Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Wordsmith’s Secrets

Kathleen Duey shares a wealth of information at the SCBWI Bologna Conference
You have to get use to people reading your work and commenting on your work. Learn to market. Every writer should get feedback, but not from their family. When you read your work aloud mark in the margin when you notice your reader is bored, confused or they do not believe in the world you have created. All you need are kids who like to read.

Kathleen has been her own agent for 10 years. Every person has a road block, such as family issues, being disturbed. You have to take yourself seriously for other people to take you seriously.

Beautiful lyrical writing is not enough to hold someone’s interest. If the reader cares about the character you are writing about it does not matter about the writing. The story stops dead whilst you are narrating. The less narrating you have the better.

Writing Exercise
Describe a tree through the eyes of a boy who is on their way to go sledging with friends in winter. Then describe it as an old man going to visit his wife in hospital in the spring. Don’t mention the man, or boy, just describe the tree. Don’t narrate feelings imply the feelings.

Writing is a vocation like being a nun. Write despite the self-doubt and the feedback you get from your writing will quieten the self-doubt. Read as much as you can with continuous attention. Trust your intuition.

Kathleen does not create characters she interviews them. She hears the voice in her head. Put your consciousness away. When building the plots don’t ask when happens next ask what would the character do next and if you don’t know try the interview. You should be able to hear the voice of your character. If you cannot picture them clearly try cutting pictures out of magazines.

Describe your characters the first time they come on stage not a few pages in. Have your characters look in the mirror and ask them to describe themselves. When describing things do it in viewpoint and add the emotion.

Kathleen draws floor plans and thinks what is in every room. Think about what you want the reader to see first. What do you want them to remember? Set the stage from the beginning. If you have an important prop mention it the first time, then mention it again 100 pages on and then use it.

When you have good day writing think about - why? Stop in the middle of a scene that you know where you are going to end so when you come back you know where to carry on from. Kathleen does a lot of reading back. She also prints it out and writes on the manuscript. She adds tags identifying description, characterisation, dialogue, etc. Re-reading reminds the writer of the characters emotional state. If you have secondary characters that are stealing the show and distracting form the story, extract them.

If you feel you have weak spots do exercises to practice them like writing a whole scene in dialogue. Heave out the dull stuff. Kathleen writes down the milestones – the precipitating incident that gets the ball rolling. You should be able to describe a book in four or five incidents. One of the milestones will be your climax.

Remember, analyse why you had a good day. What did you do to make your writing come easier?
There are two major tracks for writers – the commercial and the literary. Make yourself a five year plan and look at the career you want. If you work best at 3am learn to nap in the day. There is too much good competition to write as a hobby and succeed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Reviewing the Reviewer

“A good review is considered nepotism; a bad one, professional jealousy. Can
authors be trusted to make a fair assessment of their rivals' work?”

There was an interesting article recently in the Guardian online blog about writing book reviews and reviewing books in general. Here is the link:

What was most interesting, was the comments people left - some of them from renowned authors. One author claimed this might be the nastiest review ever of one of their books: But, they also pointed out that a bad review is better than no review at all. It can often encourage readers to buy the book to see for themselves.

I review books for the Write Away website and I have reviewed books I don’t like. I was very tactful. I am of the opinion that even though I may not like it other people might. Everybody’s tastes are different. I am very honest and do suggest the type of people who may be interested in the book. For an example of me being tactful take a look at: The Teacher's Guide to Grammar and Literacy Matters.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Competition Win!

Hiya All,

I realised I have not blogged for a while so I just thought I would make a quick post today to say I won 3rd place in The New Writer's 2007 Prose and Poetry Prize, for my feature article, entitled From Crime Thrillers to YA Books. The article is going to be published in the July/August issue of The New Writer.

It is an annual competiton with different categories for short stories, novellas, poetry and essay/article writing. They offer cash prizes and publication in their magazine. The 2008 Proze and Poetry Prize is now open for entries, so if you are interested take a look at:

Cya soon, Anita xxx

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Graphic Novels for Children

David Saylor discusses the Graphix imprint at Scholastic US

The US Graphix Imprint was launched in February 2005 with the production of the Bone books. It is an amalgamation of many people who got together and decided to create full-colour comic books that could be distributed through the Scholastic catalogues and high street bookstores to reach a wider market. Three years later they have sold over 2.4 million copies, proving there is a market for comics for children of all ages.

