve seen and try to think of some fresh way to describe it. Again, how many times can you write that yellow light spread over the grey clouds?
  • Examples:
    Torn clouds blew across the wind-chapped face of the sky.
    Someone had poured melted butter over the grey clouds.
    Wisps of clouds were frayed by the last sigh of winter giving way to spring.

Join me! Take the sky challenge. Even if you only do it for a month, instead of a year! I think it will help me to portray how weather affects a character in a story.

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