Archive for July, 2012

What!? It’s the 31st already?

Yikes – I can’t believe the end of July has arrived so quickly. There are loads more things I wanted to say but July has turned out to be a lot busier than I anticipated. I am hard at work on rewriting a novel which I am hoping will be published next year. It is a big project and has taken me longer than I first expected. Sometimes stories come out almost perfect first time but sometimes they are like a sculpture inside a block of stone and it takes many hours of chipping and chiselling and sanding before the beautiful figure lying beneath can be revealed. Sometimes when you can see the shape of the body you think you are done but there are still many hours of work ahead to make it smooth and shiny. I am also a university student at Canterbury University (by long distance study) studying children’s literature so I can better understand books as a reader as well as a writer. So just like many of you I get to do homework as well (luckily this year some of my homework means I have to read The Hunger Games).

But I am also getting ready for the Storylines Festival which will be happening in August. I am involved in a number of activities, giving a workshop in Auckland on the 25th and appearing at the Auckland family day on August 26th. But this year I get to do something very special (and which I am VERY excited about) – I get to come down to Christchurch and will be at the Christchurch Storylines Family Day at Catholic Cathedral College on August 19th from 10am till 3pm. I am part of a nationwide organisation for NZ children’s writers and illustrators, Kiwiwrite4kidz and will be at the Family Day on their behalf. If you would like to come and meet me and say hello I will be there all day. I would love to talk books and writing with you and answer any questions you might have. I am looking forward to meeting you there 🙂

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Figuring out your main characters is just as important as figuring out your plot.

So you have worked out a plot. You know how your story starts and where you would like it to end but before you can begin writing it pays to think about your characters. I have some rules that will help you write great characters and also help you write great stories

1) Don’t have too many. Lots of characters are not only confusing to write about, they are confusing to keep track of when you read

2) Its often less important how they look (blue eyes and blond hair is unlikely to have any affect on how they solve their problem and achieve their goals in your story) and more important how they behave. Are they polite and respectful, angry, sad, or rebellious? Are they good at art, maths, good with friends, awkward, or shy??? Do they watch a lot of tv, or read a lot of books? Are they sporty and adventurous? Do they pick their nose, obey their parents, lie, or avoid their homework?

3) Little details can tell you a lot about a person. Do they wear nail polish to school when the school rules forbid it? Do they wear odd socks because home life is disorganised or they think it looks cool? Is that scar from an accident or where they were marked by their enemy? Do they sniff a lot (allergies, bad cold, bad habit?)?

4) The better you know what kind of person your main character is the easier it is to figure out how they are going to deal with the problems you throw at them in your story. Are they the kind of person to solve their problems alone or will they get friends to help? Do they have special skills or talents or are they brave and determined?

5) In the best stories the main character will change or learn something as they solve their problem. Maybe they are a loner who needs to work with others to fight the bad guy. Or perhaps they have to overcome their shyness or their fear. if you have an idea what that change is it will make it easier to write the story.

6) The right name can make a big difference. Calling your character Myrtle or Arthur will have a different affect on your reader, compared with calling them Hannah or Josh. Voldemort would never skip, sing nursery rhymes or smell flowers but then Suzy is unlikely to use the killing curse.

7) Don’t be afraid to have your character behave or react as you would behave or react. It helps make them more real to your reader.  My characters often have bits of me in them but because I mix in some qualities I would like to have and then add a few other qualities no one can tell which part is which.

8) No one is perfect. Your character shouldn’t be perfect either. The best characters have good qualities as well as bad qualities.

Good luck with your characters. The better you know them the easier they will be to write about and the more fun they will be to read about.

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Tips on plots

A good plot makes for a satisfying story. Good plots have good beginnings, good middles and good ends. They usually start with a problem (or an event that creates a problem) for the main character(s) to solve and  we follow the plot along as the character(s) try to solve the problem or take the steps necessary to solving it, until they sort everything out at the end.

I don’t plan my stories out in great detail before I get started but I have a good idea of how I want the story to go and what my ending looks like. Just like the reader, I enjoy being surprised by the story as it develops, but knowing where I am heading makes the it easier for me to get the story to work. For me, knowing who the main character is helps me write the story. If I know the kind of person they are it is easier to figure out what they are going to do in certain circumstances. And knowing what ‘kind’ of story I am telling helps as well. If its horror I know they will maybe be facing some fierce scary monsters in the dark, at night. If its suspense then I don’t know what the monster looks like but they make a lot of loud noises, throw a big shadow and make my character sweat and tremble. If its action then I want my character running, jumping, and maybe fighting. If its fantasy then I get to imagine special powers and special creatures and decide whether they are good or evil. Knowing all this makes it easier to write a good middle. So before you start writing you need to know

1) What the ending (solution to the problem) is

2) What kind of person your main character is

3) What kind of story you are going to write

The best endings are the ones where we have all the information/clues to work it out for ourselves but we are still surprised. It doesn’t work so well if your ending relies on new information not already in the story.  And just like our main character(s), our plot needs a personality. Is it gutsy with a sense of humour? Or serious and athletic? Or is it chatty and relaxed? Nervous and worried? This is the story’s voice and if we can have the same voice all the way through, despite the ups and downs of the characters adventures, no matter how dark or dreadful things get, then the reader has something to rely on as they follow the story through to the end. Writers have to be surprising and reliable all at once!

