The characters are the main part of any story, so you want to make sure that those characters are ones that you like and can work with to tell an interesting story.
I find a very good way of creating characters whether they are human or animals or mutants or whatever is to write down the “elements of the characters”. For example is the character, cheeky or timid, what age they are, what kind of animal or person they are, what is the environment the character lives in, what things in the environment surround the character, what problems are the character constantly facing.
A big problem with developing characters can be that people do not have faith in their own ideas and they constantly look to other books for ideas, and try to copy what other authors have done. I think this is a big mistake. I think it is very good to read other authors to see what they are doing but to try and copy them is a very big mistake. I fully understand why people do it. People often do this because they think this is safe ground, but in reality it is very shaky ground. Because what makes a character successful is really an unknown, even to the author many times. And remember even the most popular characters are not loved by everyone. That’s right. Believe me as popular as Micky Mouse may be, there are people who hate him. So the best thing to do is create what you feel is good and what you like. And please do not ask everyone what they think about your characters, because everyone will have different opinions and you will end up more confused than ever. If you are going to be a writer, you must have faith in your own abilities and instincts. Yes, you will make changes as you go along, that is a natural and part of the process, but don’t handicap yourself early on by doubting yourself.
Here is an example of a basic character breakdown, using characters from my stories about the Maji-Muku Forest. If you go to the website: www.majimukuforest.com , you can see first hand what I am talking about.
CHARACTERS : THEIR PERSONALITIES AND PECULIARITIES
ROPOPOLEY is a very intelligent bear. He is the animal leader of the Maji-Muku Forest and is in charge of making sure everything is running smoothly for the animals in the forest. Even though he can speak many languages including human languages, he is sometimes very silly. The fact that he has human characteristics makes this bear able to connect with an audience in that he can now do silly things that humans can relate to. Also because he is the animal leader, he can be put into situations that any human can also be put into and the problems that a human would face can also be made to face this character.
The GEEZLEGECK is a strange creature with many hands and two tongues. He is a big practical joker. Because GeezleGecks almost never says anything in a way that is fully understood (probably because of their two tongues) nobody ever believes anything they say; but sometimes they can make strange magic by waving all of their hands at the same time. This character is an oddity in much the same way many people may be oddities and do not comply with the norm. Therefore, a situation has been created that will allow other characters to react to the GeezleGeck in the same way as a person might react in relationship to a person who is different to the norm. In a human context these differences might be because of behavorial, political or even cultural differences. In the case of a fictional character, the writer might have various other characters in the story to react in a similar way.
ELENKIK is a pre-teen good witch, just 11 years old. Sometimes she says things in a very stroppy way, especially when she is irritated, and she is usually irritated by most things. But she is full of magic spells and is a good friend to all the animals in the Maji-Muku Forest. This characters is a teenager and can therefore have characteristics that teenagers and have. Maybe boyfriend or how she is looked upon by members of her peer group concerns.
THELO is the leader of the wild dogs who live in both the Dismal Swamp and the dreaded evil place called the Jungle of the Yellow Fog. He is always doing bad things and trying to bring the Dark Purple Light into the Maji-Muku Forest so the forest can be controlled by evil magic. He is the baddie character and therefore can be as evil as you want him to be. However for a more interesting character, I would suggest that you might give your baddie character a little soft spot, this will humanize the character and make for more interesting possibilities when creating the plot. Let us for example said that this character had a “weakness for chocolate”, then you could use chocolate not only to create connections with good characters but also use chocolate to set a trap for the baddie.
CLAPPETY CAT is a polka dotted clairvoyant cat that can use her special bag of bones to see into the future. She keeps the animals out of trouble by giving them advice about what might happen to them. Unfortunately she cannot see into her own future as clearly as she can the other animals. Although she gives lots of advice, she will almost never listen to advice from other animals. She also believes that because of her clairvoyant powers she deserves the best of everything and should be treated like a celebrity, which sometimes gets her into trouble. Because this character is vain and basically shallow with an outstanding gift for doing something special, this character can be likened to many famous celebrities. You can often use this kind of character to demonstrate a lesson or a way of thinking that has dire consequences.
