Prompts & Inspirations + Contest!

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I’ve decided to revive my Prompts and Inspirations posts, dust them off, and give them a good shake. “Why?” you might be asking. Because my good friend, Vivian Kirkfield, is hosting a WRITING CONTEST over at her blog, and having come up with a formula for her contest, I was encouraged to post my formula here.

Do you remember when I entered Susanna Hill’s Halloweenie contest? I complained at having to scrunch my story into 100 words. Had the contest been to write a story for children using my best 500 words, I would have thought, no problem. But 100 words… Impossible! However, nose to the proverbial grindstone, I grabbed a cup of minty tea (with honey), sat at my computer, and pulled out a story.

On to Vivian’s challenge! Is her contest to write a children’s story in 100 words?

Not even close.

And don’t guess a more generous number.

Seuss-3Vivian’s inspiration for this contest came after reading that the great Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was given a challenge by Bennett Cerf, one of the publishing giants of Random House. The Challenge was for Dr. Seuss to write a story using 50 unique words. Granted Green Eggs and Ham comes in at a whopping 775 words, but he wrote that timeless classic using only 50 frequently repeated words.

Vivian’s challenge cranks the difficulty up a few notches. I wonder if Theodore Geisel were alive today, what masterful and amusing story he would write with such limitations as these. Are you ready for this?

Write a story in 50 words flat for kids ages 12 or under. It can be prose, rhyme, free verse, silly or serious, and the title doesn’t count toward the word count. You can find the contest details here at Vivian’s blog.

presents

Prizes? Oh, yes! Vivian has outdone herself, and I’m not going to spoil it. You’ll have to hop over to her blog to find out what the winners will receive.

THE MAKINGS OF A STORY. Whether writing a picture book or novel, the writer begins by bringing the main character on stage and offering a look into his/her ordinary world. Something happens, better known as the inciting event. This event  is often disturbing to the main character and causes him/her to make a change. The Main character decides to make the change. Enter the new special world from which there is no turning back. He/she faces several trials and challenges and fails them all. The low point comes when the main character feels all is lost. In a moment of inspiration, he/she rises to the challenge once more. More trials and challenges come as he/she grows stronger. The turning point comes when our main character must defend what he/she values most. Enter the climax. Evil + main character + what main character values most come together. The main character triumphs and the story closes with the denouement, showing how the main character will live better because of the changes.

“But how am I going to get all of that wrapped up in 50 words?” you ask.

MY 50-WORD STORY FORMULA

For 50 words, you’ll have to abbreviate my instructions above. Here’s how I do it.

Break the 50 words into four lines of about 12-13 words each.

1. Introduce the MC and problem.

2. Offer details and insights into the problem.

3. Either add another layer to the problem or lead up to a resolution.

4. This is where you bring the story home with a clever twist!

 

I hope you’ll follow my blog to read my 50-word story. I’ll be posting soon!

Let’s Go To Italy for Our Writing Warm-Up! – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-APhotographs make great jump-off places for story inspirations and writer warm-ups.  

Pour yourself a cappuccino and let’s get started!

Venice panoramaYour setting is Venice, Italy. Your main character could be a native Italian, an American traveling through Venice on business, or a young girl visiting her aunt for the first time. What if your main character is one of the many cats loitering between the buildings in this marvelous city, quietly aware of everything? Perhaps the water taxis are nowhere to be seen and the only mode of transportation is by gondola. Many options await you! The gondolier could misunderstand the address you give him and take you someplace else: a street fair, a cathedral, a museum, a bookbinding shop… The previous passenger could step out of the gondola in a hurry and leave a package, letter, or list behind. The gondolier could be a spy. He could also be related to one of your cousins. He could know the aunt your main character is visiting. Where will this photograph take you?

Another view of Venice.  

Two gondolas parked side by side.

Your main character observed the two gondoliers exchanging more than conversation.

Venice verticalThen the two men crossed the bridge and disappeared.

What lies beneath each canvas cover?

Where are the gondoliers?

For that matter, where have the Italians and tourists disappeared to?

A stillness has fallen over the city.

Where are the birds?

The shops are empty.

Windows are dark.

curtains are drawn.

Gelato stands are abandoned.

