Things That Go Bump When You Write helps children's authors navigate the journey to becoming a published writer through the development of a strong author mindset and great writing skills! Discover the habits, mindset and strategies to become a successful children's writer. I’m learning as I go and I’ll share those lessons with you.
The first time I remember using the art of mindfulness I was in an extremely stressful meeting with a drug addict.
At risk of losing her children, the woman’s behaviour had become loud and abusive to everyone, including me. Threats were made and accusations were thrown. After one particularly volatile, screaming outburst aimed at me, I felt an acute sense of fear wash over me and grip my heart like a vice.
My breathing became more rapid and my fight or flight response kicked in – the door to the meeting room had never looked so inviting.
But I was a professional. Someone who was part of the team supporting the children in our school. We were their voices when they couldn’t be heard. Walking out would let them down. It would let my headteacher down.
I clasped my hands tightly under the desk and focused on my Moleskine diary. Trust me to seek solace in a notebook! My heart was thudding so loudly I thought the lady next to me must be able to hear. Heat rose from my chest and up into my face. Tears burned my eyelids and I blinked furiously.
I kept my gaze on that Moleskine and nothing else.
It dawned on me that I had to take control. With much difficulty, I attempted to regulate my breathing. I closed my ears to the rest of the room and counted each and every breath. Gradually my heartbeat slowed to a more normal pace and the pain in my chest subsided.
I talked quietly to myself – repeating the word ‘breathe’ over and over in my head. What was said during the meeting at that point, I have no idea. Nearly three years later, most of the meeting is a blur, to be honest.
But the memory of my body’s response will never leave me.
The Power of Mindfulness
At the time, I didn’t know that I’d practised a simple form of mindfulness. What I did know was that counting my breaths and focusing my mind on the rise and fall of my chest saved me from a professional disaster. It also began my journey into meditation and a greater desire for overall wellbeing.
But what exactly is mindfulness? And, as writers, how can it benefit us? After all, we don’t often find ourselves in situations like the one mentioned above, so is it something we can use?
Well, to put it simply, yes.
Mindfulness is used by many people for many different reasons. You don’t have to be religious. You don’t have to follow a specific programme. It really is what you make it. There is no right or wrong way to do it. All these things make it very appealing and very easy to start.
All it requires from you is a little bit of your time. Time to focus on the present moment when things are feeling overwhelming or stressful. Time to focus on the present moment without judgment.
For writers, we can focus heavily on things that have happened in the past that we may still feel discouraged and upset about. Or we worry about where our writing is going in the future and whether we’ll ever be published in one form or another.
Mindfulness enables us to eliminate the thoughts about the past and the future, and simply focus on the now.
So What Exactly Is It?
Mindfulness is focusing your attention on the present moment. It uses what you’re directly experiencing via your senses to focus your mind on what is happening right now, rather than what has happened in the past or might happen in the future.
It can also be influenced by your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions. You stop judging yourself for the way you feel and simply feel it. You begin to notice what your body is telling you and start to create space between you and your thoughts.
When you feel overwhelmed or stressed, you find somewhere quiet to sit and focus your thoughts on your breathing, creating that gap between your thoughts and emotions. When those negative thoughts start to invade, you bring your focus back to your breathing to calm those emotions down.
For writers, it can help us with the feelings of overwhelm, doubt and fear that we all experience from time to time. Instead of worrying about what might happen with your manuscript, you focus on what you can control today, right now. You are mindful of the experience of writing and all the emotions that come with it.
How Can I Do It?
As previously mentioned, there is no ‘right way’ to be mindful. It depends on your personality and how you like to adopt a mindful approach.
Personally, I use meditation every morning to ensure I practise my mindfulness in an organised way (yup, I’m a nerd). Before I begin the day, I sit at my desk, close my eyes and focus on my breathing. When my mind wanders, I gently coax it back.
This useful infographic can show you other ways to be mindful, if meditation isn’t for you or you want to try something new.
Humans are goal-orientated creatures and writers often have many goals. It’s easy to get sucked into thinking constantly about what the future holds for your writing – I know I do. Mindfulness can stop the constant pull towards worrying about the future and lets us focus on what we can enjoy right now.
It also enables us to enjoy the process of writing itself – with all the emotions that go with it. You can become fully immersed in your book and just enjoy the ride you’re on. By realising that it’s okay to have these range of emotions, you can focus your thoughts on your breathing when times get tough.
Creating that gap between your thoughts and reality can help you rationalise your emotions.
It will feel hard at times and your thoughts will sometimes seem to constantly invade your focus, but you’re training your brain to be mindful – these things take time and practice.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?
As well as encouraging us to enjoy the writing process for what it is, mindfulness has many overall benefits too. They include:
A greater sense of self-awareness.
An understanding that there are choices in how to respond to thoughts and feelings.
Feeling calmer and less stressed.
Helps you cope better with difficult or unhelpful thoughts in all areas of life.
Encourages you to be kinder to yourself and to accept that negative things happen to everyone.
You show greater compassion for yourself and others.
Scientific research also shows that mindfulness is linked to improved creativity and that long-term use of the technique leads to a change in overall happiness and wellbeing.
It really shows you that you are in control.
And that sense of control leads to greater confidence and improved self-esteem. So not only will your writing improve, you’ll soon be singing about it from the rooftops!
People can often turn their noses up at mindfulness as it sounds a bit ‘out there’ and something that people who ‘chant stuff’ might do. But actually, that isn’t the case at all. It can have so many benefits for writers both for their craft, but also for their general mental health and wellbeing.
