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Manor Lakes Specialist College: 5. Twisting Words

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Thursday, August 26, 2010 , under , , , | comments (6)

It's no secret that I love words. I love making them up. Onomatopoeias are my favourite. I'm often making a lot of noise as I research sounds - banging my gong (that's Sensei in Samurai Kids!) and dropping rocks off my balcony (so I can hear the sound of Iluak tripping over the soapstone pots and pans in Polar Boy).

The other thing I really like to do with words is twist them into something the reader might not be expecting. There are lots of common phrases we all know well. For example if I said "White as..." I would bet my next book at least half the class would say "snow". And if I quoted an idiom like "the cat that swallowed the ..." the other half of the class would say "canary".

One way to improve your descriptions, and have some fun at the same time, is to always say the unexpected. And if possible, to relate the unexpected words you substitute, to the genre or tone of the book. For example in Samurai Kids, when I was describing a sly smile, I used "the cat that swallowed the crane". I specifically didn't want to say canary (like everyone would be expecting) and I chose crane because it was not only a Japanese bird but the spirit symbol of my main character Niya Moto.

Here are some common phrases for you to improve.

as white as snow
as dark as night
as hard as nails
as slow as a snail
as fast as bullet
as dead as a dodo
as weak as a kitten
squawking like a parrot
exploding like a bomb
crying like a baby
howling like a wolf
sparkle like diamonds
glitter like gold

And here are some idioms for a harder challenge. Don't forget to retain a sense of the meaning of the idiom. If I was writing a gothic horror story and the possibility of a character dying, I wouldn't say "I was afraid he might kick the bucket", I would say "I was afraid he might kick the coffin".
kick the bucket
cost an arm and a leg
jump the gun
let sleeping dogs lie
make a mountain out of a molehill
raining cats and dogs

Try and come up with truly unique twists. They might be genre relevant. Or really ridiculous and funny. Or beautifully descriptive. A favourite I remember from a workshop I did at the Sydney Writer's Festival was 'sparkle like a city of stars'.

Go on. Surpise me!

PS If YouTube was working for me tonight there would be a funny 'raining cats and dogs' link here. But alas... watch this space...

Smithfield Public School 3. Bookweeking - Ask the Author

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Wednesday, August 25, 2010 , under , , , | comments (22)

It's a really busy week for me, because it's Book Week. In three days I have spoken to almost 750 kids at 9 schools and visited 5 libraries. It is exciting, fun and exhausting. I have four more Book Weeking days to go. Did you have an author or illustrator visit for Book Week? Has anyone read any of the Book Week shortlisted books? One of my favourite ones was Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy and it was selected as Younger Readers Honour Book.

I am working on a special blog post for you about book covers - making a bit of a quiz so you can try to guess what is inside the cover. But it's taking me longer than I thought to find all the tricky covers, especially when I am visiting so many schools. So we'll do that one next week.

I thought this week maybe you would like to ask me a few "Ask the Author" questions. I'll start off by telling you the question I have been asked the most in the last three days. Probably once at every school I visitted. So that must mean it is something lots of people want to know.

Where do you get your ideas from?

And the answer is...drum roll... everywhere! Ideas are like flies, they are buzzing around all over the place. The hard part, just like with flies, is knowing how to catch them. You catch them with questions! Who, what, where, when and why. Whenever you see, hear, smell, touch or taste something interesting, ask questions and you will find a story idea!

On the weekend I went to the breadshop to buy a sausage roll for lunch and on the way out I saw someone had dropped a pie in the street. Splat. It was squashed flat! I started to think about what might have happened. Who dropped it? Why did it fall? I wondered whether some really hungry person had to go all day without anything to eat. Or maybe two kids were riding their bike down the pavement, pushing and mucking around until the pie fell out of the bike basket. Or... how did the pie feel? Maybe it was saying "I wish somene would tread on me and then I could travel all over the world on the bottom of a shoe." Sometimes I tell this story as an example - I do a great imitation pie voice.

