Posts Tagged 'characters'

Competition Time!

This July I’ve been invited back to the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival, which is held in tropical Mackay (north Queensland), my old home town. I’ll be doing a series of book talks and illustration workshops, along with a number of other wonderful authors and illustrators. I had such a fabulous time at last year’s festival and am thrilled I’ll get to be involved again.

Unfortunately Squish Rabbit will not quite be published in time for the festival, so instead I’ve created a series of postcards and bookmarks featuring my characters. They’ll be for sale through the festival bookshop.

COMPETITION: For your chance to win a signed copy of one of my postcards and bookmarks just leave a comment on this post, telling me which ones you’d choose if you won. Once I return from the festival (21st July) I’ll draw a winner out of a hat and announce it in the comment thread. Make sure I have some way of contacting you in case you win!

22/07/10 UPDATE: Thanks for all who entered and said such lovely, supportive things. I decided to draw three winners, and they are – Lynne the Lurker, Meg McKinlay and Susan Bonaci. I drew the winning names using an online random number generator (I wrote a few names out on pieces of paper, wanting to stay true to my above promise to draw the names from a hat, before giving up – clearly I’m too impatient). In a strange twist of fate, each person chose a different character. I’ll contact you each individually to find out where to send your prize…

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?

The Benefits of Being Mean

Being mean isn’t something I’m naturally good at. I try to be a good person. Try to be thoughtful of others and unselfish. In my writing pursuits I expected this would always serve me well, but not so. It turns out that being mean is a core requirement of writing. Why? Because if you’re always nice to your characters, nothing interesting will ever happen.

If J.K.Rowling was nice to Harry Potter, Voldemort would never have been born, Harry’s parents would still be alive and Malfoy would have been a delightful young chap. If J.K was kind, when Harry was invited to a school of Wizardry it would have been one big, joyous adventure with no danger or teen angst or Trolls/Werewolves/Deatheaters/’insert scary thing here’. If J.K was a generous soul, Harry would have had a very pleasant time at school, graduated and lived Happily Ever After. Sound boring to you? I’m putting myself to sleep just contemplating it.

As writers, we need to drag our characters through hell and back before the story is through. We need to create tension, drama, action, tough choices – more so than tends to exist in real life. I think this is why I enjoy fantasy so much, as there is such potential to raise the stakes beyond anything we experience in our own world. But being mean is harder than it sounds. I get incredibly attached to my characters – even protective of them – so without realising it I often let them avoid the tough stuff.

I’ve been using the ‘three act structure’ to outline the urban fantasy I’m currently developing (something Robert McKee discusses in Story and Alexandra Sokoloff studies over on her blog). I had a number of scenes I knew would feature in the book, and had written them onto story cards. I was then working out how they would work across the three acts – where they would fit, what would work as each act’s turning point and how each event would interact with the others. In doing this I realised parts of the story were severely lacking. Know why? Because I was being too kind to my characters. I had to up the stakes, make their choices harder, create greater consequences. Would this character really adjust so well to this turning point? No! They’d rail against it and make things harder for my protagonist. Would this piece of information be so easy to track down? No! My protagonist should have to prove himself before he can discover that pearler.

With this done, my story has filled out significantly, and as you can see my storyboard is nearly complete. Although I’m not sure how I’ll sleep tonight. I’ve done enough mean things to these characters to earn a lifetime of damnation…

Stand-Alone Vs Series

There are so many decisions to make when planning a new novel. Sometimes you can let the story or the characters drive these decisions, but sometimes you’re faced with two (or more) paths you could follow that would severely alter the direction of your story. When this happens, it all comes down to you. As the head of your story’s world you have to be prepared to make some tough choices.

I was recently faced with one of these with the new urban fantasy I’m plotting. The more I uncovered about this story, and the more I understood its characters and their history, the more I realised just how big it was. Possibly too big for one novel. However I’d never intended it to be a series. I have planned two series in the past, and with both I always knew they would be and they naturally evolved that way. So my tough decision with this new story became:

  • Tackle it as one big book (can anyone say sprawling fantasy?) OR
  • Create a new series

Although I secretly knew it was too big for one book, I still wasn’t sure it could work as several. The story had always been a single story in my head – it didn’t feel episodic. As a reader I get a little frustrated by series where the books end with a massive cliffhanger, as if it was one book split into several, so I didn’t want to create one of those. I prefer a series where each book has a distinct feel, even if there is an overarching ‘quest’ linking them all. I turned to my agent and writing friends for advice, who all felt I could tackle it either way, but ultimately the decision came down to me. I thought I’d share with you how I tackled the problem:

First step: brainstorming. I put a timeline across the middle of a large sheet of butcher’s paper. At the beginning of the line I wrote a summary of the Inciting Incident, and at the end I detailed the Final Showdown. Then I filled the page with every big climax point from the story. I linked these all up to the timeline, working out how each revelation and point of action jigsawed together. Once I had the timeline complete, I could see whether there were clear sections of it that could split into individual stories. It turns out there were two perfect turning points that could serve as the end of story one and two, while the Final Showdown would be story 3’s climax.

