‘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.
Can’t get to that QWC event you’d really love to attend? No worries – live streaming is on its way!
The Queensland Writers Centre is always on the lookout for ways to improve our member services. While we’re based at the State Library of Queensland, our relationships with libraries and writing groups throughout the state allows members from all over Queensland to access a wide variety of QWC workshops and events. In addition to this, we sponsor and assist many of the regional writers’ festivals in bringing authors and more to their events.
But let’s face it – sometimes it would be great to attend from the comfort of your own home. Wherever you are, live streaming is a chance to liberate yourself from the everyday. Live streaming means you can get everything done and still take in the course you really wanted to do. Got a recipe you’ve been meaning to try out? Live stream while you bake. Filing to do? Time will fly when you do it in front of a live stream.
Our very first live streamed event was a great success, with members joining Samantha Wheeler’s Writing Middle Grade Fiction workshop from Bundaberg, Townsville and Cairns, as well as much closer to home. With a facilitator on site, live stream attendees were able to post their questions online for Samantha to answer, or chat amongst themselves for that workshop community feel.
Joining a live stream is really simple. You can sign up on Eventbrite, just like any of our live workshops and courses. Once your payment is processed you’ll receive a live stream link from Crowdcast, as well as an electronic reminder shortly before the live stream happens – so you don’t have to worry about missing anything.
Live streams are simple and inclusive, enabling you to participate as much or as little as you prefer. You can try one this weekend, as Tiana Templeton goes live with Blogging for Writers. It’s a great opportunity to learn about keeping the attention of your audience and making sure you’re sending the right message.
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.” (A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh)
There are so many romance novels nowadays. Go into any bookstore and you will find tons of romance literature on the shelves. Despite that, women still curl up with a thick blanket, tissue in hand, ready to cry and celebrate with the heroine of the novel.
What is it about these romantic novels that are so irresistible to women all around the world?
Most readers of romance feel engaged with the story. Even if these plots are cliché, it is the raw, honest and real portrayal of the heroine that pulls your readers in. They imagine themselves as the heroine, meeting and falling in love with the man that they shouldn’t be with; or being in a relationship with a fairy-tale-prince (which let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to be with one?).
Romance novels take the readers out of their mundane life and into a world where everything has a love filter on it. In the stories, the heroines are always saved by the love interest. They seldom have bad hair days and seem to rarely work. It is just unrealistic to us who work 9AM to 5PM every day. When we reach home, who has the time and energy to be romantic? That’s where the stories come in. They bring us to a world where there is always time for romance.
We all love a happy ending. Often, in our own quest to find true love, we meet obstacles here and there. This can discourage someone from believing that they can find their destined person. In romance stories, we can believe that there is someone for everyone. By trusting in the happy endings, we can bring a little bit of that hope to reality, knowing that someday, the right person will eventually show up.
Feel inspired to write your own romance story? Learn to pen a gripping ‘will-they-won’t-they’ storyline with How to Write Romance with Ally Blake, happening on the 12th of May.
Fight scenes, both in film and print, are one of the cornerstones of great action. When done well, they pack a major punch and up the ante in any story. When they’re not, readers will be left skimming the page and viewers switching off. It may seem easy enough to do these scenes justice; punching, kicking, gun slinging — we’ve seen it all before. But writing a good fight scene is tricky, especially if your real-world combat or weaponry experience is lacking.
The good news is, even if you’ve never thrown a punch in your life, you can still write powerful and authentic fight scenes. Here are some starting points to think about while crafting your fictional violence.
Remember not to over-describe, especially if you’re not an expert. You can research until your eyes blur and your brain is filled with combat terms, but research isn’t first hand experience. If you’re not ready to start a brawl in a bar or go out hunting creatures of the night, you’re bound to make mistakes. And adding too much detail into your scene descriptions will make these mistakes obvious to your reader.
Secondly, don’t limit your descriptions to your characters’ actions. They have feelings too. Let your reader know what the character is experiencing, their physical sensations and emotional responses. Are they full of adrenaline and ready to take down an army, or are they terrified and looking for a chance to run? Did they roll their ankle, sending pain up their leg every time they move? Has their vision narrowed, leaving only them and their opponent? Have their fingers started to cramp and seize around the hilt of their blade?
But again, be careful not to overdo it. Your character’s physical and emotional state are important, but people in fight mode don’t spend much time ruminating. Keep it short and simple.
