TO PLOT OR NOT TO PLOT – TUESDAY WRITING TIP With Kate Forsyth

From my posts on this topic, you’ve probably realised that I’m a plotter, but that’s not the way every writer creates. And as I keep saying there is no right or wrong way to write – it’s what works for you.

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Kate Forsyth, the author of 23 wonderful books. She’s going to tell us what she thinks about plotting.

TO PLOT OR NOT TO PLOT – THAT IS THE QUESTION with Kate Forsyth

To me, there are two parts of writing. There’s the wonderful enchantment that overcomes me sometimes, when words tumble through my head faster than I can write, when every word rings true as soon as I catch it in my net. And then there’s the hard slog of writing when every word is dug out of obstinate rock.

To me, good writing seems so effortless, it is as if the reader was making it up as they go along, as if every word and every happening in the story is inevitable. I never want to be seen striving for effect – I want the architectural girders of the story to be hidden. E.M. Forster, one of my favourite writers, says a writer should be like God – ever present and yet invisible. However, to write that well is hard.

It is all too easy to lose your way, which is why having a plan of what you are writing can help you be a more focused and effective writer.

I always tell my writing students:

  • To write without a plan is like going on a journey without a map
  • Never start a novel with a blank page!

So I plan the novel out before I start writing – I fill pages of my notebook with jotted ideas, questions, possible adventures, character sketches, maps, and drawings. I sketch out a plot line, with key scenes, obstacles, and revelations , before I write a single word. Often there are large gaps – places where I have only a question mark. I’m happy to have these gaps – its often where the most marvellous discoveries are made.

For example, in ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’, I knew I wanted my heroes to set out on a perilous quest to rescue a wildkin princess from a crystal tower. That line, that image, was the very first seed of the book. I wrote up a plan, I assembled my cast of characters, I developed their personalities – all the while thinking, ‘How?’ How will my heroes rescue the princess in the tower?

I began to write the novel, I wrote the first few chapters, but still I had no answer. Many of my novels are about rescuing someone from a tower or dungeon (maybe this is a result of spending years in hospital as a child, staring out the window and daydreaming). I’ve had characters climb high walls, I’ve had characters flying winged horses to the rescue, I’ve had characters spin a rope from a strand of silk.

I wanted to do something different. I wanted whatever it was to have some deeper, symbolic meaning in the book, a kind of thematic structure.

But I could not think what. So one morning I am walking in the dawn (I always walk when trying to solve a problem), thinking to myself, ‘How? How do they rescue her? How?’

A raven took to the air, startling me, and one long, black feather fell from its wing right in front of me. I bent and picked up the feather, and thought, ‘a cloak of feathers. Perhaps it could be a cloak of feathers that was damaged in the past and must be mended? Perhaps they need to find seven feathers? Each with its own symbolic meaning that would relate to the action of the book. A feather from a raven, symbol of death and wisdom. A feather from an eagle, symbol of majesty and power. A nightingale feather, symbol of love …’

I walked faster and faster, my head on fire with ideas, and by the time I got home, I had the entire plot of the book worked out. This kind of serendipitous discovery has happened in every single book I’ve written.

I’ve learnt to trust that, no matter the problem in the plot or the story, the answer will come. All I need to do is work and write and daydream, and let it happen.

When it does happen, it raises all the hairs on my arm, it makes me catch my breath … yet it cannot be forced. It’s like a gift from the universe, and all you can do is be grateful for it.

Thanks so much for visiting, Kate. So wonderful to hear your valuable insights. I too, am a ‘walker’. In fact, I think my dog could very well be one of the most ‘walked dogs’ in Australia – not that she’s complaining. I find walking is so great for free my mind from the clutter of other distracting thoughts and letting the answers to my plot dilemmas come.

Happy writing and plotting everyone.

Dee:-)


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HOW TO MIND MAP YOUR STORY – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

Before I even start plotting, I mind-map my story. It’s kind of like ‘free writing’. It’s a chance to get all those random thoughts out of your head and onto paper.

