Monthly Archives: August 2008

Story Starters: Look, Listen, and Feel—Part 2

This is Part 2 of “Story Starters—Look, Listen, & Feel” from August 15, 2008.

The following is an excerpt (obtained with permission from FabJob) from FabJob Guide to Become a Children’s Book Author, by Jeannie Harmon and Shiela Seifert.

We’re continuing with ways to come up with and keep great ideas for your writing moments! Last time we stopped at idea #4. Let’s keep going!

5. Volunteer to work with kids.

A good way to get to know kids is to work with them. Find areas where you can involve yourself. Call your local elementary school or ask at your church to see if there are areas where you could volunteer. Usually they will be glad to have help, and you will get to talk to kids and learn how they think, talk, and act.

6. Look into your past.

Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. The good news is that you were a kid, and you have almost an endless supply of material at your fingertips. You might think that you can’t remember much, but you would be surprised when you start putting things down on paper.

Start with your first day of school (or your first day of middle school!) or the Thanksgiving that everyone stood up until Grandma, who was always serving others, sat down. Write about your best childhood friend – what you did and where you went. Write about your first piano recital – when halfway through your piano piece your mind went blank, and you forgot the music. The list goes on and on.

7. Brainstorm.

Used in many professional settings, brainstorming is the free flow of ideas written down on paper or a white board. Judgment is not passed. No idea is out of line or stupid. By listing everything that you can think of, you will see patterns and solutions that you will be able to use in constructive ways.

One way to do this when you’re by yourself, is to time yourself for fifteen minutes. Once the timer starts, put your pencil on the sheet of paper and begin writing. You can write, “I don’t know what to write,” or “I can’t wait for the timer to end,” if you can’t think of anything to write.

The key is to keep your pencil moving for fifteen minutes without picking it up. Try to concentrate on one story or one topic and then write anything that comes to mind. Write one long paragraph that is devoid of punctuation and grammar rules. When the timer goes off, go back and read the ideas that have appeared on your sheet of paper.

8. Mind mapping.

Mind mapping is a very useful tool. It is a type of brainstorming but with this tool all the events are closely related to one core idea or event.

To do mind mapping, simply write one idea or event in the middle of a white piece of paper. Then explore all the things that come to mind, jotting each thing down in a circular pattern around your core idea. This will enable you to expand your thinking to include other aspects that you haven’t thought about before. Connect each idea to the core thought by drawing a line to the center.

One of the greatest things about being a children’s writer is that it legitimizes being a kid again. No longer are you bound in this adult box called “the serious side of life.” You now have an excuse to free up an afternoon and go to the park. You are doing research.

So sit back, clear your mind, take out your note cards and pencil, and expect to have fun! Writing for kids is an intricate blend of work and play, and there are no corporate directives to follow. You cut your own path.

The above is only a small sample of the valuable information in the FabJob Guide to Become a Children’s Book Author. The complete guide gives detailed information on how you can become a published children’s book author. Visit www.FabJob.com/childauthor.asp for more information.

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It’s me, Sheryl (o: I hope you found this information as helpful as I did! Thanks again to Shelley, Manager of Special Projects for FabJob Inc. for allowing me to post this excerpt!

Contributed by Sheryl Ann Crawford

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Olympic Fever

By the time you read this post, the 2008 Olympics will be just a memory, but as I write it, they are still going strong, and once again, my husband and I are totally caught up in them…and staying up w-a-a-a-a-y too late watching certain events!

Although I’m undoubtedly the most un-athletic person ever, my original family was very much into listening to and watching sports events, and I married a man who was an award-winning gymnast.  In fact, the first time he called me for a (blind) date, we spent nearly an hour talking about the Dodgers!  So keeping up with various sports has always been a big part of my life.  And every two years (counting the Winter Olympics) we are glued to the TV a lot more than we are at any other time.

What does all this have to do with writing?  Well, it occurred to me that whatever our passion may be…sports, photography, music, knitting (I knit a whole vest while watching the Olympics!) or travel, to name just a few…we can usually find a way to incorporate these interests into our writing and use them as Story Starters.

One way I’ve found, using the Olympics as an example, is to look for the stories (and they all have them) behind the athletes’ performances to see if this triggers any ideas we can write about.  Of course, their dedication and focus are obvious, but in addition, I like to pay attention to the athletes’ attitudes…friendly, humble, shy, excited, perhaps a bit of a show-off, and the mannerisms that display these attitudes.  I also notice how they relate to the others on their team, their relationship with the coach, and their attitude towards the other teams.  These can be a springboard (no pun intended!) to story ideas and also to ways to describe different characters in a story.

The country hosting the Olympics (in this case, China) can also bring forth a wealth of story ideas, particularly if you’ve been fortunate enough to visit there.  But even without first-hand knowledge of the area, the history, cultural sites, and other minutiae about a country can provide many ideas to get you started.

This method can be applied to any activity that interests you.  Just try looking at something in a new way and seek out “the stories behind the stories.”  You may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

For now, I’m back to my front row seat at the Olympics…and football season starts next week!

 Contributed by Marjorie Flathers

The Importance of Beginnings

The next time you pick up a book and read the first few pages, ask yourself these questions:

Does the first sentence catch your attention?

Are the other sentences varied in word length and rhythm?

Do you feel yourself stepping into the setting and entering the story?