Keep track of all your limbs! Nothing will pull the reader out of the story quicker than if your character suddenly sprouts an extra arm to swing their double-handed sword while still holding a shield. Act it out. It’s better to look silly for a moment, rather than have your silliness immortalised on the page.
Remember fighting is hard, and it doesn’t always last long. The body can only take so much.
If your fight scene lasts for an entire chapter, and your character comes out of it feeling no pain, it isn’t going to read as authentic.
Does the weapon suit the story? The genre, world, and time period you’re writing in will have its own set of rules and conventions. You won’t see a pistol in high fantasy, a laser in historical fiction, or a mace in modern crime – unless your intention is to break away from these conventions. If you do, be sure you have a purpose for it and that it’s easily understood by your audience.
Does the weapon suit the character? Are they emotionally equipped to stab someone, or would they prefer something less up close and person? Can they physically handle a sword? And if so, what kind of sword? Maybe your character wants a less common weapon, like a bo staff or spear. Whatever weapon you choose, research is your friend. Find out why your character would use it, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and how it would impact the fight scene you’re writing.
Unless your character has incredible concentration and lung capacity, they won’t be able to hold a conversation during battle. Witty banter is entertaining, but not always feasible, so keep the quips to a minimum during the action. Think about your world building too and the rules that apply to your characters. Remember Buffy the vampire slayer? Audiences happily suspended disbelief about a petite teen girl flipping grown men over her shoulder, or knocking them out with one punch, because they knew she had all the power of the evil undead.
Recently, genre fiction has seen an upswing in ‘strong’ female characters like Buffy. These warrior women are often found sparring, verbally and physically, with opponents twice their size and wielding any number of strange and deadly weapons. But what do you do if your character isn’t mystically endowed with super strength? It’s important to understand the physicality behind the scene to ensure that each movement is achievable for your character.
If you’re looking to add strong female characters to your writing, whether they’re a vampire slayer, a mother of dragons, or something in between, come along to Aiki Flinthart’s Writing Fight Scenes for Women Masterclass on 11th May. This hands-on, physical workshop will teach you tips and tricks to help you master the art of writing female fight scenes in any genre.
If there’s one thing every writer knows, it’s that the internet is littered with tips, tricks, and how-tos that promise to turn you into an overnight bestseller. You can spend hours trawling through websites, blogs, and social media posts looking for guidance. Not to mention all the books on grammar, writing, publishing, marketing, and even reading. This cacophony of content can be confusing to fledgling and seasoned writers alike.
Occasionally, you’ll find a gem that will change your writing forever. Sometimes, you’ll learn, or re-learn, the basics. More often than not, you’ll come away with nothing more than a Stephen King quote about the dangers of adverbs.
The problem with most writing advice is that every tip can be countered with a contradictory trick. Below are just a few examples of how-tos that’ll have you turned around, upside down, and inside out.
Tip: Write Every Day
Writing is a numbers game. Editing and re-writing is important, but you can’t polish what isn’t there. If you put 250 words on the page every day for a year, you’ll find yourself with a 90,000-word manuscript. Knowing it only takes a paragraph a day can keep the process of finishing a manuscript from becoming overwhelming.
Trick: Take Breaks
Writing is work. It doesn’t matter if it’s a full-time job or a hobby on the side, it takes time and effort. Forcing yourself to work every day, on top of your other commitments, can lead to burn out. It can kill your inspiration, motivation, and joy for writing. If the words aren’t coming, shaming yourself in front of a blank page isn’t going to change that.
Tip: Kill Your Darlings
If it doesn’t work, kill it. Cutting beloved scenes, lines, or paragraphs is every writer’s worst nightmare. But if it doesn’t contribute to the flow, consistency, or quality of your story, it shouldn’t be there. No matter how much you love it.
Trick: Don’t Delete Anything
You never know what you might need later. Something may not work in one scene, but it may work in later one. It could even be perfect for completely different story. Instead of hitting delete, save the things you cut in a folder on your computer or hide it away in a used notebook. So, kill those darlings, but keep them backed up somewhere.
Tip: Never Use Said
Don’t use dialogue tags. We’ve all heard this advice, usually from our school English teacher. Cut them out, and if you can’t, switch them up. Throw ‘said’ away and replace it with more dynamic and exciting terms like ‘whispered’, ‘shouted’, or ‘growled’. Doing this can highlight aspects of your character’s personality and add emphasis to a particularly important pieces of dialogue.
