Monday, July 25, 2011
Liz’s Lair: Writing Advice From a Three-Year Old
My grandkids are getting to the age where we feel comfortable taking them on excursions without their parents. My daughter and son-in-law are under a lot of stress both at work and at home, so Dan and I decided we would try to help them out. We already babysit once a week for our son and DIL so they can have a “date” night, and we’re planning on getting more helpful now that our granddaughters are getting older.
The plan was to pick up the two boys (ages 6 and 3) on Thursday night and have them sleep over. Instead of daycare on Friday, we were going to take them to a water park that opened close by. The boys sleep together at home, so naturally, they wanted to do that here, too…with me. Have you ever slept with a 3 and a 6 year old in one bed? Legs and arms go flying, bodies somehow get upside down, and both boys are jammed as close to me as they can get. I get about 8 inches on the edge of the bed, and even then, I usually have squatters. That's a whole other story, though.
Anyway, the six-year old (Grayson) fell asleep watching some cartoon, but the three year-old (Caden) was not about to give up without a fight. After all, he’s at Nana’s house, and all rules go out the window. What happens at Nana's …stays at Nana’s.
After the cartoon ended, I shut off the TV and of course, he fussed. Cuddling him close, I told him the story of Goldilocks. When I was finished, he wanted one more story, so I gave in and decided on The Three Pigs. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: There were three piggies, brothers like you and Grayson, and they all decided to build a house. The first piggy didn't want to spend a lot of time on it, so he…
Caden: What’s the piggy's name, Nana?”
Me: “He doesn't have a name, Caden. He's just the first piggy. Anyway, he finds straw…”
Caden: But what’s the piggy's name?’
Me: “Piggy number one. Anyway, he builds this straw house, and before long…”
Caden: “No, what's the piggy's name, Nana?”
By this time, I can hear the frustration in his voice, but I’m getting frustrated, too. I want to huff and puff these piggy houses down and get to sleep since we had a big day planned for Friday.
Me: “He’s Mister Porker…”
Caden: “That's not a name,” he shouted.
Me: “Okay. Okay. Joe Piggy.”
He got quiet for a while, then said, “Oh.”
So, I finish the story with this scenario repeated for Piggy Number Two, who is Fred, BTW. By the time I got to Piggy Number Three, I went straight to Sammy.
I was telling the pig story to Dan the next day and having a good laugh over it when I realized there was a lesson in all this.
NAMES ARE IMPORTANT!!
When a reader is getting into your story, they need to identify a character with something. The name you choose usually comes with a little back-story. For instance, if I called a young boy Winston, you would probably automatically think smart and rich. Don’t ask me where I came up with that, but that's what I would think. Johnny, on the other hand, conjures up an energetic, ornery kid with freckles from the many… “and the teacher asked Johnny “ jokes.
Since I have confessed my absolute suckiness at writing descriptive stuff, names become even more important. I have a lot of different characters in my books because I kill ¾ of them off, and I introduce most of them in the first three chapters in my setup. I know. I know. I can hear all your tongues clicking about doing that, but it's how I roll. In my second book of the Clueless Cook series, my agent suggested I send a character sheet to the editor with the manuscript since there were so many new folks. She’s almost freaky about names that sound alike, too many Hispanic names (both of which I am guilty of.) etc.
So, I now have a sheet of paper with every letter of the alphabet on it with several lines in between. I alphabetize the name of every character in my series, both by first and last name. That way, on book three I don’t repeat a name or get one too close. It's only then that I can see how many Hispanic names I really have. (Hey, I'm in Texas!!) And now I’d like to hear how you handle your characters’ names.
But first I have to confess the outcome of my Joe/Fred/Sammy Piggy story with that adorable grandson of mine. When I finished, I said, “Well, did you like that?”
He thought for a minute, then said, “You don’t tell it like Miss Ronda does.”
Seriously? No, the little toot did not just give me my first negative review!!