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Posts tagged ‘Kate Forsyth author’

Plot Structure In Novels, by Kate Forsyth

Whenever I teach writing, I always spend quite a lot of time talking about plot structure.

This is because I think that it is nearly always the reason why a novel fails. A book can have engaging characters; a fast-paced, action-packed plot; and a fascinating setting, but still not quite work. This is nearly always because it has a weak structure.

Think of the structure as the framework of your novel, the internal architecture. It is like a human skeleton – invisible to the eye, yet the thing that stops it collapsing into jelly. Like the skeleton, it is made up of small parts, each linked one to the other, each doing their job to keep your novel working at full strength. The structure of a novel should fall into logical divisions, usually called scenes, chapters and sections.

A scene is an incident or event in a novel in which the action takes place continuously in a single place or time. Each scene should follow on logically from each other in a cause-and-effect chain.

A chapter is a division of the novel into regular parts, usually comprising one major scene, but sometimes combining several scenes.

A section is a collection of chapters, bound together by the point of view of the primary protagonist, by the place or time in which the action is set, or thematically.

In children’s and young adult fiction, the structure is usually more simple and linear than in an adult book, but this is a rule that can be broken. For example, The Puzzle Ring begins long after the adventure has ended, foreshadowing what will come.

Chapters aren’t just arbitrary rest breaks in a book. They should be carefully planned to control pace, to advance the plot and to work with the reader’s natural reading rhythms.

I usually aim for a chapter length between 1,500-2,000 for a children’s book (aged 8+), 2,500-3,000 words for young adults (aged 12+), and 3,500-4,000 words for an adult’s book (aged 16+). However, there is no rule – a chapter can be can a single word as in Frank McCourt’s final chapter of Angela’s Ashes: ‘’Tis”

I usually maintain a single point of view in a chapter. Sometimes I will move from head to head, particularly in the final climactic scenes when numerous characters may all be working toward the final denouement.

I will usually finish a chapter either at a point of high tension, i.e. some kind of cliffhanger, or at a moment of resolution. I call the first a ‘peak’ scene and the second a ‘trough’ scene. Having peaks and troughs varies the pace and rhythm of the book, and allows moments of rest before cranking up the intensity again.

I try to make sure each point of resolution occurs after half an hour’s reading for a child, and an hour’s reading for a young adult or adult.  This is so the reader can get off their bus and go to school or work, or turn off their light and go to bed. Most people read in this way. I know I do.

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

The Puzzle Ring   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     I Rode a Horse of Milk White JadeAcross the UniverseTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
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Writing Prophecies In Fantasy Novels, by Kate Forsyth

I happen to love prophecies in a fantasy novel. I know lots of people hate them because they find them clichéd and contrived. I cannot help it. I really love them, both to read and to write. I agree that many prophecies weaken a story, undermining the element of surprise. I agree they are often poorly written. I agree there’s often no real need for them, apart to add a sense of inflated importance to it all: ‘Stop the cuckoo’s cry, else you shall all die!” However, sometimes a prophecy just seems necessary.

I have lots of prophecies in my teen fantasy novel, The Starthorn Tree. One of my key characters is a boy called Durrik who has the habit of blurting out prophecies at the very worst moment. He hears them only in fragments and is compelled to utter them at once, even though he may displease his listeners to the point they might want him dead.

‘Cursed is the son of light!’ he shouts in his dreams. ‘Cursed the tower shining bright.’

Most of these prophecies I had planned, and written carefully with the help of a rhyming dictionary and my old poetry textbook full of terms like iambic pentameter and trochee and anapest.

However, there is one prophecy in the book I did not plan in advance, and write carefully, making sure the rhythm and rhyme was as it should be.

This prophecy came to me… well, like a prophecy.

Uncalled for, unplanned, unwanted.

It came to me in a kind of lucid dreaming late one night, when I was up and feeding my newborn son. I had been working on The Starthorn Tree for about a year, and had always thought of it as a stand-alone novel. However, that night, as I sat in the darkness, feeding my baby and listening to the wind and the rain howling about my house, it came to me that there should be three books set in this magical world I had invented, not just one. The heroes of the second book would be the children of the heroes of The Starthorn Tree, and the heroes of the third book would be their grandchildren. Three generations, three adventures, three books.

