Writers are asked this ALL the time. And the truth is, ideas come from everywhere, you just have to be receptive to them. Listen to conversations for the hidden under tones, read newspaper articles with a writer’s eye – ask:
at every possible situation. I find trying to force ideas quite hard but if I remain open, little seeds sow themselves and start to sprout. Today however, it was not so much a seed as a fully planted tree.
This was passed on to me this morning:
This book used to belong to my mother-in-law’s mother, Isabelle Keymer. Isabelle began training as a pharmacist at a time when young women were not encouraged to go out to work. Unfortunately for her, family circumstances meant she was not able to complete her training – when her mother died she was expected to stay home and look after her father and she did exactly that. I suspect she wasn’t given a great deal of choice. Male privilege held her back more than once in her life. I’m so glad I got to meet her, though it was just the once shortly before she died. Even then, post a leg amputation, she was a strong, kind, determined and interesting woman. It’s not hard to see where my daughter has inherited her academic brain and drive from.
Isabelle’s life is an interesting story in itself but then I opened the book and saw the first page:
Graffiti!!! Joy of joys, look at this page – not only is this a first edition published in 1864 (book swot alert) but someone, judging by the copperplate hand-writing possibly the first owner – has completely defaced it! Isabelle clearly wasn’t the first person to use this book – so who on earth was Rice Forsyth? Page after page is full of Rices’ amendments:
This is pure magic for a writer.
J. K. Rowling uses the device of a hand me down book with just these kind of amendments in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince! Oh, what a happy hour I’ve just spent looking through the book and wondering…What if?
I love the satisfying structure of circular stories.
Wuthering Heights was my favourite book for years. Catherine and Hareton coming together at the end turns the book into one of hope. Out of all that ugliness, all that sorrow, come two people capable of kindness, strength, love.
J K Rowling does a similar thing in Harry Potter. I know some people don’t like the end – the happy ever after – but I do. Not the marriages, but how the orphaned Ted Lupin isn’t shoved in a cupboard like Harry was. Ted is surrounded by loving families and treasured. Hope out of sorrow. Continue reading “Stephen King, Back to Haunt Me.”→
Lin’s breakout session at this year’s SCBWI British Isles conference in Winchester was inspirational. I’m grateful and delighted to be able to share her FIVE BIG THOUGHTS and TWELVE SMALL TRICKS on my blog.
Lin began her session with some observations:
Graphic funny novels give you pace, speed of reading and entertainment – funny writing needs this
Humour often comes out of pathos – when you write something funny you may also be writing something sad.
Illustrators can add a comic element to a picture book text.
In middle grade books you can have some character attitude and word play but be aware at 7+ that children are just getting familiar with language – think about comic inventions of plot instead and avoid puns
Steve Martin wrote: writing about music is like dancing about architecture, it’s the same for comedy.
Lin’s FIVE BIG THOUGHTS
Writing comedy involves taking risks – follow your weirdness – kill the side of your brain that’s linear and logical – as long as the world you create is consistent you can do whatever you want. Push boundaries – look for humour coming in from all angles.
Comedy must come from the truth – you have to recognise something in it – feel like ‘that could happen to me’. We are all one banana peel away from disaster. When writing – mime your own embarrassment. What resonates always has a kernel of truth.
Comedy must evoke empathy – your comic villain can be one dimensional but the villains we all love, we have empathy for – Gru from Despicable Me
Don’t try to struggle uphill when you’re writing comedy – invent a situation that has inherent comic potential – a vampire rabbit or a zombie goldfish (you can’t have those, they’ve already been done)
You are only writing for one audience and one purpose to amuse yourself – if you try and write to make kids laugh it will backfire on you. So think, who are you – what makes you laugh? Is it visual comedy; the victory of the underdog; contradiction; playing off how people see themselves to how the world see’s them; listening to the things children do? Find out what it is and work with it.
Lin’s TWELVE SMALL TRICKS
Think of funny titles – set up the expectation of laughter.
Use character names to announce your character but that are also funny use character, quirks or unusual professions Professor Haddock, Fish Doctor.
Use surprise – banana peel – sudden turn of events
Use incongruity – like Kindergarten Cop – either in character or plot
Use discomfort – like getting the giggles at a funeral – works for kids because they’re always expected to behave in a certain way but life can divert their attention
Use reversal of roles – where there’s an expectation of a role and character get them to perform the opposite –e.g. a gourmet chef judging a junk food contest
Exaggerate – language and what happens – e.g. it was so cold sounds froze in winter – so what happens in spring – havoc! This is comic exaggeration – embellish stories with it.
Play with nonsense and comic rhyme e.g. pelican/bellycan – the longer the rhyme the better – and nonsequiters
Be specific – specifics are funnier than the general -e.g.: ‘fish’ is not as funny as ‘flopping flounder’ or mowing grass is not as funny as drawing an image of someone sitting on a mower with bum hanging over the seat.
Give your characters attitude; very important for teens or tweens – doesn’t work so much for younger kids unless you can write it very clearly – read out loud – act it to make sure it works.
Use funny sounding language – k is funny – pickle is funny – consonants are funnier than vowels because they bang up against each other – it might just be a theory but trust your ear.
Be aware of timing – keep it snappy and pacey – use dialogue and think about language
Will these tricks make you funnier? Try this example
Rowing a boat isn’t funny
Rowing a boat upstream – more interesting
Lose an oar and add some strange characters – mix in the unexpected and you’re starting to be funny.
I got an email from Maureen Lynas. Could I get to work on my author page for the brand new funEverse blog? (funEverse is a group of SCBWI children’s poets who critique each other’s work in private and are very soon about to go PUBLIC – aaaargh)
Could I? Could I ? I HAD to – clearly the world of silly poems was conspiring to get me back to work. Oh! What fun – unbridled mucking about with words. And the funny thing is, that’s what made me want to write in the first place. Mucking about with words.
I can not wait to introduce you to the happy band of lunatics that inhabit the FunEverse – watch this space next Friday!
After three years of writing a book
At another I just couldn’t look
I’d had quite enough
Of high hopes and stuff
Not one look at a book could I took.
That’s silly, it doesn’t even make any sense!
I know! Isn’t it fun 🙂 Next time you’re struggling for words, take a bite size nibble at some verse.
Only my second post and I’m stuck – in more ways than one.
I good few days ago I sent my current script to Lovely Agent. Until she sends it back asking what were you thinking? and have you entirely lost your marbles? (she won’t really say that, she’s far too nice) – I am BETWEEN BOOKS.
I have things to write. Oh yes I do. I have two different ideas for teen novels – both of which I’ve roughly sketched out and both of which have fully formed main characters. They even have a couple of chapters written. And I have an almost plotted 7+ book – the second in a series involving an over dramatic mouse and a boy with more money than parents (books 1 and 3 are already out on submission).
Oh yes. I have plenty to write. And what advice do we give those waiting to hear ‘news’? Get on with the next book.
And what have I done?
I have painted the bathroom and the bedroom ceiling. I have made a tentative farm budget and caught up with the washing and the ironing. I’ve completed all my critiques and competed in the Sussex Open Fencing Championships. I’ve even started Christmas shopping…
I am not Getting Started. I am having a little snooze on the starting line. So this post is a cheat – can you wake me up? How do you get started ?