Archive for May, 2010

Power of Suggestion

I finished editing a story the other day. It’s an early reader I first wrote a few years ago and it’s been through many drafts and rewrites. Settings have changed. Characters have been edited out. Darlings have been murdered. I sent it off to my agent and planned to put it out of my head until I heard her thoughts. I was going to be incredibly sensible about it all. ‘I’m not going to draw the characters,’ I told myself. ‘I’ll wait and see if there’s any interest in it first’.

Along comes my writing partner. ‘Have you started illustrating it yet?’ she says. I told her no (loudly), and repeated that I was being horribly sensible about it all. But my characters heard her. After that simple question, the mere suggestion of illustrating, they wouldn’t leave me alone. Talk about a riot. They pestered me until I had to draw them just to get them out of my head. And who would have thought, after I got over the self-doubt this illustration project stirred up (see my last post) I actually had some fun too.

Who needs ‘sensible’ anyway? And if the story doesn’t go anywhere, I’m still practicing and developing my style and getting more confident with each pen stroke. You’ll find some of the riot below…

The Illustrator who can’t Illustrate

Care to join me while I wallow? The word of the day is Self-Doubt, that wily fog-like creature that creeps in to disrupt all creators’ work. If anyone has a deterrent spray, please let me know…
I’m not sure why, but I’ve never felt particularly confident as an illustrator. There’s something about the process that brings out all my insecurities. Something about putting my work out there that still makes me feel like that ten-year-old who was terrified to show anyone her drawings for fear of rejection. I’m comfortable enough to call myself a writer, but when it comes to the label ‘illustrator’ I’m not always certain I deserve it.
Sound a bit silly for someone who has a picture book coming out next year? Yeah, I know.
It seems to be a cycle I go through. It’s usually triggered when I see other people’s art, especially those who work in different styles to me. I start to worry that I should be able to draw like Shaun Tan or Anne Spudvilas or Aaron Pocock. That unless I can create beautiful, emotional, realistic characters like they do, I’m not a real illustrator. That my own silly, cartoon-like figures just can’t stand up next to their creations. Then I start to worry I’ll be found out to be the fraud that I am – the illustrator who can’t illustrate.
But then the cycle comes around and I realise that I enjoy my own brand of illustrating. That it’s ok to work to my strengths – everyone does. That it’s unreasonable to expect that I could work in every style or that I could illustrate any type of story. Reflecting on this, I now have a song called ‘Clockwork’ stuck in my head, which features a great sample from the ‘Windmills of my Mind’ song. So I’m back at my drawing desk, scribbling and inking in my own silly style, singing:
Life is but a cycle
Round, like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending, nor beginning
On an ever spinning reel
Does anyone else get caught up in a negative spiral?

The Wildkin’s Curse

I’ve been lucky enough to have had Kate Forsyth visiting this blog for the last few days, sharing valuable insights into how she plots her novels. Although she wasn’t just stopping by for a casual chat about craft. She’s been touring the blogosphere with her latest novel, The Wildkin’s Curse (a companion novel to The Starthorn Tree).

Just last night I finished reading it, and I give you this warning: don’t read it in bed. If you do you’ll never get to sleep due to it’s un-put-downable nature. *Yawn*. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The back copy reads:

Zedrin is a starkin lord and heir to the Castle of Estelliana. Merry is a hearthkin boy, the son of the rebel leader. Liliana is a wilkin girl, with uncanny magical powers.

They must journey on a secret mission to rescue a wildkin princess from her imprisonment in a crystal tower.

Princess Rozalina has the power to encahnt with words – she can conjure up a plague of rats or wish the dead out of their graves. When she casts a curse, it has such power it will change her world forever.

Set in a world of monsters and magical creatures, valiant heroes and wicked villains, The Wildkin’s Curse is a tale of high adventure and true love.

There is a reason Kate has been named the queen of Australian fantasy. She creates such vivid and compelling worlds, and expertly weaves words together to form a glorious tapestry of a story. I haven’t read a classic fantasy in while, but this book reminded me exactly why I fell in love with the genre as a young reader. Kate’s early works helped shape me as an adolescent, and I know this book will do the same for others. It’s an adventure that engages the heart and mind. A tale of three lives intertwined that is both subtle and complex.