I caught up my notebook and pen, and scribbled down a string of words or images that came very vividly to my mind’s eye.

‘Three times a babe shall be born,’ I wrote, then a rough estimation of the words ‘between star-crowned and iron-bound’ (I polished this up later.)  Then I wrote: ‘First, the sower of seeds, the soothsayer, though lame he must travel far.’

That first child was clearly Durrik, my lame boy who can hear the future. So far, so good.

But then I wrote, hardly knowing where the words came from:

‘Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker, though broken himself he shall be.’

In my mind’s eye I saw a boy falling from an impossibly high crystal tower, falling through clouds, falling down to smash into the sea crawling so far below. The scene was as vivid as a snippet of a film, and I had no idea where it came from.

But more words were beating insistently at my mind’s ear, determined to be told. I scribbled down a few more lines in my notebook, virtually word perfect for how they appeared in the novel:

‘Last, the smallest and greatest –
In him the blood of wise and wild,
Farseeing ones and starseeing ones.
Though he must be lost before he can find
Though, before he sees, he must be blind,
If he can find and if he can see
The true king of all he shall be.’

In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of a boy – small and thin – stumbling through a swamp, his eyes bandaged. A lame girl led him by the hand. That was it – a couple of fragmented images and a prophecy I didn’t understand myself. Yet out of that came two more novels, The Wildkin’s Curse and The Starkin Crown, and my stand-alone fantasy novel became a trilogy.

***

Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

The Puzzle Ring   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     Keeping CornerBlack Storm Comin'Across the Universe

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

On Character Development For Novelists, by Kate Forsyth

Why is it that some books you read linger in your heart and mind for the rest of your life, while you have trouble remembering much about another book only a few days later?

It is because some books have characters that seem to leap off the page, vivid and alive. These characters have a story to tell that moves and challenges you, making your pulse hurry and your throat thicken, making you turn the pages faster and faster because you so desperately want to know what happens next.

How do we, as writers, create characters who sing and dance and leap? How do we tell a story that makes someone we have never meet sigh, laugh out loud and weep?

To me, character and plot are the most important cogs in the well-oiled machine that is a working story. It is also where many writers fail.

Let’s start with character, the mainspring of any story’s mechanics.

Character building is, I think, one of the trickiest parts of writing a novel, and the one factor that can transform a mediocre book into a marvellous one. Usually our favourite books are the ones in which we wish the main character was our friend.

When writing about the books of Edith Nesbit, Noel Streatfield invented what she called the ‘bus test’: ‘One way of gauging the aliveness of a family in a children’s book is to ask yourself “Would I know them if they sat opposite me in a bus?”’

I think this is a test for all characters in all books - could you, for example, recognise Jo March and her sisters? Would you recognise Harry Potter or Miss Havisham? What about Sherlock Holmes? Scarlett O’Hara? Peter Pan?

Sometimes characters just appear in your imagination with a strong voice all of their own.

Sometimes you need to build them painstakingly from the ground up and wait for them to come to life.

I often find it takes about the first quarter of the first draft (around 20,000 words) for my characters to really begin to move and talk naturally. So don’t worry if you find it takes you a while to really connect - this is quite normal.

William Faulkner said: ‘It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands upon his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.’

Character 101

First, let’s consider what exactly a ‘character’ is.

Characters are the people who populate your story.

Characterisation: the process by which a writer makes those characters seem real to the reader.

Protagonist: the hero or heroine; the primary character or point of view with whom the reader connects and empathises

Antagonist: the character or force that stands directly opposed to the protagonist and gives rise to the conflict of the story.

Foil: character whose behaviour and values provides a contrast to the protagonist in order to highlight their personalities i.e. weak to strong, quiet to talkative

Antihero: protagonist who has the opposite of most of the traditional attributes of a hero. He may weak and ineffectual; or greedy and cruel. It is much harder to build empathy for an anti-hero.

Static character: does not change throughout the work and the reader’s knowledge of that character does not grow.

Dynamic character: undergoes some kind of change because of the action in the plot. Usually the protagonist of a story is a dynamic character and their growth towards self-realisation and wisdom is the true narrative arc.

Flat character: embodies one or two qualities or traits that can be readily described in a brief summary.  Can sometimes be:

Stock character: embodies stereotypes such as the ‘dumb blonde’ or ‘the cruel stepmother’ and so forth.