Or perhaps on a less gloomy note, it is early in the morning, the city is waking up, and the first day of your vacation awaits you.

As always, I wish you happy writing!

Leslie

Over 100 Ways To Awaken Your Childhood Memories – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

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Tapping into childhood memories is an exercise, activity, and skill many writers turn to when generating a fresh story idea. However, after leaving childhood in the dust, the process of digging through the debris for a story-worthy gem is daunting.

How can we wake up our memories?

Sometimes a smell, a place, an event, holiday, or word can bring back a memory. Let’s try it and see what happens. For each word on the list that awakens a memory, write a sentence or two. Include such things as your age at the time of the memory, where you were, who you were with, what you recall seeing, and what you recall feeling emotionally.

Scents: Lavender, cinnamon, lemons or other citrus, pine, wet dog, fresh-cut wood, mowed lawn, chocolate, perfume, new car smell, peppermint, crayons, machine shop, roses, smoke, mildew, incense, popcorn, rain, people have smells, too – Is there someone from your childhood that comes to mind from a particular scent?

Places: Farm, city, train station, airport, grocery store, hardware store, camp, department store, shoe store, movie theater, relative’s house, friend’s house or backyard, garage sale, car ride, farthest place you traveled on vacation.

Holidays and events: Best Christmas because of: present you received, relative that visited, Santa encounter, new outfit, etc…), worst holiday gift you ever received, Valentine that surprised you, the first birthday party you can remember (What made it memorable? Who attended? Where was the party? What gifts did you receive?), sporting event you attended (Who took you? Did your favorite team win? Was the experience better than you expected?), recital, school play, county fair, contest, Halloween, school field trip…

Random words:  Can you think of a memory involving any of these? An alarm clock, dresser, back door, basement, attic, doughnuts, bacon, party, new outfit, new shoes, hand-me-downs, present, pet, insects, gardening, hamburger, rainbow, storm, wish, restaurant, stranger, zoo, peaches, carnival, circus, farm animals, lamp, museum, backpack, picnic, hiccups, sneeze, playground, stuffed animal, broken toy, broken bone, rain, stray animal, dentist, snow, first pet, photograph.

How about jogging your memory with some questions? Remember to make note of the place the memory occurred, who you were with, your emotions at the time, and any other details that crawl back. 

What is your earliest memory of trying a new activity like a game in gym class, a music lesson, flying a kite, swinging…

Who is the first friend you ever had? How did you two meet? Why did you like being friends?

Who was your favorite teacher? Why does this teacher stand out in your memory? What made this teacher the best?

Who sent you your very first letter? Do you remember how you felt receiving mail? Did you write back by yourself or with the help of a parent?

Did you have a pen pal? How did you get this pen pal? Where did he/she live? What kinds of things did you write to each other about?

What is your earliest happy memory? Feel free to list as many happy memories as you can. Were they happy memories because they made you feel good about your accomplishment(s), made you feel grownup, or made you feel listened to? Is the memory happy because you went someplace you always dreamed of? Or is it a happy memory because you received a great surprise or present you always wanted?

What is your earliest sad memory? Feel free to list other sad memories. Was the memory sad because the incident made you feel ashamed of yourself, sad because you lost something or someone, sad because you didn’t do well in school at an event or on a test, sad because a friend didn’t want to be your friend anymore?

Were you ever jealous of another child at school? What made you jealous?

What did you cherish as a child? (a person, a place, your privacy, time spent with a parent, walks, trips to favorite places, a doll or toy…)

What is your strongest childhood memory? What brings this memory back to you?

Did you ever leave something behind on a trip that caused you emotional stress? (a toy, book, a piece of clothing, etc…)

Did anyone ever surprise you with a great kindness?

What did you like to collect?

What was your favorite meal that your mom or relative made?

Describe your childhood bedroom. Did you have a desk? What did you keep in it? What could you see from your window? What toys did you keep on your bed? What books were your favorites and why?

Could you draw a floor plan of the house you grew up in? List as many things as you can remember being in each room. List as many activities or memories you have from each room. Which room(s) were your least favorites? Which rooms were your favorites?

I hope the words and questions unlock good memories for you. And if you are a writer, I hope those memories make their way into your stories.

Happy writing!

