Tag: Australian children’s books

To ADVERB or NOT? That is the question.

wordleHave you ever succumbed to the temptation of not trusting verbs to do their job? Like if your hero ‘walked slowly down the road‘ when he could’ve trudged, ambled, plodded, tramped, staggered, crawled … you get the picture?

Maybe you’ve become a bit of a writer-ly ‘adverb-Nazi’? Scouring your manuscripts of those haughty, naughty adverbs?  Sniffing them out in a Search and Destroy mission with the touch of a key?  Noticing when other writers do ‘it‘?

There’s no doubt being choosy about if and when to use adverbs improves your writing – if you find the right, potent verb for the occasion.

In his book, Writing Tools50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark pins it down..

‘At their best, adverbs spice up a verb or adjective, at their worst, they express a meaning already contained in it …

The accident totally severed the boy’s arm.
The blast completely destroyed the church office….’

Now see how much better the sentence is without the offending adverb. As Clark notes, ‘the deletion shortens the sentence, sharpens the point, and creates elbow room for the verb’.

But the war on ADVERBS doesn’t necessarily mean not using them at all. There are GOOD ADVERBS and BAD ADVERBS as Clark suggests…

‘She smiled sadly’ is more potent than ‘She smiled happily’.  And the best one of his examples … remember Roberta Flack singing ‘Killing Me Softly‘? It would never have worked with ‘Killing Me Fiercely’.

i.e.  if your adverb contains the same meaning as the verb, it appears weak. If it changes the meaning, it’s strong. In other words, there are adverbs that intensify the verb rather than modify it.’

But this blog isn’t about killing off adverbs – I would suggest be sparing in their use though.

Some in the writing world champion the cause of poor old ADVERB. For example, British author, David Hewson (the Nick Costa series) says:

‘Adverb-hate is one of those automatic ‘never do this’ rules you meet in writing schools and at book conventions from time to time.
I hate ‘never do’ rules in creative fiction. We’re trying to produce works of the imagination here, not business plans.
Furthermore adverb-hate is very localised, an American habit, one some people lay at the door of Hemingway (though whether that’s true or not I’ve no idea).
I’d never heard of this ‘rule’ before I started going to talk at writing schools in the States. And I have to be honest… no reader and certainly no editor anywhere has ever voiced the opinion that adverbs are so, like, nineteenth century, dude.’

Hewson once wrote a blog article I like adverbs: there I’ve said it boldly’, but I can’t find the link now. David Hewson makes other interesting and relevant points in his blog. ‘If you like reading and thinking about the English language and the craft of writing, these two authors and commentators are worth searching out,’ she says, enthusiastically and eagerly.

“Adverbs exist because, used properly, they bring something to writing and have done since we learned to communicate beyond grunts.”

What are your thoughts on the use of adverbs in our fiction writing?


Talk about Tense!

It’s my very great pleasure to welcome author, Nathan Luff to my blog to celebrate the launch of his new novel, Bad Grammar. (Age group: 9-12. Pub. Walker Books 2013)

Nathan Luff

Marcus is a warrior in the game world – a legend. He is a shy nobody in the real world – a loser.
But he’s just been mistakenly enrolled in Bad Grammar, an outback boarding school for bad kids. This place is not a resort. It’s a last resort.

I can’t wait to read Nathan’s book knowing what a great sense of humour he has and how this translates into his stories. Check out these reviews:  “Four out of five stars. A funny fast-paced book, full of outlandish characters and incidents, and frequent asides from The Warrior’s Guide to Everything, this is a recommended read for young adventurers.” Australian Booksellers and Publishers Magazine. “It’s not all fun and games because, as with any good adventure, there is danger and mystery galore.” Deb Abela, author.

 In this post, Nathan’s going to tell us who he sorted out what tense to write his novel, which we all know can be tricky to decide sometimes. Take it away, Nathan!

With my new novel, Bad Grammar, I decided to write it using present tense. This was a challenge, as I’d never written in this style before.

I actually first wrote the opening chapters of Bad Grammar in past tense but I just couldn’t get into the story, not until I went back to the start and rewrote the first line:

I dump my schoolbag, fly up the stairs and burrow into my messy cave of a bedroom, ready to deal with the dragon.

From there, everything seemed to flow. Still, I was nervous, as writers often are, that I was doing everything wrong.

