Sunday, February 27, 2011

Writing Class - Revealing Character Through Action

Novice writers often make the mistake of describing their characters rather than showing them in action. This not only slows the story down, but can be tedious to read.

To make your writing more powerful, try replacing common character descriptors with revealing action that forms part of the story. For example:

1. Instead of ‘Ted was stingy’ or ‘Ted was frugal’:

· Ted rummaged in the dark for his box of used matches. No point in throwing them out when he could use them again.

· Ted folded the piece of toilet paper over again and again; it would be a waste to flush it away after just one wipe.

· Why was the little girl asking for money? It had taken Ted a lifetime to accrue what he had, and he wasn’t about to part with it now.

2. Instead of ‘Beth was generous’ or ‘Beth was kind’:

· Beth gave the remaining coin to the beggar.

· Ignoring the rumble in her stomach, Beth handed her sandwich to the man with the limp. He did look hungry.

· As she changed the baby’s nappy, Beth smiled at her mum. ‘I’ll look after him,’ she said. ‘You go and rest.’

Do you prefer this approach? Or would you rather stick with ‘Ted was stingy’, ‘Beth was kind’?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Enid Blyton's Missing Manuscript

How timely that so soon after taking my trip down memory lane with Enid Blyton, this article appeared in this morning's Age. The mystery surrounding this missing manuscript is a fitting reminder of a much-loved author who wrote, among other things, quite a few mysteries.
Don't you just love this old black-and-white photo of her?
And check out the picture below:

Oh, how styles of book covers have changed over the years! Don't you just want to follow those mischievous children and see where they go?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You Might Have Missed - It's Not All About You, Calma

by Barry Jonsberg. This book is one of my all-time favourites. The story is narrated by Calma, a Year 11 student who tells us fairly early on that she is unreliable narrator. She is also a very believable one, and she relates her tale in a clever voice full of wit and humour.

This is a story about family, friends and jumping to conclusions. It's funny, relatable and very, very readable, and manages to combine realism with a good dash of romance. As an added bonus, the reader learns quite a lot about English (in which Calma excels) along the way.

Published by Allen & Unwin in 2004, It's Not All About You, Calma was shortlisted in the CBCA Awards, Older Readers, in 2005. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend you do.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing Class - Editing for Publishers: What your English teachers never told you

When writing &/or editing fiction, bear in mind that publishers prefer:

· Active rather than passive writing. eg. A waiter was serving Sally a piece of pie when a speeding Volvo shattered the window (16 words) rather than: Sally was being served a piece of pie by the waiter when the window was shattered by a speeding Volvo (20 words).

· Strong action verbs rather than weaker verbs attached to adverbs. eg. John strode down the aisle and grabbed the bride (9 words) rather than John walked purposefully down the aisle and forcefully took hold of the bride (13 words).

· The use of a few, well-chosen adjectives rather than a profusion of adjectives. eg. The essay was long, and yet it lacked depth (9 words) rather than The essay was long, drawn-out and extensive, and yet it lacked depth (12 words). Or better still, no adjectives at all. eg. The essay lacked depth despite its length (7 words).

It’s not a question of ‘good’ writing or ‘bad’ writing. Nor is it the case that the passive voice, passive verbs, adverbs or strings of adjectives should never be used. It’s just that, as the above examples show, active writing, strong verbs and fewer adjectives will generally make your writing sharper, clearer, and above all, shorter.

If you can get your message across in as few words as possible, your work will be more engaging and easy to read. And if your book is a long one, it won’t be because your writing is long-winded, but because you’ve focused on developing your plot and characters and exploring your themes.

Your thoughts on this one?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Down Memory Lane - The Magic Faraway Tree

and anything else by Enid Blyton. Let the critics say what they will, but this author must have done something right. Why else would generations of kids all love her books? The Magic Faraway Tree was a personal favourite (as was the Magic Faraway Tree Again), and I read it over and over again.

I first read it at the age of six or seven, but even at the age of 12 or 13, when my reading level was way beyond it, I'd still revisit it from time to time, and always enjoyed it as much as ever.

If there's one thing Enid Blyton knows how to do, it's keep the reader turning the pages. She hooks them on plot, has them bursting to find out what happens next, and makes sure the payoffs are worthwhile.

