Monday 30 July 2012

Ten Top Tips from Molly Ker Hawn

By Maureen Lynas

Welcome to guest blogger Molly Ker Hawn of the Bent Agency based in New York. Molly, who lives in London and works with authors in the UK and America, is on the look out for YA and middle grade fiction. The agency asks to see the first ten pages of manuscripts so I asked Molly for the ten most common mistakes she finds in those ten pages - so you can avoid them. 

I get about a hundred queries a week. Most of them, I’m glad to say, are in English, are for children’s/young adult projects, and do not salute me as ‘Sir,’ though there are occasional exceptions.

Thursday 26 July 2012

'Then Bella did something very kind' - Picture Book Words that Move

by Addy Farmer

Then Bella did something very kind.
'Would you swap this Teddy for my brother's dog then?' she asked.

Just look at Dave - heartbreaking. Shirley Hughes' illustrations perfectly match the tone of the text

What is it about this bit of Dogger by the genius Shirley Hughes that moves me so much? What is it that makes my voice wobble? First of all, there's Bella's kindness towards her brother, Dave (for me kindness is an under-rated quality).

Thursday 5 July 2012

The Five Bricks of Story and Life

by Maureen Lynas


Orrible Enrietta

I'm always on the look out for patterns and structures when I'm analysing books and characters and this week was a breakthrough week for me. My last blog was on the Seven Steps of Structure and I thought the last three steps Reveal, Reflect and React needed a bit more analysis. So I got out the highlighters and put Horrid Henry (and his new friend Enrietta) back under the microscope.

Eureka! No 1

I thought I'd spotted the 3R's as a repeating pattern throughout the work, and not just after the EVENT as previously indicated.

I'll show you what I mean but I'll use Orrible Enrietta to give an example instead of Horrible Henry in case I'm sued.

Orrible Enrietta sneaked back into the kitchen for the chocolate.
'Chocolate is for kids. Grown ups should eat carrots and soggy cabbage. It's my human right to eat that chocolate. So I will!'
Orrible Enrietta stuffed the chocolate in her mouth.

But something didn't seem quite right. Some sentences, paragraphs didn't fit the pattern – what were they doing, if they weren't revealing, reflecting, or reacting.

So I decided to check my research and went back to James Scott Bell's Revision and Self-Editing but when I looked in the book the three R's were not there! Even though that's where I was convinced I'd discovered them. What was there was –

Action Scenes – Objective, Obstacle, Outcome.
Reaction Scenes – Emotion, Analysis, Decision.

Interesting! And now I was having…

Eureka! No 2! I had discovered The 5 Bricks of The Scene.

If this is a good old secret known to many then that’s brilliant. But it’s new news to me.

The Bricks of The Scene is what story structure is built from.

Something is revealed
There is an emotional response.
There is reflection/discussion
There is a decision
There is action

For example

Orrible Enrietta was watching Zombie's Rule, OK.
'It's your turn to wash the dishes,' said Mum.
'No! Not fair!'
'I did it last year! Why can't we use paper plates. Why do we have to use stinky proper plates like rich people? I'm too young. I'm too clumsy!' 
That'll get her, thought Orrible Enrietta. Mum won't want her precious plates smashed.
But mum was one step ahead of her. 'Any breakages come out of your pocket money.'
I'll think of something, thought Enrietta stomping into the kitchen. What would a genius do?
Aha!  I'll wash them all right. But I won't clean them.
Orrible Enrietta turned the cold water on. She rinsed the spaghetti off each plate and into the sink. Then stacked each plate on the draining board. I'll leave the tap on, she thought. It'll wash the spaghetti away. Then I won’t have to wash the sink either. I am sooooooo brilliant!
'Done Mum,' she shouted. She dashed back into the living room just as the Zombies chanted, 'Blood, blood, brains and blood. You should run, oh yes, you should.'

