Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Characterisation

Something that has always interested me is characterisation.

When I write I always start with character. I decide who my protagonist is going to be and any interesting character traits. I can spend weeks just thinking about characters before I even write down a word. For me, character comes before plot.

I am very aware that in a children's book the protagonist needs to be a child. but, not any old child - it needs to be a child who is pro-active, brave and can use their initiative. But, it is not only in a children's book that the characters can't sit there and expect other people to sort out their problems. This is true of all fiction.

I have learnt over the years to trickle information about character into my writing rather than write blocks of character description. Andrew Melrose once said in a workshop at a SCBWI Writer's Day in Winchester, many years ago:
Make your characters whole, make them real, make them people. Leak the clues deliberately and at a good pace. Let them evolve.

I have always tried to follow this advice. However, I have also found that sometimes you need to state the obvious as it is not always obvious to the reader. When you get to know your characters it is easy to assume everyone else knows just as much as you do. This is not necessarily the case, as I have recently found out. So signposting your characters is very important.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Writing Articles

This month I have another article in Writer's Forum (Xmas issue). It is about Marti Leimbach, the internationally acclaimed best selling author, who recently wrote a book based on her experiences with having an autistic son.


If you are interested in reading the article it is on page 42-43. I'd be interested to know what you think.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Plotting and Theme

If you have a tight plot to begin with and a route to follow, you can always change the route but it must still demonstrate the theme. Irene Yates at a recent course told me, you must know what the theme of your story is. As some of you may have noticed from some of my previous posts, I have a problem understanding what exactly theme is. Irene told me to analyse:

  • Why is your story being written?
  • What does your story demonstrate to children who are going to read it?
  • If your story does not tell you some sort of universal truth about the world, what is it telling you?
  • If your story is just entertainment, why would anyone want to publish it? Only celebrities can publish for entertainment and their books are mainly ghost written.

After in length discussion about theme I have understood the story can’t just be a spirit of adventure there has to be something else. You must demonstrate the theme within the story, such as justice over tragedy, revenge, good overcoming evil. It is a view about life and how people behave. If you haven’t got a theme you are writing in thin air. A theme gives extra depth to the story. It gives you the feeling that you want to get to the end to find out what happens but, you don’t want to finish the book.

You should be able to write the theme of the book in one sentence. The trick (or literary device) in writing a story with a huge theme is to make sure each of your main characters has its own small theme that reflects the main theme. This is known as the macro and the micro.

The macro is the whole planet, the universe, everything. The micro is one person’s life as a reflection of the whole planet, the universe, everything. Being born and dying can happen a hundred times in a lifetime in many ways.

A theme is not in your face but the underlying message. Some people may read the book and not know realise there is a theme at all. It should be so intertwined with the plot that the theme is implicit.

This has helped, in a way and that is why I thought I would share it with you all. I have concluded all emotions can be themes, morals, such as you find at the end of fables, can be themes and proverbs can also be used as themes.

Irene suggested I looked at some of my favourite books and try to work out what the themes of the stories are for myself. However, I can’t help feeling a list of themes would be useful.

If you have anything to add to this post on themes, please do. If I’m still totally on the wrong track please let me know and if you can direct me to a list of themes it would be ideal.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Getting Your First Novel Published by Sandra Ann Horn

I first decided I wanted to write professionally for children in 2001. This was the year I attended my first SCBWI conference in Winchester. I’d already had a little success writing short stories for the women’s magazines and now wanted to break into the children’s market. I knew both types of writing have to be tight with no wasted words. I had ideas for children’s books floating around in my head but nothing concrete on paper. I needed an idea of where to start.

My first workshop was with the children’s author Sandra Ann Horn. She emphasised that when you submit a manuscript it is terribly important to play by the rules. Your manuscript needs to be professionally presented. She said always have a front page with a title, who it is by, how many words and also send a covering letter.

Here is my children’s book of ____ words, aimed at age ___ . I enclose a stamped addressed envelope.

Sandra went on to explain that some publishers only read the first paragraph and it needs to engage the reader. She said the first paragraph is the most important of all to pitch your story to editors and publishers and should show the power of your story. She told us to, make it intriguing, set the tone, give some sort of indication of the age of the reader and make the reader want to explore more. There is a poetic rhythm at the beginning. The reader is bought in to the adventure and they are part of it. The first paragraph should indicate the type of book we’re going to be reading. There should also be a hint of how the story will progress. There should be a promise of a journey.

She told us to pick a suitable publisher. Know where your book sits on the shelf. By this I think she meant, you should have an idea if the publisher’s you are approaching publishes the type of book you are writing. She suggested to telephone first and ask who you should send your manuscript to. She also said, that make sure if they asked for a synopsis you say in your covering letter, further to our phone call or, as asked for.

Some other things she said during the workshop that I have found useful and still keep in the back of my mind when I write is that you should tell the reader the state of mind of the character by showing what they are doing. Read your work aloud to check the flow of words. This will help to identify where your story slows down and which parts are unconvincing. You can hear immediately where it flattens. Ask yourself do you need that description. If not, take it out and use a drip-feed method. Think of the pace. Remember, the first bit has to excite the reader but you can slow down after that.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Meeting Deadlines

One of my plus points is that I am good at multi-tasking. An important requirement of multi-tasking is setting deadlines. Whenever, I start a new job I always ask, ‘When do you want it done by.’ Often the reply is as soon as possible but, I find this is not helpful. I prefer to have someone say ‘I want it by next Tuesday,’ or ‘Ten o’clock tonight at the latest.’ This keeps me on track and helps me to organise my workload. If I don’t set myself these time limits I find myself procrastinating and time-wasting by staring out the window or my worse vice, playing spider solitaire.

Deadlines have to be reasonable, whether I’m setting them for myself or they’ve been set by an editor. Some deadlines are tight; rush jobs come up, emergencies occur, and then the pressure is on. Most of the time, it's possible to merge tasks, working for a while on one thing and then a few days on something else and get it done without undue stress. Sometimes I just need time out from a job and I am pleased I can work on something else to take a break.

When I have deadlines set for me, I always break them into smaller tasks, giving myself my own time limit for each chapter or section. It’s nice to give myself a little reward when I achieve it too but, often the personal satisfaction of knowing I achieved what I wanted to do is reward enough. I work within the time available and I’m an organisation freak so this method of working suits me fine. I would be interested to know how you do it. Do you find it easier to write to deadlines?