AAAAPH is a rapping blue rhino. He is like the newspaper of the Maji-Muku Forest. Anything that is going on he makes a song about it and tells it to all the other animals in the forest. He is also in charge of making sure all the animals are in good spirits by making happy music and keeping the Golden Light strong and shining, because the Golden Light protects the forest and keeps evil magic away. This character is a symbol of well being, nobility and happiness. Sometimes having a character like this is good because they are always standing by to ride to the rescue of other characters in trouble without beconing the centre of the story.
The WAMABU are strange creatures who live in the Maji-Muku Forest. They are very loyal to friends and family and can genetically only speak the truth, so if something is said by a WaMaBu, you can bet it is true. Interestingly enough the only word in their vocabulary is WaMaBu...which can be pronounced and emphasized in a thousand different ways to create their rich language. Here is a character that is different from all the others with their own set of codes and behaviour which can make for interesting situations, especially when they come into contact with other characters that think and act very differently.
The ENUKU is the official watch bird for the Maji-Muku Forest. She flies high in the tree tops and observes everything that is going on in the forest. In case of any troubles she is the alarm system. She has a photographic memory that can recall details perfectly for up 1,306 months but sometimes her explanation of things can be very confusing. This is a character with a special gift. Think of the X-Men with all the different mutants. The ability to do something very special allows the writer to create a plot situation where that special talents can be used to solve a problem or even create a problem with the story.
Good Witch Mother of Elenkik (Gelhagek)
Wise Old Tree (Tarella)
The Mole (Aki Aki)
Kangaroo singer (Minolio Solio)
A senior monkey (Niiiish)
Jungle of the Yellow Fog
Things about the Maji-Muku Forest
The Golden Light keeps the Maji-Muku Forest safe
The Dark Purple Light brings chaos and destruction to the Maji-Muku Forest
The Wise Old Tree is the moral leader of the Forest
You may be saying to yourself at this point, I am only planning to write a short story, why should I concern myself with character history and lots of plot development when I am only writing a story than will span no more than 15 pages?
My answer to that is if you do all of the things that I talk about in this book, writing your second and third and fourth and fifth book will become a lot easier, especially if the first book is successful.
Now that you have the basics, in the next part we will begin to develop the basics for a step by step approach to writing your children’s book.
1. The bear animal leader Ropopoley’s cousin comes to visit. The cousin bear seems to be everything Ropopoley is not. Mostly he is quick-witted and fun and Ropopoley feels jealous. As different problems come up in the forest his cousin seems to have the answers and makes Ropopoley look as if he is not as smart. This makes Ropopoley as the animal leader jealous and upset.
Ropopoley is upset and hurt (CONFLICT)
2. Ropopoley decides that he wants to be seen as a fun loving bear so he decides to make everyone have fun with him. The idea is that everyone should have a day off and he plans a picnic; but against the advice given to him about the weather he has the picnic anyway and a storm during the picnic causes a disaster.
(CHOICE IN SOLVING CONFLICT,)
3.Ropopoley decides that he is not the animal leader he used to be, so he decides that it is best thing for the forest is that he stops being the animal leader and let his cousin become the animal leader.
(Character Development, Conflict Development
4. There is a fight between the WaMaBu and the monkeys. All of the animals join in and take sides and all the animals are at each other’s throats. The cousin offers what he thinks is a clever solution. The cousin suggests a solution that would end in someone getting killed. Ropopoley is summoned because he has experience in matters of animal and creature conflict. Ropopoley comes up with a good solution based on his experience, knowledge and caring about the forest and its creatures.
Ropopoley understands this and gets his confidence back. The animals realize that they need an experienced animal leader and Ropopoley saves the day. (RESOLUTION)
THE VISITOR- RE-WORKED STORY
I have used the basic outline to develop the story further, adding here and there, changing a bit, but it is still basically the same story as outlined. It is easier to build upon something you already have established like putting icing and decorations onto a cake already baked rather than the other way around.
I have put in BOLD LETTERS to show what I changed so you can see the development of the ideas. Note the TWIST I added just before the resolution to make the resolution stronger.
1. The bear animal leader Ropopoley’s cousin comes to visit. The cousin bear seems to be everything Ropopoley is not. Mostly he is quick-witted and fun and Ropopoley feels jealous.
As different problems come up in the forest his cousin seems to have the answers and makes Ropopoley look as if he is not as smart. This makes Ropopoley as the animal leader jealous and upset.
