Thursday, 27 March 2014

Research Methods Module Week 8

Achievements this week:

  • Character development- Jacks interview with Lord Puff
  • Added creative work/research completed onto blog as a 'log'
  • Prepared for tutorial

  • Finished reading Writing Children's Fiction
  • Finish reading The Graveyard Book
  • Researched exercises for development of character, especially regarding voice and dialect and how each character talks.
  • Started reading The Secret Garden  
  • Read and watched work by guest speaker Thomas Glave 

  • Sorted notes (duplicating) into subject matter to make them easier to refer to- dissertation question, plot, character 
Plans for next week:

  • Plot
  • How each character reacts when put in certain situations
  • Week-long diary for Jack (the focus this week for character is on finding their distinct voice)
  • Develop ideas for dissertation question

  • Finish The Secret Garden
  • Research accents, mannerisms and quirks- I'm finding it hard to move on with the story until I know how the children sound exactly.
  • Research plot development 


Jack's Interview with Lord Puff and Children's Writing Research

An interview with Lord Puff

Lord Puff is sitting in a big throne like chair, leaning back with his legs crossed. He is smoking a huge ornate pipe, which has purple smoke coming out of it.
Jack is sitting on a much smaller chair opposite. He is sitting up, looking intently at the weird man.

A long period of smoky silence prompts Jack to speak first.
J: Should we start this then?
LP: Yes, yes, yes. (exhales) What’s your name.
J: Jack
LP: Full name!
J: Jack March
LP: Right you are. (exhales a large puff of purple smoke and looks at it) What’s your favourite colour?
J: My favourite colour is red
LP: So may I assume you’re preferred tobacco is strawberry?
J: I don’t smoke
LP: Pah! I likely story. But no matter. How old are you?
J: I’m 12
LP: At what age did you start smoking?
J: I told you I don’t smoke!
LP: You must have started sometime
J:  I didn’t. Do you have any other questions?
LP: Yes, yes, I was getting to that. After smoking, what is your most pleasing pastime?
J: I don’t smoke!
LP: I know, I know, just answer the question if you’d be so kind.
J: Well, I really like making things. Cities and towns and stuff.
LP: Fascinating. Please elaborate.
J: I make them out of empty egg boxes, cereal boxes, other empty boxes, anything really. I cut them up and put them back together or turn them upside down- whatever looks best. Then I paint them to look right. I like making old cities best, with citadels and cathedrals and pillars and things.
Lord Puff looks at Jack intently, holding his pipe between his lips.
LP: Are these cities inhabited?
J: (Laughs) No. They’re models.
LP: Oh. I see. Are there many chimneys?
J: Sometimes, yes. If it suits.
LP: Humpf. Are there any buildings shaped like chimneys?
J: Not usually, no.
LP: Looks crestfallen and confused. What a pity.
J: If I make a model of Chimney Town then there’ll be loads of chimney buildings.
LP: Excellent! Will you be using real brick?
J: No, I’ll use cardboard and stuff like usual.
LP: Cardboard chimneys! Well that’s a bit of a fire hazard wouldn’t you say?
J: I wasn’t planning on setting it on fire.
LP: What kind of a Chimney Town would it be without fire?
J: Can I go now?

Research on plot and character

Writing Bestselling Children’s Books- 52 brilliant ideas for Inspiring young readers
Alexander Gordon Smith

Making a plan:
Pg149 “It should include the initiating event.”
Pg150 “(it) should also include your characters’ quest… If you know what a character is seeking then you will always stay true to this.”
“Being aware of these aims allows you to plan in obstacles and challenges, resistance that your character has to overcome.”
Don’t just write an outline on a sheet of paper- this makes it static and difficult to change. Use separate index cards or blank sheets of paper for each scene…Pin the first scene and the last scene at opposite ends of a bare wall then add the others in between, and include material like maps and photos.
“An outline should also include the ending, even if this is just a vague notion that may change.”
Don’t flesh out the plan too much, as this won’t allow for the characters to make their own way. Be prepared to change things if it turns out what you planned doesn’t work for the character. 