I loved climbing that tree, entering those magical lands, eating those toffee shocks, sliding down the slippery slip, making friends with Silky, fearing Dame Washalot.

Literary 'experts' might bag Enid Blyton, but in my opinion, writers can learn a lot from her bestselling books.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ever had your novel rejected when you know it's good?

If you have, then you're in great company. Maureen Lang, today's guest blogger on Rachelle Gardner's blog On Life as a Literary agent, has written a terrific post called Don't Take This Personally, in which she reminds us of just why even a seasoned author's book might be rejected, even if it's the best book ever. I felt I just had to share.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You Might Have Missed... No Worries

by Bill Condon. The story is narrated by seventeen-year-old Brian who has dropped out of school and is working the night shift in a milk factory. His mum is mentally ill - dangerously so - and his dad is living in a shed. The issues he has to deal with are serious and confronting, but it's not entirely doom and gloom. There's a wonderful cameraderie among his co-workers, and a tentative, blossoming romance with a fabulous girl. Still, it's an ultimately distressing novel, though sadly accurate in its portrayal of the way in which the mental health system can often let you down.

The novel packs a huge emotional punch but is easy to read. The language is simple and direct - in fact, masterful. Not a single word is redundant or out of place. This was a book I couldn't put down.

Published by UQP in 2005, No Worries was an Honour Book in the CBCA awards 2006 and was shortlisted for the New South Wales Literary Awards. I'm so glad the judges didn't miss this one. Did you?

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Winner of my Competition for a Free Manuscript Assessment is Announced...

The competition to win a free manuscript assessment for an MG or YA novel is now closed. Thanks to those of you who entered.

The lucky winner is Jeigh Meredith, who has been notified by email.

Jeigh blogs at WriterBrained - a fantastic blog, well worth a visit!

To those who missed out this time, I hope to run this competition again later this year.

Congratulations, Jeigh!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Do fashions in writing really change?

This post was inspired by Sally Rippin's comment on my previous post, Less is More, and the idea that it's never a good idea to bombard the reader with too much detail. Sally said:

'It's interesting you write about this... because...last night as I finished reading Roald Dahl's 'BFG' to my youngest son... I couldn't help much detail he uses in describing not only surroundings but also action, much more so than many contemporary children's writers do. I guess writing fashions change as do children's reading styles and expectations.'

I agree, I think writing fashions definitely change, though I'm not sure to what extent the changes are dictated by children's reading styles, and to what extent they are determined by the publishing industry. Or rather, could it be that a change in publishing standards has resulted in a corresponding change in reading styles?

Certainly, novels became shorter with the advent of television, and shorter still once the Internet became a ubiquitous part of daily life. There is so much competition for our leisure time, and recent surveys have suggested that attention spans are becoming shorter.

In the nineteenth century, long, highly descriptive novels were the norm. Few such books would be published today. But there are always exceptions.

A number of people in the Australian book industry agree that had JK Rowling sent her manuscript to Australian publishers, Harry Potter would never have been published, because it was just too long.

Which brings me to further distinctions: 1) fashions in writing are not neccessarily the same the world over - the Australian publishing industry in particular favours literature that is spare and concise, and 2) fashions differ between genres - fantasy writers can often get away with longer, more detailed descritpion where writers of realistic fiction cannot.

Now, more people are writing than ever before (writing itself has become more fashionable) and some readers will only read short books so that they can read more books in total. However, I believe there will always be readers who want a good, long story they can sink their teeth into.

Fashions aside, my suggestion to keep details to a minimum was really about the quality of writing. As Sallly observed, Roald Dahl's writing is very descriptive, and yet I don't believe it suffers from too much detail, since in his case, every word enhances the story. And in the end, that's what counts.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Writing Class - Less is More

A certain amount of description is essential in all good stories, but writers often struggle with getting the balance right. How much description is enough? How much is too much?

It’s important to give your readers enough description to allow them to imagine the scene without bombarding them with too much detail. The trick is in revealing only the salient details.

Writers are often told they must know everything about the fictional world they’re creating, but this advice can be counter-productive. If your scene takes place in a garden, you probably don’t need to know or describe every plant in that garden (unless, for example, one of those plants is poisonous and will later become a weapon used for murder, in which case you might).

