World Building is a concept we often associate with fantasy, science fiction or magic novels. But all stories exist within their own world and if we’re to know our characters, and write them well, we must understand the world we are building and the characters within it.
As with all laws, they exist in connection with each other. Brandon Sanderson has written about his three laws of magic and we wondered if we could use these to help us create better characters and fuller worlds for them to exist in – no matter what area we’re writing in.
Sanderson’s First Law of Magic states that an author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands that magic. Does that mean we need to come up with a lot of rules for our world and know every clause within them? Sanderson says no. Some writers will; some won’t. Science fiction will generally have fixed rules, while fantasy is often less fixed with rules appearing as the author needs them. But not always. In short, an author’s ability to solve conflict in their world is directly proportional to how well the reader understands the world and the characters in it.
A story set in a current-day Queensland school is a world many of us would consider ourselves familiar with. We’d also have an idea of the characters who might appear there. A great story requires the author, and the reader, to understand the ‘magic’ of that world. What are the unique properties of this school and it’s setting? What makes it different from every other school? Who are the people who populate this story? A school yard conflict involving two students has a certain set of rules, but we cannot assume our reader knows those rules. As the author, we need to ensure our readers have enough cues to understand how the world we’ve created works and why our characters react the way they do in the various conflicts they find themselves facing. When you’re close to your work it can be difficult to know if you’ve achieved this or not. If that’s you, it’s time for a second opinion.
The second law according to Sanderson is that limitations are greater than powers. He uses the analogy of Superman, whose susceptibility to kryptonite and strict moral code are far greater indications of his character than his superpowers. It’s an interesting way of thinking about our characters, whether they have magic/super or any other powers. Heading back to our school yard setting, it is our characters weaknesses and limitations that make them interesting and determine how they react to the situations they find themselves in. Peer groups, pressure from parents and lunch room power groups are all familiar school elements that a character’s limitations will infuse unique reactions. The cracks and limitations of the world we create are likely to provide more interesting storytelling opportunities than a picture-perfect world.
Finally, the third law states that the author should expand what they already have before they add something new. This is a great reminder for any writer that our story is like the tip of the iceberg. Every character has a backstory we need to summarise, and every world has a history we need to weave naturally into story one thread at a time. But if we keep adding elements to our story and rules to our world before tidying up what we already have planned, things can get messy. Our world becomes the priority over the characters and the conflict within it, and these vital aspects of your story might be overlooked or underdeveloped.
Sanderson has some great writing advice and if magic is your thing you’ll enjoy our Writing Magic workshop with Karen Foxlee. You should also be sure to register for GenreCon and get all the updates. You won’t want to miss a thing!
Children’s fiction continues to go from strength to strength and it’s an area that the Queensland Writers Centre sees a lot of our writers working in – and aiming to improve their writing in order to reach publication.
With success stories like Aaron Blabey, it’s no wonder.
Blabey’s series, The Bad Guys (Scholastic), has topped the charts, including 37 weeks on the New York Times list of best-selling children’s series. Published in 37 countries, the books have sold over seven million copies with 1.3 million of those in Australia. There’s even an animated feature in development with DreamWorks Animation.
So, how many great ideas for a children’s book do you have? And how do you turn it into a story that resonates with children and the adults who often read to them? There are courses you can do to work on your craft – you can find them here – but we also have five quick tips to get you on the road to success right now.
- Write a story that appeals to you rather than chasing the latest fad or writing what you think appeals to kids. If you have kids in your life, tap into your bank of cute and funny memories for life moments that have stuck with you. Joe Brumm, creator of animated hit, Bluey, has based many an episode on these sorts of memories and the stories resonate with audiences around the world.
- Avoid fads and pop culture references in your work if you want it to stand the test of time. Anything that dates your writing can be a roadblock to future readers and to publishers who work on long time frames.
- Word choice can be tricky and it can be a fine balancing act. Be sure you don’t use difficult words if they can be avoided, but you don’t want to avoid difficult words if they make sense for the story. After all, kids can handle Dilophosorous and Triceratop with no trouble, but using iniquitous for evil is a learning opportunity they don’t need.
- Always remember to use a child’s perspective in your thinking. We all know what it’s like when you return to a favourite childhood place. Everything seems smaller now. That small house you grew up that you thought was a mansion is the world your readers live in. Remember that in your writing and your readers will love you.
