February 19, 2020Pictures In My Head

So you've written what you think is a wonderful and funny story about an incident at your Aunt Jo's house involving a rambunctious cat. Your friends thought it was hilarious, but you can't get a chuckle out of an editor. Let's rework it ....

The first step is to pull yourself out of the story. You can keep the character's name, Aunt Jo. But now she's not your Aunt Jo. She's just Aunt Jo. She could be in anybody's family ... even the family of that reader you're trying so hard to connect with. (By the way, the real Aunt Jo might not be so keen on having herself in a book ... consider her thoughts and get her permission when naming this character! We don't want to cause family conflict!)

Also, you're the storyteller, but the reader shouldn't even be aware of your presence. If they hear you telling the story, they will disengage and focus on the storyteller, who is merely a narrator relaying some events. They are watching an actor. They are passive.

So take a step back and allow the reader to witness events as they unfold. They will be drawn into the story and, along with the characters, will be experiencing events with all the accompanying emotional responses, just like the characters. The reader is now participating.

Watching versus experiencing. Passive versus participating. Read those last couple of paragraphs over a few times and think about it ... now you're catching on!

Once you've removed you, you can put the focus where it should be: on your characters. Your job is to cause the reader to have some sort of connection on an emotional level with those characters.

Aunt Jo needs to be likable. Lovable even. Make her into the warm, sweet aunt everyone would love to have in their family. This is where a good illustrator will shine. Even if the text doesn't state her lovable-ness outright, the pictures can show it. Make her plump and jolly with twinkly blue eyes.

Every good story needs conflict and resolution. We already know that in the real version Aunt Jo's cat wrecked her kitchen. It upset her because she's a neat freak and probably a bit OCD. That's not interesting enough for our story ... she's got to have a really important reason why she's so distraught ... something that will tug at our heartstrings ...

Let's say it's because the kitchen got wrecked just minutes before her very special company is supposed to arrive. She is so excited and has spent the last three days cleaning and cooking and preparing for this very special company. They are family and relatives she's never met in all her sixty years. The reason she never met them is because her parents were killed in a car accident when she was only two and her mean, bitter grandfather - he turned mean and bitter because he lost his only daughter, Aunt Jo's mom, in the accident - whisked her away from her home and took her to some far away lonely country and she never was allowed contact with any of her family nor was she ever told about any of them. So over fifty years have passed and she's come back to the area where she was born and for the past five years she's been trying to locate her relatives and finally she made contact and today she's going to get to meet them for the first time, but the cat's wrecked the kitchen, smashed the cake and ate half of the main course ... isn't that more interesting than if she was just a mad elderly neat freak with OCD and a naughty pet?

Now for the cat ...

In the real version, the cat is her pet and is having a not-so-good day. We've all had pets and days like that, so a reader could relate ... but, again, that's not interesting enough ...

For our story, let's make the cat a stray. Aunt Jo's been bustling about her kitchen all morning getting prepared for her company. It's pouring rain outside, but it can't dampen her spirits. She's too happy and excited, because today she's about to be reunited with her family. Her heart is bursting with joy!

When a ragged hungry stray cat shows up at her back door in the pouring rain, of course our kind, lovable Aunt Jo is going to let it in and take care of it. She's been alone in the world, too! She knows how awful that is! She's about to get her family back, and this poor hungry creature needs a family, too! Kind-hearted, adorable Aunt Jo.

So here's where the pitiful, neglected creature turns into the cat from hell. You would probably want something to happen that would startle the cat ... perhaps a timer or an alarm going off, or the hall clock chiming. A phone ringing. Perhaps she already has a dog that spots the cat and proceeds to chase it. Something to instigate the rampage that will wreck her kitchen and leave her dinner in ruins.

The resolution will come when the family shows up and they all turn out to be wonderful people. They comfort and love on poor distraught Aunt Jo, have a good laugh, and order pizza.

Maybe one of her cousins turns out to be a veterinarian and observes some problem with the cat that he can remedy, turning the cat from hell into a nice, lovable kitty. Perhaps at the end they could all come up with some witty name for the cat. (I suppose the cat from hell isn't a good phrase for children's literature ... just a guess.)

Are you seeing pictures in your head? Getting ideas ... pulling ideas from real life stories. Pulling from your own real life experiences ... do you know what loneliness feels like? How to describe that feeling when your heart is bursting with happiness? How to describe that awful ache in your soul when your dreams and expectations have been shattered? This is how you connect with readers. Tug at their heart strings. Pull them into your story.

Of course, this is just the idea or rough outline for your story. You should brainstorm even more ideas before you begin to write it all out. You'll need to write it in such a way that the reader will see those pictures in their mind and experience those emotions in their heart. This is how illustrators work ... they "see" the characters and the events happening in their mind ... then put those images on paper.

This is the process writers and illustrators go through to become masters of illusion. And like that magician, it will look so easy, because your readers will only see the final wonderful product and not all the hours it took to go through that process ... we'll talk about that next week.

And before I go ... I'm beginning to get a bit attached to Aunt Jo and her cat. Maybe I'll really turn it into a book myself ... so come up with your own ideas and don't steal this one. Unlike the articles on my site, the blogs are dated ... so if you steal it, I will know and I'll have evidence! I was just so moved by her tragic life ... she was estranged from her family, you know ....

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  • Dixie says:
    2020-02-20, 07:50:52
    Awesome! Thank you for the lesson and I'm waiting for next Wednesday when the final product is revealed.
    Thanks ❤️
    Uh ... well ... it's just kind of a how-to lesson ... not going to be a final product ...
    at least not in a week!! Sorry, Dixie! Stay tuned ... maybe eventually I'll bring you a book!- Sherry A Mitcham
  • Kathy says:
    2020-02-19, 14:14:50
    YES! Make it into a book! My mind is already making some of the illustrations! You’re very creative.
    Thanks! And some days more or less than others!- Sherry A Mitcham
  • BILL says:
    2020-02-19, 10:48:30