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.

Tighten your manuscript – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AYou’ve heard these, I’ve heard these, and up-and-coming writers are sure to hear these comments about their work…

But those are my best words.

Kill my what? No! Not my darlings!

But I worked hard perfecting that lovely, poetic flow of flowery adjectives.

What’s wrong with adverbs?

Take out that “telling” sentence? But what if the reader doesn’t grasp the showing sentence?

My love of writing centers around picture books. Therefore, I don’t have the luxury of writing without eyeing the word count at the bottom of my screen. I take a deep breath as the number crawls to 550. Gad’s I’m at 750, and I haven’t reached my story’s climax! In my critique groups, I find it easy to help others trim words. Since I don’t have a relationship to any of their carefully structured sentences, I can highlight every adjective, adverb, and telling sentence, offer stronger verbs, offer suggestions, etc…

Here is what I look for…

Signs of a passive “telling” voice. I don’t want to read that Mary is happy, I want to see her hands clapping and her feet lifting off the ground.

In picture books, descriptive passages are word hogs and can often be deleted and turned over to the capable hands of the illustrator. Unless the color of Sarah’s shoes are important to the story, don’t write — Sarah slipped on her pink, sparkly shoes with the purple, satin bows. That sentence weighs in at 12 words. Let’s shorten it for a picture book: Sarah slipped on her shoes. Woo Hoo!  5 words.

We’ve all been told to delete adverbs. And after years of writing, most writers reach the point when, after proofreading, they rejoice at not finding any. Adverbs are a sure sign we haven’t chosen the strongest verbs to “show” the action.

Mark quickly ran to the corner.  Mark dashed to the corner.

It’s easy to string a series of adjectives together when the best choice is to use one or none.

Sarah pulled on her sky-blue, loosely knit, chunky, cowl-neck sweater.

In a picture book, the writer needs to leave the bulk of description to the illustrator and write: Sarah pulled on her sweater.

Lemons are yellow, so unless the lemons in your story are purple for a reason, leave out the adjectives.

Does your picture book open with lots of back story? Have you offered the reader a long look into your main character’s past? While this information is good to know. Correction: While this information is good for YOU to know, your reader can be spared. I recently read a picture book manuscript in which the first 500 words toured me through the main character’s house, offered me a look at his town, outlined his hobbies, pointed out the places his friends lived and, I’m not kidding you, went on to say, and now my story begins… Needless to say, the deletion of those first 500 words brought the word count down.

A picture book of 500 words or less requires the writer to put every word on trial and trim unnecessary words with the thought of receiving $20 per deleted word. (Make that $50.) Constantly question if every sentence reveals something about character or plot. At the top of my computer screen, I tape a slip of paper with the central question of my story. Everything I write must answer that question.

I’m off to tighten my word count.

Happy writing.

A Present For Computer Users (everyone…)

This isn’t my typical sort of blog post, but yesterday as I was stretching, rubbing my neck, and shifting positions while reaching my 1000 word goal, I came across this video by Stephen Watkins which cleverly illustrates simple techniques to lessen body aches while working at a computer.

Some things are so good you have to share them with others.

Here is my gift to you.

 

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.