Author in residence Day 11 – Your Story is Our Story

Students in Years 5 and 6 have developed some amazing characters for their stories and today we worked on getting those characters into trouble to create lots of action in their stories.

Students identified their character’s worst fear and brainstormed ideas about how to bring that fear into their stories to create conflict. We also worked on giving characters a problem that gets worse and worse through the course of the story.

Year 4 students had lots of questions for me about Eddy and how I created him and we worked on creating a whole new Eddy adventure where Chewy rabbit gets lost. They had many fabulous scenarios for what might have happened to him.

Students had also created fabulous milk cartons for their missing characters and they had some great ideas about why their characters might have gone missing and what happens next in their story.

In the last session, I worked with a talented group of writers and illustrators who have volunteered to be the editorial committee to design and produce the anthologies for years 4-8 as well as other publicity materials.

Some members of our editorial and marketing committee hard at work.

The day finished with a staff PD for Years 3 and 4 which involved how to engage reluctant and able writers.

Another fabulous day.

Dee

Thanks to Creative Victoria and Creative Learning Partnerships for making this program possible.

Developing Setting and Making it Active in Your Story – a free online resource for teachers

The Your Story is Our Story project continues!

As I wasn’t able to be in the classroom because of the Covid-19 lockdown in Victoria, staff at Yarrawonga College thought it might be helpful to have a video on setting for their online classes for Years 4-8.

They wanted me to talk about the benefits of choosing a setting you are familiar with, so you can authentically describe it, how I use setting in my books, and how to make characters active in the setting and not just create an information dump of setting details.

I wanted to use images of the local area in my video because I wanted them to be familiar and relatable to students.

On my exercise walk, I took out my phone and snapped a few photos. The sun was shining as I wandered around Yarrawonga, but the streets and parks were eerily silent.

I hope they will have fun making the amazing characters they have created active in their settings.

FREE CLASSROOM AND WRITER RESOURCE

I know there are lots of schools and writers being impacted by COVID and lockdowns so I’ve uploaded the SETTING video to Youtube and my website as a free resource for anyone wanting to teach or develop their own settings.

The video is available from my website at http://www.deescribe.com.au or via Youtube https://youtu.be/k1Qm8F-BWPs

Dee


Thanks to Creative Victoria and Creative Learning Partnerships for making this program possible.

Character Relationships and their importance in your story

I love getting feedback on my blog and answering people’s writing questions.

Riaha wants to know …

Why is it important for a character in a book to have more than one relationship?

Riaha, this post is for you.

FIVE REASONS FOR HAVING MULTIPLE RELATIONSHIPS IN YOUR STORY

Here are FIVE reasons why I think a character in a book needs more than one relationship.

  1. Multiple relationships give us an opportunity to show different aspects of a character

In real life we often have very different views of people. Take some of our politicians for example. The people who vote for them have a very different perspective from those who vote against them.

For example, a politician who is seen as arrogant and cruel by some might be seen as caring by his/her family or a voter they have helped in the past.

Having relationships with various characters allows us to see different sides to our main character … the good and the bad.

As in real life, we reveal different parts of ourselves to different people.

2. It allows us to create a character that readers are more likely to engage with.

If we see a character relating to other characters and they like him or her, this creates an opportunity for us to show what makes this character likeable, and this makes a reader more inclined to like them.

A reader is more likely to connect with someone if they see that others think they are a good person.

  1. Gives a more balanced perspective

By seeing things from different points of view, not just what the main character thinks about a relationship, this allows the reader to assess things in their own mind and come to their own conclusions about whether the main character is credible.

For example, if our main character believes that they are well liked because they are always kind, but other people don’t see them that way because they have been unkind in the past, this allows us to assess whether the main character should be believed in other judgments they make as well.

Or another example, what if a character thinks another character loves them, but the opposite is true? In this instance, our main character’s relationship with someone else could be used to reveal this truth.

  1. Relationships can reveal things about setting and plot

For example, if our main character’s partner works in a night club, this allows the writer to reveal certain thing about that partner and the place they work.

