Monthly Archives: December 2014

Writing for the Very Young

I don’t get babies. They are not my thing. I don’t relate to them, and I don’t enjoy spending much time with them. They bore me a bit. They are not individual enough, little personality duds. Sorry, baby people.

So, as you may guess, I don’t write for babies. It just doesn’t come naturally for me. My ideas are too complicated, the language I enjoy using is too advanced, and my subjects would be of no interest to them.

That said, every once in a while I get an idea for the younger set. So far, at week 16, I have now written my second first draft for the extremely young. The first was inspired by a drawing (really just a doodle) I had made of a dog and a cat sitting side by side. I saw the expressions on their faces and the story wrote itself. This week my goal was to intentionally target this age group that I usually neglect.

Let me tell you, I worked harder on this simple concept book than I do on stories with much more complicated plots and characters.

Here is what made it hard:

Language – I like to use the words I want to use. Often the simpler synonym of a word doesn’t convey the exact same meaning. I had to re work sentences over and over to find the right meaning.

Rhyme – I decided to use rhyme in this one. Some of the simplest things took me hours (truly) of changing words and rearranging words. The combination of keeping it simple, rhyming, and making it sound natural is not easy.

No plot or characters – This picture book has no real plot or characters. Plot is my thing. I like interesting plots. It’s still a lot of fun and will help parents and kids interest with one another. With out a clever plot to depend on, it was really about the words.

Not too repetitive, but repetitive – I wanted this one to be repetitive. That was kind of the point of this picture book. Step one, say it over and over for rhythm, familiarity and momentum. Step two, don’t be boring. It was a challenge to say the same thing 12 different ways.

It will rely heavily on the pictures – This one is very illustration dependent. I think visually through every story I write. I like to think my stories are good enough even with out the pictures to hold interest. This one I know depends on them.

I’ll write for the very young when the ideas come, but if I can write for a little older I will. These little guys are too much work.

An Instant Christmas Classic

Christmas in Taichung, Taiwan is a funny thing. Every store is decked with bows of holly from top to bottom. Christmas songs fill the air. Holiday performances can be enjoyed on stages set up in parks and plazas across the city. The Christmas spirit is alive and well.

The Funny thing? Very few of the locals will actually celebrate the holiday. There will be no Christmas trees in private homes. Presents will not be exchanged. People will not have the day off from work.

Luckily for me, the superficial trappings at the malls are enough to keep me humming Jingle Bells throughout my days. I’ve been feeling so holly-jolly that I decided to add to the lexicon and write my own Christmas classic. Thanks to the kitten, Copper, that I am currently living with, I’ve been inspired. Now future generations can thank me for an enduring Christmas classic sure to be turned into an animated movie any day now.

Haha. It’s Christmas. I’m allowed to make wishes.

I love this time of year. I love the Christmas holiday. It warms my heart. My love stems from two things. Family traditions and classic holiday stories. I know them all by heart. I’ve watched or read them over and over since I was old enough to watch or read.

Secretly, I’ve always wanted to create the next Rudolf,  A Christmas Story, or Polar Express; the next story to fill children with wonder, emotion, and sugar plum dreams.

The trouble with writing a new Christmas story is there are already so many. Finding a new idea isn’t easy. I went through every Christmas icon I could think of (snowflakes, Mrs. Claus, candy canes, holy stars). Then I tried to come up with something completely new (rhinos, space men, jungle adventures). Nothing.

Finally it was a story of love and family that took hold. All thanks to a funny little orange tabby named Copper. Remember that name. You’ll see it in lights one day.

I have one more week before Christmas. One more week for me means one more first draft. One more chance to write that (another?) classic before the holiday spirit fades away into a New Year’s Eve haze. Maybe that rhino story will finally get its shot.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.

Sing a Song

I did it. I said last week that I would write a song, and I did happened.

I knew I could only do it if I had the right story. I knew I was looking for something short and simple and full of emotion. Then suddenly a story popped into my head that seemed to be just what I was looking for.

Now anyone who knows me well would think I could easily write a song. I’m a singer. I know my way around a song as well as I do my own house. I’ve dissected many-a-song trying to find every nuance possible to create the best interpretation. But let me tell you, it was a lot of work.

Mind you, I just wrote the lyrics. I’m still a writer. I didn’t suddenly develop special composing talents. Of course, snippets of melody come into my head while writing, but never the full song. Someone else will need to come in and add the music.

How did I do it with no experience? I cheated a little. I thought of songs that I liked and modeled some of my lines off of those; an intro from one song, a refrain from another song, a verse from another. Then I changed them to make them my own.

I noticed that there are some ways in which writing a story song are the same as writing any other story and some ways it is a bit different.

How it’s the same:

-Its all about the story first. Tell a good story!
-Read it over and over again out loud. Songs like picture books are meant to be heard.
-Keep it short. Economy of writing is a must.
-You still need strong characters and plot.
-A complete arch for story and character are important.

