What Will I Write About? – Tuesday Writing Tip

Today’s post is for young writers who follow my blog but the principles apply to anyone who wants to create inspiring and unique stories.

Ever find yourself staring at a blank screen or piece of paper and wondering where to start? I do and I’m an author.

Here are where some of my best story ideas come from:

  • Things that have really happened to me or to people I know;
  • Memories of people, events or places;
  • People I see on trains and buses;
  • Conversations I overhear;
  • Newspaper articles;
  • Other books;
  • A picture in a magazine;
  • A place I have been to;
  • A smell, sound or feeling;
  • A problem or dilemma being faced by someone I know;
  • Playing with two words that don’t quite go together eg Flower attack;
  • Using the last line of a story I have written as the first line in a new piece of writing;
  • Thinking of a secret that someone might want to keep and what would happen if it was discovered
  • Imagining getting a letter or email from someone I have never met

If I’m still stuck, I think of a character/name and match them with an action to try and get me started.

For example:

  • Ashley fell
  • Ashley twisted
  • Ashley tumbled…
  • Ashley rocketed…
  • Ashley flew…
  • Ashley flopped…
  • Ashley leapt…
  • Ashley shook…
  • Ashley dropped…
  • Ashley shivered…
  • Ashley trembled…
  • Ashley bobbed…
  • Ashley soared…
  • Ashley is…

Then I ask myself why this action happened to Ashley, where this action happened, when and how?


Every story needs a catalyst – an action that starts the story on its course. At the start of your story, something will happen that changes things for the main character.

Every story needs a problem for your character. There is something they want and someone or something is stopping them from getting it. That’s what your story is about.

As a writer, you need to decide how your main character is going to solve their problem – and that’s where you will finish your story.


After I’ve finished writing my story, I edit it to make sure it is the best it can be. I ask myself these questions:

  • Have I hooked the reader in from the start?
  • Does the beginning of my story give the reader some idea of what it’s about?
  • Does my story say what I wanted it to?
  • Will the meaning be clear to others?
  • Is there enough happening in my story to keep the reader interested?
  • Will readers like my main character and care what happens to them?
  • Are my characters believable?
  • Have I used similes and metaphors and interesting language?
  • Have I used the strongest, most effective words possible?
  • Is my ending strong enough to satisfy the reader?
  • Have I checked to make sure that all my spelling and grammar is correct?

Give your creativity free reign and see how a small idea can become a really big story.

If you have any other tips about where story ideas can come from, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)



I can’t believe that today I have been in Brisbane for ONE WHOLE WEEK already.

You know you’ve settled into a place when someone stops and asks you directions to somewhere you’ve never heard of and looks at you suspiciously when you say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I’m not from around here.”

Hard at work plotting

Now that the workshops are finished (except for From Portrait to Prose on 7th April), I’ve been seriously getting into the writing. I applied for the May Gibbs Fellowship to work on my YA psychological thriller series. It’s a very complex thing – lots happening over three books and the ‘baddy’ not revealed till the end.

So I needed to do lots of plotting, and lots of scheming and laying out clues. I also needed the space to lay out large sheets of butcher’s paper to help me work out how this is all going to fit together.

That’s where this fellowship is such a wonderful opportunity for me – away from all other distractions, with the time and space to get my head around everything that’s going to happen.

Today, apart from going a fair way to plotting book one, I was also able to work out the Point of View for each book in the series – but more about that in future posts.

Enjoying food for thought with author Julie Nickerson. "Chocolate anyone?"

After working hard in the morning, I took a bit of time off in the afternoon to catch up  with good friend and QLD author of Pippa’s Perfect Ponytail, Julie Nickerson for hot chocolate and chocolate (you can never overdo chocolate, can you?)

Tomorrow I’m going to interview my main characters and find out just what secrets they haven’t told me – and where they fit in the story. After that, it will be time to give the computer keyboard a serious workout.


