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!

“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!

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

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!

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.

 

The Death of Writer’s Block — Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

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THE DEATH OF WRITER’S BLOCK

You’re in the middle of writing your novel and gasp! The worst thing possible happens…a mind-numbing case of writer’s block takes over. I’ve been there. You’ve (probably) been there, too.

Picture it…the keys are warm under your fingers, your coffee or  tea is cooling because the ideas are flowing, and you’re too focused to take a sip. And then Brrrrrrrrrrpt! You freeze. The idea well you’ve been dipping into dries up, and you can’t imagine how to solve your main character’s problem.

Time to move away from your computer. And if you’re like me, that sounds unthinkable. But trust me on this. Grab a sheet of paper and pencil.  (Oooooooo, how old-fashioned.)

Let’s turn the situation in your manuscript around. Forget how you are going to get your main character out of his/her scrape, dilemma, situation,complication, entanglement, trouble, crisis, predicament, hitch, glitch, quandary, jam, pickle, impasse, plight, corner, kettle of fish, stew, Pandora’s box, can of worms, or put more simply…mess.  (Don’t you just love the thesaurus?)

Let’s shift our minds into a fresh gear.

READY?

Write your character’s problem in the middle of the page. Draw a circle around it. Next draw spider legs jutting around the circle and draw more circles–one at the end of each spider leg. In each of these circles write how you could make your main character’s problem even worse.

That’s right. Think backwards. When you can’t find a solution to a problem it often works if you reverse the problem.

EXAMPLE OF EVERYDAY THINKING:  

PROBLEM: Ben wanders away from the annual company picnic and gets lost.

TASK: How can we help him find his way back?

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: He could shout for help. He could backtrack. He could climb a tree and look around.

RESULT: BORING!

 

EXAMPLE OF THE THOUGHT PROCESS OF A WRITER:

SAME PROBLEM: Ben wanders away from the annual company picnic and gets lost.

TASK: How can we up the tension and make his situation worse?

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: He could wander in a forest, stumble over a low vine, twist his ankle, hit his head on a rock, go unconscious, not gain consciousness until midnight, awaken to the sound of gruff voices nearby, recognize some of the voices of his co-workers he thought were his friends, plotting to set him up at work and get him fired.

RESULT: A page-turner novel!

Time for this Wednesday’s Prompt and Inspiration!

Either think up a problem and work out how to make it worse using the spider technique, or take a problem in the novel you are currently writing and see if you can up the tension. REALLY up the tension! With this technique, you might find you never get writer’s block again.

What are some of your ideas?

 

It’s Wednesday! Writer’s Prompts & Inspiration Day.

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Before I jump into the Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations, I’d like to share a little background story first.

My mother, prior to married life, studied in Germany as a scientific illustrator. Her talent brought her to America where she worked at the Field Museum in Chicago. Her appreciation and love of scientific/realistic illustration extended to artwork created with a loving hand, such as the highly detailed artwork illustrating certain picture books. Among the many books in her cherished collection, one caught my eye. I lived in the fantasy world of this book, often imagining myself wandering through the intricately illustrated pages, exploring with the characters, and rejoicing with them, too. The children’s book I’m referring to is The Secret Staircase, written and illustrated by Jill Barklem.

Two mice, Primrose and Wilfred, look in the attic of Primrose’s home, (a lovely mansion within the trunk of a large tree) hoping to find costumes to wear to the Midwinter Festival. What they first find is a key. Then they find a door hidden behind heavy drapes. Through the keyhole they see a long stairwell leading…? The key fits, and the two mice discover a world of grandeur far more splendid than their imaginations could conjure.

This leads me to my own life. Okay, my unconscious, dreaming life… Since reading this book thirty years ago, I have had numerous dreams of purchasing a home in which, after I move in with my family, I discover a door I hadn’t noticed before. When I open the door, another world appears. No, not like in the book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis where Lucy backs through the fur coats in the wardrobe and out into the snowy world of Narnia. In my dream, another house awaits me, fully furnished, closets brimming with clothing in my size and style, festive dishes line the cupboards, and windows overlook spectacular views.

