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.

WHY IT PAYS TO TALK TO YOUR CHARACTERS – Guest Blogger – Aimee Said

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Australian YA author Aimee Said to DeeScribewriting.

Aimee is going to talk about her book, Little Sister and explain why it’s important to talk to your characters and listen to what they have to say.

ABOUT LITTLE SISTER

Allison Miller is counting down the days until her overachieving elder sister, Larissa, finishes Year 12 and leaves their school for good. Then, Al is certain, people will finally see her as more than just “Larrie’s little sister”. But when rumours start circulating about Larrie and her best friend, and Al has to decide whether to support her sister or distance herself to protect her own reputation.

HOW GETTING TO KNOW YOUR MAIN CHARACTER HELPS WITH PLOTTING

When I started writing my second novel, Little Sister, I felt pretty confident. I’d been thinking about the story for six months, I thought I knew my characters well and I had a basic plot outline. It should’ve been a recipe for success but somewhere around the 20,000 word mark – a third of the way into the book – I got stuck.

It wasn’t that I’d run out of ideas, just the opposite: I had loads of options for what could happen to move the characters from Point A to Point B in the plot, but I couldn’t decide which would result in the best story. I thought if I just kept writing the story would sort itself out. But the more I wrote the further I got from my original outline, until I’d bypassed Point B altogether, arrived at an unplanned Point C and was hurtling towards a conclusion that I didn’t know would be an unsatisfying end to the story.

I was now about 45,000 words and six months into writing. I knew something had gone drastically wrong and I knew I had to fix it, even though the idea of wasting all those words and all that time made me feel sick. So I stepped away from my computer and thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it. Weeks later I was still thinking about it when I realised that I’d been so focused on what was going to happen that I’d lost sight of who it was happening to and how they would react (which would drive the next stage of the plot). I needed to get back in touch with my characters – especially my narrator, Al.

So I wrote a letter. Or rather, Al did. I looked back over all the notes I’d made about her: personality traits, likes, dislikes, dreams and fears, until I felt like I’d reconnected with her. Then, channeling my inner Al, I imagined her telling the story of what had happened to her over the past six weeks (the period that the book is set over). The letter took three hours to write and covered 10 pages. At the end of it I had about two paragraphs per day that the book is set over, describing what Al thought were the most significant events. I had my plot – the whole thing. More importantly, it was written in Al’s voice, with her reactions and her leading the action.

I did have to go back and delete about 20,000 words, but after writing that letter I was so in touch with Al and what she’d been through that I actually wanted to start again! Best of all, in telling me her story, Al mentioned a few things that I hadn’t known about her, that became subplots in the book.

It was a hard earned lesson, but what I took away from those torturous few months was that sometimes you have to let your characters lead the story. Trust them, they usually know what they’re doing.

Thanks Aimee for sharing this experience with us. Getting to know your main character is so important isn’t it?

If I’m stuck, I often interview my main character to find out what is going to happen next. I’d love you to share any tips on how you get to know your main characters. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

P.S.

Today, author Janice Hardy has a great post at her blog about how characters fit into your story. Here’s the link: http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/01/whats-their-story-discovering-front.html. Just another good reason to talk to your characters:)

 FRIDAY FEEDBACK STARTS THIS WEEK

Also, this Friday, we start our Friday Feedback at this blog. Here’s how it works:

  1. You submit 150 words of a story and you can ask a writing question about your excerpt.
  2. I post my feedback to this blog.
  3. Other people can comment on the feedback as well.

Don’t miss this Friday’s first post offering feedback on Ben Marshall’s new YA adventure.

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – CREATING THE MAIN CHARACTER FOR A FANTASY SERIES

Today we welcome Ian Irvine on his blog tour to promote book 3 in his Grim & Grimmer series. Ian has generously agreed to share his writing tips based on how he created his quirky and endearing main character, Ike.

Hi Dee, thank you for the opportunity to visit your blog and talk about my humorous fantasy series for children, Grim and Grimmer, and how I wrote it. I hope everyone finds it interesting and informative, and a little bit of fun as well.

1. Some really bad things seem to happen to Ike, like being forced to eat maggot soup and having to win contests against lying cheating, desperate dwarfs. Have you drawn from personal experience when creating his character?

I suppose so, though not deliberately. Ultimately, the only person a writer can really know is himself or herself (assuming the writer isn’t prone to self delusion, and many are, but not me, lol). Thousands of people would have touched my life in some way or another, over the years, but even those family members and friends I know best, I only know from the outside. The one person I can know from the inside is myself, and so, in a way, every one of my characters (male, female, animal, beast, alien, ghost or whatever) is created by drawing on aspects of myself, my life and experience, and then changing it to suit.