Round characters: more complex than flat or stock characters, and often display the inconsistencies and internal conflicts found in most real people. They can grow and change and ‘surprise convincingly’.

Showing and Telling: Authors have two major methods of presenting characters: showing and telling. Usually authors use a combination of both.

Showing: allows the author to present a character talking and acting, and lets the reader infer what kind of person the character is.

Telling: the author describes and evaluates the character for the reader.

Characters can be convincing, whether they are presented by showing or by telling, as long as their actions are motivated.

Character Tags:  everyone has certain individual mannerisms such as chewing their nails, sitting with one foot on top of the other, playing with their hair, etc. Try to find one or two that will help define each character i.e. a nervous girl who chews her bottom lip, a confident man who stands too close. A character tag can evoke the personality of a character far more powerfully than whole paragraphs of explanation. However, be careful not to overuse them.

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

The Puzzle Ring   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     Across the UniverseCode Name VerityTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Developing Characters For My Teen Novels, by Kate Forsyth

One of the most mysterious aspects of a writer’s craft is building characters. I get asked all the time how I do it.

I usually try and explain that I don’t so much invent the characters in the book as discover them. It’s a process of getting to know them. I usually begin with ‘seeing’ them in my mind’s eye. More often than not I see them very clearly right away but sometimes their face and form may be a little shadowy. If so, I just keep on looking and wondering and imagining until I see them clearly.

Emilia and Luka, the 13 year old protagonists of The Gypsy Crown came dancing and singing and laughing into my imagination as if they had always existed.

The face of Hannah, the heroine of The Puzzle Ring was also very vivid in my mind’s eye right from the very beginning.

I’ve had to spend a little bit more time with other characters. This will only usually take me a day or two though. I have a very visual imagination and so for some reason I find this a very easy and intuitive process.

Once I begin to see them clearly I give them a name. Finding the right name might take weeks. I’ll pore over baby name books and Google keywords like ‘medieval Welsh girl’s names’. I write up lists of names and their meanings and play with them to see how they fit.

One of the first inspirations for Luka and Emilia, the protagonists of The Gypsy Crown, came from my desire to write a book that both my son Ben and my niece Emily could read. They were cousins, three weeks apart in age, and loved to invent games inspired by the books they read. So I made Luka and Emilia cousins as close as twins as well, and turned Emily’s name into the gypsy-like name of Emilia. But there was not much I could do with Ben - it was resolutely un-gypsy-like. So I borrowed the name of the son of one of my favourite Australian fantasy writers, Kim Wilkins. Her son’s name is Luca - I simply changed the spelling of it a little. I then went on and named many of the minor characters after the children of Australian fantasy writers. Readers in the know can play a game of spot the name.

Hannah in The Puzzle Ring was Anna for a while - I knew I needed a palindromic name but Anna didn’t seem quite right, while Hannah definitely was. It took me ages to find the name of the boy who becomes her best friend. At last I settled on Donovan which means ‘dark prince’.

Once my characters are named, I begin to write character sketches for them. I think about when their birthdays might be, what their childhoods might have been like, what they want out of life, what they fear the most and so on. I think about their greatest strengths and weaknesses. Are they hot-tempered, impulsive, pig-headed or shy? What do they like to eat, wear and read? I gradually begin to know them as people. I’ll begin to write my story, listening all the time for their voices. The writing is much easier once I know how they sound.  Sometimes I feel as if the book nearly writes itself.

***

Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

The Puzzle Ring   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Puzzle Ring     Cleopatra ConfessesThe Night She DisappearedSpark

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Developing The Story For My Novel ‘The Puzzle Ring’, by Kate Forsyth

One idea is not enough to begin writing a novel. I usually find you need three which seem to have some kind of electrical charge between them.

I got the first idea for my book The Puzzle Ring while flicking through a jewellery catalogue while waiting in a doctor’s surgery. At the back of the magazine was a brief article about the first ever puzzle ring. The story went something like:

‘Long ago, there lived an Arabian king who was madly in love with his young and beautiful wife, and tormented by jealousy she might be unfaithful to him. He challenged the court jeweller to make a wedding ring that would show if the ring was ever taken off his wife’s finger. After many attempts, the jeweller invented a ring that would fall apart into separate loops if removed from the finger, and could only be put back together again if you knew the secret of the puzzle. Of course, the wife did take the ring off one day… and was promptly killed by her enraged husband.’

