Gold Coast Writers Festival – boots ‘n’ all

I love an excuse to spend a day on the Gold Coast. This week it wasn’t the beautiful beaches and funky restaurants that got me there, it was an invitation to get creative with a bunch of aspiring young writers.

The Authors in Schools program is part of the annual Gold Coast Writers Festival and once again it was a pleasure to join forces with other children’s authors – Candice Lemon-Scott, Dimity Powell and Chris Collin, to share ideas and stories with some of the GC’s brightest sparks.

CREATIVITY STARTER: Come up with 20 uses for a   cowboy boot.
CREATIVITY STARTER:
Come up with 20 uses for a cowboy boot.

It’s always exciting to be working with kids who adore writing. Their energy is infectious! I loved their brilliant story ideas as well as the many, many uses they invented for my cowboy boots. (A little creativity starter that’s useful for getting everyone thinking while we’re waiting for the stragglers to arrive!)

And just in case I got carried away with stories of close calls with orangutans and near misses with lions to get to the point, I thought I’d share my top tips for young writers.

Thanks to Karen Knight-Mudie for organizing a great program and the Gold Coast Writers’ Festival for inviting me to be part of this celebration of words. Until next year … happy writing.

  1. Keep a journal for snippets of conversation, story ideas, newspaper clippings, bus tickets – anything that might be useful in a story.
  2. Brainstorm your ideas. Get everything out of your head and onto paper so you can use it later. You don’t have to use it all, but get it all out, no matter how crazy your ideas seem at first.
  3. Map out a plan for your story – starting with a problem and adding obstacles and building to a climax and a final resolution.

    Map out your ideas with a story arc.
    Map out your ideas with a story arc.
  4. Get to know your characters. Give them strengths and weaknesses that you can use in your story. Flesh out your characters so they feel real to the reader.
Your reader doesn’t need to know everything about your characters, but you do. You can interview them to get their full story.
  5. Get your reader hooked with an exciting start to your story. But remember it has to build to a climax, so don’t throw everything at them in the first paragraph.
  6. Fill in some of the background to the story as you go along, rather than burdening the reader in the first paragraph.
  7. Use detail to engage your reader by using all of your senses when you write. What do your characters see, hear, smell, touch, taste and how do they feel about what is going on. But don’t name the feelings: He was sad.  Instead, show the reader what’s happening: A tear ran down his cheek. You can find more on descriptive writing  here.  
  8. Write like events are occurring in slow motion when you get to the exciting parts. Don’t rush the best bits of your story. Explore them with all of your senses.
  9. Use dialogue to reveal your characters’ personality, background and emotions. What your character says and how they say it should tell the reader something about your character.
  10. Edit your story. Read over the story, asking yourself if you have answered the questions – how, when, where, why, who?
  11. Remove anything that doesn’t add to your story or doesn’t quite fit. When in doubt, leave it out. Write to engage not to impress.
  12. Rewrite any parts of your story that need to be improved. You can add dialogue and detail to make it more engaging. You may need to do several rewrites to get it right. I do!
  13. Develop a distinctive writing voice. Just like singers all have a different singing voice, writers have their own voice. Develop yours by getting inside your character’s head and having the confidence to tell your story, your way.

Book Julie for a school visit.

Also see my Teachers’ Notes on the Hazard River series.

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