Posts Tagged 'Ideas'

Every Idea is Different (or how to make life hard for yourself)

It’s not possible to get overconfident as an artist. Because every time I feel a little like I know what I’m doing – every time I get the inkling that I may have something of this whole storytelling palaver figured out – an idea comes along that makes me a beginner again.

This is no coincidence. If I truly knew what I was doing, then the project would hold no challenge for me. It would mean I wasn’t learning, and such a project wouldn’t be able hold my attention. New ideas fascinate us because we have unanswered questions that float around them – things we don’t yet understand that we attempt to grasp by carrying the project through to its conclusion.

With Squish Rabbit, it was the first time my voice and visual style really started coming together, which was such a thrill. Of note is the fact that a significant feature of my illustration style is white space. Then along came Brave Squish Rabbit … which is set at night. So much for white space. I suddenly had to create spreads using full bleed colour – deep blues and blacks, which was a real challenge.

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Next comes my latest project. It’s about a little bird on an isolated island. It has a single character (the bird) and a single setting (the island). Not a lot to work with in terms of creating a rich visual world with variety enough to carry an entire book.

I’ve spent the last few weeks storyboarding it out, and it’s certainly tested my creative problem solving. I’ve used more playful perspective, point of view and colour schemes than in any of my books yet. It’s been challenging and mind contorting and wonderful, and I certainly feel like a better storyteller for it.

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Not that this will help me with my next project. Which, judging by my track record, will likely be about a limbless lion who lives in a tree…

Visual Diary #7

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog with the latest scribblings from my visual diary. My creative work is more focussed on novel writing at the moment (more on that soon), as well as another project that you will see below. Even so, images are always forming in my mind and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I can grab a sliver of time to trap them on the page…

A little voodoo doll who has been following me around for a while, and whose story I hope to make into a graphic novel one day:

The way I felt when amongst the crowds of the Woodford Folk Festival this year:

Not exactly a visual diary page, but another creative project I’ve been working on. The latest stop motion trial I have done for my Brave Squish Rabbit book trailer:

For now I’m packing my creative tools (visual diary, iPad, notes) into a suitcase and heading off to Darwin for this year’s WordStorm. I’ll be doing a number of school visits, as well as a reading in the kids’ program and doing a full day workshop (for adults) all about making picture books. You can check out the program here - if you’re in the area I hope to see you there! Wish me luck avoiding the crocs…

Visual Diary #6

The best thing about making the visual diary while I was travelling the US was that it re-kickstarted my daily doodling habit. It reminded me how much I enjoy drawing just for fun, rather than only when I have a project to do or a book to finish. So I’ve made sure to keep the ritual going now that I’m back. I’ve started a new part of the diary, where I’ve continued to collect images about life, people and silliness. Below are the first few drawings…

My diary mascot asserting himself:

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Doodling wigs for David after a gig one night:

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After seeing a soldier in the Queen Street Mall handing out red balloons:

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Inspired by the strange road signs along the highways of Broken Hill:

Baking Your Ideas

Ideas are wonderful and wily things. We chase them around, trying to catch their tails so we can pull them to us and write them down – capture them on the page. Creating a new story involves not just one idea, but many. Hundreds (if not thousands) of them must be woven together seamlessly to create the many-coloured threads of a novel.

I’ve discussed before that ideas don’t just pop into existence fully formed, but must be cultivated over a long period of time. Some people let them come together naturally in their mind. Some people do writing exercises to draw them out. Today I decided to bake them into existence.

Many of you may recall that baking is often a bad sign for me – a clear indicator that I’m having a bad day and need cheering up – but not today. For me, ideas best come together when my body is engaged in an activity but my mind is left free to wander. I find if I pose myself a question at the beginning of the task, by the end it tends to be answered. So…

  • The Challenge: To create lemon and ricotta baked doughnuts (with the help of my new lipstick-red Kitchen Aid)
  • The Goal: To get to know several of my characters better (I’m working on a young adult urban fantasy, and have two ‘bad guys’ that I know in name alone)

I thought I’d share with you the recipe I followed for my idea chasing:

  1. While I combined the batter ingredients, I considered what I already knew about my two bad guys
  2. While I kneaded the dough, I realised one wasn’t a guy at all and readjusted my thoughts on her (a sex change takes a while to get your head around)
  3. While I creamed the ricotta and lemon filling, I considered what they wanted in life and the motivations that could drive them through the story
  4. While I cut out the dough rounds and stuffed them with filling, I wondered about their childhoods and how their experiences had shaped them as people
  5. While I watched the dough rise and brown in the oven, I considered the consequences of their choices and how they would carry the weight of them
  6. And finally, while I dipped the cooked batter in butter and rolled them in lemon sugar, I realised these two characters were more interconnected than I’d initially realised

And the outcome of all this baking and thinking? I came away with:

  1. Two nuanced characters that I’ve discovered I actually care about (bad bits and all)
  2. An appreciation for bought doughnuts (this recipe took me a good part of the day)
  3. A happy but very full stomach

Care to join me in a sticky lemon doughnut?

