My fourth and fifth grade workshop students worked on getting to know their characters. Figuring out what they love more than anything else and the reason is a huge part of their motivation. Establishing their fear and throwing them into a dangerous situation where that fear is right in their face helps them decide what kind of person their character is. What are their strengths, weaknesses? Brave, strong, scared, helpless?
They are ready to begin their stories if they know the answers to these questions.
My middle grade writers had fun decorating their Grasping Gratitude gift boxes. This special box holds what they are grateful for.
It’s an endless gift that we can always go back to when life gets too hard.
When we grasp gratitude, we hold the goodness in life that makes it worth living. We heal from the pain and loss that we feel. We appreciate what we have.
This was their favorite part of the workshop. I hope they continue to grasp the positive.
Creating. It all starts with a seed–whether it’s a garden, an idea, artwork, or a family. This idea came to me as I began my next book and flourished as I was harvesting all the vegetables in my garden.
I thought about what it takes to create anything in life. I always plant my garden during Memorial Day weekend. Over the years, I have figured out what works or doesn’t yield much. We have had to move our tomatoes to a different area so that they get more sun. It has been a learning process. I plant what I know we will enjoy eating. I plant, because I want to eat local and healthy. I also plant, because I love nurturing the tiny seeds and feel joy when they start to sprout. I am hopeful when, despite storms or cold nights, they fight through and eventually grow taller than me. If I give the plants what they need and allow them to flourish, then they prosper.
Wow, doesn’t that sound a lot like raising children?
It’s also how I approach my writing. Everything I create or want to bring forth in this world grows my purpose to provide hope and make the world a better place. These are some steps I take to create or write:
Intention/Purpose: What is my intention for writing this book? Why do I want to write it? What do I want my readers to get from it? I write to soften the harshness of reality and provide hope no matter how dire the circumstances.
Creating from a Positive mindset: Whatever I do, whether it’s cooking a meal, growing my garden, or writing a book, I come from a positive frame of mind. When I’m cooking my sauce, I don’t think about the guy who cut me off on the way home, or the argument I had with someone. I think about my wonderful family who will enjoy my meal. I sprinkle love and happiness into the meal. When I write, I want to spread hope and joy to those reading my books. If I write from a negative or bitter point of view, then I’m releasing that out into the world. Yes, maybe the topics aren’t easy, but my intention is hope and so that is where I create from.
Don’t Overthink: I am excited that my first middle grade novel, The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs will be out in October of this year. Don’t worry! Details are coming! I have jumped right into the second book, because I want to keep the characters’ voices flowing. I worried about where to start the book, but continued from where the first book ended. I didn’t think about what I was writing. I wrote from my character’s feelings. The first five pages sounded grimmer than I wanted, but I knew I was just in the seed planting stage. I had to prepare the soil and see what grew from there. I don’t get bogged down by the need for perfection. I am in the midst of creating and know that I will rewrite those first lines and chapter about 20 times.
Be Nurturing: Being kind to myself and my words when I write goes back to keeping that positive energy flowing. By nurturing my words, I let them grow on their own. I may guide them by writing out a description that may work. Upon editing, it may not sound write anymore, so I prune and snip and add back in until I see the fruit of my nurturing come forth. I come from a place of love and belief in my writing.
Hard Work: Nothing worth creating is easy. It takes dedication, time, and consistency to grow, to build, to flourish. If I left my garden for a week without water or weeding or even picking the vegetables, my garden would suffer. I have to consistently work at it to give it the space and effort it deserves. The same goes with writing. If I write once a week or even once every few days, my writing will dry up and my characters will wilt.
Team Effort: Whoever said that writing is an individual effort, never worked with a team or a group of characters. When I’m in my head, I’m never alone. When I’m in my garden, I am surrounded by life. I have a gang of people just pushing to get me to tell me their story. But the team effort doesn’t stop here. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a Super Cool Writer’s Group! By putting my work out there to fellow supportive writers, my creating has grown in leaps and bounds. I get feedback, but am also held accountable to produce. It’s like a farmer’s co-op. Everyone needs to bring their share of the vegetables. So we make sure we create regularly.
