Monthly Archives: June 2014

Writing Tuesday: What I learned from a Children’s Museum

This past weekend, I posted a blog about my family’s vacation to Pennsylvania. Having children whose birth years span different centuries means that sometimes my wonderful hubby takes the two older children to one activity while I take the two younger children to another activity. One of the days during the vacation, we decided that he would take the older two (along with KB) to a Science Museum while I would take the younger two to a Children’s Museum. Little did I know that I would find material for my writing blog here, but it’s amazing what you can learn about writing in the most unusual places. For here at the Hands to Hearts Children’s Museum, I received a refresher course on the basics of writing. In the dress-up and costume area, there were little placards hanging on the walls that introduced children to the concepts behind stories. But no matter whether you are a plotter or a pantser, these placards reminded me that everyone should know a couple of things before a writer starts a story.

The first placard read as follows: Once Upon a Time. There are three parts to every story, the characters, the setting and the plot. When I read this, I stepped back and blinked. Here was a story boiled down to the three most important elements. A writer needs to have a grip on these three elements before he or she starts a story.

Characters. The placard on the next wall asked where are your characters going? Who is going with them? And what will you be doing? Wow. In a sentence, this placard at a children’s museum reminded me that characters needed to know where they are going (what’s their goal), who is going with them (who are the supporting characters), and what is the character doing (what is their motivation and conflict). Before either a plotter or a pantser sits down and writes that first sentence, he or she needs to know whose story they are writing. Some writers interview their characters beforehand. Others make charts to tell about internal and external goals, motivations and conflicts. Still others make timelines of what the characters do when. No matter how you get to know your characters, the important thing is to get to know about them and spend time with them. As one of my favorite authors (the wonderful Nicki Salcedo, author of All Beautiful Things) once said, these characters are like your friends. And you want to spend time with your friends. Why not give that same dedication to your characters? (Isn’t she smart? A Stanford graduate and a great author, too).  So from a wall at a children’s museum, I was reminded of the importance of knowing your characters. If you don’t like them (even the villains), chances are your audience won’t. If you like them and get to know them, your enthusiasm will probably show to your audience.

Setting. Another placard read as follows: Choose a setting for your story. Pretend you are a character in that story. This is great advice for setting and for POV. Think about it. Pretend you’re in the setting. What does your character see, smell, feel, taste and hear? The five senses and setting description help us feel like we are there in the scene with the character.

Plot. Another placard reminded me that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Basically that describes the parts of a plot. A plot needs to introduce the story, keep our interest in the middle and provide an ending. I’m a romance writer so my books are going to have a happy ending. But no matter the genre, it’s so important to go into your story knowing how you want it to start, where you want to be in the middle, what is your black moment or your aha moment, and how do you want it to end.

This write-at-home mom went into this museum expecting to have a fun time with her 4 year old twins but left reminded of important elements of a story.

What about you? Have you ever gone somewhere and unexpectedly learned something about your career or hobby? Let me know!

Wacky Weekend: Family Vacation

Have you heard this old joke? What’s scarier than Friday the 13th? Saturday the 14th.

Okay, so now you know the reason I’m a romance writer and not a comedy writer scouted by the likes of Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.

There are things that sound scary (my children naming the snakes in our front yard) and things that are scary (the fact that there are snakes in my front yard). I don’t know about you, but six members of a family (in this case, to be more specific, Mom, Dad, 16 year old Kath, 11 year old MJ, and twin 4 year olds Cupcake and Chunk) in one hotel room for a week can inspire a couple of chills. But we all survived. And not even five minutes into our vacation, we heard the line that will forever mark this vacation (keep reading!)

For those who don’t know me, my new running gag is that I’m the mother in a YA romance novel. My 16 year old, Kath, is dating an 18 year old who lives in a different state. As a mom, I’m great with her dating someone who lives five states away. This spring, 18 year old (shall we give him a nickname? Let’s not ask my wonderful hubby to provide this nickname. Let’s just call him-KB for Kath’s boyfriend-I know all of you will now line up to buy my first book with something as creative as that.) KB graduated from high school. Kath thought his graduation party &/or his Eagle Scout party would be taking place during my wonderful hubby’s vacation so we all decided to take a 12 hour car trip to Pennsylvania to visit KB.

