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  • One is Never Enough: How Childhood Games Turned into a Writing Career
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One is Never Enough: How Childhood Games Turned into a Writing Career
Written by
How She Does It
October 2013
Written by
How She Does It
October 2013

Natalie Yoder, author of the One Minute Mysteries series, didn’t know as a little girl that adding a little mystery into her life would turn her into a published author before she was even out of middle school. Now twenty years old and the co-author (with her father) of three books, Natalie discusses her writing process and how she and her dad have turned the silly games they play into books that get kids excited about math and science.

When I was in elementary school, I loved thrill and crime novels. I devoured the Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen mystery books (even if it was just finding a missing dog), and I read Wishbone Mysteries, American Girl mysteries, Nancy Drew books, and others.

One day, I decided to write my own story. I called it the “Club House Gang,” inspired by my own group of best friends, who I hung out with in the clubhouse in my backyard after school. Since then, my love for writing has never gone away.

My dad used to write short little mysteries for me. He would read them to me before bed, and I would try to solve them. Eventually, I began writing my own mysteries, determined to see if I could stump him. That’s how One Minute Mysteries first started.

Creating the One Minute Mysteries books has taught me how to write a story with a twist in less than two pages, as well as how to create characters and settings. Over the years, my dad and I have become good at understanding how a story has to flow, and we’ve learned how to pick out which ideas aren’t going to make it.

A lot of people have asked how I put my stories together, so I’ll satisfy your curiosity--here’s how I do it!

1. What: I like to start with a fact. The world is full of cool facts, and they can be a great way to get a story started. As an example, let’s use the fact that whales are mammals, not fish.

Once you have a fact, you need to figure out how that fact can sprout a story. This may be the hardest part. I mean, the world is full of facts! The tricky part is using one to come up with an original story. In this case, because whales are mammals, they need to come up for air and can’t stay underwater all the time. This is a nuance of the fact that uses an action, so it should be easy to incorporate into a story. (The mystery fact doesn’t always need an action, but it is helpful.)

2. Who: Create the main characters! We know our characters have to be near whales, but beyond that, we can use our imagination, right? So how about this: A family goes out on a boat for a day of whale-watching. Simple enough, right?

3. A little more “who,” plus a little “when” and “where”: Create the setting! Who else might be on the boat? A captain, for sure. We need him there to lead the main characters to the whales. You can create extras for your scenes, too, but don’t let them distract the reader. Stay focused.

In this case, the “where” takes care of itself (they are in a boat on the ocean) and the “when” doesn’t really matter much (though “where” or “when” can make a big difference in other stories).

4. Why (this is where you start filling in your story): A formula I like to use is that somebody who knows the fact says or does something that surprises somebody who doesn’t know it. Here, maybe one of the family members (in this case let's make her a little sister) is afraid they won’t see any whales, because she thinks they might stay under the water the whole time. Another family member (an older brother, let's say) is positive they will see whales. The mystery: Why can he say that so confidently? The answer is that he knows they are mammals, and mammals, unlike fish, need air. The whales need to come to the surface to breathe.

That’s it! It may sound simple, but believe me, it takes a lot of practice. Working on our books, my dad and I have come up with so many mysteries that ended up not working out.

My writing started out as a game and turned into work...but that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun with it! I love writing the One Minute Mysteries books--and getting to write them with my dad has been one of the best parts of my life (love you, Dad!).


Learn more about Natalie Yoder and her One Minute Mysteries books here: http://sciencenaturally.com/iloveamystery 

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  • Mohana Rajakumar

    You go Natalie. I'm really excited for you as you keep growing, both as a woman and a writer. This also reminds me of how important reading with our kids is (instead of only to them).