Archive for the ‘writing tips’ Category

Whenever, I’m going to begin a new story, I always start with a head full of ideas…and a big piece of blank paper.

I ask myself a lot of questions – the two main ones being:

  1. What’s going to happen in my story?
  2. Who do I want to tell my story?


This is the plotting part – this is where I sit down and try to free my mind and just write down random ideas that come into my head. I don’t rearrange them into the story order until later – and some of the original ideas won’t get used at all.

Sometimes I even change what happens in my story as I go. Sometimes, the character decides they want to go in a completely different direction. In fact, the more I think about who the main character really is – and what motivates them – the more the plot for my story develops.

When I’m thinking about the plot for my story, I think about:

  1. What is going to happen?
  2. How is it going to happen?
  3. Why is it going to happen?
  4. When is it going to happen?
  5. Where is it going to happen?
  6. WHO is it going to happen to?


This isn’t as simple as it sounds. I am the writer, and yes…I am the one writing down the story…but whose eyes will I tell it through? Whose point of view shall I tell the story from?

If I tell it in first person point of view (using ‘I’); then I will probably have the main character tell my story. This way of telling a story lets me write what is going on in my main character’s head.

For example: I don’t do furry pets and family holidays – probably comes from growing up without a mum. (From ‘Letters to Leonardo’ published by Walker Books 2009).

I could tell it from third person point of view where someone narrates what is happening to my main character, and this lets me describe more how things look etc.

For example: Matt wasn’t into furry pets and family holidays. There had always just been him and Dad, and they never went anywhere.

If I want to tell it from more than one person’s point of view, I can do this is third person omniscient where I hop from one character’s head to another. This can be a great way of adding lots of different perspectives to the story, but it can get confusing if you hop around too much.

For example: Matt had never been on a family holiday. Dad worked every weekend so they never got to go anywhere. Troy’s family went away all the time. Troy wondered how Matt coped with the boredom.

Don’t be afraid to change to a different point of view if the first one you tried doesn’t seem to be working. And don’t worry about scribbling all over the blank paper in writing that your mother couldn’t read. It’s important to get your ideas down so they don’t become a mish mash in your head. Then you can decide the order later.

The most important thing with starting a story is to ‘Start It’. Don’t put it off any longer. If you want to be a writer…you have to write, write and write some more.

Happy writing:-)



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hatelistauthorUS author Jennifer Brown was one of the fabulous hosts of my Letters to Leonardo blog tour back in July.

So I’m thrilled to welcome her today to talk about how she wrote her gripping new YA novel, Hate List.

So, Jen, what is Hate List about?

Five months ago, Valerie Leftman’s boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria.  Shot trying to stop him, Valerie inadvertently saves the life of a classmate, but is implicated in the shootings because of the list she helped create.  A list of people and things they hated.  The list her boyfriend used to pick his targets.

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year.  Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, former friends and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

hate list full coverWow, what a gripping plot line.  Jen, Can you tell us more about how you wrote this amazing books – any tips ?

Research is important

Because Hate List was about the emotional journey of my character more than anything else, I focused most of my research and attention on that. I sent Valerie to therapy — literally I had a psychologist “do therapy” on her — and I analyzed every possible emotion and emotional reaction to its very core. Much of this I did before writing the story at all.

Most of Hate List was written in the wee hours of the morning. It was the best time for me to come at it with a clear head (the day hasn’t yet had a chance to muddle it up!) and get a couple solid hours of writing in before my little monsters woke up. I always start the day by reviewing what I’ve written the day before, just to get me into the flow of writing again, and then off I go!

Are you a major plotter or do you just sit down and write?

You have to do what works for you. I’m not a plotter or an outliner or synopsizer. I like to dive in and write; let the story take care of itself. Of course, that can mean a plot that gets a little wild in places, and my editor certainly worked with me to take out some subplots that threatened to “take over” the main plot. In the end, there were whole characters deleted and whole chapters completely changed. But, truthfully, this is the way I prefer to work. I bristle much less at having to delete and rewrite than at having to outline.

