Archive for Writing Tip of the Week

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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Where do ideas come from?

As well as talking about books and reading on this blog I thought it might be useful and fun to talk about writing. Over the next few weeks I’ll share my thoughts on plot and characters and names and all the twiddly bits that you need to think about when you are creating your own stories. A good place to start is ‘ideas’. A question I almost always get when I am visiting schools and talking with groups about writing  is, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ My answer is that ideas are everywhere – out there in the world in day to day life, out in the playground, at home, in the conversations I have with people, on tv, at the movies, in the news and newspapers and of course in the books you read. Now if you are just starting out with your writing and you are having trouble coming up with good ideas this answer isn’t very helpful at all. But there are three things I can tell you that may help.

1) Before you can find your own ideas, you must know what a good idea looks like. The best way to do this is to read a lot. If you really want to write you need to start asking why you liked a particular book and what was so good about the story. I also ask these questions when I am watching a good movie or television programme. Part of the idea for my novel Jack the Viking came from watching the third Lord of the Rings movie.  And the more you read, the more you discover how inspiring language can be. Sometimes my ideas spring from a few words that are combined in just the right way to get my brain turning excited somersaults.

2) Start with simple ideas. My summer holiday. The first time I cooked. We got a dog/a cat/ a bird. We lost a dog/a cat/ a bird. Starting a new school. The thing that went bump.

The wonderful thing about how we get ideas is that it is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the bigger and stronger it gets and the better it works. It can take a little while to build up this muscle but giving it regular exercise is a good idea.

3) I think ideas come from 3 things – experience, imagination and curiosity. My stories tend to be a mixture of all three but if you are a bit short on one of those three things, try making up for it with one of the other things. When I watched the third Lord of the Rings movie I was curious about what would happen if you put a modern day boy into a battle from a thousand years ago and that’s what inspired Jack the Viking. But I also used my own experiences to create the central character and his day to day life, and my imagination to help describe places I’ve never been to (a thousand years ago). The more things I do and see, the more ideas I get. The more I read and watch, the more my imagination grows. The more I ask questions, the more interesting the answers are to me.

So if you are having a hard time coming up with good story ideas, don’t worry – read lots, try and think about what made your favourite stories good, practice with different ideas, and remember ideas come from the things you do, the questions you ask, and your own imagination.

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Some fun writing rules

Hi everyone, I hope you all had a great weekend. I was lucky enough to see the comedian Lenny Henry on Sunday night, which was a lot of fun. I’m still in a light mood, so thought I’d share some fun rules on writing. The biggest part of a writer’s life is checking and rechecking work for grammatical mistakes and other errors. I have a fun list next to my computer screen which helps me with this. Here are some pointers:

 1.        Don’t abbrev.

2.         Check to see if you any words out.

3.         Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.

4.         Don’t use no double negatives.

5.         Just between you and I, case is important.

6.         Don’t use commas, that aren’t necessary.

7.         Its important to use apostrophe’s right.

8.         It’s better not to unnecessarily split an infinitive.

9.         Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized. also a sentence should begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop

10.       Verbs has to agree with their subjects.

11.       Avoid unnecessary redundancy.

12.       A writer mustn’t shift your point of view.

13.       Don’t write a run-on sentence you’ve got to punctuate it.

14.       A preposition isn’t a good thing to end a sentence with.

15.       Avoid cliches like the plague.

16.       1 final thing is to never start a sentence with a number.

17.       Always check your work for accuracy and completeness.

 

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Some writing tips

For those of you who love writing, I thought I would share some tips that have helped me on my own writing journey:

* Write about what interests you and then your passion will shine through in your writing.

* Great stories involve the main character facing a problem or obstacle and overcoming it through their own efforts. The main character grows and changes as a result.

* Great stories need great characters. Characters must be both interesting and believable. And remember your main character shouldn’t be perfect: even Batman has his weak spots.

* Use all the five senses when you write; describe scenes or action using sight, hearing, touch, smell, and even taste.

* Use strong and interesting verbs. Instead of “he walked to school” what about “he trudged to school” or “she skipped to school”; they convey more emotion and meaning.

* Show, don’t tell in your stories. For example, if your character is unhappy, don’t tell your reader by writing “Susan was unhappy.” Instead show how Susan is unhappy: for example, “The tears tumbled down her cheeks.”

*Start your stories with a great hook that will make your reader want to continue reading. And end chapters with a cliffhanger or a question not answered so readers want to turn to the next chapter to find out what happens.

* Writing is a craft: the more you practice it the better you’ll get!

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Research a Story – it’s fun

One of the things I love about writing is all the interesting things I discover on the way to writing the story. Becuase I write historical fiction, there’s quite a lot research involved. I spend a whole month looking up bits and pieces before I even start to write – and the research doesn’t end until the story is done. The strange thing is most of the things I discover don’t end up in a book at all. But it still helps me write.