But if the main character’s brother is a priest then this gives the writer a chance to show a different setting, and also a possible source of conflict in the story.

  1. Relationships add layers and conflict.

As in the example above, if our main character has two people they love who have potentially opposing views then this will create a dilemma/possible conflict for our character, allowing them to reveal more of who they are to the reader. How they handle this dilemma will give us information about the sort of person they are.

If the story only showed the relationship between the main character and their partner, this would be a lost opportunity for conflict and would only show us how our main character reacts to one person, their loved one.

Showing a character’s relationship with someone they hated would reveal completely different things about them.

Relationships are often the basis of sub plots. They enrich and add depth to a story.

Thanks Riaha for your great question. I hope you found my response helpful.

If any other writers have experiences that demonstrate why it’s important for a character to have more than one relationship, feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Also, feel free to ask your own writing question and I’ll answer it hear on this blog in May (after I get back from Paris).

Happy writing 🙂

Dee

Paris Hunting – Introducing Cara Jamieson – An Emerging New Character

There’s something really exciting about delving into the minds and lives of fictional characters.

My good author friend, Sheryl Gwyther was invited to participate in a Character Blog Hop by fabulous author, Wendy Orr whose post explores her famous character, Nim.

On Sheryl’s blog, she shares wonderful insights about her compelling character, Adversity McAlpine. I love Addie and her story set in NSW during the depression.

Now Sheryl has asked me to lift the lid on one of my characters so I’ve chosen to talk about a new character from my current work in progress, Paris Hunting.

Paris Hunting is a Young Adult adventure/suspense set in Paris in the present day.

IMG_0048My main character, Cara Jamieson is living in my head at the moment, but I’m looking forward to finding out more about her and her life when I spend time in Paris in April.

What is your character’s name?

Cara Jamieson

Is this character based on you?

Not consciously, but I guess parts of her are. She’s inquisitive like me. She’s quite headstrong and she’s adventurous.

I have never lived the kind of life Cara lives, but maybe a part of me always wanted to.

How old is the character?

Cara is 17 years-old.

What should we know about the character?

If you met Cara it wouldn’t take you long to get to know her. She’s an outgoing, honest kind of girl.

Cara is living in Paris because her father has a diplomatic posting there. She’s an only child so her friends are important to her.

She has just discovered that her Great grandfather, Phillipe Gautier was an important member of the French Resistance in World War 2. Her Great grandfather was a taxidermist (the research on this character has been interesting to say the least) and there’s a rumour that he concealed something important inside one of the animals he stuffed. Cara is determined to find out what it was and where it is now, but the only clue she has is a letter written by Phillipe just before he was murdered.

imagesCara has travelled a lot because of her parents’ work and her friends are the kids of other diplomats. She is someone who likes to learn about and immerse herself in other cultures and traditions.

Cara is a daredevil, and is always challenging her friends to something extreme. Her latest dare involves breaking into the Paris Museum of Hunting to take a selfie with a unicorn horn.

What she doesn’t know is that the Museum holds a clue to her family’s past, and finding out about it could put her life and the lives of her friends at risk.

Cara is very determined and single minded and is hard to talk out of a course of action, even if it’s dangerous

What are your character’s personal goals? 

Cara wants to find this thing that was so important to her Great Grandfather that it probably got him killed. Cara also wants to fulfil her need for adventure.

Where can we find out more about the book?

Paris Hunting is still a work in progress but I’ll be sharing more news about it on this blog as the story develops.

My good writer friends, Alison Reynolds and Sally Murphy have some great new books coming out this year so I’m tagging them to share their character’s stories.

Be watching their blogs at Alison Reynolds and Sally Murphy to find out more.

 

Writing a Strong Character Voice

IMAG4333Character Voice is such a difficult thing to define in writing. It’s made up of so many elements. It’s the way a character talks and thinks, it’s what they believe and how this governs what they do, it’s what makes them unique, its what makes them stay in a reader’s mind long after they have finished the book.

We are a product of our past, our present and our hopes for the future. So too are our characters, and these things are reflected in who they are and in how they express themselves.