Trick: Leave Those Dialogue Tags Alone
Tell us who said what. ‘Said’ is one of those nothing words like ‘and’ or ‘the’ that tends to fade into the background when we read. Cutting them out completely can be fine, depending on the story. But it can also confuse your reader. If they can’t understand who is saying what, without going back to re-read, they’ll be pulled out of the story. And overusing varied dialogue tags can have the same effect. If everyone is whispering or growling, your reader is going to notice.
Tip: Don’t Read While You’re Writing
Don’t read inside your chosen genre while you’re writing. Details from similar stories can leech into your own work and influence the story. No-one wants the word ‘plagiarism’ attached to their name, even if it’s just a whisper. On the flip side, reading outside your genre can confuse your voice.
Trick: Read Everything While You’re Writing
Reading is important for writing. Some say it’s the most important thing. It can help you better understand the rules and conventions of your chosen genre and give you an idea of what your readers want. Reading widely can help you learn new styles, techniques, and ideas.
Tip: Write for Yourself
Write what you want to read. Finishing a manuscript is a daunting task. If you don’t like the story or enjoy the writing process, writing is next to impossible. This disinterest or dislike will show and it can make your voice sound inauthentic, dull, or even petulant. And ultimately, if you’re not interested in what you’re writing, why would anyone else be?
Trick: Write for Your Readers
Books are made to be read. Authenticity is important, but you can’t disregard your target audience. Writing only for yourself can affect your chances of being published, which can keep your books from those who need it the most. And let’s be honest, writing may be a passion, but it’s also a business. If it is your job, you can’t always choose what you write.
Obviously, writing advice can be inconsistent and confusing, but it can also be invaluable. Take on as much, or as little, advice as you want. But remember, the number one rule is always do what works for you.
If you’re unsure of what works, looking for something new, or just wanting to cut through the noise and hone your craft, check out Eileen Herbert-Goodall’s eight-week Creative Writing Masterclass starting on May 1.
“We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”
These are the words of Stephen Hawking and I’m not one to argue with genius.
As (aspiring) authors and writers we should take these words to heart. If we wish to make money from selling books we need to connect with readers, agents, publishers, and the broader community. In other words, we need to market ourselves online.
Many of us do this via social media which is an incredibly important component of any successful marketing strategy, but it has one major drawback.
When you’re using social media you’re using another organisation’s platform. You have to play by their rules, which can change any time.
The integrity of your brand, and the relationships you create you are, to a certain extent, in the hands of the social media platform. This limits your control over your brand and potentially even your ability to generate revenue.
On the other hand, your website is the one piece of online real estate you truly own and have complete control over.
For this reason, an author website is the single most important online marketing tool you can have, which is why it’s remarkable that many of us don’t have one.
Yet I’m not completely surprised. Over the years I have heard many reasons, most built on misconceptions, for not having an author website.
Let’s take a look at the most common reasons given for not creating a website, and why they don’t need to stop you anymore.
1. I Don’t Need One Yet
Many writers think they don’t need to worry about marketing until they have published a book.
Waiting until you have a book to sell to then create a website is far too late in the game. The earlier you get started, the more time you have to gain followers and develop other key marketing tools such as building a mailing list.
So by the time you are ready to launch your book, you will have an established online presence and a community to sell to.
A well-designed website will also give you credibility when querying agents and publishers, or booksellers.
You may not have a book yet, but you can still tell the world about yourself and your writing.
2. It’s Expensive
A professionally designed website in most cases is likely to yield the best results, but you will need to pay for it.
The cost of a professionally designed website can vary a lot. Some companies are more affordable than others, and it pays to do your research.
Unfortunately, not all of us have the budget to hire a professional website designer, at least not in the beginning.
To eliminate or minimise costs you can build your own website. A good starting point to create a simple website is using a free blogging platform like WordPress.
3. I Don’t Have the Technical Skills
Many writers when starting out, look for DIY marketing options but often avoid tackling a website because they believe it will be beyond their technical abilities.
The good news is that there are plenty of website building platforms available that are easy to use and don’t require any knowledge or use of coding. Many have simple drag and drop design options that anyone can master.
Like any software, once you get the knack of it, it becomes second nature.
So now I’ve cleared all that up, why not join me at my Build Your Author Website in a Day workshop at the Queensland Writers Centre on Saturday 8 June. You will walk away from this workshop with a published author website.
For the last 23 years, Kylie has worked as a Newspaper Journalist & Editor, Corporate Writer, and Marketing & Communication Manager, both in Australia and internationally. She is also a Content Writer, Certified Practising Marketer and Publisher of the business news site injust5.com.
