Tuesday, December 21, 2010
My partner, Rob Parnell, and I were accepted into a TV Mini Lab sponsored by SA Film Corporation. Then we were accepted into a Writing for Film workshop sponsored by SA Film Corporation and the Australian Writers' Guild.
And now Christmas is almost upon us. Rob and I don't send Christmas cards because we want to save trees. We're conscious of the environment! I'm a big fan of Mother Nature.
So here's our Christmas message to you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_profilepage&v=W4ecDSlQTyw
Please keep in touch as I continue to blog in the new year. All the best in 2011. I wish you every success!
Thursday, August 5, 2010
To recap from my previous blog entry, my partner and I sat down to watch a documentary. After the documentary, my interest in the Maya of the Classic Period (250 to 900 AD) was reignited. I was inspired and knew I wanted to write a children's book about...
That was it. All I had. An inkling. A smoldering. Something lurking in my mind. But what?
I went to the library and borrowed the book the documentary was based on. I sat down and read. I didn't know if reading the book would help me write a children's book. But what did I have to lose? Hopefully I had plenty to gain.
The book I read was non-fiction and definitely for adults. My idea needed to be suitable for children.
I knew I wanted to write a children's book. So my intention was set in my mind as I read the adult non-fiction.
From the start, I enjoyed the non-fiction book. Still, I had no ideas for a children's book. I kept reading.
As the weeks went by, slowly, bit by bit, a brief plot outline came to me. The character came first, like she appeared in my mind. Initially, I didn't know her story. She stayed with me as I kept reading the non-fiction book. Perhaps, as time went on, she realized I was serious and began to allow me snippets of her story.
At one stage, I doubted a plot would eventuate. The bits I had weren't enough. But by the time I finished reading the non-fiction book I was ready to start a detailed plot outline. I could scarcely believe it. How had I managed to conjure a plot idea from reading a non-fiction book? I'd had nothing, then I had a morsel, a crumb, then another piece, until finally I had a main character and a plot idea in my head.
The only way I can explain it is that the non-fiction book inspired the bits and pieces, until they came together into some form of story - my children's book. If I hadn't been reading the non-fiction book, then I wouldn't have been thinking about the subject and I wouldn't have come up with the little morsels. They were all mine, conjured from my imagination, based on my interests. Still, inspiration must come from somewhere.
Please note, I didn't begin writing until I'd finished the non-fiction book. I felt as if I needed to complete my reading, at least of this one book, before I started writing my own.
I sat down at my computer and worked on a detailed plot outline. I needed to do more research on the internet because the story required a secondary location in Mexico.
Okay, after about two days, I had my story outlined on approximately four sheets of computer paper - single-spaced. Naturally, the Maya of the Classic Period featured in my story. After all, my original inkling was inspired by a documentary that involved the Maya.
The next step was to read more about the Maya, so I could include a little of this research in my story. I didn't want to bog readers down with research material but I needed some information to give the story credibility, add to realism and, in a way, make me an authority - that is, the best person to write my book.
I've learned a lot more about the Maya than has appeared in my manuscript. I only slipped in snippets that were necessary to the story - or added to the story. The rest of my research was for me. First, because I'm interested in the subject. Second, because I find writing a story easier if I can immerse myself in the subject, theme or location.
However, as I mentioned in previous blog posts, my story doesn't just include the Maya. The story drew on several of my interests. That's what makes it a unique story - unique to me.
More on that later. For now, I hope you enjoyed reading about my experiences in researching a children's book. If you'd like to read further information about my latest manuscript, please visit again.
All the best,
Monday, July 26, 2010
At this stage, I'm limiting my blog entries to the one passion that was reignited after, well, many years. As I write more about the ideas behind my manuscript, we'll delve into my other passions and the research behind them, too.
The Elusive Spark of an Idea, Followed by Research
Last September, my partner wanted to watch a documentary. I wasn't keen but I'm not one to deny my partner's wishes. So we sat down and watched the documentary. I had no clue, from the title, that I would be reintroduced to the Maya from the Classic Period.
After watching the documentary, I felt my interest in the Maya rekindled. I knew there was an idea lurking somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind but I couldn't, at that point, reach it. One thing was for sure, I wanted to learn about the Maya. This ancient civilization once again fascinated me, as it had done when I was an adolescent.
Naturally I had to research the reignited passion. I had forgotten anything I'd learned in my adolescence and I had no story, no plot, just the inkling of an idea. Before I started writing, I spent a month or so reading about the Maya. I'm still reading about them today.