To Quote Hemingway – Wednesday Prompts and Inpsirations

chalkboard-3-A “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway

 

Bleed.

I asked myself what it means to bleed when writing.

I think another word, equally interchangeable with bleed, is purge. For me this means to empty myself until at the end of my writing day, I am exhausted.

Not unlike some other writers, I often type with my eyes closed to block out the visuals which ground me to the present. Eyes closed, I can watch my characters act on my mind’s stage, see their gestures, envision their movements, hear their dialog with greater clarity, and enter their thoughts.

Following is a partial list of what it means to bleed when writing.

YOU MUST

believe in what you are writing.

feel joy and excitement from what you are writing.

reveal your character’s fears and desires.

connect your reader to your characters by revealing their strengths and weaknesses and motives.

lead your reader by the hand and show them what is crucial and why it is crucial in each scene.

take your reader deep into the mind of your protagonist.

imagine yourself in the shoes of each of your characters, and write with their unique personalities in mind.

involve the five senses in your writing especially smell, a powerful, underused memory inducer.

not only describe the actions of your characters, but give reasons (motives) for their actions as well as their thoughts over the outcomes.

know the back story of your characters, not to bring to light necessarily, but to keep in mind so your characters feel real.

crush your protagonists hopes.

Place speed bumps in your protagonist’s path.

keep your protagonist from achieving their goal until the very end.

 

Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want To Play A Game? – Wednesday Prompts and Inspiration

chalkboard-3-AAs I move forward in writing my middle grade novel, I continue to define my cast of characters. (remember my 75 point character development questionnaire?) Part of understanding my characters so they feel like real people involves creating a list of defining items for each. My main character is a fourth grade ‘girly’ girl with a strong dislike for camping (one guess what her class is doing on the weekend).

As a writing warm-up for this task, I wrote the names of some people I know along the top of a sheet of paper. Beneath each name, I listed defining things/items.

If you try this exercise, you can test your lists for accuracy. Without revealing the names, see if others, who know the people, can figure out who each list belongs to.

WANT TO PLAY A GAME? This exercise can also be turned into a fun family and friends game: choose four or more people everyone in the room has in common. Then ask everyone to list 5 or more things that come to mind when they think of each listed person. When you’ve all completed this, pass the nameless lists around the room to see who can match  the most names to the right lists.

What you’ll learn is more than you expect…

Beyond your list of items that shows your relationship to each person, you will see how others perceive these people, too. In writing, it is important to remember that, like in the real world, the relationship Anne has to her best friend, Linda, is different from the relationship Anne’s mother has with Linda. If Anne and her mother both made lists to define Linda, you would see two different lists. If Anne and her mother interact with Linda in your story, you’ll want to take the time to make both lists.

Whether you are making these lists as a writing exercise or as a game, you could include other items…

Habits: clicking nails, twisting a strand of hair, jingling coins in their pocket.

Hobbies: exercise, stamp collecting, reading, swimming, golf, gardening, etc…

Expressions: Whatever, gotcha, you know it, etc…

Positive personality traits: uncomplaining, willing to lend a hand when someone needs help, volunteers, kind to everyone, sets goals and achieves goals, organized, …

Negative personality traits: Complains often, no situation is ideal, finds flaws in everyone and everything, nags, lazy, untidy, undisciplined…

Defining Items individual would use at home, always or often take with on a car ride, always keep in their pocket, purse, or wallet: small notebook, pen, photo of someone, goals list, particular snack, magnifier, etc…

 

A FICTITIOUS EXAMPLE:

George – microscope, reading glasses, science magazines, strong coffee, workaholic, generous.

Megan – sketch pad, pouch of colored pencils, mini trampoline, bike, hair accessories, doesn’t put things away, artistic, creative.

Liza – exercise bike, workout clothes, cup of tea, Kindle, stretchy headband, spearmint gum, organized work space, often too honest with comments.                                    

After I filled in the list of items for some of the people I know, I made a column for myself. Why? Because as writers, we often look to ourselves when creating our characters.

Leslie (me)Stack of small notebooks (No surprise there. Right?), favorite wood pen my husband made for me, jar of highlighters, laptop (Of course…), coffee, my pets, stack of favorite books (too long to list), focused, determined, works so hard at her writing she often neglects doing the dishes and laundry.

