Archive for the 'Mentorship' Category

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!

Setting and the Tax Man

2009-08-23aI’m constantly amazed at how vividly a place can influence my writing. Its feel, its smell, the lay of the land, the palette of the landscape, the way the wind feels when it pulls at your hair. Every place is unique, which is why setting is so important in books. Setting gives us an immediate insight into the mood of a novel. A strong and tangible sense of what kind of story you’re entering and the characters you might encounter.

2009-08-23bI got to thinking about this recently while on holiday in New Zealand. Driving through the patchwork hills, in a climate so different to our own, the feel of the place vividly conjured the setting and characters from a story of mine. While walking along a river, the characters began to interact in my mind again, commenting on the terrain and noticing things I had not. I had a similar experience last year while in England, and on both trips kept a diary of these observations.

2009-08-23cIn the final two drafts of the junior fantasy novel I worked on during my ASA mentorship, these diaries became invaluable. When first writing this story, I chose a slightly more European setting due to a need for a land with clear seasonal change – harsh winters and long dry summers – a climate as hard as the tribes that drive the plot. In early drafts I focussed more on the characters and their story, but in later drafts I had to work to clarify the setting.

Yet the setting only became vivid and real once I had walked the land of my story. Once I had lived the winter that left only the hardiest plants alive, kicked my feet through muddied puddles of leaves, walked under clouds of ash and ice and marveled at skeletal trees greeting the morning sun.

Do you think Mr Tax Man will scoff when I insist that my ski trip to New Zealand was driven by a need to become intimate with the landscape of my story? And is it shallow to set my next story on an island due to a desire for sand and sun? Caribbean, here I come…

The Wall

sewEveryone hits it eventually.  The dreaded wall.  Luckily my wall seems to be made more of a kind of transparent fabric rather than bricks and mortar, so it has slowed me down but not stopped me.  I’ve been working on the third draft of my mentorship novel for a few weeks now.  While the planning was tough, the actual writing has been flowing quite well.  Until now.

There’s always a place in a manuscript (often several) where the writing gets really tough.  For me it was a particularly tricky scene to write – smack bang in the middle of the novel – the dark point for my protagonist.  Writing through this scene and out the other side has been hard work.  I’m pretty stubborn though, so even in these stages I still write every day.  On the good days, I do well above my daily word quota, but on days like these I just skim the minimum.

It’s not unusual that during the difficult stage of any novel a new idea comes along to tempt me with its freshness.  Christine Bongers recently blogged about this phenomena, using a really clever analogy.  But like Chris, I’m finding ways to work on both projects.  The new idea has become like a reward, which I only get to work on once I’ve gotten through (at least) my quota of words for the novel redraft.  It’s also a very different project: a picture book, where I get to play with words and images.  It’s actually the perfect project to start while redrafting a novel, because the smallness of it is quite refreshing.  I’m also finding that, since starting the new project, I come back to my novel each day with more energy.

The new idea came after yet another person asked if I’d done anything with Squish, the small rabbit that runs across this blog.  So essentially, I’m fighting the wall with a small white rabbit.  He must know kung-fu, because he’s certainly doing a good job of it.

Note: My working title for the story was ‘Squish, the Small Rabbit’ but for obvious reasons it has since changed (just read it aloud).

Editing Blues

Rabbit - sitThere’s no point in dancing around it – editing is hard work.  And if right now you’re wondering what I’m talking about – if you’re thinking I’m mad and are telling me through your computer screen that editing can be fun – then either you’re in an earlier stage of ‘fun-fiddly’ editing than I’m talking about, you have selective amnesia or you’re a robot.  Take your pick.

The editing I’m talking about is gritty, finger skinning, brain twisting, eye gouging, painfully hard work.  The editing I’m talking about is the part of the writing journey that will test your commitment to the process.  It will make you question why on earth you want to be a writer (and conveniently forget the joy of new ideas and characters that consume you and and all those lovely butterfly things).  This editing will make you question whether you have it in you.  It will push your brain out your ears.  BUT: I guarantee you that every writer, be they new or experienced, has felt this way.  And probably has experienced all these doubts at some point during each and every book they’ve written.

Based on the above rant, you may well have guessed that I’m going through a tough round of edits.  A few weeks ago I received Kate’s assessment on the latest draft of my mentorship novel, and she bravely, patiently and honestly guided me through how to take my novel into its third draft.  My reaction has nothing to do with Kate or the way she approached it – she has been an absolute dream to work with.  She even invited me to bang my head against a wall, saying this is how she often feels at this point in the editing process.  It’s always nice to know you’re not alone.