So, here is the Wednesday Prompt and Inspiration you’ve been waiting for…

You have purchased and moved into your new home. While in the process of stacking sweaters in your enormous walk-in closet, you discover a latch under one of the shelves. You click the latch, and slowly the back wall of the closet slides to one side.

Keep an open mind for this exercise. Creative, out-of-the-box thinking is what will separate your piece of writing from others. Since this location could find its way into your future writing projects, paint it (write it) rich with details.

1. Could the place behind the closet lead to a dungeon, another dimension, the backstage of a comedy club?

2. What feeling comes over you when the wall moves?

3. Which of your senses are heightened when you get your first look?

4. What is the first thing you notice behind the secret wall?

5. What can you smell in this place?

6. What sounds surround you?

7. Are you comfortable exploring alone?

8. Do you first pack a small bag with a camera, a notepad, a pencil, a snack, a sweater?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations.

The Destructive Power Of A Harsh Critique

But first, the story that leads to the critique…

Since my daughter was a baby, I either read a picture book to her at bedtime or told her a story from my childhood. (These days, she prefers to do the reading herself.) Back when she was four, she asked for an animal story. I recalled a mouse our cat had cornered by the front door when I was ten.

Here is the extremely condensed version. (Please read the opening dramatically.)

Inches from pouncing on a helpless, half-frozen mouse, the wind howled, and the bell, dangling from our cat’s leather collar, rang. Inside our house, my mother heard the faint jingle and opened the front door. With agile speed, she snatched the quivering mouse from our cat, trapping it in her cupped hands. Then, my mother brought in a terrarium from the garage, (Doesn’t everyone keep a glass terrarium in their garage for those “just-in-case” moments?)fashioned a suitable home, and placed the terrarium in the kitchen. A minute later, the cat went bonkers, and my Mom released the mouse to the great outdoors. The End.

“What happened next?” my daughter asked.

I shrugged. “Who knows? My mother opened the door, and the little fellow dashed under a bush. We never saw him again.”

I turned off the light and wished her a good night’s sleep. I wasn’t three feet down the hall when she let out the boom…the question that kept me glued to my computer for the next few years.

“You’re a writer. MAKE SOMETHING UP!”

She can be very persuasive.

As the outline for the story grew to sizable proportions, I decided to enroll in a middle grade writing course (Up to this point, picture books had been my main focus.)

My instructor passed a piece of “writerly” wisdom to me. “It’s obvious how much you care for your main character. Now get back to your computer and let life happen to him. Chase him to the edge of a cliff, throw rocks, give him bad food…just don’t kill him.”

“The writer is both a sadist and a masochist.

We create people we love,

and then we torture them.”

Janet Fitch

My daughter came up to me as I reworked a scene. “WHY are you crying?” She looked at me stunned.

“Mommy is crying because she is challenging the existence of her beloved main character,” I choked out.

“What?” she rightfully questioned for a child of her age.

“You see, sweetheart, Mommy found a way to reach her main character’s heart and hurt him where it really matters.”

“Stop it! she pleaded. “You LOVE him!”

“I’m doing it to improve the story and make it publishable,” I said.

“The don’t do it. Pleeeeeeeeease. Keep the story as it is just for me.”

Well, I kept hurling those rocks, and when I finished the novel, I realized the distance I had grown as a writer.

By the time the course ended, my instructor wrote she was captivated by the tale as well as the development of my characters and encouraged me to get it published. Wanting a second opinion, I researched various copy editors to find a good match to critique my manuscript. Her price seemed high, but I deemed it a good investment.

A month later, I received my manuscript along with the promised forty page critique. The first pages rang of high praise and the rest…. My spirits were crushed, dashed, destroyed, annihilated, terminated, and obliterated. Should I go on, or are you grounded in the picture? (This experience, I am certain, seats me in the same boat with countless other writers.)