I got the idea for Samurai Kids when I read that to be a samurai, you had to be born into a samurai family. It's not like deciding to be a teacher or a doctor. You can't decide to be a samurai, not even if you are really good at sword fighting. So I started to think about kids who didn't want to fight but had to - because that was the job they were born to do. And then I thought: what if they weren't any good at it? What if they weren't any good at it because they only had one leg? That's when a sentence popped into my head: "My name is Niya Moto and I am the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan."

Once I had that sentence I started to ask even more questions. What was Niya like? Who were his friends? What did samurai kids learn? Who would want to teach Niya? What worried Niya about training to become a samurai warrior? Suddenly I had lots of story ideas. Enough for a whole book!

So who has a different question they would like to ask me?

Manor Lakes Specialist College: 4. Heroes and Villains

A good story needs a protagonist (hero) and an antagonist (villain) although sometimes it can be hard to work out which one is the good guy and which is the bad guy. Conflict comes from characters and the struggle between good and evil is a plot classic. In a series like Samurai Kids where the heroes stay the same, in each new book, the plot is driven by a combination of changing setting and new villains.

So what makes a good hero? Does he/she/it have to be good looking? Or do they even have to be completely good? Most writers would agree that a hero needs likeable characteristics and to be proactive and take action rather than wait for things to happen. The hero is a positive influence and the reader wants to align with him (or her!) and take her (or his!) side.

Villains need to be a believable adversary, they have to have as much at stake as the hero. They most often represent negatives such as greed, jealousy and all sorts of criminal activity.

The greatest heroes always have a flaw and the greatest villains have redeeming features. I think that might be because as readers we want to empathise with both.

When I was writing Jaguar Warrior I wanted readers to get to know the villain really well so I wrote a number of alternating chapters told from the perspective of the Captain of the Temple Guard, Huemac. He is bloodthirsty, cold killer tracking the hero, a fourteen-year-old slave boy called Atl. However, Huemac also has some redeeming features (sorry, can’t give the story away *grin*). As I gradually allowed the reader into his life I wanted them to change how they felt about Huemac – to move from intense dislike to understanding why he behaved the way he did. I am not sure if I succeeded so if anyone reads the book, let me know.

I wonder if there are nay books written totally from the viewpoint of the villain. I might try that!

Some heroes and villains are inseparable – Sherlock Holmes and Moriarity, Harry Potter and Voldemort, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, Gandalf and Sauron, Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Can you think of any more pairings? Strangely enough, I found it was easy to think of villains - Dracula, Frankenstein and the White Witch quickly sprang to mind - whereas I had to struggle to think of heroes!

Was there are a hero and villain in the last books you read? What were they like – were they all good or all bad? Which one did you like best?

History is a wonderfully rich source of heroes and villains. I am thinking of writing about Attila the Hun although I can’t quite decide if he whether he is a hero or a villain. The BBC did a great series on Heroes and Villains and each is loaded on You Tube in 6 parts. Check them out by searching for “Heroes and Villains” “BBC series” and to get you started here is Attila the Hun 1/6 [Warning: A bit gory!]

Arncliffe Public School: 3. The Story Detective – Finding Stories in Pictures

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Sunday, August 15, 2010 , under , , , , | comments (27)

It’s fun to find stories in pictures. It’s all about being a story detective and looking for clues. A few months ago I was writer-in-residence at Wollongong Art Gallery as part of their Just Imagine Exhibition where primary and high school students participate in activities and a competition all about writing stories based on artwork. Now the NSW Department of Education is holding WriteOn, a competition where students from Years 1-6 write a story based on a photo. You can read all about WriteOn here.

So how do you find clues in a picture? It’s all about asking questions - and this blog post will be full of question marks!!! The big top secret tip is to think of the less obvious answer. The one that doesn’t jump out first. The one everyone else won’t think of. You don’t have to write about what you see in the picture, you can also write about what the picture suggests.

