“I focused on just his family members because I realized that I wanted to weave together themes of food and family, in particular the father-and-son relationship. Food has always been a very important part of my family, both when I was growing up and now that I have my own family. My mom liked to cook and it was her way of showing her love for us. Similarly, I like to cook my husband’s or son’s favorite dishes and/or add in favorite ingredients here and there, just because I want to show them I “see” them and I love them.”
For me, story comes first, unbounded by requirements that might inhibit my creative process. I write my first draft, and in revision I assess if it has possible classroom connections.
The more specific a story, the more universal it becomes. This is one of the most enduring bits of writing advice I have ever received. When we can write to one particular story, experience, character with specific detail and nuance, it makes it real. It feels true. There are always spaces to find our shared humanity, and this is only possible when we come to understand the richness around us.
“I create my characters’ flaws, misconceptions, and spiritual wounds around a theme or a question that interests me, and then I give them a personal conflict that directly challenges those flaws, misconceptions, and wounds. After that, it’s a matter of developing broader challenges, events, relationships, and conflicts that can revolve around the same theme.” ~ Misa Sugiura
Fortunately, weather is something people of all ages intuitively understand when it comes to a metaphor for someone’s emotional state. Sunshine is happy, rain is sad, and stormy weather is, well, stormy. Readers easily connect the dots between weather and emotions. That makes it a great extended metaphor for a middle grade novel.
Since I began writing picture books, I’ve longed to tell the story of my relationship with my Amah (grandmother, in Taiwanese). Even though we saw each other infrequently, I adored her. But like Kylie, my main character in Amah Faraway, I always felt a bit shy at the start of our visits–due to my own cautious nature, the distance, language barrier, and cultural differences.
The authors and contributors we interviewed had so many wonderful sidewriting challenges, we thought we’d put them all in one place. Each exercise will have a link back to the original post so you can learn more about the author and how sidewriting works for them. Enjoy!
Margaret Chiu Greanias: Until I was asked to do this interview, I’d never heard of sidewriting. I thought maybe it was something only novelists did. But as I read Erin Nuttall’s kick-off post, I realized sidewriting is something picture book writers could do too. And then, I realized it was something that I actually do do.
When I don’t know the WHY behind a scene or a character, there is nothing more helpful than stepping away from the manuscript. When I am writing away from my story, I am free to explore my characters, setting, plot, theme…well everything. And since it doesn’t “count,” it also doesn’t have to be good—that is the permission slip I need.
The more characters there are, the harder it is for the reader to connect with the important ones. As authors, we want to make sure every character serves a purpose.