Having said that, gruesome food is a feature of many of my children’s books, and this is certainly inspired by meals I’ve had in my travels. For thirty years I’ve been a marine scientist working on pollution problems. I’ve worked in a dozen countries in the Asia-Pacific region and on these jobs I’ve eaten some astoundingly horrible local dishes. Since I had to suffer, I also like to make my characters suffer, ha ha.

2. How did you find the ‘voice’ for Ike – the things that distinguish him from other characters? Did he just arrive one day and speak to you or did you have to spend time with him, peeling away the outer layers to see what was underneath? Or perhaps he is based on someone you know?

Ike isn’t based on anyone I know. I never base characters on people I know, or have read about, because I like to make characters up myself – it’s part of the fun of writing. Besides, all the characters in the Grim and Grimmer books are rather eccentric, if not downright weird, and I don’t know anyone weird enough to qualify for a place in these books. (Note to self: must get out more.) To create Ike’s ‘voice’, I spent a lot of time working him out and trying to understand him – and once I felt that I did, I just ‘winged it’.

3. How have you made Ike a character that readers will engage with?

I believe the most important storytelling task is to find ways to get readers to relate to the characters, so that when we read the story, we personally feel the emotions of the viewpoint characters as though we were there. We identify with these characters, and this is a deep and powerful need in all humans. It’s why, when we watch the news about a disaster on the other side of the world – a tsunami in Japan, say – the factual reportage is broken up by interviews with survivors. Only by hearing their tragic or heroic stories can we identify with such a distant event, and it’s the same in storytelling.

To identify with the hero, the writer has to uncover his or her true character, and the best way to do this is through conflict ­– by putting the hero into difficult situations where he’s forced to make awful choices that reveal who he really is.

This is what I’ve done with Ike. In the Grim and Grimmer books, Ike is always in conflict with someone, whether it be the imp Nuckl who wants to eat his liver, the Fey Queen Emajicka who is desperate to steal Ike’s nightmares, the desperate dwarf Con Glomryt who is using Ike to try and return from exile, or Ike’s dearest friend, the apprentice thief Mellie, who is so different that they hardly ever agree on anything. Each of these encounters puts Ike to a difficult choice, and each is another step on his path from Useless Ike at the beginning of Book 1 to Ike the Hero of Grimmery at the end.

4. A character’s greatest quality can sometimes be their greatest flaw. Would you say that’s the case with Ike?  What do you see as his greatest flaw?

Ike has so many flaws that it’s hard to pick on one, the author chuckles. At the beginning, his greatest flaw is that he thinks of himself as Useless Ike, a kid who is hopeless at everything. But then, in Mister Flogger’s classroom just before Ike is expelled, he realises that he can’t go on like this. He has to change and make something of himself, and this is the choice that leads all the way to his transformation at the end.

Ike’s greatest virtue is that he’s really enthusiastic, and never gives up, but the reverse is his recklessness; he acts on impulse without thinking things through. He often has a good idea and immediately acts on it rashly, as when he decides to run down to save Princess Aurora in Book 1, The Headless Highwayman, but gets it wrong and accidentally betrays her to her enemy, the Fey Queen. Also when he takes the trioculars in the middle of the night, after Mellie has warned him not to, and the Fey Queen realises what a danger Ike is to her. And when he rashly becomes a night-gaunt to save Mellie, only to almost kill her; and when he makes the disastrous wyrm-dung fuelled rocket that explodes and nearly wipes them both out. He’s always doing it.

5. How did you decide what Ike would look like? Did you use a picture, a photograph, did you draw your own picture – or is he just a product of your imagination?

He’s a pure product of my imagination, I’m afraid. Occasionally I’ve attempted to sketch characters but it’s never been very successful. Unlike Ike, I’m not much of an artist. I wanted his physical appearance to mirror his inner self, though. Ike’s tall with big feet and a big nose, not at all good looking. He’s lanky, clumsy and uncoordinated, and no good at any kind of sport, but he’s strong and good-hearted, qualities which carry him through many dangers to his final transformation.

6. Do you have trouble making bad things happen to Ike or are you one of those authors who loves being mean to their characters?

I’ve always believed that if the characters are having a good time, the reader isn’t. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of happiness, fulfilment and joy – of course there are – but for most of the book Ike and his friend Mellie are in dire trouble and physical or emotional pain. Or both!