Do you care what happens next?

If you can answer “Yes” to all four questions, chances are you’re reading a beginning that captures your interest and leads you into the story. It’s all very well to analyze story openings and to recognize good ones, but it’s a bit more difficult to write one yourself. Here are some rules that I try to follow:

1. Begin at the beginning and not before. Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? But it’s a fact that inexperienced writers give too much “entry material.” They feel that they have to tell the reader every detail about a scene BEFORE the story starts. For example, if Jessica is going to have an adventure at an archeological dig in Guatemala, the beginning writer will show her packing her bag, buying airline tickets, chatting with her seat companion, adding cream to her coffee, and stepping off the plane in the middle of the season’s worst rainstorm. An experienced writer might keep the rainstorm, but will certainly eliminate the rest, letting Jessica arrive at the dig and begin her adventure.

2. Answer the questions Who? What? When? and Where? (How and why can be faced later.) These four “Ws” can show a character with a problem, arouse the reader’s curiosity, suggest further complications, hint at suspense, and establish place and time. They can help your character get into action as soon as possible, and they leave room for you to slip in other pertinent bits of information.

3. Set the mood. This is where you use those similes and metaphors you have been collecting in the “Image” pages of your Goal Notebook. For example: The swollen clouds cast shifting shadows over the heather clad stones of the moorland. OR Cassandra and Eleanore stayed close together as they took their first steps into the cold, slimy water. OR The autumn sunlight filtered through the bare branches, painting patterns, like calligraphy, on the barren ground. If your story opening doesn’t create a mood, rewrite it until it does.

4. Use action and dialogue, but only when they move the story forward. Don’t let your characters move or speak without a reason. Body language and voice can strengthen your story opening — but only when they are realistic and logical.

Here’s an important thing to remember: The beginning stops as soon as the protagonist’s problem is clear. When he/she begins to cope — or not cope — your story’s middle has begun.

Contributed by Marilyn Donahue

An Invitation

Who: Brothers, Alex and Miguel, ages 12 and 13.

Where: The county park.

When: Labor Day where they are enjoying the last community picnic before school starts.

What: Uncle Frank hands them a small box wrapped in brown paper. He tells them, “What’s inside this box is my secret for success. I am giving it to you.”

How does the story end?

This is your story starter exercise. Have fun writing!

Go To The Mall!

When you want ideas for stories, go shopping! Yep. You read it right. Go shopping. The only difference in you and all those other people who are crowded into the mall is you are shopping for ideas. They abound there.

Take a notebook to jot down what you see and hear. Parents arguing with their child about buying some expensive toy could turn into a story about a child who must learn delayed gratification.

A family eating ice cream cones may conjure up a story about how a child shared when their friend dropped his ice cream cone.

Watching a girl shop for clothes could turn into a story about a young teen who must work at the  mall and is looked down on by the richer kids who come there to shop.

Watch as people eat. A story about eating the right foods could come from observing that.

Pay attention. Ask, “What if.”

You must be diligent to observe your surroundings in light of what you do. There are stories out there waiting for you. Get out of that chair and go to the mall! Besides finding stories, you may find a great sale and who could resist that. Hmm…that could be a good story,too!

Headin’ for the mall, Gloria

The Where and When

We’ve talked quite a bit about story starters and how to begin stories. Let’s take a look at the where or when to start. Don’t we writers just love to give background and setting as we see it in our mind’s eye? After all, the reader should know what is going on, and not feel that we’ve plopped her/him into the middle of nowhere. If I begin to read a book that doesn’t explain the basics in the first page I usually toss it aside. But we can get carried away to where the reader will wonder “what’s the point here?” and toss it aside for that reason.

Writers are often instructed to begin with the change in the protagonist’s life, where things start to happen. We need to know when this is, and make our story start at that place. I often have to junk the first part of my story which didn’t go anywhere, to find the right start. Then, writing “tight” I give enough background and setting to make sense to the reader, and get into the action quickly. Marilyn gave us some great pointers on how to do this in her blog, and her examples were right on the mark.

So watch the “where” and “when” of your story starters, to go along with your “who, what and why?” We’ll keep those pages of our stories being turned, and keep the readers’ interest on high!

-Contributed by Shirley Shibley

In the Beginning

Dear God,
What was it like in the beginning of time, before You created the world? The Bible says that “In the beginning was the Word…” What exactly does that mean?

Did You have a zillion words floating around in the cosmos, each one like a story starter, just begging to take shape and form? “The animal with a nose as long as a vacuum hose and a body as big as a bus, wanted to entertain children in a circus but…” “It was a dark and stormy night when…” “The waves danced and swirled upon the golden sands of the beach, but they stopped at their boundaries and could go no farther because…”

What an imagination You had as You created the characters in Your amazing story! What a sense of humor You displayed by the awesome array of diverse (and often silly-looking) creatures you designed! What a tender heart You exposed as You crafted the blueprint for the greatest story ever to be told–the need each one of us has for a Savior and the answer to our need through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Oh, give us Your heart, the heart of the Master Storyteller! Give us Your ideas to create and start the stories that You designed for us to tell–long before even time began. Give us Your strength, the strength of the eagle, to complete the task You set before us. Encourage us, comfort us, inspire us! Help us start the stories You call us to write and answer Your call to write.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

-Contributed by Nancy I. Sanders