Posts Tagged 'Kate Forsyth'

How to Make a Book Trailer

My second book is due out in a few short months, so this topic has consumed most of my creative time lately. Book trailers are much like movie trailers … only about books (duh). They’re short video clips used to advertise books, but for me they’re much more. The illustrator in me loves them as another form of visual storytelling, as well as an excuse to dabble in animation. They’re also a great way to reach an international audience. Being based in Australia, here I can tour schools and festivals, meeting kids and teachers and doing book readings. But when it comes to my US audience, instead I can interact using my book trailer and by doing blog tours and online interviews.

So let’s say you’ve written a book and want to make your own trailer. Here’s the good news: the hard bit is already done. Because the first thing you need is a great story. Once you have that, you have the bones of your trailer. Now the bad news: I can’t tell you exactly how to make a trailer. There are just too many different ways to go about it. But I can tell you what a good trailer needs … and how I made mine … and what I’ve learnt along the way (please feel free to learn from my mistakes).

Where to start…

  • Watch lots of trailers: I mean heaps. Good ones. Bad ones. Figure out the difference. Find a few you love and study them
  • Make a list: write down all the things you want your trailer to include. My list was: book cover, key scenes, review quotes, publisher information, trailer credits, my website
  • Write the script: write out all the words that will appear in your trailer, whether spoken or written. Then edit it. And again. Get the order and emphasis right. Spend as much time on it as you would crafting a passage of your book. Mine looks like this:

  • Choose your visuals: for an illustrator this bit is easier. I chose a few key scenes from my picture book to use. If you’re not the illustrator, you need to seek their permission to use their work. If your book is a novel, there are royalty free image sites you can google to find quality images – spend time finding ones that reflect the mood and style of your story
  • Choose your music: I’m lucky enough to work with an amazingly talented composer and multi-instrumentalist, but they don’t just grow on trees. Mostly people use royalty free music you can download from various sites. I used such sites to find a few subtle sound effects, and made some of my own (in my extremely low budget recording studio / bedroom cupboard)
  • Create a storyboard: this is an illustrating term, which means designing the visuals of the story. Draw out exactly what you want your trailer to look like, a few frames at a time. This is where you can start to think about text and image placement, as well as consider background, transitions, colour, sound effects and music. Mine looks like this:

  • Make it: Yeah, not as easy as it sounds. This point could have an entire blog devoted to it. But choose a video editing program you have, or one you can afford, then read / watch every online tutorial you can find. This is exactly how I learnt to use Flash, which is what I used to create my first trailer. This time around I was going to use stop motion animation, but it was consuming too much time so I’ve shelved that idea for another year. My first trailer involved a lot of trial and error as I was figuring Flash out, and it took me forever to grasp what I was doing. But this second trailer has been much easier (and much more fun). I’m now confident enough to play with some more complicated sequences

Things I learnt along the way…

  • Keep it short. No longer that 1min 30sec. Modern viewers have short attention spans (most of you probably haven’t made it this far in my post)
  • While my book is written in past tense, the trailer worked much better in present tense – it gave a greater sense of unfolding action
  • However long you think it will take to make the trailer – double it
  • Get the trailer ready to release at least a month before the book comes out. Book review copies are sent out long before the release date, so books often start gathering reviews early. It’s great if you can have the trailer circulating at the same time

Some of my favourite trailers…

I’ll be launching the Brave Squish Rabbit trailer here in September…

Voices on the Coast (Part 1)

Ah the serenity. Sun. Surf. Sand. Seagulls. Palms. Sound luxurious? It was.

What it doesn’t sound like is the venue for a children’s literature festival, but then again – this isn’t just any festival. Voices on the Coast is the award winning super festival held annually on the sunshine coast, which has been providing a gamut of literary talks and workshops for school aged kids since 1996. This year I was lucky enough to be a speaker at the festival, and was incredibly spoilt on 3 accounts: I got to…

  1. spend time with inspiring kids and teens
  2. hang out with a bunch of other author / illustrators
  3. take some much needed time out scudding along the beach

L to R: Michael Bauer, David 'Ghostboy' Stavanger, Kate Forsyth and me

David and I headed for the coast last Sunday afternoon, and were joined at the festival by other creatives Michael BauerTristan BancksDeb AbelaPascalle BurtonKate ForsythSerena Geddes and Oliver Phommavanh (just to name a few). We were put right next door to the party room (Michael – I’m looking your way) where the first night’s festivities were held – a dinner and general get together for all the festival presenters to meet and greet (and drink … sensibly of course).

