At the latest Write Links meeting on the 8th of July, Tyrion Perkins presented a comprehensive workshop on structure and plotting novels.
She shared her considerable experience, research, notes and references. We are so lucky to have such generous members in our writing community.
While Tyrion guided us through the simple three-act structure, she was clear to point out that plotting and structure are not the first step to writing your book.
First you need to brainstorm the possibilities! Collect a folder full of ideas and use them to start brainstorming. From this explosion of creativity choose your setting, characters and themes. With these you can work out the outline of your story.
Presuming that we have an outline, Tyrion used her zoological background (and sense of humour), to show us that the next step is like constructing a dinosaur skeleton. Structure is the spine onto which we hang the head, legs, ribs and tail of our story.
Leading us through a simple three-act structure we learnt the role of each Act, the proportion of the story of each act and what should be included in each act and when.
By following the three-act structure we learnt how to;
Of course, the part we were all waiting for was how to apply this to our own work. It seems to be widely accepted that the humble corkboard is the most flexible option. Tyrion suggested that first we write down the events in our story and our character arc using the following structure list.
Tyrion says ‘While you’re finding these (events), ask yourself: Can you make any of these bigger, more interesting, and with higher stakes? These plot points define your story. If they’re not big and impressive, your story won’t be either.’
When the sheet is completed, grab your corkboard, cards, sticky notes, coloured pins and pens (or purchase Scrivener). Write your scenes on different cards. Lay them down and shuffle them about to work out which order flows best.
When you have the cards in the right order you may want to rewrite the scenes onto different colour cards to show different subplots, characters etc.
Use your structure list (above) and coloured pins and post-it notes to signal the structure points and chapters. Then bring it all together with transition scenes. Tyrion suggests working out the plot points in your favourite novels for practice.
I came away from this workshop with renewed energy for my writing. I know that I need to brainstorm and outline my story. Then plot my story using the three act structure. From there I will be able to write the story according to the (often limited) time I have.
Following this structure will give me a sense of direction and should cut down the number of rewrites. Even a pantser can benefit from using structure to iron out any problems after the first draft.
Tyrion finished by saying ‘All of these methods are open to things changing as you write but they lay a solid foundation so you know where you are going’.
I know where I’m going! Off to the shops for a corkboard, sticky notes, pins …
Report by Lucy McGinley
Lucy lives in a house where dinosaurs roam the bathroom, chess pieces invade the dinner table and bikes, tennis racquets and AFL balls fill the boot of her car. Words wrap around her like possums clinging to telecom lines, plop onto pages steadily like koala droppings and dart into the grass like blue tongue lizards! She spends her days captivating kindergarten children and her afternoons marvelling over bird’s feathers, seedpods and occasionally snake skins, with her son.
Lucy blogs on lucymcginley.wordpress.com and followthatchild.wordpress.com
Gold Coast author Kerry Brown inspired Write Links members with a hands-on Picture Book Workshop.
Kerry showed us the perfect ingredients and method to create a successful picture book.
During this workshop, Kerry shared her basic ‘Vanilla Cake’ recipe needed to write a picture book, along with personal tips and insights to create a unique ‘Masterchef’ creation.
With this recipe, Kerry Brown created her own picture books: Poppy Wash, Can I cuddle the Moon, All my Kisses and Lest we Forget.
Basic Vanilla Cake Picture Book Recipe
Combine with a cohesive thread or theme throughout.
SUPER DUPER Triple Layer Cake
Bake in the oven till picture book connects with the author, the reader and the world.
Post by Karen Tyrrell, Photos by Yvonne Mes
Karen Tyrrell writes empowering books to help kids live STRONG through humour and self-belief. She’s an experienced Brisbane school teacher, Gifted & Talented teacher and key note speaker. She’s a passionate writing workshop presenter and interactive story teller wearing fun costumes. Her acclaimed books Song Bird Superhero (Song Bird 1), STOP the Bully, Bailey Beats the Blah, Harry Helps Grandpa Remember, and Super Space Kids series ignite imagination and positive self-esteem. Karen has won 3 awards, 3 literary grants and a mentorship through the Society of Editors (QLD) www.karentyrrell.com
Presentation by Rebecca Sheraton and Alison Stegert
Article by Write Links member Kate Shapcott, photos by Yvonne Mes
Kate is an Early Childhood Teacher who likes playing around with picture books. Kate’s dream is to be snapped up by a well connected and astute agent who has fallen in love with Kate’s fabulous suite of picture book manuscripts.