The Maya of the Classic Period (250 to 900 AD) lived in Mesoamerica (Central America). They built fabulous cities, complete with pyramids, temples, palaces, administrative buildings and apartments. These cities were abandoned around 900 AD for reasons we can only guess at today and were swallowed up by jungle. The cities literally disappeared under lush vegetation, to be rediscovered mainly in the 1800s.
Building impressive urban developments, complete with towering pyramids, might not be a challenge today. But the Maya didn't have the tools and machinery of our modern world. Apparently, the Maya didn't have access to metal and therefore had no metal tools. They only used the wheel on children's toys. The wheel wasn't much help in the uneven jungle or mountainous terrain of Central America. Nor did the Maya have large animals, like the horse, to aid in their building work or agriculture.
The Maya economic system was based on trade and agriculture. They were the first civilization to understand that you can't grow crops on the same piece of land indefinitely, without ruining the land. They allowed the jungle to reclaim their farming land so the soil could be replenished by nature and used again for agriculture at a later date.
Of the early civilizations in the area, the Maya made the greatest use of writing and developed a complicated script of hieroglyphs with some phonetic elements that, after four hundred years, isn't completely understood. The Maya are also often attributed as the first civilization to use zero in a numbering system.
The aspect of the Classic Maya that most impresses me is their knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. They calculated the lunar cycle and were able to predict eclipses, sunspot activity and other heavenly events with great precision. They also tracked the orbit of planets, such as Venus. In fact, they recorded the orbit of Venus for eight years. Today, we've been able to validate the accuracy of the Maya. But we have modern scientific equipment!
Along with this amazing grasp of astronomy and mathematics, the Maya formulated a unique calendar system that is more exact than the one we use today.
The Maya had a religious system that is steeped in mythology and based largely on the cosmos. The Maya lived in harmony with the land and the cosmos. They knew that if they took from the land, they had to give back. They revered life and considered all life to be sacred. Hence, they said a prayer prior to killing any animal for food. They revered the cosmos for giving them crops and many festivals were created to give back or honor this source of life-giving sustenance.
The Maya understood that everything in the universe is made up of energy. The same energy is in all of us - people, animals, plants, the environment, planets and even our dead ancestors. We are all connected through this source energy. We are all one!
The Maya believed in the balance of opposites - life and death, day and night. You can't have one without the other. To the Maya, death wasn't the end, it wasn't to be feared. We simply transform and move to another world. The Maya often used the symbol of the skull. But the skull didn't mean death as it often does today. The skull was the epitome of life. You can't have life without the skull.
As you can see, my research paid dividends. My passion for the Maya is also obvious. No wonder the Maya found its way into my latest manuscript. However, most of the above research is for me. My readers don't get to read the majority of the details outlined above, at least not in a fiction manuscript. Research is often for the writer - not the readers. This information fuels my passion and enables me to write from the heart. My readers may not have the same passion. In fact, I doubt very much that they do. Therefore my goal as a writer is to create a great character-driven story and only include background research when necessary to the plot. A story shouldn't be slowed down by research material.
Part two will be coming soon. Until then, take care and enjoy life.
Remember we are all one, connected through the source energy that makes up everything in the cosmos.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
A few weeks ago I blogged about my latest manuscript, a 42,000 word novel for 10 to 14 year-olds. I discussed the common advice to writers that tells us to write about what we know. I added another thought to this advice, which is to write about our passions. That's what I did with my latest manuscript.
If you'd like to read my earlier post, please click on the following link: http://robynopie.blogspot.com/2010/06/common-advice-write-about-what-you-know.html
Where do you get your ideas?
Writers are often asked: "Where do you get your ideas?" The question isn't always easy to answer because sometimes ideas seem to pop into our heads out of the blue, as if from nowhere. In my opinion "nowhere" is actually the subconscious mind.
Our conscious and subconscious minds absorb everything around us. Our experiences and memories become part of the subconscious mind. When an idea seems to pop into our heads, it's the subconscious mind that gives us the idea from our stored experiences and memories. The experiences and memories may be new or they could be old.
Apparently we don't forget anything. Everything is stored in our subconscious mind. The problem is our ability to recall information.
Can you remember a time when you simply couldn't think of an answer to a question? Perhaps you had trouble recalling the name of a movie. It was on the tip of your tongue. Later, the answer popped into your head. The problem wasn't the loss of memory but rather a problem with accessing the information.
