Hi to all the brain-snackers who have been following my series of tips and ideas for young writers.
I have decided to take a blog break for a while. No, I’m not just heading off for a beach holiday, I’m making more time for writing so I can concentrate on all the weirdly-juicy stories that are waiting on the shelves in my writing room.
There are 14 brain snacks collected in this blog page so you can revisit them when you choose to. If you have a writing question you want a specific answer to, then drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the contact form.
Hi Brain-snackers. Big news, my new book ‘Weird Weirder Weirdest’ is being released this month, so to celebrate I am going to write this month’s blog about my favourite topic, made creatures.
I have always been a fan of story characters that have been made from technology, cobbled together from spare body parts or even conjured out of elements by using magic. Some of the creatures I think of from when I was young are Milton the Monster and Astro Boy (you can find them on YouTube). There is also Frankenstein’s monster and Golem (not the Minecraft ones). I’m older than you (loads older), so I even remember when Dr Who had a robot dog called K9. These characters and creatures, can be good and evil, some being helpful while others get totally out of control.
It seems there are three popular ways to create a made-character; built from technology, pieced together from body parts and made with a magical recipe or formula.
First technology. Dr Who’s robot companion K9 helped him out of dangerous situations by shooting aliens and baddies with the laser in his nose. K9 was built from all kinds of wiz-bang tech and of course he had loyal dog programming so he never got out of control BUT his weakness was that his battery could run down.
Next, magical recipes and formulas. Milton the Monster was made using all kinds of gross ingredients but they got the recipe wrong so instead of being evil he was a sook who loved puppies and flowers and drove his monster family crazy.
Old stories tell of Golem that was said to have been created in the 16th century to defend people in Prague. He was made of clay and had special words placed in his mouth to bring him to life. If the words were taken out he would turn back to mud.
Thirdly, Dr Frankenstein collected lots of body parts and stitched them together, then sent huge bolts of lightning down into his monster’s body to bring it to life. The monster was very strong and could not be controlled.
When you invent your creature or character, you know how they were made so you also know it’s a weakness and how it might be unmade. You can make this weakness part of the story and build suspense. Like when I waited to see if K9’s batteries will go flat when Dr Who needed him most. Or you can have your hero find the baddies magical recipe and then unmake it at the very last moment and save the day. Swords and bullets couldn’t hurt the Golem but if you could get the paper with the word on it out of his mouth he would be a man shaped lump of mud again.
In my new short story collection ‘Weird Weirder Weirdest’, I have a story about a girl who has been created by being sewn together by a magical witch. The witch doesn’t get to finish the magic so Mila needs to find a way to become real before her skin splits open and her insides end up on the outside … no more spoilers, the story is called ‘The Patch-work Girl’.
Have a go at creating your own magical or tech creature:
1. Often it can be fun to draw or model your creature to develop ideas. Will it be good or bad?
2. Think of the way it will be made in the story, it could be built or mixed, stitched or moulded.
3. Think about what its weakness will be and figure out how the characters might find out the secret of the weakness.
4. Think about what this character do in your story?
Character names and a little bit about dialogue.
‘I am Groot.’ I believe Groot is a fabulous example of both naming a character and using dialogue in a clever way to tell us about him, and the bonus is the comedy he brings to that story. Naming characters and inventing the way they speak is one of the most fun things to do as a writer. Choosing (or inventing) the right name can add so much to your story. Just the name can tell the reader a lot about a character and their background. And hearing the way they speak and the types of words they choose to use can impart so much information about them, without the author dumping you with detail.
Now for the names. The first thing to consider applies mostly when naming characters in sci-fi and fantasy stories. Though it is great to have weird and unconventional names to add a unique flavour to your story world, make sure the names are not impossible to say. Your reader needs to be able to read and say the character’s name or they will spend all their time thinking about what the name should sound like and not get fully drawn into the story. Another thing to consider when you are naming your characters is that you need to think about all the characters in the story. Make sure you don’t have all the names starting with the same letter or have then sounding similar or rhyming. This can confuse the reader and again they will think about names and be pulled out of the story. Having said that, I really like one book where that rule was broken. My favourite book (which I first read when I was 12) ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madaliene L’Engle, has three characters named Mrs Which, Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit. I never got mixed up with these characters and their names did help to show what they were like. Because their names were odd, I expected straightaway that they would do something unexpected and I was absolutely right. Each of these strange characters had an unusual way of speaking that told me more about their skills and limitations but I’ll say no or I’ll spoil the story for you.
