Category Archives: Writing

Writing for Children

Yesterday, I went to a lecture on children’s books, organized by the local chapter of IBBY (http://www.ibby.org/) and the national museum for children’s books. It’s a yearly lecture, in which a locally famous author of children’s books  is given the opportunity to speak on something they greatly care about.

Most of my work is for adults, some for young adults, and rarely I write something intended for children. But academically, I am fascinated by books and stories targeting children. So even though I tend to feel like I am the only person that does not know everyone else in the room, I tend to attend this lecture almost every year. The lecture tends to be funny, interesting and it tends to make me think. This year’s lecture was no exception.

This year, the author spoke about the role of children and those that work for children in our society. She argued that children are not being taken serious enough, and by extension, people that work for children aren’t either. People blog on the negatives of baby’s, without paying attention to the positives, and tend to wave off things that are mayor discoveries for children as things that are given, because they already know them. A lot of people have forgotten what is was like to be a child. Because of all this, a lot of people do not see the value in working for children. They think it is easier, and less important. And this is a shame, since today’s children are tomorrows adults, and they can’t be successful adults without learning and exploring today. And working for children isn’t easier, it tends to require a similar skill set working for adults does, only it gives you less status and generally lower pay.

This is also true for writing. Writing for adults is allocated much more importance, while the skill set in writing for children is not that different of the skill set required to write for adults. Writers of children’s books, she indicated, are often asked why they write for children. As if it’s a strange choice to make.

Now this is not new information. I have known this pretty much since I first went to college, well over a decade and a half ago. It’s good to stand still and think about it every now and again, though.

In the end, to me, children are probably more important than adults, since they are quite literally our future. The lecture did make me look long and hard at my own behavior. As a mom of a young baby, talking about poo-explosions and vomit comes naturally, especially with a slightly wry humorous note. So does pausing at the marvels of a young being, though. The mesmerizing moments of acquiring and mastering something new. And I make sure I share both sides with those closest to me. But I must mind the balance. My baby is not a burden. To me, she is a gift, someone I get to show the world to. The stories I tell her matter, the books I read with her are important. Probably even more important than the stories I share with other adults.

On Outlines and Sequels

I have been writing pretty regularly again and have picked up working on the sequel of Obsidian. Ever since finishing the first draft, I realized Obsidian needed a sequel. I have long doubted as to whether two books or three books would complete Stella(my main character’s) story, and for now I am going with three. So I have been working on the outline of books two and three.

The advantage of such an outline for me is that I can start weaving in plot-hooks for later bits in the first draft, instead of in rewrites. Now, I always have to weave in stuff during the rewrites, but if you have a book published, you can not go back and do it. No more adding characters that have always been part of the story, no more foreshadowing, no more establishing a character or a location or whatever else for a later setup. So first off, I wanna be sure that essential things for books 2 and 3 are in Obsidian. Also, an outline will help me to keep the main plot-line of the story clear, will make sure I keep an eye on where the story is going, to try and prevent me from straying too much.

I have been working and changing my mind frequently with regards to the level of detail I want my outlines to include, though. Do I want to be super specific? Or more general? What will best help me write, without me feeling like it cramps my creativity? For now, I have settled on quite general and brief scene descriptions.

For those of you that write and are interested in chiming in, I will pose you the same question as I have asked my writing group:
How do you deal with outlines? What level of detail do you include, and what purpose do outlines serve for you?

Writing and the baby

Last year I was pregnant, and towards the end of the year, I became mother of a beautiful little girl. This, not surprisingly, has impacted writing.

During the second half of the pregnancy, there was a bit of time where I wrote a lot. Then my head was so full that playing games was a challenge, and the only new books that worked for me were Young Adult, with their less complicated plot-lines. Mostly I was comfort reading, rereading series that I know well and love deeply.

When my daughter Aurora was born late November, the first couple of weeks were surviving. All went well, but learning to take care of a baby is a lot of work. Mostly I was watching a lot of shows, not even reading. Slowly, as the new life is settling in, there are less things I need to figure out and she is sleeping for slightly longer stretches during the night, I am slowly writing again.

So far it’s a stolen 5 minutes here and there. I don’t expect for it to become much more, but with a little luck, I will be able to go to 15 minutes of writing every day in a week or two. Who knows, maybe I will be very lucky and will be able to expand those 15 minutes to an hour of writing a day in a few months. I’ll try and update the blog every now and again, when time allows and inspiration for blog posts (and not stories) strikes.

Different media, different voices

Outside of writing fiction, I play Larp. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s a form of improvisational theatre without an audience. If you’re curious, more information can be found here, for instance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Live_action_role-playing_game. While my short story and novel writing was slowing down, I did write several characters for Larp, and some plot for Larp, for other people to encounter. It got me musing about the similarities and differences between both kinds of writing.

