Perfect Picture Book Friday looks at ‘Sharing The Bread’

sharing the bread

For this Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’d like to visit a marvelous Thanksgiving book by Pat Zietlow Miller. Sharing The Bread.

Thanksgiving has long been one of my most favorite holidays. In many ways, it’s much like Christmas–minus the gifts. It’s a time when family and loved ones come together to enjoy each other’s company over a lovingly prepared meal which has completely filled the house with a myriad of delicious, nose-tickling, heart-happy smells. And with Thanksgiving so near, I felt it the perfect timing to share my new favorite picture book (in plenty of time to buy a copy to share on Thanksgiving with your family).  And…if you read down to the bottom of this post, I will share one more fitting addition to Thanksgiving…. My best ever, totally yummy, pass me another heaping spoonful, cranberry cherry sauce.  But first…. Sharing The Bread.

Title – Sharing The Bread – An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story

Written by- Pat Zietlow Miller

*Illustrated by- Jill McElmurry

*Published by- Schwartz & Wade Books – New York – 2015

*Suitable for ages – 4  – 8 (That’s what the jacket flap says, but personally, I think they could say this book is suitable for ages 4 – 100.)

*Topics/theme – Family. Togetherness. Holidays.

*Opening – Mama, fetch the cooking pot. Fetch our turkey-cooking pot. Big and old and black and squat. Mama, fetch the pot.

Jacket Flap Copy – Journey back to nineteenth-century America and watch a family prepare a delicious Thanksgiving feast together–one that’s not so very different from what we eat today. Here’s a mouth-watering read-aloud filled with spirit and perfect for families to share.

Why do I like this book? The rhymes are not only fun to read aloud but easily pulled me into a cozy, nineteenth century home with warm, welcoming hands. Page after page, as the family works together to make the day special, I could smell the turkey baking in the large cast iron stove, I longed to dip my spoon into the sweet cranberry sauce, bubbling in a pot, and I wanted to pull my chair close to the dinner table and share bread with this family that loves Thanksgiving traditions as much as I do.

Pat Zietlow Miller’s carefully chosen words combined with Jill McElmurry’s talented, Americana illustrations come together to create a Thanksgiving book no home should be without this holiday season.

Author – Visit Pat Zietlow Miller’s web page here.

Illustrator – Visit Jill McElmurry’s web page here.

Learn about the history of Thanksgiving along with classroom and art projects here.

To find other perfect picture books please visit Susanna Hills blog.

A writer’s prompt:  Set a timer for 5 minutes and without stopping, describe what a perfect Thanksgiving would be like.

And now…for the cranberry sauce recipe I promised you!  Brace yourself, this gets a little boozy, but because you’re going to boil it, the alcohol goes away (darn), and the flavor stays (yippie).

Traditionally, most families cook cranberries with water and sugar. In my recipe, the only ingredient in common is cranberries. That’s right, zero water and zero white sugar. Are you ready for this?

Leslie’s Totally Yummy, Pass Me Another Heaping Spoonful, Holiday Cranberry Cherry Sauce

(It’s a long title, but once you taste it, I hope you’ll agree.)

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

illustration by Leslie Leibhardt Goodman

1 bag of fresh, washed cranberries (not canned).

1 bag of pitted, frozen cherries (fresh cherries are nearly impossible to get at this time year)

1 cup of real maple syrup (no imitation syrups, please – maple syrup adds a cozy flavor that surpasses white sugar)

1/2 cup of brandy (Yes, you read that right, and don’t worry about the alcohol getting your family tipsy, when it’s boiled, the alcohol disappears and the flavor is left behind.)

Place all ingredients in a pot and stir while ingredients boil until the cranberries have popped. Then you can pour the sauce into a large serving dish. I make the sauce the day before Thanksgiving to give it a chance to thicken up slightly in the refrigerator. Since the year I substituted brandy for water and maple syrup for white sugar, we’ve never had leftover cranberry sauce.

Do you have a memorable Thanksgiving you’d like to share?

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!

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.