Next time I’ll talk about creating great characters

Happy writing  !

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A great writing challenge for keen writers

Here is a little something I am involved in. If you are a primary or intermediate school student you should check this out. Lots of fun to be had, prizes to win and writing skills to benefit. Go to it y’all.

FaBo Story 3 has now launched at http://fabostory3.blogspot.co.nz/ and we’d LOVE you to write with us. As it’s the beginning of the term and you’re all busy, we’re giving you a bit longer to write your first chapter and email it to us (deadline 27 July).
 
FABO STORY 3 begins with a letter posted on the blog on Monday 16 July – a letter that threatens to disrupt the biggest sporting event in world history – the TITANIC GAMES.
Who wrote the letter and to whom? Why would they make threats? It’s your job to write a follow-on chapter. YOU decide what the story is about, who the characters are, and what happens to them next. Write the next chapter in the story (up to 1000 words) and send it tofabostory@gmail.com in the body of your email (not as an attachment) by 5pm on Friday 27 July. The winning chapter will appear on Monday 30 July at the same time as a chapter by one of the children’s authors. From then on, every week is another episode in a big, dark writing adventure.
 
By the end, you will have used your imagination and sleuthing skills to figure out who the villain is and how to stop him or her from destroying the Titanic Games. Are you ready to compete? Let the Titanic Games begin!
 
As always, there will be prizes, so start working on your medal count now.
 
Go to http://fabostory3.blogspot.co.nz/ to read the letter that kickstarts your story about the Titanic Games.
 
GOOD LUCK. : ) Start reading, and start writing.

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Go behind the scenes of your favourite movies

You might have been lucky enough to go to the movies in the school holidays.  There was plenty to choose from, including Brave and The Amazing Spiderman.  We’ve just got two cool new books in the library that take you behind the scenes of these movies and tell you more about the characters.

Brave: The Essential Guide gives you extra information about the characters in the movie and the places it was set.  You can take the grand tour of Castle DunBroch, learn Merida’s likes and dislikes, find out about the clans, learn some top tips for archery and swordplay, and read more about the story of the movie.  There are heaps of pictures from the movie, some of the best quotes from the characters, and fact boxes with extra information about the main characters.  I really like the ‘Who Suits Merida?’ section where the different clans say why Merida should choose them.

Spiderman: Inside the world of your friendly neighborhood hero contains everything you ever wanted to know about Spidey.  This book is chock full of pictures of Spiderman, from his very first appearance through to his latest reincarnation.  You can learn all about his costume, the man behind the mask, Peter Parker, his friends and family, his love interests, his enemies, and the main events in his life.  If you want to learn more about Spidey’s latest nemesis, Lizard, or past villans, like Doctor Octopus and Sandman, you can find it all in this book.  Did you know that there have been hundreds of different artists who have brought Spiderman to life over the years?

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A story to read

An important part of writing stories is editing. Even the most famous authors who have written many books go over their work again and again fixing mistakes and making good writing better. At the moment I am rewriting and editing a novel to make it the best it can be. Going through 50,000 words is keeping me busy so while I do that I thought you might like to read a short story I wrote a few years back. You are the first children to read it 🙂 Hope you enjoy it.

An Everyday Mum

By Melinda Szymanik

“I’m sure my mother is an alien,” Thomas said as we came down the hill toward my place.  “I don’t know what planet she’s from but she’s just the weirdest.”

“Oh?” I said.

“She’s gone all strange since we moved up here, lighting candles and buying crystals and reading tea leaves and stuff” he said.

“Ah,” I said.

We parked our skateboards by the back door and walked into the kitchen.  A batch of homemade chocolate chip biscuits lay cooling on a wire rack.  Their smell filled the room.  Mum had been baking again.

“Those look really good.  Let’s have a couple,” said Thomas.

“Nah, my Mum’s got supersonic ears that can hear me taking something out of the kitchen that I’m not meant to.  You watch,” I said opening the fridge door and bending down to the cans of fizzy drink on the bottom shelf.