Taking the time to focus on the present, even if it is only for a few minutes each day, can make you a stronger, more confident writer who can tackle the setbacks that come your way.
You can begin to approach those setbacks with an understanding that, by gradually detaching emotions from them, you can only learn and improve and become a better writer because of them.
Don’t shy away from becoming a mindful writer. It may just be the most positive step you take this year.
When someone mentions personal development to you, what do you do?
Sigh and wonder when they’re going to give up.
Smile and nod along while secretly running through your dinner plans?
Slowly walk away and pretend you have somewhere to be?
You see, self-improvement and personal development have a bit of a reputation. Enthusiasts tend to get a little evangelical and won’t shut up about it. You begin to wonder whether they’ve been smoking something funky.
But what if I could recommend some personal development books that would enhance and improve your writing habits? What if there were books out there that could build your confidence and self-belief? I can promise there won’t be any sign of a man in a long dress burning incense.
In today’s post, I’m recommending six fantastic books that have improved my own productivity and self-belief. To put it bluntly, they’ve made me the determined person I am today.
Reading them has changed my mindset and my habits – both of which have improved my writing.
There are many books out there and some are better than others. However, these are the ones that have had the most impact on my writing life.
The Success Principles helps you get from where you are to where you want to be. It teaches you how to increase your confidence, tackle daily challenges, live with passion and purpose, and realize all your ambitions.
Filled with memorable and inspiring stories of CEO’s, world-class athletes, celebrities, and everyday people, it spells out the 64 timeless principles used by successful men and women throughout history–proven principles and strategies that can be adapted for your own life.
Taken together and practiced every day, these principles will change your life beyond your wildest dreams.
I first picked this book up in 2013 after a recommendation by another author, Joanna Penn. Intrigued I ordered a copy and read it from cover to cover. At that point in my life, it was just what I needed. Full of success principles that changed my outlook on my ambitions and goals, this book did just the same for me as it did for Joanna.
It completely and utterly changed my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today – plain and simple. Yes, it may sound like a grand thing to say, but it’s entirely true. From reading this book on personal development, my love of this subject began and is still with me today.
If you want to start with any book on personal development, make it this one.
‘There just isn’t enough time for everything on our ‘To Do’ list – and there never will be. Successful people don’t try to do everything. They learn to focus on the most important tasks and make sure they get done.
There’s an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s probably the worst thing you’ll do all day. Using ‘eat that frog’ as a metaphor for tackling the most challenging task of your day, Eat That Frog! shows you how to zero in on these critical tasks and organize your day. You’ll not only get more done faster, but get the right things done.’
The first time I read this book on productivity, it blew me away. I was a struggling deputy headteacher at the time and I had so many things on my to-do list. I felt as though I was drowning. Overwhelm, fear and a sense of failure drove me to buy it and I have never regretted it.
Practising its principles in my DH job meant that I was able to see the power of this approach and begin to use it in other areas of my life too. My writing habits and productivity have benefitted hugely. Personal development is not just about loving yourself, gratitude and accepting responsibility, it’s also about developing powerful habits that can push you towards achieving all the goals you have set.
A remarkable book that will improve your writing habits in so many different ways.
‘We give up too easily. With a simple change of attitude, what seem like insurmountable obstacles become once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Ryan Holiday draws on the philosophy of the Stoics to guide you in every situation, showing that what blocks our path actually opens one that is new and better.
If the competition threatens you, it’s time to be fearless, to display your courage. An impossible deadline becomes a chance to show how dedicated you are.
The Stoic philosophy – that what is in the way, is the way – can be applied to any problem: it’s a formula invented more than 2,000 years ago, whose effectiveness has been proven in battles and board rooms ever since. From Barack Obama’s ability to overcome obstacles in his election races, to the design of the iPhone, the stoic philosophy has helped its users become world-beaters.’
As writers we face many obstacles – ones that we impose on ourselves as well as those from the gatekeepers in the publishing world. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the process of writing and publication. So much so that we can give up before we’ve achieved our full potential.
My husband bought this book for me several years ago, having heard Ryan speak on a podcast he listens to. He read it and raved about it and encouraged me to read it too. It sat on my shelf for three years before I picked it up and boy, am I glad I did!
Understanding that the obstacles we face are just part of the journey has improved my outlook on my writing life. It is easy to think that these obstacles are insurmountable and that we will never achieve our goals, but Ryan encourages you to think of ways around them. He reminds you that what once was in the way, soon becomes the way to approach any difficult setback in life.
Reading this book will encourage you to view rejection differently and to keep going, even when the chips are down. You won’t regret the lessons you’ll learn.
‘What if you could wake up tomorrow and any – or EVERY – area of your life was beginning to transform? What would you change? The Miracle Morning is already transforming the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world by showing them how to wake up each day with more ENERGY, MOTIVATION, and FOCUS to take your life to the next level. It’s been right here in front of us all along, but this book has finally brought it to life.
Are you ready? The next chapter of YOUR life-the most extraordinary life you’ve ever imagined-is about to begin. It’s time to WAKE UP to your full potential…’
Until early 2018, I wasn’t a morning person. If anything I stayed up in the evening, binging on Netflix shows and heading to bed at 11pm. I’d press the snooze button on my alarm until I absolutely had to get up and then I would walk around in a daze until I finally felt human.
You see some people are larks and some are owls. Owls don’t understand larks and larks certainly don’t understand owls. There is even the belief that you can’t change from one to another. You’re born that way.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it is possible to change because I’ve done it. I made the resolution at the start of the year to get up and be productive. I’d read The Miracle Morning a couple of years before, but had never truly put it into practice. I was determined to try again.