- Get an idea of what’s happening in the world of children’s reading and entertainment. What do they love and where might the things you love fit into that world? Read as much great children’s literature as you can. Watch as many great children’s television shows and films as you can. Do courses and have your work edited. It’s a competitive market and you want your work to be the best it can be.
Want even more advice about writing for children? Book in for Shannon Horsfall’s Writing for Picture Books this weekend. Or if you want to stay in your pyjamas, the class is also available to live stream!
We all know the dream – write a fabulous book and start a bidding war, preferably in American dollars. Sell gazillions of copies worldwide and become an international bestseller. Do book tours with mile-long signing queues in New York. Sell the movie rights. Go bigger than JK Rowling and Liane Moriarty combined. Wonder if it should be Meryl Streep or Cher who plays you in the bio pic of your life; and if you really want plastic dolls of yourself.
But wait! You’ve written your fabulous book, you know it’s fabulous because many people have told you so, just not the right ones. Not the ones who could start your high-flying trajectory. You’ve sent your book out to every publisher in the known world, and it still hasn’t found a home. Or maybe it has, just not with a big publisher. Your book has done its
best, but the massive royalty cheques have failed to materialise. You feel as if it’s all been for nothing. But the thought of only doing your day job for the rest of your life makes you feel like running off the nearest cliff. You just want to write stories. Don’t despair. You’re not alone. You’re a writer.
Unfortunately, the dream is only a reality for a miniscule percentage of writers – the few who shoot up like lucky stars. For the rest of us the trajectory is much slower and not nearly as dramatic. It doesn’t make us lesser writers than those who become overnight successes. The trick is to keep writing, no matter what. And to find ways to make money related to writing. It’s extremely difficult to do a full-time job, cook dinner, put the kids to bed and want to do anything except stare at the telly. It’s vital to find ways to pay the bills without draining all your energy and creativity. But how? Writers and creative thinkers are in demand. People will pay good money for your skills. You can spend each day writing or talking about writing and be paid for it. This also takes time and effort, but it’s worth it if your days are filled with words and the fun of playing in your imagination. Recently, I was talking to an artist friend who’s been painting since his teens. Even
though he’s not famous, he’s making a living too – the same way I do— Many Fingers Many Pies! We each have a number of small contract jobs. He teaches art; I teach writing. He does people’s gardens and runs design courses. I write for online magazines, do blogs, run retreats, edit other people’s work and rework every story idea of my own across multiple genres.
In a recent interview on Oprah’s podcast channel, Liz Gilbert referred to people who thrive on working this way as hummingbirds. I like the idea of flitting between lots of different flowers, cross-pollinating and fertilising, all while filling up my own tank. So, if the old 9 to 5 isn’t for you and you’d love to discover many ways to make money doing what you love, then join me at my Building a Career as Writer workshop at QWC on July 13. Making money can be easy and fun! Come along and find out how.
Anyone who’s ever attempted a creative work knows the stamina required. You spend hours writing and rewriting, crafting characters and scenes, obsessing over the most minor word selection only to scrap entire sentences and start again. It’s intense and it’s personal – and many writers refuse to send their work out into the world until they’re absolutely sure it’s ready.
But how do you know something’s ready when you’re too close to see the big picture anymore? You’ve read each scene so many times that your mind sees what it knows should be there, rather than the glaring typo fresh eyes wouldn’t miss. The scenes play out in your head as you reread, so you don’t even realise you’ve forgotten to tell your reader that the murderer placed the weapon on the desk and the maid, who they think is witnessing it all, actually left the room three pages ago.
The solution at this stage is critiquing – let someone else read it. Because your work can get better when someone new is allowed to step in. Critique groups can help, but you have to be sure you have the right one. We hear so many stories of writers who’ve given up due to a bad critique from a group focussed on criticism rather than constructive feedback. If you have a great critique group, treasure it – they are a rarity. If you don’t, consider bringing a professional on board.
To make the most of a paid critique you need two important things: to know what you want from the experience and to be open to getting feedback you didn’t know you needed. Our Writer’s Surgery program has found that most critiques involve discussions of writing practice and craft; advice on structure, strengths and weaknesses, as well as suggestions for improvement; recommendations for submissions, networking and opportunities; as well as reassurance or guidance on the formatting of work for submission.