I wondered if there were any tips for how to write present tense prose, and a Google search exposed me to the passionate debate people have about the efficacy of this style of writing. Some people HATE it. They find books written in present tense to be very jarring on the reading experience. They can’t enjoy the story without being aware of the writing. Then there are a lot of people who don’t even notice it.

 Where do you sit on the debate?

 If you have a look around you’ll see there are a heap of contemporary books, particularly for young audiences, being written using present tense. The Hunger Games and the Chaos Walking trilogy are great examples. It is becoming common enough that I think young readers have adapted to it and no longer find it a self-conscious style of writing.

So what are the benefits? Why bother writing in this style if it divides people?

Well, as anyone will tell you, it adds a sense of immediacy to the story. As I also wrote Bad Grammar as a first person narrative, the reader is experiencing everything at the same time the main character, Marcus, is. It’s such a great way to connect reader and character – it’s a literary umbilical cord between minds. That sounds a bit freakier than it is! I think it’s a very useful tool. Marcus doesn’t have a chance to think about what is happening, to analyse it, or to form any judgement. You are getting his immediate reaction to things, and that is very exciting from both a writer’s and a reader’s perspective, especially because sometimes people’s immediate reactions surprise even themselves.

For books that are heavy with action, as Bad Grammar is, present tense is especially effective. Anything could happen and there is no pre-empting of the action, so it can catch us unawares. At the end of the story, the character could die because we know they don’t have to survive to narrate the story back to us.

 Another question often asked is, ‘Is it easy to write?’

The answer is both yes and no. My training is in screenwriting, and scripts are always written in present tense, so I think this definitely helped me embrace this style of writing.

You get used to it but the biggest problem is dealing with gaps in time. With past tense, it is much easier to skip periods in the story where nothing exciting is happening, however, when you are experiencing the story in present tense, it is harder to cheat time. Essentially, you are writing in real time. I found I ended up with fewer scenes and some carefully chosen chapter breaks.

I found I also ended up with a lot of shorter sentences. Think about the way you think. We don’t always think in long elaborate sentences, especially if something exciting is happening. We don’t have time for that. Rather than tapping into someone dialogue rhythm, you are trying to tap into his or her thought rhythms, and this is both a challenge and a fun exercise.

Things can get tricky when a character is talking or thinking about an event that happened in the past. You have to be careful of tense in these instances. Another thing I found tricky was when I was editing Bad Grammar, whilst also writing another manuscript (in past tense)– my brain got a little addled here. It can also be hard reading in past tense and writing in present. This is why I binge write, so I emerge myself in a story and style with little distraction.

 It’s my belief that the story you decide to tell that will dictate what tense you need to write it but my advice is not to be scared of present tense. It certainly has its benefits.

Bad Grammar is out now and available at all good bookshops (if your local bookshop doesn’t have it, it is a bad bookshop. Get them to order it in, so they can be good again).

 Thank you, Nathan! Check out links to the rest of Nathan’s blog tour here. Nathan was one of the fabulous authors who stepped forward to help out by being a Roving Reporter for the SCBWI Conference Blog last year (which I really appreciated!) 🙂

Nathan and the rest of the Roving Reporters at the SCBWI Conference 2012
Nathan and the rest of the Roving Reporters

‘Secrets of Eromanga’ slips into the digital age

Who’d have thought it? Yes, my first novel has become an ebook and available in Australia and the United Kingdom, and into the U.S. eventually. SECRETS OF EROMANGA ebook

The publisher, Hachette Australia Children’s Books have been choosing and gradually sending their ‘older’ books into a new age of readership. Secrets of Eromanga is still in print in Australia, but it’s great to know that the novel will have a new life in the future as well.

A Eureka moment on the fossil dig.

This junior fiction adventure is a story close to my heart. I had the astonishing and wonderful experience of volunteering on a fossil dig for the biggest dinosaur found in Australia as I was writing the book. So, it became a vital part of my research.

I knew a little bit about Aussie dinosaurs before I wrote the book, and came out at the other end of my hands-on experience with a much greater appreciation and enthusiasm about these amazing creatures who lumbered, sprinted, walked, slid, swam and flew across our land 95 million years ago. 

End of day on the Elliot fossil dig

It’s also the story of a young girl’s courage against adversity, and her enthusiasm for fossil hunting – that amazing, unforgettable experience of peeling back the layers of time and earth to find buried treasure.

Try a little dig experience yourself sometime – out at the Elliot Dinosaur dig in western Queensland. Or visit the new (opening in April) Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a new museum/laboratory on a mesa outside Winton, solely devoted to the region’s dinosaurs. If you go there, look for my name on a plaque as one of the Founding Members.