L to R: John Flanagan, Lili Wilkinson, Serena Geddes, Kelly Dunham (festival organiser), me and Rebecca Belfield Kennedy

The next two days were chock full of workshops, whiteboards, pens, pencils and school uniforms. The first day was for secondary students (where myself and a few other picture book writers were stolen away to a local junior school for some talks) and the second day was for primary students. Other authors were also involved in late night panels, adult writer workshops and a further day of touring around libraries across the hinterlands. Unfortunately I was only just recovering from a cold as I set out for the festival, so by the last 10 minutes of my final workshop I had absolutely no voice left (I believe I was emitting a hight pitched tone heard only by local dogs). The kids were very kind and quiet for me, and as an illustrator I could luckily rely on drawing rather than talking.

On the final afternoon David and I headed to the beach for some super juices to try to recoup

After it was all over we had one day before we had to return to Brisbane, so checked out some local markets (and spent some of our hard earned dollars – I might just be wearing a new dress below).

Eumundi markets: Me arguing with a sign over some name calling ... he started it

Next post I’ll break down the workshops I ran at the festival, including some funny Squishy pictures the kids and I drew and wacky monsters we created…

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…

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!

Word Clouds

For all the word nerds out there, I thought I’d share with you my new favourite toy. It’s called Wordle. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a website that describes itself thus:

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.

Sound like fun? Maybe not yet (unless you enjoy typography like me). But here’s where it gets really good: you can copy and paste your entire novel in there and in the blink of an eye you’ll get an analysis of which words appear most frequently. Here’s the word cloud for the junior fantasy novel I developed through the mentorship with Kate Forsyth, called The Black Luck Stone:

Pretty, huh? But it’s not just fun, it’s also useful. You can immediately see which words you use most in your work. The high use words in this novel are the character names (can you guess who my protagonist is?) and many words specific to the world I created (like wight, bloom and prophesy). But there are other words in there I find interesting. Like ‘face’ and ‘eyes’ – clearly character descriptors I rely on. But also ‘like’ and ‘around’. For this word cloud I turned off the appearance of common words such as ‘a’, ‘and’ or ‘it’, but looking at the frequency of those words can also give you a sense of which ones you over rely on. I’ve discovered I overuse ‘but’ and ‘then’ – something I never noticed before, but now that I have I realise it has the potential to drive others bonkers.

For comparison, here’s the word cloud for my junior adventure novel, called Harvey-Potamus Sid: The Not So Adventurous Kid:

Again, the character names are king, but notice any similarities? Eyes and face. Clearly descriptive vices of mine. Even if it doesn’t drastically change the way I edit, it has given me something to consider when I look over my work. And besides, it’s fun, and I don’t need a better excuse to Wordle around than that. Go on then – you know you want to.

Go and have a play

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”.

ADD in Writing

Rabbit - runI’m not talking about Attention Deficit Disorder (wouldn’t that be a curse for writers, who have to spend many hours at their computers writing and editing?). No, I’m referring to the three narrative parts of any tale: Action, Dialogue and Description. During my mentorship, Kate highlighted the importance of being aware of these three forms of narration, and the way writer’s can use them to create a careful balance.

Often when editing, I’ll come across a long passage that isn’t quite working. When I can’t initially pinpoint why, I usually end up discovering it’s because my ADD balance is out:

  1. Action: when something is happening in the story. This could mean pirates are attacking a school bus, or simply a character is taking their dog for a walk. It can be high action or quiet action. Either way, the characters are DOING something
  2. Dialogue: when the characters are speaking (duh). Dialogue is a wonderful way of using each characters’ unique voice to show their personalities and reactions to others and events. Another reason dialogue is so valuable is because it introduces white space onto the page, breaking up the text and giving readers’ eyes a breather. I don’t tend to include internal dialogue in here because that gets absorbed into other paragraphs. I’d tend to include it in :-
  3. Description: any passage describing the scenery, characters’ appearance, internal thoughts or memories, characters’ reflections on things etc

When analysing a slow passage of my story, I might find I’ve used two pages of straight action and haven’t given the reader any description (ie. a chance to orient themselves). Or maybe the dialogue has gone on for too long and it’s become a bit confusing what is actually happening in the book (ie. the pace has slowed). Too much dense text without any dialogue can be a problem too – have you ever found, when reading, that a book can slow down with too many heavy paragraphs? I find myself flipping pages, scanning for any dialogue, and if it’s too far off I’ll put the book down for the night (there’s nothing worse than losing a reader). I also find it takes me longer to pick the book up again.

When you become conscious of these three narrative techniques, you can actively choose which to use at different points. You can pick the perfect one to heighten the drama or peak the emotional tension. You can create a balance that allows the reader to stay within the story, reeling them in at points and letting them breathe at others in order to absorb all the information.

I’ve certainly come across other ways of breaking down the different narrative structures – anyone got others to add?


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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