That seems a lot better. But I hear you cry (those of you who don’t want to follow rules or patterns)
Are there rules to break?
Yes! It doesn't have to be as prescriptive as it sounds. But rule and patterns are there for a reason, if you apply these bricks to any event, they will be there e.g. I want toast. There’s no butter. Damn it! Shall I go to the shops or have cereal? I’ll have cereal. I eat cereal. They really are the bricks of life not just story.

The reveal and emotion bricks can be alternated to escalate the emotional reaction to the reveal.
Here’s a different scenario.

Mum interrupted Zombies Rule, OK. 'Mrs Knowitall is coming for tea,' she said.
Noooooo, thought Orrible Enrietta.
'She's bringing Nigel Knowitall for you to play with.'
Nooooooooooooo, thought Orrible Enrietta.
'And the baby.'

Not the BABY! Anything but the BABY!'
I hate the baby!
The emotion and reflection/discussion bricks can be alternated to escalate the panic of the situation.
I need an incredibly clever plan that only I can think of.
Aaargh! I can't think of one!
I'll hide. Under the bed.
Grrr. Mum always looks there first.
'Blood, blood, brains and blood,' chanted the zombies on TV.
If only I was a zombie, thought Enrietta. No one would ever come to the house if I was a zombie.
That's it! I'll be a zombie!
Once the decision is made there can be no more reflection/discussion.
'Blood, blood, brains and blood,' chanted Enrietta. She shuffled towards the door, her arms stretched out in front. 'I need flour and jam and mud.'

What can be missed out?
I'm very interested in 'the gap'. The gap we leave for the reader to fill. This is probably the basis of 'show not tell' (will think more deeply on this, that could be a giant blog post). But for now this is what I think happens. We invite the reader to infer something because we have missed something out. We give them a role to play in the story and they fill the gap with their own life experiences and knowledge. I also think this is where subjectivity comes in to play. People like books that allow them to fill the gap easily. They relate to the gap you leave.

So what can we leave out? The reveal? The emotion? The reflection/discussion? The decision? The action? Are Reveal and Reaction essential? Does leaving out emote or reflect provide the gap for the reader? Let's have a go. Let's go back to the washing up scene-

I'll leave the tap on, she thought. It'll wash the spaghetti away. Then I won’t have to wash the sink either. I am sooooooo brilliant!
'Done Mum,' she shouted. She dashed back into the living room just as the Zombies chanted, 'Blood, blood, brains and blood. You should run, oh yes, you should.'

Don't Reveal
the sink has overflowed.

'Enrietta!' cried Mum, storming into the living room.
Her slippers left soggy footprints on the floor.
'You are in soooo much trouble.'

The missing reveal from the text is implied by Mum's emotional reaction. We as adults would be able to fill the gap. But could children? Young children don't have the skill to infer so the gap may be filled by an illustration. Which is why it's essential to discuss the text and illustrations with them: to make sure they have the whole picture.

So, what's on each brick?

In no particular order
Who’s there.
The setting.
The obstacle.
The objective.
The tone.

But it should be right for your character type. Horrible Henry would be unlikely to do sadness. His main emotions are frustration and joy.

The situation.
The emotion.
The problem.
The consequences.

The protagonist must make a decision that will carry the story forward. He/she can have the decision made for them depending on the story (a bomb goes off so they must move on, the decision is out of his/her hands) but if all decisions are made for them then it isn’t really the protagonists story is it?

The action should be based on the decision and should move the story along. We're not talking action as in – she waved her hand at Mum. We're talking – so I plastered my face with flour and dribbled on jam for the scars and lay in wait for the BABY.

The story layers seem to be
The finished structure (Hero’s Journey, Romantic Comedy etc) is created using –
The 7 steps of pacing and plotting (name, preview, contrast, EVENT, reveal, reflect, react)
Which are built with –
The 5 bricks of The Scene (Reveal, emote, reflect/discuss, decide, act)
And I’m wishing I’d called the 7 steps something else! That fits the analogy of a building. The 7 girders?