Research gives me story ideas. When I was writing Polar Boy, my initial idea was a story about a boy who was scared of bears. I was thinking polar bears, because they are magnificent creatures, they scare the life out of me, and I wouldn’t go anywhere near one!  As I dug deeper into my research I discovered the Vikings were coming from Greenland, at the same time as my story, heading for the same place I was. And they were called ‘the berserkers’ or ‘bears’. So immediately my plot extended and it wasn’t a Polar Bear that became Iluak’s biggest challenge. It was the threat of the Vikings who didn’t want to share the land with the Inuit people.

Research is full of snippets of day-to-day information. What should my characters wear? What do they eat? Do the doors have doorhandles? I am constantly surprises how much the details of life change from place to place and through the centures.

Another thing I get from research is a strong sense of time and place. I am an armchair writer. I never travel anywhere, although I would love to visit Japan. So when I am writing the Samurai Kids series I have to imagine I am there. I do this by watching documentaries, looking at images, reading books written by Japaese samurai hundreds of years ago and listening to shakuhachi flute music.

Sometimes I can’t find all the answers I need. I wanted my samurai kids to study origami. I knew the samurai believed it was important to exercise the mind as well as the body and in addition to fighting skills they also learned other things – like  flower arranging and poetry! And I knew origami was paractised in Japan at the time of my novel. But I couldn’t find any proof – not a sentence, not a picture. So I decided most kids love origami so the samurai kids would too and included it in my book.

Photo Copyright: Pedro Henriques

When I was researching the next Samurai Kids book, Elephant Feet (#7). I needed to know all about Cambodia. I didn’t know anything. One thing I quickly learned is it has the most amazing array of birds and animals. Many of the birds and their calls made their way into my story background like the hoopoe bird (It’s call is oop-oop-oop! You can listen to a sound file here ). But I was always gettting sidetracked by other interesting information even though I knew I wouldn’t use it. Here’s an example. I found that a new species of gecko had been discovered in the southern mountains of Cambodia. It’s wonderful to think new species are still being found but there is a sad side to this lizard discovery too. Cambodia has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world and many of it animal habitats are in danger of disappearing.

PS When I went to find a picture of the gecko on the Internet I found another new species had been discovered even more recently – a blind legless lizard that looks like a snake!

Check out my other posts here:

Making a Noise – in the library!

Hello from Sandy

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Interview with Lara Morgan

Today we’re joined by Lara Morgan, author of The Rosie Black Chronicles, which includes Genesis and the latest book, Equinox.  We caught up with Lara to ask her about Rosie Black, future technology and the best things about being a writer.

  • What five words would you use to describe The Rosie Black Chronicles?

Dystopian thriller with romantic elements

  • What idea/s did the Rosie Black Chronicles grow from?

Essentially from my interest in climate change and how it will affect us in the future, and what I see as a growth in the power and influence of massive corporations within our political and social structure. I wanted to explore what kind of future could arise if we didn’t regulate the way we are going now and the world of Rosie Black is the result of that. I’m also interested in space travel and the possibility of outer planet colonisation so I threw that in the mix as well.

  •  Who is the character of Rosie Black based on?

No one in particular. Rosie has elements of my teenage self in her, but she is also a creation of the world she’s come from – the future Earth. I’m very much interested in the psychology of people, how they become who they are so the type of person Rosie is comes from the experiences she’s had as she’s grown ie losing her mother, being poor in a broken world, as well as just her innate self. I believe in strong rounded characters so I tried to create that in Rosie.

  • If you could have one piece of technology from Rosie’s world, what would it be?

Space ships – her Aunt Essie’s little ship would be a very cool thing to have. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of travelling through space.

  • Who is your favourite author/childrens author?

That is a very hard one to answer, but one of my favourites is Ursula Le Guin, especially her Earthsea stories.

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

It’s what gives me the most satisfaction. I’ve always been a daydreamer and writing is just a way of getting those dreams out of my head and onto the page. I just love making up stories and never feel as at peace as when I can get up from my desk at the end of the day and feel I’ve achieved something.

  • What’s the best thing and worst thing about being a writer?

Best is definitely being my own boss and being able to work from home in my pyjamas. The worst is the need to promote yourself. These days being writer means having to be good at self promotion as well as promoting your work, building a known name, and that means talking yourself up at events and gatherings and that doesn’t come naturally to me, or I think most writers.

  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Make sure you finish what you start. I’ve spoken to many aspiring writers who focus too much on fine tuning a first chapter, or first few chapters, before they’ve finished writing the story all the way through to the end and that is a fine way to ensure you never finish anything. And you can’t get unfinished work published. It is hard and the temptation is to think that if you just get the first bit right then the rest will be easier, you’ll have a better idea, but really that only works for a minute amount of people. Usually the best way to get the story right is to write it all the way through to the end, not worrying too much about how some things might not quite make sense, or some metaphors are terrible, or your dialogue sucks, but going forward anyway until you finish it. Then you go back and start to refine it. You have to allow yourself the room to make mistakes in the first draft safe in the knowledge that only you will see it. And I mean no one else, really, don’t show it to anyone, not even your mum. That’s what works for me anyway – and for many, many other writers. And read everything. Writers read, it’s essential.

Check out Lara’s Facebook page to find out more about the Rosie Black Blog Tour http://www.facebook.com/therosieblackchronicles

Join Lara tomorrow on the Booksellers New Zealand blog.

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