How it’s different:

-You can be more repetitive with the text. Words sentences and even full verses can be used again to send a message home.
-I found myself being more creative with rhythmic patterns like internal rhyming.
-Emotion has a higher importance. In performing musical theater, we say that a character starts to sing because emotion has taken them to a point where their thoughts can no longer be expressed with simple words.
-Mood has a higher importance.
-The writer needs to think about the music genre. Whether it’s rock, country, ballad, comic, etc. will affect the lyrics and the way the story is told.
-I found I could get a bit more flowery with my wording. Sometimes it was even necessary to get the rhythms to work.

This was fun. I don’t think my aim will be to write song stories in the future, but if the right story comes along…
There is a long history of songs being turned into picture books and picture books being turned into song. For the most complete list available go to Emily Leatha Everson Gleichenhaus’ blog Sing Books with Emily. She is an amazing resource if you are interested in these types of books. Also, as a side note, Emily is an amazing performer. She lives in the Washington, DC area and might be available for presentations at schools, libraries, and other events with kids.

Maybe someday with a little (I really mean a lot of) work, my newest song will make it to Emily’s list.

What a Clunker!

Holy cow, that story was a clunker! It was story number thirteen on week number thirteen. Thirteen is usually a lucky number for me. Not this time.

What went wrong?

I started writing for four to five year olds. The story was pretty basic. Somewhere along the way I started writing for seven year olds. The vocabulary changed and the sentence structure changed. No cohesion. I actually think the change is for the better. In rewrites, I would change the beginning more than the end.

Oh, and it’s boring. No good characters or plot. No arch, no lessons learned, no conflict. Yikes! What was I thinking?

On top of that, I had also decided to conclude the story with a song. Guess what? I am not a song writer. Finishing a story with something you feel awful about can be deflating. As a challenge, I may try to write a whole song as one of my stories in the future.

What did I learn?

I liked my concept, but it wasn’t anything more than that. The whole story was based on the word “meanwhile”. Yeah, I know, I know. It was cute, but I should have started with something a bit more solid. Instead I was just hoping some story would magically appear. It didn’t. Sometimes stories will come to me if i just plow forward. Not this time.

Without strong characters and plot, it’s almost impossible to keep a story interesting.

If I’m not interested in what I am writing, a reader will never be interested.

A concept is not a story.


Once upon a time … there was a man who could not stop writing fables. OK, not quite true, but I have just written three in a row.

I’ve never written a fable before. At last winter’s SCBWI conference in New York, Tomie dePaola Said to give it a try-find an old story and make it your own.

Myths, Fables, Legends, Tales, Fairy Tales, Allegories.I looked at many. I tried. I failed.

I couldn’t find any that interested me. We all know how hard it is to write a story for which you have no passion. Finally, I thought of a great idea for a fable about a sand dollar. While writing it, I forgot the ending. What? How does that happen? To this day I can’t remember, so it sits in my ever growing unfinished stories file.

Now, on my quest towards 52 first drafts, I have discovered fable writing. Now I have three. The first has that fable feel down in its soul. It is original, but it feels like one that has been passed down from generation to generation.

My second is far from original. While visiting the ancient Buddhist temple of Borobudur, I discovered its stories. The entire temple is covered with relief panels revealing the stories of Buddhism and history. Some of the reliefs tell fables and cautionary tales. The nearby temple of Mendut depicted many animal stories. I took notes on as many as I could. From these I chose my favorite. I used it to create my own version.

My most recent fable is another original. This one was inspired by the beautiful Merlion of Singapore. I did not try to tell the Merlion’s story, but was simply inspired by its form.

My fable discoveries:
-Fables feel more important that other stories; it’s that “passed down through the
generations” thing.
-Your lead characters don’t have to be kids.
-Speech becomes more formal.
-You really need to get to the point.
-You need to work hard at making the complicated, uncomplicated.
-You need to get the endings just right.
-The theme, moral or lesson has to be very clear throughout.

We’ll see if I’m on a role. Will another fable reveal itself next week? Will I remember the ending of my sand dollar fable? We’ll see.

… and we all lived happily ever after.

Dreams Come True

I was in the middle of a dream. Something about throwing rocks into the air so sharks would imitate them and land on the beach. Clearly, this was the only way to keep myself safe from their attacks. Apparently the fact that I was on the shore and they were in the water wasn’t good enough. It made no sense. Dreams often don’t.

Slowly, I realized I was dreaming. More, I realized this dream was a picture book. Several days ago I had come up with an idea, but I didn’t know how to write it. Just a concept really.

Now here it was right in front of me. I had to wake up. I needed to escape the sleep fog; think it through before it faded away. I forced myself to physically sit up. Think. Think. And there it was. My story had nothing to do with sharks-at all. But the rocks, the beach. Everything was hiding underneath.

I’ve now spent two days putting it in some sort of order. It was a fable. Who knew? And I like this one. One more first draft written!

This is not the first time I’ve found inspiration in my dreams. I’ve dreamed character names, dialogue, rhymes, illustration images, and yes, sometimes full stories.

Does anyone else find inspiration in their dreams?