We all decide 5 A.M. is a good time to get the party started. By some miracle, we are actually all loaded and in the minivan by 5 A.M. At 5:05 A.M., Chunk utters the words, “Mommy, I need your iPad.” We were barely out of the driveway and Chunk is already bored with the car ride.

At our first rest stop at the SC Welcome Center, Chunk runs his fingers through the grains on top of a garbage can: that’s right. The ones used for cigarette butts. He did not want to stop playing with the big ashtray. At least he was keeping Kath and MJ entertained.

We make it along the first leg of our trip, all the way to Virginia where we spent the night. When we arrived at the hotel, MJ discovered he forgot deodorant. For the good of everyone in the car, we pile back in the car and go buy him deodorant. You’re welcome, Kath, Cupcake and Chunk.

The next day we all go to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. When we pull into a parking deck, we were asked to open our trunk for security purposes. What we didn’t know was that our can of raisins ended up back there. The poor security guard who opened our trunk door had the can of raisins gush out of our car onto a sidewalk. They promptly waved us through.

Chunk enjoyed touching a cannon fragment in the display before the Fort McHenry flag. He kept wanting to go back there the most. The rest of us did enjoy seeing treasured pieces of Americana. I especially liked Miss Piggy. And I also marveled at how small Bette Davis’ waist was when I saw the dress she wore in Dark Victory.

It’s a beautiful city, and I’m proud of our nation’s Capitol, but we were happy to start the next leg of our journey. Especially Kath. She’d get to see KB the very next day.

So we proceed to PA. We crammed a lot into a week: the State Museum of PA, Wheatland (our 15th President, James Buchanan’s house), a pretzel factory, Hershey Park, Zoo America, lunch at an Amish restaurant, Hershey’s Chocolate World, the York Emporium, and miniature golfing. Chunk provided our first ever visit to a medical first aid station at a theme park (the EMTs and staff at the Hershey Park First Aid Clinic were exemplary; I told Chunk to enjoy having two beautiful women fawn all over him). Cupcake made friends wherever she went, MJ liked making his own candy bar and Kath loved spending time with KB, including seeing The Fault In Our Stars with him on opening night.

I’m used to the stereotype that we Southerners take our time to get from point A to point B. I didn’t quite know what to make of being chastised up North for walking on an escalator. I normally don’t like labels, but I have to laugh at this Southerner getting chastised for trying to get somewhere in a hurry. But let me hasten to add, that Northern hospitality is underrated and was wonderful. I kept apologizing everywhere I went for the loudness of my kids. People gave me an understanding look and said they were fine. Thank you, Pennsylvania.

One morning at breakfast, my kids were particularly quiet (this must have been the day after Hershey Park). A woman came up to us and complimented me on how well behaved my kids are. Thank you, ma’am. I don’t know how you caught them at that moment, but we have a reputation for being a loud house. A friend of mine called this week and asked if he and his wife could come over, hastening to add “We won’t mind the noise.”

On the way back, I decided to wear my “Careful, Or you’ll end up in my novel” t-shirt. I am after all a write-at-home mom. On the trip up to PA, I edited my work in progress. While in PA, I kept up with my homework from an online writing craft class (A quick thanks to the wonderful and awesome Cheryl St. John for a great class). On the way back, I edited more and worked some more. My wonderful hubby knowing what a history buff I am surprised me with a side trip to the gorgeous and very historical Mount Vernon. If you haven’t been to this national treasure, I recommend the trip.

So sometime shortly after midnight, we pulled into our driveway. Safe and sound. Full of little adventures and little stories. Full of memories that we’ll talk about for years to come.

What about you? What family vacations stick out in your mind? If you are a writer, have any incidents from your family vacations made it into your books? Let me know! 🙂