Creating is a part of being human. When we come from a place of love, altruism, and philanthropy, we make the world a better place. When we create from the heart, then we bring forth positive change and benefit from our harvest, no matter what it is.
Fear, love, fireworks? You may think you know where this post is going, but don’t be too sure.
Today I taught 15 middle school students about creating characters for a short story. One way to develop a character is to write about yourself. They physically described themselves, wrote about their personalities, skills, favorite foods, etc.
Then we got to the juicy part. What did they fear and what did they love more than anything.
Not fitting in/ baseball
Getting sick again/playing outside
Then they created their fictional characters and wrote from where their characters’ fears and love collided. Their stories were quite creative. Like a cellist saving his instrument from a fire, or a baseball player not making the same team as all his friends. Or a video gamer who is afraid of the dark gets sucked into his game and a black hole.
Describing what they love becomes easier since they have experience with it and creates an emotional connection. Next, the setting can depend on what the character likes to do. If someone is a surfer, then it makes sense to have them live by the beach.
There can be more than one fear or one love. Just as there are subplots and multiple main characters. Doing the work and developing the character first creates the groundwork for a finished story.
Last week I ventured into Stephen’s fourth grade teacher’s class to teach character development. It’s been over 10 years since Stephen has been in Mrs. Philo’s class, but she has always been open to empowering children’s creativity.
I showed the above photo, and we started with the basic physical characteristics of this German Shepherd (realized I misspelled it on the screen! Oops!) who was eventually named Rocky. Starting simple warms up your creative juices and states the obvious when there is a photo.
Then we ventured to what was going on around him and what he was feeling based on his expressions. The kids were incredible and decided that his family was baking a special meal and had to leave. They left everything out. Did they leave in a hurry? Had they done this before and Rocky never bothered the food? Was Rocky hungry? These are questions that need to be asked to find out the story. What is Rocky’s fear? Right now it was getting caught especially since he ran around the house with flour all over his paws, and he was sick on the family room rug.
What is going to happen?
Enter Charles Aiden. This answers the question as to where the family ventured off to. The family is adopting a kitten so maybe they received a call that it was time to pick up Smokey, which the kids named the cat.
Did Rocky overhear the conversation and act out from fear? Is he terrified now that the family won’t love him anymore and replace him with a cat? Will he get so hungry one day that he will try to eat the kitten? Perhaps developing Rocky’s character as a dog who is always hungry could add some comedy to the story and also provide a realistic reason as to why Rocky is shaking salt and pepper on Smokey in the living room.
How will Rocky react when the family comes home? What will he think of Smokey? What are the major problems that will hopefully be resolved in this story?
The most important task a writer can do upon completion of a book or story is start another. When we finish a project it’s a good idea to take a break, especially if edits still need to be made. But when that book is complete and off to production, you have to jump right in and start the next.
Writing is like swimming, lifting weights, yoga or any other sport. If you don’t exercise those muscles you lose them quickly. Plus, if you’re like me, you have a myriad of other ideas you’ve been itching to begin.
The Puzzle Quests: Shimmer’s Eggs is getting closer to print. Carol Coogan, my fabulous graphic designer, is working on the cover and a couple illustrations that will be inside the book. There’s still so much to do to, but I have started the third book in my Fianna Cycle.
It has been a long time since my second book in the series, Eyes of the Goddess, came out. Life sidetracks us and I wrote my non-fiction book, What Makes Them Amazing, and then tried many times to write what I thought was the third book in my series about Maecha’s daughter Eibhlin. But with the help of my Super Cool Writer’s Group, I realized that Natalie Fischer’s story still isn’t down. She has to meet her biological mother, time travel to 3rd century Celtic Ireland, free her druid father, fall in love with the knife-wielding warrior, Caoilte, all while being threatened by those who resent her.
That’s a lot for a young adult, but she is up to the challenge and so am I.
I’m excited to start this venture along with the first session of my 6-week writing workshop about creating characters to propel plot. We met last night and there are some fabulous ideas!
So if you are ready to write your story, get to know your character. Writing a story without knowing your character is like getting married after a one-night stand. Yes, there may be something thrilling about that person, but you do not know who you are marrying! Last night was the first date with our characters, and I believe there will be a second!