Day 6 of the #PoeticQuarantine Challenge

Welcome to day 6 of the #PoeticQuarantine Challenge.

I write at the desk my grandmother gave to me many years ago because it’s filled with memories of my childhood that play into my stories and poems. Sometimes, I like to change the place where I write for a little while, hoping a new location will bring fresh energy and inspiration.

Two weeks ago, I brought my laptop into the dining room where our table faces a bank of windows, looking out onto the yard. This morning, the robins hopped through the grass in search of breakfast, a pair of gray and brown rabbits scampered in quick rings around the pines, a squirrel zipped through their game, and a possum lumbered close by. I loved every moment.

Animals are unaware of world events that fill the news and fill our thoughts with worry. They simply live. While I’m writing, I try to do the same. I push out the world and focus my thoughts on those things that bring me the greatest sense of peace. Continue reading

Why I Write For Children.

Yesterday, while I browsed through posts on my blog from 2015, I reread one I titled, Why I Write For Children. Three years have passed, and my reasons are still true today. Here is that post.

Earlier today, I visited a blog that invited writers to answer why they write for children. To answer the question, I only had to look at my daughter.

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

From the time my little girl turned two, she rarely wanted me to read to her at bedtime. Instead, she asked me to tell a story I made up. She’d scrunch up the blankets in her hands, roll back her eyes, think of a character, a situation, and say, “Tell me a story about a princess with the sniffles. Ready? Set? Go! 

I had zero seconds to brainstorm a possible plot. No, not every story was good, and frankly, some lousy, but still, my daughter liked bedtime because of this game. I loved her widening eyes, her impish smile, and her wild applause when I finished.

I write for children because their world inspires me. My world, the world adults live in, is a serious, rule-filled world stuffed with responsibilities. Children openly love silliness. They accept the improbable and impossible. They thrive on magical and believe in happily ever after.

I write for children because the three-headed monster hanging out under their bed is as real to them as the bills on my desk are to me.

When I write for children, I think back to my childhood when my sister and I explored the forest around our house. A fallen tree became a ship we co-captained. Squirrels scurrying under leaves were distant pirates. A bird perched high in the branches was our lookout. Through the eyes of our parents, we were playing on a dead tree, risking infection from a splinter or a bite from a spider. Strange how they could never see the tree for more than it was.

I write for children because it’s what I love.

How To Write Better Story Details

Instead of a picture book review this Friday, I’ve chosen to share a favorite writing exercise I read about in an art book a while back. The instructions were straightforward: using a pencil or pen, fill the bottom of your page with a drawing of grass. It sounded simple enough. I sketched a row of haphazard, waving, wandering wisps across the bottom of my paper, thinking I’d captured grass-ness.

young grain

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Next, the instructions said to head outdoors and bring in a clump of grass, study it, and draw grass again. I dug a one-inch patch out of the corner of the lawn where I hoped it wouldn’t be noticed. Back inside at my desk, I brought out my magnifying glass and studied each blade. Clearly, I had missed some details in my earlier drawing. The blades of grass grew thin at the top where they reached a point and thicker in the middle. One of the blades had been nibbled by a hungry insect, leaving a tattered line along one edge. Another blade had a crease from being stepped upon. And at the base, where the roots disappeared into the earth, the deep green had faded away.

As a writer, I found this drawing exercise relevant. How often have I placed a story in a setting where I have never spent a minute or in a place I knew as a child but haven’t visited since? While I’m writing, I think I’m recalling the details of sight, sound, touch, and taste accurately. However, my descriptions, as it turns out, might be simplified, like my first drawing before I brought in the grass I dug from my lawn. So, what did I learn?

Set aside time to visit the location I’ve chosen for my story.

Take pictures from low on the ground and up high (if possible) for a bird’s-eye view.

Photograph as many details as possible.

Pull out my notebook and pen and jot down sensory details.

Make sketches of anything that interests me.

Video record with my cell phone so I can listen to and observe this place while I’m writing.

And, if visiting the location isn’t possible, do an internet search. Look up videos of the ocean, videos taken in space (if your picture book has a planetary setting), videos of farm life, etc… Google maps is also a great place to check out towns and cities on our globe you want the characters in your manuscript to interact with.

Let’s pretend my story is about two children who visit their grandparents near the sea. Let’s also pretend I live close enough to a beach to spend the day there.

I step onto the sand and take off my shoes. In my notebook, I write down the details about this moment.

The golden color of the sand, the warm temperature against my feet, the gritty, abrasive feel of crushed shells and sand beneath my feet.

I step into the ocean and notice…

The many colors of the blue and gray sky reflected on the surface, the foamy edges of the tide washing over the beach, a smooth seashell pushed up on the shore, the force of the waves washing against my legs, the roar of the waves, the cry of the seagulls, and the salty smell perfumed with a touch of fishiness… 

Before I leave the sea, I photograph the water pulling around a shell on the sand, a wave building in the distance, and the entire shoreline. I add a few more drawings into my sketchbook of a crab scraping over a stone in its path. Then, I fill a small container with sand and collect a few seashells to bring home along with the memories I have gathered.

I’m ready to write.

Until next Friday.

Prompts & Inspirations + Contest!

chalkboard-3-A

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!