My latest manuscript was a different experience for me. No popping into my head, though I'm sure my subconscious mind was still involved. The plot came slowly and, when it finally did, I realized my life's experiences and interests came together in this one story.
Okay, perhaps not every one of my experiences. But my main interests, my passions, were evident in the story. My subconscious delved back into my childhood to remind me of an earlier interest.
When I was a child, I loved reading the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Famous Five series, as well as other mysteries. I remember reading a Hardy Boy's novel called "The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior". This novel got me interested in the Aztecs and, through further reading, I became interested in the Inca and the Maya. At the time, I was particularly intrigued by the ancient Maya of what is known as the Classic Period. For some reason, I felt a connection to the Maya.
Time went on and my life changed. I grew up, left school, got a job and married. I forgot about the Maya.
Or did I?
Fast forward approximately 25 years.
The ancient Maya are a passion of mine. Once again, I feel a connection to this amazing early civilization. I read everything I can about them. They fascinate me and I believe we can learn a lot from them.
However, the ancient Maya didn't inspire my latest manuscript. My initial idea had nothing to do with this classic civilization. In fact, when I first started thinking about what I wanted to write, I'd still forgotten my interest in the Maya. I had no idea my passion would resurface after approximately 25 years.
As I mentioned earlier in this blog, my passions came together to create my latest manuscript. The ancient Maya are one facet - one passion. Who knew I'd include them in a plot?
My other passions, which are also part of my latest manuscript, are newer interests. Mainly because times are changing. We've become more accepting, open-minded perhaps, and science continues to advance.
My final plot involved at least three of my passions, and they are my main interests. I've immersed myself in these subjects, learning everything I can about them. Hence, my advice to write about your passions. I know about the Maya, for example, because of my passion for these people and their history. Without the passion, I'd have no knowledge. Therefore I write about what I know - my passions.
I'm not going to explain the entire idea of my story or reveal the rest of my passions here and now. This blog entry would be too long. You'll need to come back and keep reading as I add more about developing my idea for my latest manuscript.
Thanks for reading. See you soon.
All the best,
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
by Sheryl Gwyther
It’s funny how stories come to be. Princess Clown began with two words – princess and clown (naturally), but they weren’t just any old words. To me, they jangled and bangle-d and clashed together. They did not match.
In other words, they would do the job of creating TENSION and CONFLICT – just what a story needs.
Of course, it’s fine to have an idea for a story but you have to take it further!
I love what master-storyteller Stephen King says about that elusive component to writing – “extracting the story”.
He likens the stories and the ideas upon which they are founded to “fossils” and writers to “archaeologists” (correct term should be “palaeontologists” if we’re talking about fossils, but let’s not quibble over this often confused term).
“Our job as writers is to extract the story – using everything from jackhammer to toothbrush – to reach its pristine form.” Stephen King.
This terminology of locating and extracting ancient fossil treasures in the earth struck a chord with me because I worked on a fossil dig in Western Queensland while researching my junior fiction, Secrets of Eromanga.
That process is exactly what finding your story is like. You must sense whether it is time to get down and dirty with the jackhammer and forget about the damage inflicted.
For me, this is the dreaded, mental agony of the first-draft stage.
The reward comes with the toothbrush, paintbrush and dental pick – rewriting stage – just like on a fossil dig when the tiniest, most fragile imprint of an ancient pine cone waits to see the light of day. You tease it with the dental tool, you coax it with your toothbrush and you brush away the layers until it is exposed in its pristine form. Ahhhh!
Well, almost pristine. There is always room for improvement in writing – which is why I appreciate my writing friends. They are the ones I trust to read my writing drafts and be honest in their opinion; who will pick up inconsistencies or notice when a bit of “telling not showing” creeps in. They share the frustrations, the rejections, the successes of a writer’s life.
Then, there’s the joy of digging through history, researching …. but that is another story!
Links for Sheryl Gwyther:
Monday, July 5, 2010
Princess Clown is in Blake Education’s Gigglers Blue 2 series – a set of 8 books especially designed as high-interest chapter books for 7 to 8 year olds. These books are very popular with children and with teachers.
Princess Clown is also available online or from educational retail outlets.
The blurb for Princess Clown:
Princess Belle stepped forward and curtsied to the royal guests.
The King said, “This is my daughter, Princess Belle.”
The King of Danzania held out his hand. Forgetting she was wearing a clown trick ring, Belle shook his hand.
