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Draw From Your Own Experiences
Many children's magazines now carry a monthly theme. Usually I write what's on my heart and mind at the moment, hoping that someday it'll fit someone's theme. But that hasn't happened, so I decided to write material based on my own experiences.
Looking over the theme list for one particular girls' magazine, I chose honesty--how do we mix honesty with kindness? Does that mean answering a question honestly, but kindly? What questions would a girl ask? Am I too fat? Do you like me? Or maybe being honest and kind is not answering a question, but having to tell someone something about herself.
"Draw from you own experiences," we're told. Have I had an experience in which I had to be truthful, but kind? I thought back to my childhood and came up with nothing. As a child, I probably "said it as I saw it." Not a comforting thought. Something did happen once at work. Could I use that incident to plot a story, showing honesty and kindness? And could I relate it to a young girl?
For the sake of the characters involved, I'll call them:
New Employee: Carol
The experiences my story is drawn from are in italics.
Years ago a new employee (whom I'll call Carol) was assigned to the desk just opposite me. She was a nice girl, but had an overpowering odor.
Jessica is a new girl in school. She has a strange odor.
Everybody in the office noticed the smell and avoided Carol, including leaving the lunchroom during her lunch break.
Everybody avoids Jessica and makes fun of her. During lunch hour, she sits alone eating her brown-bag lunch. She's alone, not only because she's new, but also because she has an unidentifiable odor.
The problem worsens:
The office manager wanted to talk to Carol about her problem, but Carol's supervisor said it was his job, and he'd do it himself. But he never did.
Amber notices the new girl sitting alone and wants to talk to her, but her friends discourage her. They say that Amber will catch whatever it is Jessica has, Jessica will cling to her like a leech as she has no other friends, and they don't want Jessica in their little clique.
Finally I felt so sorry for Carol that I decided if no one else was going to do it, I would. I'd be going against my supervisor's rules, taking a risk that he'd reprimand me.
Amber is torn between wanting to help Jessica, but also keeping her friends.
I sat down next to Carol's desk and, in the best way that I could think of, told her that she had a perspiration odor. That was putting it mildly, but I couldn't come out and say, "You stink." She thanked me and took care of the problem. We never did learn the cause.
Amber makes friends with Jessica, and then she searches for the cause of the problem and plans ways to help the new girl.
Home life: The old one-room schoolhouse was just a block away from the two-room country school that I attended. At that time it was rented out to a family with many children (maybe only four, but it seemed like a lot to me.) One day some of my friends and I walked our classmate home to the one-room schoolhouse for lunch. Beds were lined up side-by-side. At one end of the room was the cooking-eating area. It was in the 30's or early 40's, and it was obvious that the Great Depression had hit the family. That day all I could see was the children having for lunch was a cup of coffee. Living in such cramped quarters could cause cooking odors to linger. I don't remember smelling anything, but at that age, maybe I wouldn't have.
If Jessica is new at school, the family probably just moved in. Maybe they are living in a trailer, which would be cramped for a large family. I'd have to check with a trailer park to see if there is a rule about the number of people living in a trailer. And if Jessica is eating a brown-bag lunch while all the others buy their lunch, the family is probably poor. If the mother prepares foreign dishes, she may use unfamiliar spices in cooking. The odor would linger.
Housekeeping: A few years ago I delivered a birthday gift to a friend. I hadn't been in her house for a number of years, but just standing at her front door was almost too much for me. Dust bunnies had been growing for some time. I may not be the best housekeeper, but I do manage to dust occasionally. Papers and magazines were scattered all over the place. And the odor! At one time she had a pet, but did she ever clean the litter box? The odor of that house was carried with her.
Maybe Jessica's mother died and she, being the oldest, is in charge of housekeeping. Or maybe her mother sits in front of the TV all day, leaving Jessica to do the work. But Jessica has never been taught how to do it.
Personal hygiene: When I was 15 we moved into a house that had no tub or shower. In fact, we had no water until we had a well drilled. So until my father added on a bathroom, our bathing was done at the kitchen sink with water carried in a bucket.
Jessica could have a problem with personal hygiene. Even medicines could cause a body odor, but I'd have to check that out with a medical person.
Now that I have these avenues to explore, I can begin to plot my story. Amber makes friends with Jessica, visits her home and determines the cause of the problem. She then can help her and draw her into her group of friends. It won't be easy for her, but she can do it.
So go back and draw from your own experiences, even though they may not be childhood memories, and you're sure to plot a good story. Now I wonder if my story about Jessica will fit the 1,000-word-max--or will it blossom into a novel.
Marion is a graduate of the Institute of Children's Literature and has been published in several children's magazines.