Aussie Dinosaurs Rule!

Mesa country outside Winton - beautiful, wild landscape


Show not Tell … but does that mean all the time?

Any writers serious about their craft would’ve heard the saying, SHOW NOT TELL. Ignore it at your peril! 

The difference between TELLING and SHOWING is obvious when you know what to look for. Author, Shirley Jump explains it well….

Telling is abstract, passive and less involving of the reader. It slows down your pacing, takes away your action and pulls your reader out of your story. Showing, however, is active and concrete; creating mental images that brings your story — and your characters — to life. When you hear about writing that is vivid, evocative and strong, chances are there’s plenty of showing in it. Showing is interactive and encourages the reader to participate in the reading experience by drawing her own conclusions. (Show not Tell: What the heck is that anyway?)

BUT, as with all rules there are exceptions… and this is where writers can come unstuck (me for example), because there are times when you do need to TELL rather than SHOW.

In his Writer’s Yearbook 2003 article, Exception to the Rule, James Scott Bell says, “Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won’t, and your readers will get exhausted.”

I recently read a detective story that wallowed in the showing of character viewpoints, sensory environment and so forth in all the wrong places – like when the murderer creeps through the dark alley closer towards his prey, and takes two pages to do it (okay, I made up that scenario, but you get the picture).

Knowing when to move your story along at a faster pace is a learned thing – and I don’t mind admitting I’m still learning after writing millions of words over the past 12 years. The experience could be likened to writing the WRITER’S COPY and then editing until you have the READER’S COPY.

Or as author (and damn, fine editor) Penni Russon said to me recently, ‘Slash and Burn, Baby! Slash and Burn!’

The tricky bit is knowing how much to cut out from a manuscript and not lose your writing style; and how much to tell and not show; or even worse, when to not EXPLAIN too much! After all, the reader doesn’t need to be told everything, he/she appreciates it when they can work it out for themselves.

I recently came across another excellent article you’ll appreciate, I’m sure. It’s called Show and Tell  written by YA author, Danyelle Leafty on Query Tracker.com . Check it out.

Enjoy writing! And keep SLASHING AND BURNING, BABY!


The Up-side of Being a Children’s Author

Everybody knows about the downside of being a writer – getting nowhere fast, pushing jelly uphill or was that molassas?

Enough rejection letters to fill a couple of folders, multi-rewrites of many stories filling up the spare spaces in your computer, an ever-increasing pile of washing tottering in the laundry, days when you leave the phone on messages and your family and ‘normal’ friends think you’re out of town – when you’re actually huddled over a hot computer.

Like Yin and Yang, there’s an upside to being a writer. I’m not referring to the successes of awards, mentorships, grants and newly published books (although they are brilliant, of course).

I’m talking about being part of the community of Australian writers for young people.

Maybe it happens in other writing genres as well – I don’t know. But ever since getting into writing (seriously)around 11 years ago, it’s been one of the special things that has happened in my life.

I have some wonderful, generous  writerly/illustrat0r-ly friends in most capital cities in Australia – if we visit each other’s cities, we get together for ‘gabfests’ and suchlikes. We commiserate, we support, we enthuse about our projects – we’re interested in the ins and outs of writing. I love all my ‘outside writing’ friends too, but eyes do glaze over if they make the mistake of asking what am I writing at the moment.

Some of my writing friends are in a writers’ Aussie yahoo group especially for children’s writers, many of us met on Facebook (yeah for FB!)

This week in Hobart, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of finally meeting up with KB, a gorgeous, intelligent, gutsy, beautiful woman, a writer I have enormous admiration and respect for – and who I look forward to continuing a friendship with.

On Bruny Island

Today, we’ve been over on Bruny Island with a long-time friend, an artist and teacher. Bruny Island is the littliest island at the end of the little island at the end of the biggest Australian island. Make sense?

Australian author of Gould’s Book of Fish, and The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Richard Flanigan has a shack on Bruny Island – along with dozens of writers and artists living in the area.

Next week, I’m having lunch with Tassie-based author, Lian Tanner – Lian wrote The Keepers, the first book in the series, The Museum of Thieves. It was one of my favourites in this year’s Children’s Book Council awards.

Now, I have to think up how I can successfully live in Brisbane and Hobart  at the same time – I reckon I could write in both ends of Australia.

Anyone in Hobart need a spot of house-sitting? 🙂