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.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Bullet Journal, Part 2

To journal - or not to journal.

by Katja Rammer

So maybe, just maybe, 2018 is the year of the Bullet Journal and we didn’t know until now…

Or, it might be mere happenstance that Laurel posted about her bullet journaling just last week. In any case, here is my take on it and I hope you enjoy the read.

I am, I admit it, quite a bad organizer and manager. Honestly, not the best precondition if one is a working mom (with two kids and husband) who wants to be a writer. So when the digital age dawned with all its fancy smartphones and shared calendars and task lists and to do apps, I thought it would save me. I was wrong…

Not so much because those gadgets wouldn’t work, but because all the info was scattered in a gazillion places, and if I didn’t remember to look up “Family Calendar” entries at the beginning of the week, it just might have happened I forgot about kid1’s dentist appointment altogether. Again. 

As probably anyone can see how frustrating and embarrassing this is, I was on a constant lookout for things to help me organize my life and all the gazillion demands of family life and writer’s life somehow—somehow better. And, in the process, stumbled over bullet journaling last summer.

Another notebook? Fancy pens? Writing things down on actual paper and doodling in the margins? Sign me up!

My first bullet journal arrived in August. Since then, I’m totally into the whole concept. It’s on my desk when I’m at work. It’s on the kitchen table when I’m at home. I take it with me whenever I leave the house. Sure, it’s not digital; I can’t share stuff with a few clicks and can’t invite people in. BUT I've got all the info I need in one place.

In contrast to Laurel, I use my journal in a more formal und structured way. Monthlies. Weeklies. Collections. But no transcripts of webinars. Those as well as character development or plot bunny hunts go in another, separate notebook dedicated to the  specific project. 

This is a weekly spread from January 2018 and shows my current layout.

Here are a few spreads and collections from my journal that are more writing related with a short explanation what I aim for by keeping them.

Collections and Lists. 

Those pages are basically to-do lists that may or may not be related to writing. There’s a “Books to Read”, “Movies to Watch”spread and “Possible Blog Post Topics” list in my journal. I expand these pages as I go. Recommendations come from various sources. A novel might be discussed in detail in a book on the craft, a story might be praised by a well-known author or a friend. Or I’m at the cinema and simply see a movie trailer that seems intriguing… Much of this relates to story structure analysis and getting a sense for what works and what does not.

When I’ve seen a movie on the list or finished reading a book, I color its entrance in the journal. The visual clue helps get a sense for progress and as I collect these items from various sources, it helps me study more than just the hyped new stories, but classics as well.

Guess this is full already and I have to start a second spread!


Did I write at least 300 words the day?
Did I read 30 minutes? (Yeah, I need to read more!)
Did I show up for 5amwritersclub? Write a blogpost that day? …and so on.

Keeping track of these things helps me figure out where I can improve and if I’m following my self-imposed rules. Tracking the habits I want to reinforce is a good approach to get better at these.

I do track a lot of family and personal stuff here too. Laundry? French lesson with Babble? Workout, water intake, vitamins? You name it. This section can be as large and wide as you want. Those who track less items might include it in a weekly spread; I do one for each month. 

January 2018’s habit page. Yes, I do have to track Laundry or we’d run out of clean clothes. Maybe I’m just a crappy housewife :-)

Apart from the daily habits I include progress pages when I’m done outlining a certain project and start actually writing things down. Other uses might be to track challenges like Storystorm or NaNoWriMo.

Random insights and observations

There are as many different pages here as there are details writers notice on a daily basis. Keeping track of these things helps me figure out where I can improve and if I’m following my self-imposed rules. Tracking the habits I want to reinforce is a good approach to get better at these.

Encountered the most peculiar person on the subway? Write down a quick sketch on your Odd Characters page. 

Gnawed on a particular plot hole on the commute to work and realized you’d need to research a certain topic in more depths? Write it down on the Research page.