Groot’s dialogue is distinctive. You find out everything he’s saying by listening to his tone. This works in a movie and not a story but it’s a good example. More grand examples are Chewbacca, who is a bit like Groot, Yoda, because the way he speaks you just know he’s from somewhere far, far away and Willy Wonka, who has lots fast, twisty and tricky ways to avoid saying the whole truth to his visitors. In the my book, ‘If I Die Before I Wake’, Vreni and Rita have been sleeping and waking for 100 years so they say things in an old-fashioned way and when they start using modern words, they sometimes mess them up and misunderstand modern ideas. I’m working on a mermaid story now and of course when mermaids are underwater they can’t talk, so I’ve had to invent the way they communicate with psychic messages and when they do talk, it sounds awkward and very stilted. The human characters in the same story live at the coast and like to surf (well it’s sort of surfing) so they use loads of old surfer slang that the adults in the story don’t always understand.
You may give your characters a name that shows their secret nature like Edward Remus Lupin from Harry Potter. Maybe their name tells something about how they behave, like Mr and Mrs Twit. Or their name may give a hint to what skill they have, like Mulch Diggums who is a tunneling dwarf from the Artemis Fowl books.
Once your characters are invented and named, you can put words in their mouths so that every time your readers hears from them in the story they learn a little about them and feel curious to learn more. When you start planning a story, keep a character diary so you can record who’s who and what is unique about them. Once you have them on paper, read the story out loud and hear all the distinct voices, this is lots of fun. You might want to get a friend to voice one of the characters for you. These characters may be so cool that you decide to use them again and again, so when you start planning a story, keep a character diary so you have a record of your awesome characters to use in the sequel.
PS: I’m giving away a short story to people who sign up to receive my newsletter, just leave your details in the blue spot.
I love that feeling when you open a book and discover a Story Map sitting just inside the cover. They are amazing, artful objects that give the reader a sneak-peek into the fantastic world that is waiting within the pages. Story maps are all about the reader and they are a different thing altogether to story mapping but the first does help you with the second.
Story mapping lets you plan a story out, develop all the characters, and deciding all the good and bad things that will happen to them. Then you can choose where these characters will travel to and the dramatic events and twist and turns that will take place BUT you need to think up all those things first. I find that knowing where the story will take place helps me know what types of events could happen. And after that, I can easily reason out what skills and equipment, companions and villains will be needed to make the story move along in a satisfying way.
In my guise as a regular human, I am quite concerned with climate change. And as a writer, this turns into a fascination with the idea of how global warming might affect sea levels, so I have one of my new stories set in a future, flooded Australia. I needed my characters to live by the sea (because I could have dangerous and weird things happen there, like mega storms and maybe mermaids) so it was important to know what Australia would look like if the seas had risen. I did some research and drew my map. This guided me in inventing new cities and towns to replace the flooded ones. Now I can move my characters around in that story world and make them talk about it as though it was a real place, because I can make it feel real and constant by using the map as I write.
Once you have a few ideas about where your story will take place, grab some art gear and let your imagination go wild. Pin your map up and admire your creative genius.
Think about how extraordinary those maps are in the front of books and remember that they can be just as awesome to invent your own and use it when you are planning a story.
Twisting old myths and fairy-tales is a favourite thing of mine. My novel, ‘If I Die Before I Wake’, got its start with me thinking, what if sleeping beauty’s curse could somehow be passed onto the next generation of her family. Then it took my ‘what if’ further and imagined these sleepers, sleeping and waking without control of when it happened, and that when they slept, they did not age, making them sort of a time travellers.
Twisting the myth can be loads of fun. An easy way to start is to take a traditional tale and bring it to the present day. Because it’s nearly Christmas I wanted to play around with Santa. Though we all know Santa is real and not a myth at all, I wanted to twist the idea around and see what popped up, so here goes:
Amelia stood at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Robert,’ she whispered into the darkness. In the lounge room a shadow froze. ‘Robert, what do you think you’re doing?’
‘Oh, pardon me young lady,’ said a voice that was not her brother’s. Amelia’s heart leapt in her chest.
‘Who there?’ she squeaked.
‘So sorry to wake you. Clumsy me, been a long night you know, so many things to sort out.’ The shadow shuffled across the room – click – the Christmas tree lights shone.
‘How do you do, Amelia?’ The old man dropped a gift into his bag, reached into a pocket and gave Amelia a shiny business card. Her fingers tingled as she took it. She read the glittering words. ‘Santa – Christmas consultant. Naughty-nice monitoring and wish list adjustments.’
‘Do pardon me if I keep working-very busy night.’ The old man picked up one Robert’s presents and stared at it. ‘Oh no he’s too naughty to get this.’
