Tuesday 23 April 2013

Story Seed / Writing Tip # 8 - Find a Great Ending!

For the next few months my blog will be featuring 1) the tiny, real-life seed from which one of my stories unfolded and 2) a writing tip that helped the seed grow into a finished story.  

The Seed:  My central character was a 100-year-old talking cat on his ninth life. As you can probably guess, if the cat was on his ninth life it meant that the story teller (me!) pretty much had to kill him off in the final chapters of the book.
(c) 2013 Ruth Ohi
        Somewhere around chapter 7, however, I realized this was a story I was never going to finish. I simply could not bear the thought of killing this cat! I'd have to give up on the book entirely.
         Suddenly, however, a small idea jumped forward.  Maybe there was a way I could keep the story completely honest, fulfill the "nine lives" scenario and ensure that no animal died in the telling of the tale.
          I began to write again with renewed energy and determination.  This was a story I would definitely finish after all!

The Book: A Cat of Artimus Pride (Annick Press1991, illustrations by Ruth Ohi, novel ages 8 - 11)

The Writing Tip: Do you have trouble finishing your stories? The best writing tip I know for people who start stories and never finish them is to sit down and think up a truly great ending. But don`t stop with only thinking of it -- actually write that part of the story. It can be a few lines, a paragraph, maybe an entire page but at least get something written down. The physical writing will help your ending become a strong and concrete goal.
         Is it even possible to write the ending of a story when you haven't finished the in-between bits?  Of course it is!  It's another way I keep energy in my novels.  I write the fun parts, the exciting parts.  I let the energy of those moments spill out onto the page and grow in all directions.  I will, of course, need to add connective bits at a later time -- but often not as much as I think. 
        Besides resolving the plot, here are my three favourite things to incorporate into the ending of any story:
           - an element of surprise
           - a revealing shift at the core of the central character
           - and (if the story can possibly carry it) a touch of humour.
And yes, some stories must have sad endings. But not this one!

  (c) All Rights Reserved. All blog text(except comments by others) copyright Hazel Hutchins.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Story Seed / Writing Tip # 7 - Lurking Beneath the Suface

(c) 2013 Ruth Ohi
The Seed:  It was story-time at Canmore Library and the wonderful librarian had the rapt attention of even the youngest child.  This story-time deserved a book of its own!

The Book:  Nicholas at the Library (Annick Press 1990, illustrations by Ruth Ohi, picture book ages 4 - 7)

The Writing Tip:  The strength of any story comes from emotion, honestly portrayed. But emotion very often has hidden layers.
     In the published story, Nicholas and the librarian jump in and out of books (with the help of the "librarian's emergency ring") to return a lost chimpanzee to its story-book home.  It's a great romp - but the mission is important. And to get that little bit just right, I unconsciously drew on something deeper, something that had happened when I was a child myself.
     I was eight years old and sitting in the truck watching helplessly as Dad walked the brushy area where a cow had recently given birth. The cow was visibly upset. But nowhere could Dad find the newly born calf.
     "The coyotes must have got it," he said, shaking his head sadly as he came back to the truck.
     This loss mattered to him in a way I'd never seen before.  A cattle herd is part of the livelihood of a farm but, even more important, farmers see themselves as protectors of their animals. And then my eight-year-old brain did a lovely jump backward to earlier in the morning when I'd been helping him move cattle from one field to another.
     "Dad, do you remember that one little calf who didn't want to cross the road?" I asked hopefully.  "The one I really had to chase?"
     Suddenly my dad was smiling again. And off we went to the rescue!
      A story-chimpanzee returned safely to its book; a newly-born calf returned to its mother. They were the same story, although I didn't realize it at the time.  It was only years later, while looking through early drafts of the story, that I found a small hint of connective tissue that only myself (or someone who has been around animals at birthing time) had  would recognize.
      And the writing tip from all this? Even as a writer needs to be aware of the basics and absorb all the information available (here and elsewhere!) about plot, character, dialogue, pacing, theme, etc. -- please also be aware that to find a story's true potential sometimes you just have to trust your instinct and follow the magic of "story" itself.

