Outlines and Obsurities

Let’s be honest, plot outlines are kind of like Marmite: writers either love ’em or they hate ’em. 

Some writers like the fact that they structure ideas and help them get organised, yet others find them too constrictive, limiting their artistic flair. Here at Rowanvale Books we can see both sides of the coin; we understand that plot outlines aren’t the magical cure to solve all organisational issues an author may have, but we also know that some authors simply wouldn’t get their novel off the ground without them. Heck, even the best authors could use a little structure sometimes!

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Pictured above is part of JK Rowling’s plot outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Plot outlines come in many shapes and forms, and it’s important that you as a writer don’t let them get out of hand. I recommend getting some sort of outline sorted in your head before starting to write your first draft. Start with a novel outline (a running summary of what happens throughout your book in as much detail as you like), then move on to condensing this into a briefer chapter summary (a few lines/bullet points of the main events, character development etc that occur in each chapter).

There are numerous benefits to writing a plot summary which you may find outweigh the drawbacks.

  • A plot outline can help disorganised or forgetful writers see where their story is heading; keep to a schedule to get their voice heard faster; and remember the key components and plot threads to their story.
  • It can help writers to keep track of what’s important in their story so that they don’t stray  too far from the main plot threads; it keeps their plot moving forward.
  • A plot outline can always be changed along the way! Some writers may be discouraged by the regimented nature of an outline, but always remember that nothing is set in stone. A rough plot outline at the start may even enable you as the writer to see alternative plots which might have stayed hidden to you if you did not take such a structured approach.
  • A plot outline is good practice for writing a synopsis for publishing houses – it is important that you can effectively sum up your novel to both yourself and other people.

 What are your thoughts on plot outlines? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Sit Down and Shut Up Robbo – Guest Post by Jonathon Ward

For a time there was a seriously strong possibility that the position I currently find myself in (that of a first-time author taken on by Rowanvale, slap bang in the middle of my maiden publication process) would have been a mere pipe dream if I had allowed head to overrule heart. More specifically, a head heavily influenced by fellow ginger, Anne Robinson.

My initial incarnation of Mutant Tummy Apple Tree (MTAT) was penned way back in 2007 as a descriptive poem piece, a far cry from the round-the-world adventure story it is today. For a few years it lay dormant in a drawer until I had a conversion with a cousin of mine who is an animator. He had read MTAT many moons ago and so I just casually asked him if he thought it was up the standards required, from what he had seen in the industry, to potentially make it print. He told me that for it to go anywhere there would have to be more of a ‘story’ element to the piece, rather than it being just a descriptive rhyming poem. So began the rebirth of Mutant Tummy Apple Tree, a good four years after I first concocted it up on a bus in Huddersfield whilst eating an apple (as Isaac Newton-y as that sounds I genuinely was eating an apple at the time, which figures!).

So the next couple of years were spent sporadically adding sections to the story. The easiest way for me to do that was to have each segment of MTAT’s journey around the globe broken up into a series of mini-adventures. I focused on one at a time, never thinking ahead to the next part of the story until I was completely content with the one before. I have a Dad’s Army notebook in my desk that has every scribbling, every idea, and multiple versions of each section that I did over the years, each with a separately titled set of pages for each segment.

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Rowanvale Books: An Interview with Naomi Burman-Shine

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Congratulations to Naomi Burman-Shine, author of children’s book, Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur, which has recently been the silver medal-winner in the pre-school picture book category of The 2014 Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards.

We are excited to let you know that Naomi’s book is being showcased in the children’s category of the 2015 summer collection of The People’s Book Prize. This national competition is voted for exclusively by the general public. To vote for Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur and help Naomi and Rowanvale Books reach the finals, please click on the logo below. The general public can cast their votes from 1st June to 31st August 2015. Thank you!

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Naomi is visiting our blog today to answer a few questions about Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur and her writing. Thank you, Naomi!

How did your book come about? Where does the inspiration behind the book lie?

Naomi: I wanted to write about a theme that young children could relate to. When I was thinking up ideas, my young sons were interested in all things dinosaur, and they were also constantly asking me to buy them a pet. I combined the two subjects and came up with an idea for a story about a young cave boy who wanted to own a roaring red dinosaur.

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Young children love bold colours, and I therefore decided to make the dinosaur red, which is a popular colour. Along with the word ‘roar’, it makes a great alliterative phrase! ‘Please can I have a pet that is red and roars?’

Who will your book appeal to?

Naomi: My target audience is children aged three to seven, but my book is being enjoyed by younger and older children, and adults, as my amazing Amazon reviews indicate.