Queensland Writers Centre members find The Writer’s Surgery program is a great way to develop their professional practice while receiving objective, and respected, one-on-one advice and feedback in a supportive environment. We have professional advisors in all areas of writing including genre, literary, children’s and screenwriting. So, if it’s fresh eyes that your work needs, check out our Writer’s Surgery list and make it happen! Book your Writer’s Surgery session today and you could be on your way to a publishable work in no time.
Queensland Writers Centre is heading west and helping communities re-author their stories and send them out into the world. In partnership with Rotary Longreach and Queensland Health, through their Tackling Regional Adversity Through Integrated Care (TRAIC) program, we’re delivering a new community-driven arts-health initiative known as ‘Best of the West’. QWC tutors have enthusiastically embraced this initiative, offering their services as teachers and mentors to support Central West residents to tell their stories – whether for personal expression, social connection or to reach a wider audience.
At the heart of the project is our newest team member, Michael Lloyd. Based in Longreach, Michael is on a mission to encourage, inspire and assist Central West community members to share their stories of resilience. This is a long-term drought-affected area and it’s important that we recognise the resilience of the people who live there. Best of the West aims to empower the community to tell their stories rather than have a narrative imposed on them. It’s a celebration of life in Western Queensland that values the work being done in the community and aims to showcase their activities to attract more engagement with the region.
As a Longreach resident, Michael is an active community member and ready to help people throughout the Longreach, Barcaldine, Blackall and Winton area to tell their stories. Michael has followed an unusual path to his current role. From the age of ten Michael knew that he wanted to be an accountant. He announced this to his family by presenting them with a budget. By the age of 17 he was president of his local cricket association and district president at 18. After gaining tertiary qualifications in accounting, HR, IR and management, Michael developed his career in sports management.
Since arriving in Longreach, Michael has been developing his own writing skills through media work in newspapers and on radio. He has taught in remote communities and lived in Darwin for 12 years with his wife and son. Michael is looking forward to working with the staff of QWC to assist the Central West community to tell their stories to the world.
The Best of the West program launches in August, 2019. Look out for updates in Pen & Pixel and if you’re in the area, please get in touch with Michael.
- HOW TO BE A POET 101 – Samuel Wagan Watson
- The Short Story as a Destination – A.S. Patric
- The Joys of Belonging to a Writing Tribe – Debbie Mulligan
- When the Writer is Compelled to Speak… – Caylie Jeffery
- The Fish Bowl Residency – Jasmin McGaughey
- 2018 QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program Out of our Comfort Zone – Kelli Hawkin
- Sun, Sand, Surf: the Wintery Beach – Liz Ellison
- The Writer-Editor Relationship – Gail Tagarro
- ADAPTABLE MAGIC! – Claire Garth
- WIP : A Walk in Progress – Penelope Teasdale
- A Mid-Year Progress Check – Lori-Jay Ellis
- ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING 2019
To become a QWC member and receive the quarterly magazine, visit: qldwriters.org.au/membership
QWC members can download the PDF version of the magazine here: qldwriters.org.au/magazine/issues
One of the most difficult things about writing is that, in the end, it’s all up to you. Whether you’re an amateur or a paid professional, writing demands those hours in the chair to build the word count on a story that might never go any further than your bottom drawer. Writers have all sorts of routines to keep their momentum going. Haruki Murakami believes the repetition of his routine is important in itself; mesmerising him into a deeper state of mind. Junot Diaz wrote his first book to the soundtrack of Conan The Barbarian (not something that would inspire all of us). Stephen King, like Murakami, loves a bit of routine and describes the cumulative effect of his daily repetition, as being like a bedtime routine. Australian author, Melanie Cheng, is a fan of King’s advice but adds that you need a good editor – once the writing’s done.
So how do you find your own writing routine? One that fits in with your life and gets your idea out of your head and onto the page? And once you’ve started, how do you get to ‘The End’? Because we’re all hoping to get to the stage of handing our work over to an editor.
At the Queensland Writers Centre we’re always working to come up with ideas that help our writers do exactly that – reach ‘The End’ and get your work in print. Our new writing consults are designed for writers at any stage. Come in and spend a half hour talking about your work with someone who understands. We want to hear about your work, your plans, your successes, and your failings. Then we’ll be the writing best friend you never had, who tells you how it is and gives constructive advice on what to do next. This isn’t a critique, it’s a time for judgement-free fresh ears. We want to find out where you’re at and send you back to your work with three recommendations to help get you on your way. Each session comes with a follow up email to see how you’re going. This offer is exclusively available to members. At $100 per session, it’s the perfect price to gift yourself or others and a small investment in what we hope will be a great end result.