If you play the game I outlined above, I hope you’ll learn a lot about those you know and have fun along the way!

Happy writing!

An Eye-Opening 3rd Grade Field Trip – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AI missed last week Wednesday’s Prompts and Inspirations because I added one extra item to my day. I realize one extra to-do doesn’t sound like much, but in my case, it involved volunteering at my daughter’s elementary school to join her class on a field trip. Normally I’d choose writing over hanging out with twenty, nine-year-old kids on a field trip, but I viewed this outing as research. If I’m going to write for this age group, I figured who better to spend the day with than my intended audience?

I arrived in my daughter’s classroom promptly at 8:45, in time to join a chorus of sweet voices in the Pledge Of Allegiance. I was surprised that after ___ years, I remembered all the words. The teacher informed the class if they wanted to leave their hats, scarves, and gloves at school they could as the entire field trip would take place inside a nature center where they would study water. Twenty, nine-year old students exited as if the room was ablaze to stow their hats, scarves, and gloves in their lockers. The teacher asked if I would like to ride the bus or drive my own car to the nature center. With research in mind, I joined the class, figuring I could listen in on conversations and immerse myself in the language of these children.

Wrong.

Have you ever visited a pet shop that sells birds? If not, picture the sound of a hundred crows chattering into a microphone with the volume stepped up. I couldn’t pick out a single word.

Once at the nature center, we were informed that the hands-on activities would take place mostly outside. After a one-hour hike, twenty, frozen kids raced inside to thaw during a short lecture. Then we followed a young man outside, who clearly had no patience with children, for a hands-on experiment. Each child was instructed to put their hands in a bucket of cold water to retrieve a rubber tube for an experiment in air and water pressure. That’s when the temperature took a sudden plunge from 50 to 30 something, and a freak snowstorm moved in! Everyone chattered and complained to the teacher about her instructions to leave their hats, scarves, and mittens at school. Some of the kids were clearly worried about getting frost bite and losing their hands because of the icy water the center provided for the experiments. I felt terrible for the children. Red hands, teary eyes, and shivering, little bodies. I moved around the group, warming as many children as I could by wrapping their hands in my scarf and rubbing their icy fingers. Four hours later, we were on the bus, heading back to school.

What I learned:

Despite the teacher’s daily immersion in the lives of nine-year-old children, she clearly didn’t take seriously their age-appropriate worries and fears. I see this among my friends who have children. So often adults belittle children’s concerns. As adults, we have learned along the course of our lives that many of our fears are unjustified. But knowing better doesn’t give us the right to brush a child’s fears away. For their handful of years on this earth and their limited life experiences, a child’s fears are as real to them as ours are to us.

And what did I observe when the teacher shooed her students away and told them they were being ridiculous for worrying about frostbite? Those children turned to other children for advice. I zipped forward into their teen years and pictured them facing age-appropriate issues that their parents might brush off as ridiculous. The result? Those teens turning to other teens for advice. Hard as it is, It’s important to take a child’s concerns seriously and help them realize that a parent or teacher is the best person to turn to. 

Another age appropriate issue:

On the bus ride to the center, my daughter boarded the bus well ahead of me and found herself seated between two boys. (To a nine-year old girl, this is a fate worse than broccoli for dinner.) So on the ride back, my daughter pleaded with me to sit beside her to prevent a boy from sharing her seat again. Did I laugh, snicker, or tell her she was being silly? No. I slid beside her on the seat and offered her my hand and a feeling of security.

How this relates to my writing:

Writing for children not only means developing a believable and likable child or child-like, adult character, but it also means bringing a problem into the story that is age appropriate. If I’m writing a picture book for 3-7 year old children, the problem needs to be one this age group can relate to, otherwise why would they want to listen to the story? It’s challenging to think back to when I was a child and remember my worries. So, my advice to writers is this… spend time with the age group you are writing to. And if possible, spend time with that age group in the same setting you have chosen for your book.

Happy learning and writing!

 

Reveal Character Through Setting – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AListen. How many sounds do you hear?

Open your eyes. What surrounds you?

Breathe. What smells linger in the air?

Touch what is before you. Describe the surface.

Taste. (I’ll wait…. Head into the kitchen, nearest coffee shop, or vending machine, and get yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or snack.)