A zing of electricity buzzed from the ring …
For more information on Princess Clown, please visit Blake Education's website: http://www.blake.com.au/Gigglers-Blue-2-Princess-Clown-p/9781741646481.htm
Blog Tour Dates:
06 July 2010
Dee White – http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com
07 July 2010
Alphabet Soup magazine – http://soupblog.wordpress.com
08 July 2010
Robyn Opie – http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com
09 July 2010
Catriona Hoy – http://catrionahoy.blogspot.com
11 July 2010
Sheryl Gwyther – http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com
12 July 2010
Sandy Fussell – http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com/
14 July 2010
Claire Saxby – http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com
15 July 2010
Mabel Kaplan – http://belka37.blogspot.com
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
I've been fascinated by various subjects for many years. In the last six months, my favorite interests and a new discovery came together to form my latest manuscript - a 42,000 word novel for young people aged 10 to 14. I don't claim to know everything about these subjects but I'm reading, experiencing and learning.
Therefore I'd like to add my own modification to the above advice.
Write about your passions!
When I wrote my latest manuscript, I didn't draw on great personal experience or first hand knowledge. I had to spend a month reading and researching the gaps in my knowledge - and there were plenty - before I started writing. I wanted to learn as much as possible, so I could write about what I know. The more I learned, the more passionate I became about these subjects. I'm still devouring these subjects through books, television and the internet.
Passion inspired me. I found things I didn't know and turned them into things I know, and I became passionate about them. What I lack in personal experience and first hand knowledge, I make up for with passion to learn and explore.
You can write about what you know but if you're not passionate about it, who cares?
To me, passion is the extra ingredient. Passion can help you turn what you don't know into what you know and then into a manuscript.
I'll share more about my passions and my latest manuscript over the coming months. Here is the first taste, a prophecy from the great Mayan ruler Lord Pacal Votan:
O children of the people of the book,
I come to you as the special witness of time
to remind you, especially on the day of truth,
that in your origin you are one,
and on the day of truth
you are to make yourselves one again.
Pacal Votan 603 - 683 AD
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
100% of royalties will be donated to fund scholarships to
vocational schools for kids from the slums of New Delhi.
SEATTLE, WA (MAY 20, 2010) -- Bestselling author Rita Golden Gelman
launches Female Nomad and Friends: Tales of Breaking Free and
Breaking Bread Around the World (A Three Rivers Press Original),
June 1, 2010, in Seattle. Forty-one authors tell their stories of adventuring
around the world; all but two of them are women.
To celebrate the anthology and the special bonding that happens when
people share a meal and a book, Rita is hosting a 24-hour global dinner,
Connecting through Food, on Friday, June 18th. She hopes you'll join her
by giving a dinner in your home.
The Anthology/Cookbook is the sequel to Tales of a Female Nomad:
Living at Large in the World (Crown Publishers, 2001) which tells the
story of Rita selling her possessions and becoming a nomad, living in mud
huts, in royal palaces, and on magical islands. She's been a nomad for 23
years. Her story captivates readers; the book is still going strong.
Ignoring a warning from her publisher, Rita included her e-mail address.
The last line is: "I can't wait to hear from you". She was flooded with e-mails
from readers worldwide who offered guest rooms, couches, meals and their
own stories of connecting around the world. Many of those stories and more
of Rita's adventures are collected in Female Nomad and Friends, which
includes 59 amazing tales and more than 30 fabulous international recipes.
"We're encouraging people around the world to invite friends to buy the book,
cook the recipes, and share a meal at our Global Dinner Party Connecting
through Food," said Gelman. "In hundreds of homes, guests will be talking to
us about the stories and discussing the anthology as well as the food. We'll
post your videos, pictures, and comments on Facebook. Please join us."
Global Dinner Party
To learn more about how you can be a part of the 24-hour dinner, go to
http://www.facebook.com/femalenomad. Rita will be posting recipes,
suggesting others, and also proposing topics for discussion.
For an advance peek into Female Nomad and Friends, read the
first chapter here.
About the author: http://www.ritagoldengelman.com
Rita Golden Gelman is the author of Tales of a Female Nomad and more
than seventy children's books, including More Spaghetti, I Say!, a staple in
every first-grade classroom. As a nomad, Rita has no permanent address.
She is currently involved in an initiative called Let's Get Global (a project of U.S.
Servas, Inc.), a national movement designed to bring the gap |year to the United
States. Learn more at: http://letsgetglobal.org/.
