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!

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