Posts Tagged 'Ideas'



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.

Overactive Mind

Rabbit - lonelyI wish I could go back to that teacher that said I was a daydreamer.  She wrote it on my report card like it was a bad thing.  She also said I never had my mind on the task.  Well I’d argue that I did, just not solely on the task she deemed important at that exact moment.  While I was solving the maths problem she had put in front of me, I also may have been:

  1. Watching the boy outside on the monkey bars a) wondering what was he doing out of school, and b) developing an emergency plan if he were to fall and land on his head
  2. Thinking about hockey training that afternoon, including what I wanted to achieve and what my coach expected of me
  3. Planning the homework I had for that evening, and how much I could fit in after training
  4. Wondering what might be for dinner

My mind still works like that.  Processing a seemingly endless list of often unrelated things at any one time.  In fact, it only seems to have gotten worse since I began writing.  Now I actively encourage stories and characters to run around my mind while doing other tasks, in order for the ideas to grow.  This morning is a good example.  I got out of the shower with 2 new blog post ideas (including the first few paragraphs of each), the outline of an article I want to write, and a new wording for a scene that for no explicable reason popped into my head (not even from my WIP).

And it was only a 5 min shower.

I’m certainly not complaining – it’s the only way I can juggle so many different roles and projects, but it does make me appear a little vague sometimes.  Anyone else suffer from an overactive mind?

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?

Illustration Friday

For me, when drawing, there is nothing more rewarding than when the ideas are flowing onto the page and they’re matching up with the images in my head.  This doesn’t always happen.  Certain projects take longer to come together, and sometimes what I envisioned in my mind doesn’t always work when it gets down on paper.  Luckily the former is true for my latest illustration project.

Below are some images I’ve been creating for the picture book concept I mentioned in my last post.  This project has been a dream to work on – a wonderful vacation for my mind each day,  in between the hard work of redrafting my novel.  Instead of wrangling with words, I’ve been tickling colours and shaping stray lines, enjoying the way it all comes together on the page.  It’s nice to have a project with no external pressures – right now this is just mine, folded away inside my mind, where I’m allowed to enjoy the ideas just for myself and dabble for the simple pleasure of creating.  In these images, I’ve been playing with how to express the story and emotions of my main character, Squish.

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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).

Dreams and Ideas

Rabbit - psychicIn an essay he wrote about where his ideas come from, Neil Gaiman made a comment about dreams:  “(People) want to know if I get ideas from my dreams. Answer: no. Dream logic isn’t story logic.”

Part of me agrees with him.  Certainly if you were to directly transcribe a dream it would mostly be an illogical, meandering mess.  The story would lack true focus or a strong enough plot.

But then another part of me knows that many novels, such as Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’, have been inspired by dreams.  And I can understand why.  Dreams are like the melting pot of all that’s important to us.  They’re a soup simmered from our subconscious.  A boiling down of the things that both inspire us and concern us: our deepest desires and darkest fears.  We’re often told to write about the things that are important to us, and I believe that if you feel compelled to write a story that has come from a dream, then that is exactly what you’re doing.

Often on waking I have a very clear image in the front of my mind that I have to draw.  Some of my favourite characters have come to me this way over the years.  I’ve also had two novel ideas that have been sparked by dreams.  However, I am aware that my dreams are slightly different to the usual.  While I do have random ones, which are just a mess from my subconscious, I also have dreams that are more (dare I say it) story driven.  They have a definite beginning, middle and end, even clear themes that run through them.  These dreams also tend to have a kind of internal consistency, and are incredibly vivid in detail.  In them I’m rarely myself.  I’ve been an old woman, a young boy, both black and white, from different cultures, even occasionally an animal.

But while I’ve had hundreds of these dreams over the years, only two have ever captured me enough to become novel ideas.  Both of these dreams were like a single scene from a story, and on waking, the characters wouldn’t leave me alone.  The writing side of my brain is so hard wired nowadays I’m no longer sure what I actually dreamed and what my mind created.  Often without realising it, my mind starts to fill in the missing details.  I immediately start asking myself questions about the events and characters, letting the story stew in my mind: become richer, thicker.