And then, I hear you cry over the internet, ‘What about the cement? What's glueing it all together?

Well, that would be the...


Happy writing

Maureen Lynas blogs intermittently on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas
She is the author of
The Action Words Reading Scheme
Florence and the Meanies
The Funeverse poetry site.

Monday 2 July 2012

Beating The Odds with the Winchester Writers Conference

by Teri Terry

A week ago I was at the 32nd Winchester Writers Conference. I first attended in 2008 - it really was the encouragement of winning a prize in the Writing for Children 8-11 back then that set me on the path that landed me where I am now (as blogged last year, here). And Slated - just published by Orchard Books in May of this year - also won a prize at the WWC in 2010 (blogged here). I really wanted to spread the word about this conference, again - but what more can I say about it? Then I thought: how about we hear from some new voices? So here goes.

Lesley Moss

Like Cinderella, I left WWC before midnight struck - did anyone pick up my glass slipper?
Beverley Birch's masterclass was inspirational, I met lovely writer friends, had feedback from editors which was both encouraging and surprising - and then, back home sweeping up the cinders, I got a message about the competitions.
I'd been commended for Albert's Animated Animals (or How I Made My Magical Menagerie, By Albertin the Little Tiger Press 4-7 category, and Highly commended in the Greenhouse 8-12 for Matilda Curioso: Super Sleuth Matilda, trapped in Haunted Hazard House, must solve the Case Of The Mysterious Camera, or never get back to the future again. 
I forgot to say that Sara Gangai the administrator was exceptionally helpful - if you can mention that somewhere ..? 
(Teri - in blue from now on: there you go :O) 

Laura Louise Stewart 
I was at the conference and managed to get Highly Commended in two comps (writing for children age 12+ and Short Stories). Predictably, the moment when I saw my pseudonym on the board outside the theatre was a huge highlight! I had to walk back to check the board several times during the rest of the day and make sure..
But overall the best thing has to have been just meeting people. I was really nervous at first but loved starting to recognise people from the same talks and workshops and learning everyone was going through the same things: and that -
having problems with a particular character doesn't mean you are rubbish and should give up! 
Between the WavesHighly Commended in Writing for children,12+:
Wannabe surfer Eddie experiences an unexplained event at the beach but no-one else seems to notice. Whose memories can be relied on when everyone remembers things differently?
Feeling part of the same process as people (such as you!) with great books out was inspiring.
(aw, shucks...!)

Jo Franklin

I went to the Winchester conference to give moral support to a friend in need and ended up having a great 1:1 and winning two highly commended in the competitions. Result!
The message I got from the conference is ‘it’s tough out there, but if you work hard, don’t give up and have a thick skin, you can break through.’
Help! I’m an Alien! 8-11 Boys humour
Daniel feels such a misfit on Earth, he must be an alien. He needs to return to his home planet to find true happiness. But DIY cryogenics and joining the Russian space program go horribly wrong. When Daniel decides to 'phone home' and ask the aliens to come and get him, things get a whole lot worse. 
The Berringer Connection 11+ Teen angst in a messed up world 
Ant Berringer won’t let anyone close. No one touches her, not even Mum. But she’s going to have to trust someone if she is ever to find out who she is and the truth about the Berringer Connection.

Rebecca Colby
I wasn't in attendance at the conference but my story Fairy Godmother School won the Writing for Children competition for 4-7 year olds! 
PITCH: When Frenella magics up a basketball gown, bunny slippers and a spaceship, she discovers it doesn’t matter how a wish is granted, as long as a dream comes true.
FAVOURITE LINE: “I’ll be the only fairy there without grey hair.”
(Wow. How can you go wrong with bunny slippers AND a spaceship?)