I like to make my characters suffer, to put them through every trial and indignity that human ingenuity can come up with. Ike even dies in the second book, The Grasping Goblin, after the mad hermit Gorm forces him to pick up a piece of frozen lightning. Alert readers will realise that, since Ike appears in the third and current book, The Desperate Dwarf, he must have been restored to life somehow, and this is all set up beforehand so that it’s not at all miraculous.

7. How did you decide which Point of View to tell Ike’s story from? Did you experiment or did it just happen naturally for you?

The story is told entirely in the third person, from ike’s point of view. In the Grim and Grimmers, which are mainly for readers in the 9-14 age group, I did not feel that more than one viewpoint was warranted (though there were times when I regretted not being able to tell Mellie’s side of the story). I might also have used first person from Ike’s point of view, and it might even have worked better and been more involving. Perhaps next time I will.

8. Do you have any tips for new writers about how to create a character like Ike?

There are many ways of creating characters – for example, completing a character checklist (many such forms are available on the net and can be googled up), or doing an in-depth interview with the character, for example. But I get bored filling in forms (it feels too much like hard work) and I don’t like interviews much either. Character creation also depends on the kind of story you’re telling – for instance, a humorous adventure series like Grim and Grimmer does not need the deep characterisation of a human drama.

I work out a few fundamental points about a character (eg: what are Ike’s most fundamental needs – To survive? To save his friend Mellie? To clear the names of his dead parents?) and have these colour everything he says and does.

Another important point: every character in the book has to serve a purpose, and there should always be some kind of conflict or friction between them every time they meet or talk. This reveals another detail about the character. No character should be there just as a decoration or diversion, or merely to provide some piece of needed information.

Thank you, and I look forward to your comments and questions.

Ian Irvine

Thanks, Ian for some great insights into how you write and how to create a great character. If you have a question or comment for Ian feel free to write it in the comments section of this post.

Ian is touring his latest Grim and Grimmer tale, The Desperate Dwarf and on his travels he is visiting these great blogs:

March 21, 2011                                         http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/kids-book-capers-blog/

Kid’s Book Capers                                    Review and competition – 3 BOOKS TO BE WON!

March 22, 2011                                         https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

Dee Scribe                                                  Writing Ike’s Character

March 23, 2011                                         http://bloggingwithianirvine.blogspot.com/

Our Lady Of Lourdes School                 General Writing

March 23, 2011                                         http://tristanbancksflow.blogspot.com/

Tristan Banck’s Blog                                Creative Process/Workspace

March 24                                                     http://www.kids-bookreview.com/

Kid’s Book reviews                                   Top 10 Writing Tips

March 28, 2011                                         http://www.robyn-campbell.blogspot.com/

Robyn Campbell                                        About the writing life and this book

March 28, 2011                                         http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/

George Ivanoff                                           10 things I enjoyed most about writing this book

March 31, 2011                                          http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/literary-clutter-blog/

George Ivanoff                                           10 things I found hardest about writing this book

April 6, 2011                                               http://dcgreenyarns.blogspot.com/

DC Green                                                     Where the character and story ideas came from

April 11, 2011                                              www.buginabook.com

Bug in a Book


HOW TO FIX UNLIKEABLE CHARACTERS – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

WHY I WROTE THIS POST

I’ve recently been having discussions with a number of writer friends about the dilemma of creating a main character that readers don’t care about.

I feel like I had a breakthrough recently in turning an unlikeable character into one that a reader could love. One of my writer friends suggested I share my discoveries in a blog post – so here it is.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

A few years ago I came up with a YA plot and a main character (MC) I really liked. I wrote her story, but it soon became apparent that I was the only one (apart from her mum and her best friend) who actually liked her.

Particularly when writing YA and we are trying to make our MC’s angst ridden but feisty, it’s too easy to create a character that nobody likes or cares about.

Your main character doesn’t have to be sugar sweet, but they have to be someone you and your readers can empathise with. In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter is appalling, but in my mind, it’s really FBI agent, Clarice Starling who is the MC and carries the reader through the story because of  her vulnerability and determination.

In my YA novel with the unlikeable heroine, I  had created plenty of problems for people to sympathise with, but clearly that wasn’t enough.

WHY READERS DIDN’T SYMPATHISE WITH MY CHARACTER

In real life, do we sympathise with the drunk driver who keeps getting in their car and having accidents? Do we sympathise with anyone who keeps making the same mistakes again and doesn’t heed anyone’s advice?

OTHER MISTAKES I MADE

1.    I thought I had made her angst ridden, but I had just made her irritating.

2.    I thought she was feisty but she was just plain aggressive.

3.    I thought she had enough problems to make readers sympathise but they felt she had brought her own hardship on herself.