Here are some questions to ask. How does the picture make you feel? Ask yourself who, what, where, when and why. But the most powerful question of all is, what if?

Have a really close look at the picture. Is there something unusual about it? It might be the colour, or perspective. It might be an object in the picture. Or a person. Unusual features suggest story ideas.

You need to decide who the narrator is. Are you telling the story? Try putting yourself in the picture. Your own memories and experiences can help you find a story. Perhaps the narrator is someone you can see in the picture or someone looking at the scene the picture contains? Or maybe the narrator is not a person at all. Animals and even inanimate objects can tell a story.

Look at the story elements the picture suggests – are there clues about the setting, the character, dialogue, action or plot. When looking at the setting, where the story is taking place, don’t forget to use all five senses – touch, taste, see, hear and smell. Dialogue will give the picture a voice, by letting it talk.

What is happening in the picture? Now look outside the picture. What happened before? What is going to happen next? The answers to these questions will suggest a plot, storyline or action.

One of my favourites is a technique I call “putting your other glasses on”. By this I mean take another look at the picture in a different way. If you think it looks happy, try and imagine a way it could be sad. If you think it looks like a horror scene, turn it into a romance.

Still stuck? A good way to jump start your story is to make lists. Write down ten words the picture suggests. Write down five sounds in the picture – onomatopoeias, dialogue, noises. Write down five things about each character. Write a list of who, what, where, when and why.

Here is one of the pictures from the Just Imagine Exhibition. It is called Very, Very Important.

I decided that I would write my short story as a conversation between two pairs of shoes and that I would make it funny. While the very, very important meeting was going on the shoes were discussing who looked the best and who had mud showing, who had to carry the smelliest feet around and who got trod on.

Here’s another picture from the Just Imagine Exhibition. What story does it suggest to you?

Now that you are a fully fledged story detective (*smile*), you might like to try writing a story based on the photo in the WriteOn competition.

The Value of Snippets via a great extract from Lohgan

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Friday, August 13, 2010 , under , , | comments (8)

A common theme in our discussions has been how valuable snippets are in our decision whether to read a book or not - whether it's a book cover, a first line, a first paragraph, a blurb or even a review. Here's Lohgan's snippet post - an extract from Mortlock by Jon Mayhew:

'As the two of them straightened up, Josie glanced over at Cardamom. She was almost taller than him now. Out in the street, they would have made a curious sight: he stocky, with dyed red hair, clipped moustache and red-lined cloak, she dressed in leggings and a light shift, her long blonde hair spilling from under a black bow. But onstage, they still made a perfect fit.'

I was immediately draw in. I wanted to know what the genre and time period were. A quick search of the net told me it was a chilling Victorian gothic fantasy. How excellent does that sound? And then I found this trailer:

I didn't even know this book existed until Lohgan told me but I'm definitely going to seek it out now.

Manor Lakes Specialist College: 3. Picture This – A Writing Tool

I was so impressed with the two pieces of writing that Tegan and Tanaya shared with me that I thought I should share something the writers among you might find useful. This might sound basic but it’s a very powerful technique. Pictures are a great tool to have in your writing toolbox.

Pictures help fill in the gaps when you are describing a character. I don’t see clear visual images of my characters; instead I will start with a strong feel for their personality. Sometimes I notice my characters develop a certain sameness when I am writing a physical description. That’s when I go to my ‘mug shot book’. It’s an idea I got from a friend who is a writer. She suggested I should cut out pictures of interesting faces and paste them into a scrapbook. Then when I get stuck with a description, I should look through the scrapbook. It works really well for me.

When I was writing Fire Lizard, which is the fifth Samurai Kids book set in Korea, I found this marvellous book called Korean Culture: Legacies and Lore by Lee Kyong-hee. It was about the ‘living treasures’ of Korea and how their skills were being lost as the older craftsman died. There was there was no money in things like ropewalking, pyrography and papermaking so no young people were interested in learning from the old Masters. I found this very sad. But the pictures of the craftspeople were wonderful and Ang Lee, the pyrographer in Fire Lizard, is based on a story and picture I found in Korean Culture. In case you are wondering, pyrography is an art form where a heated iron is used to burn pictures onto bamboo items like flutes and decorative hair combs.

