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.

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!

ULTIMATE Brain Warm-Ups For Writers – Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AIt would be great if a group of us could get together at a seriously big table. In the center we would place a bowl of questions and take turns pulling slips out. For five minutes we would write our answers, and then share them. I can dream… I’ll go first. Here is our first question.

1. How would you spend your day if you woke up invisible and knew the condition was temporary and would only last for one day? 

Good question, right? Okay, set your timer for 5 minutes and see where this takes you.

2. By some strange string of events, the power has gone out everywhere around the world. The messenger who came knocking on your door (because the doorbell can’t ring without electricity) told you the electricity wouldn’t be restored for 48 hours. NO LAPTOP today! Oh, and by way of that same strange string of events, you lost ALL battery power to each of your mobile devices. Nope, can’t charge it up in your car, that mobile device has a dead battery, too. 

Okay, very funny! Which one of you comedians pulled that slip out of the question bowl?

3. Make a list of ten things or more that would describe who you were as a child. This list can include items you held dear as well as favorite activities and personality traits.  Then, make a list of ten things or more that describe who you are today. Again, you can include items you hold dear, favorite activities and personality traits.  How are the lists similar? In what ways have you stayed the same?

4. Write about a day or event that changed your life. Include as many sensory details as possible. Tap into the emotions you experienced. Write about the changes you made in your life because of this. 

5. Think back to a funny event. By embellishing and exaggerating the details that led to this event and transpired because of this event, can you write a tall tale? 

6. At sundown, your pet will have the ability to share with you his feelings about being your pet, his thoughts on the kind of care and attention he receives from you, what he truly thinks of the food you glop in his dish, his feelings about his sleeping conditions, leash, use of the sofa, and what his greatest desires are. Write this from your pet’s POV. 

7. Imagine that without risk of war breaking out, fear sweeping the nation, or the general weirdness factor taking hold, tomorrow at school or work, aliens will join you.  Wow! This is your chance to find out how life on their planet differs from life on Earth. This is your chance to find out what these aliens cherish. What do they celebrate? What do they believe in? What are their dreams and goals? Do they work for money? Do they drive or fly in vehicles? How old do they need to be to drive? Do they get married and have special outfits for such an occasion? Do they have music and what does it sound like as well as what do their musical instruments look like? Are they ahead of us or behind us with technology? Do they have a relationship to mobile devices, too? Do they live in homes, and if so, are their homes similar to ours with designated rooms? Where do they get their clothing, furniture, and food from? Do they have shopping malls or replicators? Do they keep pets? Do they have something similar to books in which they record their thoughts, histories, stories both fiction and nonfiction?

I could explore that question for a while. But you get the idea.

8. Somehow a dose of truth serum splashed into the punch bowl at a friend’s wedding. 

Need I say more?

9. Think about your favorite book. Now, imagine how events would change if you could become a character in those pages. What would you change about the story? Would you become the love interest of the main character? The protagonist – maybe?  

And now for #10… Drum roll please.

10. Starting right now, time begins to move backwards one year every minute. Only you have the power to stop it before you become a baby or not even be born yet. (tick-tock-tick-tock…) At what age do you stop the clock and start forward again? Why have you chosen this age? knowing this is a clean slate, how will you change your life? What decisions will you make that you wish you had made? What about your current life will you maintain no matter what?

 

I hope you enjoyed this Wednesday’s Prompts and Inspirations.

Happy writing!

The Idea Generator — Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AMaybe you’re a writer or perhaps an avid reader who wonders where writers get their ideas. I started thinking about this recently when I spoke to a friend who challenges herself to come up with one new picture book idea every day. Every day! How many picture book manuscripts did I think of last year? Easy answer. Twelve. My goal has been one new idea I develop into a manuscript each month.

Like other writers, I stay tuned in to life. I also pay close attention to everything my daughter tells me. (She’s nine, and although most parents have learned to tune out the nonsensical babblings of their kids by that age, I find her “babblings” spark story ideas. After all, she’s close in age to the group I’m writing for, so the things she takes notice of and gets curious about are the topics I need to focus on. I admit, she’s a little more serious in her thinking than a typical nine-year old. There are times when the answers to her questions would better be left unanswered until she was, oh, say… sixteen or more. Like the time I nearly drove through the garage door when she asked how two married men can make a baby.

So what happens when the stream of creative ideas stops? How does a writer get the damn to burst and the idea stream flowing again?

Although many writers tap into  their dreams, I can tell you flat-out that I don’t. Probably because what goes on in my head when it’s lights out doesn’t make sense in the real world.