With both kinds of writing, I first write the backstory of the character(or imagine and fail to write down, sometimes, with short stories). How did the character end up there? What does the audience need to know about the character, and how does the character’s background influence their decisions. I try to make the character as realistic and vibrant as possible, without making the background so complex I can no longer work with it, either in the game or in the story.
Also, with both kinds of writing, I try to create as interesting a setup as I can. To put the starting condition so, that the characters have something interesting to deal with.

Which brings me to the major difference between the two. Players happen. So from the moment you send the setup into the game-world, how the players interact with it, solve the problem, is out of your hands. All you can do is hand them tools, if necessary, or try to put them on a path by what information you release when to them. Even still, if you come up with 5 or 6 possible solutions or courses of action, they will present you with a 7th. If you’re writing the entire story, you can steer your characters to the most interesting outcomes, determine exactly when what reaches them, and if the outcome is unsatisfactory, you can go back and tweak until it works better for you. You write the continuation of the story of the character you’ve created, and control all the aspects of the story. You are chained by your own imagination, though, if you are inventing all of it.

Thus, both have a lot in common, while they still differ significantly. They have their own challenges, but also a lot of potential to build synergy, the one helping you become more imaginative in the other. I am enjoying how doing both is expanding my horizons very much.

Achtergrond bomen Keukenhof

Contrast and cliché

A lot of writers merrily use cliché in their story. Using them might be obvious, but in that lie several benefits. People fill in a lot of information for those characters(and plotlines) themselves, because it plays into their expectations. It means you have to use less words to put down a character, less cues to create a plotline, leaving more space for other characters, other plotlines you want to include.

Personally, however, I love how you can use clichés best by how you can use them to lead readers on, to use their expectations to generate plot twists by having what at first glance appeared a cliché deviate from what people think it will do. When you have the damsel in the frilly pink dress clobbering giants in her spare time, or the vampire that loves his kittens – not to eat but to hang out with-, or the honest politician. It creates left fielders people do not see coming because of preconceived notions on how things are. Like starting a really gritty story set in a modern world with ‘once upon a time’.

By flipping the cliché, you can thus create a sort of emotional contrast, leading on with what’s expected and then turning it into something more exciting. Although its impact does diminish when it’s done too much. After all, if everyone turns the damsel in distress into a strong character saving herself, it will by definition turn into a cliché itself.

What is your favorite flipped cliché?

Writing likes and dislikes

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with a local band of fellow writing enthusiasts. I meet with them every couple of months, to discuss writing preferences. This time, we spoke about what kinds of tales we like to write, and emphatically not like to write, what we feel we’re good at and what we find difficult.

I love reflecting on what I like and dislike with regards to writing. It helps me gain insight in what I want to do, and where my weak points are.

Personally, I am quite diverse in what I like to write, although I have a penchant in writing stories about a character looking for his/her place in the world. It’s a theme I have a lot of affinity with. I love to give the theme a twist, though. Like for instance taking a pretty nasty main character or someone set adrift later in life. I’m good at world building. Almost every one of my short stories is set into a universe of its own. I don’t like writing horror pur sang, with gore for the gore. And I need to work on intimacy within my stories, I am terrible at that.

Identifying those things helps me work on exercises to become a better writer. I allows me to think along lines like ‘what makes it that I feel like I am good at world building? And how can I help others get there as well?’ and work on what I am less good at. In light of that, for our next meet, we agreed to each write something we find difficult to write. We’re then going to look at each other’s writing. So we’ll both practice, and receive feedback to improve future attempts.

What do you like to write? What do you dislike to create yourself?

Not everything is for everyone

When it comes to stories, written or told, whatever medium, I am a ferocious predator. There are examples in pretty much any genre I have devoured with glee. But even in my case, I have to say, there are things that I just don’t like. Blood and gore, for instance, only work if it’s there to support the plot. Horror pur sang isn’t for me at all. Some writing styles don’t mesh well with me either.

This is okay. Everyone likes different things, that’s part of what makes us wondrous and unique creatures. Not everything other artists have made need to work for me. There are plenty of people out there that do like those works. It’s important and valuable to have variety in what we as audience can consume.

When I write myself though, for whatever medium, I want it to work for other people. When people don’t like what I have created, it feels like I have failed. Even when they didn’t like it because the genre just isn’t really for them. So while I know not everything is for everyone, it’s always hard to apply that concept to what I create myself. Which is silly, really, because I know it works that way. That even I, myself, one of the most fanatical story consumers in my direct surroundings, don’t like everything, and that it doesn’t mean the works I don’t like are not good or not well made.

Naturally, that doesn’t imply everything I create is great. But I need to be kinder to myself. Just because someone isn’t swept of their feet by what I have created, doesn’t directly mean that which I have made is bad.

I’m putting this realization out here, because I think I am not the only author that should be a little kinder towards themselves, every now and again. Because in the end, it’s important that you remember you do not need to please everyone. That goal just sets you up for permanent failure and misery. And it says nothing about the quality of your writing.