Mad hatter’s interpretation—Don’t let this quote intimidate you so much you can’t finish. I beleive in the “shitty first draft,” does that mean I’m full of Sh_ _—Wait, you don’t actually have to answer that:)
Whoever said that writing and illustrating for children was an easy and mellow occupation must have been madder than the Mad Hatter – sorry Dawne for using you as an example of nutty, whacko and a few cows short in the top paddock. This world of children’s literature is not about cute, fluffy bunny slippers and happy-go-lucky gnomes skipping in a meadow. For a more realistic image of what it is like, try imagining those bunnies with large, pointy teeth and ferocious appetites. Or gnomes with cleavers, pillaging and creating chaos. Facing that blank page can be terrifying.
The worst culprit for us creative folk in this genre is out inner critic. That horrid little part of our psyche that basically tells us, without hesitation, YOU STINK! This little demon has the ability to immobilise our creative flow and leave us blubbering in front of our computers. Inducing a “I can’t” psychosis – I can’t write, or I can’t draw, or I can’t do this.
Well the White Rabbit and Mad Hatter say enough playing nice, it’s time to get nasty and bite those critics back….HARD. For those of you who joined us on the BiPolar Express and enjoyed murdering our inner critics (in a most creative way I must add), you will be familiar with this concept of payback.
This little exercise is aimed at bumping off that inner critic and freeing your creativity. There are no limitations on how you would like to do the deed, in fact, the more imaginative, the better! And I promise, we won’t tell anyone.
EAT ME DRINK ME:
Relax for a moment. Close your eyes and allow yourself to hear your inner critic. Get a good sense of where it dwells, how it feels, how it makes you feel, how it looks. For the next 15 minutes we want you to use one of the murder weapons below and write or illustrate about silencing this inner critic, in the most creative way possible. There is no right or wrong way, so have some fun.
Murder weapon #1 An anchor
Murder weapon #2 A shoe
Murder weapon #3 A slice of pie
Murder weapon #4 A monkey and a piece of string
If you can’t think of anything to say, write down that you can’t think of anything to say. Don’t stop. Don’t worry about transitions or connecting the ideas or paragraphing or subject-verb agreement or even commas. And don’t judge what you’ve written no matter how strange it is. If you end up completely off topic, that’s okay, it could lead to some great idea. Oh yeah, and no revising while you write, not a single scratch out.
When you’re done, read your work out loud. Often the ear will pick up a pattern or idea that you hadn’t noticed as you wrote.
Don’t give up on freewriting after one exercise. Try it everyday for a week. Freewriting is like any other kind of mental activity: you will get better at it. The first couple of times nothing may emerge. After a few exercises, things will start to develop. Remember, when you first learned to ride a bike? You started out wobbly, but each time you became steadier, and so will your free writing.
Free Writing Topics—Do One a Day for a Week(Feel free to share any thoughts and experiences on our blog, so don’t forget to let us know how it goes)
Elves in the Attic
There are many places where a story comes from. It can evolve from mystery, authority, poetry, serendipity, or tenacity. The story comes from your own experiences and as a writer, you need to use these experiences to infuse your characters. Try and recall the first time you went to the beach – how did it smell and feel? Was it a windy day, or a hot day? What did you do?
Even as illustrators, these experiences and memories help recapture the picture and allow us to draw from the heart. Can you recall what expressions and actions were involved in this first trip to the beach? Was it a bright day or a dull, cloudy day? All these will effect how the illustration will look. Remember, an illustration is the story that runs parallel to the words.
Start paying attention to what is going on around you, a story could be lurking within. Look into history, watch/read the news, even listen and observe what is happening while you are sitting in a cafe sipping your latte. Listening to conversations is a great way to get a feel for dialogue – just make sure you do this with subtlety. Research is 10% of the story and the other 90% is your imagination.
There are so many different opinions about the writing process and often they conflict with one another. So in the madness of the Mad Hatter and White Rabbit, we say, DO what you need to do, and don’t allow all the rules to bog you down. Just write yourself into your words and into your characters, and write the entire story without going back over it and without worrying about length. With this method you will be able to get that story idea out on the page and you will know where you are going.
Once you have your story down you can start adding layers and revising. Think of yourself as a sculptor, adding layers and layers of clay, building up the art through backstory, feelings, opinions and details.
So lock up that editor within and JUST GET YOUR STORY OUT!
“We shouldn’t worry about the dos and don’ts. Thou shat not will be forgotten, but once upon a time is always remembered.” -Philip Pullman
Eat Me Drink Me:
Grab a newspaper and/or magazine. Clip words and random phrases and see which one jumps out at you and then just write for 20 minutes.
Do the same as above. Now illustrate the scene you have randomly created.
Okay, so actions give us the basic understanding of personality, but if we really want to get to know our character, we also have to know how they think and feel about these actions. Here is where your characters potential lies and how they will ultimately decide what is right and what is wrong.
Now here is the twist – our characters may think rationally but may find themselves behaving irrationally because of how they feel. Just like us, our characters think with their heads but can often feel with their hearts. This means that within your story, your character can experience the whole spectrum of emotions including love, hate, anger, jealousy, guilt, embarrassment, or fear. These feelings themselves can be expressed in their actions (overtly) or kept secret (thinking in their heads so only the reader knows).
Ah what a tangled web we weave in character development – there are so many options. Are you feeling like Frankenstein yet? Because this is what it is about – creating characters by putting all the bits and pieces together and hoping that creative spark brings them to life!
