Tag Archives: questions

To Plot or Not to Plot: That is the Question

 

To plot or not to plot: that is the question:
Whether tis better for the story to first
Plan the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to cast your hero into a sea of troubles
Unplanned and unprepared? To plot; to pants;
To choose. And by choosing to cast yourself
Into heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That writers are heir to, ’tis a common dilemma
Faced by all who write. To plot; to pants;
To try; perchance to fail: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that plot or lack, what thoughts may come
To throw you off your story’s course
And give you pause; there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long planning;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of prose,
The long hours spent, the hardships borne,
The pangs of ignored loves, the dinner’s delay,
The disregard of hygiene and the coffee,
The quiet toll the life of writing takes,
When you yourself could better your story tell
With a plan in place? But if with a plot,
You grunt and sweat under a weary fear,
And the dread of something planned to death,
And prefer the undiscover’d country from whose bourn
All magic springs, and find the mystery will,
Make you love your story better than any other
Then write of things your plan speaks not of.
Thus overthinking does make cowards of us all;
And the best answer to the question
Is hidden in the first of your thoughts.
Plot or Pants as you think is best.

I put this together as an answer to the question “Should I plot or not?” when it was recently asked by a new writer in the Writer Unboxed Facebook group. After spending so much time getting it right, it seemed a shame to let it vanish into the interwebz as a comment on someone else’s post. So here it is, recorded for posterity. I hope you enjoyed it.

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Ask me Anything, I’m a Mother

“Mummy?” came the voice of five-year-old Big Brother from the back seat of the car. “Is the Cryptoclidus Oxoniensis the dinosaur with a long neck like a Brachiosaurus but no crest on his head, thin flippers like a turtle, no shell, a body like a manta ray and a short tail like a turtle?”

Hold on a moment, I’ll just draw on my extensive knowledge of dinosaurs learned while I was earning my degree in palaeontology. Wait a minute. I don’t have a degree in palaeontology.

I have a degree in Knowing Everything Because I’m a Mother.

Partly, I blame Jurassic Joe and his catchy dinosaur-themed children’s songs. (“My name is Compsognathus and I may be small, but when it comes to speed I can outrun them all…”) But mostly I blame Big Brother’s irrepressible curiosity. He’s always catching me off-guard with complicated questions that make me realise I don’t know as much about the world as I’d like to think I do. And even when I do know the answers, explaining them at a five-year-old level can be… difficult.

Mummy, I know there were dinosaurs and then they all got dead with a meteor, and then there were people. But how did the Earth go from dinosaurs to people?

Mummy, that tree has lots of seed pods. But if all the seed pods fall off the trees and the seeds go on the earth and grow into more trees, why aren’t there trees everywhere? There’s so many seeds!

Mummy, did you know Jupiter has sixty-three moons? If you were on Jupiter and looked in the sky, would there be moons only at night or in the day too?

Mummy, do carnivores only eat herbivores or do they eat other carnivores? What about if they’re really, really, really, really, really hungry?

Mummy, why do you like coffee and Daddy doesn’t like coffee? Why doesn’t he like the taste?

Mummy, why does T say a t-t-t sound?

Sometimes I wonder what our parents did back in the olden days when there was no handy internet to look up the answers to odd questions we asked. Then I remember: they just made the answers up.

Oh, and in case you’re curious? The answer is yes. The Cryptoclidus Oxoniensis is the dinosaur with a long neck like a Brachiosaurus but no crest on his head, thin flippers like a turtle, no shell, a body like a manta ray and a short tail like a turtle.

What are some of the oddest questions your children have asked you?

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You Have to Be Brave to Get Married

Have I mentioned before that 5-year-old Big Brother is a big thinker? He’ll hear something or see something and think on it for days or weeks before talking to us about it. Lately, he’s had questions about piercings, tattoos and growing up.

“Does it hurt to get your ear pierced?” he asked. After a brief explanation of the level of pain involved, he thought for a few minutes and then said, “I don’t think I’ll get my ears pierced. Except maybe when I’m a grown up.”

I’m pretty happy with that.

“Why doesn’t a tattoo wash off?” he asked. So we told him about tattoos and needles, and my husband explained how it felt to get his done. A few days later, Big Brother asked me, “Do you give the doctor a picture of whatever you want?” After a bit of elaborations (Oh! You’re talking about tattoos!), I explained that, even though doctors are the ones who give you vaccinations, you see a tattoo artist for a tattoo. After a bit more conversation on the subject, Big Brother said thoughtfully, “Did you know vampires aren’t real anymore because they died before the dinosaurs came?”

That was my first clue the conversation was over.“When will I know the name of the person I’m going to marry?” he asked the other day.

He sounded serious so I stopped folding the washing and sat down with him. “Well,” I said. “One day when you’re grown up, you’ll meet someone and get to know them. Every time you think about them, you’ll feel a special kind of love in your heart. And that’s how you’ll know they’re the person you want to marry.”

He thought about that. “When will I be a Daddy?” he asked.