It’s been six months now and I’ve transformed (almost gracefully) into a lark. I am up at 6am and I follow the habits set out in this book. By starting the day in a meaningful way, I find that the rest of the day is more productive too.
If you struggle to get a morning routine together and even wonder why people bother, I urge you to read this book and you’ll soon see the benefits.
Most people think success comes from good luck or enormous talent, but many successful people achieve their accomplishments in a simpler way: through self-discipline.
No Excuses! shows you how you can achieve success in all three major areas of your life, including your personal goals, business and money goals, and overall happiness.
With these guidelines, you can learn how to be more successful in everything you do- instead of wistfully envying others you think are just “luckier” than you. A little self-discipline goes a long way, so stop making excuses and read this book!
Ah, self-discipline, the enemy of many writers around the world. It’s easy to think that the most successful writers that we admire achieved their success by sheer luck or talent, but that’s not always the case. Procrastination, self-doubt and lack of confidence stop many writers in their tracks.
In his book, Brian Tracy explores the different ways that people can lack self-discipline and how, by mastering it, you can achieve anything you want. He encourages you to vote yourself off ‘the island of excuses’ and begin to take responsibility for your life.
As a writer, this is crucial. So if you’re someone who blames everyone and everything about your current writing life, it’s time you bought this book and took control. It’s time to take responsibility for your writing success and own it. The choice is ultimately yours.
‘Practical, funny, implementable advice and stories that will help you understand why you are how you are, how to love what you can’t change, how to change what you don’t love, and how to be a badass all the time.
YOU ARE A BADASS IS THE SELF-HELP BOOK FOR PEOPLE WHO DESPERATELY WANT TO IMPROVE THEIR LIVES BUT DON’T WANT TO GET BUSTED DOING IT.
By the end of You Are a Badass, you’ll understand how to use The Force to kick some serious ass.’
I started with my favourite personal development book and I’m finishing with the one that gets the silver medal. I read The Success Principles and You are a Badass at least once a year and refer to them often, recommending them to everyone. This is the book I buy people who need some direction!
If you’ve always shied away from personal development books because they seem a bit ‘woohoo’ then you can rest assured that this is the one for you. Jen is a hilarious writer and her book has gained something of a cult following in entrepreneurship and personal development circles.
With witty stories and practical tips, this book helped me to stop worrying about what everyone else thought I was doing with my life. I began to focus on me. If you doubt your writing abilities, this book will help you overcome that once and for all.
This selection of books can enhance and improve your writing life. You just need to pick one that appeals to you and start reading it. There is no right or wrong way to embrace personal development. It will benefit you in many areas of your life, but most importantly it can help you become the writer you want to be.
Now go out there and grab your writing life by the balls, you’ll be so happy you did.
Do you have any personal development or self-improvement books to recommend? Let us know in the comments below so we can all have a gander. Thanks!
If you’re interested to see other books I’ve been reading this year, check out the Reading Challenge page for more ideas.
Title: The Lie Tree
Author: Frances Hardinge
First Published: May 2015
Faith’s father has been found dead under mysterious circumstances, and as she is searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. The tree only grows healthy and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.
The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father’s murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .
Faith Sunderly is an inquisitive girl, with a natural curiosity for science and finding the truth. When her father dies, she is convinced, unlike the rest of the island of Vane, that he has been murdered. It is down to her to find out the truth before it’s too late.
First let me start by saying that The Lie Tree is a spellbinding novel. It’ so wonderfully crafted that I couldn’t put it down – the twists and turns kept me captivated and the intricate plot meant the pace was spot on.
And what a character Faith is! What a heroine! Battling against the typical stereotypes of the age, Faith is a determined girl. Her resolve to seek the truth drives the story forward, no matter the difficulties she faces.
Historical fact is woven brilliantly into a fantastic tale and yet it’s dark and creepy in places, keeping the reader hooked. You’re desperate for Faith’s mother Myrtle to see how brilliant her daughter is yet you feel sympathy for Myrtle herself. A woman who was never truly loved or appreciated by her husband, you see her at her most vulnerable as the facade of family life finally unravels.
A beautifully written book with wonderful descriptive detail, The Lie Tree is certainly one to recommend – you’ll be captivated.
So now that I’ve reached the six-month marker, when all my other blogs had bitten the dust, I decided to write a review of my writing year so that I (and you) can see what I’ve been up to.
My Writing Year – 2018
Writing has always been an important part of my life. I’ve loved children’s books for as long as I can remember and nothing makes me happier than sitting with a new book and a large cup of tea in my hands. Going into a bookshop and browsing the shelves is such a treat.
But reading what others have written is all well and good (and an essential part of being a good writer), but what about my own writing ambitions? What would 2018 hold in store for those? And what about this blog, what would become of that? I had so many grand ideas in January that I was worried that I would get so overwhelmed that none of them would become a reality.
That’s why this mid-year review is so important for me. I think it’s an important step for any writer. It’s great to have goals and ambitions, but unless you review and reflect on them regularly, they can become nothing more than pipe dreams.
So let’s get stuck into my review and hopefully, it’ll inspire you to do your own.
1. Writing for Children
My absolute passion and obsession. They say that you become what you think about most of the time. I think about being a published writer each and every day, many times a day.
It is my passion that drives me to work on this goal consistently. But that’s been the case for the last eight years. Why would 2018 be any different?
At the start of the year, I had applied to the Golden Egg Academy’s Foundations Course and been rejected for the January intake. It didn’t set my writing year off to a good start, I can tell you. For the whole of January I didn’t write anything. It had been my first rejection from the world of children’s writing and it hurt. So I sulked a little bit and licked my wounds, wondering whether I would ever be a writer.