Voice is what makes your characters memorable, it’s the way in which they speak to and connect with your readers. It’s expressed through their internal thoughts, their dialogue and their actions and reactions.

Your character’s voice also reflects your voice as a writer because our characters are like our children, they are a reflection of who we are.

Don’t be put off if you don’t find your character’s voice straight away.

IMAG6942Often, it’s not till I finish writing a novel that I realise I have finally found my character’s voice, and I have to go back and rework the start to reflect all the things I have discovered during the writing process about my character,  their internal and external motivations, what makes them unique and who they really are.

That’s why I recommend you don’t spend too long fiddling with the start of your novel, just write it to the end, then go back and rework the start. Fixating on the beginning and ‘trying to get it right’ can prevent you from moving forward with your story.

Below is an example to show you what I mean about being able to strengthen your character’s voice once you know more about them. These excerpts are from the start of my YA suspense novel, The Chat Room.

EARLY VERSION – (About 2 years ago)

When I walk out the front door for good, Dad will have to trust that I’ll be okay. He’ll have to trust that he taught me to be smart about stuff – that I value my life too much to throw it away.

He’s a policeman who’s ‘seen bad things’, but like I keep telling him, “that doesn’t mean they’re going to happen in our family”. If Mum wasn’t on my side, I’d never be allowed to go anywhere. I definitely wouldn’t be having my seventeenth birthday party at our house tonight – with no parental supervision.

I’m still amazed it’s happening. Mind you, it took about twenty “you can trust me” promises before Dad finely caved – and that was only thanks to Peter Chew’s self help book, “Build your teen’s confidence through trust”.

Trust is my promise to keep my little sister alcohol free, drug free and safe at my party. Trust is what stands between me, and being grounded for life. Trust is my friend and my nemesis. If anything goes wrong here, I’m screwed.

I won’t let that happen. I’m not stupid. I haven’t made this party public. Just invited close mates and a couple of online friends. That’s how I want it – laid back – no big deal. Just a bunch of guys and girls, hanging out and having fun.

I’m so determined to keep it casual that I’m still sitting at my computer two hours before people are due to arrive. My bedroom door bursts open and Mum walks in, wearing her “in a hurry frown”.

CURRENT VERSION

Five years ago nobody thought I’d live to celebrate my seventeenth birthday. But here I am, eating chocolate cake, enough to overdose on, and unless you know where to look, you can’t even see my scars.

Even more of a miracle, I’ve convinced my over protective policeman dad to let me have a seventeenth birthday party – just a small one – no mess – no loud music – and no morons. My fifty handpicked guests have been chosen for their potential to have fiasco free fun. I had a bit of extra leverage this year. It’s my parents’ twentieth wedding anniversary today, so Mum demanded a celebration of her own and talked Dad into taking her out for dinner.

I shove the last chocolate crumbs into my mouth, and place my empty plate next to the silver tray with the knife that Mum used to cut the giant cake slabs.

Lia’s plate is empty too. “I’ll load them into the dishwasher.” She leans across to take my plate and accidentally bumps the knife and it clatters off the silver tray, straight onto my foot that I left bare to allow the nail polish on my toes to dry.

“Shit!” I look down to see blood seeping out.

Lia’s eyes go wide. “I’m so sorry. I’m such a klutz.”

Dad bends down to look. “It’s okay. It’s just a small cut.”

Mum comes back with disinfectant and a pressure bandage.

Lia crouches down for a closer look. “Oh Mindy, I can’t believe I did that. I’ve ruined your birthday.”

I put my arm around her. “No, you haven’t. You’ll hardly even see the bandage once I put my shoes on.”

“But it must hurt.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve had worse.”

Everyone goes quiet. I guess like me, they’re remembering back to the accident, to the time I almost lost my life.

COMPARISON

Although the first version gives the reader an idea of who Mindy is now, it doesn’t really give you any idea of her deeper motivations, of what she might have gone through to get to this point, of what has made her the way she is today.

There’s also a lot of ‘telling’ in the first version which is more about me discovering who the character is for myself rather than revealing her to the reader.

