MAY’S WINNER – SARAH’S PICK: The Dancing Seahorse by V.L. Marsell

I selected this month’s short story, written to eventually be turned into a picture book for children, because it’s a simple yet inspiring tale of sticking with something, even when it’s hard. Something all writers know about, I’m sure! It’s a good reminder to be yourself and never give up!

The Dancing Seahorse

By V.L. Marsell

Serena the Seahorse is the odd one of her family.

She is rainbow-colored; everyone else is just plain orange. They never really treat her like she’s different, but she still feels like she doesn’t belong.

Some of the other sea animals, however, do make fun of her because she is different. This makes her sad. It was because of this that she prefers to be by herself.

Places where no one else can see her are her favorites.

She is afraid for anyone to find out what her secret love is. She was afraid they would make fun of her.

Serena loves to dance.

She goes to a little alcove in the more shallow water—where she could hear the music playing from the beach. First, she starts swishing her tail and moving her head from side to side, until she gets into a rhythm. Then she begins twirling.

One day, without her knowledge, one of Serena’s sisters follows her.

She is curious as to where Serena goes every day after Fish School ends. Savanahh watches in amazement as her sister begins fluttering and twirling around. She doesn’t know what to think. It is strange and beautiful at the same time. She watches her for a long while before heading home.

Savanahh wants to tell her parents what she had seen. But she was afraid that if she tells their parents, Serena will be mad at her.

She already knew that Serena feels out of place because of how she looks. But if the other sea animals know about her dancing, maybe they could see how special and talented her sister really is. Maybe she can even talk Serena into entering the Fish School Talent Show that’s taking place next week.

Later that evening, Savanahh tells Serena about following her and watching her dancing. Serena feels sad. Because once the other sea animals find out, they would make fun of her more often.

Her sister tries to reassure her and tells her that she needed to enter the Talent Show. “Everyone should see how beautiful you dance,” Savanahh says.

At first, Serena is scared to let anyone see her dance. But the more she thinks about what her sister had said, the braver she feels.

She didn’t tell her sister, but she decides to enter the Talent Show.

On the day of the Talent Show, Serena is terrified, but is ready to dance. From where she stands, she can see her family. When she swims out on stage, she sees all the other sea animals watching her and she almost swims away.

But she doesn’t.

She musters all of the courage she has inside and she starts to swish her tail. Then she closes her eyes and just dances. She forgets about everyone, pretends she is in her secret alcove, loses herself in the music of her mind, and dances with all her heart. When the music stops, she opens her eyes and sees everyone clapping.

After the show, when the winner is announced, Serena couldn’t believe her little ears.

She WON!

The next day when she goes to school, everyone tells her how beautiful she had danced. From moment on, no one ever makes fun of Serena again.

And she dances every day.


V.L. Marsell wrote this for her friend’s granddaughter, Serena, who is a dancer and loves seahorses. She is working on a novel and other short children’s stories. Her previous short Christmas story published on UpwriteLadies is being looked into for publishing.

Mother’s Day

Whether you want to admit it or not, Mother’s Day is a day fraught with raw emotions. It’s a day that is meant to honor our mothers, and the truth is they deserve that and so much more. Mothers are awesome, and they need respect and honor every day of the year.

That being said, this Sunday there will be people who are missing their mothers. Nothing is more difficult or painful than losing your mother, and this day will bring up all of those emotions all over again.

There will be people who are sitting in your pew at church, trying to hold it together while they watch the little children give their mothers gifts and hugs and kisses.

Of course mothers deserve those things. No one’s saying they don’t. No one’s saying don’t celebrate and observe. No one is that much of a monster.

I’m just talking about those women who are forgotten. Those women who are silent. Those women who would never speak for themselves, because the last thing they would ever want to do is shift the spotlight from mothers to their own pain.

But, just because they’re silent doesn’t mean the pain isn’t real.

I can’t speak for all women. I am not all women. I am me. And personally, I have no real issues with Mother’s Day. It’s always been a fine day, because it’s not about me.

It’s not for me.

I’m not mother.

I never had a chance to be a mother.

That chance was taken away from me when I was ten years old. I’ve known from that young that it just wasn’t in the cards for me. Sure, there’s always adoption, an option I heartily endorse and value, but telling a woman “Well, you can always adopt” is like telling someone, “Well, you can always just use your left hand when I cut off your right hand.”

Sure, it’s possible.

But it sure as hell would be nice to have to option of using your right hand.

I’ve grown to accept this over the years, for the most part. It’s part of who I am, and I’m generally okay with who I am.

But, it’s a process of grieving. A process of acceptance. It isn’t something you’re told and you just nod and say “Okay. No kids. Sure. That sounds great.”

If you’ve never been told that, you don’t understand.

You just don’t.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

There are parts of your life that I will never understand.

That’s just life. We all have something we have to deal with. This is my thing. Your thing is yours.

A lot of women out there struggle with it more than I have. A lot of women have gone through miscarriages and years of infertility treatments. A lot of women have gone through pain and tears and frustrations you will never understand.

You just won’t.

It’s their thing.

Not yours.

I’ll never fully understand, because I guess at least I knew since I as 10. I never had that spark of hope that it could happen for me. It was just part of my life that never existed, so how can I miss it? It’s like a phantom limb, you know it’s not there, but sometimes you can still feel it itch. Just a little.

Sometimes, it hurts. A lot.

It just does.

So, please. Appreciate your moms on Sunday. Love them. Honor them. Revere them. Have brunch with them.

Maybe just remember that sitting next to you might be someone who is in pain.

And that pain is real, whether you see it on their faces or not.

What Makes a Compelling Character? Part II

Last time, we focused on writing dialogue for your character. Today, we’re going to talk about figuring out who your character is as a person.

A lot of times, you won’t know who your character is when you start writing them. You might know one or two of their dominant personality traits, but the odds are you will discover the shades and nuances of their personality during the writing process. This is not only okay, it’s wonderful. Writing should be as much a process of exploring and learning as it is a process of merely dictating to your readers what to think or feel.

It is okay if you begin knowing one thing about your character and nothing else. For example, you may know your character is a smooth-talking con artist. You may know they are a soldier struggling with PTSD. You may know they are a kind, patient teacher. Starting from one point and building up from there is a great way to begin the process, as long as you don’t leave their entire personality at that one trait. Writers tend to write flat, uninteresting characters when they mistake a single trait for an entire character. No person is one thing and only one thing. No one is all noble and good all the time, and no one is generally all evil all the time. There are nuances to humanity, and a character without any nuance will feel two dimensional to your readers.

For many writers, it is easier to write a character if you “base” them on someone in real life. Sometimes, this means basing your character on yourself. Now, there is nothing wrong with giving your character some personality traits that you have, or that your family has. The danger, however, is when you don’t go any deeper than that. If your character is merely a stand-in for yourself, you won’t be able to objectively find their flaws and downsides. You will be so concerned with the audience liking your character that you will try to make them flawless and perfect. Not intentionally, of course, but it will happen. That’s when the dreaded Mary Sue label pops up. Your audience is smart. They’ll catch it. Don’t take them for granted, and don’t try to fool them.

Please note, this does NOT mean that you just tack on something like alcoholism or a drug addiction to every character just to give them depth. That is not depth, it is lazy writing. Whatever flaws your character has must grow organically out of their core. Any “turns” a character takes, such as a villain having a moment of nobility or a hero falling from grace, have to make sense for who they are and who they are trying to be.

You’ll know you’re on the right track when your character begins to do and say things you would never do. When your character can wholeheartedly believe and defend a position you disagree with, you have a fully fledged character and not a Mary Sue.

  • Sarah