But then I remembered everything that I have learned through my love of personal development. Rejection and obstacles are all part of the journey. I remembered the importance of having a growth mindset and that every outcome should be seen as a learning opportunity. Having a stern word with myself to stop behaving like a stroppy teenager, I decided that I would apply for the next intake in June and try again.
I began a new manuscript based on an idea that had been floating around in my head for at least five years, but that I had been too afraid to write. I knew that I only needed 5000 words and a synopsis to apply to the GEA so I didn’t have the daunting prospect of a full manuscript to write.
Every morning I worked on my manuscript, writing the first draft relatively quickly, but then spending many weeks polishing and tweaking it to within an inch of its life. The deadline for the GEA course was June 30th so I knew I had plenty of time.
On June 26th, I read my application through one last time and sent it off to the Golden Egg. A feeling of sheer exhilaration filled my heart. I had not let rejection defeat me! I had stuck to my goal and worked harder than I thought possible.
There is nothing like the feeling you get when you complete a full manuscript. I actually burst into tears when I did my first one. But sending my application off was close to it. I will find out the result at the beginning of August, so it’s an anxious wait! Someone asked me what I will do if I don’t get in and I think it’s always sensible to have a Plan B.
I know what that plan is and I am prepared to look rejection in the eye once again, but for the moment I am keeping a positive mindset and hoping my application is enough to earn me a place. Watch this space!
2. Building the Blog
Before I started TTGBWYW, I knew that I wanted to blog about two things. Writing and personal development. I didn’t know which one to choose because I loved both topics in equal measure. I love children’s writing in particular. So I sat down and did a little brainstorming and realised that I could combine the two.
From experience, I know that writers can be full of self-doubt, fear of rejection and procrastination. I also know that we want to find ways to write more efficiently and with a better understanding of how to use the time we have set aside for writing.
Most importantly, we want to find out how to be the best writers we can be. We want to know the skills that we need and how to apply them. This is a journey that I am on too, so I decided to create the skills section of the website to share what I learn, as I learn it. Writing, much like teaching, is an ever-evolving thing and I’m a long way from mastery, but sharing is caring, folks!
My knowledge and desire to learn propelled the blog forward to what it is today. With a little loan from my parents, I found a web designer who didn’t charge the earth and set about creating the blog. Having to explain it to someone else gave me greater clarity and forced me to really define my niche. There was only one choice here: a blog for children’s writers.
Six Months In and the Six Months Ahead
Now that I have been blogging solidly for six months, I have settled in nicely. Every time I fire up the laptop, I feel like I’m sitting in an armchair with a cuppa, ready to chat with my friends about the things I love. No, I don’t have the readership yet or the comments flooding my inbox, but I’m still sharing what I know and what I am trying to know.
I am excited to have partnered up with some great companies that sell ‘stuff’ that writers would love and I’m building my little shop each and every day. I am aiming to make a business from my blog so these affiliate links really help. Some people don’t agree with affiliate marketing and I understand that, but I only partner with companies and promote products that I have used or would use myself.
A couple of months ago I took the plunge and created Things That Go Bump When You Write TV over on YouTube. I am slowly building up my vlogs and I’ll be posting one about my mid-year review in the next couple of days. If you haven’t already subscribed, head on over to the channel and join the community. I’d love to hear from you.
Behind the scenes, I have created my post schedule so that I have six months of blog posts ready to go. I am also busily preparing a free members area where I can share exclusive resources with you all. I also have two non-fiction books in the pipeline that I will share more about in the months to come.
In order to gain more experience in writing non-fiction, I have had the pleasure to ghostwrite a personal development book in the last couple of months and I really enjoyed it. It enabled me to dig deeper into my understanding of what it means to take responsibility for your life and inspired this blog post.
I hope to do some more ghostwriting over the next few months to broaden my experiences further, so if you’re in need of a good ghostwriter for non-fiction, head on over to my freelancing page.
4. Self Development
As well as writing, self-development is my true passion. I could talk about it all day long. I could write about it all day long.
Over the past six months, I have read a number of books on this topic to enhance my understanding of it further and to apply the principles to my own life.
The most profound change has been my morning routine. What once was a lazy start to the day is now productive and energizing. I start the day as I mean to go on and my productivity levels have skyrocketed. It has been six months of a solid change in habits and I now couldn’t start my day in any other way. For more information and to find out exactly what my routine looks like, read my post here.
I am currently taking a course to develop my understanding of coaching so that I can offer a helpful and motivating coaching programme for writers in the years ahead. I also hope to offer a Success Principles program later in the year. More news on that after the summer months. If you would be interested in taking part, please let me know via the Contact page.
5. Reading Challenge 2018
It is a well-known fact that leaders are readers. With this in mind, I decided to start a reading challenge in 2018 to read my age in books. So the hashtag #37booksin2018 was born and I have been diligently sticking to my challenge.
I share my progress regularly on Instagram, so head on over to my Instagram feed to keep up to date with my reading shenanigans. The list mainly comprises children’s fiction and self-development so it’s a bit of a mix.
When I read a great children’s book, I am always sure to leave a review for the author on Amazon, but I also share those reviews here. If you want to take a look at a few, click here.
And why not head on over to the Reading Challenge post? Got any recommendations for me? I’d love to hear them.
So there you have it! My writing year so far. It’s been really fun to write this post as it’s given me an opportunity to reflect on the things I have done. It’s amazing to look back and realise that I’ve done quite a lot in the last six months.
I can’t wait to crack on with the next half of 2018 – it’s going to be really exciting.