I found it very fortunate, while writing Hate List, that I also write a weekly humor column. The emotions in Hate List run very deep and threatened to take a lot out of me emotionally. Switching to lighter themes and emotions every week for a few hours helped tremendously. Also, during the time I was writing and revising Hate List, I would jot out humorous/lighter pieces of short fiction just for my own pleasure and, again, to lighten myself up a little. I came away with a few short stories that I’m planning to pursue as novel-length work, which means not only did they help my spirits, but they could end up being something really interesting in the long run!

“Hate List” is an amazing book, and it sounds like you’ve gone through an extraordinary process to get to this point.

Thanks for dropping in to chat to us about your how you write, Jen.


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clairepicWelcome Claire Saxby, who is visiting us as part of a blog tour for her fabulous new picture book “Sheep, Goat and The Creaking Gate”. 
Names are so important in books and Claire is going to talk to us about how she comes up with names for her stories and the characters in them.
1. How did you choose the name Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate?

I tried on all sorts of names before settling on this one. I’d tried different names on the characters too but none were quite right. Sheep and goats generally exist in quiet anonymity in their paddocks and I decided that fitted this story too.

2. Why are book names so important?

 Names are the entry gate to the story, the point at which the reader engages, decides whether or not they will go further. They need to tease, to entice.

3. Have you ever written a book that you just couldn’t think of a name for?

I don’t think so, I can’t think of a finished story that lacks a name. Sometimes drafts will have a working title only but generally the name comes fairly early in the drafting process. Having the right title helps me to focus on what the story is really about.

4. How many names do you generally come up with before you settle on one?

Sometimes if I’m very lucky, the first name is the one that sticks.  But more often, I will have to work my way through a number of titles before finding the one that fits best.

5. Do you ask other people’s opinions on book names?

I don’t usually ask other people’s opinions on names, although I do share drafts of stories with trusted readers. Occasionally I’ll run the final two title options past someone I trust. Usually though, I’ll keep my own counsel on choosing the title…it’s almost as if getting the title right is a sign I’ve done the work required. If I can’t find one, it’s often a sign I’ve not done enough work on the story.

6. Has a publisher ever asked you to change the name of your book?

Yes, and it was a difficult challenge to find an alternative. In the end, I had to change the name of the main character too, to make the title fit. I worried and worried at it until one night out for dinner with friends, the name of the character jumped into my head…and then the title was easy.

7. What is your favourite name for a book you have written?

Ooh, that’s a hard one! I really liked ‘Barking Barnacles’, title for a story that made it as far as final proofs before the company failed.

‘Rumblecat’ is another favourite, although that story has been redrafted and rewritten and thrown across the room and more so often that I should hate it. I still reckon it will one day find its place.

I also liked Alarming Lucy because the title did double duty…it explained the slightly skewed smile on a teddy bear’s face, but also hinted at the story solution.

8. Do you find it hardest to name your books or your characters?

Hmm. That’s like asking if it’s hard to name your children when you’ve just met them, or if it would be easier once you’ve had aeons to get to know them. Names of characters sometimes fit perfectly first go, but sometimes I’ll try a few before finding the right name for the character. Story names sometimes arrive fully formed, but if they don’t choosing them is a more concious process somehow. I’ll brainstorm them, writing down ideas, phrases, words, until the right one appears.

9. Where do you get the names for your characters from?

All over the place. I used to use made up names, like ‘Ebi’ from ‘Ebi’s Boat’ and ‘Kora’ from ‘A Nest for Kora’, because I didn’t want the reader to come to the story with any preconceived notions of the character. ‘Sheep’ and ‘Goat’ were chosen for much the same reason. I use name books and name lists online, newspapers and television. If I’m writing a realistic chapter book or longer, I’ll search lists of names popular for their times. Although sometimes I’ll choose a name NOT popular if it’s relevant that my character not belong or fit in.

10. Does the character’s name have to mean something in the story or do you just choose it because you like it? Can you give examples from your books?

Sometimes I’ll choose names that have meanings that reflect a behaviour trait I want to see in my character. Other times it may be as simple as liking the sound of a name. Recently, there was a girl in a class called Persia. She was long and lean and moved with the loose grace of a cat. I thought it was a great name and am using it in a story. Kora worked for me because when you say it out loud, it sounds like one of the noises a hen makes, and Kora is a hen!

