“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!

Which Children’s Book Character Are You Most Like? Take The Quiz.

Where The Wild Things Are

Yesterday was the first Wednesday I wasn’t able to get my prompts and Inspirations post up.

As Greg Brady from the Brady Bunch TV show said…

Gregg Brady

I know… I’m showing my age.

To make up for missing yesterday, I am posting a fun activity from BuzzFeed. Being a picture book enthusiast, writer of children’s stories, and dreamer, I couldn’t resist taking the quiz to discover which picture book character I am most like. Drum roll, please…

Which Children’s Book Character Are You?

  1. You got: Max from “Where the Wild Things Are”

    You’re a dreamer. Your escape is in your creative imagination, where you run wild with all your fantastic friends. Keep dreaming, just like Max, and the payoff will come before you know it!

  2. Maurice Sendak

After reading why I am most like Max, I smiled. So true. I spend hours each day rooting through my memories, creating characters for my stories, listening and looking for inspirations everywhere I go, over-the-top thrilled to listen when people have stories to share, and dreaming–an activity that appears as if I am staring at the walls (or napping) but is so much more involved.

I’d love for you to share which children’s book character you are most like. Here is the link. Have fun!

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahcgregg/which-childrens-book-character-are-you?utm_term=.geYg01aOy&fb_ref=click_share#.yh8ewmg8d

To Quote Hemingway – Wednesday Prompts and Inpsirations

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

Ernest Hemingway

 

Bleed.

I asked myself what it means to bleed when writing.

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

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

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

YOU MUST

believe in what you are writing.

feel joy and excitement from what you are writing.

reveal your character’s fears and desires.

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

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

take your reader deep into the mind of your protagonist.

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

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

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

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

crush your protagonists hopes.

Place speed bumps in your protagonist’s path.

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

 

Happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want To Play A Game? – Wednesday Prompts and Inspiration

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

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

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

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

What you’ll learn is more than you expect…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A FICTITIOUS EXAMPLE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy writing!

Mentor Text Study Questions – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

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

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

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

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

What other questions do I ask while researching mentor texts?

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

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

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

5.  Will the intended audience care? 

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

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

A. Was the ending predictable?

B. Was the ending inevitable?

C. Was the ending a plausible surprise/twist? 

D. Was I disappointed by the ending? 

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

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

Websites For Writers-Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AToday for my Wednesday prompts and inspirations, I’d like to share four of my favorite, free, writer-helping websites.

The Wednesday before last, I mentioned onomatopoeia as a great writer’s tool. Onomatopoeia refers to the sounds people make when they laugh, drink, yell, as well as other human sounds. Onomatopoeia also covers the sounds of cars, any movement, liquid spilling, Halloween sounds, musical sounds, and so much more. Wouldn’t it be great if a website existed where you could do such a search?

Here you go! The onomatopoeia dictionary!

http://www.writtensound.com/index.php

 

If you are looking for a fun website where the questions of grammar are spelled out in short, friendly tips, you’ll want to check out Grammar Girl. Here, complex grammar questions become easy to understand through simple memory tricks.

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

 

If you need a little help writing a pitch, Kathy Carmichael takes the pain out of the process. Answer the questions on the form, click submit, and voila! As fast as the click of a button, you have your pitch.

http://www.kathycarmichael.com/generator.html

 

The right name for your character is crucial. With Behind the name, you won’t need to wonder about the meaning  behind the names you’ve chosen.

http://www.behindthename.com/

 

Care to share one or more of your favorite internet sites you turn to for help with your writing?

 

Consider This Quote

Edward Albee Quote

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AThis time last year I made a list of New Year’s resolutions I was determined to keep. For a good stretch of the year I stayed focused, kept on top of the mental list I’d made, and drove forward with great stamina and persistence. Then, about four months later, I found I could sing the words to the same song countless other people were singing, too. You know…the one about how I got distracted by the daily to-do’s, got a mild case of writer’s block, had obligations outside my writing career that took center stage, and how I had a home repair project needing attention. Somewhere along the way, my resolutions faded away.

For this Wednesday’s Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations we’re going to write our resolutions and post them beside our computers. Better still, print several copies. Tape one beside your computer, another on your bathroom mirror, and keep the third in your wallet or purse.

Here are my 2015 New Year’s resolutions.

1. Get rid of writer’s block.

Writer’s block is unproductive and annoying. I’m not giving it a comfy seat ever again. An easy trick to say goodbye to writer’s block…write in a completely different genre than you’ve ever attempted.

2. Read more. 

To improve one’s writing it is imperative to read–a lot. Find books written in a similar vein to those you like to write. Twenty minutes a day isn’t much.  That comes out to two hours and twenty minutes a week or…a little over 121 hours a year! Twenty minutes of reading is easy to add at bedtime! Reading time could also fit in during a commercial break. Mute the TV and read. Wait! Why are you making time to watch TV when you could be writing? Imagine how empty our art museums would be if TV existed hundreds of years ago… Without TV, artists created. Creating was not only a form of entertainment for them, it was their life. Make it yours.