Female Nomad and Friends
By Rita Golden Gelman
A Three Rivers Press Original | On Sale: June 1, 2010
RITA GOLDEN GELMAN
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Robyn: Thanks, Dee.
Dee: Hi Robyn, I loved your book, Black Baron and my boys did too. We are so pleased to be here today to find out how you wrote it. Could you start by giving us a brief summary of what the book is about?
Robyn: Hi Dee. Thank you for including me in your Tuesday Writing Tips blog tour. I'm pleased to have you here. And thank you for your kind words about Black Baron. I'm glad you and your boys loved it. I decided I wouldn't re-invent the wheel and create a new summary. So here is the blurb from the Walker Books Australia website: "Black Baron, Jake's champion racing cockroach, hasn't lost a race and Jake is on top of the world. But then his mum decides to clean up his bedroom and discovers Black Baron in a shoebox under Jake’s bed. Mum is aghast -- how could Jake keep such a filthy pest? But Black Baron escapes and Jake's Mum calls the pest exterminator and a humorous slapstick tale ensues."
Dee: I understand that Black Baron was longer than any previous book you had written. Did you find that daunting when you started writing it – knowing it had to be a lot longer?
Robyn: I'd been writing short texts for school readers. When I started Black Baron, the longest story I'd written in recent years was probably around 1,200 words. I didn't think about it at the time. I knew Black Baron was going to be a novel and that the manuscript had to be longer than my recent works. I hadn't written a novel greater than 4,500 words at this point and not for several years. I can't say that I was daunted because I didn't know that I was going to find the task difficult or challenging. But when I started writing Black Baron, I discovered that years of writing short texts for school readers had taught me to write concisely. That is good, of course. But one can write too concisely. I realised that I left out a lot of information, like action and setting. In a way, I wrote skeletons and this skeleton, Black Baron, needed fleshing out.
Dee: Why did Black Baron have to be longer?
Robyn: The simple answer is to fit the market, so I had a chance of Black Baron being published by a trade publisher. There is a limited market for stories less than 1,200 words, which I was used to writing. Black Baron had to be novel-length, or at least somewhere in the vicinity. Several publishers had told me that they didn't publish children's books under 15,000 words - 15,000 was their minimum, though they preferred upwards of 20,000. These publishers publish shorter books now but that was what I was told several years ago. I guess I was ready for the challenge, too, to write a longer work and broaden my horizons.
Dee: Did you plot it all out and the book came out to be the ‘right’ length or did you have to add things along the way?
Robyn: I did a plot outline for Black Baron. I don't like to start writing unless I know the ending to a story. I feel as if I need something to aim for, or else I might get lost on the way and never reach the end. I hated cockroaches and thought of them as "stinking, rotten cockroaches", rather like Jake's parents feel in the book. As far as I was concerned Black Baron was going to die. But as I wrote the story, I fell in love with Black Baron. He's my character, after all, and I brought him to life, and pretty soon he had a place in my heart. Needless to say, I decided on a new ending to my story. Long live the champ! The story was too short, nowhere near the right length. As I mentioned above, I realised that I wrote too concisely and left information out, about the characters, the action and the setting. I had to keep going back and inserting that extra information. I needed to add muscles and flesh to the skeleton's bones. I probably ended up going through the manuscript four or five times (at least!), adding more and more layers. That's the way I feel about Black Baron, as if I wrote it in layers. All of my previous books, the school readers, were illustrated so the pictures told a lot of the story and they were also limited in terms of characterisation, action and setting. Black Baron needed more to be explained or experienced through the text.
Dee: When you added layers to your story, did this involve developing characters, adding more description or creating more action? Or a combination of all three? Can you tell us how you did it?
Robyn: It involved all three. In the school readers, I'd been writing in recent years, I didn't need any characterisation at all. No details about the characters or their relationships. So I had to focus on the extra bits that would make Jake, his parents and Black Baron seem real. I also had to add more thoughts and feelings from Jake, my point of view main character. I had to work on adding more description and action, but only what seemed necessary. Each time I went through the manuscript, at least four or five times (maybe more), I added more to make the story seem realistic and believable. I thought about the descriptions, settings and action. Initially, I'd left a lot out and could expand on these areas. And I should also mention that I initially wrote Black Baron in third person point of view. I changed the manuscript to first person, to see what would happen. I managed to connect with Jake, as if I was him. In fact, I probably became Jake because I was writing from the "I" point of view. Black Baron helped me learn how to "show, don't tell". I often suggest to people who are having trouble with "show, don't tell" to write from the "I" point of view and pretend that they are the main character. You're not a writer, you're the main character. That way, it's easier to "show" everything from the main character's point of view by imagining you're that character and including what you can see, hear, think and feel.
