Posts Tagged 'ASA mentorship'

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”.

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…

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?

Editing Bible

2009-05-12There are many different stages of editing. With my mentorship novel, I (thankfully) have finished the huge, plot altering style editing. Over the last 8 months I have done numerous rewriting drafts, crafted all my characters carefully, explored the hidden folds of my world, reordered plot points and polished the pacing to a high shine.

Next step? The final fiddly edit, a whole other realm of editing. It’s about tightening, pruning, fastidious shaping of sentences, dialogue, the five senses, and making your prose sing. For this stage, I have discovered an editing bible: Writing Tools ~ 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark.

This book smoothly guided me through the final fiddly edit, reminding me of old techniques I’m familiar with and introducing me to new ones. It’s beautifully set out: each tool has several pages devoted to it, with clear explanations and examples. I’ll likely reread this book again before I begin editing future novels, or at least skim the title of each tool as a quick way to get into that head space. Here are some examples from the ‘Nuts and Bolts’ section:

  • Begin sentences with subjects and verbs: “Make your meaning clear early, then let weaker elements branch to the right”
  • Activate your verbs: this is something I think I’m quite good at, and yet with a gentle reminder, I still found many weak verbs hidden in my prose
  • Take it easy on the -ings: this was new to me, but I found it to be a powerful tool in making my prose more immediate
  • Fear not the long sentence: a good reminder, as I tend to use shorter sentences, whereas a variety offers a more dynamic paragraph
  • Establish a pattern, then give it a twist: “Build parallel constructions, but cut across the grain”

Other great tool titles include: Get the name of the dog, Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction, and Place gold coins along the path. On an aside, yesterday, in the middle of editing, I left my desk for just a second. My adorable yet cheeky little pup, motivated no doubt by the lure of the winter sun splashing over my desk, discovered how to jump from my chair up onto my writing desk. I literally found him as captured below, red pen in mouth, crouched over the chapter I was editing. Now on first glance it may indeed look as though he is simply chewing my pen, but I like to think he was trying to help me edit…

2009-05-12a


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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