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MARCH FEATURE AUTHOR – ROBYN OPIE PARNELL

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Today I’m delighted to welcome good writerly friend and talented author, Robyn Opie Parnell to Kids’ Book Capers.

Robyn has just released her action packed new adventure, Maya and the Crystal Skill and she’s going to talk today about how she writes and give you a fun writing activity.

To Plot Map or Not to Plot Map?

Until 2011, all of my published books had word counts of less than 10,000 words. My latest novel, Maya and the Crystal Skull, is my first longer novel at approximately 40,000 words. Before I started, I knew it would be different to anything I’d previously written.

In 2007, I co-wrote my first screenplay, called Saving Christmas, with my husband Rob Parnell. I had to learn about writing screenplays, as opposed to writing my normal genre of children’s books.

As we all know, Hollywood is amazingly successful at creating movies people enjoy. I won’t say that there’s a formula to writing hit Hollywood movies but I can say that there are guidelines – like a road map or a plot map.

I decided to use Hollywood screenplay guidelines to write a novel. Why not? Why shouldn’t I try to emulate Hollywood’s success with a book?

I wrote a plot map for Maya and the Crystal Skull as if I was creating a Hollywood movie. I spent every morning for about a week working out the twists and turns of my story. I also determined the central question of my story and how the question would be answered by the end of the novel. Plus, I created development for my main character as she moved through the action.

My main character, Maya, starts off as an orphan, not literally but metaphorically. In Act Two, she becomes a wanderer and then a warrior. Finally, in Act Three, she becomes a martyr when she risks her life to save the day. Many Hollywood movies are written with the protagonist starting off as a metaphorical – or actual – orphan  (think Harry Potter), then becoming a wanderer, warrior and finally a martyr.

After a week, I had a four-page detailed plot map for Maya and the Crystal Skull. I knew every twist and turn of my story. I didn’t need to think about the obstacles, they were all there in my plot map.

I finished the first draft of Maya and the Crystal Skull in approximately 6 weeks or 45 days. I wrote approximately 1,000 words a day. I was able to do so because I had a plot map to follow. I felt as if I knew what was coming with every scene in my story.

I’m now a big fan of plot maps – Hollywood style. When it comes to writing, you need to find what works for you, and I wish you every success!

FREE WRITING ACTIVITY

Here is an activity to help you plot a story.

1.    Below is a list alternating with ‘yes’ and ‘no’. At each ‘yes’, the main character gets what he/she wants or moves closer to getting what he/she wants. At each ‘no’, something happens to stop the main character from getting what he/she wants.

A ‘yes’ moves the story forwards towards the happy ending. The ‘no’ is an obstacle which stalls the happy ending. The final ‘yes’ is a happy ending.

Let’s say your story idea is – Kellie wants a cat. Now you can create a plot map.

Yes – Kellie wants a cat.

No – Kellie is not getting her cat. Why?

Yes –

No –

Yes –

No –

Yes –

Yes – Kellie gets a cat.

2.    In 100 words or less, write about an adventure you would have with a crystal skull.

Robyn Opie Parnell

Thanks for telling us about how you write, Robyn.

Robyn’s great new book, Maya and the Crystal Skull is one of the prizes in our current writing competition closing 31st March.

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LIAN TANNER – THE HEART OF A STORY

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Today I’m pleased to welcome wonderful Australian author, Lian Tanner. Lian is the author of the very popular Keepers Trilogy and today she’s going to share some tips on how she puts her stories together.

HOW I WRITE

City of Lies, the second book in the Keepers trilogy, began with a little pottery tower made by a man called John Watson. I saw the tower in a shop, and it immediately gave me a shivery feeling, the one that tells me an idea is growing somewhere in the back of my mind. So I bought the tower and put it on my mantlepiece, and waited for the idea to make itself known.

It didn’t take long. A couple of days later I was struck by the thought that the tower looked like the sort of place where someone might be imprisoned – where children might be imprisoned.

And there was the heart of the story straight away; in this new book, Goldie, Toadspit and Bonnie, the children from the first Keepers book, Museum of Thieves, were going to be stolen by villains and imprisoned in a tower.

Of course, ideas change as you work on them, and by the time I had finished my outline and started writing, it was Toadspit and Bonnie who had been stolen, and Goldie was trying to rescue them. Not only that, but the tower had become a teetering five-storey house with bars on its windows and two men guarding it.

So how on earth was Goldie going to rescue her friends from this very well guarded house without being caught herself? I had no idea. So I did what I usually do when I’m stuck – a brainstorming session.
I took a huge bit of paper and some nice thick felt pens. I wrote the question across the top: ‘How does Goldie rescue her friends?’ Then I set a timer for ten minutes, and I started to throw ideas onto the paper, as quickly as I could. A lot of them were really silly, but I wrote them down anyway. I wrote down the good ones, the bad ones, the impossible ones, the absurd ones, the ‘maybe’ ones, scribbling like mad with my big felt pens. Sometimes I wrote extra notes, or drew circles and arrows, or put a big red exclamation mark next to one of them. But I didn’t stop and think. I didn’t slow down – I kept pouring out ideas right up until the timer went ping.

Then I stopped and looked at what I had written.

Some of the ideas made me laugh, they were so silly. Some of them were impossible. Others were possible, but not very interesting.

And right in the middle of them was one that was both possible and interesting. Really interesting. It involved a slaughterbird and a smoke bomb and … no, I won’t tell you any more. I’ll just say that when Goldie tried it, it worked beautifully.

FREE WRITING ACTIVITY

BRAINSTORMING
You can use brainstorming for practically anything. You can use it to get ideas as to what you want to write about. You can use it to find out more about one of your characters. Or you can use it – as I did – to answer a perplexing question.

WHAT YOU NEED
You’ll need big felt pens and a big sheet of paper to start – I like butchers’ paper or blank newsprint, because it gives me lots of room to be messy and to muck around. That’s what brainstorming is about – mucking around. Being serious and sensible is very useful for some things, but it’s no good for getting creative ideas. So when we brainstorm, we put our sensible brain to one side, and become playful.

WHAT TO DO

1.  Write your question across the top of the paper.

2.  Set a timer for five minutes.

3.  Take a deep breath and imagine that you are setting off on a mysterious, exciting voyage, and have no idea where you will end up …

4.  Now start the timer and scribble down the first idea that comes to mind, and the next, and the next. Don’t worry about whether they’re good ideas or not. Work as quickly as you can, without thinking too much. Write in lists or in sentences or in blobs or in big circles – it doesn’t matter. Be messy. Have fun. (Pretend you’re a little kid doing finger painting!) Don’t try and spell properly. Don’t worry if the ideas seem weird or silly or pathetic, just keep going until your time is up. Your aim is to get as many ideas as possible.

5.  When the timer goes off, sit back and look at what you have written. Eeek! What a mess!

6.  But now you switch your sensible brain back on and read it through. Probably there will be a lot of ideas that you don’t like, but in among them will hopefully be some useful ones, or some that excite you and make you want to go and write about them, or some that might be good for another story, but not this one.

The more you practise brainstorming, the better you will get at it. But always remember, have fun!

Museum of Thieves and City of Lies, the first two books in the Keepers trilogy, can be bought at http://www.booktopia.com.au/ Book 3, Path of Beasts, will be published in October 2012.

I love using Lian Tanner’s method of brainstorming. That’s how I start my stories too.

If you like writing fantasy stories like Lian, don’t forget to enter our current Free fantasy writing competition for kids and adults.

Happy writing:)

Dee 

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