“So, I was walking through a convention in a church which was really my childhood house when I heard a noise in the living room, which was really the pet shop around the corner. I saw a hundred children drawing pictures of floating houses with crayons that were made from candy canes. Then my friend Sam showed up, but it was really John disguised to look like Sam. He gave me a little jade statue of a goddess. I set it down and watched it morph into a green doll with movable arms and legs. When I picked the doll up, it’s eyes flicked open, it turned into a snarling tiger, and tried to grab me.”

See what I mean about my dreams?

When that idea stream isn’t flowing, ask yourself these questions:

What if?

I woke with wings and could fly? My brother turned into a moose? The backdoor of my house led to another dimension?

Wouldn’t it be incredible if?

Rain fell as dark chocolate drops? (I’m okay with that.) I were chosen to go to the moon? Everything I saw or read stayed with me in perfect clarity?

What would people think if?

I had super-human powers? Could change myself into anything I imagined? Knew how to speak every language in the world?

What would happen if?

The most distant planet with life where close enough to visit? Aliens attended school with us? Animals shared our level of intelligence?

or, taking it a step further…

We know that when lightning strikes a tree it will split it in half, blacken it, or turn it to ashes.  But what if when lightning struck something it gave life to that otherwise inanimate object?

How or where do you get your ideas for your writing?

Chime in. This is a place to share!

More Plot Twists — Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-ALast Wednesday I offered five prompt ideas for adding twists to your plots.

This Wednesday, I decided to continue with five more twist ideas.

Ready?

1. Your main character is on vacation in her hotel room. It’s bedtime. She crawls into bed, and as she slides her feet under the sheets, she feels something.

Take a moment to think about the variety of things she might find. Your list could include something living to something the maid mistakenly made into the bed. Besides having your bed short-sheeted in college, have you ever found anything in your bed you weren’t expecting? 

2. Your main character is at the grocery store. The bag boy has loaded her groceries into bags. She arrives home and finds not only the items purchased, but….

Have you ever had this happen to you? Not that what happened to me could create a major mystery in a story, but around the holidays, I did come home with a hurricane lamp and set of candles I never purchased. You would think the store would be thrilled at my honesty in returning the items, but the manager simply excepted them without so much as a thank you. 

3. Your main character takes a taxi to his destination. As he gets in, a woman rushes over and begs him to allow her to share the cab. Her stop comes first. She pays the driver, bolts from the taxi, and leaves an item in a bag behind.

This item could be anything from a roll of large bills, doughnuts, a mask, drugs, party favors, or….

4. Your main character has been invited to a close relative’s home for (a birthday party, holiday party, or no special occasion at all) The relative surprises your main character and everyone present when she announces…

This could range from relocating to another country, a love affair with someone you know, a sex change, a career change, or…

5. Your main character has buried something, (a time capsule, a stack of secret letters, etc…) When the day comes when he needs the item, (because perhaps he is moving) the item is gone.

I’m recalling a scene from the movie, The Promise. Have you ever buried something or hidden something important only to find it missing when you returned to retrieve it? 

I hope these prompts and inspirations jump-start your brain and get you thinking of more ways to add a twist to your story plot.

 

Happy writing!

Leslie

That’s A Great Plot Twist! Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-ADo you need a twist in your story?

Have fun answering these questions.

Hint, hint…. Make sure to think outside the box.

 

1.  I thought I inherited a ruby ring from my Aunt Jenny, but when the package arrived, I found she left me…

This prompt was inspired by the movie, Baby Boom, in which the main character thinks she will inherit a pen from a poor relative that passed away. She instead receives a baby. When making your list of possible things one could inherit, consider how that item could change your main character’s life. This, after all, could be the perfect ingredient you story needs for a good twist.

2.  I bought a set of pottery maracas on vacation. They broke when I shook them and out rolled…

I confess this inspiration came from watching, Scooby Doo cartoons. In one of the episodes, Daphne purchases a mask in San Francisco in which jewels are hidden. Other interesting items could be a coded message, a map, a phone number, or address.

3.  I discovered a book beside a tree and stuck between the pages I found…

Actually, I opened a book at the library and found several amazing, unsigned sketches once. But for this exercise/example what was found in the book could be a letter, a map, or a hundred-dollar bill with a phone number on it. The important thing is to give your mind permission to go wild when considering answers to these prompts.

4.  Usually a businessman sits beside me on the plane and barely says a word, but this time I was seated beside _________________________ and his/her conversation opener took me by surprise. She/He turned to me and said…

I’ve been on many flights over the years. Usually, the person I’m seated beside stays focused on their book, newspaper, or laptop. It isn’t until the plane lands and we’re standing, slightly stooped beneath the low ceiling of the overhead luggage compartments, that we start our typical, mundane chit-chat.