Sally Poyton
Despite not being able to attend Winchester Writers Conference, I entered the beginnings of the YA novel, Journey to the Bone Factory, into the Writing For Children 12-plus competition. It was a lovely surprise to see it was highly commended, especially as I’ve hit the “writers low” – it’s been a great pick me up with the added advantage of not having a calorie count!
On the book: One girl’s quest to find her father takes her to the mysterious abandoned planet that is home to the Bone Factory and a convict so dangerous, that he’s been marooned on the furthermost reach of the galaxy.
Amber Hsu
Most surprised winner goes to….Amber Hsu, multi-talented SCBWI writer AND illustrator, and if that isn’t enough, also now out in public as a crime writer with a highly commended in the Writing Can Be Murder competition for her story, The Mourner.
(We won't hold this diverting your attention away from writing for children against you - I got an HC in Writing Can be Murder in 2009!)

Rachel Turner
I was there mentoring and helping to promote the MA Writing for Children. I managed to get a bit of time to join in the talks and workshops though and they were hugely helpful.
The thing that surprised me most was hearing the agents and editors giving a largely negative view of a first time author's chances in the publishing market these days. Reversely, the seminars on marketing yourself and self-publishing were very positive. I wonder if that's the way things are heading for the majority of new writers now?
Christina Vinall
For me it was a great Conference - as its quite big it was good to meet up with lovely supportive Scoobies. Had an inspiring one to one with Imogen Cooper. And learnt a lot out of the box from Lindsay Ashford's Murder mystery talk - and decided I'd be a bit too squeamish for serious crime fiction. Though it was interesting to discover Jane Austen had traces of arsenic in her hair - so may have been poisoned.

Rowena House
One simple but great exercise set by Stephanie Stansbie, editorial Director of Little Tiger Press, went as follows: Think up an opening sentence of no more than seven words (absolute max 10 if you must) with only one word longer than one syllable. Then read it out loud. Your sentence has to make the rest of the group gasp, giggle, say Yuk! etc. We got some real corkers. 
In all, the conference was a real shot in the arm. I came away with the following personal motto: 

Rejection is the mother of invention: it makes you hungry, it makes you sharp.
Jan Carr.
As always had a fabulous time at Winchester last weekend. Met loads of interesting new people and lovely people from last year and before including some scoobies, hurray! It was a treat to have a one to one with Beverley, she highlighted the importance of foreshadowing. A few people had already been kind about my WIP but said, ‘I don’t know where your story’s going.’ I didn’t completely understand what they meant until Beverley said that right at the start, there should some hint of what the story is about. When I re-read that sentence, it’s seems obvious but doing that without telling or explanation is not quite so easy.

Previous WWC success stories:
The Rescue Princesses series published by Nosy Crow in the UK won second prize in Writing for Children ages 4 - 7 in 2010.

Jeannie Waudby
I found the Winchester Writers' Conference brilliant for meeting people and recharging my writing batteries. A few years ago I had three one-to-ones on my book K Child there. I found the feedback very helpful in helping me know where to focus when I came to rewrite the book, and it also gave me a confidence boost. I have just signed K Child to Chicken House. 

Me: Teri Terry
Wow. Don't even know what to say: some combo of the WWC and SCBWI really set me on my way. I'm sure I wouldn't have got published now without both of them. I'll just put in my wonderful Orchard Books cover, and smile.

A final word:
I get what Rachel is saying about the air of negativity that can sometimes be felt in this industry, even at events like the WWC that have led to success for many. Though it would be worse, I think, if they made it sound easy to get published. It isn't, and never has been. And self-publishing ventures are going to come across as positive when they are promoted, as there are no bars to admittance. 
All I can say is that there have been SO MANY bits of great news in the SCBWI lately in traditional publishing for children, it has been a regular Success Fest
I know, sometimes, along the way it seems like you are hitting your head against a very thick brick wall: 
But put on a helmet, and keep going: you could be next to beat the odds.
Special note: 
Senior editor Imogen Cooper of Chicken House is going to be hosting the Golden Egg Academy, starting next winter - weekend writing courses for the 'nearly there'. Stay tuned for details.

News update:
The dates for the 33rd Winchester Writers Conference are 21 - 23 June, 2013

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