How do you write an exciting fight scene like those in the movies? Bad news…you can’t, because movies are visual.
What you can do is leverage a book’s big advantage: deep POV. Sensory immersion.
Aaannnd now we get to the tricky bit. Because the big fight is actually a war between reality vs fiction. How much of each do you put in? How much action? How much deep POV reaction?
A truly skilled warrior won’t do a lot of thinking. Actions are reflexes and the onslaught of fear emotions are dampened. Boring to read.
To add a complication, most of your readers will have done nothing more violent than yell at someone who cut them off in traffic. For that matter, most writers probably haven’t been in a battle for their lives, either.
So, how do you write what you haven’t lived?
Again, you don’t. Real fights are messy, short, brutal, and mostly mindless. Humans are a chaos of instincts and chemistry. Real fights make no sense. In addition, men and women get into, handle, and react to violence differently.
You need to write something readers can relate to. It’s a juggling act which boils down to two familiar terms: “Immersion” and “the Feels”.
Immersion means knowing exactly which key details are important – even if they aren’t things a normal person would notice. It also means choosing which actions are important, where to keep the reader’s attention directed, and how much internal monologue will work without jarring the reader out of the scene. Once you understand those, it becomes a matter of practice and getting good feedback from beta readers.
The Feels means fulfilling your promise to the reader. Ramping up the tension instead of dissolving it. Then delivering the emotional payoff during, and at the end of, the scene.
To achieve both of those, you need to keep in mind the WHY for the action scene. What is your protagonist trying to achieve? Will she succeed or fail? How is she changed at the end? What emotion do you want to create in the reader?
The aim of the QWC Masterclass in Writing Fight Scenes For Women, is to help authors understand exactly how to keep the reader deep in the fight scene (applicable to male and female characters). With 18 years of martial arts and weapons training, and 11 novels on the shelves, you can leverage off my experience in both areas to get inside your protagonist’s head. Come and find out how it feels to put a wristlock on someone. Or how to escape a strangle hold. Hands on, if you wish.
Then take what you learn and apply it to your own fight scene.
But don’t get distracted by the techniques of fighting. They’re just cool window-dressing for the internal journey. It’s getting the balance right between the action and thought-reaction that’s the mark of a good action-scene writer.
Learn how to perfect the balance between action and reaction with Aiki Flinthart at our workshop on the 11th of May 2019, Writing Fight Scenes for Women: Masterclass.
Any time we think of the novella in terms of being between things – between the short story and the novel, typically – we miss what can be great about it and we miss a chance to become better at writing it. Take a good close look at it specifically, and at the tools that work best for it, and we maximise our chances of turning out compelling work.
For the reader, the novella is an evening away from Netflix and devices. It’s a plane flight from Brisbane to Cairns. It’s a movie-length read. It gets you in deeper than a short story typically can, it goes to work on you like a novel, but it lets you out the other end the same night. Two-thirds of Australians say they want to read more and here, in a hectic life with novels piling up on the bedside table waiting for holidays, is a way to do make it happen.
For the writer, if you’re like me, the novella is the biggest story you can keep in your brain in its entirety while you’re working on it. Wherever I am in a novella, I can look back and see the beginning and look ahead and see the end. With a novel, there’s that middle bit. Twenty thousand words in, the beginning’s no longer in sight, the end is a long, long way over the horizon and doubt can start to creep in. I have my notes, and some kind of roadmap, but I’ve left where I started and I can’t quite see where I’m planning to end up. With its surety of topography, the mid-novella writer can think through which levers to adjust, which strings to tweak, invisibly, to bring details to the surface at just the right moment and make the journey take the shape it needs to. The novella embraces detail. It’s great for subtle revelations about the inner workings of people, and for casting light on its themes from unexpected angles. It’s ideal for a single plotline needing more depth and elaboration than a short story allows, or for two plotlines in interesting collision. That is, it’s between the short story and the novel in scope and form as much as it is in mere length. And it occupies this space with sufficient clarity that it’s reasonable to see it, and plan for it, as a form in its own right.
The novella has always been contested ground. In 1992, Richard Ford edited The Granta Book of the American Short Story. It met with acclaim and Granta signed him up again, for a book that I’m betting was originally slated to be The Granta Book of the American Novella. Not in Ford’s hands though. Under his close scrutiny, the very concept unravelled and slipped through his fingers, admittedly in an erudite and quite scholarly way. The more he thought about it, it seemed, the less amenable the novella was to being pinned down. And the more he cornered academics in offices and hallways and demanded novella definitions, the more they shrugged their sloping tweed shoulders and mumbled into their beards.