Developmental book editor, Laurel Cohn, has been helping writers with editing and manuscript development for many years. You can read a bit about her experience of getting writers through the development phase here. Laurel is running a workshop for writers with a completed draft on 22nd June. If Laurel’s story sounds like you, book in for her course and start developing your work this Saturday – members enjoy a discounted rate. And when you’ve typed ‘The End’, let us know. We love to hear your success stories.
You’ve finished your manuscript. What next?
To give your work the greatest chance of success, whether you want to approach an agent or publisher, or you want to self publish, you need to develop your manuscript to the highest possible standard. It is important to revise your work as much as you can before you offer it another reader for feedback. And it is immensely helpful to get feedback on your work from trusted readers and professional assessors or editors who can bring fresh eyes to the work and point out the strengths and weaknesses in the manuscript, guiding you through the next draft. Then you revise again. There is a repeated pattern here: revision – feedback – more revision – more feedback. Eventually you will send your work out, and then perhaps it requires still more revision before it is accepted for publication. This is the development phase, from the end of the first draft through to publication, or to the manuscript’s final resting place, which may or may not be a bookshelf.
The development phase can be challenging and frustrating but also incredibly rewarding. It is likely to take longer than you thought. Many years. It is not uncommon for a first novel to take seven years from inception to publication. I don’t say this to put you off (I heard the groans), but to prepare you for the realities of the development phase. If you are committed to becoming a writer, you can’t avoid it. And it is, ultimately a voyage of discovery.
As a developmental editor I am privileged to work with writers on this voyage, helping them understand their own work and how they can take it to the next level. But over the years I have been struck by how many writers are ill-prepared for the long haul, even those who end up achieving their writing goals. It got me thinking. Perhaps if writers had a greater understanding of how to navigate the rough seas and smooth sailing, and how to sustain themselves through the unexpected setbacks when they feel adrift or are blown off course, it would make the voyage not only easier, but more satisfying, and it would ultimately make them better writers.
If you identify with being in the development phase, I invite you to drop anchor for a day, step away from the desk and explore concepts, strategies and tools to help you reach your destination. Join me in the workshop Surviving the Development Phase to delve into separating yourself from your work, seeking and managing feedback, surviving rejection, recharging your batteries, building resilience as a writer, and answering that perennial question – when am I done? Life vests will be at the ready.
LAUREL COHN is a developmental book editor passionate about communication and the power of stories in our lives. She has been helping writers prepare their work for publication since the mid 1980s, and is a popular workshop presenter. She has a PhD in literary and cultural studies. www.laurelcohn.com.au
A huge congratulations to Queensland Writers Centre member and tutor, Caylie Jeffery, on being awarded the 2019 John Oxley Library Community History Award for her Under the Lino project.
Inspired by Caylie’s find of bankbooks and money under the lino flooring of her 1912 Queenslander, the Brisbane writer created a community-based research project that brought together people with similar stories and interests. Caylie first shared her discover on Facebook’s Old Brisbane Album, where hints about her home began to emerge. In uncovering the mystery behind her find a community evolved, and a book created to document and share this important part of Queensland’s cultural heritage.
Caylie accepted the award at the official Queensland Memory Awards ceremony held at the State Library on Wednesday, 29th May. The Community History Award is part of a range of research fellowships and awards presented annually as part of the Queensland Memory Awards. The Awards recognise the valuable contribution individuals and organisations from across Queensland make to the investigation, preservation and celebration of Queensland’s rich history.
Applications for the 2020 Queensland Memory Awards will open early next year. If you have your own piece of Queensland history you’ve been looking to get creative with then now is the time. Or learn how to turn any historical source into fiction with Melissa Ashley’s Alchemy of Research workshop on 15th June.
3 On-Brand Authors to Inspire Your Online Presence
An important part of any author’s brand is their official website – the place where people go to find out more about you and your writing. It’s the place to answer those burning questions of who are you, what do you do, and why should readers care?
