First Story Part 2 – How To Write It

mood01So how do you get a 9-year-old to write a story? Sure, it’s hard to get his butt in the chair and actually write, but once there, what does he do? What have they taught him in grade 4?

Much to my shock, it’s actually quite a bit. And yet, it’s also quite simple.

Here’s the thing. There are hundreds and hundreds of books about how to craft a story. Seems everyone has an idea. Stephen King. James Scott Bell. Dilbert.

But looking at the 5 page hand out the teachers gave The-Youngest, it made me realize that sometimes it’s actually not that complex.

Forget the 400 page books on character. Forget the tomes on plot. Forget everything about what you’ve read. Here’s how to write.

Like you were 9 and you had nothing in your head on how to actually do it.

#1. Ask what if. It’s that easy. It’s the basics of story-telling. What if you were transported to the minecraft world? What if you were an NHL goalie and you were in a shootout for the Stanley Cup? What if you were a new Stepdad and spent most the time being constantly confused and bewildered?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?
What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

All stories can start from there. All of them. What if Dinosaurs came back to life? Jurassic Park. What if a giant shark decided to attack a beach community? Jaws. What if there was a school for wizards and by writing about it, you could make billions of dollars? Harry Potter. What if women liked porn and bad writing? Fifty Shades of Grey.

See? If in doubt, start with what if.

#2 But where can you get the what if ideas? Try, Building Ideas With Memories. I call it mining your own life, but it’s the same thing. The-Youngest looked at what he did on vacation, what made him scared, what hobbies he had, what events in his life were important.

#3 Begin with Something Happening. In the case of The-Youngest, he had to follow “The night I followed the (blank), this happened”. So, “The night I followed the cat and the cat had to fight a dog.” Isn’t this the essence of how to get a story going? A character, in movement (following), another character, (a cat or turtle or bunny) when something happens.

So, what could happen in Minecraft? Or in an NHL game? Or to some poor stepdad who has no idea how to scorekeep?

After much thinking and talking with The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world, aka his mom, he settled on a minecraft story.

#4 Figure out who your good character is. Figure out your bad guy. What traits do they have? What defines them? Make notes.

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters
Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

All stories, yes, all stories, succeed or fail on their characters. Howard the Duck sucked so bad because, well, Howard the Duck sucked so bad. The Dark Knight succeeded because it had a tortured Batman and one of the greatest villains of all time, Heather Ledger’s Joker.

So, The-Youngest made himself a list of traits. (Interestingly enough, one trait was that the bad guy was good looking, while his good guy was ‘not good looking.’ Hmmmm. Interesting.

#5 When you write, use feeling words. It’s how we connect to the characters. We need to feel what they feel if we are to feel for them. Wait, does that make sense? It sounded good in my head, but whatever, think about how your character reacts to what happens. Not just physically, but emotionally. How does it affect them?

Annoyed. Scared. Disgusted.

He made a list.

#6 Use your senses. Smell. Taste. Sound. Sight. Touch.

This is to draw us into the world. A world with 5 senses becomes real. It becomes relatable. Now, I’m not sure he actually remembered this in his final draft, but it’s something to keep in mind when writing. Eating zombie flesh tastes yucky, right? Smells bad too, right? But how does it taste? How would it feel in your hands? What details are so totally gross that you can barely stand to look at it?

He may have forgotten about this one a bit. As do I.

#7 How does your story begin? How does it end?

I always know this, but I struggle with the middle. Still, as a learning tool, it’s vital. If you know where it starts, you can, uhm, you know, start, and if you know where the story is going, where it will end, you can throw things at the characters that prevent them from getting there. Until they do. The end.

#8 Then you write.

Seriously.

So he began with an idea.

What if someone hacked into his minecraft account and destroyed his valuable supply of diamonds, blocks of gold and stacks of ender pearls?

He worked on his characters, the good guys, Florence and Flo. He worked on his bad guys who had made a fatal mistake of leaving a small electronic trail F&F could follow and exact revenge.

He knew where he wanted to start, he used a few ‘feeling’ words, and he wrote a pretty damn good story.

