Your Children Know What You Did Last Summer

Children are remarkably perceptive little creatures, and they are ever watching, ever listening, ever learning. Did you know that it is believed that children learn 90% of all the words they’re ever going to learn between the ages of 6 months and 18 months old? The theory is that they spend these months observing, often watching the mouths of others while they speak rather than focusing on their eyes. They learn the sound of the words, along with the motion the mouth makes while saying them, and gather up all this information for later. Only after gathering enough information about the way speech works do they actually attempt it themselves.

Many parents will tell you that you have to start watching what you say when you have kids, and this is definitely true. How often to you catch small children swearing, after all, because they recognize words that their parents say often? I don’t want to speak specifically about speech, however, because most people already realize that kids hear everything. What I want to point out is that kids see and feel everything as well.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter loves to do puzzles, which is awesome because it’s great for her brain, but she always wants myself or my husband to sit with her while she does her puzzles. She doesn’t necessarily want us to join in or anything, she just wants us to be there. So okay, that’s fine; I’ll usually sit with her and have my iPhone or my laptop with me and I’ll pluck away at something while she’s doing her puzzle. I’ll smile and nod and praise her at the appropriate intervals, while also multitasking on something else I have (or want) to do. This is what we were doing a few weeks ago, up in her bedroom. She was plucking away at her Tinkerbell puzzle, and I was praising her while browsing Twitter on my iPhone. What I failed to realize as this was occurring, was that I wasn’t really so much paying attention to her as I was smiling and nodding while focused intently on my phone’s screen. I didn’t notice what I was doing…but she sure did. Even though I was doing basically the same thing that I would have been doing had I not had the phone with me (smile, nod, say “Good job!”), she was fully aware that I wasn’t paying attention, and she didn’t like it. Before I knew what was happening, she stood up, took the phone right out of my hand, placed it on her bookshelf, and said, “There, that’s better!” before returning to her puzzle. I was shocked for a moment, but it didn’t take me long to burst into laughter. She really told me! She knew that I was only paying her lip service while I was glued to the Twittersphere, so she resolved the issue herself.

Kids notice these things. They are a lot more in tune to what is going on around them than adults give them credit for. They know when you’re patronizing them, they can tell when you’re flat-out lying to them, they notice when you’re genuinely upset, they see things that you don’t even realize you’re doing. Think of all the times a child has spouted off a surprising phrase that you didn’t notice you said all the time, or the times a child has followed you around, copying mannerisms you never noticed you even had. If you don’t have kids of your own, think back to when you were a kid. Couldn’t you tell if your mother was sad about something, or your dad had suffered a bad day at work? Didn’t you try to copy the way your mother applied lipstick, or the way your father shaved? And don’t even try to tell me that you can’t think of at least one instance of a parent or a loved one bursting into laughter or getting embarrassed because of something you said, and you didn’t understand what the big deal was because you were just repeating something they had said.

"Don't worry, ma, I've been paying attention and I've totally got this."
“Don’t worry, ma, I’ve been paying attention and I’ve totally got this.”

It’s an important thing to remember when dealing with children, although we tend to forget it more often than not. Remember that this little creature is watching you, seeing everything you do, hearing everything you say, picking up on your emotions and moods, and learning. Most of all, learning. Everything you do or say, everything you present to them in everyday life, is a lesson. What are you going to teach your children today?

First Things First

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

71. Writing a great first line

First impressions are an important thing. Though not necessarily the final say on how a person will come to perceive you, the first impression can decide whether or not someone even gives you a second chance to impress them. You’re not likely, for example, to have a second date with a guy who shows up to the first an hour late and covered in mud. Even if there’s a good story behind it (and there better be), chances are your impression of him will have been ruined, and that makes it a hundred times harder for him to prove himself to you.

The first line of a novel is the same way. The wrong line can immediately make the reader think, “You know what? Never mind,” and toss the book back on the shelf. The right line can hook a reader, give them a good first impression, and make them want to keep reading.

Just exactly how to accomplish this is something that has been spoken and written about at length, and while there are some common grounds, there’s a lot of disagreement as well. For instance, some people steadfastly insist that your first line should never be dialogue, but plenty of wonderful authors have used dialogue for that first sentence and it worked out beautifully. Other people have said that the first line shouldn’t be too action-oriented (“The car exploded!”) because it’s cliche and puts too much pressure on the remainder of the scene to be exciting. Again, many successful authors have ignored this concept, used action-sentences as their firsts, and did a great job at it.

A theory I have heard a few times, which I happen to agree with, is that your first line should simply be the beginning of the story. It sounds obvious, but think about it this way: instead of obsessing over writing the perfect first sentence, just start the story. The theory is that the best first line is whatever line starts telling your story. If that’s a piece of dialogue, an action moment, a piece of inner dialogue, a straight-up fact, or any other piece of information, that’s fine as long as it begins the telling of your story. This idea can be, has been, and will be contested, of course, by the kinds of people who think that there’s only one right way to write a novel, but anyone who believes that there’s only one right way to do something deserves to be ignored anyway. So just tell your story. The right line will pop up, I promise.