New Novel & World Domination

For the last few weeks I have been plotting. Not the ‘world domination’ kind, but the ‘new novel’ kind. That said, when creating a new story world you need to dominate it – as its creator you must understand every angle of your world and its people in order to write it convincingly. This is especially true when, like me, you are writing fantasy.

This new novel has me super excited, because…

  1. Firstly, I’ve been wanting to write something a little darker for a while now. This will be a mid-grade urban fantasy about a cursed bloodline, 17th century beasts, some kick ass supernatural bounty hunters and one scary immortal dude
  2. Secondly, I’m plotting it in a whole new way

When I say ‘new’, I mean entirely new to me. When I first tried writing a novel, like a lot of newbies, plotting was something I knew nothing about. As I’ve grown as a writer I’ve naturally started planning my stories and have become more aware of the value of plotting. Kate Forsyth also instilled its importance in me through the mentorship.

This will be the fourth novel I’ve written. The first was free written and terrible – it’s happily a bottom drawer manuscript. The second was only slightly more planned, and would have been another bottom drawer ms if Kate hadn’t swooped in to help me resurrect it. The third required more planning and the first draft was certainly the cleanest I’ve produced yet, but still I’ve learnt more about structure since then.

With my fourth novel, I want to go a few steps further. I want to focus on getting to know my characters intimately before I start. I want to work at weaving in each story arc and building the tension towards the climax. Ultimately I want to break the story down scene by scene, all before I start writing. I’ve never done anything like this before and I couldn’t do it alone, so I’m equipped with Robert McKee’s book on the principles of screenwriting, called Story. It’s a bible on the craft of plot – one you’ll hear a lot of writers mention. He talks about breaking a story down into acts, sequences, scenes and moments, and analysing each one as to how it’s driving the story. He’s also the king of the three act structure, something I’ve been interested in studying for a while. He opens the book with an awesome quote:

Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules; rebellious, unschooled writers break rules; an artist masters the form

Robert, I’m not sure I’ll do you proud, but I’ll certainly do my best. The only way to learn is to push yourself out into new territory – challenge yourself to something new. I’m certainly doing that, and loving every terrifying moment. Wish me luck!

Inspired

Ever since I was little I’ve experienced a certain kind of overwhelming feeling – often when looking at something inspiring someone has created. It’s like a bigness within me. A swelling in my chest. A feeling that I could laugh and cry and scream all at the same time. I’ve long had trouble articulating it, but I think it’s a need to express something.

I’ve since realised that it is this bigness that I am chasing every time I sit down to write or draw. It’s as if I’m trying to capture it, that essential thing that drives me as a person, and with each project I feel I’m getting closer. But when I finish, the feeling is always still there, so I delve into the next project. It was Isobelle Carmody who first named this for me. In a workshop of hers I attended back in 2006, she said we all have questions that drive us as writers, and each novel is an attempt to answer them.

I still get it most strongly when viewing others’ work. A brilliant film, an inspiring piece of design, a lyrical dance, a moving piece of music. I experience it when I watch many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, like Mononoke Hime and Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind. I had it when I read The Book Thief, and more recently while reading A Small Free Kiss in the Dark. But my favourite of the moment is the music of Mumford and Sons, four young men from West London who speak to my soul. Listen to this live version of ‘White Blank Page’ and see if you don’t want to go out and create something beautiful:

Feel free to share the things that inspire you.

Illustration Wednesday

To an outsider, my work methods may seem a little manic. It could look like I flicker between projects with no rhyme or reason, but it’s not true. Having several projects on the go at once not only helps me to stay fresh, but also provides me with time to think. I’ve learnt that much of writing and illustrating is thinking – allowing the stories and characters space / time to grow in my mind.

For instance, recently I drew little Piggy-Wilikins for the first time, simply to get him out of my head, but his story hasn’t arrived yet so afterwards I moved onto the next project. I know when I return I will have a story for him. The next project was the new rabbit story I mentioned below. I’d written a few drafts of the story and had some basic character sketches, and was finally ready to do the character designing (some of which you can see below). With that done, it’s not quite ready to be put to a storyboard yet as I want the story in my head a little longer, so I set it aside and took up the next project. So now I’ve gone back to a story that’s been around for a while – one I storyboarded out a few months back. I’ve just started the final art, which has to be my favourite part, watching the book appear in front of my eyes.