It is here if you want to read it.

 

Nothing like a good minecraft story
Nothing like a good minecraft story

FLOYD AND FLORENCE’S MINECRAFT ADVENTURE

This is a story about how 2 cousins named Floyd and Florence helped the police capture Henry and Jerry. They are wanted all over canada for major robberies. Floyd is 15 and Florence is 12. Floyd is an expert minecrafter and Florence is a noob at the game. Florence is staying for the summer break at Floyds house.

 Floyd helped Florence make a tree house. Florence learned how to place a block, how to hit, how to move, how to mine and how to craft. Together they created a giant castle with a moat.They have 3 double chests full of diamond blocks. These are super hard to get.

One night when Floyd is out with Florence at mc donalds, SOMEONE BROKE IN TO Floyds back door and went straight after the computer. They put it in their bag and they left. Henry and Jerry (the bad guys) hacked into Floyds computer and got on their server. They destroyed Floyd and Florence’s castle but they accidently left a sign there saying where their campsite is on the server. Floyd and Florence were very upset at first but then remembered that they had a backup laptop hidden in the basement.

While Florence is asleep Floyd goes on to the backup computer and gets the server. He follows the sign Henry and Jerry put there and he finds their camp site and gets their stuff back. Floyd sets up a trap at the camp site so when they go in their big main shack it will blow up. The trap is also a virus. It tells the police where they live.

When the police get to Henry and Jerry’s they arrest them. They find $3,000,000 worth of stolen things. Floyd and Florence get rewarded $1,000,000 and really good laptops. Floyd and Florence bought a lot of NERF GUNS and video games. Their parents let them play Minecraft any time they wanted.

the end

 

I was so proud of him. The ending even made me laugh.

It’s amazing what your children can teach you. In this case, it was to remember, at the end of the day, a story is pretty simple (and writing one can even be fun!)

 

 

Traveling With Kids – San Diego Zoo – A Bus With A View

IMG_0522 (800x600)We’d found the place where they loaded the human cattle on to the tour bus. We chose to wait for another bus to arrive (to get a better seat), but it was so worth it. The boys got to be at the front of the bus AND on the top level (of course).

However, as we rode around (and during the whole day), it began to dawn on me that I have become Calvin’s dad.

calvinYou just never know what you’ll get if you ask me a question. Oh, you’ll get an answer, that’s guaranteed, but that answer may not always be correct.

“Joe, what happened to the dinosaurs?”

“They made Jurrasic Park 6 and that didn’t do so well, so they kinda died off.”

“What?”

*****

“Joe, can I have a monkey?”

“No, I used to be a monkey and people got mad at me for pooping  in public all the time.”

What?

*****

“Joe, what’s your favourite zoo animal?”

“Tigger.”

“Tigger?!?!”

*****

“Do you think the elephants are happy?”

“Well, they don’t have a choir group, but they’re not shooting at us, so I think so.”

“Joe!!!”

*****

“Did you have animals back when you were growing up?”

“Nope, the internet invented them.”

*****

“Joe will I die if I get bit by scorpions?”

“The band or the bug?”

“Huh?”

*****

There were a lot of questions at the zoo. Sometimes I think the boys are just keying up easy ones for me to see what I’ll say. And you know what, I’m ok with that.

However, on the tour bus, we listened to the guide who seemed to know slightly more than I did (but not as much as the youngest did, at least according to him.)

IMG_3666 (800x600) IMG_3679 (800x600) IMG_3675 (800x600)We saw a lot of what we’d seen. Elephants. Camels. Condors. We saw the lions we missed. The tigers. We saw bears and hippos and hyenas. We nearly ran over people who walked in front of the bus. Twice. You’d think people would see a hulking, green double decker bearing down on them, a tourguide shouting on the loudspeaker, excuse me, please, step to one side, but you’d be surprised.

But, after hours and hours of animals, by the time the bus reached the end, we were done. At least with the animals.

Next up, a meeting with the mysterious Schmennis. And his merry band of little Schmennisesses.

