Category Archives: Writing Advice

Characters

Sometimes, no matter what I do, a character will refuse to behave and do what I want them to do. It feels like they have taken on a life of their own. I know it’s because I’m trying to make them do something the character wouldn’t normally do, but the following is a little like what it feels like when characters become so well formed it seems like they have taken over a story.

 

Character: (folds arms across chest with a stubborn look) No.

Me: Who is the writer here? Now do as you’re told.

Character: No.

Me: Oh come on. Do this little thing for me. What can it matter?

Character: I’d never do anything like that.

Me: This is my story and that’s where I want it to go.

Character: Too bad.

Me: Please. Pretty please with cherries on top and sprinkles and chocolate and… hmm, I’m getting hungry. Are you hungry too?

Character: You won’t distract me that easily. The answer is still no.

Me: If this story doesn’t work it’s your fault.

Character: No it’s not. You need to write the story that suits me. Now stop trying to change me and write my story.

Me: (mutters under breath) Damn characters. Think they own the story. Always trying to tell me what to do.

Character: (with a slight smile) I do own this story. Isn’t it all about me?

Memory Black Market

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. For me they become so many more. I can rarely look at a picture without also seeing a story idea, which is why I have more ideas than I’ll ever be able to write in a lifetime. Most people would only see a bubble. When I look at this picture all kinds of ideas run through my head.

Memories are fragile. Can often be important. They can contain important information, knowledge and skills. What if some had the ability to collect them? Gather them into a sphere that others could use. This could be a quick way to learn new skills. But then that would also mean someone would lose a skill. There would be the desperate ones willing to sell memories to get what they need. Others close to death who want to bequeath memories to their children. And what about those who wanted a particular memory, no matter the cost.

The people those memories were stolen from, would they know something was missing? A memory that was stolen too quickly and without absolute care due to the fear of being caught. What other memories might also be stolen? Or might have been fragmented. And how could someone take back those memories they’d lost and who would help them?

It’s no wonder I have an endless supply of ideas when the simple image of a bubble can trigger yet one more.

Born Talented?

Avril. Five and a half months old.

Avril- five and a half months old.

I’m often told by people I’m lucky to be such a good writer and they could never write like me as I must have been born with that talent. They couldn’t be more wrong. The only talent I was born with was the ability to see stories everywhere and an imagination that ran wild and came up with the craziest of ideas. One thing I was lucky about was that my family didn’t try and stifle my imagination. At times they even encouraged it.

My early attempts at writing were truly atrocious. I had the ideas, but no way to convey them well. I saw ideas everywhere, including in my dreams. They were in clouds moving and reforming in the sky, in the sound of music and nature, in art and sceneries, in throwaway comments people made and poetry, in the shadows of the night and unidentifiable sounds. Waking or sleeping I had stories running through my mind. Nothing has changed. My head is still constantly filled with stories.

Like every other author I had to learn how to write well. I’ve never met or heard of an author born with the ability to write perfect stories. There’s always some kind of learning curve involved. Since I knew at an extremely young age that I wanted to be an author, I’ve had a lot of years to practice. I’ve kept most of my writing, only a couple of stories being lost over the years, and you can see the gradual improvement of my work.

Writing can be a lot of hard work, but it’s something I love. Something I couldn’t image ever giving up. I will stop breathing first. It’s different for every author. To me, writing is like being in a movie at the side of my characters. Feeling everything with them, experiencing their moments. But I’m not them and their feelings are not mine. I’m like both a parent worried for their child and a nemesis determined not to let them reach their goals.

I’ve met people who’ve said they’ve given up writing because they were no good at it. That after a year or two they realised they were wasting their time. I always tell them they gave up too soon. An apprenticeship is often four years full time and even then you aren’t considered a master in your field. That takes many years more. If you want to write, don’t feel like it’s a talent you need to be born with. It’s a skill that can be learned if you persevere. And like any other skill, it takes different people different amounts of time to learn. If you really want to be a writer, don’t give up. Take the time you need to write the stories you want to share.

The Two Chairs

Algonquin provincial park, Canada.

If it’s one thing I don’t lack, it’s story ideas. I see them everywhere. Often looking at a scene or artwork will give me a snippet of an idea. Sometimes those ideas become stories, at other times they’re added to my large file of ideas in the hope that one day I’ll find the time to write them. The following is the snippet of a story that came to me when I saw this photograph.

He could see them, only ten metres from him now. There on the beach where they’d always been, side by side. Close enough that a person could reach out and take the hand of the one in the chair beside them, yet far enough apart that the little fold up table could be set between them with afternoon tea placed upon it. They sat overlooking the lake so that when the grandkids came to visit, they could be supervised and yet when it was only the two of them there was a relaxing view to enjoy.