It was fun visiting Sandy Fussell’s blog today to talk about Reading to Write.

For the complete interview go to http://www.sandyfussell.blogspot.com

Here’s Sandy’s tip for us:

Dee: Do you have a tip for writers about what they should be reading to enhance their own writing skills?
I call it free range reading. Writers need to read all over the place. It’s a bit messy and unstructured but it’s fun and it will help improve not only your writing technique but the scope of your ideas. Read within your own writing genre, read what appeals to you as a reader, read what your target readers are reading, read non-fiction that catches your eye. Anything and everything. Perhaps the most important point is to read outside your comfort zone.


We’ve got lots of great writing tips coming up for you over the next few weeks.

We’ll be looking at all sorts of stuff including more about Point of View, Adding Layers to Your Writing and Good Writing Habits.

Thanks for your support for Tuesday Writing Tips. It’s fantastic!

If you have a writing question you’d like us to address, please leave it in the comments section of this post and we’ll tackle it in future Tuesday Writing Tips.

Happy Writing



I often hear writers talking about how important it is to ‘read’ – and it makes sense.
After all, it helps you to check out the competition, and also gives you an idea of what readers like and don’t like – of style, technique and so many things.

As a writer, I know how much I learn from what other people have written.

Today we’re off to visit Samurai Kids author, Sandy Fussell at www.sandyfussell.blogspot.com to talk about why writers need to be avid free-range readers.

Sandy’s going to be giving me a great tip that I’ll be posting back here when I return from my visit to her place.

I’m also excited to advise that Sandy’s new book, Jaguar Warrior is coming out on 1st March. Here’s more about it:

I hope you are enjoying the Tuesday Writing Tips Blog Tour. I know I am. I’m collecting so many great tips along the way.

Next week we’re off to visit Robyn Opie to talk about adding layers to your story.

In case you’ve missed any stops. Here are the complete tour dates.

2ND February 2010 Claire Saxbyhttp://letshavewords.blogspot.com Writing Picture Books – Leaving room for the illustrator.
9th February 2010 Dee Whitehttps://deescribewriting.wordpress.com Reviewing ‘There Was an Old Sailor’Reviewing vs Editing skills.
16th February 2010 Sandy Fussellwww.sandyfussell.blogspot.com Writers Need to be avid free range readers
23rd February 2010 Robyn Opiewww.robynopie.blogspot.com How to make your story longer – adding layers.
2ND March 2010 Angela Sundewww.angelasunde.blogspot.com More about Point of View – head hopping.

Happy writing (and reading)



Tomorrow our Tuesday Writing Tips blog tour continues. I’m very excited because we’re going to visit the home of my good friend Sandy Fussell, author of the wonderful Samurai Kids books and award winning Polar Boy.

I hope you can join us then. Sandy will talk to us about writers and reading and she’ll have special tips for us.

See you here tomorrow and I’ll give you the directions to Sandy’s place.


How NOT TO Scare Away Publishers & Agents

Publishers and Agents are like deer. If approached quietly and with respect, they will stick around and may even let you ‘feed’ them. But move too suddenly or too fast and you are likely to send them fleeing.

I’ve been submitting to publishers and agents for longer than I care to remember – and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

Since I’ve adopted this acquired wisdom, I’m happy to say that my number of acceptances seems to be increasing every year.

But where do you go for advice about author/publisher/agent etiquette? There are so many unwritten rules. Being a writer, I thought it was time someone wrote them down.

My writerly friends at KWD agreed, and they have generously chipped in and given me their tips as well. (Thanks everyone at KWD).



Never admit to having 80 manuscripts in your filing cabinets  (like I did). I’m not sure whether it makes publishers and agents think you’re a little unhinged or perhaps it’s the thought of taking on an author who has a complete slush pile of her own. (I never said they had to read them all, lol).

