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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

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

HOW TO THROW OUT YOUR 65,000 WORD STORY – And Use The BEST BITS To Build a Better One

I’m currently working on my next YA novel, Street Racer.

This novel was one of those ones that just came to me. The main character sat on my shoulder and told me his story – and I knew who he was and what he wanted from life.

The problem was, he told me his story in verse.

This wasn’t actually a problem for me, but it was for my publisher. Apparently, verse novels don’t sell.

More important than the publisher’s comment was the feedback from my teenage son. My eldest reads just about anything, but he told me he wouldn’t read a verse novel and neither would any of the boys he knew.

Street Racer was a book that I WANTED teenage boys especially to read. This story was really important to me so I had to try and rework it in prose.

I’m now on the fifth draft and it’s better – but still not working. In the transition from verse to prose I’ve had to add a lot more detail and here’s what’s happened:

  1. I’ve ended up with character ‘devices’ that don’t ring true.
  2. I’ve ended up with too much plot detail that takes the focus away from my main character.
  3. The setting needs to be more clearly established.
  4. Some of the character reactions aren’t authentic.

All these things were pointed out to me by my editor on the weekend – and she is absolutely right about every single one of them.

I read my latest draft over and over, and had it workshopped by a number of writer friends, but none of us picked these things up. Of course we’re not trained editors, but it made me wonder why.

Another author friend, Sandy Fussell and I were talking about this and I think she’s right. She says that workshoppers and the author can get distracted by beautiful writing…and I think it’s true.

If something sounds good when you read it, it can be hard to recognise the fact that it’s not actually relevant to the story or doesn’t move it along…and shouldn’t be there.

After thinking about what my editor had said and my discussions with Sandy, I realised exactly what the problem was with my story. In the transition from verse to prose, I LOST my character’s voice – and to some extent, my character.

So hard as it is,  this means discarding my 65,000 word current draft and starting again. There are lots of parts I can use. I think the plot is sound and I think that most of the other characters in the story are working well. There are some action scenes that I like that will hopefully just need a ‘tweek’ and I don’t think the dialogue needs a whole lot of work. So these are the good bits that I can use in the next draft.

But for the rest of it, I’m going right back to basics. I’ve started by doing another interview with my main character and trying to find his voice again.

I’ve asked him all sorts of questions about

  • where he lives
  • what his relationships with his family and friends are
  • what makes him happy or sad
  • how he spends a typical day
  • how he sees himself
  • how others see him
  • the best thing that could happen to him would be
  • the worst thing that could happen to him would be
  • his biggest problem
  • how he’s going to solve it
  • things/people/situations that are stopping him from getting what he wants

Fortunately, despite the fact that he’s a teenage boy, he has had plenty to say. He has let me inside his head again… and although he’s not quite sitting on my shoulder yet, he’s getting closer.

I’ve also realised there are too many issues in the current draft so I’m taking out one of the main characters to simplify the plot and strengthen the themes that will stay in the manuscript.

And I’m starting my next draft of Street Racer from a different point – from somewhere further into the action.

Have to go now. Ric is calling me. He’s impatient for me to tell his story – and get it right this time.

Happy writing

Dee:-)

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 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:-)

TURN YOUR STORY UPSIDE DOWN – CREATE THE UNEXPECTED

I know we already had one ‘bunny’ post this week, but I’m afraid I couldn’t resist this one.

My bunnies have regular toe nail trims, and up until recently it has always been a bit of a trauma for everyone. Bunnies have powerful legs and it’s hard to hold a kicking bunny still while you trim their toe nails.

But recently I discovered that if I lay them on their back to do it they become mesmerised…completely docile…completely co-operative.

At the time, I was working on a book that kept throwing up problems for me. That’s when I realised that I could apply the same principles to writing stories as I did to bunnies.

Turning your story upside down can actually HELP you get it under control.

Don’t be afraid to make your good characters a little bit bad, and your bad characters a little bit good.

Don’t be afraid to introduce something completely unexpected into your story. I have found it’s a great way to invigorate a tired story line or show you a completely new dimension to your main character.

I guess it comes back to the same thing – as writers we are always taking risks – always prepared to try something new.

Happy writing.

Dee:-)

(and the bunnies)

DEVELOPING CHARACTER – to cook, sing or do the Fandango?

After working for the past few weeks on a really dark period in my MC (main character’s) life, we are almost ready for him to emerge out the other side.

