Six Word Stories Part 2

Who doesn’t love good six word stories? They are short and sweet.

I am so lucky to be able to visit classrooms and hang out with kids. As a writer, there’s nothing more valuable than learning from and listening to your target audience. So when I had a chance to go into my son’s sixth grade class, I decided the topic would be “brevity.” Now, I didn’t tell them that, but it gave me a framework.

Picture Books

First,  I read a short but very skillfully done picture book. You’re never too old to read a picture book and really learn about the essence of story. A picture book needs to tell a story in very few words.

ABCs

Then, we worked on a 26 word alphabet story about sixth graders. There were some funny parts, like when we included eating and farting. We had tech, including iPhone, video games and memes. One girl suggested we delete “sleeping” and write “Zzzz” – which was GENIUS. We had a lot of sports like gymnastics and karate and soccer.

 

Six Word Stories

Finally, we got to dessert: the six word story.

As I took them through the first two parts of the visit, I explained how stories build to a climax of emotion and action and then offer a resolution. I challenged them to include all of those elements in their six word stories.

Here’s what we came up with:

Kids

Last man on earth heard knock.

I am cool, you are not.

Roasted, toasted marshmallow on the fire.

Learn something!

I really loved hearing their stories. And since the main character in my current project is in middle school, I decided to write some six word stories for her.

Mine

She quit everything, until she didn’t.

She botched everything except dreaming big.

For Fun

Do you agree that a lot of six word stories sound so ominous? I love to laugh and have fun and wanted to write a humorous six word story.

Apology accepted. Now explain the bird.

No Time to Write

Some days I have no time to write.

Some days I have hours to write and can lay down over 2,000 words. Or I can read and heavily revise two or more chapters. I really lose myself in the story and just let it flow.

But other days are busy and it seems I have no time to write.

That’s actually not true. Even though I may not have hours to write a lot of words for my story, I have time to work on my story. There are numerous short tasks writers can do to improve their stories and manuscripts and novels even if you only have 15 minutes.

Take a look at this stream. Sometimes it’s rushing and deep, traveling through the farms and fields. Sometimes it narrows to a little trickle, barely a thread of water snaking between the banks.

Whether its wide and deep or shallow and tight, the stream keeps going. Like you, writer.

no time to write

Let it flow.

 

Some days you’re the rushing flood, some days you’re the persistent trickle. Either way, you’re moving forward.

Here’s a list.

No Time to Write Tasks

  • Write out your character’s appearance.
  • Write out the appearance of your secondary characters.
  • Check how many exclamation marks you have used and delete at least 2/3.
  • Draw a map of your story world.
  • Fill out character background sheets.
  • Think of sensory details to add in to your story.
  • Work on your tagline or logline.
  • Look for comps for your story.
  • Check for adverbs. Remove some.
  • Show instead of tell. Search for “I felt” sentences and rewrite some.
  • Write with action. Check for “I started” sentences and just start.
  • Pick a scene and make sure there are three senses identified.
  • Read a chapter and check for transitions.
  • Do the ends of scenes and chapters hook readers?
  • Summarize your story from the antagonist point of view.

Several of these ideas came from my recent workshop at the Highlights Foundation. I spent a great four days learning from K.L. Going and Clara Gillow Clark. They hosted the “Novel Beginnings” workshop and critiqued the first 50 pages of our novels. We also discussed craft, voice, most common mistakes, emotions, movies, layering and so much more.

 

How a Book Smells

I love how a book smells. I love that slightly dusty, dry papery smell mingled with the chemical odor of ink. Unfortunately that smell can often fade, but it’s in my memory.

Writers are encouraged to use smells in their books because when our brains read the description of the smells, our sensory areas light up just like we’re actually smelling the smells. Our brains can’t tell the difference between smelling with our noses, or reading about a smell that we know.

I do try to weave scents and smells into my stories, but only when they are appropriate. Recently I read a YA (young adult) book that I think was a tad heavy handed about incorporating smell data into the story.