I thought at once, in an idle sort of a way, what a great thematic device this would be for a quest story… a desperate search for a puzzle ring that had fallen apart. When I got home, I wrote down a few simple words in my ideas book – ‘Quest for a broken puzzle ring’ – which eventually became a novel of 100,000 words.

I would continue to wonder about it in idle moments. Who would be searching for a puzzle ring? Why?

Questions lead to wondering, which lead to imagining, which lead to story.

One day, sometime later, I was browsing in a second-hand bookstore and discovered an old book called The Book of Curses. When I sat down to look through it, the page fell open, of its own volition, at a chapter about the famous Scottish curse ‘The Seaforth Doom’. This is a very chilling and creepy story about a warlock called Kenneth the Enchanter who was burnt to death in the 16th century by a jealous and vengeful woman, Isabella Mackenzie, the Countess of Seaforth.

Kenneth had a magical fairy stone, or hag-stone, and the countess had asked him to look through his hag-stone and tell him what her husband was doing. Kenneth had laughed, and then told her “Fear not for your Lord. He is safe and sound, well and hearty, merry and happy”.

Angrily she demanded to know why he had laughed and, when he would not tell her, threatened him with a terrible death. At last he confessed he had seen her husband on his knees before another woman, kissing her hand.

The countess was so furious that she ordered Kenneth to be thrust headfirst into a barrel of boiling tar. As he was led out to his execution, the warlock lifted his hag-stone to his eye and cast a terrible curse on the Mackenzies of Seaforth.

My own family heritage is Scottish; my grandmother’s grandmother was called Ellen Mackenzie. And so this famous curse seemed almost as if it was directed against my own family. And I thought to myself, what would you do if you found out your family was cursed? Wouldn’t you set out to break the curse? But how?

Perhaps, I thought, you’d need to find and fix a broken puzzle ring…

And so I got the first two ideas for my novel The Puzzle Ring.

The next idea came fast on the heels of the second idea. Because my own family was Scottish, and I’d been inspired by a famous Scottish curse, I decided to set the story in Scotland.

A modern-day girl called Hannah discovers her family is cursed, and so persuades her mother to visit their ancestral home in Scotland in the hope of breaking the curse. Once in the Highlands of Scotland, she makes friends with three local kids … and they soon discover the only way to break the curse was to travel back in time to the dangerous days of Mary, Queen of Scots…

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Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

The Puzzle Ring   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

The Puzzle RingThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)     The Empty KingdomThe Forgotten PearlA World Away

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Writing My Novel ‘The Gypsy Crown’, by Kate Forsyth

The idea for The Gypsy Crown came out of the blue like a lightning bolt. This is how it happened.

When I was a little girl, I used to go and visit my Great-Aunt Bobby, an elderly and rather eccentric lady who always gave us tea out of fine bone china cups with violets on them.  She had an old charm bracelet, passed down through the family for generations, and I used to like to look at all the charms and hear the stories behind them. Some of the charms were very old. The oldest of all was nothing but a small brown pebble, smooth from years of being rubbed for luck. It had been picked up from the banks of the River Thames by my great-great-great-great-grandmother, before she left England to travel the long and dangerous journey to Australia. I loved to hear this story, and wanted a charm bracelet of my own, one in which each charm had a story behind it.

Many years later, my great-aunt died and the charm bracelet was inherited by my mother. I remember having lunch with her, and she showed me the beautiful old bracelet, heavy with charms, and I remembered how much I had loved it as a little girl.

Then I thought to myself, imagine if a bracelet like this was broken and someone had to go on a quest to find all the lost charms. What an amazing quest story it would make.

Each charm could have some kind of meaning … each could be won only after some kind of adventure, the overcoming of obstacles, the payment of some kind of cost …

All the hairs rose on my arms. I felt a jolt of electricity run down my spine. It was a good idea, I knew it at once.

But who and where and when and why?

These are the key questions I always ask myself when a story idea comes to me. Sometimes it takes a long time to answer those questions. But in the case of The Gypsy Crown, the solution came to me at once, in a flash.