Now place yourself in the setting of your novel. Where are you? What time of day is it? What year is it? What season have you selected? Who is near you? What surrounds you? What does the air smell like? What surface are you touching? What do you feel? What can you hear? If there is food near, what does it taste like?

Building your setting with these tools helps bring your writing alive for your reader. These tools allow your setting to become an active player. But to use them to reveal character, it is crucial to include those things that are important to each player in your story.

EXAMPLE: Take Janet and her boyfriend, Mike. They decide to hike through a rain forest. Upon seeing the towering trees, both standing and fallen, Janet sees history before her. She wonders what the world was like when the trees were saplings. How did people dress then? What did those people hold sacred? Janet marvels at the lush, green moss dripping from the branches. The wild, curly moss resembles her best friend’s hair she braided when they were kids. The intoxicating, woodsy scent brings her back home to the incense her mother burned at the holidays which triggers the scent of cherry wood tobacco her Grandfather smoked when he visited at Christmas. The bounce under her feet, as she steps on the moss-covered trails, causes her heart to flutter with giddiness as she recalls the bouncing on a trampoline as a child in gym class with her favorite teacher, Miss Henkley. She sighs because of the many gifts she has received here and promises herself she will make time to come back, if only to enjoy the wonder of so many cherished memories.

Enter Janet’s boyfriend, Mike. Upon seeing the fallen trees, he sees the ragged bark, the decay, the slugs that fill the crevices. He breathes out sharply, trying to clear the smell from his lungs–a smell that whisks him to a mountain cabin where, on a vacation when he was a small boy, his uncle beat him. The wild, curly moss resembles the pasta his mother served day in and day out to save money because of his father’s low paying job. And as for the moss-covered, bouncy trails…Jack recalls a time his brother tripped him, causing him to break his ankle, which in turn caused him discomfort and instability when he walked. Jack grumbles at the anger this place his filled him with and promises himself he will never step foot in this forest again to spare himself so much heartache.

As you move through your setting, place yourself in the shoes of each character. Focus on each one’s personality, quirks, history, hopes, and dreams. If you were that character, what would you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste? If you were that character, what memories might those things evoke?

Keep in mind that adding details with the goal of setting the stage creates a generic environment. If you want setting to reveal character, you must become that character. You must be aware through all of their senses when you write.

 

75 Character Development Questions: Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AYou get an idea for a story you can’t let go of. You know who the main character has to be. You remember a woman of about 30, tall, blonde, a bit of a neat freak. She is someone you met on a flight last year. You remember how everyone took notice of her. And just after the in-flight movie ended, she shared her deepest secret with you, a stranger she’ll probably never see again.

You flip open your laptop, and for the next five months, your story takes shape. Finally, your first draft is finished. You’re proud of what you’ve accomplished. You send it to your critique group, anxious for their praise. The e-mails roll in, and everyone says the same thing. Your MC is flat.

What? But I can picture her, I can still smell her perfume, I recall lots of people turning their heads as she passed. That tall, beautiful woman whose secret I’m keeping. All of this is not enough. You barely know her.

So how do you flesh out a character?

Before I write the first words of any story, I take each of my characters through a lengthy interview process. This goes beyond deciding upon their name, hair and eye color, birthday, country and town they live in.

I gained this good habit in a writing course a number of years ago. The instructor asked us to answer twenty questions about our main character as well as other prominent players in our story. I skimmed down the questions. “This could take hours, even days!” I moaned. “All I want to do is write my story.”

The instructor knew what she was doing. “Take your time,” she said. “Don’t answer the questions quickly. Think about your character. Put yourself in his/her shoes as you address each question.”

A few days later, I had mapped out my main characters. I was stunned at my intimate knowledge of these people. Yes, people. They had shifted from imaginary characters I dreamed up to flesh and blood, real people. I felt I knew them like I knew my friends…like I know myself. I e-mailed my instructor two words. Thank you.

You are going to spend a great deal of time with the characters in your novel. In order for your reader to cheer them on, to disagree with them, to understand them, and to cry with them, you need to get to know them–intimately.

Could you list ten things you know about your best friend? About your spouse or significant other? About your child? Think about your closest friend. How much do you know about the person you trust with your thoughts and feelings? What is it about them that you like? What is the glue that bonds your friendship?