When I was younger, my brother often accused me of lying when I retold an event, but really I suppose I’ve always had a storytellers mind: filling in missing details to create a more captivating story.  At least, that’s my excuse.

Character Design

Usually, when first designing characters, I go through many drafts before I start to feel like I’m capturing their ‘essence’.  However occasionally it doesn’t take so long.  Just recently I’ve been developing some characters for a junior adventure novel I’ve written, and because the characters have been sitting in my head for so long (and developing as I wrote the first draft) when I sat down to draw them they sprung onto the page almost fully formed.  Of course, they’re likely to still change and grow as I draw them more, but I’m reasonably happy with how they’re going.

When trying to capture the essence of a character, I try to focus on their personality and think about how this would influence all the little things about them.  Such as:

  1. Their stance: do they slouch, stand up perfectly straight, bounce, balance on one leg, stand on their hands, cross their arms, hands on hips, stand with feet planted firmly on the ground?
  2. Their expression: do they smile lots, frown, scowl, constantly look a little amused, easily become agitated or bored?
  3. Their hair: is it messy, impossible to tame, neat, long, short, curly, straight?  Hair is one of the first things we notice about a person, and it strongly influences how readers assess a character’s personality
  4. Their clothes: are they neatly dressed, scruffy, wearing a perfectly matched outfit or one with competing patterns, wearing traditional or modern clothes, clothes from a specific culture or region?  The clothes people chose to wear say a lot about their personality

I’m sure I’ve missed some.  Please chime in if you have others!  Below are some of the early sketches:

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The Graveyard Book

2009-03-11I haven’t blogged about individual books yet on this blog, but staying true to her name, the Well Read Rabbit does read a LOT (about 3 or 4 books a week) and felt compelled to write about this one.

Neil Gaiman is a genius.  Not just your run of the mill ‘has a brain bigger than a small planet’ or ‘invented something life saving’ genius.  But a genius of words and worlds.  I have always been a big fan of his, from his picture books (Wolves in the Walls) to his children’s novels (Coraline) and Adult novels (American Gods).  But for me, The Graveyard Book went beyond.  It is part fable, part adventure, but always subtle and genuine and real.  A story that moves between worlds, shifts your sense of reality and is imbued with magic, but was ultimately about a small boy growing up and trying to find his place in the world: Gaiman combines such things with an enviable ease.  He has a wonderful ability to create characters that experience incredible things, but always react calmly and thoughtfully, and they are all so uniquely quirky and vivid and flawed.  The writer side of me knows Gaiman as the king of dialogue.  Dialogue is an art that is deceptively hard to master, and his always reads like a song.  I agree whole heartedly with Garth Nix‘s assessment of the book:

I wish my younger self had the opportunity to read and reread this wonderful book, and my older self wishes that I had written it.

But it’s not just Garth and I who felt this way about this book.  So did the Newbery Medal committee.  And Gaiman was his usual charming and unassuming self when he twittered about the morning the news was announced:

First: ‘Mr Gaiman briefly ponders putting marmalade in tea, then realises he has lost his mind.’
Then: ‘About to drink second cup of tea without Marmalade this morning. Also, I just won the Newbury Medal for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.’
Finally, it sinks in: ‘Newbery, not Newbury. Also F***!!!! I won the F***ING NEWBERY THIS IS SO F***ING AWESOME. I thank you.’ (sans expletives, for the sake of innocent ears and eyes)

Gaiman’s way of tackling the question ‘Where do your ideas come from?’ has always fascinated me.  In the dedications section of the book, he mentions that his first spark for The Graveyard Book happened when watching his 2 year-old son ride his tiny tricycle through gravestones one summer (twenty-something years ago).  But apart from this, he is often a little more guarded in his discussion of the topic.  I suppose he gets the question a LOT.

Anyway.  Buy the book.  Read it.  Love it.  Then talk to me about it (there’s nothing I love more than a good book natter).

Forest or Tree?