If you feel like giving it a go, find a picture (anywhere will do – a magazine, book, internet) and write a six line description (or more!) to share.

Sometimes a description might tell us something more than what a person looks like. Here is a description of Lali who is an Aztec girl in my most recent book Jaguar Warrior, as told in first person by Atl, a slave boy. Not only does his description tell us something about what Lali looks like (her hair, eyes, nose and that’s she’s pretty) but the tone tells us about the relationship between Lali and Atl (he thinks she is an arrogant, irritating show-off).

Lali is short and wiry, with long straight black hair that spills like a waterfall. It splashes around her waist when she shakes her head. When she smiles, her pointy nose wrinkles and her eyes dance like moonlight on water. She’s not bad to look at but she’s awful to listen to. She never stops talking. Lecturing. Showing off. Her voice drags like a mason’s knife against stone. Scritch. Scra-a-a-tch. Scratch .

Grab a book off the library shelf, maybe one whose story you already know, and find where the character is introduced. Somewhere in the vicinity you should be able to find a description. Any character description will do. Doesn’t have to be the first one or the main character. Let me know the book title, author and character name and whether the description helped you visualise what the character looked like or helped you understand how the character felt about things. If the description didn’t draw a picture in your head, what was missing?

A few months ago I was asked to be involved in a project at the Wollongong Art Gallery called Just Imagine which was all about writing from pictures. They even ran a competition where students wrote stories about specific pieces of art in the Gallery. It was a lot of fun and I blogged about it here. Also check out the pyrography site of Australian artist Sue Walters.

A Writing Challenge from Tanaya

Posted by Sandy Fussell on Monday, August 9, 2010 , under , , | comments (8)

Tanaya from Manor Lakes Specialist College is the first person to share their writing with us all. I've posted Tanaya's wonderful piece of work, with her permission, on a new Tab called RWZ Writers. Have a look. Now Tanaya has thrown down the challenge to everyone else:

I just hope other people will put their writing on there as well ..... PLEASE encourage the others to write their own stuff, because I don't want to be the only one.

I would love to see other work. Doesn't have to be a long story - just an excerpt. But if you would like to send a longer story - you can email it to me. and repalce ~at~ with @ when emailing.

Arncliffe Public School: 2. Writing the First Paragraph

When I’m writing I always begin at the beginning. Now that might sound a silly thing to say but many writers start by thinking about a big scene, the characters or the big picture story. Not me. I really do start with the first few lines and at that point, it’s often all I have.

If my first lines can grab me as a writer and a reader then I start to work on the story by asking myself questions. When I was writing White Crane, a sentence popped into my head. My name is Niya Moto and I am the only one-legged samurai kid in Japan. I imagined Niya yelling ‘Ayeeagh’ and doing a onelegged karate kick. I knew what would happen then. Famous for falling flat on his face in the dirt.

I didn’t know anything yet about what adventures lay ahead for Niya, or who his friends were. But I knew because I had the first few lines, I would get to know the characters and find their story. And I did, although I changed the line order in the end.

Some people find it hard to get started writing a story. Do you? I have three favourite ways to begin a first paragraph. Sometimes I begin with a sound. In the beginning of Polar Boy, Iluak trips over a pile of soapstone pots and pans. Krash Klunk-tunk. Konk Tunk. Onomatopoeias, words that make a sound, are my favourite. I listen to noises and make them up!

Another way I like to begin is with dialogue. Let a character say something interesting. Jaguar Warrior begins with “Why isn’t that boy dead yet?” When the Captain of the Temple Guard shouts even the walls shiver. My third favourite way to begin is with an action scene. Fire Lizard, Samurai Kids 5, begins with The tiger roars. It bares its teeth and staring directly at us, bellows even louder than before. Kyoko drops her pack in fright.