‘Can you see inside that?’
Santa smiled tapped the side of his nose and winked. ‘I wouldn’t be good at my job if I couldn’t.’ He put the present in his bag.
‘But that’s Robert’s.’
‘He’s been too naughty to get this one.’
‘You can’t take kids presents,’ Amelia spluttered.
‘That’s only part of my job.’ Santa picked up a small box with Amelia’s name on it and stared.
‘Put that back.’
‘It’s not what you wished for.’ He rummaged in his bag, pulled out a large gift, swapped the tag over and placed it under the tree.
‘Doesn’t Santa just deliver presents?’
‘Oh no, young lady. That’s for the parents to do but some parents ignore the naughty and nice rule, so I maintain the balance, and I do wish list adjustments to save disappointment.’
‘Oh must dash, terribly busy.’ The strange Santa stared at Amelia. ‘It’s been a delight to meet you. Run along to bed now and remember to put my card under your pillow, it will help you get right to sleep.’ The card tingled in Amelia’s fingers.
‘Good night Santa.’ Amelia yawned and walked up stairs to bed. By the time she got there she couldn’t remember why she had gotten up, but she did remember to put the small, shiny business card under her pillow.
Try this one yourself. Imagine the three little pigs are messy teenagers and the mother pig has thrown them out of the house. When the big bad wolf comes along they gang up on him a give a hard time.
I’d love to read what you come up with, so please post them below or send them to me at email@example.com
All the best for the silly season and happy writing.
Oh no! Now you are face to face with your enemy…
No not every baddie in a story will be a monster but they will probably behave monstrously and get in the way of your main character achieving what they want. Your protagonist may need to overcome bullies, a jealous friend or perhaps an eccentric teacher. Here’s a short bully story: I sat on the wooden bench, squirming nervously as I chewed on a bite of my apple, my jeans caught on the splintery seat. I knew Meg was walking up behind me because of the cloud flowery perfume surrounding her, and because all eyes were turning in my direction. My hands sweated, it was hard to hold the apple. I felt a spark of pain as Meg yanked on my hair and tugged my head backwards. Everyone went quiet around us. They were ready for a fight, which happened too often, but today I was going to try something different. I put my sweaty apple down, stood slowly and turned. Meg stepped in close. I could smell chocolate cake on her breath. ‘Hi Meg,’ I said in my sweetest, overfriendly voice. ‘I’m so glad you’re here.’ I put my arm around her shoulder. ‘I saved you a seat.’ I nudged Meg down onto the splintery bench. ‘Here, have my second apple.’ I shoved the apple into her hand. ‘Now we are like, BFFs.’ Meg sat frozen. The silence around us erupted into laughter.
Whether you’re confronting a realistic of fantastic adversary, the scene will feel more real if you write the action using the senses. If there is a fight, include sensations of being hit or hitting the baddie. If the characters are grappling with each other, then describe how gross the baddie smells while he or she is grinding our hero’s face into that stinky armpit. It could be a very suspense filled scene where the main character is totally taken by surprise, which would mean they have a lot of physical reactions. Describe how their heart is thumping or how their stomach is squeezing and trying to push vomit up into their throat. Was there an icy chill across their skin as the ghost rushed past to beat them to the magical amulet? If you are writing an adventurous fantasy or sci-fi story (my favourite) then your story will usually involve a fight or a surprise attack. Here’s a short weird witch story: There was a crackle in the air as I entered the cave, the cat-bot must be recharging. It would be offline and not on guard, this was my chance. If I could get the collar on the witch then the council could quarantine her with the rest. Static prickled my skin. My hair danced away from my head in the charged air. My eyes strained in the gloom, searching. My bare feet stepped silently on the mossy floor. The moss wriggled as I stepped on it and moved itself away. I shuddered and tried not to think about why the moss could move. The recharging cat-bot buzzed on. Then I heard a click-swish to my left, then behind me. I felt the sharp coldest of the witch’s claws rake across my neck. My skin seared with pain. I stepped away from the claws and spun to face her. Large yellow eyes sparkled in the gloom. She laughed at me and a rancid stench gusted from her mouth. I felt my breakfast lurch up into my throat and swallowed hard. I knew I had to let her grab me and draw me in close to that putrid stink. If I was close enough to be her next meal then I would be close enough to… CLICK…she screamed as the collar welded itself in place around her neck. She slashed at my face. Hot blood trickled down my cheek, I would have a scar but we have one more witch in quarantine. Now to unplug her cat.
If you share details of what the characters are sensing you will draw the reader all the way into the scene, as though they were really there.