“Nathan, what are you doing in the fridge,” a voice called out from a distant room in the house.

“I’m just thirsty Mum.”

“There’s perfectly good water in the tap.”

“Yes Mum.”

“Wow,” said Thomas.

Thomas was my new friend.  He’d moved in round the corner from our house and just started at my school.  We had a heap of things in common, like skateboarding and collecting old Spiderman comics and secretly reading books.  I’d just been over to his place and now, for the first time, he was visiting over at my place.

I was showing him round the house.

“This is the kitchen.  Cups and stuff are in here.  The loo is in there,” I said pointing to the toilet door as we walked down the hallway, “and that’s my sister, Ruby,” I said pointing at her lying on her bed dressing her doll.  She poked her tongue out.  I just stopped myself from poking my tongue back.  I laughed instead and Thomas laughed too.

“Go away,” my sister shouted.

“Nathan!  Don’t tease your sister,” my mother’s disembodied voice floated down the hall.

I took Thomas upstairs to my room and we ended up playing on the computer out on the landing.

After a while we got sick of computer games and went back outside.  Mum was hanging out the washing at the rotary line with her back to us.  Thomas and I picked up our skateboards as quietly as we could.  I should really have been doing my homework by now but we were having too much fun.

“If you’re going for a ride on your skateboard Nate, could you get me a carton of milk please?  There’s money in my purse on the kitchen bench.”  She hadn’t even turned around.  She was pegging out a big sheet and she’s not very tall. It looked tricky.

“She’s got eyes in the back of her head,” I said to Thomas.  Thomas gave me a funny look.

“Should we help her with that sheet?” he asked.

“No its okay, she’s got a third arm as well.”

Thomas’s head whipped back round to stare at my Mum.  She still had her back to us but the sheet was now perfectly pegged out on the line, stretched taut, flapping in the breeze.  She was bending back down to the basket, a shirt already draped over her shoulder as she picked out a towel.

I poked him in the back.  “I’m only kidding.”

We rode our skateboards down to the skate park, but my wheels kept jamming up.  I jumped off and picked my board up, turning it over to check it out.  Someone had stuck plasticene in the ball bearings of one of the front wheels and I knew who the criminal was.  “That little witch!” I exclaimed.  “She’s always mucking my things up on purpose.”

Thomas was impressed.  “My little sister would never think up anything as good as this.”

“Barbie’s gonna pay, man.  It’ll be a quick trip to the hairdressers for her,” I said in a funny voice.  Thomas laughed

But I was annoyed.  We had to forget the skateboarding and go straight to the shops for the milk.  We spent the thirty cents change on some lollies.  It seemed fair after what Ruby had done and I thought Mum wouldn’t mind once I’d explained.

 

When we got back from the shops we could hear Mum singing in the kitchen.  She sings a lot.  We’re used to it and she’s not too bad at it although the songs are a bit old and crusty.

My hand was on the back door handle when she called out, “I can make some hot chocolate with that milk for you two if you like.”

“Do you want something to drink?”  I asked my new friend.

I looked at Thomas.

“What’s wrong mate?”

“Your Mum’s in there,” Thomas said biting his lip.

“So?”

“It’s like she’s from outer space, or something,” he said, dead serious.

“Don’t be silly.  None of those things I said before are true.  She hasn’t got supersonic ears or eyes in the back of her head.”

“I know, I know,” Thomas said.  “It’s just…”

“She’s just a great Mum,” I said.  “And she makes the best hot chocolates.  You’ll see.  Come on.”

We went inside and I introduced Thomas properly to my Mum.  She smiled and said hello and took the milk from him with a thank you.  She had jeans and a t-shirt on.  She looked like an everyday Mum and I could see Thomas relax.

“I wish you wouldn’t call your sister names,” she said, as she put the cooled biscuits in a tin.

“She messed up my skateboard,” I complained.

“I’m sure I can fix it,” she said.  “I’ll have a go after I’ve made dinner.  I’ve left some biscuits for both of you even though you’ve already eaten.”  Thomas’s mouth was hanging open in surprise.

“How does she do that?” he whispered incredulously.

“You’ve got a red tongue from the lollies you goober,” I whispered back with a laugh.  “She’s just very observant.”  But it was lucky that Thomas was tipping his head back to drain the last of his hot chocolate from his cup when Mum’s third eyelids slid across her eyes as she was chopping onions.  Because it wasn’t his Mum that was an alien, it was mine.

The End

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The Spook’s Blood Book Trailer

If you’re a fan of The Spook’s Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney, you’ll be excited to hear the latest book in the series, The Spook’s Blood is released this month.  To make sure you’re one of the first to get your hands on The Spook’s Blood, reserve your copy at the library now.

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