I think it may just work. I hope it will work. I still have to more thoroughly plot out each book before I’ll know for sure (as you can see below I’ve already started for book one). This might all seem incredibly anal, but the story is complex, and I need to know where each story is going before I can start writing the first. I’m really keen to get writing, as the scenes are unrolling and the characters are all talking to each other and I’m already on the roller-coaster ride that is their triumphs and failures. So if you’ll excuse me – I’d better get back to plotting…

Say Cheese…

As some of you know, I’m currently plotting out a new story – a YA urban fantasy I’m really excited about. I’m planning it in way that’s new for me, so I decided: why not continue the trend? In the last few days I’ve also been using a new characterisation technique.

Up until now, when working out character design I’ve often drawn my characters to help get them clearer in my mind. But I had no idea how much further it would take me if I found actual photos of them. It’s a technique I first came across on the blog of a good friend of mine (who is a superstar YA writer). So, I set out to find look-a-likes for the characters that had already grown in my head. And it turns out – it’s a hell of a lot harder than it sounds.

It took me hours. Oh so many hours. Because you don’t realise until you’re actually looking for your characters just how real they are to you. I’d find myself flicking through reams of images on photo sites, thinking ‘Her chin’s too narrow’ or ‘He’s too skinny’ or ‘She looks too chirpy’ or ‘His skin is too perfect’. Then I figured out what many others have before me. It’s much easier to think of actors that remind you of your cast. Then again, they can’t be actors you’re too familiar with, otherwise it’s impossible to put your character’s personality onto them as they already come with strong characteristics. However you don’t need to find one person who is your character in every way – just one photo that captures their essence. In this way, I finally found my perfect cast. My protagonist is a boy I vaguely recalled from some long ago mini-drama. His crush a girl I glimpsed on a crime show the other night. His best friend I had the most trouble finding and my fiance actually suggested this girl, who turned out to be perfect (Note: I have slightly altered some of her features in Photoshop):

Once I figured out how it was done, I had a lot of fun with it. So, how does finding real photos of your characters actually help?

  • When I’m picturing how each story scene plays out, I now see these teen’s faces and they’re so much more real to me
  • If I’m wondering what a certain character would do, looking at their image helps me to get into their head
  • Seeing them as I write keeps my descriptions of their physical traits consistent, but also their personalities (the body language of the people in the photos says a lot about my characters)

I can’t tell you how much I love this technique. I know I’ll be doing it for every novel from here on in. Anyone else done this before?

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…

Illustration Sunday

There seem to be two ways picture books develop for me:

  1. The story comes first: something triggers an idea for a story, so I write the first draft before setting out to design characters to fit it
  2. The character comes first: a vivid character turns up in my mind and demands to be drawn, and after a while their story becomes apparent

My little monsters are an example of the first, while Squish Rabbit is an example of the second (Squish was with me for about 2 years before his story turned up). Below are my latest sketches and another example of the latter. About a month ago I woke up with this character’s name and image firmly in the front of my mind. Even though I was desperate to draw him then and there, I didn’t. Just like with my story ideas, I’ve learnt that putting characters in my sketchbook too early can trap them on the page. If I leave them in my head for a month or so, they’ll grow and change. It gives me time to watch them gamble about; to observe how they move and interact with the world. Are they confident, shy, clumsy or zen like? Do they seek to be with others or prefer to wander alone? What do they look like from each and every angle?

Just yesterday I was finally ready to draw my new character. His name is Piggy-Wilikins, a tiny teacup pig with big ears:

His story hasn’t turned up yet, but I know it will – and I’m certain it wont take as long as Squish’s did! I’m starting to get a good sense of his personality already, and I think he may just be my very first confident protagonist (although he’s still a misfit, which seems to be developing into my trademark). Now I have him down on paper I can get back to the story I’m supposed to be working on – the storyboard of a new rabbit picture book. I’ll be posting character sketches from that project in the next few days.

Please excuse me while I hop off to dabble in some rabbity ink…

PS. Happy Valentine’s Day!


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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