Monday, July 11, 2016

Of Mice and Men (Oh, that's taken?) Then... Of Guinea Pigs and Kids

I've mentioned on other occasions that I live with my oldest daughter and four-year-old granddaughter. As a result, I'm with Molly most of the time because her mother works long days as a vet tech. Those long days often include things I haven't done in decades (how many decades is none of your business, thank you very much) and consist of running, hiding, lifting, bending, skipping, and the occasional somersault--although that last one is usually accidental.

Because I try to translate my everyday life into humorous situations for my books' characters or at least learn a lesson or two from my journey into total incapacity, it was inevitable I'd find reasons why playing with a child can teach us a lot about writing a book.

For instance:

1.     Children are spontaneous. They don't need to think about whether or not they want to go for a ride, eat a popsicle, or run through the sprinkler. They're in a constant state of "Let's do it, let's go, I don't care if I just had four hot dogs and a piece of cake topped with ice cream, I'll choke down that popsicle even if it means Mom has to clean up the vomit." The same should be said of writers (most of us will avoid the vomit part). We should never be afraid to try something new, whether it be as sweeping as writing in a genre we've avoided or as minor as moving our desk to another corner of our office. We write about life and change is a part of life.

Here I am cleaning up some of the
paperwork around my desk. Wait.
That's not me. It's a guinea pig. Well,
he still makes a mighty fine mess.
2.     Children make messes. Enough said. Writers make messes too. My desk resembles the aftermath of a week-long gale, but I know (for the most part), where everything is in those piles of paper. Do you remember hiding stuff under your bed when your mom insisted you clean your room? Well, my office is a lot like a big toy room, except the toys have been replaced with first drafts, second drafts, scribblings, and inspirational quotes I've printed off to ponder and then buried under the cable bill, which is then buried beneath another pile. Whenever I think someone will see my office, I find another attractive storage container, stuff paper into it for "sorting" at some later time, and slap on the lid. If you're one of those highly-organized, neat writers whose offices resemble an ad for a high-end furniture store, just know you won't be invited to visit my office any time soon.

3.     Children know when something doesn't make sense. Ever try to answer a "why" question with something flippant? Don't. Just don't. Kids can smell sarcasm from across the state line, and your attempt to avoid giving them a straight answer will blow up in your face. Same thing goes for your readers. They too know when something doesn't add up. Giving our readers the credit they deserve as intelligent people will go a long way toward ensuring they continue reading. Make things as weird or mysterious or unbelievable as you want in your books, but be sure to tie up loose ends and explain yourself before the end.

4.     Finally, children love to be entertained. I suspect that one of the reasons most writers write is because they too enjoy the distraction from everyday life that reading (and yes, writing) affords us. I know that's true of me. Watch a child's face light up when he or she is amused or engrossed in something that interests them. If we can do that for others when we write, we'll have won the battle.

        And if you run across my cable bill, let me know.

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