Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fundamentals of Story Writing Part 2 ~ Jim Baumgardner

This is our 2nd installment of Fundamentals of Story Writing by Jim Baumgardner, author if the Sarah Books. You can visit Jim's Blog here. And you can learn more about the Sarah Books by visiting here.

Now, I would like to invite you and your children for our second lesson in the Fundamentals of Story Writing.  Here is Mr. Jim for our lesson.......

Fundamentals of Story Writing

Part 2

When I began writing my first novel, I had no idea what I was doing. Today, several years and many reams of paper later, I have a pretty good idea. It took a lot of work and study of writing techniques. I read about techniques—and I read books. I’m a visual person. I like to see it done and then I find it easier to do. So, I read each day and observe great authors of the past and how they keep my attention with their writing style. Do you want to improve your writing? If the answer is yes—then read.

There are key elements which must be incorporated into the writing of a story, whether a novel or short story. I want to mention five in these next two articles. There are more of course, but these five are fundamental and will lay a foundation on which you can build a good story.


You have decided on an idea for a short story, now ask yourself, “Can I actually write a story and make it believable.” If the idea involves a story about how a man survives a shipwreck near a small island in the South Pacific, yet you have never been there nor studied the area, and know nothing about ships—you may have problems. My advice is to select another idea. Pick something that can be set in an area in which you are familiar.

The Sarah Books are set in Western Ohio. I have been there many times. I know the lay of the land, but I also read about how the area appeared in the 19th Century. Set your story in an area you know. Maybe you live there or it’s a place you have visited. With that knowledge, and sometimes an emotional attachment to the area, your story will come alive through the five senses.

Consider these words from the introduction of Sarah’s Wish: ‘ your “mind’s eye” you see, and hear, and taste, and smell, and touch nineteenth century Ohio. The story begins one stifling hot afternoon. Do you feel the heat? Taste the dust? Smell the horseflesh? Hear the laughter of mother and daughter? And-see that snake! You are in 1858. Hang on-here we go!’

Please keep in mind your reader! Do not ramble on paragraph after paragraph describing a sunset, mountain, or anything else. It’s not necessary. Give your readers credit for having sense enough to picture a sunrise in their mind.

For example: “Morning dawned bright pink with shades of violet splashed across the eastern sky.” I would think most folks have seen a similar sunrise. Here is the first line from Sarah’s Promise: “Before the sun peeked over the horizon, while the morning star still shimmered in the western sky, they attacked.” The reader gets the picture. It’s just before dawn, not light, not dark, but gray; and all stars have disappeared except for the brightest. You can make out shapes, but no colors. That’s it. Now get on with the story. I did.

Your character’s actions and language must conform to the time period. Writing a story set in 2010 is easier than a setting in 1858. We are familiar with today’s language and customs, but how about the 19th century? If you want to identify a character’s race what terms would you use? Sarah’s friend Esther is called a Negro in the Sarah Books because that was the term used in Sarah’s day, today the term in African-American. Running Fox is called an Indian by Granny, and a half-breed (his father was Shawnee and mother English) by his enemies. Today many people use the term Native-American.

Actions are important, too. Men bowed to ladies in the 19th Century, but generally, unless there is some compelling reason, you wouldn’t have a character doing that in 2010. On the other hand Sarah is not giving high-fives or low-fives to anyone. She doesn’t greet her friends with, “What’s up dude”, either.

A word about order of events is needed, especially if you are attempting to write a book. Make sure the characters’ actions are kept in chronological order. Example: Last night in the woodshop Uncle Alvin slipped and cut off his hand with the table saw. Yet, this morning he’s holding a cup of coffee in one hand and with his other hand he’s eating toast. What? He’s got three arms? Be aware of what you have written previously.

A story would be meaningless without characters with which we can relate. In my first novel, Sarah’s Wish, Sarah is twelve, has dark hair falling in ringlets to her shoulders, dark eyes, dimples, and is short. Fine, that describes thousands, probably millions of girls. A good character is more than a good description of her or his physical attributes. You must get beyond the physical and show how she thinks, feels, her goals, why she acts as she does, and so much more. Why does Sarah continually refer to her mother in the present tense when Rachel has been dead for months? At the end of the third book she has a full blown character flaw—the question is: can she overcome it? Now developing a character to that extent is not possible in a short story, and not necessary. If you’re writing a novel it is vital.

Make the characters real to the reader. Give them flaws. Shortcomings can be made obvious by how they reason things out or maybe inter feelings of hate, greed or jealousy. There are numerous things from which to choose, just make it real to that character. As you read the Sarah Books you will see Sarah has flaws as does Granny Evans. No one is perfect, so don’t try to make your characters that way. It’s not believable. People understand imperfection, since we’re all in that condition.

On the other hand give the main characters something unique about themselves. Sarah is very smart, and you will see in the fourth book, The Making of a Spy, how that brilliance is put to use. Granny has her dialect and habits (smoking her corncob pipe and carrying a gun in her knitting bag) that set her apart.