Dee: Did you have to go back and re-plot parts of the story to make it longer?
Robyn: As I mentioned above, I went back and re-plotted the ending, after falling in love with my character Black Baron. I also had to add extra scenes or events to the story. I guess it's a bit like going straight from A to E. I can go straight there, A to E, or I can include B, C, and D on the way. I hope that makes sense. My first draft of Black Baron involved the plot I wanted to write. Start to finish, getting there as easily and as simply - or concisely - as possible. But the manuscript was too short, around 4,000 to 5,000 words. Knowing I needed to make it longer, I returned to the manuscript and thought about the existing scenes. Then I thought about what these existing scenes meant in regards to cause and effect. You know the idea of cause and effect - one event causes something to happen which causes something to happen and so forth. What else could happen? I realised that there were more opportunities with the story. I didn't have to get to the end so quickly. I could enjoy the journey on the way, draw it out, as long as everything seemed to be in the story because of cause and effect. Plus, I was now Jake, the main character, and not a writer. I could imagine what "I" did and how "I" reacted, thus making it easier to create new cause and effort scenes.
Dee: So, Robyn, can you give us a tip for fellow writers who are trying to increase their word count to meet a publisher or competition requirement?
Robyn: Please visit Dee White's blog - http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com - for my final answer and tip of the day.
For more information about Black Baron, please check out:
And for more of Dee White's Tuesday Writing Tips Blog Tour, here are the dates:
2nd February 2010
Claire Saxby’s blog
Writing Picture Books - Leaving room for the illustrator.
9th February 2010
Dee White’s blog
Reviewing ‘There Was an Old Sailor’ - Reviewing vs Editing skills.
16th February 2010
Sandy Fussell’s blog
Writers Need to be avid free range readers
23rd February 2010
Robyn Opie’s blog
How to make your story longer – adding layers
2nd March 2010
Angela Sunde’s blog
More about Point of View – head hopping
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Welcome to Writing Children's Books with Robyn Opie. Today, Claire Saxby has come back to visit us as part of her new blog tour. Yes, Claire has another picture book, which was released this month. Congratulations, Claire!
Today, Claire is talking to us about There Was an Old Sailor and how she went from idea to book. Sound easy? Let's hear what Claire has to say about that.
Welcome Claire - and over to you.
From Idea to Book – ‘There Was an Old Sailor’
I was sitting watching my son and his circus classmates do their warm-ups when my friend and her daughter arrived. Her daughter stripped off her shoes and socks and joined the others on the mat. My storyteller friend dropped into the chair near me and said ‘I wish someone would write a fishy rhyme…you know…like “There Was an Old Lady”.’ She was just back from a storytelling session and bemoaned the fact that there was no nautical cumulative rhyme in this Year of the Ocean. ‘And everyone wants fishy tales,’ she said.
‘I’m game,’ I said. ‘I’ll give it a go.’
And so the idea for ‘There Was an Old Sailor’ was born.
Easy, I thought. Hah! I should know better. Less words generally means more difficult, when it comes to picture books. Certainly has for me anyway. My first picture book, Ebi’s Boat’ has 198 words.
And when you consider that when you are modeling on an existing rhyme, you can’t fudge any of the lines or play with the structure, it’s a bit like dancing with an octopus in a shower…dangly bits everywhere!
Where to start? Well that at least seemed obvious. The animals. So I built a list of eight sea animals. Krill and whale were my bookends. Made sense, although I worried a little about children not knowing what krill were. The other six animals changed a few times as I played with the rhymes. Most had to be single syllable, so jellyfish became jelly, stingray became ray (more accurate terms any way I discovered).
I shared progress with my storyteller friend and her enthusiasm kept me buoyant when the rhymes wouldn’t come and it all seemed futile. Eventually the story was done and I sent it off to publishers.