As serious writers, we spend more time with the characters in our novels than we do with our friends. To write characters into reality, we have to get to know them. We must befriend them. Below is my 75 point questionnaire to ground you in the souls of your characters.

 

75 POINT CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT QUESTIONNAIRE

Name: (Are they named after someone in their family?)

Age and birthday:

Does MC share their birth date with anyone they know?

General physical description:

a. height

b. weight

c. eye color

d. hair color

e. any distinguishing features

Describe the place your MC calls home:

If MC is a child, describe their bedroom:

Type of neighborhood:

What is his/her occupation if an adult:

What are his/her chores if a child:

If child, grade in school:

Mother and/or wife’s name, background, and occupation:

Father and or husband’s name, background, and occupation:

Where does MC live (city, state, country, on a farm, in an apartment, in a research station on Mars)?

What landmarks are near them (park, shopping, friend’s house, beach, school, etc…)?

List all siblings, their names, ages, and one or more sentences to describe them and their relationship to your MC.

How does your MC view each of his family members and friends?

What is his/her position in the family? (parent, oldest, middle, youngest sibling, the pet?)

Pet(s) — What kind and how long have they had them?

How did they come to get this pet and/or what do they like best about their pet(s)?

Where do they keep their pet(s)? (horse boarded or in barn on property, fish tank in kitchen or bedroom, indoor or outdoor dog, etc…)

Favorite piece of jewelry or accessory they always or frequently wear: (earrings, watch, purse, shoes, etc…)

If female, what items does she always carry in her purse? (if child – list items in their backpack.)

If male, what photographs or information does he keep in his wallet?

Is he/she prompt or late for most things:

Organized, sloppy, etc…

Mode of transportation:

What options are available if their car broke down, if they missed their bus or train?)

Favorite sports:

Interests or hobbies:

Dress style:

Relationship to men and/or boys he/she knows:

Relationship to women and/or girls he/she knows:

Leader or follower: (he/she must be like others in dress, mannerisms, and taste? Marches to own beat?)

Their favorite expression: (Way cool!, No way! Whatever, Don’t get me started, etc…)

Habit: (bites fingernails when nervous or fingers necklace pendant, rubs hand over beard when thinking, etc…)

Their personality type: Glamour queen, no frills, down-to-earth, wishes he/she could disappear, jock, rugged, outgoing, know-it-all, etc…)

What are they good at (skills)?

What is their greatest ambition?

What is their best quality?

What is their worst quality?

Sense of humor?

Temper? What sets your MC off?

What things do they like?

What do they dislike?

Quirks:

Favorite foods and beverages:

Who is their closest friend and why?

Describe their perfect day.

How do they speak? (with an accent, stutters, lisps, in a monotone, etc…)

How do they walk? (with purpose, drags feet, limps, etc…)

What is their greatest fear?

What is their greatest regret?

What are their flaws? (lacks confidence, shy, speech impediment, fear of something.)

Based on their fears, dislikes, and, worst qualities, what problem would they least likely want to face?

Who does he/she love and care about? (parent, child, friend, pet)

To hear your character’s voice you need to take this one step further.

Instead of you filling in the blanks about your character, take what you learned from above and imagine you are having a conversation with your character or a letter exchange: Ask them to tell you in their own words…

Who are you?

What do you most want?

What freaks you out?

What is your first thought when you wake up?

What is the thought you fall asleep with?

Considering the challenges you have planned for your MC, ask – How would you feel if…?

What would you think if you heard your friend, sibling, parent, spouse say…?

What is the worst day you can imagine having? What could make it even worse?

What is the best day you can imagine having? What could top that?

If you inherited or won a sizable sum of money what would you do with it?

If you got a promotion at work, or if you aced your finals, who would you want to share this news with?

Now that you and your MC are best friends, go deeper.

What do you think is your best feature or personality trait?

If you could, what would you change about yourself?

Who do you wish you were more like?

What is the biggest secret you keep?

If a tornado or other disaster threatened to destroy your home in the next twenty minutes, what would you save?

 

You’re ready to write.