(You might recognise some of these problems in your own stories:)

When I looked for ways to fix the problems with my story, it came back to character development – not just my MC but her supporting cast too.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR CHARACTER LIKEABLE

1.    They have to have some normality in their life so that readers can relate to them.

2.    They have to have understandable reasons or motivations for what they do.

3.    They have to have character traits that are both qualities and flaws – this makes them believable and strong. For example, in my current work in progress, my character’s determination and tenacity are her strengths, but they’re also her downfall because they are the traits that stop her from letting go of the past, even when it puts her life at risk.

I went back and did some serious work on both my MC and her mother (who was the other ‘accidentally’ unlikeable character in the book).

I discovered that both my MC and her mother’s characters had good motives and reasons for their actions. The problem was that I hadn’t actually conveyed this to the reader. It was clear in my head so I thought they’d understand, but of course they couldn’t make the connection if I hadn’t put the necessary pieces in the story.

As writers, so much of the backstory is in our head and we have to be discerning about what we reveal, but sometimes we have to give our secrets away.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

I recently discovered that there’s a lot more in a name than I thought. Just by changing my MCs name from Tara to Sarah, she emerged as a completely different character in my mind – somebody softer, more gentle, more ethereal. She became the character I always wanted her to be – someone my readers could empathise with. Somebody they would want to see succeed.

I’m not saying that Sarah is a better name than Tara, I’m talking about what the names meant to me as the creator of the story.

So if you have people who need to be more likeable in your story, my tips would be to look at their name, develop their character more, and give the reader enough information so they can make the right connections in your story.

I’d love to hear about your unlikeable character dilemmas.

Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and character rebuilding:)

Dee

MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS MOVE – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

I started my scribing life as a playwright creating murder comedies like The Body in the Buggy Room and Up The Creek. It was something I did for fun. I joined an amateur theatre group and I learned all about stage direction, what the audience could see and how much the actors really  needed to know.

But thanks to two writerly friends I recently realised that you need to toss the stage direction out the window when you’re writing a novel – you need to immerse yourself in the scene.

Alison Reynolds, author of the very popular Ranger In Danger series and many other great reads and Bren MacDibble author of numerous compelling books and short stories for children and young adults both had some invaluable advice for me.

Alison said:

I wanted the scene with black roots to be more menacing and I’ve marked other scenes where I’ve wanted more drama.

When I looked back at the scenes Alison was talking about, I could see what she meant. I had put people in places instead of allowing them to go there of their own free will – to find their own way to react to what was happening around them. These scenes were static – they lacked emotion, they lacked realism, they lacked drama and they lacked spark.

Bren said,

Descriptions on the move as the characters interact with the landscapes, rooms, building may need to be focussed on as well as watching that the stage direction doesn’t overwhelm the narrative or become robotic.

They were both right. You need to let your characters make their own moves and inhabit the world you have created for them.

WHAT NOT TO DO – FROM AN EARLIER DRAFT

To show you what I mean, here’s an example of  a static scene – even though the characters are moving, it’s forced and not dynamic enough – not enough emotion and tension for the scene.

Dad looks at me miserably “That’s just what I’m afraid of. You don’t see what he’s doing to you – to all of us. It has to stop somewhere. He has to start taking responsibility for his actions.”

Mum tries to side step past him. “We are responsible for his actions. It’s what we let happen that caused this.”

Dad moves to the side. “Go then. Just go. But if you leave now, don’t bother coming back.”

HOW I REWROTE IT

Dad has just about stirred the bottom out of his coffee cup. He lifts it to his mouth and peers at me through the steam. “That’s what I’m afraid of. You don’t see what he’s doing to you – to all of us.”

The oven timer rings. Mum slams or hand on it and the ringing stops, but the vibrations still echo through the room. Dad stands next to me while I take my pizza out of the oven. It looks cooked but I don’t feel like eating it now.

“Shit!’ I burn my finger on the tray and just about drop the pizza on Dad’s foot.

“Sarah!” Mum jangles the car keys in her hand.

Dad takes the pizza from me and puts it on the sink. I run my finger under the cold tape and Dad turns to Mum. “See what Ed does to this family.”

“This wasn’t Ed’s fault, Dad. I burnt myself.”

Dad takes the pizza cutter from the drawer and starts slicing,  just about cuts a hole in the tray. “This business with Ed has to stop somewhere. He has to take responsibility for his actions.”

Mum slams a plate on the bench next to Dad. “But we’re responsible for this! We’re the ones who let it happen.”