All of the animals start to show that they like the cousin and say that he is a lot more fun than Ropopoley
Ropopoley is upset and hurt (CONFLICT)
2. Ropopoley decides that he wants to be seen as a fun loving bear so he decides to make everyone have fun with him. The idea is that everyone should have a day off and he plans a picnic; but against the advice given to him about the weather he has the picnic anyway and a storm during the picnic causes a disaster. But even after the disaster, the cousin comes up with the best solution for solving everyone’s problems and everyone loves him more than ever, which only deepens Ropopoley’s problems and causes him to lose more confidence.
3. Ropopoley starts to lose even more confidence in himself when he overhears animals in the forest talking behind his back saying he is not a good animal leader. Ropopoley decides that he is not the animal leader he used to be, so he decides that it is best thing for the forest is that he stops being the animal leader and let his cousin become the animal leader instead.
4. There is a fight between the WaMaBu and the monkeys. All the animals join in and take sides and all the animals are at each other’s throats. The cousin offers what he thinks is a clever solution. The cousin suggests a solution that would end in someone getting killed. Ropopoley is summoned because he has experience in matters of animal and creature conflict. Conflict Development... SOMETHING TO MAKE THE STORY A BIT MORE INTERESTING...)
… but unbeknownst to the cousin his decision to the problem allows the sudden appearance of the evil Dark Purple Light for just a moment and all of the animals understand that if they allow violence to become a part of their lives then they will destroy the Golden Light that keeps them and their families safe. The appearance of the dreaded Purple Light scares everyone back to their senses. (TWIST) *******
Ropopoley comes up with a good solution to the conflict based on his experience, knowledge and caring about the forest and its creatures. Ropopoley also points out some history about the WaMaBu and monkeys that help resolve the conflict between them.
When the animals realize this they are aware that the visitor would not be is a good leader and that they need someone who has a deeper understanding of the forest culture. Ropopoley understands this and gets his confidence back. The animals realize that they need an experienced animal leader and Ropopoley saves the day. (RESOLUTION)
ix. Rework the Outline
As you have noticed I have used the original outline as well as the additions I made along the way as I developed the re-worked version.
I have done this to show you how one idea can be embellished and give birth to other ideas.
You will also notice that at this stage the reworking is not so smooth, so it is not quite right yet, however after I rework it a few more times, it will be right.
The story will probably not be right the first time, the second or third time. But if you leave it for a while and come back to it, you will often find new life when you return to it. When this starts to happen writing ceases to become a chore and becomes joyful.
Personally I like to write something and leave it for a few hours, or even a few days and then come back to it. Then way I am refreshed and will bring new things to it each time I re-look at it.
One trick I have learned is to write up to a point and then walk away before getting too tired. This helps prevent writers block as well as frustration. Sometimes I will write, stop awhile, watch a movie, go to the supermarket, chat with a mate, and listen to music so that I can relax my mind for a while before returning to writing.
Because intense writing can be physically and mentally exhausting, make sure you build constant breaks into your writing routine. Over time you will be able to write for longer and longer periods, but at the beginning try to limit it to about 1 hour, definitely no more than 2 hours at a time.
Also because I never expect the work to be right the first or second or even fourth time, I have learned to be patient with myself and build in the time I know it will take to get it right. The reason it is important to build the time of reworking into your psyche is so you are not frustrated when you are not coming up with the ideas you want. Remember the easier your approach to writing, the easier it will flow. Frustration and impatience will only jam your creative mechanism, (which is known as writer’s block), so the more laid back and relaxed you are, the more ideas will naturally flow from your subconscious onto the page.
Another thing to remember is that you feel differently on different days, so some days you will produce a lot more than other days. Accept and know this and don’t be too hard on yourself on the days when you are not producing what you hope to produce. Just do what you can step by step as relaxed as possible.
Now that you have done all the above things I have suggested very systematically, NOW YOU ARE ALMOST READY FOR THE ZONE.
A great fallacy is that organization impedes creativity, but that is not true, in fact just the opposite is true because when you don’t have to think about the techniques of your craft, you now have the freedom to improvise and be creative. The best example I know of this is good jazz musicians. Their ability on their instruments is usually at the virtuoso level. They know their instruments and their theory of music so well that they can play in any key instantly, so they become free to improvise on the spot and create art night after night after night for years on end without ever playing the same thing exactly the same way twice.
