Have you ever had to explain how to do something? Like, how to play with a paper bag? Or how to pet a cat? Or how to become a cat? There are steps and sequences to follow.
Maybe the protagonist in your story gets a flat tire and their father is going to teach them how to change a tire. Or maybe your protagonist is blind and she wants to explain how to fry eggs if you are blind.
Or maybe you are a cat and you want to help humans become a cat.
Cats Are Good at Explaining Things
Pooh Hodges, who was a regular contributor to The Write Practice before his untimely death, wrote an article about how to become a cat for a contest on Problogger.
Mrs. Hodges took Pooh's winning “how to” post, illustrated it, and made a book. Before he died, Pooh interviewed authors Marion Roach Smith, Jeff Goins, and Steven Pressfield and shared his book with them. They all agreed that cats are good at explaining things.
A romp for all cat lovers.
I wish I could have met Pooh. I joined the Hodges household after he died. I think Pooh and I would have gotten along well. We are quite similar.
You see, I am a cat who writes, too. I write here when Pamela Hodges, the regular biweekly columnist, is too busy cleaning the seven litter boxes. I am inspired by Pooh's book, How to Be a Cat, and today I want to teach you how to explain to someone how to do things.
Maybe we should get Mrs. Hodges to write about how to clean litter boxes?
4 Steps Cats Use to Explain How to Do Something
If you want to explain how to do a specific task, there are several steps you must follow. I will tell you the steps, and I will also use examples to show you how to follow them.
1. Determine the problem you are trying to solve
The first step is to figure out what problem you are trying to solve.
In How To Be a Cat, Pooh helped humans who were tired of being stressed out by the demands of human life. He helped them become cats.
I know you secretly wish you were a cat. You hate shaving your face. You hate waking up early. Your life feels rushed. You have just enough time to shove a doughnut in your mouth and then drive to work. You really want to be a cat.
—Pooh Hodges, How To Be a Cat
I agree with Pooh that humans appear to be stressed and anxious. I am also trying to solve that problem by explaining how to play with a paper bag. Playing with a paper bag relieves stress.
Becoming a cat would be helpful, too. However, if you would have a hard time never driving again, or using your thumbs, I suggest playing with a paper bag instead.
2. Make a list of materials you will need
After you know the problem you are trying to solve, you need to make a list of the materials you will need.
In How To Be a Cat, Pooh doesn't give you a long list of materials, as cats don't need many items. You do have to find a family to live with, and you will have to make a large litter box. However, you won't have to shave anymore, and you won't need a car.
To play with a paper bag, you only need a paper bag and a wall to put it against. You might need to use a large card box instead, because most paper bags are just the right size for a cat, but are too small for humans.
I would gladly trade you my paper bag for your thumbs. Opening a can of sardines whenever I am hungry is something I dream about.
3. Plan out the steps to complete the task
Now that you know the items you'll need, think of everything you have to do to complete the task. At first, don't worry about the order the steps are in. Just get down everything you can think of.
After you have all the steps written down, begin to put them in the proper order.
The first step in How To Be a Cat is to admit you want to be a cat. You wouldn't do Step Two first, where you find a family to live with, unless you had already decided to become a cat.
4. Complete the task yourself
Now, do the task. If you can, that is.
If you are explaining how to attach an air hose to a flying saucer you might have to find an alien ship first. Or you could talk to someone at NASA to ask how to attach an air hose to a space ship. The process might be similar.
If the world in your story is totally different you can create your own processes.
To play with a paper bag, open the paper bag and place it on its side against the wall. Then, from the other side of the room, run towards the bag and leap inside of it. Stay for a few seconds and then run back to the other side of the room. Play with the bag until you get tired from running, then find a sunbeam and take a nap.
Why Try the Steps Yourself?
Suppose you are teaching someone how to fry an egg. If you follow the instructions you created yourself, you might find out that you forget to mention that you must turn the stove on.
If you are describing something you don't know how to do yourself, be sure to double check the instructions with someone who knows how to do your task.
If your protagonist has to explain how to change a tire, talk to someone at a garage and ask them to show you how to change a tire. And, if you are physically able, actually change the tire. There are probably videos online showing you how to change a tire too.
More Knowledge Is Better
The more knowledge you have about a task, the easier it will be to write about the process.
Pooh Hodges knew how to be a cat because he was a cat. And I know how to play with a paper bag because I have played with one.
Would someone please write about how to open a book when you don't have any thumbs? I am trying to open How To Be a Cat to read it to the kittens, Oscar and Clara, but I am having trouble turning the pages.
Have you ever tried to explain how to do something? Have you ever wanted to be a cat? Please let me know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to write a story in which your character explains to someone how to do something.
Decide what problem you want to solve, or a task you want to want to give instructions how to complete. It could be something a character in your story has to explain to someone else. Maybe your protagonist has to show someone how to fry an egg if you are blind.
Please post your how-to steps in the comments section, and then please read someone else's comments. I love this community and how kind everyone is. I wonder if some of you are really cats?
P.S. Here is Pooh's book. He explains in fifteen steps how to be a cat. There is a checklist and a journal section for you to help you as you become a cat. There are paper cut-outs and an official certificate after you complete the fifteen steps. Click on the book to find out more about the book, or go to How to Be a Cat.