Merry Christmas!

Hello and Merry Christmas to all my Swirl and Spark friends! It’s been a busy time around my house lately. We’ve had fun days full of family, friends and cookies. Yes, lots of cookies! I hope you’re having a happy holiday season too. Thanks for stopping by the blog. I’ll be back soon with more goodies for you but in the meantime, I’m sending virtual cookies your way with my warmest wishes for a very Merry Christmas!  😊

Are You a Planner or a Winger?

I’ve been stuck all week trying to think up a topic for this week’s blog post—you know, something that all of you would like to read about. I’ve jotted down ideas. None of them seemed great. I’ve gone back to the older posts, trying to pick something that I hadn’t written about before. I’ve gone to a list of topics I keep for future articles. Still, none of them were articles that I wanted to write about today. Maybe next month, or even the month after that, but not today. So yeah, I guess you can say I’ve been stuck.

Until right now.

Earlier tonight I went to the ice rink to watch my son’s hockey scrimmage. The rink was freezing cold like always—the kind of cold where your toes sting and your nose is cold to the touch. While my son changed out of his hockey uniform in the locker room, I waited in the snack bar hoping to find enough warmth to thaw out. I didn’t find as much warmth as I was hoping for, but I did find something else—an idea for my blog post.

I ran into a nine year-old girl who likes to write stories. I know this because her brothers play hockey too, and our families are friends. As she waited in the snack bar with me, she told me all about a story she is writing…and another she is working on too. She rattled off about five or six ideas for each. I could hear the excitement in her voice and see it on her face. She told me she wished she had brought her backpack to the rink so that she could have worked on both of them some more!

My little friend didn’t seem to have a plan for writing these stories, or even know when she would be able to work on them again, but she had her ideas and that was enough to get her started.

And that’s what got me thinking.

Are you a planner? Do you plan out your story before you write it? Do you make an outline first? Do you know how your story will end before you even begin? If you do, you might be a planner. You might like the order that it brings to your writing. You might like how easy it is to remember details because you’ve made a note about them first. Lots of writers work this way. They keep a notebook that’s full of ideas for their book. They make a story board that includes the beginning, middle, end, problem and solution. They do all of this before they start writing. They like planning it all out first.

Or are you a winger? Do you like to wing it? Do you like to take a fresh sheet of paper, a sharp new pencil and see what they can do? Do you like to think up a topic and start writing right away? If you do, you might be a winger. You might love to figure out what’s going to happen in your story—as you write. Sometimes a story will unfold in a way that’s different than you ever even imagined it could. This is another way to write and it works for a lot of writers.

Some writers are a combination of both. They plan a little of their story out first, and wing some of it as they go too.

So what are you? Are you a planner or a winger, or maybe a bit of both?  Me? I’d say I’m a bit of both. I do a fair amount of planning, both before I start writing and even when I’m half way done. But I have to say that I love to wing it too. There’s nothing like the feeling of letting your character take over and seeing where he or she would like to go. Those are the times when my best ideas break free. So of course I let them swirl!

So whether you’re a planner or a winger, always write the way that works best for you! 🙂

Basic Beliefs

We all want to create interesting characters for our stories, right? I sure do! One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is to give your character a Basic Belief.

A Basic Belief is something your character believes to be true. 

Here are 2 examples of characters and their Basic Beliefs:

• Tori believes if people are nice to each other, everyone will be happy.

• Jason believes people should only do something for someone if they get something in return.    

Now that we know what Tori and Jason believe to be true, how can that help us turn them into interesting, believable characters? It’s easy…put them into a situation where that Basic Belief is tested. 

Let’s say that Tori is your main character. She and her friends are building a fort in her bedroom.  When her friend, Molly tells their other friend, Jenna that her idea for building the fort is stupid, Jenna wants Tori to kick Molly out of her room. So what will Tori do? Will she take Jenna’s side and kick Molly out? Will she side with Molly and tell Jenna that her idea really is stupid?  Probably not.

But why?

Tori wouldn’t do either of those things because it would go against her Basic Belief. See, Tori believes that if people are nice to each other, everyone will be happy. Knowing that, we can guess that it’s important to Tori that everyone IS happy. So it would make more sense that instead of siding with either of her friends, Tori would encourage them both to be nice to each other.

In this example, writing about how Tori would react to this conflict is easy because we know her Basic Belief. When her Basic Belief is tested—when the girls begin to fight, Tori will encourage her friends to be nice. Why? Because she’s hoping that if her friends are nice to each other, everyone working on the fort will be happy!

So what happens when she tries it?

If Tori, encourages her friends to be nice to each other and it doesn’t work, the girls are still fighting, Tori may decide that her Basic Belief isn’t really true. She may think that just because SHE’S being nice, everyone else is NOT happy. On the other hand, if Tori encourages her friends to be nice to each other and it works…everyone working on the fort is happy, she will probably continue to believe in her Basic Belief.

See how that works?

But what about Jason? What happens to him when his Basic Belief is tested? Let’s say that Jason is a really good basketball player. Every day at recess, he takes shots from the foul shot line. He makes basket after basket. In fact, he hardly ever misses.  What happens when the other kids want Jason to help them improve their shots? Does he offer to give them shooting tips? Does he agree to practice with them until they get better? Of course not! That would go against his Basic Belief.