I have just slotted the book into my crammed bookshelf, in one of the precious rare spaces I carved out for it on an eye-level shelf. And there doesn’t come a greater recommendation than that…

Plotting a Novel (part 2)

by Kate Forsyth

The Forsyth Triangle

I have developed a diagram to help my writing students understand the basic narrative arc of stories and I’m going to share it with you all today – though if you are going to share it with anyone else please make sure you credit me!

It is based on Freytag’s Triangle, developed by the German dramatist Gustav Freytag who studied Aristotle’s Poetics. Freytag divided a drama into five parts which he named:

Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Denouement

I have combined his theories with the idea of a three-act structure often used by playwrights and screenwriters.

Some definitions:

  • Expositionbackground information – characters, scene, & situation – a scene that shows the normal life of the protagonist
  • Inciting Incident the catalyst that begins the major conflict – a problem or complication to be solved – the point at which normal life is changed
  • Rising Actiona series of conflicts and crises – obstacles to overcome, ordeals to undergo, lessons to be learnt, revelations to be understood
  • Crisis – a crucial or decisive moment in the story that has a powerful effect on the protagonist – a turning point
  • Midpoint Reversal - the middle of the story, where it seems all is lost and the hero cannot go on – it often marks a movement from one place to another, whether physical, spiritual or emotional
  • Climaxthe turning point of the action, when tension reaches its height. The point in which the hero must not only face – and defeat – his enemy, but also his greatest fear
  • Resolutionthe final stage, where questions are answered and problems solved
  • Falling Action - the action following the climax that moves the story towards its end – it is usually much shorter than the previous series of events
  • Denouement comes from the old French, and means to ‘untie the knot’.  The final scene when all is well – ‘the feast scene’

Understanding the basic narrative arc of a story can help you make sure your story does not sag in the middle, fizzle out at the end or drone on for too long at the beginning (the most common mistakes I see in manuscripts!)

Plotting a Novel (part 1)

by Kate Forsyth

To plot, or not to plot – that is the question …

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 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 have two mantras that I teach my students:

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

There are basically two methods of writing.

The Intuitive Approach

Sometimes called ‘free associative writing’.

You set off on a journey with no idea where you are going, allowing the words to carry you along as they will.

Every time you get stuck, which you will be often, you can use a form of brainstorming to get you going again. Ask yourself questions – where are my characters? What are they doing? Why did that happen? What can my character hear, see, smell, taste, feel? What am I trying to express or communicate with this story?

The main problems with this method is getting so stuck you can’t get going again, or ending up with a lot of material that cannot be used, thereby wasting time and energy.

The Analytical Approach

Some writers plot out the entire story before they write a word, complete with characters sketches, chapter-by-chapter and scene-by-scene breakdowns, and thematic conclusions.

Such planning can help with both the actual writing process (you know what you are writing about) and with the tying up of any loose ends. However, it can also limit you to only writing what was planned and so not leaving room for any of those great leaps of the imagination that can take you in all sorts of surprising directions.

What I do is use a combination of both of these methods – I develop a plot-line where I know my beginning and my end and a number of key scenes along the way. Then, as I am writing, I develop this plot-line further as new ideas come. I also do a fairly comprehensive outline before I write each chapter so I know exactly what I want to have happen in that scene.

So what exactly is a plot?

A Plot is a series of events which is driven by the protagonist’s attempt to RESOLVE a source of CONFLICT. The plot is therefore driven by the protagonist’s actions and reactions to a set of problems or obstacles or ordeals.

You could also describe this as a causal sequence of events in a story.

  • This means a plot works in two ways – what is happening (the sequence of events) and why it is happening (cause and effect of what is happening)
  • Character and plot are therefore inextricably entwined, because the personality of your characters will determine how they react to any given situation

The Basic Formula Of All Stories

Protagonist + Objective + Obstacles = Story

Another way to put it:

Character + Desire + Conflict = Story

i.e. someone wants something that is hard to get 

Once you understand this, it is much easier to plan your story.

Guest Blogger: Kate Forsyth

I’m excited to announce that the bubbly and talented Kate Forsyth will be a guest on this blog over the next week.