Thanks, as always for your support too! It’s much appreciated.
How is your writing year going? What are you most proud of? What are you hoping to achieve in the next six months? Let me know in the comments.
They’ve got their eyes on you: a quirky, creepy and unforgettable adventure, perfect for fans of Roald Dahl, Neil Gaiman and Tim Burton.
Violet hates living in Perfect. Why does everyone have to wear special glasses to stop them going blind? What are the strange noises in the night and why is Mum acting so weird? Then Dad disappears and Violet is determined to uncover the truth with the help of the mysterious Boy.
But returning normality to Perfect is a battle they never imagined…
What a debut novel by Helena Duggan! Everything from the rose-tinted spectacles to the bravery of our heroine blew me away. I smiled so many times at the sheer genius of the concept and the wonderful way A Place Called Perfect is written.
When Violet Brown moves to Perfect, she soon realises that something strange is going on. The tea she drinks, the glasses she has to wear and the rules she has to live by are just downright weird, and Violet isn’t happy about it. Before long, however, she meets Boy. He opens her eyes to the town’s secrets and lies, persuading her to uncover the truth.
The dystopian twist to this tale was superb – how something as innocent as tea could be the downfall of a community is expertly woven into the plot. I liked Violet, but I loved Boy more. I became so invested in his quest to find a family. And if you’re after two villainous characters, you can’t go wrong with the Archer brothers. Creepy, nasty and downright murderous, they fit the ‘villain’ description extremely well.
A Place Called Perfect is a brilliant book!
Other Books by Helena Duggan
The sequel, The Trouble with Perfect, is released in September 2018. I, for one, cannot wait!
‘In children’s fiction there are many worlds that, once encountered, are never forgotten – Alice’s underworld, Pook’s Hill, Pooh Corner, Toad Hall and the Wild Wood, a secret garden in Yorkshire, a Kensington nursery where a Newfoundland dog is the nanny…’
Settings that have delighted children and adults alike. Places that we would know our way around if we were plonked down in the middle of them.
Settings that stay in our memory long after we’ve finished reading.
Your story setting is like a second home for your reader. As they wander through your story, it should be so familiar to them that they feel as though they’re actually there.
Whether we’re enjoying a delicious fried breakfast with Harry, Ron and Hermione in the Great Hall or helping Rabbit sow his vegetable seeds in the One Hundred Acre Wood, the settings we know and love become very real.
Upon finishing Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian, I had fallen in love with Little Weirwold. I hoped that the village actually existed. Sadly it is a place of pure fiction, but the description and the action were so powerful that it led me to believe that it could be real. I could picture myself in Tom’s house, with the fire in the hearth, looking out at the church and the little graveyard.
Settings can be that powerful.
So how can we, as children’s writers, create settings that come alive in our readers’ imaginations? How can we take the image in our own minds and put it effectively into words?
5 Tips to Create Sensational Settings
Creating a vivid, believable setting takes practise. You will alter and improve it as you write, particularly as you become immersed in your world on a daily basis. Use the tips below to create a place your readers will love.
1. Immerse Yourself in Fictional Places
As writers we must read a lot. Pick up your favourite children’s books and study the settings. How do the authors manage to make it seem vivid and real in your mind’s eye? What works well and why? How much detail do they use and is it necessary?
Make notes about the techniques the authors use to describe their settings. You can look back on these notes when creating your own and try out some of the literary techniques too. If they use similes well, could you try that? Is your descriptive vocabulary precise enough?
Once you’ve written a description of your setting, read back through it as if you were a reader or ask someone else to. Can they picture themselves there? If not, why not? Getting feedback on your work is always helpful, even if it’s only a paragraph or two.
2. Draw or Use a Map
If your setting is based on a real place, find a map of the local area and print it out. If you can enlarge it, that would be even better. Circle the key places that will/do feature in your story.
Pin it up on the wall around your writing space so that you can refer to it often. This will ensure consistency and accuracy when describing buildings or features in your book. Here is a copy of the map I’m using for my current WIP, pinned to the wall in the cabin. The great thing about this map is that it also shows where buildings stood during the time of the Great Plague in 1666, which is when part of my story is set.
You may be writing in a fantasy world or a completely fictional setting and that’s great too. A map is important here because it allows your creativity to flow. It may start off a little sparse but you can add to it as your world grows in your imagination.
It will probably go through several changes until you get to the place you can picture in your mind, but that’s good as it needs to be as accurate as possible.
3. Take a Field Trip
If your story is set in a real place, nothing beats a real trip to the setting to get even more details about the place you’re trying to describe.
You can then sketch or take photos of buildings to ensure accuracy and consistency. Pick out the big details, but also the small details too. Sit somewhere quietly and close your eyes. What can you hear? Do trains run past frequently or planes fly overhead? What kind of shops and other amenities are there?
Print out your pictures and add them to the wall next to your map. Here are a few of mine from my trip to Eyam last summer.
If you’re unable to get to the place where your story is set, Google Street View can be an enormous help. So if you’re based in London, but part of your story is set in New York, you can be there within a few clicks of a button.
4. Use Your Senses
Once you have your setting clearly mapped out and in your mind, it’s time to start writing about it. When your character is in an important setting in your story, you can make it come alive by using their senses.
For most people, a new place is explored by sight. It is the most obvious choice of sense to use. But to get a real sense of a place, you need to think about what your character can hear, touch and smell too. It’s these smaller details that can make a place so vivid in your reader’s imagination.
A great example of this is in Harry Potter when Harry has his first experience of Diagon Alley. JK Rowling uses sights and sounds to draw the reader in.
