QUESTION 5: When it comes to plot, how can an author make sure a second half of a manuscript is as strong as the first?
LINSAY: This is essential, the story has got to keep on moving. A lot of this is about pacing. You have a crescendo and you have another one in the second half. It’s like a piece of music. It needs pacing and the action needs to keep on going. We need surprises in the second half. It works well when a big reveal comes and we get lulled and think it’s all over, then we are surprised again. We need character twists where in the first half we think a character is nice and sweet and then in the second half we find out they have a dark soul. It’s good when plot points are resolved but the way they are resolved is so essential. Sometimes a weak resolution can let down the whole book.
MARY: Give yourself time to revise that second half. Often it feels like the first half has been worked and worked and worked and the end is a bit rushed. Enjoy the process and allow yourself the room to enjoy revising the second half as well as the first half.
QUESTION 6: How is the development of the character effectively woven into the plot?
EVE: There is no magic bullet. I hate to the be the bearer of bad news but it comes down to craft. It might not require 10,000 hours of deliberate practise…but it probably will. Do it, do it again, read in your genre, fail. You absolutely need to read in your genre. You just have to have the craft.
HEATHER: Through the character’s experiences and conflicts they often challenge their beliefs and feelings. This can be done with dialogue, inner thoughts and the reputation of the character as voiced by others. Peripheral characters can add to your character by giving you an idea of what they’re like. This can then give you a good idea of what other people feel about them. Think about their appearance, facial expression, the way they dress. So many things can add to a character that come from the setting. In Chapter 1 of Our Australian Girl: Meet Pearlie (by Gabrielle Wang) we learn so many things about her in just a few paragraphs. Show don’t tell. It’s a combination of development of character and plot at the same time.
QUESTION 7: How does an author make sure the climax of their story is satisfying and not rushed?
MARY: It’s about taking your time and knowing where you’re going with the story and the character. It’s important to tie up all your loose ends, not rush the ending and make sure the central characters’ central journey has been tied up nicely.
QUESTION 8: Can you leave a question unanswered in book 1 to set up book 2?
MARY: Yes, but you have to satisfy the reader of Book 1 in every other way except that one thing.
HEATHER: Every single book in a good series has its own story arc. If you took the surprise/loose end out it would still be a complete story on its own. Readers need to be satisfied by the story in that book alone. In MG and YA the secret is to make sure there’s always those little climaxes building up and up to the major climax so you have people on tenterhooks right up until the big battle.
QUESTION 9: Do you always need conflict in a picture book, especially for the preschool age group?
LINSAY: There doesn’t have to be conflict but there has to be something resolved. In the story arc there has to be a reason to drive the story forward. Something has to be important enough to be resolved, for example when something is lost. Picture books need to be beautifully conceived and the pacing has to be great, but there doesn’t always have to be conflict.
QUESTION 10: How do you put a theme in a picture book without being preachy?
EVE: You know preachy when you see it. If you start with the story, the story should come first and then you can see there’s an idea of belonging etc. But if you start with a blank page about a topic like belonging it doesn’t work. By doing that you’re setting out to teach which is not really writing fiction. Know what you’re writing and what your intention is. Kids needs to identify with the character so characterisation and the things that happen need to be integral to the story. Pick something really amazing. Cherry pick the best you can find. Learn how other people have done it and read great books multiple times.
QUESTION 11: Can you give three tips on making all these elements work together?
EVE: I’m only going to give one. Voice. Get the voice right because sometimes that is more important than plot. If you nail the voice, the plot will come. Work out what is actually interesting to your audience and start from a place of authenticity.
Love what you’re writing about it and feel passionate about it.
Trust yourself, listen to your gut
Take your time
Make every word/plot turn count. Don’t use words that aren’t needed. Every word counts
We need characters who – like it says in His Dark Material – “are as funny and vulnerable and as emotionally muddled as the boy and girl next door”.
LINSAY: It’s all about poetry, all about poetry of the story. It’s about beautiful word choice, rhythm and waiting to breathe.
Wow. How’s that for a feast of gems for you fossick through? But wait, there’s more! Katrina went on to list a range of podcasts, groups and websites that might be helpful for authors.
Tania McCartney – The Happy Book podcast
Just Write For Kids website
Creative Kids Tales website
Jen Storer’s The Duck Pond Facebook Group
One More Page podcast
Ladybirds who Write Facebook Group
Middle Grade Mavens podcast
Now that you’ve got the low-down on story elements from industry experts and tips on how to incorporate them into you writing, off you go and get to it! Happy writing.
by Karen Collum