Sunday, April 8, 2012

For Children's Writers

Real Mice Poop on Your Counters

I live in a very old house. The poor dear is over 150 years old. Oh, it has charm and grace, interesting corners and doors that go nowhere, but it also has mice in the walls. I hear them at night … skritch… skritch ...just behind the wainscoting next to the chair where I’m reading. I pound on the wall and the noise stops but when I shamble downstairs the next morning for my first cup of coffee the evidence of nocturnal meandering mice is right there on the counter. Yuck! Who could possibly think mice are cute?

 Children’s writers that’s who.

We do it all the time. We take the real thing and work it like a new brick of modeling clay. We toss it around in our imagination and re-make it in our own image. We put striped trousers and red suspenders on rabbits and give the cows in the barn a typewriter. We put a terry cloth cape on a fourth grader and let him roar through our outrageous PB with his underwear stitches showing.  Making a good story out of the real thing however is a bit trickier than your audience might imagine.

Here’s a little exercise I use now and then to sharpen my awareness of my surroundings. When I’m out and about doing errands I say aloud the name of various objects along the route. Mailbox, birch tree, trash can, red truck and so on. Once while I was thus occupied a little bird darted out of a tall hedge, made a dramatic right turn and bopped along beside the car for about six seconds. For that infinitesimal moment in time we were traveling buddies. I was utterly enchanted. If I had not been concentrating on naming objects, i.e. hedge, I doubt I would have even noticed the bird. Train your senses outward. This may be tough advice to follow in a world crammed with external stimuli, but let me give you another example of what I mean.

My husband, oldest son and I own and operate a computer store. Lucky me, I’m the one who gets to do the bookkeeping. One summer night I tossed and turned and turned again unable to sleep for all the attendant worries of owning a business. I saw just about every wee hour on the clock and as dawn approached I lay in bed sort of limp and ragged dreading having to rise in an hour or so. But then something marvelous happened. Through our open window I heard the delicate cheep of the first bird that awoke that morning. It arrested all my senses. It calmed me down, made me thankful and gave me a whole sentence that enriched a story, Mary's Sparrow, I had been struggling with. It would now read; ‘When dawn broke there was no friendly bird chatter to comfort her’. For the rest of the day I was possessed with the thought that a writer should never, ever underestimate the power of the twenty-second blast of inspiration.   

You have to write about whatever it is that inspires you. There has never been a you before. Your view is unique. Hang on to that and use it. You may be supremely inspired by something that bores the bejeepers out of someone else. But your take on it is going to make it a terrific story that somebody somewhere is going to love – and buy. Really. Birds, for instance, seem to have a lot of things to say to me. For you it may be a crabby third grader or a giggly teenage girl with pink hair.

Grab every incident that gives you pause this week and shake the living daylights out of it. There’s a story in there and your honed senses are going to find it. Why you may even discover that mice are bewhiskered charmers ready to romp with high hilarity through your best seller. Your view would be different from mine and you won’t have any competition from me on that score either because I know that real mice . . .poop on your counters.

Image: Free Digital Photos


  1. Jennifer Brown BanksApril 10, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    I find your honesty and ability to turn "crap" into creative gold to be just awesome! Keep going. :-)

  2. LOL Thanks, Jennifer. With a mentor like you how can a gal go wrong?