Get writing Children’s fiction, King, K. 

Pg50 “If readers don’t believe in your characters, relate to them and root for them then they won’t care what happens to them. Credible characters are especially important for children’s books because children lose interest quickly.”
“Children like to read about other children, the problems they face, the adventures they have and how they deal with things,”
Pg51- “Your Key Character should be introduced into your story right at the beginning and your reader will want to know a lot about them, especially their conflicts-both inner and outer-and desires.”
“Children like to read about characters a little older than themselves, so make your Key Character at the top end of your age range.”
Pg53 “One of the advantages of using fantasy creatures is that they can get away with doing a lot more than real children, because they don’t live in the real world.”
“Draw a map, if necessary, so you know where everything (in your fantasy world) is situated.”
Writing exercise- choose a character from a modern children’s book and write down at least five reasons why you think they are popular with children.
Pg54 Character profile ideas-
1. “Think about how they walk, how they talk, the things they like such as their favourite song, colour and hobby. Think also of the things they hate. Is there anything they are scared of? Do they have any phobias?”
2. Having a conversation with your character “Pretend that you’re interviewing your character. Ask them lots of questions such as what they want most in life, what their worst fear is, and jot the answers down.” Why don’t I have a character from the story interview them both? (Sort of like Caesar Flickerman in the Hunger Games
3. Visualizing your character. “Draw a picture of your character.”
4. Keeping a diary for a week of your character’s life. Imagine yourself as your character and write the diary from their point of view. Think about what they would do, where they would go. Also think about the tone in which they would write the diary.”
5. “Thinking about how your character acts Put your character in a variety of situations such as falling out with a friend, playing the lead in a school play, feeling ill, being attracted to someone, witnessing a robbery. How would they act? What would they look like? How would their voice sound?”
Pg56 “Imagine you are your character’s best friend, enemy, mum or teacher. What do they think about him or her? How would they describe the character to someone else? Write a profile from their perspective.”

Warning re: characterization of Freddie
Pg56 “Editors nowadays don’t usually like stories about anthropomorphic animals. If your character is an animal then make than animal as realistic as possible, integrating its natural traits and characteristics. Don’t just substitute an animal for a human character. If your character is a rabbit, let it live in a burrow; if it’s a dog, show it wagging its tail, barking, sniffing around.”
“Never make a character perfect. Children don’t want to read about a ‘goody-goody’ who never does anything wrong. They want to read about someone who messes up sometimes like they do; someone who gets scared or angry and is lonely or upset at times.”
Creating a story around your character
Pg57 “Every character has a story. Their story is their life so far, their dreams, ambitions and fears.”
Advice from an editor- “give a character a problem and solve it.” King added “in an unexpected way” to the end of this sentence.
What does your character fear most?
Pg58 What does your character want most?
What is your characters greatest strength?
Three different characters- how do they react in the same situation?
Pg59 Your Key Character should have more good points than bad ones but your villain should have more bad points than good ones.

Pg69 “the plot is something that has happened because of something else.”
Pg70 When? When does it happen? Is your story a historical one? Set in the future? Work out a time sequence for your story.
Pg72 Conflict is the backbone of your story.
Pg74 Three types of conflict:
·         Conflict with other characters
·         Conflict with their own personality
·         Conflict with nature or circumstances

Things to do for character:
1. Interview characters
2. Keep a week long diary for characters
3. Put characters in a situation and see how each of them reacts
4. Profile from someone elses perspective (Fay on Jack) 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Research Methods Module Week 7

Achievements this week:

  • Did some pace, voice and character exercises from Writing Children's Fiction
  • Continued free writing as a way of getting story going
  • Finished Freddie's character chart
  • Made a timetable for completion of CW2
  • Added creative work/research completed onto blog as a 'log'