To invent a likeable hero begin by listing the characteristics you want him to manifest. Include physical and emotional characteristics along with his values. Ask yourself what is it that defines my hero? Maybe it’s traits from someone you know or a combination of people. Granny Evans in the Sarah Books is a combination of my granny, her sister, and a television character of many years ago.

Allow your characters to tell the story through their actions and dialogue. A good story is made up of a logical beginning, an emotional, up and down, nail biting middle, and a satisfying end. But a good plot is made up of more than just these basics. Characters serve the plot; in fact they drive the plot. An interesting character is interesting because of what she does. Please understand; a story is in the mind of the reader, so give the reader just enough to picture the scene. What I see in my mind’s eye is not necessarily what you would see. It’s probably close, but not exactly the same. Have you ever seen a movie that is based on a book and went away saying the book was better? Maybe it’s because what you visualized about the story is not what was put on the screen.

A funny thing about readers, they don't want the hero to be happy all the time. A reader wants to see conflict, pain, troubles and sorrow. In the Sarah Books, Sarah’s mom dies, Sarah has a broken arm, her friends are kidnapped, she hides from someone chasing her, etc. These things keep the reader engaged in the story. They are fine as long as it works to a happy ending. People do not like crummy endings. We will talk more about conflict next time.

Students, now is the time to get a head start on the upcoming school year. You may be asked to write a story. Start now by using the things you have learned in these first two articles. Look back to the first lesson on how to finds ideas and writing what you know. Then, use the suggestions on selecting a setting and developing characters to begin putting a story on paper. I like to make a rough outline of the story idea. It always changes (for the better of course) and that is fine. At least you have an idea of where you want to take the story and how to get there.

If you have any question you are welcome to email me at:

I do have students who like to write and send me samples to read and comment on. I would be glad to do that for you. Thanks for reading and happy writing.

Next: We will look at using conflict, dialogue, and action in your stories.

Jim Baumgardner, author of the Sarah Books

Friday, July 23, 2010

And Announcing Team Lighthouse..........

I am honored and excited to have been asked to serve on the TOS Homeschool Crew for a 3rd year! The Crew has been such a blessing over these last 2 years!  It is difficult to even put into words how blessed we have been.  Not only have we been blessed with experiencing curriculum we would have never had an opportunity to  see, but we ( the entire crew) have been blessed with awesome friendships!  This years has proven to be more of the same!! Thank you Lord for Blessing us so abundantly!

For this 3rd voyage, I have been asked to serve as a First Mate!  Ahoy Mate!!

What that means, is I have been blessed to serve with 5 fantastic ladies as a part of my Mini-Crew!!  We even have our very own name! We are...

Team Lighthouse~ Shedding Light on Great Homeschool Products!

And now I would like to introduce you to the blogs of Team Lighthouse! Please take a moment and meet my awesome crew, who are here to serve you!

All American Family

Clark Clan Craziness

Tell'n It!

Happily Homeschooling

My Hare Raising Bunny Tales

During our voyage we will be reviewing curriculum for kids in the Middle School and High School level. If you have a child ( or children) in that age range, please make a point to follow each of our blogs to find awesome products for your homeschool!

Happy Sailing!!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

TOS Crew Review - Travel Kits E-book

Just picture it, traveling down the interstate  with a handful of  screaming kids..with the incessant  'Are we there yet??? ' coming from the back row......have you had a car trip that resembled this tale?? I know that we have!!!

Travel Kits, A Simple Way to Bless Others an E-Book by TOS is here to save the day...

As part of the Homeschool Crew we were given a free copy of Travel Kits E-book in exchange for our honest opinion.

Donna Rees the author of Travel Kits challenges you to demonstrate a little love, a little ingenuity, and a little organization: by making a travel kit—a simple way to bless others.

So what is a Travel Kit you ask ~ it is a collection of gifts that you can create for your family, or as a gift for a family you know who is about to set sail, that are designed to entertain and/or delight the recipient.  I should note here, that Travel Kits are not just for young children. While that was my example, and yes, little ones need lots of things to keep them entertained. Everyone, any age, love to be thought of, and Travel Kits are a wonderful way to help them feel loved and cared for!  Even grown ups!

Within the pages of Travel Kits,  Donna Rees takes  you step by step on how you can create your own Travel Kits.

At the foundation, you are ministering to the family you are blessing. Whether it is your own family or a family you know the principle is the same. In the bible we are instructed in Luke 6:31, ' And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.'   In Phil 2:3 it says '...let each esteem other better than themselves'.

Keeping these biblical principles in mind, Donna has you look at who your recipients are, how long will they be traveling, and what are some of their interests. Once you have done that, you will be able to create a Travel Kit that will bless those who receive it.

Donna will then show you how you can gather items for each member of the family. How to wrap them, assemble them and even how to disperse gifts throughout the trip.

Donna really makes the process fool proof! No expertise needed, only a loving heart, and a desire to bless!

As I read this book, not only did I think of many ways that I could use travel kits for my own family, as well as, families I know. But, I also thought of several ideas that I could use for many occasions, using the same principles.