Surrounded by the energetic chatter of Write Links members, we sat in anticipation of our latest professional development workshop, ‘Character Development and Tension’, presented by Richard Newsome.
Richard, a well respected author, with a love of gems such as the 'Six Million Dollar Man' and 'Dr Seuss', is also the inaugural winner of the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing and a seasoned traveller. With a background in journalism, Richard is the creative genius of ‘The Billionaire Series ’ a wonderfully crafted adventure and murder mystery with a trickle of complex characters, pitched at readers 9 to 13 years.
Richard took us through a kaleidoscope of character development and gave us an insight into his own mastery of character building. I was captivated by the importance of the ‘casting couch’ where he emphasised the importance of auditioning characters, considering the depth of complexity and believable profiling through true characterisation (characters are true when they act as if no one else is watching). Richard's acknowledgement of the importance of this in relation to picture books, got a thumbs up from me!
We laughed at his apt use of short films, to demonstrate how character development can influence the dynamics of storylines. And the importance of turning away from developing ‘stereotypical’ characters to ‘types’ of characters. It helped to generate our thought juices to think outside the box of our protagonists and antagonists through purposeful writing. Do we really need characters that don’t bring purpose to the story-line? No? – Delete! (though well-crafted sidekicks can stay).
I was never great at maths at school but when Richard gave us a breakdown on the importance of developing character relationships; maths took on a whole new meaning.
Richard mixed equation with complexity of relationship development between characters. The simple formula – when introducing relationships, like in his ‘Billionaire series’ where he created three main characters, if we add one character, this expands to six complex relationships, add one more and you have ten complex relationships to consider, etc. 'Ouch my maths head is aching!', but the potential for interaction between your characters is dialogue heaven.
Richard’s showcase of character techniques didn’t disappoint either, again sharing his insights of characterisation and developing plot. Here he took us through explicit (characterisation, narration) and implicit (describing how characters act and speak) referencing a number of great books including those by Jane Austen and Roald Dahl. The room was soaking up the array of different character introduction building techniques to draw the reader in.
Scattered through the workshop were opportunities for us to explore how to develop character profiles of our own, which I found really awesome (I also drew on some creative treasures from my neighbour Lyn). It stretched my thinking and drew out the importance of injecting and invigorating a character into life. Would my character be flat? (not complex, predictable) Or would it be round? (very complex, have aspirations, desires) . I ended up creating my rounded character 'Mystic Molly'.
I liked this hands-on workshop, it cemented the importance of how dialogue links to the dynamics of characters, especially about: not what is SAID, but what is MEANT.
I was unsure if Richard’s presentation was going to add value for me as a picture book wannabe, but I’m really glad that I came along for the ride. Richard’s knowledge of character development and tension was engaging. I have popped away some absolute gems from this workshop.
Oh, and before I forget, one of my new mantra’s for 2017 is: ‘Have you read it? It’s an insanely good book.’ I am sure to say I'll be able to say that about Richard Newcome’s next creative adventure.
For more information about Richard Newsome: www.richardnewsome.com
Contribution by Barbara Sheehy - Barbara Sheehy is an aspiring children’s author based in Brisbane Queensland. Barbara is a member of Book Links QLD (Inc), Write Links and Children’s Book Council of Australia (QLD). Attending Dr Virginia Lowe’s ‘Create a Kids’ book workshop and assessment course in 2011, volunteering for CYA’s Africa Books project, attending Write Links critique groups and creative contribution to 2016 ‘The Big Draw’ has continued Barbara’s development in children’s literature. Barbara also writes monthly blogs for the recruitment industry focusing on career advice and professional development and has been featured on Diversity City Careers (DCC) and Origin Energy’s Origin Foundation supporting children and youth through corporate partnerships.
All year I’d been looking forward to Pamela Rushby’s historical fiction workshop, writing ‘faction’. Pam did not disappoint. From the very start she had us captivated by her love of history and her joy in writing about the past. Pam has 20 historical fiction novels published, and more on the way, spanning from Ancient Egypt to the swinging 60s.
Why does Pam write historical fiction?