 

Book Smells in A Cure for Dreaming

A Cure for Dreaming is a mix of humor and horror set in early 1900s Portland. A young girl is hypnotized in an attempt to remove her egalitarian views. There is some romance, parental tension, references to Dracula and a slight education on women’s equality and suffrage. I wanted to love the story, but I basically just enjoyed it.

What stuck out to me was that in every chapter, the author inserted an odor, scent or smell somewhat early. It was part of setting the scene but it also felt a little like checking a box. Maybe that’s not really a problem. I’m probably more picky than the average reader for this book. It really stood out to me as a task, not a story element.

Several smells appeared in the first sentences of the chapter.

Cigarette smoke and warring perfumes. How long until most readers are unfamiliar with cigarette smoke odor? Neither of these smells are very appealing.

book smells cigarette

“cigarette smoke…warring perfumes..smelled overcooked”

Food smells trigger not only our scent memories, but our appetites, too. Does your mouth water when you read this?

“smelling of chicken”

The smell of black coffee is unmistakeable and quite enjoyable in my smell collection.

book smells food

“poached eggs, black coffee and a touch of rosemary”

 

In later chapters, the smells appear after a few pages. Here we have that tingling dental office smell that often triggers fear in people. Did you get tense reading this?

book smells fear

“A sweet, antiseptic, and metallic potpourri”

And the smell of peppermint makes me think of Christmas. This book is set at Halloween. Maybe she should have referenced cinnamon.

book smells holiday

“peppermint-scented candies”

These three scents aren’t really familiar to modern day readers. The purpose here is to reference a society from a different time.

book smells historic

“Cologne and pomade and the scent of wool suits”

 

Reading How a Book Smells

So not only does the physical book smell, but the book has smells. As you read your next book, take note of the book smells that are mentioned and think about how they help set the scene, the time period, the mood. Or, just read the book.

Writing Prompt: The Lost Potato

Do you see that? There on the ground? It’s a potato. It’s just sitting there, all by itself, on the sidewalk. How did it get there?

This lost potato is the perfect writing prompt. I can think of lots of stories about how that potato ended up there.

Send me your stories about the Lost Potato. Feel free to change the title. I’ll share them here and someone (or ones) may receive some kind of recognition for their creativity.

Room for Improvement

room for improvement

Stop here.

Running has a finish line, but with stories, there’s always room for improvement.

Virginia Wolf wrote that it’s essential for women to have a room of one’s own, and I don’t disagree. But there’s another room that’s also essential. Room for Improvement.

I don’t usually write stories for specific contests, but I will revise them. There’s this website, Mslexia, that I like. I like what they say about women and writing. I want to send them a story and get good feedback. They have a contest with a deadline of March 1, 2017. I have a story I think they will like. Their contest has a word count limit of 3000 words. My story is 4719. I’ll have to cut 36% of my story to have it qualify. I worked on it for two weeks and I finally have the story down to 2995.

Is it the same story? Is it better or worse? Who knows.

There’s always room for improvement.

I have another story that meets the word count for the next round of Pen Parentis, in fact, it’s well under. It got great reviews on another website but when I pulled it out to re-read it today, I realized I can rewrite it even better, stronger. I overused the word “too” for example. I can spruce this up, get it proofread, and send it off to the contest, which opens March 1.

There’s always room for improvement.

Back in October 2015, I wrote a 50,000 word draft of a novel for NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t really write the full story. I wrote the fun scenes of a story. Now as I’ve pushed this manuscript through one round of revision, I realized I didn’t have a strong story line and I need a synopsis. So I’ve paused my revision and I’m now telling the story in synopsis form. This is a good exercise because I have to turn in my first 50 pages to the hosts of a Highlights Foundation workshop, and the pages are due March 1. (It’s a busy time.)