No response. Well, yes, there were responses, but nothing to tell me why they didn’t want it. That’s just the way it is, often. So after a few submissions, I was again despondent. Then my storyteller friend arrived with a present for me…a bollard sailor with a wide open mouth. She’d been taking my story into classrooms and kindergartens and they loved it. So her husband had made two sailors, one for her, one for me. We searched shops for the fishy creatures to perform the rhyme. Some were easy…fish are everywhere. But krill? Hmm not so easy. Eventually we found a fishing supply store who gave us shrimp/krill looking lures, complete with hook and sinker. Children love the Old Sailor and love helping to feed him.
Around that time I was asked to do a writing workshop for upper primary children and developed one around the Old Sailor. It was and continues to be a fun and successful workshop. I began to think that perhaps that was the Old Sailor’s destiny, rather than to be a book.
But then I sent out the manuscript once more. Walker Books accepted it and Cassandra Allen agreed to illustrate it. On Feb 1 2010, There Was an Old Sailor hit the bookshops. Magic. Just magic. It only took eight years.
Thanks for hosting me, Robyn.
Thanks for visiting, Claire, and sharing your experiences.
To find out more about There Was an Old Sailor by Claire Saxby, please visit Walker Books Australian web site: http://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/There-Was-an-Old-Sailor-9781921150715
Dates for Claire Saxby's Blog Tour
Monday 8 February: Sally Murphy's Writing for Children
Tues 9 February: Dee White's Tuesday Writing Tips
Wed 10 February: Dale Harcombe's Read and Write with Dale
Thurs 11 February: Robyn Opie's Writing Children's books
Fri 12 February: Lorraine Marwood's Words into Writing
Sat 13 February: Mabel Kaplan's Tales I Tell
Sun 14 February: Sandy Fussell's Stories are Light
Thursday, February 4, 2010
There Was an Old Sailor
Claire Saxby's Blog Tour
Monday 8 February: Sally Murphy's Writing for Children
Tues 9 February: Dee White's Tuesday Writing Tips
Wed 10 February: Dale Harcombe's Read and Write with Dale
Thurs 11 February: Robyn Opie's Writing Children's books
Fri 12 February: Lorraine Marwood's Words into Writing
Sat 13 February: Mabel Kaplan's Tales I Tell
Sun 14 February: Sandy Fussell's Stories are Light
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a wonderful Christmas and New Year period. It’s great to be back into writing again with the holidays over. I’m looking forward to a productive writing year and I trust that you are too.
Please enjoy the following article on ‘Show, Don’t Tell’. It’s an important technique for writers to understand, as I know I’ve said so many times before.
Why do we “Show, Don’t Tell” in our writing?
Last year, I was a judge involved in the PM Moon Publishers’ first annual writing contest. It was a great experience and I thoroughly enjoyed participating. Over a period of several months, I was asked to read numerous entries, all children’s stories of one sort or another, as PM Moon Publishers specializes in children’s and Young Adult fiction. There were some great stories amongst the entries that really stood out. They were different styles, genres and aimed at different age groups but they all had one thing in common. The authors knew how to “show, don’t tell”.
The first entry I read I had trouble putting down. I wanted to keep reading into the night and early hours of the morning. I couldn’t, of course, because a person needs to sleep. Nevertheless, I wanted to stay up until I’d finished the story. And when I did finish, a day or two later, I wanted to read the next installment. The entry was the first in a series, and I was ready for more. I needed more. My reactions were good signs and clearly the other judges had similar reactions because this entry went on to win the Grand Prize.
A few entries later, I sat in my lounge room reading a Young Adult story. Again, I wanted to read until I’d finished the story. I didn’t want to stop and, I’m not too proud to admit, this entry made me cry. It was an emotional journey I thoroughly enjoyed. The other judges must have had similar experiences because this entry won First Prize.
The entries that won Second Prize and Honorable Mention were also favorites of mine. In fact, the judges didn’t have much trouble agreeing on the top four entries. Our easy agreement was further proof that “show, don’t tell” is the key to winning contests and the hearts of readers.
If you want more proof, the entries I – and the other judges - enjoyed the least also had one thing in common. They were all “telling” and, too often, from the point of view of an adult narrator. Um, these are children’s stories. Why is an adult telling them?
Of course, I’m a big fan of “show, don’t tell”. I run a master-class on “show, don’t tell” and I also wrote an e-book on “show, don’t tell”. Still, I was pleased to have my thoughts validated by the contest. The winning entries were all “shown” from the main character’s point of view. The entries none of us considered as winners were all “told” and, too often, from the point of view of an adult narrator.
Why is “showing” from the main character’s point of view so important? Why are the best stories “shown and not told”?