I turned my back on my story. (Shame on me.)Today, two years of dust blanket the returned manuscript pages and critique.

Yesterday, while out running errands, my daughter asked me to remind her about the novel.

During the retelling of the adventure, I found myself missing the whole crew of characters I had so carefully created. I missed the swashbuckling adventures and the mishaps. I choked on tears as I told of the near-death moments, and the triumph of survival. It was there, in the car, that I realized the critique I received was one person’s opinion. So, for the first time in two years, I’m going to blow the dust off my story, literally, read it with (extremely) fresh eyes, change what needs changing, and prepare to send my manuscript out into the world.

As I prepare to submerge myself back into my most cherished story, I wish you all happy writing.

Feel like sharing a critique memory of your own? I’d love to hear it. Scroll to the top of this post and click Comment.

It’s Wednesday! Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations Day.

chalkboard-3-AWe all have favorite books–books that open naturally to our favorite passages, books we read annually, books we have purchased because they have deeply touched a part of us. We love these books for their characters. We also love  these books for their true-to-life locations. What a gift it is when a writer has researched a location well enough to transport us there. When written well enough, we can stroll beside the ocean, feeling the massage beneath our feet of stones washed smooth and slippery. We can move from room to room in an abandoned mansion, nearly tasting the musty smell of mildew as the foul air stains our breath. We can walk down the squeaky, paint-worn steps of an old farmhouse and hear the sizzle of bacon, crisping in a skillet. We can relax in a black gondola in Venice and breathe in the smell of… (never mind.)  We can hear the hush of snow sifting around us on a still, Winter’s evening. 

This Wednesday, I’d like you to consider the many locations available to us in our writing. Think about why you chose a particular location for one of your projects. Does that location add to the tension? Does it seem the most natural and obvious choice? Could the story work as well or better in a different setting?

Suppose in the book, From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg that Claudia didn’t run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Suppose she ran away with her younger brother, Jamie, to New York with no plans. Two children alone in a dangerous city where anything can happen. A city where evil can lurk in shadows, where the darkness of night offers no protection. That would make for a different story.

How about Charlotte’s Web by E.B White. Suppose Fern lives in a little apartment with her parents. One day, while on a school field trip to a pig farm in the country, she spots a tiny runt of a litter. Fern, being the caring girl she is, packs this pink bundle of squirmy cuteness in her backpack (when the teacher isn’t looking) and brings him home.

Location/Setting is very important to the story. First we need a central location. For this example I’ll choose a farmhouse.

Next we need to broaden out. What lies beyond the farmhouse? An abandoned house? An office building?  What lies beyond the farmhouse is important as our MC will be moving around the area during the telling of the story. For this example, let’s suppose our main character is a little girl named Betsy. One day Betsy’s dog runs away (Not a complex story example, but one that will suffice.)  The chase begins! Now if Betsy’s best friend’s house is in the direction she’s running, will the tension increase? But what if Betsy lives next to a rocky stream, a forest, a cemetery, or…that abandoned house?

Sights and sounds play a part in location, too. Let’s pretend Betsy puts her fears behind her and dashes in the abandoned house after her dog. She might feel chilly breezes along her neck, hear the wind whistle eerie tunes through cracks in the windows, see cobwebs flutter. Tension climbs.

The weather and time of day add another level and must be appropriate for the location. Of course we’ll have the dog run away as the sun is setting. We might even add the threat of a severe storm. And what if it isn’t June 1st? What if the day is October 31st? HALLOWEEN!!!

Time to switch gears.

What if we decide that a little girl chasing her runaway dog in the country sounds boring? What if we really change-up that location? Suppose Betsy is on vacation with her family in Cairo. While there, Betsy befriend’s a child. One day while the two girls are playing near a street market, the little girl’s dog runs away.