Because of the ‘wow’ factor!
If she’s reading about an historical event or time period, and comes across something that makes her say ‘wow’, then there’s bound to be a story there. Sometimes she ‘trips over’ an interesting photo or place that triggers a wow moment. A photo of a rat catcher and his dog in the Museum of Brisbane was the trigger for her book, The Ratcatcher’s Daughter. A photograph of a ticket office in a theatre in Cairo, being used as an operating room during WW1, was the catalyst for Flora’s War. Walking through a standing stones replica when visiting Glen Innes inspired the story, Circles of Stone.
Pam’s first course of action when a story is triggered by the wow factor is to research. Doing the research is her favourite part. ‘Research is like going treasure hunting.’ I agree, Pam. You never know what you might dig up.
Then it’s a matter of deciding on the angle to take, the point of view to tell the story from. She thinks up her own character and drops them in the middle of the action from the past. The research often drives the plot as she uncovers nuggets of information she just can’t leave out. Like while researching for her novel, The Horses Didn’t Come Home, which was about the last cavalry charge in history, she discovered Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb, was in Beersheba at the same time. Her character simply had to meet him.
According to Pam there are many types of historical fiction but these are the three main ones:
Type A: Only the setting is real. Everything else is fictitious. Eg: a story about a boy or girl living in Victorian London.
Type B: Some events may have occurred and some characters may be real. Eg; in her book The Horses Didn’t Come Home, her fictional character meets real people, Banjo Paterson and Howard Carter.
Type C: Is a lot deeper into fiction. There don’t have to be any real events. The character goes back in time and interacts in the past. Also called time slip novels. Eg; a character from today time slips into a period in the past, as in her book Circles of Stone.
Pam’s research time depends on whether or not she has a deadline. A book not commissioned by an editor can take a couple of years to finish, working on it here and there. I don’t know about anyone else, but that makes me feel a whole lot better!
As well as the important pointers on writing ‘faction’, Pam read a scene from her novel, When the Hipchicks Went to War, that brought tears to my eyes. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, hilarity ensued as she had us writing scenes set in Pompeii during the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. Not such a humorous subject in itself, but when Pam had us select at character at random and have them interact with the character of the person next to us, it made for some very interesting stories. We are likely to see several novels published on that event in the near future.
One other benefit of writing historical fiction; it allows you to hang out in museums, libraries, archives and war memorials, while researching facts for stories that entertain and educate. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
Thank you, Pam, for a most entertaining, engaging, and enlightening workshop.
Do you need a literary agent?
This is the question Alex Adsett, publishing consultant and literary agent, posed to the Write Links group. Alex has 20 years experience in the industry as a bookseller at Pulp, working for publishers like Simon and Schuster in London and Penguin in Australia before branching out to become a literary agent. She now has 30 authors on her books.
In Australia, Alex said the industry is quite small and an author doesn’t necessarily need an agent, but you definitely do when submitting in the USA and UK. Australia has approximately 20-25 literary agents at 15 agencies, which is small compared to the USA and UK which have over 100 agencies. Those Australian agents negotiate around 40% of manuscripts picked up by Australian publishers.
Alex gave some great advice as to why an author might want an agent:
A great agent has:
Alex recommended the Australian Literary Agents Association Code of Conduct as an excellent resource.
Agents generally charge a standard 15% commission of everything they negotiate for you or sometimes 20% for a sub agent/overseas deals. Also look for reputable agents who don’t charge upfront fees.
How to get a literary agent or pitch?
When pitching in a query letter include why the agent is a good fit, the manuscript’s genre, word count, short 2-3 sentence synopsis, how the manuscript is special and a bit about you. Treat it like a job application.
Verbal pitching is another art form. Alex suggests you only have a 1 – 1 ½ minute pitch ready. Make the pitch sound natural and allow time for the agent to ask questions. Don’t talk the whole time and most importantly, be yourself.
As to whether an agent is the right one for you, Alex suggests to trust your instincts.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us Alex and answering all our questions on the industry.
Maria Gill and Poetry PD
On 3 September 2016 Write Links was visited by New Zealand children’s author Maria Gill. Maria is the author of over 40 books and is an expert at writing non-fiction. She is a former school teacher and she also has a Journalism degree.