The list of possible pages goes on and on. Dialogue snippets, random title ideas, sudden idea sparks, interesting professions and hobbies, possible character names, words—always words!—English or German, whatever tickles my fancy, piques my interest, or might be remotely connected to a current project: I jot it down.

Titles page and an example for tracking word count progress. See the cut? Husband said to scrap the first chapter entirely (and he was right). And yes, I mix German and English a lot.
What makes the bullet journal work for me is the compact and concise nature of the thing. The data isn’t distributed to seventeen different apps, but in a real, solid, touchable notebook. It’s flexible enough to adjust to the need of the person using it and, once started, you might find you can’t do without anymore. While I have found a layout that suits me just fine right now, I can change, tweak and adjust as I go. 

Pinterest is a well of new ideas! Newest addition in January was a Headlines page where I jot down one sentence or a few words that summarize each day. It’s like a short diary of sorts and I like it so much I've already prepared the same page for February, too. 

Got any questions? I’m happy to answer them. Feel free to ask in the comments section. 

KATJA RAMMER is a native German but writes mostly in English. At the moment, she working on a YA dystopia. Whenever a particular plot hole bugs her, she turns to poetry. Fascinated with story structure, she devours craft books on the topic at alarming speed. Married mom of two and member of #5amwritersclub, she is constantly sleep-deprived but happy as long as there are a pen and a notebook at hand. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, where she writes about her journey as a writer and collects some of her poems.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Doodle Your Way into the Writing Life

As the new SCBWI Germany & Austria blog coordinator, I'd like to briefly introduce myself. My name is Linda Hofke and I write picture books, articles, and poetry for children. I'd like to offer a broad range of blog posts this year. If you have topic ideas and/or an interest in contributing, please feel free to contact me.

Today's post is from Laurel Decher.

My doodle for the SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Belgium. ©Laurel Decher, 2017.
Whenever I got to a workshop or a conference, I get inspired to read new books, try new things, stay in touch with new people and remember important insights. Last year, I tried a bullet journal for my writing life and I liked it so much that I have one again this year. As these doodles make very clear, I'm a writer for excellent reasons :) 

A friend gave me fancy Japanese erasable pens (Thanks, Kazi! Brilliant for writer people who want to 'fix' things) and I stole my husband's colored pencils. When I see the colorful doodles, they invite me in. I'm much more likely to play with a new technique if I can find it quickly in my bullet journal.

Hanging out with all of the illustrators at the 2017 SCBWI Europolitan Conference in Belgium must have rubbed off on me. I created the doodle above on the train ride home. Just what I needed, a quick way to 'revisit' the conference in the months to come, without wading through pages of notes.

"No one can tell you how to write your book." First doodle from Catherine Frank's Revise Like an Editor SCBWI Webinar. ©Laurel Decher, 2017

Doodling also helps me 'noodle' new concepts and see connections I wouldn't otherwise get. Until I doodled about Catherine Frank's Revise Like an Editor webinars, I didn't see how truly empowering they were. "No one can tell you how to write your book" was a message I really needed to hear (again!). Catherine Frank never said it explicitly, but it was the message underlying her whole presentation. She gave us litmus tests and tools, but we were the ones who had to decide. (Can you spell 'ideal editor'?)

Second doodle from Catherine Frank's Revise Like an Editor SCBWI Webinar. ©Laurel Decher, 2018.

The third way that doodling helps me with is figuring out when I might want to try a new market or technique. Melanie Welfing's SCBWI Webinar "Writing for the Children's Magazine Market" was packed with information about how and why children's magazines can be useful for writers. A doodle helped me separate out the 'how' from the 'when is this a good tactic'.

Doodle for Melanie Welfing's SCBWI Webinar "Writing for the Children's Market". ©Laurel Decher, 2017.

Do you have a way to touch base with webinars and conferences you've attended and craft books you've devoured? How do you help yourself grow as a writer? Would a little doodling be useful in your writing life?

Laurel Decher, © Jane Joo Park, 2017
LAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include "Stretchy the Leech" and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She's famous for getting lost, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. Or find her on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She's still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in Windhover.