 

Vivid Writing Through Photographs – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AWe’re often told to write about what we know, and writing what we know goes hand in hand with placing our stories in locations we are intimately familiar with. After all, our goal is to bring the setting to life in a believable way. Sadly, writers of picture books (myself included) don’t have the luxury of drawing out setting details. Much of this must be left to the illustrator. The advice given to picture book writers is to take a highlighter over everything that can be illustrated. Then, read again, skipping over those (marvelous, vivid, fun-to-write, poetic) sections to see if the story still makes sense. What is crucial to the story stays as illustrator notes…everything else goes out. (sniff… ouch…)  But still, the reader needs a handful of well-chosen words to move them from their reality into the setting between the pages of your book. With the use of photographs, taken in your chosen location, you’ll have what it takes to do this.

I recently finished writing a picture book which takes place on a farm. Now, if I had chosen Peru as my setting, I wouldn’t have any first hand knowledge of life there. I wouldn’t know what the living conditions are for the poor, the middle class, or the rich. I wouldn’t know what the local food looks like, what the typical garments are made of, or what homes look like. This is where photographs come in handy. If you’re lucky enough to live near your chosen location, go there to document as much as you can with your camera (or phone camera). Does your story take place on a farm? Visit a farm, photograph the animals, their pens, the barn’s interior, the farmer at work, and take careful notes of everything surrounding you that awakens your other senses (smell comes to mind). If you aren’t fortunate to live near your chosen location, you can go online and search for images of Peru, if that’s where your story takes place. Print out the images of the surroundings at different times of day as well as during the season your story takes place in. Find images of the local food, typical animals, clothing, occupations, and faces of the people. Once you have gathered these photographs, make a scrap-book you can reference. You’ll find that your writing comes to life.

Some other places to get pictures and more of your chosen location.

Hawaii sunsetIf you plan on setting your story in Hawaii, but have never been there, maybe a friend of yours has. I can promise you, most people jump at the chance to share their vacation pictures and will, no doubt, have lots of details to share about the climate, cuisine, customs, and locals.

Check through your blog followers. You might be amazed at how many are from distant places around the world you would love your next novel to take place. What a great way, no… make that fabulous way, to learn about life in other parts of the world and make a friend, too.

Have you ever noticed how good it feels when someone wants to know about your travels and shows an interest in seeing your vacation pictures? “Really? You want to see my photographs from Italy? Over coffee? And cake?” You bubble over with excitement and spill out stories, experiences, amazing encounters, unique experiences, and more. Most people jump at the chance to share their experiences.

The process of writing is more enjoyable when we’ve researched every aspect of our story and have a stack of photographs before us.

Our writing becomes vivid.

 

 

A Game For Writers — Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AWhen my daughter and I think of things to do when she comes home from school, one of us (okay… usually me) often suggests playing the writing game. What can I say, writing is something I always want to do. And by the way, you can play this game alone as an exercise to limber your brain. This is a great way to say goodbye to writer’s block, too.

Further down, I’ve included a printable pdf file to get you started with the Writing Game.

1. Start a word list. Include places, both real and fictitious, near and far.

Wisconsin, California, Egypt, Norway, London, Chicago, Planet Zorg, Ball Park, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Hawaii, North Pole, Coffee shop, Antique store, Thrift store, Dentist office, Bookshop, etc… 

2. List things you might find in these places.

Lakes, rivers, parks, oceans, boats, cruise ship, tamales, cappuccino, chocolate, pyramid, tombs, ancient writing, prison, secrets, red phone booth, Big Ben, aliens, laser blasters, slime, base-ball, hot dog, stadium, pine trees, fish, lizards, rock cliffs, blazing sunset, Hula dancers, poi, pineapple, surfers, tidal waves, snow, ice, cappuccino, doughnuts, vintage lamp, crumbling book, painted vase, roll-top desk, used clothes, torn handbag, musty comforter, toothpaste, drill, protective glasses, chairs, fish tank, rare first edition books, collector books, latest novel, magazines, etc…

3. List things you could find in a city, in the country, on a farm, in a house, in a haunted house, at a carnival, in a bank, in a boutique, in your purse or wallet, at your friend’s house, etc…

Skyscrapers, taxi cabs, boutiques, restaurants, diners, hot dog vendors, rats, litter, trash cans, pigs, cows, barn, silo, hay bales, chicken coop, farmer, bacon frying, grease spatters, wooden tables, milking stool, hay loft, rope swing, cobwebs, rusty plumbing, broken windows, dust, dilapidated garden, abandoned car, cotton candy, rides, roller coaster, judges, tractor pulls, parking lot, money, tellers, pens, lollipop dish, deposit slip, cashmere sweater, silk blouse, rhinestone necklace, pumps, lipstick, nail file, loose change, dollar bills, credit cards, snack bar, grandfather clock, candles, tea-cup collection, sports gear, etc…

4. Make a list of types of people.

fireman, police officer, visitor, friend, ex-husband, ex-wife, neighbor, alien, baker, thief, conductor, gardener, student, teacher, magician, King, Queen, Duke, knight, clown, messenger, mailman, grocer, etc…

5. Other lists could include: favorite words, sounds, holidays, famous artists, gift ideas, things found in a car, at a bus stop, train station, great words you came across in books, etc…

Here is the promised pdf file you can print to get you started.