11. Have you ever named a character and thought, ‘no that name just doesn’t suit’?

Yes, that happens all the time. The first name is chosen before I really knew the character, and as the character develops its clear the name is wrong, wrong, wrong!

12. From your books, what is your favourite character name? Why?

My favourite name? Hmm. Probably Rowdy, the dog character from ‘Runaround Rowdy’. It was the name of the real dog on which the story is based. Rowdy to me says noisy-but-nice, which describes Rowdy perfectly.

Rowdy was a beautiful Kelpie but he didn’t do things quite the way he should. He had his own way of doing things. Not stubborn, just different.

ThanSheep+Goat book coverks for coming to see us Claire and giving us valuable insights into how you name your books and your characters.

If you want to catch up with the rest of Claire’s blog tour, here’s where she has been/is going:


Monday 17August: Dee White https://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com (that’s here!)

Tuesday 18 August: Rebecca Newman www.soupblog.wordpress.com

Wednesday 19 August: Mabel Kaplan: http://belka37.blogspot.com

Thursday 20 August:  Sandy Fussell: http://www.sandyfussell.blogspot.com

Friday 21 August Dale: Harcombe http://orangedale.livejournal.com/

Saturday 22 August:  Sally Murphy http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com

Sunday 23 August:  Robyn Opie http://robynopie.blogspot.com 

Monday 24 August:  Sally Odgers: http://spinningearls.blogspot.com

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Sheep+Goat book cover

Can’t wait for tomorrow when my good friend and fellow author, Claire Saxby drops in to talk about her wonderful new picture book, Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate.

Claire is going to give us some great tips on how she comes up with names for her characters and her books.

Drop in and say, ‘Hi’.


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star jumps cover 1239062684026To celebrate the release this week of her beautiful new verse novel, “Star Jumps” (It comes out today in fact), Lorraine Marwood has dropped in to give us some writing tips.

As a former judge of the Dorothea MacKellar Poetry Awards, can you tell us a bit about what the experience meant to you as a poet?

It meant enjoying the poetry of many age groups, some around a theme, some a class writing activity, some an individual experience recorded in poetry. I could read what was important to children, I could see what skills they were developing and this was across the schools of Australia and from early years to secondary years. The website still contains reports from Claire Saxby and my experience as judges- always good to read.

Do you have any tips for writers wishing to enter their poetry in awards/competitions?

Try and steer clear of clichés, of what everyone else is writing, that individual simile or line will stop the judge and refresh her eyes and poetic soul. In short it will stand out from other poets, because you have used specific details or created a sensory memory, or given emotion in the poem.

Did you write poetry as a child? Was any of it published? Can you give us an example of one of the poems you wrote as a child?

Writing was something I knew I had to do at age 9 or 10. Poetry did not even enter my head! I wrote poetic prose, that was until I was a teenager, then angst poetry slipped in. I was beginning to be published in small literary magazines before I was married.(21) Here’s a poem I tried for children when I was 20… is that still a child???


Spider, spider spinning in the air

reaching, sliding

on an invisible stair.


One leg steady as a ship’s rudder

the other’s grasping , clinging

like teats in a cow’s udder!!!!

Lorraine, what are the elements of a good poem?

It has something to say which is universal and will resonate with the reader. It has to have a fresh perspective, a new angle, the layering of specific details, sensory impact and the sigh factor at the end of the poem…Ah!

Thanks for dropping in Lorraine. To find out more about Lorraine and her work, vist www.lorrainemarwood.com

For a review of Lorraine’s gorgeous new verse novel, “Star Jumps”, go to http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

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The Goanna Island Mystery cover edited

Dale Harcombe, author of The Goanna Island Mystery has dropped in for a chat about how she wrote the book – and she has some tips on how she writes.

The Goanna Island Mystery is a great read for those who enjoy suspense and interesting characters.

I asked Dale some questions on how she wrote this book.

Welcome Dale.

1.    Have you ever wanted to be a pirate?

No, I can’t say I ever wanted to be a pirate. I did grow up watching movies like Errol Flynn as Captain Blood and similar type movies. My mum was a big Errol Flynn fan.