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Who is the main character in the book?

Naomi: The main character is a young cave boy called Stonely. Many picture books have animals and adults as their protagonists, but I wanted my central character to be a child so that young readers could more easily relate to him and empathise with him.

How would you sum up your book in under 40 words?

Naomi: The Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards summed up Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur perfectly. Judges said it is ‘Colourful, exciting … fabulous fun for kids’!

Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?

Naomi: The basic message of the book is that applying determination and perseverance help you to achieve your goals, which are great values to instil in young children.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Naomi: Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur and the next two books in the series are written in rhyme. Many of the picture books I shared with my sons were written in rhyme – rhyming books are always fun to read aloud.

Particular favourites of the boys included Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae (illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees), Dragon Stew by Steve Smallman and Aliens Love Underpants by Claire Freedman (illustrated by Ben Cort).

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The boys were always engaged in reading these books, and loved guessing the rhyming words at the end of each stanza, which helped build their listening skills and language skills. Rhyming text makes a story lively, captivating and memorable. As a musician, I love the intrinsic rhythm of the text, which enhances the mood and pace of the story.

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What is unique about your book?

Naomi: I can’t think of any other rhyming picture books series set in prehistoric times where the central character is a child…

What was the hardest part of writing your current book?

Naomi: Writing picture books in rhyme is certainly a challenge for a novice writer. I had to make sure that the story wasn’t sacrificed because of the need to use rhyming words. Online rhyming dictionaries and thesauruses thus became my best friends!

Finding the correct metre to allow the words to fall off the tongue naturally was the hardest part, and having a great editing team was essential to produce a smooth-flowing final text. I would like to thank my fabulous editing team: Australian story-writer Robyn Opie Parnell, copy-editor and proofreader Jane Hammett, and the lovely Sarah Scotcher at Rowanvale Books.

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Is your book part of a series? Are there any more sequels lined up?

Naomi: Yes, Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur is the first book in a series. I have written two more Stonely books, Snore’s Roar and Snore’s Stinky Feet, which I hope will be published in the near future.

When and why did you begin writing?

Naomi: I believe that books can change our lives, and I have always tried to instil a love of reading in my kids, starting from when they were very young. Sharing books together is very special, and every bedtime I read to – or with – my young sons.

I enjoy new challenges and I thought it would be amazing to know that young readers everywhere were tucked up in their beds, just like my own sons, with a book I had written. I therefore set myself the task of writing a fun children’s story

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Naomi: I first felt like a true writer when I saw a copy of Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur in the front window of two local independent bookshops where I was doing my book launch events last September! It suddenly dawned on me that my dream of young children enjoying a book that I had written was going to come true. That was a very proud moment.

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Who are your toughest critics?

My children! They are the sounding boards for my story ideas, and if they don’t like something then it is immediately given the chop.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Research, research, research! Read and analyse lots of books in your chosen genre before putting pen to paper.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Naomi: I hope that readers enjoy my books as much as I relish writing them.

For up-to-date Stonely’s Pet Dinosaur news, please visit Naomi’s website at http://www.stonelyspetdinosaurbooks.com.

Amber: A Fairy Tale – A Review by April Heade

From his Wandering Woods fairy tale series, David Gibson presents the enchanting Amber: A Fairy Tale – a story of family, adventure, and the battle between good and evil.

The first fairy tale of the series introduces us to Amber, a playful young girl who is ‘anything but ordinary’. Amber lives with her mother Blossom, a witch of good nature, in a beautiful cottage within the Wandering Woods. Cursed as a child by her evil sister, Blossom has to take a special potion every day, and collapses at the beginning of the tale when this potion runs dry. In a bid to save her mother, Amber seeks out her evil aunt, who sends her on a deceiving mission to collect ingredients for what Amber thinks will make a new potion for Blossom.

In Amber’s search for the ingredients, the real magic of the story begins. As she makes her way through the woods, she faces many perils and challenges and encounters a number of imaginative and fascinating characters, including Water Sprites, Harpies and even a fairy queen, and finds friends for life in the form of a friendly goblin and a kindly ogre. The magical tale flows quickly and effectively, capturing the reader’s attention and retaining it until the very last page. The pace and captivating language make this tale a fantastic read for young children, while Amy Sayers’ beautifully dark and mystical illustrations add a maturity to the tale, and help to further conjure the scene and spark the imagination, making this tale accessible to readers of all ages.

