Being Invisible

Excerpt from The Business of Writing for Children: An Award-Winning Author’s Tips on Writing Children’s Books and Publishing Them, or How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Book for Kids by Aaron Shepard.

All at once, in the middle of the story, I “woke up” with a shock. For just a few seconds, I had completely forgotten I was sitting in a hot tent with a thousand other people – forgotten even that I was listening to Connie Regan-Blake. She had drawn me into the story so completely that I was aware of nothing but that story’s unfolding within my own mind.

That moment taught me that the height of storytelling – oral or written – is when the teller becomes invisible.

Part of becoming invisible is to engage the reader’s imagination with concrete images, as discussed earlier. If the imagination is busy enough, it will wrap the reader up in the story and draw attention away from the writer.

Have you read a book where this has happened to you? I have and I found that I felt that I was part of the story. In fact, I was part of the story. I tend to imagine myself as one of the characters and I ‘live’ the plot.

The difference it makes to the story is enormous. The pages turn automatically, the setting and characters move before your eyes. And before you know it the story has come to an end and you are left with a feeling of wonder…and disappointment because it’s over.

On the other hand, I’ve read plenty of stories where I find myself flicking forward to see when the chapter ends. Or I might continually look down at the page number to see how I’m progressing. Naturally, doing these things means I’m not right into the story. I’m distracted by the words, the author (maybe), everything around me, because something about the flow or plot doesn’t grab my total attention.

As a writer, being invisible must be a talent because I think it must be hard to do. I can’t say that I’ve tried to achieve this when I write, but I certainly would take it as a compliment if someone told me this happened to them whilst reading one of my stories.

Writing is like painting a picture. An artist uses colour to place an image before our eyes, whereas, a writer uses words. To become invisible, we have to pick the right words, a good balance with description and setting, rounded characters and realistic dialogue and action. It’s not easy, but can you make yourself invisible when you write?

Where to Start

As a reader, no matter what I’m reading – a children’s book or a book for adults – I always enjoy the books that start right in the middle of the action. It’s exciting! It makes me keep reading to find out who the characters are and what is happening to them. Yet as a writer, I sometimes feel the need to “set up” the character and setting first.

Excerpt from Writing a Children’s Book: How to Write for Children And Get Published by Pamela Cleaver.

Begin at the moment of change or crisis in the key character’s life. Don’t start with an explanation with his circumstances, or a description of where he lives. If you feel you need scene setting or character establishment to get you going, write it for yourself and go on until you reach an action point. This is where your story should start:

  • Start where the trouble begins.
  • Start on the day that is different.
  • Start where the main character comes up against something he can’t stand.

Don’t discard the previous material but feed it into the narrative as snippets as the story unfolds.

This is simple advice. Yet I feel that it’s the perfect way to find the best starting point for your story. I now know that I have to rethink the beginning of Cat’s Eyes.

I found this advice by using Google Book Search.

Love and Skill

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. ~John Ruskin

Love of the story and of the craft itself, together with the learned skill of writing can be a powerful commodity. One without the other can lead to poor results, which can then lead to misery, depression and, worse of all, hatred for what we are doing.

A writer must love what they are doing, or why write in the first place? However, a writer must be open to the fact that there’s always something more to learn. Fashions change, procedures change, and we must be vigilant so that we know when these changes take place.

Visualise yourself holding a copy of your published book. Isn’t the sweat and tears worth that moment becoming a reality? To me, it is.

This quote was taken from my desk calendar at work. I think it’s fitting that it appeared today. It comes as a reminder for what is ahead of me, because tonight I plan to get my paperwork ready for the big edit of Cat’s Eyes. On Saturday, I will start the actual editing process. My goal is one chapter a week, but secretly I’m hoping to do two chapters in that time frame.

Do you have the love and skill to see it through to the end?

Breaking the Restraints

A problem some writers have, is freeing their mind of restraints. Writing is a time to try new things. Just because you wouldn’t go mountain climbing, or scuba driving, or jump from a plane doesn’t mean your character wouldn’t do these things. Just because you wouldn’t murder someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t write the perfect murder story. And just because you know nothing of being a spy, or a magician, or an astronaut…doesn’t mean your characters can’t be experts at these things.

The key is research. Do the research and learn the terminology, and you can easily bluff your readers into believing you know what you’re talking about, and the feelings associated with it.

Some writers go that extra step with freeing themselves of restraints, and create eyebrows that talk (as in Grim Tuesday (Keys to the Kingdom, Book 2)). When you can do this, and it works, you know you’ve stepped out of the box and into the true writing arena. The box is safe and warm, so to take a risk by creating something quite unusual must be a bit scary. I’m not sure that I’m up to that test yet, but some writers find it easy. I admire them.

What’s the most “out of the box” thing you’ve written? How did you feel when you wrote the story? And…is it something you’d do again?

What is a Chapter Book?

I’ve had several people over the past two months ask me what a chapter book is, so I’m going to talk about that today. 🙂

A chapter book for children is the proper terminology for a children’s novel for the ages of 8 to 12. It’s usually between 25,000 and 40,000 words, yet the high end of the scale isn’t recommended for an unpublished author as it means publishing costs are more expensive and the publisher is more likely to think twice before taking a chance on you.

Each chapter is up to about ten double spaced pages, which make for nice, concise scenes. The scenes should be in chronological order, with little or no flashbacks. Each sentence should contain one thought only, whereas adult writing can often combine two thoughts. Word useage should NOT be dumbed down. If an author does this, they will find themselves rejected more times than you can count. And if their manuscript was published, the readers will not return to read a second book written by the author. Use the best word at all times, no matter what it is. The subject can literally be about anything, if done in the right way. Never, ever preach and publishers seem to like a clear learning experience for the main character.

It’s not easier to write a children’s book, it’s not easy to write any book, but it is quicker because of the word count. Yet, before you stop what you’re doing…consider this…children’s books are cheaper to buy, which means you don’t get as much from the sale of each book. This also means that you have to write more books to get the same amount of money you’d earn from an adult novel. Many writers tend to forget this side of things.

Keep It Simple (Stupid)

Have you heard of the KISS technique? No, it doesn’t mean you go around giving everyone a big sloppy kiss in the hope of getting published. It means to keep your writing simple.

KISS = Keep it simple stupid

Some writers feel they have to use big, impressive words to be successful but, often, by doing this you are talking down to your audience. Or, you might be saying “look at how intelligent I am”.

People hate that. It’s a quick way of turning readers away.

Keeping your writing simple means that you use the right words, and the least amount of words, to get the message across. This doesn’t mean you have to stop using big words altogether. Readers like to learn new words, sure, and if you use them sparingly there will not be a problem…but if they need a dictionary to decipher a word from every page of your book then you are doing the wrong thing. You are slowing down the pace and confusing your audience. You are stopping the reader from enjoying your story and you are stopping yourself from becoming successful.

So, keep it simple…er, well you know the drill. 😉