Now I’m going to admit something to you here (but don’t tell on me)…my pile is actually closer to 90 now. See I can’t stop writing…even if I try…characters keep bursting into my head and begging me to tell their story.

Of course many of these manuscripts aren’t publishable. I look on the earlier ones as my ‘training wheels’ – they are the ones I wrote when I was ‘learning to write’ – the ones I never sent out.  I’m still learning, but I had a lot more to learn back then.

So if you’re a high volume writer, it’s definitely best to keep some of your manuscripts a secret…at first.


The following are definitely out:

  • Getting drunk and whispering sentimentally to a publisher or agent that they remind you of your mother.
  • Following publishers/agents everywhere and offering to buy them drinks.
  • Following them to the bathroom and talking to them through the cubicle wall.
  • Following them full stop.
  • Pitching to them in a social environment – if a publisher has just consumed a large and sumptuous main, there’s nothing that will cause them reflux more than an author pitching their 200,000 word sci fi, thriller, mystery romance over dessert.

I never tell a publisher or agent what I am working on unless they ask. If they ask, that means want to know. It means they will listen to my pitch rather than smiling through gritted teeth as they try to disguise what they are really thinking (I wish this pesky author would leave me in peace).

Before the conference I always think about what piece of work I might want to pitch (if requested). Then I write out a 25 to 30 word spiel, which I memorise. This stops me rambling with nerves till the publishers/agent’s eyes glaze over and it soon becomes clear that they are sorry they asked.

  • NEVER abuse your friendship or relationship with another writer. If they want to introduce you to their agent or publisher, that’s their choice. But it’s really bad form to march up to a well-known author’s agent or publisher and ‘drop their name’; making out you are their ‘bestie’, and that by association, this makes your writing irresistible.

3.            THE ‘QUERY’

Advising a publisher/agent that they are missing the opportunity of a lifetime if they don’t take you/your manuscript on is enough to cause them reflux all over again.

Don’t think you can con an agent into believing that they requested your manuscript. Most of them keep very good records, and if you’re not on their list of ‘requests’, you have the potential to make them dislike you before they’ve even read a word of your query.

Telling a publisher or agent that your manuscript is a ‘fiction novel’ is a dead giveaway that you are a newbie. ALL novels are fiction…that’s what a novel is…a work of fiction.

Glitter and stickers on envelopes are also things that may induce nausea in publishers/agents.

4.            ONLINE BEHAVIOUR

Many agents now have blogs, chat forums and a presence on twitter. It’s fine to keep up with what they are doing and gratefully receive their tips BUT ‘interesting person’ is okay, ‘stalker’ is not. Harassing anyone won’t ‘endear’ you to them.


  • If the answer to your query is “No”, don’t write back and ask for specific feedback on your manuscript. Frustrating I know…as writers, we are desperate to know why we are being ‘rejected’ BUT if publishers/agents responded in depth to EVERY query, then they might never have got around to reading yours in the first place. Publishers/agents may give feedback if your manuscript nearly made it over the line.
  • NEVER tell them that your kids/grandkids, local school children/neighbour’s dog etc LOVE your manuscript. Publishers/agents make up their own minds and trying to influence them in this way, might invite the obvious response.

If your kids/grandkids, local school children/neighbour’s dog etc LOVE your manuscript, perhaps they should be the ones publishing it.

  • Telling publishers/agents that you have self-published already and everyone you know has bought a copy is something else that WON’T persuade them to take you/your masterpiece on.

Recently, my writerly friends and I were discussing this very topic and we realized that something we have to accept is that publishers/agents and authors work within different urgency scales.

Writers are URGENT PEOPLE; ‘desperate’ for an answer on will my book be published? When will it be published etc?

But publishers/agents would succumb to a nervous breakdowns if they felt this same level of urgency towards ALL their authors. They are involved in a business where what they do has to form part of a plan; where they have to prioritise.