The story is flourished with beautifully descriptive language to conjure an image of the enchanting Wandering Woods. ‘Vast’ and ‘unimaginable in size’, with towering trees and sparkling rivers that stretch from the ocean in the west to the fairy mists in the east, the Wandering Woods is a broad, imaginative setting that not only lends its magic to this tale, but will be the setting for future stories in Gibson’s series of fairy tales. I certainly look forward to how he will use this fascinating space next.

‘Finding your Zone’ Part II

Finding your ‘zone’ Part 2

Last week, we discussed ‘writing zones’ and how they can inspire different individuals to get writing. This week, we continue with even more suggestions…

 

Public transport.

Trains, buses, and planes can all be great places to write. Have you ever been stuck on a commute into work, perhaps dreading the working day ahead? Settling down with a hot beverage and your laptop may be the cure. Looking around you, you’re bound to see someone who catches your eye as interesting or unusual or remarkable in some way. Try a writing exercise to write a story which is very loosely based about them, their life, their personality etc.

Best for: People who want to liven up a daily commute, people who struggle to fit writing around their daily routine.

Less great for: People who prefer more private writing environments and, of course, people who get travelsick whilst reading/writing.

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Walking and spending time in nature.

Of course, this is not always feasible, but when it is, boy, is it worth it! Take a brisk walk along a river… roam through the woods… stroll around a local park… wander through a different part of your city…the possibilities are endless, and this can work wonders for your writing. Take a notepad and pen (or even a laptop or tablet) and amble around the countryside, observing the scenery, people — and even wildlife — around you before settling in a comfortable spot and starting to write. This can be a great way to get ideas, drawing inspiration from the environment around you.

Best for: People who struggle to write from the imagination, people who easily find inspiration in their surroundings or need visual cues to write.

Less great for: People who prefer to write indoors, people who are uninspired by their current surroundings and cannot travel very far afield for various reasons.

In a library.

Where better to find literary inspiration than in a place that’s filled with literature? By writing in a library, you’re opening yourself up to a wealth of knowledge and motivation to progress. This is perhaps the perfect spot to let your imagination run wild — assuming you can resist the pull of thousands of books!

Best for: People who read for inspiration, people who prefer literary motivation and writing in the public eye. People that are distracted by loud noises.

Less great for: People who get too lost in a book and forget to write!

So, what are your thoughts on ‘writing-zones’? Do you believe that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect zone’? If you have one, share your special ‘writing zone’ in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!

Finding Your ‘Zone’ – Part I

Lots of aspiring writers may struggle to find their ideal ‘writing zone’ – perhaps because, of course, everyone is different and so you may need to adapt and try several different places to find your ‘zone’.

 This ‘ideal zone’ could very well mean different things to different people. For one person, it could be a place where they simply feel most at peace. For someone else, it could mean somewhere where they feel energetic, invigorated and raring to go. People can become inspired by so many different settings and emotions and places, that it can be difficult to know where to start.

 This post is here to offer some ideas to prompt you on your quest to find a spot to suit you. Take these ideas and perhaps build on them, adapting them to suit your needs and your surroundings.

We will start with an old cliché: In a café.

The reason for this is that, just sometimes, clichés are cliché for a reason: they are tried and tested ideas. Many writers (such as JK Rowling and Ernest Hemingway) have found that cafés provide a great environment for letting their creative juices flow. Such a busy, vibrant setting could be the ideal place to put your writing skills to the test. You could people watch to get a realistic idea of mannerisms for characters, listen to conversations to inspire dialogue or plot points in your writing, or it could simply be a good chance to get out the house for a bit and feel a tiny bit social. There is also the benefit of peer pressure whilst writing in public; you may feel added pressure to write whilst sat in a busy café with lots of eyes surrounding you than you might sat alone at your desk.

Best for: Focused individuals who enjoy people watching and struggle to write alone without visual prompts.

Less great for: Procrastinators, shy people or people who are easily distracted.

 

At home.

Writing at home takes a great amount of self-discipline and motivation; it is very difficult to find inspiration to write when the sofa, bookcase and/or TV is drawing your gaze from across the room. If you are lucky enough to have a home study or a desk, this of course helps, but if not then just be aware of home comforts: they could well kill your writing. If you can, create a makeshift workspace with a mini desk, suitable chair, and computer/notepad to work with.

Best for: Self-disciplined people, people who work well on their own and ideally have a workplace that is separate to their ‘relaxing’ place.

Less great for: People who easily give in to the temptation of home comforts

In a pub.