Looking back, I can’t help but shake the feeling that this time, I have been just a tad too mean to him. I know what you’re thinking…”You’re just a bit softy”. And of course, you’re right. I’m pretty sure that the whole world knows by now that I am truly pathetic when it comes to being mean to my main character – but I force myself to do it anyway.

This time however, I think I need to follow my instincts. It’s not that I’ve gone too far – it’s just that there has to be light and shade.

My story is true to life – it’s sort of based on something that actually happened – but it definitely needs some light relief.

So, this is my quandary! I think the lightness has to come from my MC. He is the one who needs to have some fun. He is the one who needs a trait/a quality/a goal that’s going to create humour – that’s going to provide the colour and light.

At first I thought he might want to create the biggest ever Crockenbush, but as teenage son pointed out, who even knows what a Crockenbush is?

Then I thought he could harbour secret desires to sing in a heavy metal band. Perhaps he could dance the Fandango or be someone who can spin 43 times on his head without getting dizzy (but then as a parent all I could think of was the cost of the physiotherapist bills – and possible brain damage).

Sigh…oh well, back to the drawing board, the computer screen, the meditation tent, the walking of the dog, the eating of chocolate…whatever it takes to get the creative juices working.

Of course my MC and I would welcome your input/suggestions.

Dee:-)

BEING MEAN TO MY CHARACTERS

One of the things I love about writing contemporary YA fiction is that it can be real. I can write about things that might and do happen – about people who might and do exist.

In fact, I get to know my characters so well that they become real – even when they’re based on someone totally fictitious.

I know so much about my characters, that they even start talking to me (fortunately, just in my head). I know what foods they wouldn’t serve up to a starving dog – and I know which celebrity they’d choose to go on a date with.

All good, so far! Right?

The stumbling block comes when I have to be mean to them – I’m not talking about make them eat Brussels sprouts kind of mean – I’m talking about really mean.

In a writing for Young Adult’s course I took with author, Sherryl Clarke, she advised that in Young Adult fiction you have to ‘think of the worst thing that could happen to your character – and make something even worse happen to them’.

GULP! That’s like having to do something awful to your own children – of course you wouldn’t do it.

BUT in a book, you have no choice! You have to have conflict. You have to give your character a BIG PROBLEM. You have to think about the flaws in their personality that contribute to/cause the problem – and the attributes that take them through the story and get them out the other side.

GULP AGAIN! Here’s my dilemma. I’m right in the middle of my new YA novel Street Racer – and I’m at that point. The moment when I have to ‘do it’ – make something happen to my character that is going to make him really unhappy.

So far, I’ve managed to find plenty of diversions; breakfast, lunch, school pick up, piano practice, cricket training etc. I’ve even revisited a really old Picture Book that made me laugh when I first wrote it.

And since I got all that over with, what have I been doing for the last week? Research of course. Essential for every book – but probably not the thing you should be doing when you’re on the brink of………………………your main character.

But now there are no more excuses, I can’t put it off any longer – even my kids are getting impatient.  “Have you done it yet?”

I’m just going to have breathe deeply and forge ahead – like my character, I’m going to have face the event and the consequences ‘head on’.

Wish me luck. And if you have any comments/tips about how you handle this particular dilemma, I’d love to hear from you.

Dee:-)

WELCOME TIFFANY MANDRAKE

finalflax11I’m so excited to have Tiffany Mandrake here today. Tiffany writes bad fairy tales. I don’t mean her tales are bad (they are actually extremely good), but after living in the grounds of the Abadamy of Badness for some years, Tiffany has rubbed noses with some ‘not quite good’ fairies, and we are so lucky that she has decided to share her experiences with the world.

 

1.       Tiffany, you have such a magical sounding name. Were you named after anyone from the fairy realm?

Not exactly, Dee. (And isn’t Dee Scribe a magic name? Your magical talent is, perhaps, describing, just as Nan’s was in “Witch Week”?)

My first name is redolent of fancy pretties and timeless elegance, not to say breakfast, while my last name hints at a darker persona who enjoys growing and harvesting dodgy herbs.

2.       Is the Abadamy of Badness like any school you ever attended?

Oh yes! Like any good school (and I use the word “good” in a relative sense, meaning, “suitable for the pupils’ wellbeing”) the Hags’ Abademy of Badness is dedicated to giving youngsters the mixture of independence and nurturing they need. My closet cousin in Tasmania, who will deny to her last breath that we are in any way related, remembers some of her teachers with real gratitude and retrospective affection. Without Mrs Martin, Mrs Ting, Mrs Collis and Mr Tucker, she would have been a less-educated person, and so less-able to write for a living. She wishes they were still alive so she could still be sending them Christmas cards.