Maria’s most recent book titled ANZAC Heroes, which is published by Scholastic, features the stories of Australia’s and New Zealand’s most decorated servicemen and servicewomen from WWI and WWII. She won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year prize in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Congratulations!
Maria shared her advice about writing professionally.
She encouraged authors to write for educational publishers as this provides a steady income, in addition to trade publishers.
Maria has self-published several titles under her own imprint called Long White Cloud Books. Once your book goes out of print, printing the title under your own imprint is an option.
She also said school visits are a great way to interact with your audience and make money as a professional author.
Thank you for coming to visit us Maria and we hope to see you again some time.
Writing with Rhythm and Rhyme and Using Form
Melanie Hill presented another great professional development on poetry. Melanie has always loved poetry and studied military poetry while at university.
She had us awed by the technicality involved in making rhyming poetry so musical to the reader.
Here are Melanie’s Keys to Success for writing rhyming poetry:
We also learned how to vary meter using a Spondee and Pyrrhic and Catalectic, an incomplete meter.
Then we learnt how to work out the Metrical Feet: the number of repeated meter patterns in a line.
Scansion takes practice and Melanie recommended we:
While doing your Scansion, Melanie recommends marking the rhyme scheme at the end of a line.
There are some Rhyme Crimes that must be avoided:
Melanie uses a journal. Before she writes a poem she decides on the theme of the poem, the meter, number of metrical feet in a line and the rhyme scheme.
She brainstorms rhyming words and anything to do with the poem on the left page.
On the right page Melanie writes the lines. She marks up each line using Scansion. She can then identify if she then needs to edit the lines as she writes the poem.
Recommended resources for writing poetry
Last month during our Professional Development Session at Write Links, Melanie Hill presented on Critical Reading for Writers. Tyrion Perkins reports.
Melanie took us through the process of how to get more out of your reading by focusing on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
She started with a short quiz, which she used to show how well JK Rowling had planned the books. As a member of the audience, I tried not to do a Hermione, but no one else seemed to have reread them over and over to learn their inner workings. Despite my vast knowledge, Melanie went on to tell me how to get even more out of reading.
When you pick up a book it makes you a promise.
The first Bloomsbury cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone shows a boy in front of a bright red train. It is clearly for children and about a boy going off to school. When you turn it over and see the odd-looking character on the back and read the blurb, it suggests fantasy.
This creates expectations in the reader – for unusual and magical things, and would you like it if the baddy was a muggle?
The First page:
Some books don’t have chapter headings, but this one does. “The boy who lived” tells us that someone died, but someone also made it. It makes you curious.
Two families are mentioned – the Dursleys and the Potters. They are introduced by adults so that we can meet Harry as a baby – why? So we can hear about Harry and Voldemort at the same time. It shows how important both are to the book.
Tip: After finishing a book, go back and reread the first page so see how well it was set up.
The writer’s background:
Joanna Rowling’s favourite authors were Jane Austin and Roald Dahl. She studied classic literature and French, and you can see the influence in the books. She started writing the first one at a time when her mother had died and marriage had broken up, leaving her with a baby and not much money. Death is a strong theme in the books.
Other things to think about when reading:
Themes in this book:
Death and meaning for life
Good vs evil
Do you have any? (Most of us went blank at this one, I thought of a few later, such as detention in the deadly forbidden forest.) Melanie mentioned:
Harry is not damaged much by his abusive upbringing.
Harry never fails.
Magic doesn’t come at a cost. – I baulked at this one and I personally think it depends how you set up your story. Apparently it comes from fantasy writers and readers who are used to the cost. One attendee pointed out that the bigotry theme requires the ability to do magic to be inherent, like the colour of your eyes or skin, so it would be strange if that came at a cost.
Report by Tyrion Perkins
Melanie Hill lives in Brisbane with her husband and four children. Her children’s poems appear on the Australian Children’s Poetry website and in the Prints Rhyming Anthology edited by Sally Odgers. Melanie’s short story for children Bunyip Moon is included in the Zoothology Anthology. Her short stories for adults are can be found in the Darkest Depth and 18 anthologies. In November 2016 Melanie’s first adult poems will be published in Poetry d’Amour by WA Poets Inc.
An afternoon at Write Links with James Moloney
Fifty books. Did I really hear that? Fifty. Can you imagine that? My mind has been blown away! I can’t fathom having fifty books published in my name – would I even remember all of their names or what the stories were about.