For me, it has two benefits:

1.  It relieves some of the clutter in my brain and helps me to work out where my story is going.

2.  Random thoughts lead to more random thoughts – mind mapping allows my mind to roam free. It helps me understand who my characters are and what their place is in the story. It helps me to understand why things happen and how they occur.

I always start a book with an idea. The idea can come from all sorts of places; news articles, songs, music, people, objects, kids, dialogue, animal behaviour, plants, flowers, pretty much anywhere.

To show you how this all works, I’m going to use the mind map I had for my YA novel, Letters to Leonardo. The book tells the story of a boy who gets a letter from his dead mother on his fifteenth birthday. Okay, so I knew what the book was going to be about. I wrote this in a sentence in a balloon in the middle of  a very large piece of butcher’s paper.

Then I asked myself the following questions:

  1. WHO is the boy? WHO is his mother?
  2. WHERE has she been for the last ten years?
  3. WHAT is the main character (Matt) going to do now that he knows she’s not dead?
  4. WHEN is the story taking place?
  5. HOW is Matt going to find his mother? HOW is Matt’s mother going to come back into the story?
  6. WHY has Matt’s mother been absent from his life?

When I asked myself these questions, all sorts of answers popped into my head and I wrote them on the butcher’s paper.

I also kept asking myself another important question, over and over again WHAT IF?

  1. WHAT IF Matt’s mother wasn’t dead?
  2. WHAT IF she came back into his life?
  3. WHAT IF she had something wrong with her?
  4. WHAT IF he discovered that she wasn’t the person he wanted her to be?
  5. WHAT IF there was a reason that Matt’s dad had lied to him for the past ten years?
  6. WHAT IF Matt was artistic?
  7. WHAT IF Matt wrote letters to someone to help him try and make sense of it all?
  8. WHAT IF Matt couldn’t trust anyone living?
  9. WHAT IF Matt wrote letters to his dead idol, Leonardo da Vinci?

I wrote the answers to these questions in little blocks of text around the main idea. When I thought I had all my ideas down on the butcher’s paper, I put circles around them. Then I used arrows to link the stories together. I use different colours for different story threads. Below is a simplified diagram of how I created Letters to Leonardo. You can see how I have separated the story threads, which often end up being the themes.

Here’s a simplified version of my brainstorming for Letters to Leonardo.

Letters to Leonardo brainstorming diagram

You probably won’t use all of the brainstorming bubbles in your book, but they can be a great place to start your plotting.

Hope you have found this useful.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

* * * ON THURSDAY AT Deescribewritng – “Where Do I Start My Story?”

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE DAY 28

Today my Amazing May Gibbs Adventure officially ends, but for me and my new manuscript, it is really just the beginning. We are about to embark on a journey outside this May Gibbs apartment and who knows where it will take us.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here 28 days. What’s even harder to believe is that I’ve kept my promise to blog EVERY DAY.

I can’t wait to see my family, but when I reflect on the four weeks I have just spent, I’d have to say this has been the most wonderful and inspirational creative experience of my life.

When I came here, I had a goal to plan my three part YA psychological thriller series, and perhaps get 30 pages or so of the manuscript completed. I also planned to use the speedy internet to explore chat rooms and do valuable research.

In the twenty-eight days I have been here, this is what has actually happened.

  1. I have breakfasted, lunched and dined with some wonderful writerly friends, and made new ones while I was here.
  2. Completed the research I set out to do.
  3. Conducted eleven writing workshops for children.
  4. Plotted the three books in my new YA psychological thriller series.
  5. Developed character profiles for the important characters.
  6. Written a first draft of just over 55,000 words.
  7. Made a list of issues that need to be addressed in the next draft.
  8. Came up with a very rough new book idea and title.
  9. Came up with a second new book idea which I have researched and plotted.
  10. Did some of the edits for an existing YA novel.
  11. Blogged daily at this blog.
  12. Posted a writing tips blog every Tuesday.
  13. Became the new children’s book blogger for Boomerang Books and blogged regularly there for the last two weeks.