Luckily I’m sitting on the cusp of the ‘hard work’ mountain.  After some serious time spent world building, pushing all my major and minor characters further, significant reorganising of the plot points, and detailed (scene by scene) analysis of pacing, I’m almost ready to start the rewrite.  For me, this means I’ve just reached the editing summit and am about to start gloriously frolicking down the other side.  The lure of the writing has been the light at the end of my ‘plotting’ tunnel, and it will be so much easier due to the tooth pulling work I’ve just done.

There’s a great guest post over on Rachelle Gardner’s blog talking about this exact process.  It’s called ‘The Hell Formerly Known as Editing’, and Terry Brennan discusses the editorial process he went through after selling his first book.  He’s refreshingly open about just how tough it’s been.  It’s certainly not for the faint hearted, but we all need a little brutal honesty every now and then.

I know most of the time I need to believe that writing is wonderful and exhilarating and a constant source of joy, but if you’re serious about this (and are aiming for publication), this also needs to be balanced by the knowledge that some bits of writing are just plain hard work.  So, protective gloves on, helmet buckled tightly, safety goggles in place, and back into the fray!

What Kind of Writer are You?

Rabbit - exclamationSomething that often comes up among writers is the question: ‘What kind of writer are you?’  I used to think the answer was easy – that I had it all figured out.

I was certain I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer.  All this talk of character profiles, careful plotting and chapter plans kind of freaked me out.  The idea of it all felt stifling.  Where’s the freedom?  The sense of the story unfolding before your eyes?  No, I was certain that when it came to first drafts, I was a free writer.  When writing my first few longer stories, all I had was a main character, an idea of what was important to them, a place to start and a vague place to end.  And it was through the writing that the true story evolved – the twists and turns, secondary characters, all the various plot points, and often even I was surprised by what transpired.  It was exhilarating.

But.  Through the mentorship I’ve been doing with Kate, I have learnt something new about myself.  Where my first drafts are free written, it would appear my second drafts are much more planned.  Suddenly I understood the desire for character profiles and chapter mapping.  And instead of restricting me, it was liberating.  Now that I knew the story, I could pin down what needed to happen in each chapter, who needed to be involved, and how to build the tension and develop a strong emotional and action arc.  It made it so much easier to weed out those chapters that weren’t working hard enough and to do a full rewrite (which had previously terrified me).  So, now I had it down.  I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants first drafter, and a planned-anal-organised second drafter.  Yes?  No.

As it so happens, I just finished the first draft of a new novel … and I was a planned first drafter.  This story required a LOT of research, and involved the character solving puzzles along the way, which were vital to the plot.  So I HAD to know what was going to happen at each point.  While there were still some surprising moments during the writing, I mostly knew exactly what was happening and where the story was leading.

So … I have a new theory on this whole ‘what kind of writer are you?’ business.  At least for me, it would seem that where I once thought my personality directed how I approach a story, it is actually each individual story that demands how it is written.  Who knows how I’ll write the next story.  I’m not even game to guess.

So dare I ask: what kind of writer are you?

 

Where to Begin?

Rabbit - psychicHow often have you picked up a book, only to put it down again after reading a single page?  Children often don’t even give books that long.  Their worlds move so fast, with movies and computer games and the Internet, that they’re likely to put a book down after only a sentence or two if it doesn’t immediately grab them.

So for a children’s writer, this lends the first sentence and paragraph even more weight.  It’s rare to get this right in the first draft though.  I know I have a bad habit of meandering into my stories, rather than dropping readers immediately into the characters’ lives and problems.  I don’t mean you necessarily have to start with high action – there’s no need to go killing people off in the first sentence.  What I mean is conflict.  Even quiet stories need immediate conflict, even though it may be more emotional in nature.  And what I mean by conflict is those things driving the characters, hence the plot, forward.

For the fantasy novel I’m working on through the mentorship, in my second draft I discovered that my story actually started at chapter 15.  Luckily I didn’t have to scrap everything before that, but this is where the true conflict began.  In rewriting this as chapter 1, I thought long and hard about that first line.  I wanted it to reflect the ultimate conflict my lead character needs to resolve.  In brief: she comes from a winged tribe, and is the only one ever born into it that cannot fly.  Although she comes across many challenges on her journey, they all ultimately boil down to one problem – her lacking self-belief stemming from this inability.  She feels it defines her.  As such, the very first line sees her entering a situation highly dangerous for one who cannot fly.  So immediately her core conflict is challenged, just a taste of what she must resolve in the end (and while this is her internal conflict, her external conflicts are also introduced in the first page).

I find it interesting after finishing reading a book, to go back to the first paragraph and see how other authors do this.  Figuring out where to start is not always easy.  But if you can get to the heart of your character and your story – the heart of the conflict – then you have a pretty good chance of getting it just right.


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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