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.
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.
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.
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.