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.

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.

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!