Sunday, August 12, 2007

SCBWI Report - What to do after you have completed the first draft

Here are some notes I made from the last SCBWI meeting I went to:

At the July meeting of the Queensland branch of SCBWI Australia (The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators), we were delighted to have Louise Cusack, author and manuscript assessor/development consultant/editor, speak to us about what to do after finishing the first draft of a story, and she also provided a lot of other great advice:-

Ask any editor what they look for in a ms (manuscript), and you’ll probably be told the same thing – ‘A good story and characters I care about’.

Stories are about people. The people you put in your story must come across as real.

Make sure it's clear as to whose story it is. In some mss, the main character is not the one the author intended to write about.

Consider each character as an iceberg. Only 10 percent of an iceberg appears above the surface. You will only show about 10 percent of a character in the story, but you must know all about the other 90 percent.

You must love your main character. Think of your best friends. What is it about a particular ‘best friend’ that you like most? Consider making that trait a virtue also possessed by your main character.

Each character will have a best virtue and worst flaw. Make sure you know what each is. (We were asked to write these down for our main character.)

In the first few (??3) pages, in the first scene, show (don’t tell) your main character’s best virtue in action.

Stories must have conflict - there must be an adversary, or a problem to be overcome. This must be the core of the story.

The main character wants (what is their goal?) because (what is their motivation?) but (what is the external conflict?).

The goal and motivation for the main character must be clear.

(Though stories for very young readers rarely have an internal conflict, those for older readers usually include an emotional problem facing the main character, which affects their life.)

The best external conflicts push the character’s emotional button (internal conflict), so:

The main character wants (what is their goal?) because (what is their motivation?) but (what is the external conflict?), and this really winds them up because (internal conflict). This is resolved by (ending).

The conflict has to test their virtues to the max and make their flaws show up to the max.

The internal conflict is affected by the external conflict.

The thing the character never wants to do becomes the thing that he/she must do.

In a structural edit, list all the scenes, then, beside each one, write down what it has to do with the main character’s goal. How does it help or hinder progress to the goal?

Always write from beginning to end of a story without polishing each chapter. That way, when structurally editing, it’s easier to discard unnecessary scenes. If they’ve been polished, it’s more tempting to keep them when you shouldn’t.

You should have confidence in your ability to edit and polish at the end – give yourself permission to write knowing that it will be edited and improved later.

Check all details for continuity - eg the floor plan of buildings is known, so you don’t write about turning left from the kitchen to the lounge at the beginning, but turning right at another point in the story.

If romance is involved, it is never enough to centre the plot around misunderstandings - they could be easily sorted out if the people sat down together or talked to each other.

If the main character falls in love, it is important to make clear the exact time when this occurs - never let them just grow in that direction.

To increase your own feeling of the reality of characters, consider cutting pictures of people from newspapers or magazines – people with a sinister look, a twinkle in their eye… , and create a collage of them all.

When writing a synopsis, first list all the evocative words in the story, then include a large number of them.

In a synopsis, most editors like to know how the story is resolved. They mainly read from the slush pile at night, in their own ‘free’ time. The synopsis must convince them that it will be worth spending their leisure time reading the sample chapters.

When a ms is taken to an acquisition meeting, the accounting department may ask how much editing it will require, ie, hours of an editor’s time at $x per hour. Is it worth the expense?

You may write well, but a ‘head hopping structure’, without flow, may lead to rejection. An appraisal for structure may help avoid this. It's a common reason for rejection.

Mss get rejected for simple reasons that you have no control over. A ms can be well written and rejected by one editor because they don’t like ‘time slips’, whereas another might like that plot feature.

Louise wrote seriously for eight years before her first book was published.

Never give up.

Write what you love most, because after you have been published, people will want more of the same.

Happy writing - may the words flow freely!

Peter Taylor

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Word Art

Though now writing fiction and non-fiction for young children and mid-grade, my first books were non-fiction for adults - 'The Australian Manual of Calligraphy', pub. Allen and Unwin in 1987, and 'A Manual of Calligraphy' pub. Unwin Hyman / Harper Collins in the UK and NZ. I have more non-fiction for adults planned too.

My calligraphy tutors have included the world's finest - 'The Queen's Scribe' - Donald Jackson, Thomas Ingmire, Michael Gullick, Kennedy Smith, Gaynor Goffe and many more.

I'm just writing a proposal to perform at the Queensland Poetry Festival in September, but I'm not sure if this is what they have in mind:

I'd like to spend the 3 days of the Festival working on a large roll of paper, writing poetry in calligraphy as word pictures, starting with one poem and then adding and interweaving lines of onlookers' choice, so that in the end, a large scroll is produced.