I have a good friend who is a shining example of this. He started playing saxophone when he was about 13 years old. I remember well that in the early 70’s he would practice from 5-8 hours a day and now that we are in 2012 he still practices daily, not because he needs too, but because the practice allows the fluidity of his playing to be as natural to him as breathing.
You may look at Picasso and see that his drawings look as if a child could draw them with three eyes, four noses three pairs of lips etc., but in reality he was trained as an artist by his father who was also an artist, from the age of seven.
Picasso had become a master painter by his early twenties and could paint scenes with astounding natural accuracy. Consequently all of his creativity that created the woman with the four noses, three eyes etc, was based on an underlying set of techniques that he had mastered and developed over many years so that his emphasis by his mid twenties was on “what to paint” rather than “how to paint”.
Obviously your first book may not be your best, but if you start building the solid technical writing foundations now, you will eventually not have to think about “the how of writing”, you will only want to have to think about “the what of writing”. You want to eventually have the technique of writing so practiced and refined that the “how of writing” takes care of itself and allows you to write from inside a ZONE.
The trick to obtaining and mastering the technique is just practice, practice and more practice. Practice writing using the plot outline to come up with story after story until you get one that really works for you and that you feel good about. Practice when you are on the train, or taking a break at work. Read and make notes about what you like and what ideas and techniques you can use when you write your book. When you practice in a very relaxed way you take in more and it does not become so much of a chore. One of the things I used to do when building my technique was to watch TV with a pen and pad so that I could dissect the story I was watching into a plot outline form.
Always try to practice when you are not under any pressure to perform because then you will be able to connect with the technique in a way that the learning process becomes your muse and a friend who gently chats to you from your subconscious revealing secrets, rather than an enemy who is chasing after you with a giant clock with which to beat you into a senseless state of anxiety and frustration.
To integrate all that I have talked about up to this point is not an overnight process and even for a small project it will take time. The most important thing for now is that you know what to expect and you now have a road map with which to start your journey. Take it step by step in very small bites. Work on one thing until you feel you have a handle on it, then move on to the next step. One of the famous quotes by Henry Ford that applies to this situation is that “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs”.
One of the biggest mistakes too many new authors make is they think they must do it all at once and that creativity should flow from them like water from a tap. When it doesn’t, they lose patience, become frustrated and stop. They think writing a book is a short race. It is not, it is a marathon. Not the actual writing necessarily but learning the techniques that will allow a writer to write fluidly.
Writing without technique only happens in the films or in the minds of people who don’t know any better. In reality learning and mastering technique in any area is a step by step organized process. When it is approached in small steps the writer will experience small victories on each page that will push them to the next set of pages.
x. Tailor the Writing to Fit Your Audience
When writing, be careful to talk to whom you are speaking, and not to whom you would like to be speaking.
Confusing? Ok I will say it again, in a slightly different way.
Be careful to talk to who you need to talk to and not to who you might want to talk to.
Still confusing? Ok, let me explain.
If you were telling a story about an elephant who sees other animals at a drinking pond and you are describing the scene, would you say “the elephant determined that he was enthralled at the scenario of the animal menagerie hydrating themselves at the watering location” or would you say “the elephant decided that he liked the collection of animals he saw drinking at the pond”?
Obviously the second version is better because you are talking to a child who probably would not know certain of the words used in the first example. The child is your audience so use words they know, words that do not impede their ability to understand and feel. Yes feel. Remember you are working on their emotions.
If they don’t understand it, then they cannot feel it.
For example, the sentence “Da me um beijo meu amore”. If you speak Portuguese this sentence means something to you, and you feel it instantly. If you do not speak Portuguese, then the feeling conveyed by the words in this sentence is lost on you. Even if I say “Da me um kiss meu love” you may now have slightly more of an inkling of the meaning because you know the words kiss and love, and you also know they have both have something to do with the subject of romance, but still your thoughts are interrupted and the sentence still does not register fully either intellectually and certainly cannot resonate emotionally because there are understanding gaps. But if I say, “give me a kiss, my love,” it all becomes instantly clear and you know exactly what those words mean, so you immediately connect emotionally to the words.
Remember this when you write. You are writing for children to understand and feel. You are not writing to impress editors or people who might read your book and tell you how great your vocabulary skills are.