I have achieved more than I ever thought possible, and to me this goes to show what an inspirational experience a May Gibbs Fellowship is.

Thanks so much to Judith Russell from the May Gibbs Literature Trust for making me feel so at home (even moonlighting as the Easter Bunny). Thanks also to the May Gibbs Literature Trust itself for giving me this opportunity.

Thanks to all the staff at the State Library for organising my workshops and helping to keep them on track, and to my beautiful niece, Emma who came all the way from Byron Bay to visit me.

Thanks to my wonderful Brisbane writerly friends for making me feel as if I really am a resident of Brisbane; Sheryl, Julie, Maree, Lynn, Tina, Ally, Karen and Belinda.

Thanks also to everyone who has read this blog and supported me with  your comments and words of encouragement.

Last but not least, thanks to my wonderful husband and children who have given me the love, encouragement, support and freedom to explore my creativity.

And now I’m off to join my family, but I’ll most likely be back on Monday with news from the ‘real’ world and of course my Tuesday Writing Tip.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE DAY 25

You might have guessed by now that my writing is totally out of control.  An idea can strike at any moment and I find it impossible to say, “Go away I’m busy, come back another day”.

And guess what? I had one yesterday. No sooner had I finished the first draft of one book when an idea, character etc appeared in my head. Needless to say, this new ‘brainwave’ kept me awake till around midnight then woke me again at 4.00am.

The good news is that it’s all plotted out now as you can see from the attached diagram, so now I can put it away and go back to my editing, phew! And the idea will be there waiting for me when I get back and have a chance to focus my attention on this new story.

You might not be surprised to find that it was inspired by the gorgeous Sophie and our lovely day out in the Roma Street Parklands yesterday.

Today was the last of my workshops at the State Library of  Queensland. The workshop was titled from Portrait to Prose, and I used Letters to Leonardo to demonstrate how art can be used to inspire writing. We went to the Library’s Bipotaim exhibition and developed character profiles from photographs, then we went to the art gallery and developed characters from paintings.

This workshop was attended by a group of kids who had taken time out from their school holidays to be there, and they were very enthusiastic and happy to talk about their writing and the sorts of things they write.

May Gibbs’ Literature Trust’s Judith Russell came to the workshop and then we lunched at the Avid Reader where we became Avid Eaters and Avid Readers. A great way to round off the day.

Off course I had to check out Glen’s masterpiece for the day, and when I got home there was plenty of emailing and blogging to catch up on.

Brisbane and my May Gibbs Fellowship has been so inspiring, but I must admit I’m getting edgy to see my family. Only three more sleeps.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

TUESDAY WRITING TIP – How to Keep The Pages Turning

Today, we’re lucky to have author, Cynthia Vespia visiting Deescribewriting. Cynthia is the author of Demon Hunter, and she’s going to talk about how she keeps readers hooked.

BUILDING ACTION AND SUSPENSE

How to keep the pages turning

By Cynthia Vespia

Author, Cynthia Vespia

Writing is a tricky business. It’s important to know all the tried and true techniques that will help mold and shape your novel or story. Once you learn those basics, however, it’s up to you to take what you’ve learned and throw out what you don’t need. It’s like a sculptor creating a magnificent statue. He doesn’t add more clay, he instead peels away layers to reveal the beauty of the work underneath. So today I’m going to tell you a few of the things I use to help keep dramatic suspense in my work. What will keep the reader involved enough that they’ll want to revisit the novel and turn the pages to find out what’s going to happen next?

A lot of it is pacing. Your scenes should develop in a way that builds towards an event or a question of what’s to follow. The way you deliver that most effectively is with action. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, show- don’t tell. Describe for the reader exactly how you see the scene play out in your head. Follow the little movie running in your mind and be aware of all 5 of the senses, then incorporate them into your scene. You know you’ve done your job well when a reader describes back to you the emotion that you were trying to portray. That again is pacing. Drawing the reader in so they feel like they’re part of the story. In a way they become that character on the page.
Here is an example of building suspense and tension taken from my novel Demon Hunter: The Chosen One

His heavy boots made a sick-wet sound as they slapped the soft earth. Debris and chunks of dirt blew into our faces taunting us with the desire to cough aloud but we remained as still as statues. Our eyes kept trained on the man’s every move.