* How does the location change the story?

*How do the actions of the characters change in this new place?

*Important items available to your characters are no longer present. What new things are present in this location to add challenges?

*By making this change you have introduced drastic cultural differences. The people’s attitudes and ways will be quite foreign to your main character, the landscape is now unfamiliar, and the language will pose a problem. The list goes on.

Are you ready for your Wednesday Prompt and Inspiration?

Take a short story you’ve written or the first pages of one of your novels, and see what happens when you give the location a major jolt.

I’d love to hear from you. To comment, scroll to the top of the post and click Comment below the title.

On the process of writing

 

crayon fairyMy daughter flopped on the living room rug armed with a box of crayons (one of my favorite smells since preschool) and a pad of paper. “I’m going to draw until Daddy calls to say he’s coming home from work. Do you want to watch?”

“WATCH? Are you sure? It’s not going to squash your creativity?”

My daughter pushed her hand through a mound of crayons in an old tin box and pulled out a blunt, magenta crayon. “I’m going to draw a fairy.”

Once upon a timeI pictured myself at my computer, ready to write a story. NO  WAY would I ever say, “I’m going to write a story about a fairy. Do you want to watch?”

“Don’t you want to plan it out first?” the writer in me asked.  Do you even know what the fairy’s normal life is like? Have you given thought to the inciting incident that will cause her to flit from her world?” I pressed on… “Don’t you, at the very least, want to dump out the crayons and consider some of the other colors?”

“Writers.” She shook her head. “This isn’t the last piece of paper I have.”

As you probably guessed, this got me thinking about my own creative process.  Why can’t I write with the freedom my daughter feels when she draws? Why can’t I sit at my computer and fearlessly begin a new story? Probably because I’m never alone when I write. Aside from my dog, Max, sprawled over the larger portion of my chair, my pesky self editor, with good intentions, constantly reads over my shoulder. Let’s call that well-meaning voice in my head…Gretchen. (Now where have I heard that name before?)

“Gads!” Gretchen says. “Are you sure you want to start off your story with that sentence? Think of Charlotte’s Web! Think of Where the Wild Things Are.”

“You’re right,” I say. “And let’s not forget my all time favorite, A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. I lean on the delete button and begin again.

“Ah hem,” her familiar voice nags. “You’re not actually considering starting with back story?”

Delete, delete, delete.

“Cliché!” her voice rings in my ear. “Stereotypical!    Done before!    Can anyone say SLUSH PILE?”

Writing, I have come to accept, is NOTHING like drawing.

Change of plans. I spread out my note cards, grab my set of highlighters, a bag of chocolate chips, and systematically create a character I want to write about.  Her personality must be endearing, yet suitably flawed in a way that contributes to the story problem.  Her fears, hopes, and wishes carefully chosen, too. I fill in the blanks on my lengthy Character Questionnaire. Then I write a series of more personal questions in the form of a letter and answer them the way I believe my character would. (I learn so much this way.)

Does this always work when I want to start a new story? No. Sometimes the writing flows better when I start with a problem common to most children. I then decide what kind of character would make a perfect match for such a situation, a humorous match, an unlikely match…. (So many factors to consider.) In most cases, the unlikely or humorous match makes the best fit for an entertaining story.

Now that I have a character, I have to place her someplace. I can’t have her bobbing like an astronaut in outer space across a blank sheet of paper. Once I decide upon her call to action, I add a few failed attempts at solving her problem, a low point, a moment of revelation, and one last go at resolving her issue which leads to success. (Maybe not the success my main character hoped for, but one that is better than she imagined.) And all this must cleverly tie back seamlessly to the beginning of the story, finishing with a suitable denouement.

Easy?

NO.

Little does my daughter realize the gift of mental clarity and freedom children naturally possess.

What is your writing process like? Do you like to create characters from scratch? Do you like to start with a problem or situation first? Do your childhood memories play into your writing?