I had always wanted to be a Gypsy, ever since my grandmother had told me – perhaps jokingly – that there was Gypsy blood in our family. As a girl, I used to pretend to be a Gypsy all the time. I’d dress in a long, layered skirt in all different fabrics and a white embroidered blouse with puffed sleeves, and put on lots of gold bangles, and imagine I was travelling the roads of the world, barefoot and fancy-free . Sometimes on the weekend, in summer, my mother used to let my sister and brother and me light a campfire in our back garden and we’d camp out under the stars and cook sausages on sticks.  I pretended I could play the violin so people could not help but dance, and that I had a pet monkey that caused all kinds of mischief.

I remembered this childhood fascination of mine, in what felt like less than a second after thinking of writing a story about a quest for a charm bracelet. Gypsies used to believe in charms and talismans, I thought. Surely they wore charm bracelets?

In my mind’s eye, I saw at once two Romany children – a boy and a girl – with flashing dark eyes and black curly hair, dressed in ragged, bright, old-fashioned clothes. The girl was laughing and dancing and clapping her hands, tattered skirts swirling about her dirty bare feet. The boy was playing a violin, a tiny monkey passing around her hat for coins. A grumpy old dancing bear danced too, a ring through her nose. From the shadows, a man with a sword watched, meaning them harm …

I wrote the first book, or section, of The Gypsy Crown in only three weeks, the fastest I’ve ever written a book. It just seemed to leap from my fingers.

(In Australia, The Gypsy Crown is the first in a series of 6 books. In the UK & the US and other territories, the series was published in a condensed version as one single book).

***

Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

The Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Shining City (Rhiannon's Ride)    GlowAcross the UniverseProject 17

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

On Finding Story Ideas, by Kate Forsyth

All writers are asked the same question over and over again.

‘Where do you get your ideas?’ people want to know.

This is very difficult question to answer because the truth is ideas come to me all the time. Sometimes they just drift into my mind as I’m daydreaming out a window. Sometimes it’ll be an image, or a sequence of words, or I’ll start to wonder idly about something I’ve seen or read or heard, and suddenly I’ll get an idea like a flash of light, and I see how it could be a story.

I might be flicking through a magazine, reading a book, chatting to a friend, eavesdropping on a conversation in a restaurant, digging up weeds in my garden, doodling on the edge of the newspaper.

Many of my ideas come to me while I’m writing – they seem to rise up out of the deepest, most shadowy part of my brain and flow through my blood to my fingertips. It’s terribly exciting when this happens – I feel as if I am not writing the story, but merely being the conduit for it – as if the story already existed somewhere else and I am just doing my imperfect best to give it life.

Another reason why this is a difficult question to answer is that a novel is never just one idea. It’s hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands of them. Some come easily, without any conscious volition, others need to be searched out, blindly and dumbly, fumbling about in the darkness, not knowing what it is I need until I find it.

If I am ever asked this question, I generally pick just one of my books and then explain the story behind its writing.

For example, my first book for young readers, The Starthorn Tree, began as an image that came to me as I was hovering in that dim, secret place between being awake and falling asleep. I saw a high tower, and a girl climbing out the window and down the steep wall, on a thread no thicker than a cobweb. As she climbed down the thread, I climbed down into sleep, and the image was swallowed up by darkness. I remembered only that fragment in the morning, but I wondered about it every now and again. Who was the girl? Why was she running away?

Another dream image – or almost-dream image – was that of a boy rowing a heavily laden boat across a moonlit lake to an island. There was strange, eerie singing … and a sense of great danger … and also great anticipation …

The two images seemed to belong together – I felt a sort of magnetic charge between them, dragging them together.  A boy, a girl, a tower, an island, a magical thread, dangerous singing … I began to imagine how they might be linked.  Slowly a story grew out of these few stray images …

***

Kate Forsyth’s author website: www.kateforsyth.com.au

Kate Forsyth’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

   

United Kingdom (and beyond)

   

Australia (and beyond)

The Starthorn TreeThe Tower of Ravens (Rhiannon's Ride)The Shining City (Rhiannon's Ride)Heart of Stars (Rhiannon's Ride)    Tarzan: The Jungle WarriorSaraswati's WayFirehorse

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

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