Let what happen? I keep running my finger under the cold tap, try to stop the pain.

Dad slides the sawed pizza onto the plate and slams it down hard on the kitchen table. He points to the door. “Go then, just go,” he yells at Mum. “But if you leave now, don’t bother coming back.”

In this new scene I tried to incorporate more of what you would expect to be going on during the conversation – the background stuff – the sort of detail that helps put the reader into the scene and make it more real.

Thanks Alison and Bren for your help.

I hope that sharing this with my blog readers might have helped you too.

Happy writing:)

Dee

HEROES, VILLAINS AND WRITING BUDDIES

Enjoying a laugh with writerly friends Marie Alfaci, Claire Saxby, Sheryl Gwyther, Elaine Ouston, Julie Nickerson and Kath Battersby

Very few children’s authors become wealthy from their writing, but it is an industry rich with wonderful people and great friendships. I was reminded of this on the weekend when I attended the CYA Conference in Brisbane.

Queensland author, Sheryl Gwyther and her husband, Ross welcomed writers from all over Australia into their home. (Thanks Sheryl and Ross – Chateau Gwyther is always a great place to stay:-)

I spent an amazing weekend, laughing, brainstorming and sharing with other authors; knowing that I am not alone – that others share my love of children’s literature – that others share the ‘ups and downs’ of working in an industry where rejections are plentiful and acceptances are few and far between and must be celebrated with relish.

On Friday night, we attended a function, Four on the Floor at Black Cat Books Paddington featuring Julie Nickerson, Aleesah Darlison, Peter Carnavas and Oliver Phommavanh.

Oliver’s hilarious talk about his new book, Thai-riffic inspired us to dine afterwards at a nearby Thai restaurant.

Illustrator, Jo Thomspon set up a gorgeous display for The Glasshouse launch.

Saturday was full on at CYA Conference where I launched Sheryl Gwyther’s hot new book Charlie and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper and Jo Thompson and Paul Collins stunning new PB, The Glasshouse.

I also attended and was inspired by sessions and workshops with Kate Forsyth, Gabrielle Wang, Prue Mason and Chris Morphew. I love hearing how other authors work and came away from each session feeling as if I had learned something valuable or heard something that would help me decide future direction/revisions to my current WIP.

The hardest part was coming away feeling so inspired and not having the time to write until I got home again.

HATCHLINGS

Sunday at CYA was Hatchlings day. From about 9.00am enthusiastic young writers aged 8-16 started trickling through the door, eyes alight with excitement and perhaps a few nerves.

I was very excited at the prospect of being able to do my Heroes and Villains workshop with a whole new group of young writers. And it was wonderful.

We talked about stereotyped heroes and villains and what makes a well rounded character. The kids had two photos as a starting point and worked on developing a character based on each picture; one hero and one villain or two villains if they preferred.

As well as interviewing each character to find out more about them, they looked at the relationship between the two and how they knew each other.

It was so much fun. It was also interesting to see how quietly and intensely they worked at making each character unique and interesting.

Unfortunately time was limited so they didn’t get a chance to put their characters into conflict, but right at the start of the workshop they got to act out their own Hero vs Villain scenario.

All in all it was another inspirational CYA conference. Thanks to Tina, Ally and crew for all your hard work in bringing together Australian children’s writers and illustrators and other industry professionals in such a fun and inspiring way.

And it was so great that young writers could share the experience this year.

Happy writing:-)

Dee

INSPIRING YOUNG WRITERS

Today I spent time with a group of year 7 students talking about my favourite subject, writing.

They are hard at work writing for the Write across Victoria competition.

I was there to talk about plotting and story and how to UNMASK great characters.

We discussed the fact that every story has to have a strong beginning and hook the readers in and every story starts with something happening for the main character which makes it a day like no other, and changes their life or who they are.

We studied plot arcs and looked at rising tension in stories and the fact that ‘post it’ notes do fall off a page when you hold it up to show the class.

But one of the most important things we discussed was the fact that writers have to ask a lot of questions

  • Who is the story/action happening to?
  • What is happening?
  • Why is it happening?
  • When is it happening?
  • Where is it happening?
  • How is it happening?

We talked about writing and where you get story ideas from and all the fun things about writing. I walked out of their classroom thinking, these are all writers. They have enquiring minds, good ideas and they ask a lot of questions.

I felt truly inspired by them and I hope they gained something from sharing my experiences.

Thanks to M Healy’s class at Braemar College.

Feel free to ask any more questions about writing or your stories in the ‘comments’ section of this post.

Happy writing:-)

Dee