On My Mind

-thoughts of a wife, mom, author, illustrator, juggler, toy designer, teacher, camp director, ...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Lion in the Storm

This blog is called On My Mind. Today's post is not the usual story starter or writing tip. This was written while trying to grasp what happened that day. It has meaning beyond meaning to me.

The rain began slowly at first, falling gently in the morning.  I carried you both on our journey home. I held you close, as close as possible, and kept you dry.  I let you know how much I loved you and promised that I would keep you safe.  As the day progressed, the rain got heavier and everything changed.  The wind blew stronger and stronger until it became difficult to carry you but I would not let you down.  She thought she was ready to go or maybe it was something else compelling her to go but it wasn’t my idea.  I could see our blurry house in the distance but the storm was too heavy to get there.  I ran into the nearest building.  We huddled to stay warm.  The wind whistled as the storm shook the walls and the door opened, just a little at first, but continued to swing wider as the rain and wind steadily increased.  Holding on to you as tightly as I could, I tried to force the door closed but the wind picked up. It forced the door open and slammed me against the wall.  The air swelled into a hurricane and its pull ripped us apart.  I lost control of keeping you safe.  I was forced to let go.  The winds carried her, my baby girl, through the doorway.  I grabbed for her but she was swept too quickly out of reach.  We had to let her go but you weren’t ready.  You wrapped yourself around me.  I begged Mother Nature to let you stay.  You held on but the grip of the wind was too tight.  It wrapped us like a tornado, twisting, turning, and separating us. It refused to let you go.  The torrential downpour whipped across my face as it tore you from me.  I wasn’t ready.  You were too small to survive alone, but you found her, your sister, and stayed together.  You both struggled to live without me.  When the weather calmed, I found you battered and bruised.  I sat beside you both and held your hands.  I looked into your eyes and spoke softly. Your sister left us first but you continued to hang on.  Then you left us.  It was too soon.  You left me too soon.  Our dreams were shattered.  That day is here again and I can’t shake the memory of the storm, of losing you both, my babies. I remember the few moments that we had when I was able to look into your eyes and hold your tiny hands.  A lion in the storm.  Soo strong.   In my arms for just a moment but in my heart forever.

If you have ever lost a lion in the storm. I am very sorry for your loss.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Outlining & Planning Before You Write

Keep in mind that there are many, many authors who write without outlining first. They have an idea or a main character and just start writing. There is no wrong way to write a story. I taught writing to fourth graders and always had them use a Story Planner before writing so that I could see their plot before they spent a lot of time writing out the story. I like thinking about where the story needs to get to (the exciting part) so that I could help my students write a story that gets there. I do a very brief plan for picture books and slightly more detailed outline for chapter books. This is how I do it:

Picture Books

Students in first grade learn about Story Mapping. This is an exercise in breaking down a book into pieces to help with comprehension of the story.  Students learn that a story needs to have a beginning, middle, and an ending. Here are some examples of Story Mapping Worksheets from a first grade class:

Since kids have to think about what they read in this way, I use a similar approach to write picture book manuscripts. I often think of a character first since I love character driven stories so I jot down a few notes on the following things:




     Important Events – Think in 3s. The mc’s first attempt to solve his/her problem doesn’t work and leads to the second attempt which doesn’t work and leads to a third attempt which either solves the problem or creates a new problem. The thing about working in 3s is that they have to make sense together and preferably are connected rather than 3 random ideas that simply don’t work. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule (and this isn’t a rule, just something I have noticed in the hundreds of books I have read).


I also like to explain the plot this way: Main Character __________ wants to__________but can’t because __________ so __________.

Chapter Books and Early Mid Grade Novels
Taking the information I gathered in my chapter book and mid grade novel research (posted in a previous blog), I begin writing this way:
Main Character
What makes this MC different?

Outline of Chapters:
I plan for 10 chapters but it can be as few as 3 and as many as 50 for a chapter book. I have read that the “sweet spot” for word count is 6,000-10,000 words for chapter books.
At the beginning, you need to show the reader (show don’t tell as often as possible) who is MC is, how old, what the setting is and what the problem or goal is?
After this is shown, let the reader know who or what is getting in the way of the MC solving his/her problem or reaching that goal.
Here come the attempts to solve the problem. Usually, the first and second attempts don’t work because something gets in the way. The first attempt leads to the second attempt which leads to either a new problem or the third attempt.
What is the new problem? Will solving it get the solution to the first problem or create a way that the MC can solve the first problem? If not, then take it out. There is no room for bird walking in picture books or chapter books.
Show how your MC makes a third attempt to solve the problem or reach the goal.
Solving the problem/conflict/reaching the goal now means what? What was the point? What was the point of getting there? Show the reader.
By now, you should be at chapter 10 or near the end of your story .  Wrap it up – Now that the problem is solved, what new problem is created?

Now go write…