Nicholas at the Library became part of two lovely literary celebrations! 
     - In 1999 it was given to Grade One students across Canada with the sponsorship of The Canadian Book Manufacturers' Association for Canada Book Day.
     - In 2000 it was given to a whole new cohort as the first TD Bank Financial Group (and now annual) "Grade One Give Away during Book Week with The Canadian Children's Book Centre

The Canadian Chidlren's Book Centre is an excellent resource for writers, teachers, librarians, parents, caregivers and lovers of great books for kids. Visit them at http://www.bookcentre.ca/

  (c) All Rights Reserved. All blog text(except comments by others) copyright Hazel Hutchins.


Wednesday 10 April 2013

Story Seed / Writing Tip # 6 - Have Fun with Language Itself

In celebration of the fun I've had writing for kids, every week my blog will be featuring 1) the tiny, real-life seed from which one of my stories unfolded and 2) a writing tip that helped the seed grow into a finished story. 

(c) 2013 Ruth Ohi  - Thanks Ruth!
The Story Seed: “Mom, what colour are my eye yolks?”
That question alerted me to the fact that my son was using words in an unusual manner. Over the next few weeks I heard him come up with the wonderfully descriptive (but hitherto uninvented) terms “loaves of hay”, “the beak of the car” and “I'll help you hatch the peas”. I was never quite able to fit those expressions into a story but when Norman first asked for “more” and Leanna explained the term he should use is “bigger”.... I knew the same playfulness of language was at work.

The Book: Norman's Snowball (Annick Press, 1989, illustrations Ruth Ohi, picture book, ages 4-7)

The Writing Tip:– If an idea doesn't work one way, turn it sideways and try a different twist. I made sure Norman embraced the joy of his new found mastery of that one word in the English language with all his energy.  It also allowed me to use another writing technique that is very effective when an author is working on a picture book manuscript - repetition.  The three together - energy, playfulness and repetition - make this book one of my favourite read-alouds when I do class visits.
                 This was also the first of my stories to be illustrated by the wonderful Ruth Ohi. I'll mention her more than once over the next postings.  For anyone who has met Ruth, enjoyed her presentations or read any of her titles (she writes her own stories as well as illustrating for other authors), you will know that the adjective "wonderful" is not an exaggeration.  I have been so lucky to have had her bring many of my characters to life!

  c All Rights Reserved. All blog text(except comments by others) copyright Hazel Hutchins.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Story Seed / Writing Tip # 5 - "Ordinary" Objects

For the next few months, every week my blog will be featuring 1) the tiny, real-life seed from which one of my stories unfolded and 2) a writing tip that helped the seed grow into a finished story. 

The Seed: In the bottom of the kids' dress up-box was an old green jacket that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. That sense of mystery was enough to get me writing! 

The name of the young artist is unfortunately lost in the mists of time.
The Book: Casey Webber, The Great (Annick, 1988 - novel, ages 8-11)

The Writing Tip: Even an ordinary object - like a jacket - can become a great story seed so long as you think about it in different ways. Some suggestions are:
  • Is the object associated with a sad time in a character's life? 
  • Is it something a character doesn't have but desperately wants?
  • Is it a threat? 
  • Is it part of a puzzle, something to be figured out in order to solve a mystery?   
  • Does it have a magical quality? 
  • Does it reveal something deeper about the central character?
  • Can the basic traits of the object be used in unexpected ways?
For this book, whenever Casey put on the jacket, he became invisible. There are so many different ways to think about the act of "disappearing".... a single story seed can sprout an entire vine laden with possibilities! 

              An interesting sideline to the writing of this book is that I spent several weeks doing a small but “active” bit of research. My hard work resulted in only one short line of actual text but when I visit schools, it's how I end my presentation. As the young artist who drew the picture above has depicted, writing can be fun in more ways than one!