Posts tagged July 2012 Star Author

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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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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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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Hi from your July Star Author

Hi there folks (waves). I am feeling very honoured to be this month’s Star Author here at the Christchurch Kids Blog. I’m going to be around all July talking about books, reading and writing. If you have any questions at all about me, about writing or about my books please ask.  I write for children of all ages, from picture books through short stories to novels. I love to write even though it can be brain twistingly difficult at times, but I also love to read and I think one of the reasons I became a writer was because of how reading books made me feel.

Reading a book is something I can do by myself but I never feel alone when I read. I can travel anywhere, meet new people from different countries, cultures or worlds and learn more about myself doing it. Some of my favourite books when I was younger include The Outsiders, The Little House on the Prairie Books, The Dark is Rising series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (I think I read that at least 12 times), Paddington Bear Books, Famous Five and Secret Seven Books, The Wizard of Earthsea, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Anne of Green Gables, Flambards, The Swing in the Summerhouse,  and many, many more. I loved I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sellew, The Cat in the Hat, and Where The Wild Things Are. I adored Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes. As you can see I liked books that blended magic with the real world. I still own many of my favourite books from my childhood. And I still read children’s books now. Recent favourites include Super Finn, Hill and Hole, The Hunger Games, White Cat, The Double Life of Cassiel RoadnightThe Chicken Thief, Olivia, There’s a Monster at the End of this Book, Love That Dog and The Changeover. What are some of your favourite books? And what is it you loved most about them?

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Meet our July Star Author – Melinda Szymanik

Our fantastic July Star Author is New Zealand author, Melinda Szymanik.  Melinda writes picture books, short stories and novels for children and young adults.  Her second picture book The Were-Nana won the 2009 NZ Post Children’s Choice Award.  You can also find some of Melinda’s short stories in Pick n’ Mix: Volume 1 and Volume 2, Dare and Double Dare, and Great Mates.

When she is not writing Melinda likes reading, baking (especially with chocolate), going to the movies, and travelling to fun places with her family.

Thanks for joining us Melinda.  We look forward to reading about your books and writing.

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