Throughout this time of demonstration I would be able to talk to bystanders about design, layout, texture, scale and materials – and provide advice. Thomas Ingmire said:

“It is only the expression of the words, the conviction, the passion, the love behind them, which gives them meaning.”

Here's the result of my recent experiment to visually interpret parts of 'Relearning the Alphabet', by Denise Levertov.

In the beginning was delight. A depth
stirred as one stirs fire unthinking.
Dark dark dark . And the blaze illumines

Vision sets out
journeying somewhere,
walking the dreamwaters

Better get back to the proposal!

Peter Taylor

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Cruikshank, Phiz and 'Mustard' George

On my website is the facitilty to sign up for my newsletter, 'The Art of the Story'. Whatever your interest in writing for children, or illustrating, I hope there's always something of interest.

It has a section that features the work of early illustrators of books and work that children would have seen - though not necessarily work produced with children specifically in mind.

The last edition (January 2007) features the world's first 'strip-cartoonist' - 'Mustard' George Woodward and provides pictures of one of his prints published in 1798.

I've also included some pictures from Cruikshank's 'Scraps and Sketches' album of 1832. In this book he gave personality to inanimate objects. Can anyone tell me who the first illustrator was to do this?
I've always thought of Cruikshank engraving and producing black and white prints, but I have a series of coloured Victorian "scraps" produced, presumably, from Cruikshank's paintings of 'The Derby' horse race. These show getting there, the event, and the journey home. One scene includes and names 'Phiz' - who, like Cruikshank, illustrated books for Charles Dickens. Does anyone know if Cruikshank and Phiz were actual friends?
You can find this and previous editions at 'back-issues'.
I hope you'll enjoy them and want to subscribe - they're free!
Happy writing and illustrating!
Peter Taylor

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Tip for Writers

Professional writers for children belong to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - SCBWI. To become a Full Member, you have to have had a children's book published.

Editors receive manuscripts from authors and all kinds of 'wanna be' writers, and can get jaded reading dozens of unprofessional letters and stories with no potential.

Even finding out about the Society and paying the fee to become an unpublished 'Associate Member' shows that you are serious about the craft, and many Associate Memebers have had books published for adults but not yet for children.

After considerable recent discussion amongst members of the Yahoo Children's Writers forum (thanks everyone for your input and advice!), it was generally agreed that:

By mentioning SCBWI on the outside of your submission envelope, whatever level of your membership, you give an editor an expectation that the contents will be professionally presented and could be worth reading, and may just encourage them to spend a little extra time considering what you have written - enough to make the difference and eventually send you a contract to sign. Before joining SCBWI, writers at least will have probably had professional tuition through a course, and the chances are that a member will belong to a critique network and have worked on their manuscript for a considerable time and noted the insights and advice of their writer buddies.

If a member, it is suggested that you write in the bottom left-hand corner of your submission envelope:

SCBWI Member


SCBWI Full-Member

or, if the editor gave a presentation at a SCBWI event and said they would read material from attendees:

SCBWI Member

Attendee July 2006 Queensland Conference

Of course, the envelope could just be ripped open by an office worker and discarded before being read by an editor, so I usually put something about SCBWI membership early in the cover letter too.

If you are a serious about writing for children, I suggest you research and join the Society.

(You're still allowed to give your manuscript a hug for 'good luck' as you drop it in the mail! Luck can always play a part in acceptances - but you might find my cover letter recipe useful too.)


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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Here's A Good One For Writers

If you are a writer or an author, you'll know the importance of impressing an agent or editor with more than just the quality of your writing.

Yesterday I listened to a wonderful free mp3 on 'How to get a 6 figure advance' on

Not very likely for for a book for children, but lots of good tips are provided!

I recommend you visit the site and investigate ...and no, I'm not an affiliate.

Happy writing

Peter Taylor

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Writing For Children Videos

Happy New Year, everyone!

Yes, one of my 'resolutions' is to add to this blog regularly. I had hoped to create a new one that was hosted on my site, so that added pages help search engine ranking - but that's still on the 'to do' list, so I'll get back to writing this one.

My website has been greatly added to in the last few months. I hope you've checked out the new videos on creativity. They show lots of interesting documents and books from my collection. Many date from 1280 to 1880. I also show calligraphy techniques and how to create artist's books.

Producing videos and putting them on websites is easy. New ones will feature how books are created for publishers, and the kinds of things I can talk about and share on school visits, particularly 'The History of Books' and 'Creating Your Own Books'.

Better get to it!

Hoping you all find 2007 a happy and healthy one, filled with love and peace.

Peter Taylor

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