Big series titles such as the Babysitting Club and Goosebumps are being revamped into comic books and there are lots more in the pipeline. Comics are a great way to get children reading particularly reluctant reader as they are very visual. David Saylor predicts there is a golden age of comics for kids fast approaching. In fact, Amulet, which is due to be launched in the UK in September 2008, has recently been bought by Warner Brothers.

Booksellers have had the most problem accommodating the graphic novels and finding a niche to put them. But, they are beginning to make space for the graphic novel, which means the book sellers are now recognising they are a growth area. Librarians caught on very quickly and supported the new trend. Teachers in the US were less enthusiastic at first, seeing them as not ‘real books’. But, now schools are using them to teach literacy and writing within the classroom. There is a major change happening in the acceptance of the graphic novel – putting visual art and written art on the same plane.

The books produced by scholastic US are mainly for the 8-12 yr age-range but, there is some teen-stuff which is more edgy, such as The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. At the moment they are publishing approximately 10 books a year.

From a writing point of view, the graphic novel needs to be written as a screen play, as it is telling a story with dialogue. David Saylor likes to see a synopsis showing the beginning, middle and end. The pay varies from $10,000 - $100,000 a book. This is dependent on the fame of the writer and whether or not they have an agent. An agent will negotiate you more money - although the artist does get more than the writer. Producing a graphic novel is a long process and can take over a year. They are hand-drawn at first and coloured in on Photoshop to produce a final digital image. The books are usually 180-240 pages in a 6”x9” paperback format but, they do have a few hardback editions.

David Saylor is looking for kidcentric books that he would have liked to have read when he was nine years old. So far, they have been somewhat driven more towards boys comics but, David feels the comic genre as a whole, has not been marketed to girls as much.

He ended his talk at the Bologna conference, by saying that the bookselling market is very different in the UK than the US and graphic novels are not selling as well in the UK. But, in my opinion this will soon change.

I reckon the UK publishers will soon catch on there is a gap in the market for comic books for the 8-12 yr olds. If you are interested in writing comic books I suggest you do your market research now and look at what is available out there to target your publishers. At the moment, they are re-hashing series fiction so take a look at the series fiction available to. My previous post on Series Fiction may help you identify other areas that could be big for comic books.

For an interesting discussion on comic books, take a look at Candy Gourlay’s Comic Books are not just for Kligon-Speakers.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Crossing Borders: Historical Fiction and Fantasy

Susan Fletcher

talks about writing fantasy and historical fiction


Literature gives us the boundaries to experience the world from another point of view. As writers we have to go there first. We have to become characters that are different to us and entice our readers to come with us to these new worlds. These worlds need to be
accessible and comfortable to our reader.

Susan Fletcher is drawn to the past. She knows her characters inside out and outside in and recognises everybody is different in profound ways. She does a lot of research, speaks to experts and tries new experiences, such as exploring the ancient ruins in Iran. We should take culture, time, place and attitude into account.

We need to make our writing accessible to the reader even if we need to compromise. Help the reader to cross time and culture. Leans more to the universal attitude rather than the
particular attitude.

Respecting other people’s cultures is important for a writer. You are crossing cultures when you write historical fiction. Writing exercises are like a tool box. The more tools you have the more likely you are able to solve problems you may come across when you are writing your books.

Commonalities between Historical Fiction and Fantasy

Fantasy and historical fiction are similar from a writer’s point of view. Even in historical fiction you are creating a world from bits and pieces of information and imagination. Historically accurate details combined with stuff you’ve had to make up. Real places can be used as the basis for fantasy worlds. Connecting fantasy worlds to reality helps the reader to cross the boundaries and builds up a sense of what it is like. The properties in fantasy have to be convincing. The tools you need are research, imagination and alchemy. Get to know your reference librarians.