3. Keep pocket notebooks in more places.

Pocket notebooks are small, they fit in countless places: a purse, the glove compartment of your car, on a nightstand, by your computer, beside the telephone, on the coffee table, and in your coat pocket. Never leave to memory those great and often fleeting inspirations.

4. UFO’s.

Yes, you read that right, but UFO doesn’t stand for Unidentified Flying Objects. UFO stands for Unfinished Objects…in my case, unfinished novels and short stories. I get an idea for a new story, I dive into it, but those UFO’s keep nagging me. It’s easier to write with greater focus and enthusiasm when loose ends aren’t trailing you.

5. Daily appointment to write.

Yes! Appointment. We mark other appointments on our calendars: dentist, oil change, dinner with friends, school play to attend, fertilize lawn, etc… Writing is our life. Time for it should be scheduled daily.

6. Take an on-line class or make time to attend a seminar.

Sure we read every writing magazine we can get our hands on, frequent the writer section of our local bookstore, read other writer’s blog posts, but there is more to gain from an on-line writing class or seminar. We gain camaraderie with fellow writers. We receive another writer’s perspective and knowledge. We can have valuable conversations with a published writer/instructor. Through the on-line class or seminar we often gain access to a Facebook group where we can connect to other writers.

7. Submit.

Without this biggie, publication remains an unrealized dream. Go through your computer, read, re-read, edit, and polish everything nearly publishable you’ve written. Now make a list of potential publishers for each piece. Make it your goal to submit 4-5 times each month to magazines, contests, agents, and publishing houses.

What is on your New Year’s Resolution list for 2015? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy New Year!

Leslie

Do You Hear What I Hear? Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-ALast week at my daughter’s Christmas coir concert, I found a seat up in the balcony with a fairly good view of the stage, better, I was told by my daughter, than any seat on the ground level. Minus the small area blocked by the bouffant, out-dated hairdo of the woman seated before me, I had a fairly good view of the stage, the clock, the entrance, exit, and steady stream of parents.

Off topic, but as memory serves me, didn’t parents simply watch their children perform at school plays? Nowadays, parents watch their children through an iPhone or iPad held before their face as they record the show.

Back to the point of my blog post. Fifteen minutes before the show, I wondered if an elementary school auditorium would make a good story setting, and if so, what sounds belonged there. I took out my handy pocket notebook and compiled a list of sounds I could hear.

1. Shuffling feet

2. Squeaking seats as people adjusted their positions

3. The rustling of hats and coats

4. The white noise of a hundred, simultaneous conversations

5.The turning of program pages

6. Conversations on iPhones

7. Children warming up their voices behind the stage curtains

8. Tapping feet

9. sneezes and coughs

10. The 5 minute before show announcement

Sound is an important part of our writing. Life isn’t silent. When we write, we mention the cozy smell of cinnamon in a warm kitchen, the sight of delicate, drifting snow flakes, the sticky feel of sugar between our fingers from the sticky bun we ate in my earlier Wednesday post, and the taste of paprika in the beef stew we ordered at a Hungarian restaurant.

What can I hear as I type this blog post?

I hear my daughter shuffling through our stack of Christmas CD’s in the living room, my dog whining for something better than the canned swill in his bowl, my husband in the basement, turning wood on his lathe, the bubbling sound the fish tank filter makes, the hum of the dishwasher, the beeping of the completed dryer cycle, the heat kicking back on, the chirp of our birds, the other chirping of crickets I raise to feed my tree frogs, the click of my fingers on the keyboard, cars driving over the wet street, and rain falling when, on the day before Christmas, it should be snowing. Yikes! With all this noise, it’s a wonder I can get any work done at all. But most days, these sounds disappear. I don’t notice them. These are the sounds of my typical life and, for the most part, I have tuned them out.

For this Wednesday’s Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations, I want you to tune in to the sounds around you. Concentrate on what you can hear. As we know, a little sound here and there can add a level of richness or reality to our writing. Take out your notebook and make a list of what you hear where you are right now, what you hear at the coffee shop you pop into later today, at work, at the gym, in line at the grocery store, and wherever else your day carries you. Try closing your eyes when you tune into your surroundings, you might hear more without the distraction of sight. Can you list ten sounds in each location?

Did you hear/notice a sound that surprised you? Did you hear a sound for the first time that has been around you always, but one you never noticed until now?  Again, this is part of the showing not telling that brings our readers into the world our story takes place in.

This is a sharing place. I would love to hear from you.

Welcome To The First Wednesday Writer’s Prompt!

chalkboard-3-A

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!

 

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