Monday, August 2, 2010

Mentor Monday: Listening to Dick and Jane

I'm between flights at Dulles Airport working on my brand, spanking new HP Netbook as we speak. I totally love it. It's about the size of a composition book and fits in my purse no problem. I'm composing on WordPad because I refused to buy MS Office for the gazillionth time. I'd compose directly into Blogspot, but I also refuse to pay the $5.95 to connect to the internet through one of the four options Dulles has so graciously provided. I figure there'll be free internet at the hotel tonight, and I'll cut and paste this into Blogspot there. If the spacing is messed up, you'll understand about the cutting and pasting and WordPad stuff.

So how does this relate to writing? Even though I'm on vacation, my writing isn't. It's my week to blog, so my posts are going to be catch as catch can affairs. I bought this nifty little Netbook specifically to take with me so that I can keep up with email, do my blogging, and work on my Sarah Porter bio for the Connecticut book in the Notable Women Series. (Hi, Mur!)

I also stuffed a brand new composition book into my purse along with a few pens and pencils. (It's a big, shoulder crushing purse.) You never know when inspiration is going to strike and you need immediate access to writing implements. I can’t tell you how many snippets of overheard conversation I’ve lost over the years because I didn’t write them down immediately. Most of those conversations have taken place in my preschool classroom. It’s true what Art Linkletter said about kids. They really do say the darndest things.

We’ve talked about the importance of reading extensively within your genre. Immersing yourself in picture books, middle grades, young adult, or whatever else you’re writing will strengthen your writing, but you know that. What you might not know is that you need to listen to your target audience. You need to know how they perceive and react to situations, and how they speak their minds. When you’re putting words in your child character’s mouth, those words have to be authentic to both the character’s personality and the character’s age. Hence, the importance of eavesdropping.

(I’m in the air now! We’ve left Dulles and are heading for Denver. The captain says we can use our electrical devices, except cell phones, so I’ll continue.)

Years ago, I had a 4-year old girl student (I’ll call her Jane) approach me to narc out one of the 4-year old boys (I’ll call him Dick). Dick was trailing behind Jane, looking exasperated. They’d been friends since they were babies and were more like brother and sister. Dick was a bright kid with excellent verbal skills. He sounded older than he was, but when you got beyond how he put words together and listened to the logic behind his words, he was still very much a 4-year old. He was also very much a classroom cop. (You teachers will know what I mean.) The conversation went like this:

Jane: Dick said we should show each other our penises.

Dick: I told her not to tell you. Turns to Jane, and in a scolding voice says: Jane! I told you not to tell her! Come on! Let’s go! (Looks at me and shakes his head in a Kids! What-are-you-going-to-do-with-them? way, takes Jane’s hand and starts leading her away.)

Me: Hold on there, Tiger. Do you think that was a great idea?

Jane: I don’t.

Dick: It’s an idea.

Me: But not a great idea.

Jane: It’s not great. Let’s just play babies.

My favorite thing about this exchange was Dick really and truly thought that explaining to me that he told her not to tell would be the end of it. Jane would realize the error of her ways and we could all go about our business. (I also loved that Dick thought he and Jane both had penises. Or maybe he wanted to confirm the fact that they did.) This conversation probably wouldn’t have gone on between an older and wiser 5-year old Dick and Jane. There really is a difference between 4 and 5-year olds. And that’s the point. You need to know the difference.

Eavesdropping will help you flesh out your characters in ways that ring true. It’s often wildly entertaining, as well.

Okay, folks. I was going to write more, but I'm on vacation, after all. I’m currently at Budget Rent-a-Car at the Denver Airport. We’re heading to the Denver Zoo this afternoon. I’m sure the eavesdropping is going to be great.

Happy writing travels!

(I just previewed this and the spacing is atrocious. So sorry. I would have fixed it, but I'm on vacation and all. To make up for it, here's a picture from the Denver Zoo.)


Diane Mayr said...

Have a great time! When you get back install Open Office--it's easy to do, it doesn't take but a minute to learn to use, and, it's free! You don't need no stinkin' MS office!

By the way, the spacing looks fine.

I'm Jet . . . said...

Open Office is the way to go, Andy..

I love your conversation with Dick and Jane

Can't wait to hear more about your trip!


Andy said...

The spacing looks right? Really? It looks totally messed up (including the Women of Wednesday post I just put up) on my end. Maybe it's the tiny screen on my little netbook

In any event, vacation is a good thing. Onward!