Vivid Writing Through Photographs – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AWe’re often told to write about what we know, and writing what we know goes hand in hand with placing our stories in locations we are intimately familiar with. After all, our goal is to bring the setting to life in a believable way. Sadly, writers of picture books (myself included) don’t have the luxury of drawing out setting details. Much of this must be left to the illustrator. The advice given to picture book writers is to take a highlighter over everything that can be illustrated. Then, read again, skipping over those (marvelous, vivid, fun-to-write, poetic) sections to see if the story still makes sense. What is crucial to the story stays as illustrator notes…everything else goes out. (sniff… ouch…)  But still, the reader needs a handful of well-chosen words to move them from their reality into the setting between the pages of your book. With the use of photographs, taken in your chosen location, you’ll have what it takes to do this.

I recently finished writing a picture book which takes place on a farm. Now, if I had chosen Peru as my setting, I wouldn’t have any first hand knowledge of life there. I wouldn’t know what the living conditions are for the poor, the middle class, or the rich. I wouldn’t know what the local food looks like, what the typical garments are made of, or what homes look like. This is where photographs come in handy. If you’re lucky enough to live near your chosen location, go there to document as much as you can with your camera (or phone camera). Does your story take place on a farm? Visit a farm, photograph the animals, their pens, the barn’s interior, the farmer at work, and take careful notes of everything surrounding you that awakens your other senses (smell comes to mind). If you aren’t fortunate to live near your chosen location, you can go online and search for images of Peru, if that’s where your story takes place. Print out the images of the surroundings at different times of day as well as during the season your story takes place in. Find images of the local food, typical animals, clothing, occupations, and faces of the people. Once you have gathered these photographs, make a scrap-book you can reference. You’ll find that your writing comes to life.

Some other places to get pictures and more of your chosen location.

Hawaii sunsetIf you plan on setting your story in Hawaii, but have never been there, maybe a friend of yours has. I can promise you, most people jump at the chance to share their vacation pictures and will, no doubt, have lots of details to share about the climate, cuisine, customs, and locals.

Check through your blog followers. You might be amazed at how many are from distant places around the world you would love your next novel to take place. What a great way, no… make that fabulous way, to learn about life in other parts of the world and make a friend, too.

Have you ever noticed how good it feels when someone wants to know about your travels and shows an interest in seeing your vacation pictures? “Really? You want to see my photographs from Italy? Over coffee? And cake?” You bubble over with excitement and spill out stories, experiences, amazing encounters, unique experiences, and more. Most people jump at the chance to share their experiences.

The process of writing is more enjoyable when we’ve researched every aspect of our story and have a stack of photographs before us.

Our writing becomes vivid.

 

 

Mentor Text Study Questions – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AI’m coming into the final week of ReFoReMo month. (Read For Research Month for picture book writers and illustrators.) Each day we receive five new mentor texts to check out at the library, study, analyze, question, etc… If only my library (anyone’s library) had the five new picture books available on our daily reading list.

So what are some of the questions I ask myself when I’m reading (researching) a mentor text?

1. What is the central question, and does everything in the story try to answer that question?

Yes. Every story must have a central question. A rule I learned the hard way. After having a trusted friend and writer look over a manuscript a while back. The comment she made was that my story, though filled with great action, humor, and well crafted characters, was a bit like tangled Christmas lights. (Gadz!) Once I posted my central story question beside my computer and kept one eye on it and the other eye on my manuscript as I edited, I was amazed at how quickly my word count shrunk and how my story gained focus. One of those Ah Ha moments I treasure like crazy.

What other questions do I ask while researching mentor texts?

2. What is the main character’s motivation for doing what they did or for reacting as they did? (no motivation = who cares)

3. Why something happens the way it does in the story. The Story arc. 

4. Are the main character’s failed attempts escalating to the point that my main character falls to his/her lowest point?

5.  Will the intended audience care? 

6. What do I think of the end? Why do I think the author chose to end the story that way? 

7. Is the ending satisfying? What were my feelings about the outcome of the problem? 

A. Was the ending predictable?

B. Was the ending inevitable?

C. Was the ending a plausible surprise/twist? 

D. Was I disappointed by the ending? 

Even if you don’t write picture books, mentor texts benefit writers.

Do you read mentor texts? Are there questions you ask while you’re studying those texts? I’d love to hear from you.