  • Read a lot more of Writing Children's Fiction
  • Kept reading The Graveyard Book 
  • Read and made notes on section of Introduction to Children's Literature

Plans for next week:

  • Character development
  • Plot
  • Add creative work/research completed onto blog as a 'log'
  • Free Writing, continuing with chapter 1 and 2 
  • Prepare for tutorial- be ready to talk about the work I've been doing in terms of character and plot etc- put some things on the wiki for discussion


  • Finish reading Writing Children's Fiction!
  • Finish reading The Graveyard Book
  • Research focus on exercises for development of character, especially regarding voice and dialect and how each character talks.
  • Look at dialect in The Secret Garden and its limitations for children.
  • Plot development exercises and techniques  
  • Read prep for guest speaker next week

  • Start sorting notes (duplicating) into subject matter to make them easier to refer to- dissertation question, plot, character 

Creative and research log- Part 1

This week I've done some writing exercises taken from Writing Children's Fiction, to help with characterisation, plot and pace. I did these as free writing exercises (and have typed them up exactly as they are on the page), so the writing is not at all tight. It's fun to write in this uninhibited way though!

Number 1
1. The boy is anxious about something in the day ahead. What is it?
Jack didn't do his history homework. They were supposed to write a page on reasons for success on the homefront in Drail during the war. He was busy and preoccupied looking at Bruno's clue letter and thinking about what to do. He tried to write the paper late at night, but fell asleep at the computer way before he'd finished. When he woke up at 4am, it was all he could do to drag his tired legs into bed. The four pathetic lines on the screen got deleted rather than submitted.
Mr Watts was a strict teacher, and Jack was in trouble for sure.

2. His day didn't get off to a very good start. What happened? 
Fay, proudly sporting her new leaders badge on the lapel of her blazer, told Jack with a sneer that he looked 'scruffy.' Then he had to scrape butter onto frozen bread because no one had gotten any out the night before.
His bike has been stolen! Which makes him late.

3. How old is the boy? What's his name? Who does he live with?
12 years old. Jack March. Lives with Mum, Dad and sixteen year old sister Fay.

4. Was everything at home quite as usual, or was something different?
Everything is the same as it has been recently- Dad already gone by the time Jack's up, Mum running around in a frantic panic, and Fay being condescending.

5. How does the boy get to school? Does he usually go alone, or with a friend?
He used to ride his bike with Fay, but she started walking because she didn't want to get sweaty or get her clothes dirty on the way there. Of course today, after Jack realises his bike's gone, he has to walk.

6. On his way today, does he meet someone, or see something unexpected? 
A big recruitment poster for Team Teen that covers the entire side of a house. The Prime Minister's face, with the familiar point out (seemingly straight at Jack) "T.T needs you!" Recruiting now. Don't be a failure, don't miss out!
Also a big video camera right next to it, which moves to follow him as he walks.

7. Does the boy's anxiety about his school day have something to do with the home situation, or is it quite separate? 
Well, it's all linked. Thinking about it all last night led to not getting his homework done. His bike being nicked just reminds him of the shitty world he lives in.

8. Who is his best ally at school? 
Erik still talks to him, so he would have to say Erik. Although like with Bill, the talk to him with pity, and a little bit of fear now. Like they don't wanna get too close.

9. Who is the person at school (child or adult) the boy would least like to meet?
Fay and her gang of girls. They always laugh at him now and call him a loser, and Fay just joins in.

I enjoyed this exercise and found it easy because the character of Jack is already in my head. It was fun to think about something that won't figure in the story, helping me to see the characters as existing outside the confines of the section of their life I'm going to write about.
Number 2
Plot points of a story I've read. I chose Maze Runner and wrote 14 plot points. The exercise then asked to condense those into three.
The three line plot for my story is:
  • Boy leaves to find other world
  • Boy wants a solution but can't find it
  • Boy finds solution (/opens can of worms)
The advice is to unpack from here, expanding to create stepping stones, including important incidents.