If cafes aren’t really your thing, perhaps try a local pub. You can often find some real characters from all walks of life here, and the rustic setting of a traditional British pub may inspire you to explore different settings within your writing. Bonus points if the pub has a sunny beer garden or even a roof terrace!

Best for: People who are looking for a more relaxed environment with all the characters of a café.

Less great for: People who prefer to work alone or who get easily distracted. Comes with possible hazards of noisy children (if a family pub) and the odd loud drunk person.

 

 

Be sure to check in next week to find out more about different ‘writing-zones’!

Octave and Greek Mythology by Thomas Kerr

   A friend asked me recently, with my background in science and being a confirmed non-believer, why I write about Greek gods and mythology. I was brought up in a culture where the dominant religion is monotheistic with a god that essentially knows everything and is present everywhere. How dull is that? Maybe this reflects the literary and intellectual ability of the individuals who invented our god.

   In Greek mythology there are well over 300 gods and deities most with specific roles.  Unlike the Christian god, the Greek gods have personalities and have many of the failings that we, mere mortals have, including jealousy, lust, vanity, a sense of honour and they often interfere directly with us. In the ancient world many believed that great events like battles were ordained by the gods, but this divine intervention even determined minor events like the length of one’s life or when and who you would marry. Also to the Greeks, the stories of the gods were actually recounting famous events in their history.

   You might think this belief in gods determining our fate to be rather strange, but how many people today still believe in astrology or use their upbringing, genotype or social status to blame for their failings and problems. It is usually much easier to blame circumstances out with your control for your lot, rather than taking control of your own destiny.

   So which stories from Greek mythology particularly inspire me and became subjects in the poems in my new book Octave?  Number one has to be the Trojan war and the events leading up to the war in the north-western corner of Asia Minor. There were originally eight epic poems telling the story from start to finish. Now there are only two, the Iliad and the Odyssey as told by Homer and only fragments of the other six epic poems.

   The Iliad is set in the tenth and final year of the war and tells the story of the dishonouring of Achilles and his eventual return to the fray after the death of his friend Patroclus at the hands of Hector, the commander of the Trojan army. The Odyssey tells the epic tale of Odysseus’s ten year journey after victory in the Trojan war to his island kingdom of Ithaca.

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Finding Your Voice

Narrative voice sets the tone of the novel and gives it a ‘personality’ aside from the characterisation and plot development. It is an element of writing that is important to get right, and there are several things to consider to create the right voice …

Point of view

  Point of view is perhaps the most vital aspect of narrative voice, and is probably one of the first decisions you’ll have to make in this respect. Do you want a reliable narrator or an unreliable one? Third person or first? Omniscient or not?

   Of course, there are cues to help you choose a point of view.

  For example, if you want to show characters direct thoughts, then a first person narrator might be your best bet. Just bear in mind that you are limited to writing about what that character thinks and witnesses.

  A risky and less common point of view is that of a second person narrator. This is great to allow the reader to witness events in the narrative as themselves, but also makes it hard for them to become lost in the narrative, as they are constantly reminded that they exist as an outside witness.

  If you want to show events that occur without the main character present, then it may be worth considering showing third person viewpoints from different characters in each section An omniscient viewpoint is the most liberating, and doesn’t limit what the narrative voice can see or think. However, it’s worth noting that it can become difficult to let the reader into the thoughts of the characters, and changing characters too frequently can become jarring and confusing to the reader.

  You should play around and see where the plot takes you to figure out which narrative voice strikes you as the best to use.

  Sensibility is perhaps a more overlooked aspect of narrative voice. In order to take this into account, a writer must put themselves entirely into the shoes of the character, in order to convey a point of view that may differ greatly from their own.

  Try to think about how a youthful person may think and act … instead of being confident as an older person may be, they may be much more insecure. Rather than being old enough to have experienced enough of the world to know better, they may obsess over trivial problems rather than the bigger picture. Rather than be settled into a job and family, they may be wracked with doubts and struggle to find their place in the world.

  Of course, when writing about a character in a totally different situation to your own, research is key. If you’re writing about a character with a prosthetic leg, for example, and you don’t have one yourself, then it’s definitely worth talking to someone who has a prosthetic leg and is willing to share their thoughts and experiences about their situation. If you’re writing about a character who has just witnessed their pet being put down, try to talk to somebody who has been in that situation and is willing to share experiences. Then try to channel these genuine thoughts and emotions into your writing, and you’ll find that you can create a much more relatable and realistic character in your narrative.

  Which point of view do you prefer to write in? Why? Do you ever struggle to get into the heads of your characters? It would be interesting to hear your thoughts in the comments!