In the second version, the reader learns about Mindy’s accident which has a huge influence on who Mindy is now and on what she will do. It adds another layer to her character and gives the reader more reason to connect with her – to care about what will happen to her in this story.

Seeing Mindy’s interaction with her family also gives us a stronger sense of who she is.

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverTIPS ON FINDING  YOUR CHARACTER’S VOICE

Don’t be afraid to try new things with your characters to find out who they really are.

  1. Interview your character and don’t be afraid to ask them curly questions
  2. Get them to write letters to you
  3. Get them to write letters to other characters in the story
  4. Explore their past
  5. Explore their relationships with other characters
  6. Ask them to tell you the most memorable thing about their character
  7. Make a character collage
  8. Put your character in difficult situations and ask them what they would do

If you have any other tips on how you find your character’s voice, please feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

Writing Tip – Sticking to Your Plot (Or not)!

Neridah had another writing question for me this week.

Sometimes when I have written a structured Plot Diagram and Chapter Outline for longer books, when I sit down to actually write it, some of my characters start to do things outside of these carefully made plans. This sounds crazy and I spend a fair bit of time trying to reign them back in or I go back to the Chapter Outline and modify it. In your opinion is this normal for writers?

Taupo BayNeridah, I have to assure you that you are not crazy and you are definitely not alone. Characters often start to develop a mind of their own and create dilemmas for us.

I find that when characters take me in a completely new direction it’s usually because I’ve got to know them better and they are telling me, “This is what I would really do if I were a real person. This is how I would really act.”

So in my opinion, this scenario is quite normal for writers – especially those who know their characters well or are getting to know them better.

I’m not sure what other people think about this, but my advice would be to embrace the actions of contrary characters – let them take you in the direction they want to go. Allow their world to be turned on its axis.

If you think that the direction your character is heading will add tension or conflict or enhance your story in some other way then go with it. If that means you have to adjust your plot outline then that’s what I would do.

Unknown-6I had an extreme case of this with my YA thriller series that I was awarded my May Gibbs Fellowship for.  One of my minor characters got so active and rebellious that she has ended up with a book of her own.

Writing a novel is constant process of evolution. As you progress, characters change, plots change and even you as a writer can change.

In some respects, a character is like an adventurous child – you have to give them the freedom to explore.

But unlike a child, your character should be encouraged to venture into danger. The more danger, the more at risk they are, the better.

Neridah, I hope this answers your question.

Have fun with your characters – let them loose, I say:)

If anyone would like to share their opinion or experience, feel free to comment at the end of this post. If you have a writing question of your own to ask, you can also use the comments section.

Thanks for your great questions Neridah.

Happy writing:)

Dee

Tuesday Writing Tip – Building Relationships Between Characters

You’ve developed your main character. They are compelling, well rounded, proactive, all the things you want your main character to be.

IMAG4171Unfortunately, your work doesn’t end there.

The relationships that exist between your characters are just as important as the characters themselves.

Well developed character relationships can reveal all sorts of things about your character and their story – and they can be a catalyst for action and story events.

BUILDING STRONG CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS

So how do you build strong character relationships?

You need to take the characters involved in the relationship, and ask these questions. (I tend to put the characters side by side in a table so I can make instant links and comparisons)IMAG2072

  1. How do these characters know each other?
  2. How do these characters feel about each other?
  3. What do these characters like about each other?
  4. What do these characters dislike about each other?
  5. How do these characters treat each other?
  6. Outline a situation where these two characters have got along well.
  7. Outline a situations where these two characters have clashed.
  8. How do these characters try to work out their differences?
  9. Which character is most dominant?
  10. Which characters is most peace loving?
  11. What do these characters have in common?
  12. How does each character think that they are perceived by the other character?
  13. How different is this perception from the truth?
  14. Do these characters care about each other?
  15. Do these character’s have expectations of each other?
  16. Are these expectations being met?
  17. If not, why not?

Once you have answered all these questions, you’ll know a lot more about your characters and how they interact, and you’ll be able to make their relationship believable for the reader.