2.    Is any part of the story based on something that really happened?

I once was taken by a friend to an island in Sydney Harbour that had a house with a room that we could see from outside, but when we got inside the house we couldn’t find the way into the room. Mind you, that was about 40 years ago! But when I started to think about this story I knew that house with the secret room would figure somehow. It had been just waiting for the right time.

3.    Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one?

No, my attitude is like that of Leo.I don’t believe in ghosts. At least I don’t think I do.I’ve never had to test it out. I do believe there are evil spirits. Maybe they masquerade as ghosts?

4.    Do you know anyone who collects heads?

No, I know no-one who collects heads but my daughter once made a sculpture of a head.

5.    What elements do you think make a good scary story?

A mystery, a surprise that takes the story in a bit different direction, and tension. Humour is good too  you can do it, I’m not sure I can.

6.    How did you come up with the idea for the story? Do you think it’s important to plot your story first – or to start writing and see where it takes you?

I started with the island and a child that couldn’t swim. Then suddenly the secret room appeared in my mind and most kids always like the idea of pirates and of ghosts. So combining them seemed an interesting idea. It was one of those things that just came together without plotting beforehand.- something I don’t do. I follow the character and the story and see where it takes me.

7.    Did you have the ending worked out before you started writing?

No I never have an ending worked out when I start for the above reason. If I knew the ending I wouldn’t want to bother writing it. I write to see how it will end.

8.    What parts of the plot do you think help build the tension in the story?

 The dare thrown out to Leo of going over to the island, the fact he couldn’t swim to get off the island but had to spend the night, the secret room, the rumours of a pirate ghost, the table covered with heads, the face staring back at him

9.    Is there an island that is special to you?

Only the island we live on. I think Australia is the most amazing country and I’m glad I was born here and would never want to live anywhere else. 

 Thanks for visiting Dale. Hope you’ll call in again.
If you want to find out more about Dale and her book, The Goanna Island Mystery, make sure you drop into the other great blogs she’ll be visiting on her tour.
Monday 25th May – https://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com (that’s here!)
Tuesday 26th May
Wednesday 27th May
Thursday 28th May
Friday 29th May

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Nicholas White is an award winning ten-year-old writer who writes because he enjoys it. He is currently working on a humorous fantasy trilogy with a very unlikely hero.

 He asked me some interesting questions about the way I write.

 family-tree1Nicholas:      Where do you get your ideas from?


Dee:             I get my ideas from everywhere. I keep a notebook next to my bed, and in my handbag and…..wherever I might need to write down an idea so I don’t forget it. Ideas can come from songs, words, people, animals, television – EVERYWHERE.


A lot of my ideas come from newspaper articles. I read one about a man who came home and found an elephant stuck in his driveway, and that became the plot for my story, ‘Elephant Trouble’.


My novel ‘Letters to Leonardo’, that’s coming out in July is based on a mixture of someone I know, and a true story that someone told me. If you want to be a writer you have to keep your eyes, ears and even your nose open.


Nicholas:      How do you write to a certain length? How do you make sure your story is not too short and not too long?


Dee:             I’ve found the trick here is to plan it out first. If I just start writing, and keep going until I stop, the story always ends up being the wrong length. I have to work out my beginning and my end before I start. The middle bits seem to happen as I write.


Then I go back and rewrite and rewrite, until I get it ‘right’! If I know how long the story has to be (for a competition for example) I go back and cut out words or add them to make it fit.


Nicholas:      Why did you start writing?


Dee:   One day a poem popped into my head, and my teacher liked it so much she got me to read it out at assembly. That was fun! I’ve been writing ever since. And I still think it’s fun.


Nicholas:      How do you find time to write?


Dee:   Every week, I plan when my writing days are going to be. That’s the only way I get anything done. Otherwise I’d get distracted playing with my pets, working in the garden or visiting my friends – and then I’d never get anything finished in time.


If you’re busy with school and sports and things, it can be good to set aside one day each week after school and make THAT your writing day. If you stick to it, you’ll find you get a lot done.


Nicholas:                Do you prefer to write by hand or straight onto the computer?


I usually write straight onto the computer. But when I edit, I often do that by hand because I find it’s easier to find bits in the story that don’t make sense or are in the wrong place.


Thanks for dropping in Nicholas. I’ve enjoyed talking to you today. Hope you’ll come back and visit my blog and tell us how your big writing

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