“When you have a baby,” I answered. I waited to see if he wanted me to elaborate further, but that answer seemed to satisfy him. (I make it a point not to over-complicate things. It’s very easy to answer the question I think he was asking rather than the question he was actually asking.)

He was quiet for a couple of minutes, his fingers fiddling with the toy he’d forgotten he was holding while his mind whirred. Eventually he asked, “What if I feel them in my heart but I’m too afraid to get married?”

I smiled. “Well, sometimes that happens. Getting married is a very big deal.”

He sighed and gave me a knowing look. “You have to be brave to get married.”

True that, boyo.

 

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Because She’s a God and a Mother

It’s nearly a year since Big Brother asked whether he was going to die one day. Since that first conversation, we’ve had many more. Questions about life and death pop up every few months, inspired by something Big Brother has seen or heard, or just thoughts that have taken a while to process.

About six months ago, he was cuddling with his father when he asked the latest in this line of questions. “Are you and Mummy going to die?”

My wonderful husband handled the question with apparent ease. “One day,” he said. “Everyone and everything dies eventually. But Mummy and I aren’t going to die any time soon. We’ll be here with you for a long, long time.”

My little boy considered that for a minute and then asked, “But what happens if you’re not? What happens if you die? Who will look after me and Little Brother?”

My husband took Big Brother’s hands and looked at him seriously. “Well, you know Auntie Jak?”

“Yes.”

“Auntie Jak is your godmother. That means that if something happens to Mummy or I, and we can’t look after you for some reason, Auntie Jak will look after you.”

Big Brother nodded, letting this sink in for a minute. “She’s our godmother?”

“That’s right.”

Another brief pause. “What’s a godmother?”

My husband smiled. “A godmother is a very special person. She’s another grown-up who loves you as much as Mummy and Daddy love you, and will always be there to help you and to look after you. So if we can’t be with you, Auntie Jak will be.”

Big Brother smiled. “So is she like a fairy godmother?”

“A bit. But without the fairy part.”

This seemed to satisfy Big Brother and he left happy. That was the last we heard about the subject for months. And then, out of the blue…

I was driving home. Big Brother was in the back seat. Quiet. We’d just spent some time at the library and were on our way home. I was enjoying the rare moment of peace, my thoughts running hither and thither like rabbits on crack. They were brought to a sudden halt by a voice from behind me.

“What was that?” I asked Big Brother, not sure if I’d heard him right.

He repeated himself. “I didn’t know that Auntie Jak was a God.”

“A God?” I repeated.

“Yes,” said Big Brother seriously. “Auntie Jak is a God.”

I fought back the urge to giggle uncontrollably, imagining the look on my sister’s face if she was told that she was a God, and racked my brain trying to figure out what he meant. “Oh,” I said after a minute. “You mean she’s your godmother?”

“Yes. And she’s a God,” said Big Brother confidently.

So much for my moment of peace! I spent the rest of the trip home alternately stifling laughter and re-explaining the concept of a godmother to my boy. And this time, he got it.

Or so I thought.

We were running late for school last week, but Big Brother desperately wanted to talk to his Nana and wish her a good morning. We jumped in the car, and I dialled my mother’s number, put my phone on speaker, and handed it back to BB.

The two of them exchanged normal pleasantries for a while.What are you doing today? What’s the weather like there? Have you been doing anything fun?

And then, out of nowhere, Big Brother says, “Did you know that when I die, Auntie Jak is going to be there with me?”

“Oh?” said Nana, clearly not really knowing what he was talking about.

“Yes,” said Big Brother, with all the seriousness of youth. “That’s because she’s a God and a mother.”

Yeah.

I think we still have some explaining to do.

You have some explaining to do...

 

 

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Because I LIKE Stories… (Or: More Random Ramblings About Me)

Bart: Dad, what’s the point of this story?

Homer: I like stories.

At some point in the future, I expect to have this exchange with at least one, if not both, of my children. (Although I do hope they call me ‘Mum’ instead of ‘Dad’.)

I like stories. I really do. In fact, I find it difficult not to tell stories.

I’m that person who, when asked a yes/no question, feels the need to answer ‘sometimes’. And then explain that answer. At length.

I’m that person who, when asked to rate my opinion on a scale of 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree), wants to get into a discussion on the finer points of the question, and then tell a story to explain why it’s not a simple question.

Yes, I’m that person that you really do not want to answer your survey.

This need for storytelling happens all the time. I can’t just tell you I don’t have an eReader — I have to write a poem. I can’t just say that I don’t tell my children Santa is real, I have to explain my reasoning. I can’t even make a flippant comment about having to kill a spider without making a song and dance about it.

I bet you thought that was just for the blog, right?

Nope. Ask my husband. He’ll back me up.

Everything has to be a story. I can’t help it.

And that’s why, when faced with a series of 10 questions (from Inside the Actor’s Studio), I am highly unlikely to be as amazingly concise as Bridget, Kim or Tricia. These three lovely ladies answered the following ten questions as part of a Monday Listicles Link-Up, and did it simply and succinctly. They’re part of a great Monday Listicles Link-up (that I’m not cool enough to be part of), but I couldn’t resist answering the questions anyway.

