Tuesday, 18 March 2014

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.”


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