Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Fundamentals of Writing with Jim Baumgardner of Sarah Books

Welcome to class students!!! We have a guest teacher today, his name is Mr. Jim Baumgardner!

Mr. Baumgardner is the author of the  award winning Sarah Books series. You can read a bit about him and his books by visiting his website.

However, today, he has graciously offered to teach all of us, students both young and old, on the Fundamentals of Writing. What an Honor!

I am thrilled to have Mr. Baumgardner share his expertise with us, and help our students in the area of writing.  What a gift for us, as homeschoolers, to have the opportunity, to learn from an award winning author!

Thank you Mr. Baumgardner for sharing your time and your talent with all of us! We are truly blessed!

And now, pull up a chair, gather your students and join us  for lesson one in our teaching series.

Mr. Jim Baumgardner............

Fundamentals of Story Writing

Ideas—Where Can I Find Them?

So you want write a novel. Or, maybe you have been given a school assignment to write a short story. Whatever the reason, you need a story that will capture the reader and keep him or her interested to the end. How do you go about it?

Whether it’s a short story or a novel the principals are much the same. You need a strong beginning, a satisfying middle, and a terrific ending that ties everything together. Now get a sheet of paper and start writing. What? Oh, you don’t have any ideas. Hmmm, that is a problem.

Let’s think this through and maybe an idea will come. You can find ideas everywhere: reading, television, at the mall, conversations with friends, the newspaper, things that anger you or make you happy, Bible stories, Mother Goose, Grimms Fairy Tales, history books, family history, and ______. You fill in the blank. Capturing the imagination is what you want to do, whether writing fiction or non-fiction. If your imagination isn’t stimulated, you’ll have nothing to say.

Another technique is to take a familiar story, like a fairy tale, and rewrite it. Let’s take for example: “Hansel and Gretel”.  Make the children ornery, not the father and the step-mother. The witch’s challenge is to get rid of them. How about making “The Three Little Pigs” vicious razorback hogs that terrorize the countryside threatening a frail little mama wolf, weak from giving birth to her babies. You get the idea.

Play, “what if”. Take something you love to do or maybe a game you like and ask what if things were done differently. What if the sun didn’t come up one day? What would you think? How would you react? Where would you go? Why did it happen? Will this be forever?

What if Major League Baseball decided umpires are no longer needed? Write about what that would do to the game and fans. Who would be in charge?

The key with brainstorming is that no ideas are discarded. The trick is to come up with as many ideas as possible, regardless of how outlandish they may seem. Do this with friends, and write all the ideas down.

How about some ideas now? Okay, here are some starters and it should stimulate your mind to come up with others that interest you.

1. You find an old lamp that has washed up on the beach. Drying it off involves rubbing it, and when you do a genie pops out and offers to grant you three wishes. How do you answer?

2. You are riding in a car and your friend is driving. While listening to the radio the station breaks in with a news bulletin. You friend slams on the brakes, jams the car into park, and jumps out running down the street through traffic. Why?

3. Write about a family tradition. What does your family always do on a holiday or every summer?

4. Any strong emotion you have about something is a good place to start writing.

Within your story include descriptive details that convey the sights, sounds, textures, odors, and flavors of an experience. Can we hear the rumble of a stampede? Give us the smell of dust up our nostrils on the wind blown prairie? Describe the taste of stale water. Deliver to your readers the magnified squeak of the rusty hinges on the gate that leads to the old haunted house down the street.

Remember precise wording is better than vague words and phrases. "The Snake River ran deep, rushing wildly through the canyon” tells more than "The River was dangerous." The question naturally comes: How was it dangerous?

Instead of “He gave her some pretty roses” be more specific. “He gave her twelve, long stemmed, red roses.”

Write What You Know

The Sarah books are set in 1858 Ohio. How do I know about that time frame? I’m old, but not that old. It takes research! Write stories on subjects that excite you, and you want to learn more about. Make a list of questions your readers will want answered, and then answer them. I try to inform the reader along with telling a story. My books have been noted by others as informative in learning 19th Century history. Here is an example of weaving into the story historical information which gives insight into what was happening during the time Sarah lived:

“What are those men doing in that field?” Sarah pressed her nose up tight against the window.

“Cain’t rightly say,” the old lady answered.

Everyone eyed the men as the cars began to slow to a stop at the station. Doctor Baum, Granny and Sarah had finally arrived in Cincinnati.

“Sarah, I believe those men are playing the game of base ball.” Squinting his eyes in thought, he tried to recall a memory. “I heard of it when I went through New York City, not long after my arrival from Germany. I believe they called one of the teams the Knickerbockers.”

“Base ball.” The girl whispered the words that really meant little to her. “What does that man do with the big stick he’s holding?”

“He’s called the ‘striker,’ and he tries to hit the ball when it's thrown. If he does, then he runs to the first base.”

“What do the others do? When do they try to hit the ball? Or do they? Is there only one striker? What’s the ball made out of? How do you know who wins. What are…”

“Let’s go, girl!” Granny cut off the questions. “We gotta git one of them cabs to take us to the Burnett house. While we be fetchin’ to the hotel, Doc can sort out the questions.”

Notice three things the reader learns about baseball in the year 1858. The name of the game is written base ball not baseball, the batter is called the striker, and there were teams of which one is called the Knickerbockers.

If you are not writing a paper on an historical event or an historical fiction story, you still need to know your subject in order to write an effective and interesting paper. Example: You have decided to tell about your involvement with the Girl Scouts. The paper will include why you like the scouts, how long you have been with them, what you do in service, what friendships have developed because of scouting, and several other things that are important to you. To round out your paper you should give a brief history of the Girl Scouts, some examples of famous people who were scouts, and maybe even some objections offered by folks who are opposed to the Girl Scouts with your answers to those objections. The latter items involve research. When writing think of the following and answer them in the story: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Here are some places to get you started in doing research: The local library, local historical societies, visit historical sites, new and used bookstores, and the internet.

Next: Developing characters and choosing a setting for your story.

Jim Baumgardner


  1. Great article! I'm excited to read the next in the series.

  2. [...] Baumgardner is doing some guest blogging posts about creative writing over at the Creative Learners Blog. The post is on The Fundamentals of Writing. Take a look! Share and [...]

  3. [...] by Jim Baumgardner, the author of The Sarah Books.   You can read the first part to this series HERE, and continue to watch for future [...]

  4. Thank you Mr. Jim. It was a great article. I look forward to the rest in the series.

  5. Looking forward to Part 2 from Mr. Jim.

  6. Jen,
    This is exciting! I'm going to send this around on my blog/facebook for my readers! Thanks to you and Mr. B! HUGS, c