The answers to these questions are easy if you look at my reactions to the winning entries in PM Moon Publishers’ first annual writing contest.
When a writer “shows” a story from the main character’s point of view, the story can be hard to put down. Readers experience the story, as if they are the main character, as if the story is happening to them. We see, hear, think and feel everything the main character does. Everything is “shown” to us so we can see, hear, think and feel everything.
The scenes in a book are like those in a movie, except we use the writer’s words to create the scenes in our minds through our imaginations. Therefore, our imaginations are engaged. We’re asked to participate because we’re not “told” things, we’re “shown” them and we have to use our imaginations to work out what is going on. “Showing” asks us to participate by using our imaginations and coming to our own conclusions about the writer’s words. We’re not being “told” by the writer. We’re being “shown” what is going on and we have to interpret the meaning ourselves.
Doesn’t this sound like real life? In real life, we see and hear scenes, and we have to interpret them ourselves. Most of us don’t have a narrator who “tells” us what is going on in our day to day lives.
When we interpret information ourselves, we bring our own experiences and personalities to a story. We add to the story and make it our own. We personalize it. We know how we’d feel in similar situations and we bring these thoughts and feelings to the story. Through this participation, we’re drawn or pulled into the story.
The most important thing that “showing” does is to make us care. Why do we care? Because we’re involved, we’re participating. When we’re involved and participating, then it matters to us. It makes a difference.
“Telling”, on the other hand, does not engage the imagination. We’re told something – a statement of fact – a foregone conclusion. We cannot see, hear, feel or think about the words. We cannot add to them. The writer has “told” us something. The writer has made the decision for us. There is no interpretation. No argument. No participation for readers. We’re kept outside the story, at a distance. And we have no choice but to accept what the writer says as gospel. But do we?
No. We like to make up our own minds. We like proof that we can understand. Why should we simply believe the writer?
Let’s look at an example: “He was scared”. Sorry, but this means nothing to me. So what? Who cares? I don’t feel anything. The word “scared” doesn’t make me scared. I can’t see, hear, think or feel anything. I’m not involved or participating. I can’t bring my own experiences and personality to these three words. I can’t relate. Besides, how do I know he was scared? What proof do I have? Am I supposed to just accept this?
Now, if I show this scene: “His heart raced, pounding against his chest, too loud when he was trying not to make a sound. It was important that he didn’t make a sound. The killer might hear him! He had to get away, he decided. But how? He looked around. God, he was hot, his skin clammy. If the killer didn’t kill him, his own body might, he realized. He had to calm down. His instincts told him to take a few deep breaths. But the killer might hear him, he reminded himself."
The above scene was off the top of my head, so please forgive me if it’s not my best writing. The point is that this “showing” scene involves readers. It gives readers a chance to interpret the words, to come to their own conclusions and, most importantly, to put themselves in the main character’s shoes. We can imagine how we’d feel in this situation. We can imagine what we’d do. We can experience the fear without being there, without being in danger. We can live vicariously through the character – and we do. We also believe in this fictional world. We have reasons to believe in the main character’s fear. We have proof! His physical and emotional reactions are proof. There’s no doubt that we’d feel similarly if in his position.
But “he was scared” doesn’t cut it. We can’t imagine it. For one thing, there isn’t enough information for us to engage our imaginations. “Scared” doesn’t mean much to us. But the emotions, thoughts and physical reactions of fear do. We’ve all experienced them at one time or another.
As a writer, one of your main purposes – if not the main one – is to elicit emotions in your readers. If you don’t, how can you expect your readers to care? Why should they keep reading your story or book? To elicit emotions, you need to engage your readers’ imaginations and therefore, their emotions. Just saying “he was scared” is not enough, not by a long shot.
So when you write, “show” your readers the emotions, the thoughts and the physical reactions. Let your readers experience them, too. Think about why we read – for escapism. And let your readers escape into your stories. “Show, don’t tell”.
Learn the principles of “show, don’t tell” and you, too, can win contests and the hearts of your readers.
For further information on my “show, don’t tell” masterclass or my e-book, please visit my website: www.robynopie.com/showdonttellstudypack.html
Robyn Opie is the author of more than 80 published children's books. She has been writing for children for over 10 years; most of her books are sold around the world and many have been translated into foreign languages. Robyn also writes for film and her family feature film, co-written with partner Rob Parnell, is in development with a US producer and director. To find out more about Robyn, her books and how to write for children, please visit her website: http://www.robynopie.com/