Posts Tagged 'fantasy'

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

Festival Fanfare (part 2)

Rabbit - climbI have now officially unpacked after the Whitsunday Voices festival (orderly Andrew was very restrained, and never said anything over the last few days). While unpacking my suitcase, I was also mentally unpacking, thinking through all I experienced and learnt. My favourite thing about the festival was that I had plenty of breaks, which allowed me to sneak into several of the other author / illustrator sessions to watch them work their magic…

  • Michael Gerard Bauer: Even with a tough crowd (well over 200 mid-graders) Michael had them captivated with tales from his childhood, revealing events that influenced scenes in his books. He’s a natural storyteller and had us all in stitches, and ignited a love of literature and stories in even the most reluctant reader
  • Sally Rippin: Sally is just delightful and discussed the evolution of several of her books, followed by an illustration workshop. She cleverly broke down the drawing of complex forms into simple shapes, and had the kids marveling at what that they could create with her help
  • John Marsden: John is a master at audience participation and used several clever games and volunteers from the audience to demonstrate how stories are created. I find his passion for stories and good writing is catching (the audience clearly felt the same way)
  • Boori Pryor: If you ever get the chance to see him speak, don’t miss it. He’s like the rockstar of kid’s literature. Storytelling is clearly in his blood, and he has a wonderful way of making every child in the audience feel like he’s speaking to them alone. He naturally involves the entire audience in his performance, reeling you in with his energy and humour. Then he whipped out his didgeridoo and had the kids doing dance interpretations of australian wildlife. I laughed so hard I actually cried when one little boy did a hip-hop style butterfly (the kind of butterfly you wouldn’t confront in a dark ally)
  • Matt Ottley: Matt ran an illustration workshop that literally had the audience wide eyed and gasping in awe. He started with simple shapes, then the audience marveled as, with a few lines, they emerged as characters from his books. He had kids draw ‘Mr Squiggle’ style doodles on the board, then transformed them into funny animals and fantasy creatures. Every child in that room left with the desire to learn to draw like Matt.

After all that, on the final day we had the big literary dinner. When I say ‘big’ I mean it – over 400 people attended. There was much chatting, socialising, eating and drinking. Even some dancing (although not on tabletops, as Michael Bauer would have you believe). Below are some photos of the night, which prove even us ‘reclusive’ writer and illustrator types can scrub up alright for a party.

2009-07-23

Michael and I (we may be on a table at this point - you'd never know)

Robert Newton (writer), me and Steven Herrick (poet)

Robert Newton (writer), me and Steven Herrick (poet)

Marc Macbride (illustrator), me, Matt Ottley (writer/illustrator) and Sally Rippin (writer/illustrator)

Marc Macbride (illustrator), me, Matt Ottley (writer/illustrator) and Sally Rippin (writer/illustrator)

Building Worlds

Rabbit - psychicAs a writer, I experience moments where I feel all powerful.

With my current fantasy novel, I have spent the last few years creating an entire world, filled with people and creatures and tribes and religions and landscapes that have all tumbled from my mind.  When I stand back from it all, it almost doesn’t seem possible that I created this.  It’s been with me for so long that I find myself thinking: surely this world has always existed?  It’s such a strange and wonderful thing.

Yet with that comes unexpected feelings too.  A sense of responsibility.  When I’m having to make decisions about the world I’ve created – naming structures, shaping a tribe, choosing their fate – it can feel a little frightening, too.  I feel the pressure to get it right.  To make it real, and give the people I’ve created the life and the world they deserve.  Even worse, when I find a gap in my world.  A stone I’ve left unturned (which happens more frequently that I would like).  The guilt, of not giving my characters a complete world in which to roam.

The life of a god is lonely (*wry smile* as I compare my little writerly self to a god). No one can help you carry the world you’ve created.  The responsibility falls to your shoulders.  The decisions are yours alone.

On a lighter note, when world building, the temptation to create everything from scratch lures.  But there’s a whole world of mythology out there already to draw from: folk lore and legend and long existing magic.  I was taught early on, with the wise words of Isobelle Carmody, that a reference to mythology in books gives readers something familiar in an unfamiliar world, which in turn makes it seem more real.  I find this little pearl of wisdom demonstrates this particular lesson quite nicely indeed (and has the added benefit of making me smile):

2009-05-02

Originally found here.

Slave of the Subconscious

Rabbit - sockThe mind is a strange and wonderful thing.  Many a writer has struggled with a significant plot point, only to have their subconscious solve it after a long walk, a nap or a shower.  In fact, this is something I have learnt to actively use as a technique to solve problems.  Something that alludes me during the day, will often become apparent overnight.  If I have stumbled into a plot hole, a character inconsistency or an idea that just isn’t coming together, I simply make sure I’m thinking about the problem before I fall asleep that night and when I wake the solution is usually clear.  For those who haven’t experienced this, it might sound a tad strange, but as a writer who talks to her characters, I’m used to strange looks.