‘I’m not mad at the word—I just don’t know what I might mean if I used it,’ Ford ended up saying, in his highly readable introduction to what became, wait for it, The Granta Book of the American Long Story.
I wanted to know what I meant when I used the word, so I made novellas my PhD topic. If Richard Ford turns up at my office door, I’m ready to talk. If he wants to turn up to my workshop, he’ll get two hours of it – an inventory of contemporary novella tools that get the best out of the form, useful info on willing novella markets around the world.
Yes, it’s possible to look at the novella throughout history, and to slice and dice 19th-century German Novellentheorie into smaller and smaller sub-particles and walk away shaking your head, but it’s also possible to take a clear-headed look at what works now. Don’t go nuts trying to make your definition bullet-proof – or, even sturdier, Richard Ford-proof – instead take a look at the tools that can make fiction great when it has a novella’s length and breadth and scope. There’s value in that, and compelling novellas can come from it.
Learn more about the compelling world of novellas directly from Nick Earls, in our upcoming seminar Writing Novella on the 1st of May 2019.
“History, it is said, was written by the victorious… the winners. But history is really a patchwork of stories about ordinary people whose daily lives and legacies have become the fabric of our world.” Nicole Christian, History and Social Sciences Educator
I hated history as a youth. I’ll admit it. Despite a strong educational beginning with a fascination for early Australian explorers, a monotonous history teacher in my middle school years was all it took to wipe that slate clean of any interest whatsoever.
It took another 35 years to be bitten by the nostalgia bug, and start my journey back into my city’s rich and fascinating historical past. This then led to a personal fascination with people’s historical stories, and then, finally, to my own ancestral journey.
I became an accidental historian the day I decided to look into the back-story of some old documents I’d found hidden under the Lino of my hundred-year-old home in Milton. When I shared my discovery on social media, the community’s response was astounding! So many people wanted to help me research, and answer the questions that arose from what I’d found.
Over the course of a year, we developed an online research group, establishing a safe space for sharing ideas and telling stories. We gathered over one million words about the people and times surrounding those hidden documents, and I was able to pull the most important words together in my latest book, Under the Lino.
Each of us has a lifetime of stories to tell, and behind that, is a rich and varied historical trail that deserves to be explored! We might have a chest full of black and white photographs, letters from our elders, video or audio recordings of events and stories, and perhaps, family keepsakes and heirlooms that are gathering dust on our shelves. What are we doing with it all? Will our children and grandchildren be able to decipher the background? Or will they have to embark on a journey of exploration after we’ve gone, and taken most of the answers with us? Or, even worse, will it all end up in a skip?
Collecting stories from other family members is not always easy, but if you use photographs and keepsakes to jog memories, while audio recording with a few well-placed questions, you’d be amazed at what you can discover.
History begins with us, always, and works backwards. Our family, our houses, our schools… there’s so much to discover about our fabulous heritage! I use mind mapping, family tree and journaling techniques to gather information, gleaning stories from old letters, and notate conversations and anecdotes I can remember from years gone by.
There are some wonderful writing programs, such a Scrivener, which can augment your information, and assist with organisation, or perhaps, you’d like to stick with paper scrapbooking. The new world of self-publishing and e-books opens up simple methods of sharing at reduced costs, so all family members and interested parties can access your work.
Family history research sites like are useful for building trees and making familial discoveries, and is just that, a treasure trove of online resources containing books, images, historic news articles, maps, music and other fabulous archived information that might lead you to what lies in amongst your family’s history.
If nobody else in your family is doing it, be the driving force that creates your family’s fantastic patchwork of history! They will thank you for it one day, I promise.
Get started with your own fantastic historical writing project by joining Caylie Jeffery at our interactive workshop, Under the Lino: Writing Historical Fiction on the 27th of April.
Eight to twelve year old’s are more mature than we were at the same age. More aware of world matters, and more astute about the environment, relationships and human rights. Research shows they have an eight second attention span, are image driven, and seek immediate gratification.
How can a mere book accommodate all this?
