Saturday, March 20, 2010

Words of Wisdom

I’ve just been to the Somerset Literature Festival. Three days of workshopping, networking and sitting in on author talks has left me inspired and exhausted. The Somerset Festival is a children’s literature festival held every March on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.
I thought in the spirit of sharing I would sum up the festival with some words of wisdom from the authors themselves. I hope you can take some inspiration from these also.

“When writing a narrative about something little kids don’t know, you need a way to share these ‘insights’. Use an animal or a teacher the main character refers to. Eg. “Mrs Martin would say…” – Nette Hilton.

“Don’t make your story too big. It makes it hard to keep the emotions personal.
In the beginning of your story take away your character’s country, friends, mum, dad and family. Then watch them struggle to get them all back.” – Melina Marchetta.

“To find good voices for your novels – eavesdrop. The best place to listen in on people’s conversations is IKEA on a Saturday morning – loads of good characters there.” – Anthony Eaton. (Tony didn’t say which IKEA he frequents, but watch out for him.)

“So much of history is cliché. Find the unique stories from the past and live the details, ie. Sounds, smells, tastes and sights.” – Jackie French.

“Many YA books now have dysfunctional characters and families. The final page really matters. Just what is your reader left with? - A feeling of empowerment or despair?” – Brian Caswell.

“Authors should show honest relationships and situations. Tell what it’s really like, brutal and all.” – James Moloney.

“Your character is not a single moment. They have a history, a back story. The emotions that made you who you are from the past are only just below the surface. So find out what’s below the surface for your character.” - James Roy.

“The core of comedy is about connection. If the jokes exclude people then the comedy doesn’t work. It must be inclusive. Comedy is about sharing, sometimes just between two people.” – Bruno Bouchet.

“Write the simple things well. Mention the small details in your story and readers will believe you. It validates the story.” – Markus Zusak.

“In order to research the ‘teenage voice’, travel on public transport around 3pm every day.” – James Moloney.

“Your villain has to be stronger, meaner and scarier than you think to hook your readers.” Belinda Murrell.

“Silence the gatekeeper to your imagination. When brainstorming, put every idea down, no matter how absurd.” – Brian Caswell.

“Alliteration is fundamental to the English language. We relate to alliteration in our reading, be it in picture books or news headlines.” – Bruno Bouchet.

“Ask your character: ‘What do you want?’ Then don’t give it to them until much later.” – James Roy.

“The best moments are the unexpected and the reactions to them.” – Markus Zusak.

“It’s about people – not the events. Get the characters right and everything else follows.” – Brian Caswell.

“The books you read feed into your own writing. Reading is the most important way to learn the craft.” – James Moloney.

I’ve been listening to audio books in the car lately. And surprisingly I am picking up more of the small details Markus Zusak mentioned. Today’s book was Sophie Laguna’sBird and Sugar Boy.’ Her characterisation is authentic and rich. The voice of Bird resonates for me and as a mother part of me wants to hug him. Sophie certainly has her characters ‘right’.

I’m working on mine and hopefully ‘everything else will follow.’

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Juggling Point of View

Have you ever had trouble with Point of View when reading a novel? Do you stumble when the author jumps from one character's thoughts to another's (head hopping)? Does it pull you out of the story and make you wish you were at the movies instead?

Recently my writing critique group were discussing how to best explain 'head hopping' to new writers and also how to handle Point of View in our own writing. Our characters might happily jump from scene to scene  like puppets on a string, but every now and then we unintentionally cross the threads of the story, tangling the whole plot and confusing our readers.

So to avoid twisting our characters in knots I have invited Dee White to my blog today to explain 'Point of View'. Dee is visiting here Under the Apple Tree as part of her Tuesday Writing Tips blog tour.

Hi Dee!
Grab a spot on the blanket in the shade. The coffee is ready. Some of our other visitors might want to have a cuppa with us too. Do you want cream with your apple pie?

Hi Angela, thanks for inviting me here today. No thanks, just the pie will be fine.

So Dee, tell us how you decide on the best point of view when writing your stories. Is it a matter of just choosing your main characters?

Angela, to know which point of view suits your story, you have to understand the options first. Here's an explanation:


First person point of view uses ‘I’ or ‘we’.

