Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Writing Exercise: USING THE FIVE SENSES, 2

I recently cleaned out my files and found various materials that I had used when teaching my class in writing for children in the UCLA Writer’s Program. Here is another version of my writing exercise called “Using the Five Senses.”
 
Most of us have no trouble writing visual descriptions, but we often forget to include our other senses in our writing. This exercise focuses on using all five senses to make your writing come alive.  Choose an object, place, person, or animal, and write five sentences about it, one sentence (or two) for each sense-- sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.  The following examples are from my book Fox (Morrow Junior Books) now available as an ebook on Amazon.
  • Sight: When most people think of foxes, they picture the red fox, with its large white-tipped tail and brilliant flame-colored fur.
These large pointed teeth cut against each other like the blades of scissors and are good for ripping and tearing.
  • Sound: These high-pitched sounds, called ultrasounds, are made by many of the rodents that are the foxes’ prey.
Foxes bark or growl as warning to one another or to predators that come too close. If a fox is trapped or cornered, it makes croaking noises.
  • Touch: Each month-old pup weighs about a pound, and its short newborn coat is covered with soft light-colored fur.
  • Smell: One sign of a fox’s readiness to mate is a strong skunk-like odor in its urine.
Like other canids, a fox has a scent gland underneath its tail that produces a strong musky odor.
  • Taste: When the pups are about two weeks old, their first teeth come in. About a week later, they begin to suck and chew at the pieces of meat their parents have brought back to the den.
You can write more complex descriptions if you like.  The important thing is to immerse yourself in the scene and use all your senses to convey the essence of that scene to your reader.  To find out if you are using sensory descriptions in your writing, go through one of your stories with a highlighter, and mark each time you use one of your senses.  Note which sense you use most often!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Writing Exercise: USING THE FIVE SENSES, 1

I recently cleaned out my files and found various materials that I had used when teaching my class in writing for children in the UCLA Writer’s Program. Here is a writing exercise called “Using the Five Senses, 1.” (Another example of this exercise will post next week.)
 
Most of us have no trouble writing visual descriptions, but we often forget to include our other senses in our descriptions.  This exercise focuses on using all five senses to make your writing come alive.  Choose an object, place, person, or animal, and write five sentences about it, one sentence (or two) for each sense-- sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. 

Here are some examples from my book A Walrus’ World.
  •     Sight: The baby walrus’ plump body is covered with short fur.
  •     Smell: The mother walrus sniffs her baby and rubs his back with her whiskers.
  •     Sound: Splash! He tumbles into the water. Splash! His mother dives in too.
  •     Touch: Using her whiskers, she feels a clam.  Then she grabs the shell with her lips and sucks out the meat.
  •     Taste: Their sleek bodies slide through the cool, salty water.  (From A Killer Whale’s World.)
You can write more complex descriptions if you like.  The important thing is to immerse yourself in the scene and use all your senses to convey the essence of that scene to your reader.  To find out if you are using sensory descriptions in your writing, go through one of your stories with a highlighter, and mark each time you use one of your senses.  Note which sense you use most often!

A Walrus’ World and A Killer Whale’s World are in my series Caroline Arnold’s Animals published by Picture Window Books (Capstone.) 
Illustration by Caroline Arnold from A Killer Whale's World

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

THE CRAFT OF WRITING: On Writing Well by William Zinsser

My favorite book on the craft of writing is On Writing Well by William Zinsser. More than forty years after it was first published, I still think it is the best guide to nonfiction writing I’ve read.  Clear, well-organized, thorough, entertaining, and practical–it embodies the principles it teaches.  As I write and edit my own manuscripts, advice from this book is always at the back of my mind.
Among my favorite quotes is one from the section on punctuation:
  • “There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.”
After a brief introductory chapter, the first real chapter in the book begins with this sentence:
  • “Clutter is the disease of American writing.”  
De-cluttering is the route to clarity and it is my goal as I edit my own manuscripts,

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

MILKWEED AND MONARCHS

Monarch butterfly on a milkweed plant in northern Wisconsin.
Look along a roadside, in a vacant lot, or in an abandoned country field, and you will probably see milkweed, a tall plant with broad leaves, thick stems and pink, yellow or purple flowers. If you look closely, you might find a monarch butterfly sipping nectar. Many insects make milkweed plants their home. They eat the nectar, sap, leaves, stems, roots, and seeds. You may also have milkweed plants, also called butterfly weed, in your garden.
Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed plant in my garden.
Milkweed gets its name from the white sap inside its stem. Poisonous chemicals are in the sap. Most plant-eating animals, such as cattle or deer, do not eat milkweed because it tastes bad. But monarch butterfly caterpillars are able to eat milkweed sap and the poison does not hurt them. A little bit of the poison becomes part of their bodies and helps protect them from birds and other predators. Predators learn to recognize monarchs by their distinctive black and orange colors and avoid them because they taste bad.

Female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed leaves and when the eggs hatch, the tiny caterpillars eat the leaves. After a few weeks, when the caterpillars are about two inches long, they stop eating, attach themselves to a leaf and cover themselves with a green shell called a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar, now called a pupa, slowly transforms into a butterfly. After about two weeks, the beautiful butterfly emerges and the cycle of life begins again. (For a previous post with more about metamorphosis and a photo of a monarch chrysalis, click HERE.)
Milkweed pods in the fall. (Illustration by Caroline Arnold)
In the fall, monarch butterflies fly to their winter homes and milkweed flowers turn into seed pods. At first, the crescent shaped pods are soft and green. As the seeds grow inside the pod, the outside becomes hard and brown. When the seeds are ripe, the pod cracks open and the seeds spill out. The wind catches the the fluffy seeds and they are carried away, floating like tiny helicopters. Some of the seeds fall to the ground. In the following spring they will grow into new milkweed plants, providing homes for a new generation of monarchs.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed. In recent years, the disappearance of milkweed in many rural areas as a result of development has had a deleterious effect on monarch butterflies and their numbers have plummeted. You can learn about planting milkweed in your area to help monarch butterflies at this NWF website.

In my book, Butterflies in Room 6, about a kindergarten class raising painted lady butterflies, you can learn more about butterfly development.