I swear, I will attempt to be concise.

But I make no promises.

1. What is your favourite word?

There’s nothing like starting with a hard one for a lover of words. There are so many great ones. For simplicity’s sake, I’m quite fond of the word ‘Yes’. It’s strong. It’s open. It’s affirmative and proactive.

But it’s not my favourite.

I particularly like words with a strong sense of onomatopoeia, like susurrus, or words that are challenging (and therefore exciting) to use in everyday conversation, like zeitgeist.

But they’re not my favourites. Not anymore.

Now, I love to hear my words come out of my 4-year-old son’s mouth. I love it when he says things like: It’s getting quite dark outside, indeed. Or: I’m not hurt, I’m just feeling a little embarrassed and sad right now. Or: Daddy will be so proud of me when he sees what I’ve accomplished.

But my absolute favourite word is one, simple syllable.

Mum.

Even when I’ve heard it 375,892 times in a single day, and I want to change my name. Hearing my little boy call me Mum is my favourite thing in the world.

(Especially when it’s followed by: I really love you.)

2. What is your least favourite word?

That’s hard, because I think every word has its place. Every word is perfectly suited to a particular time and place. So choosing one that I don’t like is really dependent on what I’m doing, where I am, and how I’m feeling.

There are phrases that I abhor (like “kill time”), but I can’t honestly think of any words.

So let’s just say that I detest words that are used incorrectly, or pronounced incorrectly.

3. What turns you on?

Words. Stories. Language. Surprises. Honesty. Compassion. Proactivity. Humour. Love.

Wrap those things up in physical form, and I’m a happy lady.

4. What turns you off?

Dishonesty (even about little things). Whinging. Lack of Self Confidence.

And, on a more physical level, bad breath. Ick.

5. What sound do you love?

The tap-tap-tap of my thoughts and ideas turning into words on a screen.

My children laughing.

Music. Stories read aloud.

The hush that falls over the house when my children (finally) fall asleep of an evening.

6. What sound do you hate?

Silence.

The silence that immediately precedes the question, “What are you doing?” and the answer, “Nothing.”

The deafening silence of an empty house.

The silence of a sleeping baby that breeds a fear only a parent can know: Is he still breathing? Is everything alright?

The awkward, angry silence that follows an argument.

The silence of tears that have been shed.

7. What is your favourite curse word?

This is an easy one. Although I have been known to drop the “C word” in the right circumstances, my all-time favourite has to be the ever-popular m*therf*cker. (Or emmer-effer, as Mr Wendig is want to say.)

8. What profession, other than yours, would you like to attempt?

I started university 4 times. I began with psychology (I wanted to be a child psychologist). Then I went to education (I wanted to be a high school english/maths teacher). Then I moved to straight english. (I wanted to be a writer. And I am.) Then on to an arts degree focused on Latin and Philosophy. (Clearly, I wanted to be unemployed.)

Overall, I’m glad that I didn’t finish any of those courses of study. In fact, in most cases, I barely started them. I’m happy to have had a twelve-year career in retail, where I learned management, leadership and sales. I’m happy to be a mother (with on the job training!) and a writer.

But if I could do anything at all, regardless of skill, ability or talent, I have a secret profession wish lurking at the back of my brain, long hidden from the harsh light of reality.

I’d like to be the lead singer of a Power Metal band.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

What, particularly? Like, not all the millions of jobs that I have no interest in (like doctor, lawyer, and waitress), but something that I particularly do not want to do under any circumstances, and being forced to do it would be akin to being flayed alive?

That’s easy.

Child-care worker.

10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

“You should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque. Valhalla’s down the road.”

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Love is in the Heart

I have two beautiful boys:4-year-old Big Brother and 6 month-old Baby. They adore each other.

Baby’s face lights up every time he sees Big Brother, and I can already read the look on his face when Big Brother runs past. “I want to do what he’s doing.”

Big Brother is desperate for Baby to be able to play with him. “Can Baby watch TV with me?” “Can Baby sit with me?” “Can I give Baby this food/toy/pirate treasure?”

Big Brother was singing and dancing for Baby’s amusement a few days ago when he gave me a puzzled look and asked, “Why does Baby love me so much?”

Um.

“Because you’re his big brother,” I said. “Because he thinks you’re great, and he likes to be with you, and wants to do the things you do.”

He looked at me like I’d completely missed the point of the question. I probably had. “Yes, but why does he love me so much?”

Now, I’m no stranger to tricky questions and I usually stick to age-appropriate honesty for my answers. But this wasn’t a question I could answer with honesty. I didn’t really know the answer. I mean, it’s one of the big ones, isn’t it? What’s the meaning of life? Why do we fall in love? Where do butterflies go when it rains?

But I digress.

I was completely stumped, so I turned to the method I used to use when I was asked a difficult question back in my (paid) working days. “Well, you love me, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“So, why do you love me so much?”

He didn’t even hesitate. He just looked at me with his beautiful, blue eyes and gave me a better answer than I could have imagined.

“Because I can feel you in my heart.”

Awwwwwww.

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