It allows the narrator to tell their own story. This point of view tends to be used where the story is concerned with the emotions of, and outcomes for a particular character. This is the POV I used in Letters to Leonardo because I wanted the reader to get close to Matt, my main character. But I varied the format; changing from narrative to letters and back again – using the letters to reveal more intimate things about Matt.

First person POV is limited in that it only allows the reader and the writer to see, hear, think and feel what the main character sees, hears, thinks and feels.

A way around this however, is to tell the story in first person from more than one character’s point of view.

Street Racer, the current YA novel I am working on is written in first person from the point of view of two characters, Rick and Kate. I have chosen very different voices and formats for each of them to tell their story. Angela, this is a way to ‘head hop’ even if you are writing in ‘first person’.

To avoid confusion, I change the point of view at the end of each section or chapter – this makes it very clear whose story is being told, and whose POV it’s being told from.

Yes, Dee. I enjoy reading first person Point of View.It makes me feel very close to the main character. But what about 3rd person? This is the Point of View I use the most in my writing. Do you have any advice on avoiding problems here?


Third person allows for more description and information. But it still enables you to tell a story from a single or multiple points of view.

Third Person Intimate or Limited

Third person intimate/limited is very much like first person. It limits you to only seeing, hearing, thinking, feeling and understanding one character, but you can find out additional things about them in the story.

For example,

Chris lay on the soft ground next to the goal post wondering how he would ever face the team again. If only he’d taken more time – if only he’d sunk the kick. Chris had played with the Roosters for the last three years and in all that time he’d never missed a goal. Now when it really mattered he hadn’t been able to handle the pressure. He’d let the team down, and Dad would be furious with him. He was the Rooster’s coach and had high expectations of his son.

Here we can see what is happening from Chris’s POV.

Third Person Omniscient

This is the point of view that allows you to head hop from one character to another. You, the writer, know everything about all the characters and can go in and out of their heads and report on their feelings and thoughts. It allows you to tell the reader things that none of the other character knows.

For example

Chris slumped on the soft ground next to the goal post wondering how he would ever face the team again. If only he’d taken more time – if only he’d sunk the kick. Chris had played with the Roosters for the last three years and in all that time he’d never missed a goal. Now when it really mattered he hadn’t been able to handle the pressure.

“You let the team down! You let me down!” Jeff Mason dragged his son up by the shoulder. He loved being coach of the Roosters, and he hated losing – especially when his own son was to blame. How could he have missed from that distance? “Come on we’re going home.” Jeff strode towards the waiting Mercedes, glancing behind every now and then to make sure Chris was following.

Neither of them saw the Rooster’s captain, Joel Anderson sneak up to the car and slash each tyre, one by one.

Here you can see what’s going on in Chris and Jeff’s head, and information is being revealed that they don’t know about.

The important thing about whichever point of view you are writing in is that it has to be consistent. You have to stay in that POV. You can’t change from first to third person mid stride.

If you are writing in third person omniscient, it’s possible to have more than one point of view in a scene, but you need to make sure that it flows from one POV to the other – and it’s not a good idea to change mid sentence.

If you stumble over the transition bits or they seem clunky then the reader will find this too. Changing POV mid-scene can also weaken the tension that you have gone to so much trouble to build.

If you are writing from one character’s POV then they can’t know what is going on inside another character’s head unless that character tells them. Just like you can’t know what’s really going on in someone else’s head unless they tell you.

Angela, I hope this clears up some of the ‘mystery’ around POV. Thanks for your question, and for inviting me to your blog.

Thanks Dee, it does. I guess it's like driving along behind another car. You know what you (your POV character) are seeing, thinking and feeling, but you can't know what is happening in the mind of the other driver (character). And your reader can't know either.

Dee, thanks so much! I really appreciate you calling in today to talk about Point of View. I've been enjoying your blog tour and just want to point out to visitors that you can see more of Dee's tour at the blogs and dates below:

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.

If you have any comments or questions for Dee or myself, please post them below. We'd love to hear from you!

Dee, do you have time for another slice before you go?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dee White, author of Letters to Leonardo

Dee White, author of Letters to Leonardo is visiting Under The Apple Tree tomorrow as part of her Tuesday Writing Tips blog tour. Call back to hear her advice on understanding Point of View.

See you all then!

Oh and I'm baking a pie, so make sure you have a cuppa ready. We'll be in the garden...