EAT ME DRINK ME:
Now here is where that journal comes into action – a writing/illustrating exercise.
Your character is trapped inside the witch house on a dark, stormy night. They will have to spend the night on their own.
Writers: write a short paragraph on how they feel and what is going on in their head.
Illustrators: draw how your character is thinking and feeling. Try capturing the right emotion through facial expression and physical expression.
The biggest decision you’ll make is to know what your character will DO in your story. Story characters are never passive, they take action, and how they act will predominantly depend on their experience, background and personality. A character who has been stung by a bee will react differently when a bee buzzes close by, than a character who has not been stung.
Here’s an example (and please do not try this at home – I am a professional chicken) The Mad Hatter will continue sitting and reading her book when a bee flies by, whereas I, the White Rabbit, will throw my book, spill my drink and madly dash indoors because I have been stung and am allergic to bees.
So here is your first infusion exercise to character development. We want you to start a character journal. Even as an illustrator, a good way to know your story characters is to fill out a characterisation sheet. Here’s a sample below you can use, and of course you can add more questions. If you aren’t currently writing/illustrating a specific character, create one on the spot. You may surprise yourself and get a start on a new novel or picture book!
EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT MY CHARACTER
- Name (including last and middle names) and age.
- Nickname (and how they got this).
- Physical description.
- Family members/friends/pets names and ages.
- Favorite person and why.
- Least favorite person and why.
- Best friend (how long and why).
- Favorite food.
- Least favorite food.
- Favorite color
- Favorite word or saying.
- Living situation.
- Bad habits.
- Secrets – could be a secret wish.
- Any allergies.
- The thing they are most scared of.
- The thing that makes them laugh/smile/feel happy.
Actions reveal the personality behind them…and so in your character’s shoes, you will be responding to things you see, hear, smell, taste and touch in your journals. You must stay true to your character when you are attempting this exercise. Remember, when a character acts consistently, that character then becomes believable.
You sit there staring at that blinking cursor and you at least give yourself credit for sitting still in front of the computer without distraction. And there is a brief pause….of about a few hours and still nothing on that screen. Sure, you’ve done a bit of surfing on the net to get some background or info on your story. And hey, you had to check your email and respond to those pressing forwards that keep circulating. But the writing part of your writing is left…empty…cursor blinking.
And why is it such a hard thing to do? We love writing don’t we? I think the hardest part of starting to write is locking up that inner critic. That editor within that just wants the perfect first line, the flawless first paragraph….a first page that can almost evoke a religious experience it’s that good. Well, no wonder we can’t bloody write!
So let’s give ourselves the permission to write crap. Just get it all out on the page and indulge in the freedom of letting go and simply expressing yourself. If you think about writing in this way it really makes the whole process so much more approachable. You have to get to the heart of your story first and worry about the critic later. The first draft is never going to be good enough, so just accept that it has to be good enough for now. As YA author Libba Bray said at a writer’s conference, lower your standards, let the madman out and type your first shitty draft!
Embrace this new way of thinking about your writing and just see how many more words and how easier it is to start hitting the keyboard when you allow yourself to simply write without inhibition. Once you have your story down then you can go back and start adding layers and revising.
But for now just sit down and write!
*So here’s a thought…what kind of writing habits do you have? Is there a ritual before you sit down and write? Time of day that you are most productive? Personally, I like to leave myself on a hanger with the manuscript…stop somewhere it would be easy to pick up writing from. So in the middle of a thought, I stop typing and then I find it so much easier to continue the next day.
The final touch for your character; the icing on your character cake; and what makes them totally believable is what they say and HOW they say it. Each character needs to sound unique so that even without a tag, the reader knows who it is speaking. For instance, if I was to say, “Off with her head!” – you know exactly who it is speaking without me having to mention who it is. Unless of course, you are unfamiliar with the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. The important thing here is that the way a character speaks, like how they act, has to stay true to their character. In this sense, the tag can almost become obsolete.
And speaking of tags, keep them simple. “Said” becomes invisible – if you must “told” and “asked” are also tags that blend in and disappear. If you feel the need to add more oomph to the tag, then perhaps think of using a action before or after the character speaks.
For example: The White Rabbit frowned, shaking a paw at the busload of children’s writers. “There’s not need to add a flowery tag when you have an action sentence before or after the dialogue!”
Get the point?
EAT ME. DRINK ME:
So lets try this out. Remember that journal you went out and bought? Well, add this exercise:
Writers: write a conversation between your character and a new character you meet – (note: this needs to be based on someone you may have bumped into or noticed in the supermarket; school; library etc). Remember that the dialogue has to be without any tag lines. You should also include how your character feels about the person, how they act and how they think.
Illustrators: ok so we can’t exactly draw dialogue but how about capturing the actions and expressions as your character meets this new character for the first time. Imagine the dialogue they are having and draw this interaction without words.
So what’s the first step to bringing a character to life? And this will effect not only how you write the character but how you draw them as well. You need to stay consistent with how the character is written and how they are illustrated. A great little tool is to go out and buy yourself a sketchbook or journal or one that is both and start a CHARACTER JOURNAL. Take this journal with you and start jotting or sketching your character in different situations.
When we first ventured Down The Rabbit Hole we exposed our characters to many different experiences that involved all the senses and we journaled these adventures. For instance, how did our characters react and feel when they saw the witches house in Beverley Hills. Some were scared, some were curious – others were the witch herself!
A journal is the first step to opening the door to our imagination and breathing life into our character….so what are you waiting for? Go buy one!