Done well, an author’s online presence allows readers to get to know their favourite writers better. Consider these three authors and the things we know about them. Stephen King hates adverbs and loves his corgi Molly. J. K. Rowling loves feuding with Donald Trump and traumatising her fans with anecdotes about the bathroom habits of pre-plumbing wizards. And George R. R. Martin loves… anything but finishing the last Game of Thrones books.
Check out their websites and you’ll see each author has their own unique style. No matter what stage you’re at you can create an author’s website that’s like the hub of your online wheel. Whatever your preferred social media platform/s, a website is a great way to tie it all together and create a gateway for readers looking to connect.
Share Your Experience
If your website includes a blog, this can be a great way to share your experiences. Has there been a story you couldn’t get finished, a character you still don’t understand, or a scene you just couldn’t get right? You can talk about the problems you have faced with your writing, and maybe help someone else who is having the same issue. There is a rich and passionate community of writers online, and most of them are potential readers as well.
George R. R. Martin has shared what he’s reading and watching, in addition to running his official blog from his site. Stephen King tells his readers about his upcoming work and J.K. Rowling answers the question of writing rules with the answer that she doesn’t have any. Each website is different and reflects the author – just as yours should.
Control Your Narrative
Whether you’re a published author or wanting to be a published author, inevitably you are going to develop a unique author brand. A website is a great way to take control of the narrative and express yourself authentically, right from the start. A brand that develops on its own might not be the one you’re hoping for, so take charge.
You can look to Stephen King, George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling for inspiration but if you want to make it happen now then check out Kylie Fennell’s ‘Build Your Author Website in a Day’ workshop at the Writers Centre on the 8th June. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a technological wizard. By the end of the day you will have a fully functioning author website and a newly established brand. So, grab your tickets, and don’t forget to bring along your laptop, headshot, and your branding inspirations.
‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.’
— Stephen King
The business of writing can seem tedious when compared to the joy of plotting out your next manuscript, researching some fantastic historical figure, or trying out a new poetry technique. Still, your prose can be brilliant, your creativity endless, and your grammar faultless – but writing is work and even if it isn’t your full-time job you have to work at it.
As with any job there are a range of practical skills that writers must learn to excel at:
- Email and letter communication
- Identifying, and engaging, your audience.
Administrators require effective communication and an excellent knowledge of how to write clear and coherent documents.
Bloggers have to write interesting posts and snappy newsletters that hold their audience’s attention.
Teachers and tutors must write constructive lesson plans and have the grammar and proofreading ability needed to assess their students.
Social media addicts need to ensure that posts, captions, and comments are well-written, likeable, and error free.
And for those who are self-employed, writing can be make or break. When your livelihood depends on communicating with clients and customers you need to avoid writing blunders, usually without a second set of eyes to check your work.
Those little issues can become big ones when you send them out to prospective clients, agents, or publishers. They’re issues that are best avoided and the surest way of doing that is by honing your craft. Whether you want to capture your reader in a 100-word email or a 100,000-word novel, it always comes back to craft.If you’re looking for a quick refresher or want tips for turning your passion into a career, come to ‘The Business of Writing’ with Tiana Templeman on June 15th. This class will teach all the skills you need for excellent communication and professional writing.
GenreCon planning is well underway and we’re looking forward to a bigger and better event this year. We have a great group of volunteers working hard to create the best GenreCon yet, so keep watching Pen & Pixel for more details as we get closer to the date.
While we have your attention, be sure to add the dates to your calendar, 22nd – 24th November, and keep it free. Like all of our events and workshops, GenreCon tickets will be sold through our Eventbrite site.
So, what’s going to be different about GenreCon this year?
Well you spoke and we listened. As part of GenreCon’s evolution, we decided it was time to give you what so many wanted, and have our very own genre writing competition. We’re starting out with speculative fiction this year, and we’ll expand into other genres in the future.
What more motivation do you need to get writing? If you want some help getting started then Kylie Chan’s Crafting Speculative Worlds workshop this weekend might be for you. Kylie is a successful fantasy and science fiction author and a fantastic tutor in world building and all things speculative fiction. Her course is on this Saturday (18 May) at the Queensland Writers Centre. It will give you all the tools you need to create your own speculative fiction world and story. So call up now or jump onto Eventbrite and book your place at the Saturday workshop!
Get writing now… because GenreCon is coming.