The knife was outstretched in his hands. Almost all of the blood had dried, giving its color a dark crimson masking rather than the brighter sheen of a fresh kill. The remaining liquid congealed at the tip pulling one solitary, fat droplet down off the knife. It plummeted fast and found its landing direct upon the back of my hand. Warmth and cold both blanketed me in the same sensation as the blood sat soaking upon my skin. Both Tuck and I sat staring at the droplet in stark terror, daring not to move one single inch. That one small drop of blood marked what true danger we were exposed to.

Finally I managed to pull my gaze away and regard the stranger before us. My blood ran cold as the man’s eyes rained down upon me, locked against my own. They were dark orbs, almost as dark as night, and they held within them just a touch of madness staring out from under his full brimmed hat.

Notice how the emotions intertwine with description to move the story forward. Depending on what genre you’re writing in there are certain ways of delivering the story fans of that genre expect. Again, learn those techniques and then add what is essentially your own style to create your own definitive writing “voice.”

Control the pace, control the story. The bulk of any scene is built with some sort of conflict, an exterior struggle the audience can visualize, follow, and relate to in some way. Build your suspense with the scene and sequel method where the scene is built upon a certain goal, conflict, or disaster and is almost immediately followed by its sequel with emotion, decision, and action.

Play out your scenes moment to moment just like in real life. Read it back over to yourself and adjust until you feel your own heart quicken with anticipation. But my most important tip for you is this: have fun! Writing, like life, is meant for you to enjoy the journey. Don’t get bogged down with a lot of rules. The tips I’ve presented here are a starting point to help you on that journey. No go forth and discover some techniques of your own and join us back here where you will deliver your own set of tips. Write your story…and make sure you enjoy it.

Thanks for visiting today, Cynthia and for your great insights into how to write to keep the reader turning the pages.

You’ve given us some great tips.

Happy writing

Dee:-)

Don’t forget, if you have a question about writing, put it in the ‘comments page’ of this blog, and I’ll try to answer it in future issues.

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE – DAY 13

i found this interesting character waiting for a bus in Brisbane.

Today has been another big writing day, and at the end of it, I’m well on the way to 8,000 words which is great news for me because it means I’ll have something to talk about at my High Tea on Sunday.

With all the plotting and character development I did before I started, I’m happy to say that the words have been coming quite easily. I feel like I am just sitting at the computer and letting the characters speak for themselves.

Today, my main character discovered some significant information on the internet, and now it’s up to her what she does with it.

More walks around Brisbane included a visit to my favourite coffee cart to check out their words of wisdom, and I’ve enclosed a photo. I find Glen’s boards very serendipitous. Today, my character in my book was finding out about some of her sister’s secrets, and low and behold, Glen’s board was all about the spreading of secrets, lol

Don’t forget, you check out some of Glen’s other great sandwich boards at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Glens-Espresso/98674949393?ref=ts

And yes, I admit to badly missing my family, so today I sent them a postcard (even managed to find the post office) which I hope they receive before I get home:-)

Today, as I wandered around Brisbane, I also looked at some other great sculptures around the place. I love how diverse and original the sculptures are.  I love how clean and friendly and full of wonderful art and creativity Brisbane is.

Off to do more plotting.

Happy writing

Dee:-)

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE DAY 12

A night out in Brisbane

As you can see, I have been experimenting with my blog today. Not sure I like it, but I’ll persist. Still some ‘minor’ issues to iron out like how to get my feather on the letter head etc. And I’m not sure about the columns on either side, makes it a bit cluttered.

Today has been a great writing day. I’ve now written almost 6,000 words so I’m very happy with how it’s all going. The more I write, the more I am getting inside my main character’s head. She has so much to tell me. I’m also learning a lot about her family background, and how her whole family is responding to something really bad that happened to them recently (in the story of course).

The old treasury building in Brisbane is still making money - as a Casino.