3.       You live in a cottage on the grounds of the Abadamy of Badness. Is it difficult to write with so much happening around you? Or is this a good thing because it gives you something to write about?

Having plenty happening around one is important to some writers. If one simply shuts oneself off in a peaceful room and writes, one runs the risk of navel-gazing and losing touch with the real world. On the other hand, there are times when one must retreat from the hurly burly if one is to get any work done.

4.       Each book in Your Little Horrors series seems to feature a main character who is naughty but nice? Do you think readers get sick of goody two shoes characters that never even spill chocolate down their white shirt when they’re slurping on a milkshake?

Perhaps, but it is FAR more difficult for a writer to make a goody-goody character interesting.  It is a bit like writing about a super-strong or super-intelligent character. Unless that character has major flaws or weaknesses, there is no drama. Who would read about Superman if he wasn’t affected by kryptonite? The challenge with the Little Horrors is to present them as they really are. They are bad fairies. That is their blood and their heritage. BUT, they are also little beings with the emotional development and moral sense of a human child of eight or so. They want their peers and families to love and accept them, but they have an emerging sense of who they are. They want to move on. There is much misconception about bad fairies. The truth is that they are generally not evil. They are the spice in the pudding, and the salt in the stew. They keep humankind from being smug and complacent. In fact, I have come to believe that the GOOD fairies, with their bland niceness and insistence on thinking the best of everyone… not to speak of their acceptance of the unacceptable… may do more harm than bad fairies. A lolly might make a crying child stop squalling, so that’s a sweet deed to a good fairy. But, I ask you, Dee – is it REALLY a good thing? A bad fairy would be more likely to show the squalling kid a flying critter-fae or to drop out of a tree and yell BOOOOO!

5.       Shhh! Promise I won’t tell, but who is your favourite main character and why? Is it Flax the Feral Fairy, Mal the Mischievous Mermaid, Tikki the Pixie or Nanda the Gnome?

Ooh, this is so difficult! They are all fascinating little creatures. Flax is an orphan, poor sweet, and she loves her friend the dog-fae, even if she can never say so. She has such poor little wings that the good fairies secretly despise her. I love Flax. Mal tries SO hard to keep up with her ineffably beautiful and bad family. With a perfectly bad sister like Sal, how can little Mal make a splash? I love Mal. Nanda is a sad case. She truly believes she is a GOOD fairy. How sad is that? It doesn’t help that she is tall and pretty for a gnome, and has bigger wings than most gnomes have. This still leaves her FAR short of the height, beauty and ‘wingfulness’ of the good fairies, so she’s stuck in the middle. I love Nanda. And Tikki, oh, Tikki Flicker is such fun to be around. She flickers about, plays tag and disrupts everyone. Her Uncle Sedge, who is a GOOD pixie has had to come to terms with what she is. I hope that one day he will be able to admit his affection for her, just as I can. I love Tikki.

I trust that answer is sufficient? Hmm! (Did she actually answer that question?)

6.       Obviously, there are fairies at the bottom of your garden at the Abadamy of Badness, how can I get them to come to mine? I’ve tried putting out fish and chips, and honey comb (my favourite foods) but that just seems to attract feral cats and drop bears. Any suggestions?

If you want to attract good fairies, put out bland, sweet white-flour goodies. If you want bad fairies, put out something interesting and mark it with a big KEEP OFF sign! You should also make sure you have moss, nettles and feral flowers.  

7.       I have a young friend called Eva Brick who wants to write a book about the icky things you find at the bottom of the garden (I think it’s a recycling guide). Can you give her any tips on how to start her story?

She should start by mentioning ickiness as quickly as possible. Once this has focussed attention (children are like bad fairies, they LOVE to explore ickiness), then she can hit ‘em with the good stuff about worms, compost and recycled food.

8.      Can you please give me a list of all the published and ‘coming out’ books in your Little Horrors series so that I can work out how to get my badge at the Abadamy of Badness?

        Flax the Feral Fairy (already out)
        Mal the Mischievous Mermaid (already out)
        Nanda the Naughty Gnome (coming soonish)
        Tikki the Tricky Pixie (coming laterish)

If Tiffany was in the habit of thanking people, she would thank Dee. As it is, she will merely send her cat Speedwell to wee on Dee’s lawn.

The ineffable Tiff!

finalmal11Thanks Tiff (and my lawn thanks you too – we’re in drought here).  So lovely of you to visit! I can’t wait to meet Nanda and Tikki when they emerge. Hope you’ll flit past again.