Have a look at some books in the library. Do any of them begin with a sound, dialogue or a big action scene? There are lots of different ways to begin. Smithfield Public School and I have been talking about great first lines we found. (PS If you find a good one and you can add it to our blog conversation here).

Think of a story you know. Maybe it’s a book you’ve read, a movie you have seen or something you saw. Use one of my three tips to write a new first paragraph – hear something (begin with a sound), say something (begin with dialogue) or make something happen (begin with action). I’d love to read it if you post it in the comments below. And if you want to start a new story of your own instead of one you already know – that’s excellent too.

In our last blog we were talking about the books we remembered from our childhood and Bence mentioned a pop-up book. This reminded me of some of the pop-ups I still enjoy by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. Here is my favourite one - Megabeasts.

Manor Lakes Specialist College: 3. Hating Books

Yes you are allowed to! Even on this blog.

When I was younger I had this silly rule that I would always finish every book I started. What I hadn't realised then was reading is for fun - it is not a competition. I read a lot of boring books becuase of that stupid rule. But when I got to high school I found a book I just couldn't keep reading no matter how hard I tried.

It was called The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Apparently there were some issues about the translation from the Russian because of the clever things he did with language but to me it was the MOST. BORING. BOOK. EVER. If you see it on a library shelf, run a mile! But if you wnat to take a peek, you can read an extract on Google Books here.

I didn't have to read it for class so the only thing making me was the rule. That's when I ditched the rule forever. Now I only read books I want to although that sometimes means I might read it for a different reason other than the story. I might read it because I want to learn something about a time or place or maybe something to improve my writing skills.

Have you ever started to read a book and decided you hate it? What made up your mind? Perhaps the cover and the blurb weren't very accurate and it was about something you weren't interest in?

I don't like spy stories much except I do like the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. And I don't like detective stories except I love Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So I'm always willing to give a book a try in case it's an 'except'.

This is my favourite Alex Rider book trailer - for Snakeshead - the Australian connection!

Sometimes I don't like the way a book is writtem - especially of it's slow with lots of description. Some people like books like that. Not me. I like my description with lots of action. Even as I write that comment I am reminded of an 'except'. I read a book called The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Lots of reviews said it had too much travelogue description - but it was such a great story I didn't even notice that. It's a Dracula story with a difference - a marvellous blend of storytelling and folklore. Not horror but something different. Eerie.

Here's a challenge for you. Grab a fiction book off the library shelf based on the cover and blurb - one you think you will like. Read the first page. Give it a "I'll read it" rating out of 5. 1 = Awful 2 = Only if I'm bored stiff 3 = I might 4 = I'll read a chapter and decide then 5 = Gonna read it.

Then do the same for a book you don't think you will like.

Smithfield: 2. The Movie or the Book?

Whenever one of my favourite books is made in to a movie or a television series, I can’t decide whether to watch it. I don’t mind if the director changes the story a bit – but not too much. I liked how Paul Jennings short stories were made into the first two series of Round the Twist. Even though the characters in the individual short stories weren’t related, in the television series they were. That was okay with me but I don’t like it if whole chapters get changed or new main characters with new roles are added.

A year ago one of my favourite books, The Tale of Despereaux (which is about a mouse) was made into a movie. Just in case you are thinking a book about a mouse doesn’t sound exciting, don’t forget Stuart Little. Before the movie, there was the book by E B White who also wrote Charlotte’s Web. And if you are looking for a really exciting mouse story, you should read the Redwall series. Those mice live in an Abbey and have heaps of weapon-filled adventures! Guess what? I went to find a link for the books and here I found it has been made into an animated TV series!

When I saw the pictures of Despereaux I was worried. He looked too cute. I had a different image in my head. Then the reviews of the movie came out and everyone hated it. And everyone I knew who saw it hated it. So I didn’t go because I didn’t want to see my favourite book turned into an awful movie. Here is the movie website if you want to take a look.