About Kate Forsyth: Kate has written more than twenty books for children and adults, including The Puzzle RingThe Gypsy Crown, and The Starthorn Tree. Her books have been sold to twelve different countries and she has been shortlisted for numerous awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. In 2007, she was awarded five Aurealis awards for the Chain of Charms series, with Book 5: The Lightning Bolt also being named a CBCA Notable Book. Not only am I a huge fan of her work, but many of you will also know that I had the fortune of being mentored by Kate through an ASA mentorship over 2008/2009.

Kate is currently touring with her latest release, The Wildkin’s Curse. It is a tale of true love and high adventure, set in a world of magic and monsters, valiant heroes and wicked villains. It tells the story of two boys and a girl who undertake the impossible task of rescuing a wildkin princess imprisoned in a crystal tower. A fantasy novel for readers aged 12+, The Wildkin’s Curse tells of the power of stories to change the world. It is the second book in the Chronicles of Estelliana, which began with The Starthorn Tree.

Guest Blog Details:

  1. Day one: Kate will join us to discuss plotting a novel, including ‘to plot or not to plot’, ‘what is plot?’ and the basic formula of all stories
  2. Day two: Kate will finish off her discussion on plotting by revealing ‘The Forsyth Triangle’ (a clever way of understanding narrative arc)
  3. Day three: I’ve been lucky enough to receive a review copy of The Wildkin’s Curse. I’m about half way through and it’s everything it promises to be. Once I’m done I’ll be putting up a review

Now, are you ready to be enchanted? Watch The Wilkin’s Curse book trailer below, then head off and grab yourself a copy…

Writing Races

If you haven’t already heard, Australian Writer’s Marketplace online runs Writing Race forums: a fun and inspiring kind of online writing group for members. They get together on the internet on Tuesday nights to set their goals, working on their own projects offline for one hour during the race. For about half an hour before and after the race there’s also a chance to discuss your projects, the craft of writing and any other industry gossip. People rave about this online writing group, and I’m incredibly excited to say that this Tuesday 11th May I’ve been invited as a special guest racer. At 8pm QLD time I’ll be revved up and ready to write, working away on my latest young adult project during the hour. I’m also really keen to talk all things writing with the other racers, and I’d love to see you all there!

Here are some incentives to come along:

  1. I’m a painfully slow writer, so there’ll be at least one person there you’ll beat
  2. I’ll bring virtual chocolates and I have been known to share
  3. I don’t drink coffee (even cyber coffee), so there’ll be more there for you
  4. You’ll get a guaranteed hour of dedicated writing time

Click on the image below for more details about the races:

Training Wheels

Perspective is a funny thing. It twists your viewpoint around, so things you once knew to be true suddenly look very different. I recall many pivotal moments in life when this happened and the world shifted around me into a new shape. And that’s exactly what happened after I signed with my agent and got my first book contract.

Exactly one year ago, before I had either, like many aspiring authors I imagined getting a book contract meant you’d ‘made it’. I looked at published authors with a kind of awe. I imagined them to have answers I didn’t, to know things, to possess a kind of confidence I lacked. I was always surprised to hear when they expressed self-doubt about their work. I’d think: but they’re *insert-name-of-famous/successful-author here*. How could they doubt themselves?

I’m finally where I always wanted to be (and loving it by the way), but the world has shifted around me and suddenly I’ve realised that I’m actually at the very beginning again. It’s like graduating from junior school, feeling incredibly grown up, but then realising that you’re at the bottom of the high school. I still feel uncertain. I still don’t have all the answers. And I still feel just like me – a kind of dorky blonde girl who sits in the back room of her house, playing with words and colours in her PJs.

I may have a book contract, but I feel like I’ve just been handed my first set of training wheels. At first it terrified me – I worried I should have felt more professional and experienced – but I’ve realised it’s actually ok. I’m enjoying learning, figuring things out as I go, listening to more experienced people around me, growing with each step. I’ve recently received my first set of edits from my delightful editor and art director, and they have been so generous with their time and encouragement and feedback.

So I’m using my training wheels, gaining experience with each test ride and slowly learning to coast. Before long I hope to be riding with more confidence, maybe even leaving the safety of the backyard and taking to the roads. Then again, perspective is a fluid and flighty mistress. It’s likely that by then something else will have happened, and the world will have shifted once more…


About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

Released Sept 2012:

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