The Write Stuff, Part II
Saturday, March 01, 2003
Reading children's stories is fun, but writing them can be a trip By Jeanne A. Stoner
Illustration by Jana Christy
Magic carpets truly exist. They come in endless combinations of size, shape and design. They are time machines. Passports to visit people, places and events of the past, adventuring in lands and times not our own, a mind-rocket which blasts us off to the possibilities of the future. Each carpet is perfectly sized for a child’s mind and is neatly contained and totally portable between the covers of a book. Do you enjoy creating stories to tell your children? Do you have story ideas you would like to share with the world as published books? The first step is to sit yourself down and weave these wonderful stories into a book—for posterity, for the world or just for your children. Weaving a magic carpet for a child (or an adult, for that matter) sends the writer on a mind trip all their own. And it really is all your own. Each writer has his or her unique way of working. Their own process. Some work from a detailed outline of each chapter. Some (like me) start with a one sentence plot or a character and then sit and stare at the screen and wait for someone to appear or something interesting to happen. There is no right way. There is no wrong way. There is just your way; what works for you. My most sincere advice is to trust the process...your process. How to I always find it interesting and helpful to hear how other writers, artists, musicians, scientists, creative people in any field go about doing their work. So let me tell you some of the things I think go into the creation of a magic carpet that will really fly. • Use action words. Forget the ands and buts and descriptions and endless adjectives. Put the child right there. Use the active voice as much as possible. "He huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down!" What a mind picture! What economy of words! What rhythm and meter! Let the child do some work. Exercise their imagination. In my book, "A Razzamaring is a Wonderful Thing," children are provided with a razzamaring. Think little girl’s plastic bracelet: A RAZZAMARING is a wonderful thing Here’s what you do You just look through It can be what you want it to be Let’s go exploring Oh, what can we see? The razzamaring becomes the porthole of a diving submarine, the window of a great space ship, an ice fishing hole, a peephole to watch a skyscraper being built. At the end the readers are invited to invent their own razzamaring views with hints suggesting: a telescope, a tunnel, a bunny hole. Parents have told me they have used razzamaring as a game at their children’s birthday parties and that much hilarity and creative thought results from playing the game. Entertaining the child is your aim. A story should be involving and fun to read or hear. Within that framework, it’s possible to teach many important lessons and life skills, such as: • Problem solving. In "The Sunnyday Ghost," the little ghost does not like the drab, colorless dark of the night. He wants to play in the bright, colorful day with the children and the animals. He solves his problem by playing in the children’s shadows. • Lateral thinking. In my story, "Prudence the Practical Pig," two animals—the hen, whose chicks have gotten out of the barnyard, and the farm collie, who sometimes needs more food in his dish when he has worked extra hard for the farmer and other animals—have problems they bring to Prudence. She thinks long and hard about what might be done and comes up with a solution for them. • Kindness and concern for others. "Daniel the Daring Duck" decides to stay up when the sun goes down just to see what it’s like. When the fox appears in the barnyard Daniel gives the alarm and runs for his life with the other animals. But when the fox starts chasing his little sister, Daniel forgets his fear and vanquishes the fox to save her. • Being different. Sweetie is an outcast because "who ever heard of a sweet-smelling skunk!" But she finds that being different does not keep her from helping alert the other animals to a terrible danger in time to save them and "Sweetie the Sweet Smelling Skunk" becomes their hero. • Make it kind. Am I preaching? Oh, no! That is absolutely the biggest caveat. Do not preach. No, never! Do not tell your readers. Show them. • Humor. Think Amelia Bedelia "dressing" the chicken and putting the lights out. Think tweedle-beetle battles in a bottle and cats in striped high-top hats. Humor is essential. How could we get through life without a sense of humor? Be as funny as you can manage. Children love to laugh. True for us all. Start the magic These are just a few of the life-enhancing themes that can be woven into stories. Children learn what they live. What they read and hear and see affects them and their view of the world. It takes discipline to weave a magic carpet. Sitting down to start is daunting. A friend once remarked, "I suppose you really can’t write unless you are in a creative mood." No, that’s not how it works. If that were the case, I would never have word one tapped out on the screen. At 1:30 p.m., I just go into the room that serves as my office, turn on the computer and stay there until I have written my quota of words for that session. (Incidentally, I am a total baby about that. I count every single thing that even looks like a word to make that quota. If I write over my quota, I feel absolutely sainted.) It takes some real work to finish. It requires a great deal of concentration and, of course, creative thinking and problem solving to get your story as you want it—while fending off the rest of the world. The telephone calls, the doorbell rings, the puppy has to go out, life forms you are responsible for are hungry. The list is endless. Your determination must be endless also. You had to stop? Get back to it when you can. You WILL be able to pick up your thread of thought. You WILL get the story written. Writing is truly a self-revelatory process. You will find qualities of mind and imagination that you did not know you had. When the story is finished, it may very well say more about you and your view of the world than it does about your characters. So, weaving a magic carpet takes discipline, concentrated work, determination and the sum of your life experience. Did I forget to mention it is fun?Jeanne Stoner, a published author, lives in Bowling Green, Ohio, with her husband, Ron. Her five grandchildren are her inspiration and her test market.