Sunday, November 22, 2015

What to Do with a Worm

Every morning at 7:15, I walk out the front door of my house with my two youngest kids and our dog. The kids' school bus stop is just up the street and it's a short walk, but we always seem to find a little something to talk about: what they're looking forward to that day, how the leaves are changing and falling, what the air feels like.

One night last week it rained, a lot, and the next morning the sidewalks and the streets were speckled with earthworms that had crawled out of the soaked earth. My daughter (7) started picking up worms and carrying them to safety, while my son (5) occupied himself with stepping very carefully so he didn't smush any. He wasn't going to pick them up, but he cared about what happened to them.

I'll spare you the real thing. You're welcome.

That's nice, you're thinking, but what does this have to do with writing?

The difference in my kids' reactions shows the difference in who they are as people, and more importantly for our purposes who they would be as characters. When we talk about showing versus telling, what we mean is exactly this: how your character would act, what he or she would do faced with a whole bunch of worms on the sidewalk. Maybe your story is about a boy who is deeply sensitive and wants to save every worm, or a girl who would like to save them but is too worried about being late (again) for school. Or a kid who says, "So what? They're just worms." Because he's been made to feel like that by someone else in his life. Because he feels low and worthless and can't see the point in saving anything.

Those actions, those choices, those words they say--those are the evidence of who your characters are. And more than that, they're what push your story forward. They create conflict and consequences that must be dealt with, that challenge your characters and spark the change that is necessary for a real and meaningful story.

So, ask yourself: what would your character do with a worm? And start writing.

1 comment:

  1. I love this example! Thanks for sharing. BTW, you sound like a great mom!