The other stories are still there, comfortably seated in my subconscious, mingling and growing and preparing themselves for the next stage. They’ll let me know when they’re ready.

A Little Bit of Silliness

As I mentioned the other day, I’m currently working on a new rabbit picture book (not related to Squish Rabbit). I didn’t plan to do another rabbit book, but I suppose when there are always rabbits in my head it’s hard not to let them take over – they’re constantly bumping into other thoughts and sparking new ideas. That said, the main character isn’t actually a rabbit. Or at least he sort of isn’t. It’s hard to explain.

The idea came from an old uni assignment (interestingly enough, so did Squish). In my web design course I had to create a basic home page that linked to the four assignments I’d completed over the semester. Most people did a home page with reasonably generic buttons, however I wanted to do something that reflected my personality. Of course, it had to have rabbits. And so began the first stumbling idea that is now a picture book called ‘Rabbity George’.

I have put the original home page up on my website, although the buttons are now linked to a bit of silliness instead of my ancient assignments. Hop on over to my website if you’d like to check it out, and just look for the above image to find it. While you’re there, see if you can pick which rabbit is George, and why it is that he doesn’t always feel very rabbity…

Planning or Pantsing

Rabbit - runI’m updating my website: a slow and laborious process, but I’m getting there. Looking at the ‘writing’ section makes me realise that my writing methods have changed. It’s nice to have those moments in life – a yard stick where you can look back and realise how far you’ve come. I wrote that section 18 months ago, and a few novels on, I’m amazed at just how differently I do things.

I used to be a pantser. I didn’t plot or plan my stories – I used freewriting to muddle my way through a first draft, flying by the seat of my pants. I enjoyed this immensely – the thrill of the chase, the adrenalin at the discovery of a new plot point. I always felt that planning would take this away from me. But in the end it left a mudpit of a manuscript I had to attempt to save in the second draft: characters that were still figuring out who they were, worlds only partly explored, tangled story arcs.

I used to just think this was the way I did things (that it was my ‘style’ of writing), but now I can see that fear was driving it. I was terrified at the thought of planning. What if the ideas didn’t come? What if I sat down to plan and couldn’t think of anything? My inner writing critic (that awful voice that tells you your writing is no good) was strong back then, and could only be silenced when I wrote fast enough to leave it behind. If I stopped to plan, it could paralyse me in an instant. So I was running fast to keep ahead of my fear.

So much has changed. I now trust myself enough that I no longer need to run. After writing so many stories, I know that the ideas will come if I give them time. I trust that I can solve the plot problems that will arise and that the characters will talk to me if I give them space. The biggest epiphany happened about a week ago: I’m now so good at silencing my inner writing critic that he rarely bothers to show up. With my fear now contained to a minimum, I’m free to plan. I love letting the ideas move around my mind for months, asking questions, identifying the plot holes to fill and studying the story arcs. I love prodding the characters to learn their vulnerabilities and determining how the story can best reveal these. I love the intricacies of putting the puzzle together, all before putting pen to paper. I suppose I now understand the demands of ‘story’ more intimately.

Early on in my ASA mentorship, Kate said something that made me think about all this. She commented that you can still experience the thrill of discovery during the first draft when you have planned it. Planning doesn’t take that away, it just makes the process less messy. But I’m still hesitant to describe myself as a planner just yet. I’ve worked out how tricksy this writing process is – just when I think I have myself pinned, I start a fresh project that demands a completely new approach.

So you never know. In a few years time I may be back here saying: “Move over planning, I’m back in the pants”.

Red Nose Blues

Rabbit - exclamationI love working from home. You’ll never hear me complaining about it – writing and illustrating is my absolute dream job. But since cutting back on my other work commitments, I’ve realised there are some things about working from home I hadn’t considered.

Like the fact that home becomes your office and it’s near impossible to take time off without feeling guilty about not working. Now I have to leave the house if I want time out.

And the fact that weekends and weeknights are no longer sacred – work is all pervasive. Even bed time isn’t mine – ideas run rampant in the dark wee hours.

And the fact that even when I’m sick and need time off to just lie around the house trying to get better (and trying to breath), I still find myself at my computer attempting to work. Silliness, I tell you.

But not this day. I was made stubborn for a reason: I’m going to take my red nosed sniffling self downstairs, away from the office, and watch an old favourite movie (as recommended by a friend of mine). Writing can wait until another day.

But there’s no stopping the ideas … (wicked Dr Claw style laughter)


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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