Seven and a half metres away now. Closer than yesterday. He could almost see her sitting in her chair. The one on the right. Always the one on the right. Even in bed her side was on the right. Seven metres away. The sun might have been setting, but it was more than bright enough to see the chair was empty. Even when his vision blurred it was clear to see no one was there. He ran the back of his hand across his eyes. He remained still. Seven metres. Maybe tomorrow he’d manage to get close enough to touch the timber of the backrest. The kids didn’t know what they were talking about. It wasn’t just a chair. It was where she’d spent so many hours, sometimes even in the rain, telling him to join her.

His shoulders slumped at the thought of never hearing that request again. Never hearing her voice. He turned away, unable to look at them a moment longer. Maybe he’d try again tomorrow. It wasn’t like it had been that long. Barely a year. He trudged back to the house, the building as empty as the chair.

Why?

Speech balloons with questions

It was pointed out to me that when I talk about my stories I nearly always mention the questions that occurred to me while I’m writing the story. Questions are one of the main techniques I use when it comes to writing. Things like, why would she do this? What could he do in that situation? What would happen if you add this into the mix? Why, what, how, who, when, where. They are constantly running through my mind when I’m writing. Or even when I’m thinking about writing. So it’s no surprise that I mention them when I’m talking about my stories.

I’ve always been extremely curious, even as a young child. Just like then my favourite question was ‘why’. And it is such a great question. Unless of course you’re the parent of an inquisitive three-year-old and then it’s probably more like a form of torture for most people. Except for me. I loved all the questions my kids asked and still enjoy them. They make me think of even more questions that I can solve.

Now the reason I think ‘why’ is such a great question is because it raises so many important points. Why is a character doing something? Do they have a logical reason and is it something they would be likely to do given their personality and background? Why is this happening? Is it the obvious result of what occurred before or a result of the character’s actions? All through the story I’m always asking ‘why’. This is often followed by ‘what’, my second favourite question and usually followed by ‘why’ again. What should happen next? And why? What is that character likely to do? And why? What are the possibilities? And why?

Luckily those possibilities are often endless. Just like the questions. All those endless possibilities and questions lead to numerous story ideas. Which is one of the reasons why I never lack for stories to write.

Laying the Foundations

Starting House Foundation

I’ve received several emails asking me about learning to be a writer when you’re a kid. There are so many different paths to becoming a writer, particularly since we all have our own way of doing things, that I can only talk about my journey.

Some of the best things I did to help me become a writer when I was a kid was to read and write regularly. I believe that’s the foundation of being a good writer. Reading heaps and practicing. It’s important to not only read for enjoyment, but to read for understanding. As a kid I’d often read a book that I loved two and three times so I could understand how the author created the story. I started using this technique in early primary school, probably around the age of eight, and still sometimes use it.

It’s also important to do things other than just reading and writing. Things that will give you experiences to draw on for your writing. Experiences gained by both participating and observing. I have to thank my family for dragging me out of my world of books and writing to go places. Holidays, swimming, visiting friends and family, camping, fishing, sailing, parties… all with a book in hand of course.

Another habit I developed early was to write down my ideas and keep them somewhere safe. By the time I had my own computer in my early twenties, I had pages and pages of notes and numerous notebooks. It took me days to type them onto my computer. I probably would’ve been a lot quicker if I hadn’t needed to spend so long deciphering some of my handwriting. I currently have eighty-six single-spaced, word document pages of ideas, with some of those ideas only taking up five lines. More ideas than I’m ever likely to be able to write in a lifetime.

One thing I would’ve liked more of when I first started writing was honest feedback. It was something that was really difficult to come by. People were willing to read my stories and tell me how well I’d done, but very few actually gave me constructive criticism. I didn’t want to only hear that I wrote great for my age. I wanted to know how to write better. To be as good as an adult writer. But, that’s me, not every kid appreciates having their writing problems pointed out and can often find it daunting. I guess it must have been tough for adults to look down at a kid staring up at them with hope in their eyes and say, “Look kid, I think you might be onto something here, but you really need to work on this issue.”

 Avril Sabine

Something I would’ve loved to have done when I was a kid was join a writers’ group. In every town we lived in I searched notice boards and asked librarians, but sadly there were none. These days even if you can’t find a local writers’ group there are plenty of online ones. It’s good to have people who understand what it’s like to be a writer and can commiserate with you when things aren’t going to plan and cheer when they are.

I also tried a lot of different writing styles as a kid. Different points of view, different genres, and different formats. Poetry, journals, plays, epistolary, descriptive and narrative. I did a lot of experimenting until I started to learn my own style and find my writing voice. I still like to write in a lot of genres and even different formats. Not everything works but I usually learn something new, which is always good.

It takes twenty hours to learn a new skill and ten thousand hours to master it. I’ve long since passed those ten thousand hours, but I still feel like I’m learning something new with each book. You can do a lot of workshops and courses, which I’ve done over the years, but the best thing I’ve done to become a writer is to practice. To write each story until I reach ‘The End’, put it aside and start the next one and so on. Then after that first story has been left to sit alone for three months, six months, a year… whatever it takes to gain distance and a different perspective, look at it. Read what you’ve written and see how it can be improved. Then repeat. Lots!

If anyone else has advice for aspiring young authors, I’m sure it’d be appreciated.