 

 

 

Traveling With Kids – San Diego – Hilton Doubletree Hotel

How I wake up in My New Life

In my old life, I used to wake up like this…

Actual untouched picture of me in bed.
Actual untouched picture of me in bed.

I’d roll over, look at the clock. It could be 7 or 8. I’d think to myself, self, should I just shut my eyes and go back to sleep or is the day full of so much awesomeness that I have to leap out of bed? Most days, you can guess which choice I made. I’d lie lazily in bed, sometimes sleeping, sometimes in that state that is not quite awake. Sometimes I’d read. Or listen to the news. Or check on facebook. Or see if they’d invented the flying car yet.

By 10, usually, I’d be up. No rush. Just another day in the life of justjoe.

Now, it’s somewhat different.

The youngest pads over to the bed at 7am. “Mommy. My leg doesn’t hurt anymore.”

It’s  very important news for the youngest to deliver. At 7am. Had he waited until, say 8, he might have forgotten to tell us.

My eyes creak open. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world rolls over. Mumbles something. I do not think she uses a single swear word. I think she says, “Johnny, is that you?”

The youngest pokes his mom. “My leg doesn’t hurt anymore.” Cuz like, clearly, we didn’t hear him the first time.

So, 7am. We’re up. Somehow, some way, the youngest managed to get a burn on his knee. A good burn. But from what? What could be hot enough that we saw yesterday that would give him a burn? (spoiler, we figured out that it was the carpet in the Ripley’s display that he hid in and giggled.) But it was good news that it didn’t hurt.

Splish-splash, baby
Splish-splash, baby

Outside, it’s exactly the opposite of what was predicted. It’s sunny. Who knows how long that’ll last but we’re off to Seaworld. We need to take advantage of the good weather. My guess is Seaworld has water and if I’m going to get wet, I want it to be warm outside. I’m starting to have nightmares about shivering in the cold while teenagers drench me in water.

But there’s a lot of challenges today. I’m behind on my writing. Way behind. I need to crave out time somehow. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world has caught a cold. Her nose is red. The youngest wants to do water rides. Lots and lots of water rides. He actually has no idea of what rides Seaworld has, but he’s pretty sure there will be splashie ones.  The oldest is wishing meglodon was at Seaworld. He wants to see people eaten, I think.

Since it’ll be a full day, we  try to get out as quickly as possible.

In my old life, it was brush teeth, shave, wet hair down, then style, look at self in mirror and say, “Wow, you do look like Johnny Depp?” then I’d turn on the lights, and head out. 5 mins top. 10 if I had a shower. Now…

Now you’ll hear me saying things, like “Teeth brushing, not toothbrush eating. Hurry up”

“Of course you have to wear underwear.” (And no, I never say this to the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world.)

“Wait, how did you get pizza sauce on a shirt we just bought yesterday?”

“Come on, let’s hurry, let’s get it in gear, let’s get going, vroom, vroom, vroom, we gotta a full day, hurry, hurry, hurry, fast, fast, fast, move it, move it, move it, ah, cutie.”

Ready to go? All parts protected from the sun?
Ready to go? All parts protected from the sun?

It’s a process, let me tell you. Armies move faster than 2 boys getting ready. Glaciers move faster.

But, by 9, we are good to go. Time for breakfast and Seaworld.

Now, in my old life, breakfast would be all….

Schooled in Homework

Homework

If someone had asked me, so, Joe, getting kids to do their homework is pretty easy, right? I would have said, sure, you bet, easy-peasy

Here’s how I imagined it.

Me: Time for homework!

Keen boy: Superwonderfulfantastic!

Me: Ok, you have your books?

KB: You bet I do.

Me: Ok, you have at it and I’ll be here reading a book while you learn.

KB: I love learning.

Me: We all do. Hey, before you start, can you get me a beer?

KB: In a frosted mug?

Me: Why not?

homework

Of course, it didn’t quite go that way.

It happened quite by accident. It wasn’t like the youngest, age 7, told me he had homework, but I found it in his workbook. I guess he hoped with his mom taking his older brother skiing, homeword did not apply.

But there were 3 assignments. 3!