I so love this stage in a project where so many new things are unfolding all the time.  Still lots more to find out. Book One is just about plotted – and now I’m moving on to books 2 and 3.

After writing many words this morning, I spent the afternoon and evening with Queensland writerly buddy, Sheryl Gwyther. We had lots of fun brainstorming the projects we are both working on and talking about lots of other writerly things.

Sheryl standing in front of an amazing sculpture made from vegetable steamers.

I’d recommend to any writer, finding a good writing buddy who you can bounce your ideas off. It’s amazing how productive it can be – and great for allowing you to discover holes in your story.

Seeing as we were out and about this evening, I thought I’d include some photos of the sights of Brisbane at night.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE DAY 11

Today's gem from the boys at Glen's Espresso

Today I went past Glen’s Espresso Coffee Cart and decided I’d better introduce myself. There are only so many times you can photograph someone’s sandwich board before you start to look a bit suspicious.

Glen and Sergio admitted they had noticed me with my camera. We chatted for a bit – although they were extremely busy – it seems their coffee is very popular and although I don’t drink coffee myself, I’ve heard on good authority that they make a very nice drop.

I was very excited to discover that Glen and Sergio have their own Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Glens-Espresso/98674949393?ref=ts&v=wall where you can see a collection of their creative sandwich boards.

It’s one of the things I’m enjoying so much about Brisbane – everywhere you look there are creative and talented people at work.

I’ve had a very productive writing day today. I’ve spent the day refining plot, adding details to my characters and writing quite a few words (I now have the first three chapters of my book).

The view from the rooftop garden

What I’ve discovered is that the plotting and character development is ongoing and needs to be updated as your story unfolds.

This afternoon, I spent a lovely couple of hours on ‘the roof’ being creative. I also bought more books hmm…might need to buy another suitcase for the return journey.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE DAY 10

Being far from home on your birthday isn’t easy – especially being away from your husband and kids, who you were already missing like crazy.

Just as well I have such great writerly friends in Brisbane.

And some of them travelled a long way to help me celebrate. Thank you Tina, Sheryl, Jules, Lynn and Ally for making this birthday in Brisbane so special.

It was lovely to dine out and talk about writing and lots of other fascinating things.

Plenty of writing and creating done today. I’m doing the tandem thing – writing and finalising my plotting. That’s how it works sometimes, the steps and processes are interwoven – developing character gives you ideas for plot and writing makes you see where the holes in your plot are.

After the bubble brainstorming of the plot, my next stage in the process is developing the plot arc. For this I also use my trusty butcher’s paper. Any ‘bubbles’ that are related to plot, I write on ‘post it notes’. I then arrange these in order of increasing intensity and basically, in order of  how I want the story to unfold.

Now I know where my story is going to start and how it’s going to end, and some of what’s going to happen along the way. Of course this can change in the writing process when characters like Lia decide to take me in a whole new direction.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

MY AMAZING MAY GIBBS ADVENTURE – DAY 9

Today I discovered there are 103 steps up to my apartment. I thought I’d try and get a bit fitter while I’m here so I have decided not to use the lifts unless I’m completely exhausted or fully laden with shopping.

As part of this new fitness regime, I’m also trying to do a bit of light weight lifting.

Being a creative kind of person I decided to improvise and buy a couple of cans of baked beans. So the cans on this blog post are not symbols of an impoverished writer, nor are they a sign of an obsession with former Australian test cricketer Shane Warne who is well know for being partial to baked beans. My baked bean cans are simply a sign of a writer being resourceful.

And I have been resourceful in so many other ways today. I have joined up my plotting balloons with arrows and worked out the threads of the first book in the series.

I am also pleased to report that I have the first 500 words down on paper. I knew there would be no stopping me once I gave Lia free rein to tell her story.

Today has been so productive that I even fitted in all the mundane things like washing the clothes, and buying a new printer cartridge.

And I managed to take a little time out to have lunch with friend and Brisbane writer, Maree Kimberley… a writer still has to eat after all:-)

Happy writing.

Dee:-)