A low, soft hooting came from a dark shop with a sign saying Eeylops Owl Emporium – Tawny, Screech, Barn, Brown and Snowy. Several boys of about Harry’s age had their noses pressed against a window with broomsticks in it. ‘Look,’ Harry heard one of them say, ‘the new Nimbus Two Thousand – fastest ever!’
There were shops selling robes, shops selling telescopes and strange silver instruments Harry had never seen before, windows stacked with barrels of bat spleens and eels’ eyes, tottering piles of spell books, quills and rolls of parchment, potion bottles, globes of the moon…
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
Don’t rely on sight alone, use your character’s other senses to add greater detail to the most important settings in your story.
5. Description through Action and Dialogue
A great skill that we can learn as authors is to describe a setting through action or dialogue. Readers like description, but they don’t always want huge chunks of it to wade through. They want action and adventure. We can introduce them to new places through the things that they do and the words that they say.
Using dialogue between two characters works well as they can discuss the setting they’re in, bringing about description as well as emotion. Without realising it, your reader is becoming more familiar with the world the characters are experiencing.
Action moves the plot forward and keeps the pages turning, but it’s also useful when describing a setting. Adding in snippets of description help the reader visualise both what is happening and where it’s taking place.
Suddenly he stopped. ‘We is here at last!’ he announced. He bent down and lifted Sophie from his pocket and put her on the ground. She was still in her nightie and her feet were bare. She shivered and stared around her at the swirling mists and ghostly vapours.
‘Where are we?’ she asked.
‘We is in Dream Country,’ the BFG said.
The Sensational Setting Summary
So now you have the tips, it’s time to start creating that sensational setting for your story. As with everything in the writing world, you’re not going to get it right first time. But keep plugging away at your maps and diagrams and it will soon begin to take shape.
Use your senses when adding description too. We embrace the world around us using them all, so why should it be any different in your fictional world?
Create a setting that readers feel part of and they’ll follow your characters anywhere.
The reason that so many people love the Harry Potter books is because of JK Rowling’s attention to detail. The lessons, the food, the dormitories, Hogsmeade… the list could go on. But it’s true. By taking the time to get this right, Rowling has created a world that people are desperate to be part of.
Grown men and women still hope to get their Hogwarts letters on September 1st. Fans know which house they belong in. Universal Studios has a full-size Hogsmeade village, for goodness sake.
But all of it began in JK Rowling’s imagination.
Just like yours will.
Do you have any other tips for creating a sensational setting? Which settings are your favourite and why? Drop a comment in the box below and let’s discuss!
You might wish to create a profile for your settings, much like writers do for characters. Here is one for the Forbidden Forest on Pottermore.
Amihan lives on Culion Island, where some of the inhabitants – including her mother – have leprosy. Ami loves her home – with its blue seas and lush forests, Culion is all she has ever known. But the arrival of malicious government official Mr Zamora changes her world forever: islanders untouched by sickness are forced to leave. Banished across the sea, she’s desperate to return, and finds a strange and fragile hope in a colony of butterflies. Can they lead her home before it’s too late?
A beautifully written book, The Island at the End of Everything is a wonderful story. Having loved The Girl of Ink and Stars, I wondered if I’d love this as much, but dear reader, I did. Maybe even a little bit more.
Ami lives with her mother on the beautiful island of Culion. Despite its stunning scenery, no one ever visits. For this is the island at the end of everything. An island for those who are ‘touched’ by leprosy.
When Ami is forced to leave her mother behind and sail to nearby Coron, she knows that she may never see her again. When threatened with the workhouse, Ami decides to escape and make her way back to her mother, despite the perilous journey that lies ahead.
The Island at the End of Everything not only showcases Hargrave’s talent for story writing, but also her vivid descriptions. Ami’s love for her mother shines through this story like the flame of a burning candle. Not even the evil Mr Zamora can extinguish it no matter how hard he tries. It’s the love for her mother and her hatred of Mr Zamora that pushes Ami forward and keeps the story moving at a wonderful pace.
I admire authors who can move you to tears with their prose. Carefully chosen words, beautifully woven together, describe the most poignant parts of this story. I can visualise the silence in a classroom as the story reaches its climax, all eyes on the storyteller, all ears straining to hear every detail.
A stunning second novel that has certainly put the author into a league of her own, I can’t wait to read what comes next.
Our thoughts, whether positive or negative, have a powerful effect on us. Not only do they affect our emotions and mental wellbeing, they also cause havoc to our bodies.
Remember the last time you felt negative about something? Did you experience that sick feeling in your stomach or did your heart pound really hard? In negative situations, do you sweat or stutter?
These are the physical ways that our inner critic can dominate us.
Every part of you is affected by every thought you have. When you feel positive, you smile and feel as though you could write the next War and Peace.
When you’re feeling negative, you shake your head a lot and screw up enough paper to fell a patch of trees the size of Wembley stadium.
If you’re positive, you release endorphins – the happy hormone. If you’re negative, you secrete cortisol, the stress hormone. Too much stress can put our lives at risk.
To be frank the thought you secreting anything is enough to put me off my lunch, but the good thing about all this is that you’re in control of your thoughts – and your secretions. Being responsible for your thoughts means you can turn the negatives into positives. Just because you think something’s awful, doesn’t mean it is.
Flipping Negativity to Positivity
How to Silence Your Inner Critic - YouTube
Let’s look at the ways that negativity takes a hold of us and how we could turn things around. By making a consistent effort to be a more positive person, you’re going to reap the benefits in no time at all.
1. Always/Never Thinking
Have you ever found yourself saying, “I’ll never be a writer” or “I’m always failing at this.”