Rabbit - lookAre you a big picture person or a details person?  A forest or a tree?  To be a good writer you need to be both, but like with most things, we all have natural preferences.  Things that are more appealing to us, and that we naturally navigate towards.  Of course there is always overlap, but for the sake of this post I’m ignoring grey and presenting only black and white.  So, here’s how I’m defining them:

Ideas:

A Forest loves to daydream, brainstorm and mind-map.  They let their ideas roam free.  And they will not be limited to just the story in front of them – oh no – multi-book series unroll before their eyes.

A Tree gets excited by each individual idea.  They’ll fastidiously unfold each one like an easter egg, careful not to break the foil.  One book at a time, thank-you, and let them plan out the beginning before they even think about the middle or the end.

Characterisation:

A Forest lets their characters appear as they write.  They discover their past, present and future as the story unfolds, and learn about each character based on their actions and choices.  A Forest will say they don’t write their characters – they just run around after them, writing down what they do.

A Tree needs to know everything about their characters before they start writing.  What are their hopes, dreams, ambitions?  They’ll interview them, find images of them in magazines, get to know every intimate detail of their life, including their flossing habits.

Plotting:

A Forest will let the plot unfold.  They will not be limited by detailed plans – no! – they will let the pure ideas pour onto the page as they write.  They trust in the story to write itself.  Plot-holes – bah! – their subconscious will fix such things.

A Tree will have scrapbooks filled with notes on plots and sub-plots and sub-sub-plots.  Detailed story arcs, chapter plans and action graphs are an absolute necessity before even considering starting to write.

Research:

A Forest will scoff – who needs it?  All they need to know is enough to start writing.  Incidental research can be done along the way, and any holes can be filled in later.

A Tree could write essays on the background research they’ve done, fill encyclopaedias with the knowledge they’ve accrued – all before they’ve even written a word.  In fact, many a Tree has become so caught up in their pursuit of knowledge that years can pass before they remember there was a story to be written.

I feel like I’ve just written a set of star signs (Forests are also givers not takers, and Trees’ lucky numbers are 2, 5 and 8).  I think we all naturally tend towards one more than the other.  I am more of a Forest myself.  For some reason the more detailed planning and researching and editing side of writing never appeals to me quite as much, even though I do quite enjoy it when I make myself do it.  The Forest side of me loves daydreaming about new ideas and plunging into first drafts with the thrill of the chase, discovering characters as I go and the surprise of unexpected twists and turns.  However I am able to be a Tree when I need to be, and to write well I need to channel Tree qualities often.  In second drafts I become very organised, with chapter plans and character profiles, and do much more research at this point.  It’s just that I don’t enjoy being a Tree quite as much.  I’m a much more natural Forest.

How about you – are you more comfortably one or the other?  How have you learnt to integrate the other side into your writing habits?

Overflow

Rabbit - lookNon-writers often ask where my ideas come from.  As a follow-up I’m sometimes also asked if I ever run out of ideas, or fear that I someday might.  This is possibly the easiest answer ever.

No.

I don’t.  Know why?  Because every time I finish writing a novel, in the next few days / weeks I have at least two completely new ideas for novels.  Most of these ideas develop into fully fledged stories with characters and plots I’m passionate about.  I’m not entirely sure why this happens.  Maybe it’s because, suddenly, a significant amount of room has been freed up in my head which is allowed to be filled with new thoughts and ideas.  Maybe it’s because writing a novel requires a lot of creative energy, yet when the story is done it’s impossible to just turn it off, so the energy flows straight into something else.  Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit manic.  Either way, it means my ideas are growing exponentially, in a way that I’ll never be able to keep up with.  That notion kind of thrills me, but also kind of terrifies me.  It also makes me wish I didn’t need to sleep so many hours a day.

It also reminds me of a wonderful quote, by Gabriel Zaid that goes something like:

Books are published at such a rapid rate that they make us exponentially more ignorant.

Exponentially ignorant.  Love it.  I’m fighting that losing battle by reading several books a week.  Why not join me?


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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