A Game for the Young: Afterword by David P. Philip

Knowledge, at least for me, has a very fluid and debatable definition. Like many things, the initial thought process of a question such as ‘What is knowledge?’ is simple, pigeon holed quite neatly in our brains.

The dictionary’s definition states that knowledge is the ‘acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation’, which in itself allows for a range of interpretations.

When I look back to the genesis of this novel a question regurgitates in my head. My intention from the outset, beyond a rather childish curiosity of the writing process and an overwhelming desire to be creative, was to wrap a question within a story and ponder aloud: ‘Is knowledge a drug?’ or to be specific, if we lived in an age where knowledge was tangible, instantly accessible, ‘could knowledge be conceived as a drug?’

To even begin, first the physical impracticality of this question needs to be addressed. Our mental image of a drug quickly inspires the thought of a liquid or pill.

When focusing on the definition of a drug, Wikipedia’s opening on the subject supports this. “A drug is, in the broadest of terms, a chemical substance that has known biological effects on humans or other animals.”

My scepticism on this point, or opinion to be less controversial, is based on the apparent parallels I’m able to summarise with minimal effort.

You have the ‘users’ to compare with ‘students’, the ‘proscriber’ with ‘teacher’, the ‘addiction’ or ‘qualification’, your pure drug in truth and the placebos in fiction.

There is certainly something to be found in the class system; where wealth offers the most enriching drugs alongside arguably the most beneficial knowledge, whilst the working class labour with more practical drugs and less profitable skill sets.

I could of course reference the fleeting nature of a drugs effect and how this compares with the temporary enlightenment you feel after learning something new. Though initially interesting and enriching, without purpose the knowledge will soon find a home buried deep within your brain; not readily accessible without prompt.

Isn’t knowledge in its purest form an external entity that we absorb to better ourselves? Could Wikipedia be your medicine cabinet? Could libraries be hospitals? You form these basic associations and after a while they become clear relationships.

Perhaps just as important a question to ask is ‘would it be a good thing?’ Would we thrive on this discovery or would it join the long list of human achievements we wish we could disinvent.

Are we ready to learn with short sharp bursts of information or by design do our brains protect us from overload. So easily are we able to gorge our bodies with tasty treats, imagine how we would behave if books became pills and museums became sweet shops.

How would we treat knowledge if it were a product? A digestible entity sold to the highest bidder. And how would we rebel from this? What type of underground black market would that spawn? Can you imagine yourself downloading a profession overnight with a BitTorrent?

Granted there are no answers to be found here, merely perspectives to be explored and a bleak prediction for the future. But I don’t consider spending an inordinate amount of time contemplating this subject wasteful. If you can come up with anything that lingers for more than a few days it’s worth scratching the surface. Besides, any food for thought is good for the soul. Thank you for indulging me.

David P. Philip

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A Game for the Young – Review

Readers of David P. Phillip’s just-released novel, A Game for the Young, are in for a treat.

It is a multidimensional text; considering scientific discovery and the issue of ethics in experimentation, as well as delving into the personal lives of its characters and exploring their darkest secrets.

Set with the idyllic backdrop of Oxford University, a site of tradition and steeped in academic excellence, A Game for the Young charts the experiences of four young students as they embark on a scientific experiment they will change their worlds forever. They are all connected through their desire to pursue the highest level of knowledge, but when this dream is taken to the next level by a professor with a dark secret, they find themselves facing a challenge that forces them to make the toughest decisions, and sacrifices, of their lives. The novel is initially a slow burner, concentrating on building up a detailed picture of the main characters and shielding them and the reader from the truth about the experiment; but this allows the reader to develop a strong emotional connection with these characters and this alignment becomes incredibly powerful as the story unfolds. The concepts of knowledge and power are explored in depth, with the reader able to draw conclusions, along with the students, about the potential dangers of making the ability to absorb all information readily available. The idea seems incredible and entirely positive; but what could such knowledge do in the wrong hands and what would happen to institutions like Oxford University if we were all able to simply “plug in” and learn? Phillips also considers memory and its importance in the development of an individual – take that away from us and what do we have?

Packed full of thought-provoking ideas, daring night-time information raids and enough secrets to fill a dozen spy novels, A Game for the Young is deep, insightful and incredibly clever. Science enthusiasts will enjoy its focus on research and experimentation, but there is something for all readers in this novel. The twists and turns are sharp, unexpected and thrilling and will draw the reader in until the final, gripping line.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of A Game for the Young, please visit http://rowanvalebooks.com/books/agame.html.

Available in paperback and all eBook formats.