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!

Why Do I Write For Children?

Earlier today I visited a blog that invited writers to answer a question: Why do I write for children? I didn’t have to take the time to consider this question. I only had to picture my daughter’s face and I had my answer.

Why do I write for children?

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

I never imagined I would write picture books until my daughter turned two. Night after night she would tell me NOT to read her a book. Instead, she asked me to tell a story I made up–just for her. She’d lead off with a character and a situation, (a princess with the sniffles or a dragon with a loose tooth) and then say, “Go!” And I’d have zero seconds to brainstorm a possible plot. No, not every story was good, and frankly, some of them were downright lousy, but still, she liked bedtime so much more because of this game we played. I loved seeing her eyes widen, her smile grow, and hear her wild applause when I finished.

 

I write for children because they openly love any amount of silliness in a story, they accept the improbable and impossible, they thrive on magical, and they believe with all their heart in happily ever after.

I write for children because I had a happy childhood filled with memories I never want to forget. Turning those memories into stories keeps them alive.

I write for children because their world keeps inspiring me. Yes, you read that right. their world. My world, the world adults live in, is a serious, rule-filled world with loads of responsibilities. But a child’s world is lived fully. Children live in the moment without thought or care if the dishes are washed and put away.

I write for children because the monster that lives under a child’s bed is as real to them as bills on our desk are to us.

I write for children because when I do, my mind is open to possibilities.  I think back to my childhood when I explored the forest with my sister. A fallen tree became a grand ship we co-captained. Squirrels scurrying under leaves were distant pirates. A bird perched high in the branches was our lookout. To 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.

Children’s Halloween Story Challenge

I recently accepted Susanna Leonard Hill’s challenge to write a Children’s Halloween story. You might be thinking that writing a story for Halloween doesn’t sound like a challenge. It’s simple really. All you have to do is:

 

  1. Decide upon the main character. (Could be a typical kid, or any number of spooky spooks like a ghost, mummy, goblin, or black cat.) 
  2. Then decide what the main character wants. (Maybe Max wants to grow the biggest pumpkin for a contest. Perhaps Gina wants to win a prize for the best costume at the school party. Maybe Carl wishes to learn a few spells from the witch down the block.)
  3. Then, think up an inciting incident to challenge the main character or keep him from attaining his goal. (What if… on the morning of the contest, a squirrel has eaten through Max’s prized pumpkin? What if Gina discovers that three of her best friends bought the same costume she did? What if Carl hears that the witch eats all children who enter her cottage?)
  4. From here, our main character must try and fail at overcoming obstacles in his/her path, fall into a dark, hopeless moment, get a brilliant idea, try again with renewed spirit, arrive at the grand story climax where resolution comes followed by the perfect denouement.

Normally this would not be a problem if the contest allowed writers 500 words (typical for picture books) to tell their story, but that isn’t the case.  These are the instructions:

The Contest:  write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words costumedark, and haunt.   Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)

So, I grabbed a cup of tea, sat at my computer, and started writing. By the time I had created a setting for my story to take place in, introduced my main character, and revealed his problem, I was already into the story by 88 words. Great! 12 more words to go. Delete, delete, delete. I started again and again, slimming and trimming, tightening and selecting the best words. And on the 26th of October, I will post my 100-word Halloween story here for you to read.

Writing From Real Life Experiences

As promised, I’ll share with you the inspiration for another picture book I am writing. This one is a nonfiction animal rescue story.

Growing up in the country meant living in a place where wildlife lived both outside and inside the house. I had, and still have, the uncanny ability to know when an insect is near. It’s like having a built-in radar I wish I could disable.

I recall a hot summer night (frankly all summer nights were hot at my mid-west house. My parents never saw the need to install an air conditioner when a cross breeze through open windows offered relief for free.) I digress… I was about eight at the time, and in addition to my insect radar, I also had (and still have) the ability to hear coffee being picked across the world—OK, not quite. But I heard a sound much like a troop of ants invading a picnic. I flipped on the light and let out a neighbor-waking scream. My mother came running. Upon seeing an uninvited millipede sharing my pillow, she proceeded to calmly get the vacuum cleaner from the hall closet and suck up the little bugger. “You live in nature,” she said, plugging the hose with a wad of tissues. Like that was supposed to bring me a calm, restful night. From that point on it seemed nature found a clear path into our home.