Today this phenomena shocked the breath from me, when I discovered my subconscious is working away on a story I hadn’t even realised was still in my head.  After completing the third draft of my mentorship ms nearly a week ago, I set it down to rest a while.  When I did I knew one character, Craikor, had disappeared for too long from the action in the middle of the story, but was content to tackle this in the next draft.  Meanwhile I began work on another novel of mine to gain distance from the mentorship novel.  However yesterday, Craikor piped up and began talking to me.  Just one sentence – a bold statement about another character (he’s quite feisty).  To be honest I sort of ignored him – firstly I wasn’t sure where his statement would fit into the current story, and secondly I was annoyed at him for intruding on my work on a different story (with very different characters).  However last night I moved in and out of dreams about Craikor, and woke with a clear image in my mind of a scene where he says the line he’d said to me.  It was the perfect way to introduce him into the middle of the story, and also revealed information about his motivations.  So I had to abandon my carefully laid plans to continue with the other story today, and sit down to write Craikor’s scene.

I was led astray by a feisty fire wight.  Characters can be pushy.  I’m learning to follow their whims and their voices more, however I still find myself fighting them occasionally.  It’s a losing battle.  So, is anyone else a slave to their subconscious?

Like Trying to Wash a Cat

I read a great quote today about editing a novel, which said it can be like trying to wash a cat.  I relate to this, which says a lot considering my cat had an irrational fear of water.  Trying to wash her involved thick rubber gloves, a raincoat and plenty of Betadine for treating scratches – which gives you a clear image of how I sometimes find editing.  Luckily I’ve learnt much through the mentorship, which has made this process more pleasant.  The next stage will be the third draft, which Kate has described as working on structure and ‘making the writing sing’.  Parts of it sing a little already, but more of a bad idol audition rather than the polished rock-star performance I’m hoping for.  Anyway, this got me thinking about how the second draft unfolded.

I was lucky enough to have Kate’s experienced and objective eye to assess my first draft, and together we discussed where to take it from there.  The first thing was to identify the target audience – I was on the cusp of two, so we made decisions about whether to slightly simplify the language / world for a junior audience, or increase the stakes to appeal to a mid-grade audience.  After this we looked at what needed working on.  First up was world building: being a fantasy story, the world presented in my first draft was not detailed enough and I needed to get to know my races better.  For this I did lots of daydreaming, brainstorming and mind mapping, one of which appears below:

2009-01-30a

The next thing I tackled was character consistency: I tend to learn about my characters as I write the first draft, which means they change a lot as I go.  BUT by the end of it I know them quite well.  So I created character profiles for each main character (about 6 all up) which included a number of points about their personality / background, their core strengths and weaknesses, physical traits, and (because I also illustrate) sketches of their face and clothes (which helps with consistent descriptions).  My protagonist’s profile is below:

2009-01-30b

Lastly I did a detailed plot / chapter plan.  One of the most valuable things Kate taught me was a rule for weeding out chapters that aren’t working hard enough.  Every chapter needs to: 1. Propel the plot forward, 2. Develop character, and 3. Reveal more about the world.  I used these rules to write my plan.  Firstly I scrapped any chapters than were ambling along (more than I’d like to admit).  Then I looked at the skeleton I had: what each leftover chapter achieved and what plot points / character traits were not yet explored fully enough.  After this I made headings of every major event in the book in the order it happened and jotted down a summary under each of how the scenes would fulfil the above rules.  I put it all together along a timeline on a pin board (see below), with coloured paper highlighting major plot events.  Yes, I am a very visual person.  And maybe a little anal, but let’s not be judgmental.

2009-01-30c

THEN came the re-write.  I used sections of the first draft, but a lot of it was brand new writing.  The detailed plan made it much less scary and the board made it easy to track my progress, which spurred me on.  This whole process took me just under three months and the manuscript increased by ten thousand words.  Not sure what the third draft will look like, but I’m looking forward to finding out…

 

When Writers are Lost for Words

Rabbit - psychicI attended the Aurealis Awards on Saturday night, the annual Australian speculative fiction awards held in Brisbane.  The room was brimming with publishers, editors, agents, authors and wannabes like me.  It was a place where geeks of science fiction and fantasy were not afraid to speak out and embrace their geek-dom.  The alcohol might have helped.

But what really stayed with me about the night were the acceptance speeches.  As an aspiring writer, I often view authors as these rather enigmatic figures.  People blessed with an ability to express themselves intelligently in interviews, with market savvy and ever thoughtful things to say.  I suppose this probably comes from those we see most in the limelight, speaking about their craft in ways that makes everyone want to become a writer.

But it would seem even the most natural public speaker loses such skills when accepting an award.  I don’t think I have ever seen authors so humbled, touched, and yes … lost for words.  It was really quite endearing.  There were many brilliant children’s authors and illustrators represented on the night.  Shaun Tan won the illustrated book award for ‘Tales from outer Suburbia’, a surreal and poignant book exploring the Australian burbs.  Emily Rodda took out the children’s fiction award with ‘The Wizard of Rondo’ and Melinda Marchetta the young adult award for ‘Finnikin of the Rock’.  Isobelle Carmody was also up for an award, as was one of the hosts for the night, Simon Higgins (who I got to chat with, and is incredibly funny, down to earth, and clearly suited to writing his ninja novels).

We have several speculative fiction writers in my wider writing network, so I look forward to one day attending the awards in support of them as nominees…

 


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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