Last Saturday I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting and listening to, a renowned Australian author who has that many published novels. His name, James Moloney. This down-to-earth author writes a range of genre, but focuses mainly on fantasy and contemporary realism.
I came to know of James Moloney when my daughter brought home one of his books, Lost Property, as her Year 10 English text. I read it out of curiosity, being an author myself. I found the novel gutsy and real, so different to the texts I’d read back in high school in the eighties. After finishing Lost Property I wanted to read more of James’ work. So when I heard that Book Links/Write Links were holding this workshop, I quickly booked my spot.
I was not disappointed. With a room full of authors and aspiring writers, it was a real pleasure to listen to how James writes and in particular his tips on how to write a series of books.
I personally have never contemplated writing a series. My first standalone book is in the process of being published and it was a marathon to write.
I couldn’t imagine writing a trilogy or more! But many people in the room did have that ambition and were planning and writing their series of novels. It was wonderful to hear their dreams and ideas.
The two hour workshop was full of great advice and wisdom. My hand wrote frenziedly as I filled seven pages of my notebook. Re-reading my notes, I would have to say that the best tips I gleaned were:
Write Links Networking:
After our workshop, Write Links members shared their news for the month. April had been both eventful and an active month. The room was full of congratulatory clapping. Write Links is such an active group.
Our members have:
The QWC workshop, The Business of books: Hard & Soft Launches by Peter M. Ball was advertised and highly recommended.
The last session of the afternoon was critiquing. There are three groups: Picture Books, Junior Fiction and Young Adults. All groups busily shared their thoughts and ideas on how the authors could improve their work. I find this an invaluable part of the Write Links meeting. My writing has improved so much over the time I have been sharing it with others. I like that my fellow authors give me ideas, they tell me the parts of my story that are inconsistent or don’t make sense, and they tell me what is great. Having people talk about your work can be daunting but the critiquers are there to help and to make your writing the best it can be. If you haven’t joined a critique group, I highly recommend it.
Our Next Meeting:
Our next meeting will be on 4 June. The first session will be a group collaborative story for the Big Draw. Last year Write Link members wrote a fantastic story that the children who attended the Big Draw at the Queensland State Library illustrated. Author Charmaine Clancy will be running the session.
We look forward to seeing you on 4 June.
Dream big and keep writing!
Guest blogger: Jenny Woolsey
There were celebrations aplenty last month during our April Write Links meeting. We started with our monthly Professional Development session with a presentation by author Yvonne Mes on 'Getting the Most out of Attending Writer's Conferences' and concluded with our celebrations organised by Alison Stegert.
This year Write Links celebrates three years of networking, supporting each other, sharing our ups and downs, and critiquing each other's stories.
What started as a small group meeting for the first time three years ago through a combined efforts of Book Links and SCBWI QLD who recognised a need for a critique group specifically for children's writers, has turned into a vibrant writer's groups with around 40 active members including aspiring and emerging children's authors and illustrators, published authors and illustrators and award winning children's author and everything in the middle.
International Children's Book Day/ Hans Christian Andersen's birthday also fell on the day of our meeting, the 2nd of April. We took the opportunity to reflect on the many successes achieved by Write Link members over the last three years which we celebrated by eating this fabulous cake by Martii Maclean inspired by Hans Christian's story of The Little Mermaid.
But that certainly wasn't all, there was more to come ...
Jenny Stubbs, Book Links president, announced that Jackie French has accepted the position of Book Links and Write Links patron. Write Links couldn't be more prouder to have Jackie French as a patron. Former Children's Literature Laureate, passionate advocate of the importance of books and reading for children our patron couldn't be more fitting.
Book Links is hosting a fabulous event, which is open to the public, at Riverbend Books to celebrate the occasion on Monday the 30th of May from 6 to 8pm where Jackie will take the opportunity to discuss why governments ignore the Power of Story at their peril. Read more about this, and book your tickets https://booklinks.org.au/2016/04/24/jackie-french-dynamo-dyslexic-and-wombat-herder/
And check out this impromptu drawing by illustrator Giuseppe Poli to commemorate Write Link's birthday using one of the characters of his latest picture book 'Oliver's Grumbles'.
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