Writing Game Word List

When making your list, add ten spaces between words and double space your rows. This allows room to cut the words apart. Next, fold word tags in half and place them in a dish beside your computer. For each writing warm-up, take 3-5 tags to help you create a short story or opening paragraph.

Of course everyone’s list will be different. My daughter made a list with such words as: crayons, playground, friends, ice cream, dragons, princess, and dolls.

My husband suggested these words: wood, chisel, box of nails, wrench, computer, mouse pad, and vacation.

To broaden your word choices, make these lists with others. Ask a friend, a co-worker, spouse, significant other, person sitting next to you on a bus or in a plane what their favorite places are, what strange items they keep in their house, their favorite keepsake from a vacation, the most memorable gift they ever received, the weirdest things they found at a garage sale or estate sale, their most prized possession, etc…  Of course, you’ll want to let them know you’re a writer, seeking inspiring words for a future novel, so they don’t question your motives. Most people jump at the chance to help someone with something fun like this.

Years ago, I got in a conversation with some friends about the kinds of candy bars we ate as children. Our list started to grow. What surprised us was the number of people in the restaurant we were in, listening to our conversation. As people strode by our table, some would stop and offer a few types of candy they loved when they were children. So, as it turns out, this list making project can turn into a great way to meet new people as well as getting the word out that you’re a writer.

Do you have any great words you’d like to share?

Happy writing!

Leslie

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

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.

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?

 

Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AI have a pen pal in Europe, a country where it seems the average job pays higher and offers better vacation days than America. Every letter from her speaks of grand vacations in which she takes in the opera in France, visits the coast in Germany, and shops for her clothes in Sweden. After reading each letter, I pour myself a glass of port and remind myself of my own, less than internationally adventurous, but valuable life. What saddens me most is that her letters lack something the writer in me craves.

Details.

I love to hear the stories people tell from their world travels, and I am often let down when what I receive compares to a shopping list.

“Do let me tell you about our most splendid vacation! We traveled to Italy, spent a day in Rome, lunched in Venice, took in the theater in Florence… Blah, blah, blah…”

How am I’m supposed to listen with anything but pretend enthusiasm? What I feel like saying is this…

Stay home! Send me on your vacation. I’ll keep a journal, take pictures, talk to the locals, and enjoy their cuisine. And when I return, I’ll have stories to tell that will captivate, mesmerize, and entertain you. Sadly, roaming the imported food aisle of the grocery store is as close as I come to sampling cuisine from around the world.

When my Dad was alive, we used to talk on the phone every night for an hour or so. He’d share his day, I’d share mine, and often we would laugh at old jokes. Friends would wonder what my Dad and I found to talk about every single day. They’d wonder what sort of amazing life we lived to have so much to share. In return, I wondered in reverse about their daily lives. Frankly, unless one stays in bed all day, staring at the ceiling, I can’t account for a lack of something to say. I think even if I stared at the ceiling all day, I could share the umpteen thoughts I knocked about.

The often ordinary life we live each day is, if we tune in to our five senses, remarkable in its details.

For this Wednesday writer’s prompts and inspirations, I would like you to record in a pocket notebook the details of the typical moments in your day. These are the details, after all, that find their way into our writing.

Suggestions for things to include:

Your thoughts when the phone rings, your thoughts when you see who the caller is on caller ID, your reaction to a conversation you overhear in the post office or at your job, your thoughts about the way someone is dressed, your reaction to the sweet smell in the bakery, describe the texture of something you eat with your hands, describe the flavor of that food, the familiar scent of a perfume you smell as you pass through a crowd of people, an incident that brings back a long forgotten memory, a sudden weather change, the way the weather alters your day, a package you weren’t expecting at your door, etc…

I would love if you shared some of your discoveries.