I challenge you to stop by the The Schoolhouse Store and purchase your copy of Travel Kits, (available for $12.45)  and start blessing those around you! And better yet, come up with even more ideas to bless those around you, using the ideas you learned using Travel Kits, and then come back here and post about them!

Take a moment to visit the Crew Blog to see what my crew mates have to say about Travel Kits!

May you all be blessed as you bless those you love!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

TOS Crew Review - Schoolhouse Planner Module June 2010

The 3rd Voyage of the TOS Homeschool Crew has set sail, and our first review item has boarded! We were given a free copy of  The June 2010 Module Travel the World, for the Schoolhouse Planner for free for the purpose of review.

Now, I should tell you before we go any farther, I have always loved the Schoolhouse Planner and the modules! So, I was looking forward to reviewing this one!

So many times when you get one of these  'E-books', they really are geared for the younger set. While Travel the World, does have plenty of information and activities for that age group, (coloring pages, word finds, lapbook beginnings, etc..). What impressed me was that they have gone the extra mile to include a high school section. Now that I have 4 high school students, this is a very important aspect for me.

This is not simply an E-book that you can print out and use, which you can do, by the way. However, it is chock full of interactive links throughout the module. Links are included in both the younger section, as well as, the high school section.

The links consists of additional information, as well as games that your child can use to help cement the information into their brains.

Another blessing of this module, is the fact that it is from a Christian Worldview.  God and His Word are throughout the unit. And not just as an afterthought. Each passage included is relevant to the point of study.

While clearly not a year long course, for $7.95 this is an awesome supplement that will help your child, no matter the age, either become familiar with the geography of the world, or for the older students, help concrete knowledge they may have already been exposed to.

I highly recommend Travel the World to any homeschooler!

Visit the Schoolhouse store to find Travel Around the World and other Planner Modules!

As always, please visit the crew blog to see what my crew mates are saying!

Happy Traveling!

Friday, July 2, 2010

SALE: Math Galaxy

Below you will find my original review for Galaxy of Education, for Math Galaxy.  While looking through my reviews, trying to find one to place  in our local homeschool group newlsetter, I discovered that Math Galaxy is having a huge sale for a limited time!!! It appears that their prices are 50% off. For a limited time!

If you need a math supplement, please take a moment to visit their website to see if it is a good fit for your family!!!

Our next stop on our TOS Homeschool Crew Voyage is with the fine people at Galaxy of Education. As Crew Mates we were given free access to their Math Galaxy Programs and E-books in exchange for our honest opinions.

If you have followed my voyage for any amount of time, you know that math is not my favorite subject. So anytime I stumble across a program or tool that will help me teach my children math skills, this intrigues me. Will it indeed be a program that will help us?

First, let's look at what they have available. There are several Java-based programs covering the topics of;

~Math Galaxy Whole Numbers Fun
~Math Galaxy Word Problems Fun
~Math Galaxy Fractions Fun
~Math Galaxy Decimals, Proportions and Percents Fun
~Math Galaxy Pre-Algebra Fun
~Math Galaxy Algebra Fun

There is also something available called The Riddler Worksheet  Generator. It is available in the following titles;

~Whole Numbers
~Decimal Proportions Percents

Math Galaxy also offers several E-books they call Riddles Books. They are

~Fraction Riddles E-book
~Algebra Riddles E-book
~Whole Numbers Riddles E-book
~Decimal Riddles E-book

I have seen pros and cons with these programs. The PROS: my son enjoyed using them! That is half the battle right there, isn't it? He would sit down and work about 45 minutes on his math. Secondly, it really was helping him The way the program works is when you click into a subject, say... 'Area' off of the screen below...

You are then taken to a screen that gives you a couple of options. One of those options is 'review'. When you click on that area, it is a tutorial. Your child will click through a series of screens learning the skill he will be using in that section. Once he completes that  he can move onto the doing the practice problems. You can choose to have them do 'step by step' or 'final answer only'. We always chose 'step by step'.  These programs have helped to move him along quicker than he was working through his math previously. That is a plus!

Now, what are the con's? First, your child needs to be a reader! If you have a struggling reader, then this program is not going to be a good fit. They have to read through the tutorials and problems.  We have several dyslexics in my home, so this was an issue for some of my children.  The second would be that, when the child does his work he earns robots, that allow him to play some games that are included with the program. Which is a great incentive. However, you must be aware that the robots do not carry over for future use. So you need to work that reward time, into the time you have allowed them to use Math Galaxy.  And the final con, is that it is not a tool that you can use, and see really how your children are doing. There are no reports offered to show they have mastered a skill, or even what kinds of problems they have been doing. Having this feature would really enhance this product.

However, even with the cons that I listed, I really did like this program. We learned how to work the program to best serve our family and it really has been a blessing.

You can order any of the Java Based Programs and the Riddlers Worksheet Generators for $24.95 each. The  E-books are available for $12.95. You can order all of these products  by visiting Math Galaxy.

Please take a moment to cruise on over to the crew blog to see what my crew mates have to say about these products.