1) Read 15 minutes – ok, totally doable.

2) Practice subtraction – What? How? What constitutes ‘practice’, one question, twenty, a thousand?

3) Study an animal – What animal? Study? How?

Naturally, being new to this, I asked the youngest. Naturally, being 7, he first tried to say he didn’t have homework. Then he tried to say he’d done it. Kind of. Sort of. Then, when faced with the workbook clearly prescribing homework, he promised to do it after playing on the computer. Or after the world ends. Or something like that.

“Nope,” I said. “We do it now.”

Finally, cornered, he asked if he could wear his hockey goalie gear while he did homework. Apparently, it would help him think.

Hmmm. Why not? I mean, I write better when I’m in my underwear. And drunk.

So I said, “Sure.”

But what did we have to do?

rhinoHe had no idea. All he knew was that his animal was the Rhinoceros.

Foolishly, I asked if there was a book. You know, maybe a book about Rhinos?

“A book?” He asked it like I used a word from the 1st century. A word like dial-up.

“Yes, a book. You know, made of paper.Lots of words inside. The thing you usually hit your brother with.”

“Oh. A book. No.”

So, while he put on his pads and chest protector, I interrogated him about his homework, “So, like, uhm, do you have to do a 400 page thesis on the destruction of the rhinoceros’s natural habitat due to geothermal fluctuations ?”

“What!?”

“Or do you have to do a crayon drawing of a what a rhinoceros crossed with a shark would look like?”

“I don’t think so.”

But, after a barrage of questions, I finally got the idea that he had to learn a few facts about Rhinos. I left the whole subtraction thing for later.

So I suggested we do what I would do when it comes to research. Go online.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he did not know how to spell rhinoceros. Perhaps, surprisingly, neither did I. Luckily though, google is google-smart and realised what I was trying to look for – Videos about Rhinoceroses attacking each other, attacking elephants, attacking tour buses and, I’m sure if we looked hard enough, there would be one of them attacking a crocodile or playing hockey or skydiving!

But despite how entertaining those videos were, after watching 5 of them, it began to dawn on me that this was not actually educational.

So I typed in ‘Rhinos for kids’ and wham-bang-bingo-wow, a whole host of sites popped up, all filled with amazing Rhinoceros facts. Now, sure he could impress his teacher the next day by telling who had won, the elephant or the rhino, but isn’t it better to know where the darn things come from? How much they can weigh? And that a white rhino is, in fact, grey?

Not to mention the fact that there are terrible people who kill them only for their horns!

He read out all the facts and I wrote them down the ones he thought were cool. In hindsight I have no idea why I didn’t get him to write them down, but whatever, it got done. A whole white page of paper was filled with “Well, actually, did you know…?” facts.

Then we moved on to subtraction, and what should I find, but a website that has math questions for all ages and grades. Just fill in the answers and see if they’re right.

mathThe youngest, being who he is, immediately went to grade 11. (This is the same kid who thinks he can out muscle a hockey ball from me.) Anyway, we both stared at the first question, a complex array of sines and cosines and satanic looking symbols (I think I recognized pi).

We both blinked at the screen in complete and utter confusion.

home alone“Maybe we should try grade 2,” I suggested, as much for my benefit as his. I mean, hey, I wasn’t that keen on trig when I had to do it and most of what I learned died when I watched Home Alone 3 and it killed over a billion brain cells..

Thankfully the grade 2 site I could manage. Am I smarter than a 5th grader? Prob not, but I got the 2nd graders beat. Thank God.

The site turned out to be fantastic and we whizzed through all the questions, the youngest getting better and better. We even tried some complex grade 3 math, which I am pleased to say, I largely understood. He did not.

However, we finished so quickly that we still had time play a little hockey, then with one of us sweating and exhausted, we read a story about kids trapped in a minecraft world before he quietly (much to my surprise) went to sleep.

I have to confess that I felt spectacularly pleased with myself. I’d discovered the hidden homework assignment, I’d gotten him to sit and learn something (retain it, who knows?) and I’d even managed to get him interested in trying something even harder.

Is that so wrong?