Keep it simple, use “she said this” or, “he said that” rather than “she retorted” or “he surmised”.
I am fully aware that as a children’s writer, you do not write purely to entertain but may want to educate with your writing as well. But you must also keep in mind that you do not want to write to the detriment of the main goal which is to entertain. You don’t want to lose your audience with words that are supposed to be good for them.
To me it’s a bit like going to a party and the host demands that I eat only dried oats, apples and spinach because they are good for my health, when there are also cookies, bananas and cake on the table.
Also in children’s books, make sure that the reader or listener (as some children will have stories read to them by adults) knows at all times who is saying what to whom. Is it Mr Fox, Mrs Fish or Miss Crumble who just said whatever? Adults know this from having read years of books. They know the code when dialogue switches from one character to another in conversation, but remember children are still young readers and still learning this literary method and skill of switching. Even though children pick up quickly, you want to make your images come to life easily and quickly so the reader or listener connects as easily as possible and can get the full emotional impact of your writing.
xi. Working With Illustrators
Lots of children’s book authors may want to have a specially designed book cover as well as illustrations for their books.
The first question is how does one find an illustrator to create the design?
I would suggest that you start by going to the internet.
There are a number of illustrator sites where illustrators show their works, like http://www.illustrationmundo.com where you can see the work of the artist and obtain their email contact information.
You can also find illustrators on Gumtree or Craigslist.
Working with an illustrator can be tricky because when the illustrator brings your characters to life, they then are technically participating in your creation. Therefore it becomes imperative that you spell out in a written agreement exactly who owns what.
The agreement does not have to be long and drawn out but it should cover the points of
If the illustrator’s contribution is a work for hire or not. (A work for hire means you pay the illustrator and you as the author retain all rights to the illustrations)
You can also have a work for hire that still allow the illustrator to participate in a percentage of the book sales proceeds in addition to paying the fee for their illustration.
This is the way I usually work because even though the work is registered as a copyright by myself as the author, the illustrator can participate in future sales from any exploitation of their design should the book sell well or should we decide to create a cartoon, an app, or something that may generate future revenue. This kind of arrangement can also be an incentive for the illustrator to work with you if they know that there may be future work or money coming their way if you decide to write another book.
The agreement should spell out who will own the copyright.
Generally I have found that the illustrator will allow the author to own 100% of the copyright along with illustrations if they can participate in the sales and future exploitation of their illustrations.
Terms of payment. I suggest never paying for anything until you are 100% happy with the final result so I would suggest a 3 step payment plan. 50% partial payment upon start, which is after you have seen their work, talked about the concept of your book, maybe seen a few idea sketches that made you feel strong enough to hire them and sign an agreement. 25% payment upon acceptance of work upon review. This is after the first stage of designs having been completed based on ongoing conversations. This is the stage where you make any major changes and make sure you and the illustrator are on the exact same wave length and the final 25% payment upon final delivery of product as well as all needed computer formats, e.g. Photoshop, jpeg.
If this is your first time working with the illustrator you will want a schedule of delivery in the agreement, with a clause stating if the illustrator does not deliver according to schedule, then you have the right to use the illustration ideas you have paid for up to that point with another illustrator with no future financial recourse
You want to be as specific as possible about the number of illustrations you will need, and if the images are in colour or black and white, etc. If you are playing by the hour, you also want a maximum number of hours stated for each design.
You will also want to spell out final delivery formats for the final product, whether that is Photo Shop Files, jpeg, or other file formats. I would suggest that you get a copy of both because if you are going to place it on a website, the website designer will most likely need the photo shop files and for marketing purposes you can use the JPEG files. Do not make final payment until you get these formats and have tested them on your computer to make sure all is as it should be.
Make sure you state in the agreement that the agreement is determined by the laws of the country where you are living in the case that the illustrator is living elsewhere.
Chemistry with an illustrator is important because as an author you want the look and feel of your book to reflect what you have inside your head. Illustrators come in many different personalities, so you may meet some who don’t want to read your book and others who will insist on reading it to get ideas. Then there are those who may have existing designs that they would like to give you, and you might even like some, but on the other hand you may not. Some illustrators are visually great on paper but totally horrible when it comes to talking with real people. You don’t want one of these illustrators because lots of conceptual talking may need to take place when new characters are being developed. Oftentimes there might be creative disagreement over concept, as there often is in any creative endeavour, but you and the illustrator need to be able to work positively towards something you both can agree on as well as feel good about. I find that an ongoing talking process works best because it allows for tweaking all along the way.