Yes, we had the rare, but common mouse sightings, but we also had a praying mantis infestation when my mother brought an ‘interesting’ cocoon into our house. “Isn’t it fascinating?” she said. A month later when thousands of babies hatched, she sang a different tune. Then a ladybug convention darkened our windows by their sheer numbers. ladybugsIn addition to the insects, we gave shelter and care to a variety of furry critters the cat dragged home within an inch of their lives.

But the animal which left the largest print on my heart was an injured mallard we found a mile from our home. Seeing the bloody, broken duck, my mother supposed it was attacked by a raccoon or coyote. It appeared clear the duck wouldn’t last the night, but being me… I cried. I cried for the pain the duck must have been experiencing. I cried for the fear the duck must have felt during the attack. I cried for the experiences the duck would not enjoy after her life was cut short. And my mother did exactly what I needed her to do. She brought the mallard to a wildlife rehabilitation center.

My hopes crashed when we were turned away because they had no space to care for one more animal.

We took the duck to the vet. My hopes crashed again when the vet didn’t give the duck a hope in the world of surviving. And again, my mother did exactly what I needed her to do. She brought the duck home. And what happened over the next four months touched me deeply—changed me. What happened next is what my nonfiction picture book is about. With hopes, after sending my manuscript out into the world of agents, I’ll gain the interest of one who will feel my story needs to be shared.  

As always, it’s hard to write with one’s fingers crossed.

All the best.

“Hiccup For Me.” The inspiration behind a story.

 

Most of the children’s stories I write, although fiction, come from a childhood memory or develop from some random remark my daughter makes. However, one of my favorite stories came about when our dog got a near-clinical case of hiccups.

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

Hiccups…. I pondered over a cup of minty tea. A dog with hiccups! That could be embarrassing. Hmmm… Do I know what it’s like to get the hiccups at an inopportune time? YES! My mind zipped back to my 6th grade history class. 6th grade—an awkward enough time in a kid’s life, but paired with Mr. McNab, my history teacher, 6th grade was intolerable. You see, Mr. McNab LOVED when a student in his class hiccupped.

He’d be droning on and on about the details of the Boston Tea Party when from some remote corner of the universe that was our classroom…

HICCUP!

Pausing his lecture to place his piece of chalk on the wood ledge, Mr. McNab rotated like a lighthouse beacon and faced his students. His eyes deliberately panned the rows, searching and waiting for the perpetrator to reveal him or herself. Ears cocked and alert, he waited.

HICCUP!

With the keen moves of a hawk, Mr. McNab sought out his prey.  Swooping in on his helpless victim, his large hands securely gripped the sides of the defenseless kid’s desk. Lowering his head to achieve direct eye contact, he demanded, “Hiccup for me.” Keeping his eyes locked on the poor kid’s quivering face, he waited for another hiccup.

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

drawn by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

“Come on…hiccup for me.”

Damn if that didn’t work every time! Pure humiliation is an awesome cure for hiccups. When the kid (whose name I’ll not reveal…) couldn’t hiccup, Mr. McNab resumed class with a smirk on his face as if he knew he’d won.

So, having that personal memory to fall back on, (woops…did I say personal?)  I had what I needed to write a fictional story about a dog who got the hiccups. Sink the hairy fellow in a totally embarrassing situation, and voila! I am sooooo ready to write.

Sometimes the most embarrassing moments in our childhood make for the funniest stories.

More of the stories that inspire my stories to come!

I’m Back!

 

nature-3I know I have been rather quiet on my blog, and to tell you that I’ve been busy is an understatement. Summer vacation came sooner than I expected, and with my daughter home from school, getting the same number of hours of writing each day didn’t happen. (no surprise for any of you who have children.) That said, I did enjoy the many extra hours I got to spend with her, baking cookies, taking walks at the park, seeking out anything wabi-sabi, playing board games, losing to her at mini golf (seriously? High score doesn’t mean I won?), going out for ice cream, playing dress-up, and having fancy tea parties in her room where we pretend we are the oldest and dearest of friends.

Still, the writer in me craved a few hours of time on my laptop. And when I claimed those precious hours, the sweet voice of my daughter asked…

“Aren’t you done working yet?

I let you write in peace for a whole half hour. Isn’t that enough?