Yup, that’s always/never thinking and you need to stop it right now. Why? Because it’s rarely the truth. Are you always failing? I mean like every single second of the day, in everything you do? That would be ‘always’, wouldn’t it?
It’s time to turn this type of thinking on its head.
When you utter these words, stop and think about the truth. How often are you failing? Was it just today or has it been for a while now? Instead of thinking negatively about this, why not flip it and think of the positives you could gain from it?
If you’re feeling like a repeated failure, what are the lessons you could learn? Your inner critic thrives on your negativity, so confuse it and start looking for the positives. You’ll always find something. Replace ‘always’ and ‘never’ with the truth. You can work with the truth.
I love this word and so does your inner critic. You take a small situation and blow it out of all proportion. You make it a catastrophe.
But when we really think about it, things are rarely at catastrophic levels in our lives. Think tsunamis or forest fires or a six-car pile up on the motorway. Those things are truly catestrophic. Failing to hit your daily word count isn’t.
The truth is, your inner critic knows that you will start to catastrophise as soon as they plant their negative seed in your head. And, like a true champion, you respond this way every time. Soon the smallest problems seem like third world debt.
Creating the worst possible scenario and acting as though it’s a certainty is going to damage your writing. Put things into perspective. Write them down if you need to, but get clarity on the real level of the problem and work out the solution objectively. Take the emotion out and imagine you’re looking at it as an outsider. The solution will come far more easily and you’ll realise that things weren’t quite as bad as they first seemed.
3. Mind Reading
Derren Brown, eat your heart out. He’s got nothing compared to you. You are able to read everyone’s minds and assume the worst. You know what people are thinking and it must be about you.
When you read that, it seems like total madness doesn’t it? But lots of us do it. The agent must not be responding because my work is shit. The readers are going to hate my story and it won’t sell past its first edition.
How do you know? How do you know that the agent doesn’t like it unless you ask? Seeking clarity from the people who are actually doing the thinking will stop this negative behaviour. Your inner critic can be silenced once you’ve heard the truth.
The key here is in the follow-up. If you haven’t heard, why don’t you phone/email and check? Instead of assuming you know what the agent or publisher is thinking, why don’t you ask them? It will save a lot of heartache and needless negativity.
If the news isn’t positive, you can wallow briefly but then pick yourself back up and try again. If it is positive, you’ll realise that you spent all that time worrying about nothing. All that cortisol will have been rampaging around your body for no reason.
4. Focusing on the Negative
Writers can be terribly negative by nature. We hate the thought of praising ourselves or giving ourselves a pat on the back. That’s just for arseholes, right?
Wrong! If you constantly look for the negative in a situation, you drain people and zap the positivity out of anyone you meet. By trying to find the positive in every situation, no matter how shit it first seems, you’re able to grow and learn from it, as well as the mistakes you make.
There’s no such thing as a bad mistake. There is such a thing as a Negative Nora. She’s a right pain to hang out with and soon people stop calling her.
Be ‘cup half full’ rather than ‘cup half empty’.
If you know you’re naturally negative, start by saying one positive thing about your writing each day. It can be anything. Start off small so you don’t freak out, but start you must!
It will soon seep its way into your overall outlook on life and you’ll be the most positive person you know.
5. The Blame Game
By blaming yourself for the negative things that happen in your life, you make them all terribly personal. That rejection from the agent must be about you, right?
Or, with a sensible hat on, you would realise that the book you’ve suggested just might not be what they’re taking on right now. The agent’s list might be full etc… The list goes on. Rarely is it anything truly personal. And, again, if it is, look for the lessons you can learn. You won’t silence that inner critic if you don’t.
Along with the blame game, people also like to go on a little guilt trip from time to time too. You feel guilty if you don’t reach your word count target for the day or if you sleep in when you’re supposed to be writing. You attach a label to yourself, e.g. I’m lazy or I’m stupid.
If you repeat that often enough, you’ll start to believe it. And when you start to believe it, your negativity takes over and your writing will suffer.
Listening to your inner critic can affect your self-confidence and your self-esteem. It has the power to affect your writing in ways that you can’t possibly imagine.
By changing the record and becoming an outwardly positive person, you can begin to believe what your brain has been trying to tell you all along. You’re bloody awesome!
Instead of focusing on the outcome all the time, focus on the effort. Okay, you didn’t get your one thousand words done for today, you only did nine hundred and fify seven. Does that make you any less of a writer? Does that mean you won’t succeed?
Of course not!
Praise the fact that you sat in the damn chair and wrote anything at all. Your inner critic can be silenced by decisive action, even if you didn’t completely hit your target. Something is better than nothing at all.
Remember, our thoughts affect us in every way. Surely you want the affects to be positive, don’t you? Kick your inner critic to the kerb and become the most positive writer you know.
You can thank me later.
Write down a list of all the negative things you say to your writing self. Look at each statement and then flip it to something positive. Cross out the downright lies and seek the truth. With truth comes clarity.
Get used to praising the effort, not the outcome. You will soon see how beneficial this is to silencing your inner critic and developing a positive attitude towards your writing.
February 1941. After months of bombing raids in London, twelve-year-old Olive Bradshaw and her little brother Cliff are evacuated to the Devon coast. The only person with two spare beds is Ephraim, the local lighthouse keeper. But he’s not used to company and he certainly doesn’t want any evacuees.
Desperate to be helpful, Olive becomes his post-girl, carrying secret messages (as she likes to think of the letters) to the villagers. But Olive has a secret of her own. Her older sister Sukie is missing and she’s desperate to discover what happened to her. When she finds a strange coded note which seems to link Sukie to Devon, it points to something dark and impossibly dangerous.