Number 3
Exercise in building suspense and pace- writing the same scene twice, the first where the character is relaxed and happy, the second where they are tense.

Carla edged carefully  along the rock ledge like she had so many times before. Hardly even caring to hold on, the steep drop and thin ledge didn't bother her. She edged around the corner, taking a deep breath in preparation fro the sight she knew would come. In recognition, some shafts of light beamed onto the rock that jutted about above her, illuminating it to a white-yellow. Squinting as she took the last step, Carla came out onto the platform and looked out at the view. The wide expanse of the forgotten lands, stretching out as far as the eye could see. The sun was low in the sky, but its light was majestic, proud and strong, casting long shadows where rocks and half dead trees were. Carla lifted her hand to shield her eyes, searching for something in the distance. It was so hard to see in this light, but she could just about make it out. Way, way in the distance, so far away that everything else around blurred, Carla could see the golden wheel. At that moment, as if it knew, a glint of sunlight caught it and it glistened a hello. 
This was Carla's favourite time of day. 
"Mother Gray, I'm here!" she unwillingly dragged her eyes from the view.


She walked quickly to the ledge. Not wanting to slow she edged he way forward. Her foot slipped sending small rocks cascading down into the nothing ness.
"Calm down," Carla told herself. 
She wanted to get there. If felt too slow but her legs were wobbly and she couldn't speed up. She looked down. It was a long way. Would her Mum miss her? She'd done this so many times before, why was she nervous now?
A bird cawed shrilly from somewhere above. Carla lost her footing again and swore. "Stupid bird." 
Step, step, step, finally she reached the platform. The view of the setting sun was, as usual, beautiful. But Carla walked past without stopping.
"Mother Gray?"

The exercise was all about long, dreaming sentences versus fast, snappy ones. I was fairy happy with my first try but not so much with the second. I will definitely try this out as a device in my story though. 
A third part was to add some humour, which is something I definitely need to practice. It's just so difficult!


Notes on readings this week

Hunt, P. (1994). An introduction to children's literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pg 4 “What does written for mean?”
Some books are written with jokes that mainly adults will understand, or are read more by adults than by children, such as Alice in Wonderland.

Pg5 “And do we mean read by voluntarily or, as it were, under duress in the classroom?”
What is childhood? “Perhaps the most satisfactory generalization is that childhood is the period of life which the immediate culture thinks of as being free of responsibility and susceptible to education.”
“children’s books very often contain what adults think children can understand, and what they should be allowed to understand; and this applies to ‘literariness’ as well as to vocabulary or content.”

Books for Keeps- a book edited by Roald Dahl, for parents.

Pg6 “The uncanonical works are the more likely to be of and for childhood, and less likely to conform to adult social and literary norms.”

Pg7 “Much of the confused thinking about children’s books stems from including them in—or reacting against their inclusion in—the standard hierarchy.”

Angier, C. Cline, S. (Eds) (2013) Writing Children’s Fiction: A Writers and Artists Companion

Pg116 Helena Pielichaty “When you write for children, pace is everything.”

Pg 117 Celia Rees “Make a timeline… Decide how the story will be written-voice, tone and style- then stick to it.”

Pg135 Yvonne Coppard “even in a fantasy world there has to be a sense that everything logically hangs together, that this world could be real.”

Quoting Cliff McNish, “spend… a lot of time just thinking in detail about every aspect of that world-what it looks like, how people behave, what the weather is like, what the stars look like, everything.”

Pg136 Linda Newbery, “A quite different but necessary research might be into current slang…Nothing dates a book more quickly than an outmoded idiom…but all the same you will want to make your book seem of the moment, especially if you’re writing in the first person.”

Pg142 Linda- doesn’t comment too much on viewpoint characters looks, unless someone else says something about it. This is because the reader is inside his/her head, so to comment on the way they look generally seems forced.