Geez, Mommy, you seriously look like you could use a break!

While you’re waiting for your characters to talk to you, could I sing?

If you name one of your characters after me I’ll let you have 15 more minutes of quiet.

CRASH in the kitchen followed by, “Everything is nearly OK in here. Don’t bother interrupting your work to check…

The dog told me he wants you to take him for a walk. Can I come along? We could stop at the playground for a couple of hours. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

I managed to squeeze in two hours of writing time each day and happily gave the rest of day to my little girl. “Focus,” I told myself. “Make a list of your goals and stick to it.

I gave myself the gift of the Kidlit Summer School classes. Weeks of daily lessons on the ins and outs of plotting from a cornucopia of talented writers. I read each lesson twice, highlighted the points I wanted to work into my writing, and then spent my precious two hours a day at my laptop—fingers flying on hot keys.

After the sad, last day of Kidlit Summer School, I flew with my family to California for the wedding of my sister-in-law, followed by the daunting task of emptying my childhood house. With the passing of my father, this task took precedence. If you are picturing a typical family home filled with typical household furniture and array of knickknacks–stop the vision.

The house I grew up in was far from typical. (Something I never realized until my first play date when I was seven.) My father was an astrophysicist by day and a master violin maker by night. Around the holidays, he lived in his printmaking shop, printing 20 color block prints on vintage presses. My mother, a scientific illustrator, drew the color separation images on wood blocks that my father later engraved. Dad had other interests and hobbies which filled bookshelf after bookshelf in our home – two layers thick per shelf. Bookshelves were my parents’ answer to wallpaper (mine, too). Dad worked beneath our home – that is to say, in place of a standard basement one might use for a TV room, recreation room, storage space, laundry room, Dad designed our home with two levels of basements. (I thought that was normal, too.)

icebergThe basements, like the underside of an iceberg, was where Dad kept his scientific machinery for his work along with a metal machine shop and wood shop.

So, for the last three years, my sister and I have been working to find homes for everything, not to mention hiring an industrial auction house to identify the equipment for sale. As of last week, the house is empty and nearly ready to go on the market. Somewhere in the experience of rummaging through my mother’s and father’s lifetime of possessions, lives a book I need to write, maybe several books.

The jist of this blog post: I’m back and will try to connect with you more frequently. I’ve missed our chats.

Happy writing.

Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

Would You Silence The World?

Something my daughter said yesterday sparked this blog post. We sat outside, reading on our porch swing when she huffed and puffed.

“I can’t concentrate!” she nearly exploded. “There’s too much noise.”

I set my book on my lap and listened. “Hmmm,” I said. “I see what you mean. Let’s pretend we can silence every noise.”

airplane trail“Quiet, airplane,” I said.

“Quiet, bird!” my daughter ordered.

“Quite, trucks and cars and train, whistling into the station,” I said.

“Quiet, squeaky springs in this swing bench,” my daughter ordered.

“Quiet, gusty wind, and balmy breezes,” I added. “And while we’re at it, let’s quiet the footsteps and chatter of our neighbors, walking their dogs,” I said.

“Quiet, dogs!” my daughter said.

Next, I quieted myself. Even when my daughter asked questions, I said nothing.

“Talk to me!” she said. “I changed my mind. I don’t like all this quiet.”

Of course, we don’t have the power to remove all the sounds in the world.

Thank goodness!

But in pretending we were magical enough to evoke silence, I helped my daughter realize how important sound is and how easily we tune it out. The thud, thud, thud of jeans in the dryer, the soft blub, blub, blub of the fish tank filter, the soft, wheezy, breathing of my dog, sleeping behind me on my chair. Sounds are all around us–constantly.

As a writer, I often feel like I enter into moments like a deaf person given the gift of hearing, or a blind person given the gift of sight. The symphony of sounds surrounding us is a great gift. Tune in today and as you listen, make a mental list of the sounds you hear.

A note to writers: When including sounds in your work, let those sounds bring meaning to your writing. Let the sounds reveal something about your characters. Does the train whistle remind Charlotte of her vacation in Italy when, because she missed her stop, she met the man of her dreams? Does the warm breeze take Robert back to the beach where he proposed to his wife fifteen years ago?

The random mentioning of sound in a book serves as dead filler. Bring sound to life by connecting it to your characters.

 

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!