Have you ever been to see a movie or watched a television series that was based on a book, or comic? What was it and which did you like best – the movie or the book?

Here are some of the movies I’ve seen that were based on book: The Chronicles of Narnia, Spiderman, Lord of the Rings, Lockie Leonard TV series, Bridge to Terabithia, Harry Potter (all of them!), Round the Twist TV series, Stuart Little
….. and lots more.

Sometimes I even see the movie first and then find out later there’s book. Then I have to read it to see which one I like best. Sometimes I even like the movie best. That’s how I felt about The Never Ending Story. Which do you think should come first – reading the book or seeing the movie? I visited a website devoted to the Never Ending Story and found this comment which is really relevant to what we are talking about today:

There have been three movies based on Michael Ende's novel [The Never Ending Story]. Many people complain that these movies don't live up to the novel, and it's true. The novel goes so much beyond the stories and themes of the movies, but that's the inherent nature of novels and movies. It should be noted that the movies have sparked the imaginations of millions, and as Mr. Coreander says to Bastian, "There are many doors to Fantasia, my boy." Getting to Fantasia is more important than how nice the path is.

That's a very important point. Whether we read the book or see the movie, we are still experiencing the magic of the story.

Has anyone seen the Deltora Quest cartoon? I love Deltora Quest and I love anime but I don’t think that style is quite right for Deltora Quest. I really like the illustrations by Marc McBride in the books and I wanted the characters and monsters to be in that style. What do you think? If you haven’t seen you can preview it here:

What book would you like to see made into a movie? One of my favourite books is The Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson and I think it would make a wonderful movie. She’s an Australian author and the book was Book of the Year in 2004. Dragon stories are my favourite (even more than mouse stories!) Anyone know any good dragon stories?

Arncliffe Public School: 1. Remember Way Way Back

Hello everyone up at Arncliffe. It's 'up there' for me because I live on the South Coast. Today I have a memory challenge for you. Think back to when you were much younger. Think way, way back. To Kindergarten maybe. Can you remember the name of the first book you read, or if you are thinking even further back, a book someone read to you?

Whenever I visit a school I always take some books to 'show and tell' when I am talking about ideas and how a story begins. One of the books that goes everywhere with me is There's a Hippopotamus on my Roof Eating Cake. I take it because it's a great example of how a good story idea can last a long time - the story is over 25 years old. I also take it because it doesn't matter whether I am talking to Year 4 or Year 8 - everyone remembers this book! Do you remember it?

My earliest book memory is Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It had a very scary bear picture on the front. I was so terrified of it that in the end my mum hid it in the linen cupboard under all the sheets and pillow cases. But I was so scared I had to keep peeking to make sure it was still there. Of course that made me even more scared. These sorts of memories sneak into my writing. In Samurai Kids Fire Lizard, Mikko is afraid of heights but has to climb down a big cliff. He is not supposed to look down but he keeps sneaking a peek because he wants to check what he is afraid of is still there. Just like me and the Goldilocks book!

The other book I remember is Fox in Sox by Dr Seuss. I loved those silly rhymes when I was a preschooler and I still feel the same about them now. Especially the one about Tweetle Beetles. It's a great piece of tongue twisting writing: When tweetle beetles fight,it's called a tweetle beetle battle.
And when they battle in a puddle,it's a tweetlebeetle puddle battle.

Some books you grow too old for and others are still fun no matter how much older you get. Now I think the Goldilocks book is a bit boring and the picture isn't scary at all. But I still think Fox in Sox is wonderful fun and I still love to read it aloud and get my tongue all tangled. If like me you think you are never too old for some Dr Seuss silliness, click here to visit the Dr Suess Story Maker and make a silly story of your own.

Fox in Sox is such fun two friends even created a rap from the book.

What is the first book you can remember being read to you? Maybe it was your mum or dad, or grandparent or class teacher? What was the first book you read yourself? What do you think about these books now?