Remember, Jason believes that people should only do something for someone if they get something back in return. So instead, Jason agrees to help each of the kids play basketball—only if they pay him $1.00 every day he helps them. Since the kids agree to the deal, Jason probably thinks his Basic Belief is a good one.

What happens though when his Basic Belief is really tested?

Let’s say Jason is playing basketball outside in his front yard. He wants Billy to play with him but Billy is next door raking leaves at Mr. Abbot’s house.  Jason runs over to see if he can help Billy. Surely Billy is getting paid to rake the leaves and maybe Mr. Abbot will pay him too. But when Billy says he’s not getting paid, he just wants to help Mr. Abbot, Jason decides not to help Billy after all. That makes sense right, because Jason doesn’t believe in doing something for someone if he doesn’t get something in return.

Jason may think of it another way. He may offer to help Billy even though he won’t get paid. Why would he do that? Because even though he’s not getting money, Jason may think that the sooner Billy finishes the job, the sooner he can play basketball. This decision still fits in with his Belief because even though Jason is not getting money for helping, he’s getting to play basketball with Billy. So really, he is getting something in return.

In both examples, Jason stays true to his Basic Belief.

But do characters ever go against their Basic Belief? Of course! Let’s say Jason felt bad for Billy. Here he is sweating and tired because raking leaves is hard work and Mr. Abbot has a lot of leaves! Even though Billy has to go straight home after he finishes, and Jason knows that he can’t play basketball with him today, he may offer to help him anyway.

 But why would he do that?

Sometimes characters decide that their Basic Belief is not a good one—or at least not a good one all the time. Jason may have realized that in this case, helping a friend is better than getting something in return.

That decision can make Jason a more likable character. In this situation, Jason is forced to think about the way he acts and the decisions he makes. In the past, his Basic Belief has always worked for him. He had no reason to change the way he thinks.  A good story will push a character to really question his Basic Beliefs. He will have to think about the type of person he wants to be, or about the way he wants to live his life.

Sometimes he will decide that his Basic Belief is a good one. Sometimes he will decide his Basic Belief is not a good one and instead choose to live by a new Basic Belief.

There is no right or wrong way for your character to act. It’s up to you as the author to determine this, but a story is always more fun to read when that Belief is put to the test!  So why not give it a try? First create a Basic Belief for your character. Then write them into a situation where that Belief is tested. You’ll be amazed at how great your story will be. 🙂   

Good luck! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…or your questions. So as always, leave a comment, if you have one!

What’s at Stake?

As long as you write stories, there will be people out there, like your family or your friends, who will ask you,

                “What is your story about?”       

And when they ask you that question, what answer will you give them? You could say something like, “I’m writing a story about a girl named Samantha who makes jewelry.” Or, “My story is about a boy, named Van who loses his puppy.”

Your friends and family will probably say something like, “Oh, that’s sounds cool.” They may even sound like they mean it. But why don’t they sound more excited about what you’re writing? Why don’t they get that the story you’re writing is going to be amazing?? Probably because you haven’t told them anything about the plot. You’ve described to them a situation that your main character is in. And that’s not enough for a story. A situation is not a plot. Your story needs more.

 It needs stakes.

But what are the stakes? The stakes are what will happen to the main character if he doesn’t get what he wants or what he needs. Here’s an example:

Samantha is a teenager who makes her own jewelry. She plans to give away her handmade earrings to a group of sick children in the hospital on Christmas Eve. But when she loses the box of earrings, Samantha fears she won’t have any to give away to the children, and their Christmas will be ruined.

In this example, the stakes for Samantha are clear. She doesn’t want to disappoint the children.  The story you write will describe exactly what Samantha will do to be sure the children don’t get disappointed. Of course we don’t know whether or not Samantha will succeed…until we read your story!  

Here’s another example:

Van is a boy who loses his puppy. While he searches the neighborhood, he finds a magic marble with a clue attached to it. The answer to the clue will tell Van how to use the magic marble to find his puppy, but if Van can’t figure out the clue, he may never see his puppy again.

In this example, the stakes for Van are clear also. He may never see his puppy again. Here too, the story you write will describe what Van will do to figure out the clue and find his puppy. Again, we don’t know whether or not Van will succeed…until we read your story!

In Charlotte’s Web, the author, E.B. White gives us another good example of high stakes. Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer. Charlotte attempts to spin messages on her web in praise of Wilbur in order to convince the farmer to spare his life. But what if she can’t do that? What will happen to Wilbur? Wilbur will get slaughtered and all his friends on the farm will be devastated.
Those are the stakes of the story.

Can you see why the stakes are important? They’re important because if your readers care about your main character, they’ll care about the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. In fact, the bigger the mess, the better. That’s what makes your story interesting. Your readers want to see if your main character will succeed. They know what’s at stake if they don’t. That’s what makes them turn the page and keep reading!

So when you’re thinking up a story to write, be sure you know what’s at stake for your main character. And when your family and friends ask you what your story is about, be sure to tell them what’s at stake too. This time when they hear what your story is about, I bet they’ll mean it when they say, “Oh, that sounds like a cool story!” And I bet they really will want to read it too! 🙂