Once the synopsis is done, I’ll go back and revise those first fifty pages and make sure they really set up the story I plan to tell, so the workshop hosts know what I’m bringing them. I know my revision won’t be perfect, but that’s why I’m going to the workshop. I’m eager for their advice and feedback.

Because there’s always room for improvement.

 

Pen Parentis Fellowship Now Open

This is a photo of me in New York City with antlers, not horns. That’s significant, if you’ve had a chance to read my story “Cernunnos and Me.” The story is about being a hunter, about going after what you want. The day I took this photo was the day I attended my first Pen Parentis salon and received my fellowship award.

antlers

Antlers, not horns.

 

Writers are hunters. We chase after our prey – the elusive story – consume it, and crave more.

Sharpen your weapons, writers, because the Pen Parentis Fellowship is now open to submissions. From now until mid-April, Pen Parentis wants your new, never published stories. One skilled writer will be selected as the 2017-2018 Fellow and have their story published in Brain, Child and receive a $1,000 stipend to continue their craft.

pen parentis fellowship

I still remember the day I received the call from M. at Pen Parentis. I was smack in the middle of parenting. It was summer and I was picking the boys up from art camp and they were telling me three different stories at once and I had my hands full of art projects and was trying to thank the teacher and my phone rang with an out of state number. I don’t often pick those up, but this time I did.

As I answered the phone I said, “Boys, can you just give me one moment to take this call?”

M. laughed and laughed and told me she knew she had the right person and told me I had won the fellowship. I was in shock. I sat down. My kids stared at me and then broke out in cheers when I explained what was going on. It was one of the most special moments of my life as a writer and as a mom, and honestly, I’m glad they were there with me.

Pen Parentis Salons

The Pen Parentis award night was in September, my birthday month, and I was so lucky that my mother-in-law could stay with the boys while my husband and I spent three fun days exploring the city and attending a literary salon in Manhattan. I’m not really a shy person, but I felt surprisingly nervous about reading my story aloud. It’s quite different to share my stories at critique group, or have people read them quite a distance away from me. But reading aloud at a salon meant the reactions were immediate and quite visible.

I met other wonderful writers who offered support and some very kind compliments on my story. My favorite, most thrilling part, was when the audience laughed at just the right moments.

My children do inspire my writing, but it also seems like sometimes they conspire against it. It’s a balancing act, but groups like Pen Parentis know that and want to support us. I look forward so much to returning to New York this fall and meeting the next fellow. When I won, I was passed an invisible crown. I am thinking I might pass on something more personal, something inspired by my story.

I wish you a bountiful hunt.

Wild About Reading Books

We love reading books in this house. We also love reading books outside, on the bus, while we’re walking, and even in the parked minivan in the garage.

reading books

Van Reading

Graphic Novels

The book that has captured the attention of this van reader is a graphic novel in the Amulet series. He got book 4 in his Scholastic order, and the older brother got book 5. They’ve both read both books in one day!! That’s the problem and the benefit with graphic novels, I guess. Easy to read, and too easy to read.

The kids are devouring these books, so if you’re looking for something that interests graders 4-6, get your hands on Amulet soon.

Graphic novels are such a good transition from picture book to the meatier picture-free novel. But novels still work in read-aloud format, like picture books. I think that’s one big problem with graphic novels, they can’t be read aloud. Or, they can’t be read aloud and enjoyed like other books.

And though my kids are all gaining very secure footholds in the reading world, picture books are still a source of enjoyment. Recently, I cleaned out two shelves of picture books with my youngest and we had a chance to notice and comment on our favorites.

Picture Books

I think Wild About Books might be my favorite picture book. The kids love it, but it’s so well-written I think adults love reading it, too. Well, bibliophilic adults do. And my favorite part of the book is the insect zoo haiku part is my favorite part of favorites.

The witty puns, the clever word choice, the clever insect choice! It all comes together so effortlessly that I am willing to bet she spent days working on this part.

I feel a sort of familiar pain when the scorpion delivers the harsh, and sometimes true, critiques of the insect haikus. But to be a writer, one needs a thick skin…or chitin.

