Friday, April 27, 2018

Paul's Story Trigonometry

by Paul Malone

Paul’s Story Trigonometry is a useful way of visualising the central conflict in a story. By using such a model, you can gain critical insight into your story: Have you identified the central conflict? Do you understand the main characters’ desires and resulting actions? Do these opposing courses of action collide (climax)? And is the story resolution integral to the conflict (not incidental)?

Model 1: Two main characters

Model 1 Explanation:

Desire: Three human desires: to have, to become, to be freed from.

Action objective: the action the character takes to try and satisfy their desire.

Tension: arising through the opposing character desires and resulting actions (opposing forces).

Climax: Where these two opposing action objectives finally collide.

Resolution: The result of these two opposing desires and action objectives.

Model 1 Example: Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers.

First published by Harper Collins Children’s Books in 2005, Lost and Found is a delightful illustrated book by Oliver Jeffers. From the book’s back cover: “Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door…”

Here is the story model:

As seen from the model above, the conflict in this story comes about through a humorous misunderstanding; and the climax is a revelation for the boy (who is a little lonely too). See also how the resolution is integral to the story: loneliness is resolved for both the boy and penguin, and a beautiful friendship blossoms.

Model 2: multiple main characters

The story trigonometry model can also be expanded to encompass multiple main characters. The model below shows 3 main characters:

The above model shows a central character with two other main characters. 

Model 2 Example: Matilda by Roald Dahl

A much-loved story by Roald Dahl, Matilda was first published in 1988. With such memorable characters as Matilda Wormwood, Miss Trunchbull, and Miss Honey (to name a few), Matilda is bound to be enjoyed by readers for generations to come. Here’s a model based on three main characters:

From the above example, the relationship between the main characters, their desires and “action objectives” are clear. The story tension arises (in part) through conflict (Matilda / Trunchbull) and the mystery behind Miss Honey and the unfolding friendship (Matilda / Miss Honey). The model could be expanded to include other characters such as Matilda’s parents.

Using the model

By sketching out the central story conflict early in your writing, you can readily discover or gain a strong sense of the story outcome. You may not know the details of this outcome (How exactly does Matilda and Miss Honey defeat Miss Trunchbull?), but with the general outcome in mind (Miss Trunchbull is defeated, Matilda lives with Miss Honey), you can write towards it, enjoying all the discoveries along the way.

Paul Malone is an Australian writer living in Austria. His short stories have appeared in leading children’s literary publications, including The School Magazine (Australia) and Scoop Magazine (UK). When not writing his own stories, he runs the occasional writing workshop in Vienna. He also loves meeting other SCBWI members! More about Paul here:

Saturday, March 3, 2018

2018 SCBWI Winter Conference New York

Content, Encounters, Inspiration – A German Author/Illustrator in New York

by Sanne Dufft

I am back from New York, where I had the opportunity to attend the SCBWI winter conference. It was an inspiring and all in all wonderful experience.

© Sanne Dufft, 2018
I had been to the Europolitan conferences in 2015 and 2017, and had so much enjoyed the spirit of them. With 750 approx. attendees, the energy of so many kidlit people in one place is incredible.

Possibly – and hopefully – everyone who has ever been to an SCBWI conference knows the feeling. After the conference, you feel enriched and empowered, able to get wherever you want to get and reach whatever goal you want to reach.

Trying to break down what it actually is that made it such a powerful experience, these three words come to my mind: Content, Encounters, Inspiration.

There was so much content: 

Thanks to a new structure, there were three two-hour intensives, in which we dove deep into writing or illustrating techniques, or learned about the industry. I took part in one intensive with a panel consisting of an art director (Patti Ann Harris) and two author-illustrators (Marc Brown and Hilary Leung)  (“Best Practices for Illustrators: From Assignment to Bound Book”) outlining the process of a book coming to life.

© Sanne Dufft, 2018
In my second intensive four art directors from four publishing houses (Cathy Goldsmith, Patti Ann Harris, Cheryl Klein, Lilly Malcom and Donna Marc), generously shared what they look for when they try to find an illustrator for a book.  For this intensive, we had been given a homework assignment. So that during the intensive the art directors looked at the attendees’ illustrations, and let us know what they liked about the image, what they found was strong in the image, or what they would ask the illustrator to change if they were to use it in a book.

My last intensive was led by the amazing Jane Yolen, author of more than 300 books, who gave us an overall course about picture book writing together with her daughter. There was also plenty of time for our questions.

(At the same time, there were other intensives: If you feel like looking them up, you can find the program here:

There were so many wonderful encounters:

My strongest impression was that of so many people with a common passion for pictures and stories for children, who know each other’s day to day struggles as their own.

© Sanne Dufft, 2018
There were people from all different stages of the path, from all over the world. There were people whose books I love, or whose potential books I had the pleasure to catch a glimpse of.

Then there was the portfolio showcase, offering the possibility to look at hundreds of portfolios – encountering art and in the art, the artist.  How would this art look in a book? What kind of book would I pick this art for if I were an art director? What touches and inspires me – also: What do I not want in my own art? What would I do differently?

And there was enough inspiration to fly:

I drew a lot of inspiration from everything I have described so far. But then, in addition to all this, there were several talks which were inspiring: On the first night, at the festive Golden Kite Gala, Chelsea Clinton gave a talk about what books and reading (and being read to) can mean for children. There was Dan Santat talking about his creative journey which led from his early work to his newer books, in which he has found a voice as an illustrator and writer, which is heartfelt and deep.

There was Jane Yolen, looking back on a long and impressively productive writing life, encouraging us to develop our creativity. And there was Angie Thomas, author of NY times bestseller ‘The Hate U Give’, showing us that it is actually possible to change the world – by changing a child’s or a teen’s world with a book.

© Sanne Dufft, 2018

So, all you wonderful SCBWI people, I’m incredibly grateful I could be there and can also be part of an amazing RT team, who have put together and lead through this event with incredible professionalism, warmth and humor.

© Sanne Dufft, 2018
In the closing session, Lin asked the audience: “Who’s going home to do their best work?“

I am certainly inspired to try.

Sanne is the writer and illustrator of several picture books, published in several European countries and North America. She volunteers for SCBWI as illustrators' coordinator for our region and lives with her family in beautiful Tübingen.