There will be exceptions, of course, but these basic rules might just help you nail that middle grade fiction you’ve always wanted to write…
- Develop a small number of strong characters. Say four plus a few secondary ones thrown in. Avoiding a large cast of characters whose names and roles can be confusing, will prevent our young readers losing patience. A quick way to reduce the cast is to merge any similar characters to make one. Resist naming the whole friendship group. Even if they’re in the story, do they all need names and roles? Ditto for that large family. Including (or naming) only one good friend, or one endearing sister/aunt/brother can work extremely well.
- Gone are the days of the shallow, dare we call them, ‘Enid Blyton’ style characters. Although having lots of jolly good fun, they can be hard to relate to. Genuine characters have flaws. For readers to identify and bond with the characters in your story, they need to see them struggling with some inner conflict. Is your protagonist shy, afraid of the dark, small for their age, big for their age, embarrassed about their accent, hair, big toes, or little sister? Surprisingly, even the slightest flaw can make a character more endearing, and seeing them overcome that flaw by the end of the narrative can make the story oh so rewarding.
- For this age group, the main character’s voice tends to be light-hearted and intimate, and is often the only voice we hear. That is, the story is frequently only told from one character’s point of view.
- Books of today, like those of yesteryear, involve little adult intervention. It’s the kids who solve the problems. Antagonists don’t even need to be too evil, but, like all good characters, they must have flaws.
- Readers of this age rely heavily on visual action. They like plots driven by conflict, which should be introduced early. Avoiding too much back story, info dumping and reducing long flowery descriptive passages will definitely help you achieve this.
- Avoid too many sub plots. Decide on one main problem and hook your readers from the start.
- Transitions are really important. Quickly anchoring and orientating the reader at the start of each scene will help keep them involved in the story.
- Humour: can you weave some in subtly (or overtly) through the story?
- Sentence structure: most kids can manage a few new, complicated words, but they can’t abide boring writing. Strong verbs, minimal use of adjectives and adverbs, and varied sentence length will help keep your writing interesting.
- Speech often lets us down when writing for this age group. Ten year old boys don’t talk like middle aged women, and since dialogue is so crucial for engaging young readers, keeping it real, and not using dialogue as a tool for dumping large chunks of information is important.
- Spoken language, not just accents or slang and trendy words, can tell us a lot about a person, and is a useful tool in the ‘show not tell’ Remember, less is more when it comes to dialogue (and for adverbs and adjectives for that matter).
- Avoid having your characters sitting around, making polite conversation. Boring! As well as developing characters, dialogue needs to move the plot forward, (but not in a corny, Agatha Christie kind of way).
- Beware long speeches. Use tags and beats to break up long dialogue, and weave in movement and small snippets of backstory as needed.
- ‘Said’ is okay most of the time.
- Internal dialogue is just as important as external dialogue
Lastly… my favourite part of being a writer…read, read and read. Find everything you can get your hands on, published here in Australia in the past five years, to help cement the points above and drastically improve your prose. Happy writing everyone!
For these ideas on improving your writing and more, join Samantha Wheeler on the 13th of April 2019 at her hands-on workshop, Writing for The Middle.
Your blanket was a cape. A stick was a sword. The table was your fortress.
Now, the blanket is just a blanket. The stick is thrown onto the roadside. And you write and write on the table.
Children say they want to grow up quickly. They want to experience our world of adulthood, but for us, it is the opposite. We want to go back to their world. A world where imagination is not bounded by reality.
Why does imagination get grounded as we age? Is it just reality reminding us of how cold this world can be? Perhaps it’s that we learn science, which inhibits us from imagining the answer to something we don’t know.
Maybe it is just that we have finally grown up. But have we?
We have books that tap into our inner child. Writers such as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter inspires children and adults a-like, despite being initially rejected as not being fit for children Roald Dahl’s wonderful world was written by the author in his most troubled-years as an adult. Jeff Kinney’s books were not published until 10 years after he had written them. The most wonderful stories we read aren’t written by children, but by adults, just like you and me.
So, the imagination is not lost after all. Don’t confine yourself to the limits of reality. Break beyond that. Challenge the things you see around you. Put colour into the most mundane objects. Bring out the five-year old in you that loved to tie on a cape, grab the sword, and march on to the castle to rescue your favourite teddy bear.
Adulthood doesn’t need to be just black and white. It can be just as colourful as a child’s world. We don’t lose our imagination. It is just hidden away, trying to survive the harsh reality of being an adult.
Tap into your childish ways and head down to our workshop “Writing for the Middle with Samantha Wheeler” on the 13th of April to learn more about how to write fiction suitable for young readers.