I hope you found this helpful.

Happy writing:)

Dee

ONLINE WRITING CLASSES FOR ADULTS

Adult classes combined ad

Common materials

Classes can be purchased online through http://writingclassesforkids.com/products/

Classes are also available for Kids and Teens

TESTIMONIALS

Your feedback is extremely valuable to me and has enriched my story so much – James

It was great using the pictures to create characters – Ashlee

I enjoyed asking my character questions and finding out more about them – Bill

How to Get to Know Your Main Character – Part 1

To write with authenticity, you need to get inside your main character’s head. You need to know how they will react to certain people and circumstances. You need to know how they would handle adversity and what makes them who they are.

The first thing I do is interview my main character. You can even find a picture of your main character or draw them yourself.

I look upon this first phase as the preliminary interview…and I don’t need to answer all the questions straight away. Sometimes, for instance, I don’t name a character until well into writing the story when I feel I know them better and a name that fits them might occur to me.

I don’t often describe what my characters look like, but I want to be able to see them in my head when I’m writing about them. So here’s what I ask them first:

  1. What is your name and nickname?
  2. What is your age, gender and religion?
  3. What is your mother’s name, age and profession?
  4. How would you describe your relationship with your mother?
  5. How would you describe your relationship with your father?
  6. What is your father’s name, age and profession?
  7. What are your sibling’s names and ages?
  8. What are your sibling’s most annoying traits?
  9. What do you like about your siblings?
  10. If you had a secret, who would you tell it to?
  11. What are you afraid of?
  12. What makes you happy?
  13. What is your favourite food?
  14. What food makes you want to puke?
  15. What is your favourite form of entertainment?
  16. Who is your best friend?
  17. Who is your worst enemy?
  18. Describe how you look?
  19. Describe how you think others see you?
  20. Do you have any special interests?

Record their answers on tape or in writing. (It is okay to speak aloud to yourself with this activity).

You can do this same activity for your villain too. By now you should be getting a bit of a picture of your character in your head, but now you need to delve deeper – look at what really makes them tick.

That’s what we’ll be looking at in our next post.

If you have any tips on how you get to know your characters, feel free to share them with us.

Happy writing:)

Dee

WRITING IS MORE THAN JUST WORDS

I decided that one of my major goals for this year was to try and learn more about writing – to hone my skills.

Sure, that means practising my writing, but it also involves thinking about the way I write.

After last week’s Friday Feedback on this blog, I was reminded by writer Dimity Powell about the importance of thinking for a writer.

At least 50% of my writing time is not about putting words on a computer or paper, it’s about thinking – thinking about the way I’m writing – thinking about my story.

This involves thinking about all sorts of things like

  • taking the time to get to know my characters
  • working out how to get my characters from one place to another
  • increasing the tension by working out story clues for the reader that my character won’t know about
  • thinking about the shape and pacing of my story and whether I’ve allowed enough beats
  • how to immerse my reader in the setting
  • any logic problems with the plot
  • what’s going to happen next and how is will my main character react
  • what kind of ending am I working towards
  • how is my character thinking and feeling in the scene I am writing
  • what are my character’s motivations in the scene I am writing
  • what is the purpose of the scene I’m writing in the whole scheme of things

And that’s just the thinking time. I also spend hours researching and reading, looking at how other writers write and reading their blogs, and learning new things.

So I guess what I’m saying is don’t berate yourself about lack of words on paper. It’s not a measure of how hard you have worked. Sure it’s something tangible, but if you have spent all day researching and thinking, that’s still working on your story – it’s still an important part of the writing process.

As long as you have allowed yourself to spend time with your characters and their story in your mind, you have still been creating, you have still been working towards that elusive goal; finishing your story.

And to me, thinking time is well worth the effort and can avoid a lot of rewriting in the long run.

I’d love to hear how much time you spend thinking about what you’re writing and whether you have any ways like yoga or listening to music to get your creative juices flowing. Feel free to leave your comments at the end of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

P.S. Don’t forget to check out Friday Feedback where writers can 150 words critiqued.