Likewise, you probably don’t need to tell the reader exactly what your characters had for breakfast (unless one of your characters turns out to be allergic to something he ate).

As a general guide, assess each detail for its relevance to the story you’re telling. Include only those details that reveal character, advance the plot, or in some way enhance your story.

Still not sure? Try removing the detail. Is your story poorer for the lack? If so, put it back. If not, leave it out; it probably just isn’t needed.

Paring down can strengthen a story. Trust your reader to fill in the gaps.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bookclub with The Younger Sun

was a lot of fun. The kids are lively, interested, and avid readers with plenty to say. We met in the Hogwarts Room in The Sun Theatre, which really does look like a set out of Harry Potter, and we sat at a long, Hogwarts-like wooden table.

It was great to meet the lovely Kate, who manages The Younger Sun and does such a fantastic job of co-ordinating the bookclub.

I was chuffed to discover that The Younger Sun is not just the name of the bookclub , it's the name of a bookshop specialising in children's books, and it's right across the road from its parent, The Sun Bookshop. When so many bookshops have only a small section of childrens and YA books stuck somewhere at the back, it's refreshing to find a whole bookshop devoted entirely to kids of all ages.

Thanks Kate and gang for a wonderful day!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Down Memory Lane - A Fish Out of Water

This delightful book by Helen Palmer was first published in the US in 1961. It's a charming story about a boy who buys a goldfish, and ignoring strict instructions not to feed him too much, is dismayed to find that the fish outgrows his fishbowl, a number of vases, the bathtub and the local pool.

Interestingly, Helen Palmer was married to Theodor Geisel, more commonly known as 'Dr Seuss', and the book is based on a short story he wrote in 1950.

A Fish Out of Water is still in print and probably will be for years to come, entertaining generation after generation.  There's just something about it!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You Might Have Missed... The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon, though chances are you didn’t, since more than 2 million copies have been sold. This book would probably rate in my Top 10 Ever. It’s a brilliant example of crossover fiction – adults seem to rate it more highly than teens.

Haddon tells a highly original story narrated by the 15-year-old protagonist, a boy with autism, though Interestingly, the word ‘autism’ is never mentioned. The language is deceptively simple, the content insightful and authentic. An absolute masterpiece!

First published in 2003, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time won the 2003 Whitbread Book of the Year and the 2004 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book.

From the intriguing plot to the brilliant characterisation and the uniqueness of the voice, this novel succeeds at every level. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dancing in the Dark - 1st Birthday!!!

Today is the first anniversary of my debut novel. Exactly a year ago, Dancing in the Dark hit the bookshelves. Even now, a whole year later, I still get a thrill when I find it in bookshops.

The two years between completing the manuscript and seeing the final book in print were filled with smaller milestones and highlights. These include:

· Finding an agent (Debbie Golvan of Golvan Arts Management) to represent me.

· Having a number of publishers expressing interest.

· Receiving emails from publishers saying how much they loved the book.

· Entering the offices of Penguin Books and meeting the publishers.

· Receiving actual offers.

· Accepting an offer.

· Receiving the signed contract.

· Meeting and working with Michelle Madden, a lovely, dedicated and highly professional editor. Ditto the rest of the staff at Penguin.

· Seeing the beautiful cover design (by one very talented Evi Otemoto, whom I’ve yet to meet).

· Holding the actual book in my hands.

· Putting the book on my shelf at home.

· Seeing multiple copies of my book in a fabulous window display at Sunflower Bookshop.

Post-publication highlights include:
· The launch of Dancing in the Dark – I enjoyed it immensely.

· Reading positive reviews of the book in newspapers, blogs and magazines.

· Being interviewed for radio, newspapers, magazines, blogs and e-zines.

· Receiving fan mail.

· Meeting readers who tell me how much they loved the book.

· Receiving invitations to appear at the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Brisbane Writers Festival, and attending those festivals.

· Meeting other writers.

I’m humbled by the fact that my dream to be a published author has become a reality. Heartfelt thanks to those who worked behind the scenes – the unsung heroes at Penguin and the booksellers who’ve recommended my book to their customers.

Last but by no means least, a huge thankyou to all of you who’ve taken the time to read my book when there are so many others to choose from. I don’t take a single one of you for granted.