Map exercise

Drawing maps and studying real maps can help a writer get into their world. It is useful to have real maps to refer to and alter. Create a pocket of made up geography within the real
map. Use geography as a portal to the past.

Examine the map and think what influence the terrain would have on the people who live there. Make up a new town for the map and give it a name. Make up history of town and how it affects the people who live there. Just writing about the place can develop the new world. Think about the water features, the altitude, anything that helps get a feel for the place. The world should develop like a Polaroid. Tell the reader what they need to know without disrupting the story.


There is so much to explain without jerking your reader out of the world you have created. First of all – grind it fine. Get rid of the lumps. Divide it into bricks to break it up and build it in. Sprinkle in exposition between the action. Or better still, convert it into action. Never remind the reader they are reading. Have the action show what you want to tell.

The characters carry on working and what they do creates the world they live in. This enlivens the story by putting information into action.

Information into action exercise

Use passages from historical books and re-write as fiction. We were given passages from some of Susan’s favourite books she uses for her historical research and asked to convert the information into action by creating a character and showing them at work in a short scene.

We used the information conveyed in the passages to write make our writing feel more authentic to the time period.

Susan makes a note of her references in her first draft to double check accuracy issues and make sure she hasn’t repeated the info too closely to the original text. If you put in too much info it can break the story too much and make the writing look sloppy – so cut it out.

Need to think where to put the information that is needed. Not too soon but, not too late so readers are not scratching their heads in confusion. Put it where it is needed but not too much at the front of the book.

Bed the exposition in emotion. Curiosity is good as the reader is dying to know what you want to tell them. A lot can be left out to increase the interest.

Hidey Hole Exercise

Describing objects through the character’s actions and sensations can convey information about time and place in an imaginative way. We were given a selection of different types of hidey holes to choose from:

  • A cart shed;

  • A coracle;

  • A large iron cauldron;

  • An olive jar;

  • An Elizabethan buck basket.

Or we could use our own idea.

The Rules of Magic

There is a limit and a price of writing fantasy. The good news is you get to make up the rules of your fantasy world. The bad news is you have to follow them. Fantasy magic should be limited, consistent and pays a price. Think carefully about the rules and cost of any magic in your fantasy world. Leave out as much as you can of the explanation and let the reader put it together.

One sentence should explain everything the reader wants to know. Do not have large exposition lumps. Drop in occasional terms as the character thinks of them and explain by showing consequences in their actions later. A lot can be left out to increase the interest. The writer implies far more information than is stated.

  • Holding in Abeyance – writer throws something out but doesn’t explain it.
  • Implication – reader trusts them to fill in the details later.

Flying Exercise

As in Night Flying by Rita Murphy, you can fly. The exercise was to write a
brief scene to show this in action without an expository lump. We were given
a series of questions to consider before writing our scene:

  • What is the benefit?

  • How is it useful?

  • What are the limitations?

  • What is the physical price?

  • What is the spiritual/emotional price?

  • What can you hold in abeyance?

  • What can you do by implication?

Authenticity in Dialect

The dilemma in historical fiction is you can not write in dialogue in the 5th century without confusing readers and making it difficult for the reader to link emotionally. Rosemary Sutcliffe gets medieval dialect just right and it is worth reading some of her books.

If writing historical fiction and fantasy go through your own manuscripts and highlight any dialogue that seems too contemporary and take it out and replace with words that are more timeless.

Authenticity in the way characters think

It is OK to work along a continuum which is historically accurate and take great liberties with
history but, you must show authenticity in the way the characters think. Characters struggle with issues of the time. They would absorb prejudices they struggle to overcome.

World is Flat Exercise

We had to write a scene where our viewpoint character truly believed something, such as the world is flat. In our scene we had to show how strongly they believed the idea through action
and emotion.

Susan's workshops were two of the most useful and informative classes I have ever been to. You did not have to be interested in writing in the fantasy or historical fiction genres to get a lot out of what she said, as her ideas are relevant to all genres of writing. I totally recommend attending one of her talks if you get the opportunity. She mentioned that one day she plans to bring out a how-to-book on the subject and I for one look forward to the day she does and being able to purchase this book.