The writers’ solution: A virtual waiting room where we meet to pass the time. We repaint walls, hide in cupboards, tear our hair out (virtually of course), and talk about how much patience you need to be a writer. We do what it takes to keep us motivated and put out of our mind the fact that we are waiting for someone else to make a decision that’s going to have such a huge impact on our lives.

You’re welcome to come and wait with us if you like:-)

I hope you found this post useful.

Thanks to all my writerly friends at  KWD for their contributions to this post, and for being such good company in ‘the waiting room’.


P.S. If you’re a publisher, agent or author with a tip we haven’t covered, please feel free to add it to the comments section of this post.


I had such a wonderful time visiting Claire Saxby at http://letshavewords.blogspot.com today. Claire had some great advice for picture books writers.

Here’s her final tip:

Keep description to a bare, bare minimum. Include only descriptive details that absolutely have to be there. eg if the plot happens in a backyard, let the illustrator imagine it.

Next week, Claire is coming here to https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com to talk more about picture writing and her new picture book, There Was an Old Sailor, which was released by Walker Books on 1st February.

Hope you can join us then.

In the meantime, happy writing!



letterstoleonardolrgUS blogger, Jennifer Brown has now posted her interview at http://www.JenniferBrownYA.com

In case you’ve missed any part of the tour, here’s where we’ve been already:

24th June 2009             http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com        
Dee and Matt talk about promoting Letters to Leonardo online.
25th June 2009             http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com     
Author interview
26th June 2009             http://thebookchook.blogspot.com    
How art has been used in Letters to Leonardo – with some teaching activities included.
27th June 2009             http://belka37.blogspot.com
The research process involved in writing Letters to Leonardo           
28th June 2009             http://weloveya.wordpress.com
Guest blogger – talking with Vanessa Barneveld – interactive discussion about dreams and writing

29th June 2009             http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale            
An author interview on the writing process – covering things like inspiration and perspective
30th June 2009             http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com
Use of mentors in YA fiction, and Leonardo da Vinci’s involvement in the book
1st July 2009                 Cyber launch https://deescribewriting.wordpress.com including cross to Robyn Opie’s blog http://robynopie.blogspot.com – hurdles overcome on the way to publication.
2nd July 2009                http://persnicketysnark.blogspot.com
How the author’s life paralleled Matt’s – her growing obsession with Leonardo da Vinci
3rd July  2009                 http://bjcullen.blogspot.com
Working with a publisher and the editing process
4th July  2009                 http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com
Interview with the elusive Matt Hudson at Sandy Fussell’s blog. Sandy is the author of the Samurai Kids series
5th July 2009                   http://teacherswritinghelper.wordpress.com
Class writing activities based on Letters to Leonardo – themes in the book
6th July 2009                   http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com
Tips 4 young writers on how Letters to Leonardo was written – how the author turned fact into fiction
7th July 2009                    http://www.JenniferBrownYA.com
An overseas stop before heading home – USA blogger Jennifer Brown talks to Dee about bipolar themes in the story and the affect on teenagers of having a family member with a  mental illness.   

Thanks so much for joining the tour and dropping in to say, ‘Hi.’

Bye for now.

Catch you in Cyber Space.

Dee and Matt:-)

LETTERS TO LEONARDO BLOG TOUR – FINAL DAY – Thanks for your patience with the time delay for our overseas host

As you know, we’ve jetsetted off to the USA today and they are ten hours behind Australia, so thanks for your patience.

When Jen posts her blog at http://www.JenniferBrownYA.com you’ll see that it was worth the wait.

See you in the US.

Dee and Matt:-)


letterstoleonardolrgMatt and I are sad to report that today is the final day of our 14 day blog tour.

We’re visiting US blogger Jennifer Brown to talk about bipolar themes in the story and the affect on teenagers of having a family member with a mental illness.

 Hope you can join us on our final day at http://www.JenniferBrownYA.com

Catch you in Cyber Space.

Dee and Matt:-)