I love reading this story aloud.

 

 

New Publication: Highlights for Children, March 2017

I’m so excited to share the news about my new piece in Highlights for Children! Just take a look on the inside cover of the March 2017 issue. It’s a small piece, but the topic is really appropriate for today and I think, is a fun way to get to know more about the people in our communities and around the world.

What are some of your favorite ways to learn about new cultures? One of my favorites that isn’t in Highlights is to read the fairy tales or myths and legends treasured by a culture or community. We have quite a few collections of stories from different places we’ve visited, from the Amish to the Irish, from Pacific Northwest to the desert Southwest, from the islands of the Caribbean to the islands of Micronesia.

Learning about cultures is so important, especially today. My piece offers kids and families a few easy and exciting ideas, so let me know if you try any of the activities. If you do, snap a photo and share your experiences with me and I’ll share them with my readers!

 

Sixth, a Graphic Novel

Here’s the next installment of my foray into the realm of graphic novels. They are super popular in my house and the reading community right now. I only wish I had the ability to convey the awkwardness, the angry, the hopes and plans. But these sketches will have to do.

There’s not a lot of self-confidence going around in sixth grade. Being judged and evaluated on a skill I took so much pride in really took a toll on my esteem. I was pretty darn proud of my fifth grade reading award.

Some of the things that happened in sixth grade still stick with me. I’m not sure why I remember the tough moments so much more than the happy ones, because I’m sure there were happy moments. I was a happy kid, because that’s who I am.

To be honest, I’m grateful for these moments, because no one wants to read a graphic novel about a perfect adolescence, do they? And maybe the awkwardness of the so-called art is the perfect way to convey how rough some of those moments were.

So sixth grade was awkward. And as you can read from my little cartoon, I didn’t take too kindly to being put in the lowest reading group. But you know, I can’t even remember what book we were asked to read. I only remember fixating on the book that the advanced readers were given. It was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I just read that book in 2016. It was a nice book, but not the most moving story I’ve ever read. It took some time, but I think reading the book gave me some peace.

Seventh

Seventh grade gave me a chance to redeem my literary ambitions. Working with my seventh grade teacher I created the school’s first ever literary magazine. Maybe that humbling experience in sixth grade was exactly what a budding, hopeful author needed.

Emoji Tales

I love writing stories, and today I’m going to write an emoji tale.

Emojis are so fun. Yes, they irritate some people, but not me.

Sometimes I have trouble deciphering them because I rely so heavily on non-verbal communication to really understand what someone is trying to say.

My most popular post on this blog has to do with delivering bad news. That bums me out because I prefer to focus on the positive. I think the real reason the post is so popular because I alt-tagged the image with the word “emoji.”

I’ve been using Upwork to find new clients lately and came across a really fun job listing to create emoji stories. The listing said “if you don’t think it’s possible, you’re not right for the job.”

Oh it’s possible.

Emoji Flash Fiction

Here’s a quick emoji tale about my first triathlon of 2017.

emoji tales

Once upon a time…

Not too hard to decode, right?

What if it were a little longer?

emoji tale three bears

Can you read the story?

If you couldn’t figure it out, it’s an emoji re-telling of the beginning of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Here’s one way of reading it:

“Once there were three bears. They were a family. They lived in the woods, in a house. They went for a walk. A girl with golden hair came to their house. She saw a bowl of food. It was too hot. The next bowl of food was too cold. The third bowl of food was just right.”

I could add some better detail in there, like numbers to indicate first, second and third. I could probably also format my ‘manuscript’ better and start new paragraphs or pieces of action on new lines. Right now, this tale might be considered an emoji run-on sentence.

It’s just a first draft. But it’s really fun.

Tell Your Emoji Tale

Now it’s your turn. Tell me a story in emojis and I’ll see if I can “read” and it. I’ll share the emoji stories I get here on my blog and see if others can read it, too!