If possible I would use the same illustrator for the book cover as well as the illustrations inside the book. This way the feel between the illustrations and cover remains consistent.
I find that the relationship between myself and an illustrator works best is when I am able to sit down, buy them a drink, look them in the eye and talk through the ideas of the story and characters and then ask the illustrator to go away and come back a few days later with a few different designs that I can choose from. But if this is not possible, a Skype relationship is perfectly acceptable.
Because character design is not a precise science there needs to be some good chemistry between the illustrator and the author’s ideas so that the flow of ideas are easy and comfortable.
But no matter what happens, the bottom line is that the illustrator is selling their services to you and as the buyer of that service, you need to be really satisfied with what you are buying.
xii. Build In Time For Idea Development
When you are writing you need to understand that creating art is a process and is not about just reaching the end product. You might do something by mistake and then discover that the mistake was actually the best thing about what you are writing. So you must be open to allowing different ideas come in to replace other ideas.
Another thing a writer needs to consider is that sometimes an idea for something will form over a period of time. Some young or inexperienced writers are sometimes very impatient and expect the work to be good on the first or second try. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it will not.
As I mentioned before, I find the best approach is to work on something and then walk away and come back to it later. This is my method for giving the idea time to settle and then come back to work on it again, maybe a few hours or even a few days later. There is no fixed one thing or method that you can do when you are creating something to make sure that it is right or good. It just has to feel right to you and touch something inside you. This is actually the most important thing, because no matter who says whatever about your work, if you are not feeling it you will not be able to put the passion into it that you need to finish it.
Most likely you will find each time you return to your zone, you will be surprised how many little improvements keep popping up and you will need time to make decisions, develop and re-work your book making it better and better as you go along.
This is also the reason I suggested that you build in the extra time for your commitment to finish your book because there will be times when you will need to let the work gestate a bit before you give birth. Personally I find writing a book is a bit like cooking, the ingredients need the time they need to cook and when they have finished cooking then, and only then, will the food be ready. If you know that dinner is being served at 7:00pm and you start cooking at 5:30pm, you are going to be much more stressed about the outcome than if you had started in the morning which gives you more time to let the food cook properly. This will also give you time to properly taste and add a few things and taste again until you have it exactly as you really like it.
Also I find it is better to write a bit more that you think you will need, than less. That’s what editors are for, to cut things out of your manuscript and in the process give your book a sharper focus. This objective editorial input can be very valuable.
You are now almost halfway through his book, on the road to where you want to get to. You can feel good about yourself that you have had the interest and stamina to hang in there thus far. Also you can feel good about knowing that as you keep reading you will get closer and closer to your goal.
A Few Thoughts About The Nature of Writing
I have been a professional writer since 1973 and have written and published lots of different kinds of things over the years including newspaper and magazine articles, 6 novels, 6 stage plays, 3 film scripts, and many TV Programs. I have picked up lots of tricks over the years. One of my best tricks is that I discovered how to write on automatic pilot. Sounds strange right? But it’s not really when you understand the nature of writing, especially fiction writing.
You remember a few pages back when I talked about not writing your book entirely as you strolled along the river and you’ll remember that I had the word ‘entirely’ italicized because to some extent when you are writing from a zone, you are not entirely writing from your consciousness but from your unconscious as well. Therefore in a way you could easily be strolling along the river while writing. I am often writing while taking a walk to the train station or doing something that seemingly has nothing to do with writing.
We all know about what is called a stream of consciousness, which is when someone waxes lyrically or just delivers a series of statements based on spontaneous thought derived from an interior monologue. In reality the description would be a lot more accurate if it were called a stream of sub consciousness. I say ‘subconscious’ because often when someone is being moved to verbalize from an internal source it is much more connected with the basic instincts and feelings controlled by the subconscious than from the analytical conscious functions of the brain. Another way of putting it is that that when a person is acting out of their subconscious and allowing the creativity to flow from them in an uninterrupted fashion, this person in a CREATIVE ZONE.