A couple of things happened to me over Christmas which make this blog a timely one.
First, I listened to an author of boy fiction books being interviewed on television. I’m sorry I cannot remember his name, but he writes science fiction stories for teenagers. It was an interesting interview.
When asked what tips he would give anyone who wanted to write, the first thing he said was not to write at all – at least not for a good three months. I couldn’t agree with him more.
You want to write – well, don’t!
Like a toddler building a wall of wooden blocks, brainstorming has to be one of the first building blocks, followed by serious thought on the main characters that you undertake. You need to think about the timescale the story should run over, the place where the action takes place, etc. Without any of these basics having been planned out, your story may falter, possibly stall altogether, go nowhere, or just crash onto the floor.
When you are in school and you are given a title for a story, you are encouraged to use a spider diagram or a story mountain. These are very useful in the planning stage. Here you can write down who the main characters are, describe the action of the story in a very easy and logical way, you can plan how long the story takes to unfold and at what point you want to get to that high point or climax in the story. These things all help to focus your thoughts.
But a plan is just a plan. It’s there to be changed.
When I go into schools I take the plan for Snail Trail to show children. It’s a rough piece of A4 paper. It’s very scruffy. It’s full of scribbles and crossings out. But it also contains, in a very simple format, what happens on which day of my timescale; it helps to keep my story developing and is a useful reminder of what should happen and, very roughly, when.
Plans help you to build up your story
I have three sections on the bottom half of the page of my plan. These are the beginning, the middle and the end. There is very little writing in the final section, the end, less so in the middle section because for me the important and most interesting bit is building up the story, creating the suspense, laying false leads, getting to that fabulous high point and making what’s happening in the story as believable as possible to a child.
For each character, and not just the main ones, I have a character sheet. It lists simple descriptions like eye colour, hair colour, shape of face, mannerisms, favourite words, hobbies. In short, the sheets help my characters to remain the same throughout the story, and thus to be consistent in the mind of the reader.
Draw your characters
There is no reason why you should not draw your characters. If it helps you to write about them in a consistent manner and to pick out certain characteristics for each one, then a sketch somewhere on your planning sheet is better than nothing. You can always flick back to it and it will be there as a quick reminder.
The second thing that happened to me at Christmas was that I began to write the fourth snail book – Snail Movie – or Flash of Orange – as it may yet be called. When my daughter Amy was 5/6 years old (she’s now 13) we sat down and wrote the first four of the snail book series. So whilst I’m ‘writing’ the fourth book, I’m still working with an old draft. But how different the writing is now turning out to be!
The early stories were very simple and as such they had strong story lines. They were not too involved with too many layers, but then they were all written for the 5/6 year age range and thus kept very basic. Interestingly, as I revisit this old draft, I realise that the strength of these snail books is the simplicity of the themes. As my children have grown up more layers have appeared in the stories. I’ve added other less important story lines which don’t have any direct impact on the main story, they’re just there to help to illustrate the kind of world we are now living in; they’re important for the older reader because they add a bit of social comment, things like our obsession with fame, with how we look, with how we should all look young and beautiful. These are the layers that I feel the older reader might enjoy, and they are written with some leg-pulling, and hopefully, a good dollop of humour.
Layers are good … or are they?
I think these extra layers are important for the older children, but it has reminded me, reading the first draft of Snail Movie, just how important it is to get the story line right and to not let these layers overpower. It is, after all, the story line that knits the reader in. Am I making sense?
I’m sure some people see planning as boring, but I have to say I have recently rediscovered its joys. I confess, however, that I have also started to write. I am still at the planning stage of Snail Movie, but so taken am I by its main story line that I am concentrating on writing certain scenes before I lose them from my head. These are the scenes between the main characters leading up to that high point – or climax. Once they’re on paper it’ll be back to planning. What I’m saying is, if you feel like getting something on paper, then get it down. It can always be work in progress.
Is writing just planning, followed by more planning?
So why so much planning? Well, the fourth snail book is the fourth book in a series. I have a lot of research to do on pulling the threads that I began to stitch in way back in snail book number one. My writing has to be consistent. I have to refer to events that occurred in the previous books. I need to make sure that I develop specific characters. I guess if you’re writing a series of books, then planning becomes even more important and at book number four, there are even more threads to pull in, more building blocks to add to the tower, more things to pull together and to make believable with a logical conclusion.
My advice to you if you want to write? Brainstorm for as long as you need to. Like the author said on the television, plan the main action of your story line then plan some more. Do your story mountain or your spider diagram. Draw pictures of the world you have created. Live the story in your head. Keep a notebook by your bed at night. When you get inspiration at a traffic light, or in the supermarket, make sure you lodge that flash of inspiration in your head and write it down as soon as, and as safely as, you can. You really do need to capture those moments because they are just those – flashes of real inspiration.
Next blog: whatever gem I uncover next that I think you might enjoy.
BINSTED C OF E PRIMARY SCHOOL
Thank you to Years 3,4,5 and 6 at Binsted Primary who made me feel so welcome today. You’re a smashing lot! Hope you remember some of he things I told you about story writing. Watch out though – I might just drop in with Gary and Bob and test you all soon.