Yvonne- “Don’t weigh your character down with long and detailed descriptions. Bring him or her to life through action and dialogue.”

Character checklist for second draft

·         Have I chosen the right gender/age/family background?
·         Am I using the first or third person-and why? Is this consistent?
·         Is the main character essential to the plot and to driving the action forward?
·         Have I got the right number of characters (not too many) and have I made them different enough from each other for the reader to be able to keep a hold on who’s who in the story?
·         Do I like or dislike my characters? Is that how I want the reader to feel about them?
·         Have I given my character(s) a mixture of positive and negative traits?
·         Does the name ‘fit’ the character I’ve created?


Pg147 Plot Plan is essential. “It doesn’t mean you can’t leave the path, it just means that you will know where the path is and why you left it.”

Pg148 Linda- Plot your ‘stepping stones.’ “a revelation or discovery, a dangerous situation, an argument which changes the course of events, a decision.”

Pg149- “All plots stand or fall according to whether the writer can create interest in the characters.”

Quoting John Mortimer- “It’s important that the characters perform the plot and the plot doesn’t manipulate the characters.”

Pg152- “Plot is what happens; the theme is the underlying concern of the book.
What are my PLOT and THEME?
“The theme should never be stated: let readers discover it.”

“A book with a message is likely to be obvious and didactic. As the editor David Fickling puts it, aim to deliver a message and ‘You appear to know what is right. And then you are delivering not a story but a lecture.’”

Pg153 “You can’t help but impart your own values when you write; but you can try to keep yourself hidden. You’re a storyteller, not a guru, mentor, teacher or therapist.”

Pg156 Linda- “keep careful track of the days of the week on which the action takes place, and the date.” “Maybe part of the story coincides with a significant date or festival.”

Third Person Narrative

Pg162 On the opening of Northern Lights- “We’re given a sense of a story unfolding for us, and a setting and atmosphere being conveyed in a more textured and leisurely way than is likely with a first-person narrative. We move into Lyra’s thoughts when the occasion requires it; when she is disturbed and has to hide under an armchair, our perspective is hers, down there on the floor.”
Shift into Jack’s thoughts when it adds to atmosphere, such as when he’s afraid.

Pg165- “You should always know where you are in terms of viewpoint; if you don’t, your reader will have an uncomfortable ride.”


Pg169 Linda- “If you can’t hear each character’s voice, the dialogue is bland and lifeless. To paraphrase Elmore Leonard: if it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”

Pg169- don’t use too many verbs instead of ‘said’ as the eye tends to skim over it rather than get distracted by the other words such as ‘demanded.’

Pg170 Yvonne- we don’t actually write speech naturally, as there would be lots of ums and ars etc. Also, a specific accent can be “intimidating for the (child) reader.”

Pg171 Tip from Linda- “Always read your dialogue aloud.”

Pace- Pg173 Yvonne “Length of sentences can convey mood, and influence pace at the same time-action, danger and excitement-by short, stripped sentences.”

Pg174- “Build suspense by slowly layering clues; creating an air of expectation that something is about to happen.” E.g. Following a set of paw prints in the woods that are then joined by a bigger set, then the carcass of the smaller animal, then a noise from in the bushes.
Build around the characters personality so that surprises in their behaviour make sense. E.g. A girl who loves climbing has to climb an electricity pylon as her only escape. Makes more sense than if she hated heights.

Pg175 “Humour, used carefully, also plays its part in pacing a book…With tension so high, a momentary release that makes us laugh unexpectedly gives a helpful respite and relaxes us a little.”

Working on Pace at the end of your draft- “Summarise each ‘scene’ in the plot on to a postcard or similar-sized note; where there is a significant event that moves the action on, use a different coloured paper or pen. Now lay your cards out across the floor in a line, or in a circle. Look at the pattern’ you should be seeing regular splashes of the ‘action’ colour across your line, with an extra splash or two towards the end.”