“Long flight.” I sigh, gripping the handle of my carry-on bag.

“Yeah,” my seat partner remarks. “Are you visiting here?”

“No, this is a stopover. I’m catching another plane for California.”

You get the picture. So far, nothing that’s going to get those pages turning. But what if our main character’s seat partner is wearing a wedding gown? This could lead to all kinds of great conversation starters.

5.  I heard that tornadoes can lift houses and animals and set them down miles away, but I was stunned after that last storm when a _________________landed on my roof.

This inspiration came from a textbook back in Jr. High. Some things stay in our memories a long time. I read about a cow that got picked up by a tornado and set down, uninjured, miles away. But other things can just as easily be transported. Let your mind go wild.

I hope you will have fun with these plot twist inspirations. Perhaps you might find one of them sparks a fresh story!

I wish you happy writing.

Leslie

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

chalkboard-3-AMaking friends is the theme of today’s Prompts and Inspirations.

People have craved friendships since the beginning of civilization. For some, the process of making a friend is easy, while for others…it’s a mystery. Children, I have noticed, need only be close in height to start a conversation with another child. Women…. Well, although I am a woman, I am also a writer, which in my case means that my best friends are the characters I create. Men? I’ve never been one, so this is unfamiliar ground. You men out there should feel free to click on Comment under this post’s title and share how you make friends. Frankly, I’d love if everyone reading this post would share their most tried and true methods of making friends.

Here are a handful of ways available to us to start a friendship:

1. Greet and start a conversation with your neighbors. (“Good Morning, Mr. Brown. How many times does this make it that the snow plow has taken out our mailboxes?”)

2. Working on homework with someone from school. (“Didn’t we just have a test last semester?”)

3. Chat with the person in front or behind you while waiting in line at a store. (“Oh, I see you like Hummus, too. Don’t you think it tastes better than it smells?”)

5. Someone next to you on an airplane. (“Are we there yet?”)

6. A misaddressed letter. (This actually happened when I was a child. A letter with the right P.O. Box, the right town, but the wrong state arrived in our mailbox. My mother mailed the letter back with a clever poem, telling of the adventure the letter had. A phone call followed by the family in Vermont. After a couple of hours on the phone, my parents discovered they had scads in common with this lovely couple, so much that we took a vacation to meet them.)

7. Need I mention the internet? (Where do I begin?)

I saw a movie in which a friendship developed when a balloon, with a message tied to the string, drifted into someone’s backyard.

Here is this Wednesday’s prompt and inspiration.

Let’s pretend that tying a message to the string of a balloon is the only way to start a friendship. What message would you write? What do you want the stranger who receives your message to know about you? Will you write a quick sentence, merely asking for friendship? Will you write pages, telling of your likes, loves, dislikes, hardships, wants, needs, colorful past, and dreams for your future? Will you send a list of your hobbies and interests, hoping the one who receives your balloon likes knitting, classic black and white movies, and writing, too?

or…

Suppose a balloon with a message drifted into your window. What message might you respond to? We receive countless e-mails throughout the years. Some e-mails are advertisements, some are Facebook notifications, and updates from friends and family. What causes you to respond to an e-mail? What would the anonymous stranger need to write to get you to write back? Would having a hobby in common be enough? Would simply needing a friend be enough?

As always, I’d love to hear from you! Just under the blog post title you’ll see the word Comment. Please click and share.

Welcome To The First Wednesday Writer’s Prompt!

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WELCOME TO MY NEWEST BLOG ADDITION.

As writers, we hope something we overhear will ignite that bestseller, lurking deep inside us.

We listen with fine-tuned ears.

We observe our surroundings with sharpened eyes.

We touch and breathe with heightened senses.

Sometimes we need a little push.

When answering, think outside the box… WAY OUTSIDE THE BOX.

I thought this was my suitcase until I got home from the airport, opened it, and found…

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

What could happen because of what was found? Might this spur a comedic picture book, a thriller, a middle grade mystery, a limerick? When answering, consider the many different kinds of people you’ve seen at the airport: young, old, student, retired, athletic, introverted, extroverted… Think about the countless occupations and pastimes people have: banker, circus performer, photographer, baker, ice cream taster, scientist, stamp collector, seamstress, journalist, etc…  The lists you could make are endless.

Open yourself to new possibilities. Let your answers take your writing in completely different directions from your norm.

Feel like sharing something from your list? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Follow this blog to receive your Wednesday Prompt and Inspiration.