JANE CLARKE is the award-winning author of over 100 books for children, including picture books Gilbert the Great, Knight Time and Stuck in the Mud. Her latest books, the Lottie Loves Nature series, incorporate fun fiction stories with science and animal facts, and practical experiments, all designed to encourage an understanding and love for the natural world.
In this new Writing Starter, Jane gives some exciting ideas for writing a story using inspiration from the nature around us.
Lottie Loves Nature! She’s the star of my latest book series and she’s curious about every creature she meets. Lottie can often be found crawling around on her hands and knees, looking at something like an ant through her magnifying glass. I also love nature, and spending time outdoors, so here I invite you to try this writing exercise – to create a riddle about a creature. Any creature – mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish, insect… there are so many amazing creatures in the world to choose from! Big or small, fierce or friendly, it doesn’t matter – but try to choose one you know a little bit about. My character Lottie loves to find out more about wildlife from her favourite TV nature show and by reading books, so if you have time to do a bit of research on your creature first, that’s great. But don’t worry. This writing exercise is not brain surgery, and no-one gets hurt if you get it wrong. As you’ll see there will be plenty of opportunity for crossings out!
First of all, start by making a mind map on a rough piece of paper – or in my case on a whiteboard. Put the name of your creature in the middle. Then draw lines from the centre to the answers to the questions I’m going to ask. As many lines as you like. You can skip a question if you don’t know the answer. I’ll do the first part with you to show you how it works. I’ve chosen a bumblebee because the second Lottie Loves Nature book is called Bee-Ware! and features a lot of bees. It’s a bumblebee rather than a honey bee because they are out early in the spring, buzzing around the garden.
So here are the questions. Answer them very quickly and briefly – simply write down the first thing that pops into your head. Don’t worry about spelling:
- Where would you find your creature? (I have just seen a bumblebee in my garden, so I will write down ‘in my garden’)
- Where does it make its home? (a bumblebee lives in a nest. Your creature might live in a burrow, a lair, a den)
- What does it look like? (Think about things like hair, scales, fur, feathers, colours, spots, stripes, teeth, tail, legs, tail, tentacles etc.)
- What noise does it make? (or is it silent?) Does the noise remind you of anything (perhaps a vacuum cleaner, a rocket taking off, a car engine…)
- How does it move? (does it fly or swim, prowl, creep, gallop, slither, waddle?)
- What does it eat and how does it eat it? (does it nibble, gobble, sip, munch, crunch?)
- What is it scared of?
- What is scared of it?
- What else do you know about it?
Okay, so now you should have something that looks a bit like this.
Now take another colour and see if you can add to your words or make them better. Try to think of interesting adjectives or add rhyming words, or pleasing sounds (older writers may know word tricks like alliteration and assonance). Maybe a comparison, e.g. say your creature is as big as… as small as… as slow as… as fast as (older writers, try a simile or metaphor, maybe a kenning). If you don’t know any of the technical terms, don’t worry!
You’ll end up with a lot of words and ideas!
Now, take a piece of paper and start writing your riddle (or if you are bursting to write a poem or a story do that instead!). Don’t try to use everything – just pick the best bits. Write each clue on a different line, like a poem. Remember not to give the name of your creature.
My riddle about a bumblebee turned out like this:
What am I?
You’ll find me in your garden,
striped with sunshine,
dusted with pollen,
visiting your flowers,
lapping up nectar
with my hairy tongue.
Some people run when they hear me coming,
but I’m much too busy to sting you.
I’m a plump pollinator
who serves a queen.
You can stop here, but I carried on using a lot of scrap paper and crossing things out:
Eventually, I ended up with this rhyming riddle:
What am I? (Bumble Bee) by Jane Clarke
I’m striped with sunshine, and dusted with pollen,
I visit your flowers on short, stubby wings.
I’m busy, I’m buzzy,
I’m plump, round and fuzzy –
and you really need me to pollinate things!
Congratulations on making your riddle. Read it out to your family or friends. Can they guess your amazing creature? I’m sure Lottie could!
Jane’s most recent young fiction series, Al’s Awesome Science and companion series Lottie Loves Nature are both published by Five Quills and illustrated by James Brown. Al’s Awesome Science titles have been recommended in the summer Reading Challenge three times and shortlisted for the STEAM children’s book prize. The Lottie Loves Nature series incorporates fun fiction stories with science and animal facts, and practical experiments, all designed to encourage an understanding and love for the natural world. Lottie Loves Nature: Bee-ware! was published in January 2021 and the third title in the series, Lottie Loves Nature: Bird Alert, will be released in August 2021. www.fivequills.co.uk