Letters from the Lighthouse, beautifully written by Emma Carroll, tells the story of a young girl evacuated during WW2. Weaving historical facts into a moving storyline, Carroll expertly immerses you in the sights and sounds of 1940’s Britain, as well as hooking you into the plight of young Olive Bradshaw.
After experiencing the full force of the Luftwaffe and the disappearance of her sister, Olive is evacuated to the Devon coast with her brother Cliff. Upon arrival, her illusions of a friendly, warm reception are shattered and she finds herself struggling to adapt to her new life in the country.
She soon makes an enemy of the formidable Esther, but remains determined to find out what has happened to her sister, Sukie. Before long, Olive realises that her new home is full of secrets and mysteries. Her determination to get the answers she wants, no matter the consequences, makes her a likeable heroine.
As a reader, you sympathise with Olive’s plight, particularly when you realise how much she has had to grow up in such a short space of time. It also reminds you that the war didn’t just affect those in London. ‘Blitz Spirit’ reigned supreme across the country!
Letters from the Lighthouse breathes a fresh perspective into this period of history and Carroll continues to write with such skill that, when the end comes, you wish you could experience it for the first time all over again.
But what makes an antagonist memorable? What makes them stay with us long after we’ve closed the book? How can we, as children’s writers, do them justice?
10 Ways to Create a Powerful Antagonist
While there is no magic formula to create a great antagonist, there are certain things you must include when creating yours. Without one, there is no story. Your antagonist is as important as your protagonist, so let’s look at the features you must include.
10 Tips to Create a Powerful Antagonist - YouTube
1. Opposition and Obstacles
Antagonists oppose your protagonist. They provide the obstacles that stop your main character (MC) from reaching their goal. Their main job is to literally antagonise your MC.
As the story moves forward, the obstacles and opposition become more challenging as the antagonist must throw down the gauntlett and see how your MC responds.
The obstacles become so tough that your protagonist is forced to wonder whether they’ll ever succeed and achieve their goal. Do they actually have what it takes?
Conflict lies at the heart of every story. It pushes the plot forward and forces your characters to change and to grow. Without it, there is no action and your reader will put your book down straight away. Conflict with an antagonist keeps the pace up and keeps those pages turning.
Children understand conflict. They face it every day in the form of arguments amongst friends or with siblings, at school and at home. If you’ve ever been in a nursery classroom and watched children try to ‘share’ the toys, you’ll know what I mean.
As writers then, we don’t need to shy away from it. We just need to handle it carefully and handle it well.
Obstacles and conflict don’t always come from the main antagonist/villain either. Sometimes it’s an ally that provides the opposition for a few scenes, e.g. Hermione Granger with Harry Potter.
3. Exploit Weaknesses
Antagonists love to exploit and use a protagonist’s weaknesses. Why? Because it makes them feel powerful and makes the hero feel useless. Quite often the villain will have qualities that your main character wants, e.g. confidence, family, wealth etc… This only adds insult to injury.
It does, in turn, give the protagonist a greater resolve to achieve their goal and end the conflict once and for all.
4. Provide Choices
“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
If an antagonist provides the obstacles and the opposition, your protagonist is forced to make choices. Sometimes it is the hardest choice they’ll ever have to make.
By making these choices, the reader gets to see who and what the protagonist really cares about, particularly when they’re under pressure.
And who puts the pressure on? Who makes your hero decide on the seemingly impossible? You’re antagonist of course!
Choices reveal our main character’s true nature and their hero qualities. Thus making the reader love them even more.
5. Cat and Mouse
Being one step ahead of your protagonist is a game for your antagonist. It’s a bit like cat and mouse. Throughout the story, your villain always seems to know something your hero doesn’t or is able to get to a solution quicker than your hero can.
It’s this game that causes your protagonist to doubt their abilities and wonder how they’re ever going to win.
However, The Final Showdown happens when your hero has caught up with the antagonist and is able to play him at his own game.
It is common in children’s books for the antagonist and the protagonist to have the same goal. They both want the same thing but for very different reasons.
This is the reason conflict develops. This is the reason that you’re antagonist tries everything in their power to thwart your hero.
By competing for the same goal, your characters are in direct conflict over and over again and that keeps the readers captivated. They want to know how it’s all going to end. Which one of them is going to reach the goal first?
Just for a moment, your hero will look as though he’s going to lose and it will break your reader’s hearts. That’s the power of a shared goal.
7. Perfection doesn’t exist
As tempting as it is to make your villain as undefeatable as possible, you have to remember that they need weaknesses too.
They cannot be undefeatable. Ultimately it is their weaknesses that cause their downfall at the end during The Final Showdown. The tables have turned and the protagonist is able to exploit the villain’s weaknesses to end the conflict and achieve their goal.
Think back to your favourite villains from children’s literature. What weaknesses did they have? How did those weaknesses contribute to their downfall and defeat in the end?
Human antagonists feature a lot in children’s literature, but that’s not to say you can’t have villains in other forms.
Animal antagonists such as Shere Khan from the Jungle Book and the title character of The Enormous Crocodile from Roald Dahl’s classic show just how well this form of antagonism can be done.
Your hero may face an organisation, e.g. The Capitol in The Hunger Games or a natural disaster such as an avalanche, that stops them from reaching their goal.
Whatever or whoever your antagonist is, they must cause as many difficulties as possible for your hero.
You can also choose to have more than one antagonist, just as Roald Dahl does with the three farmers in Fantastic Mr Fox.
9. Looks and Personality
Your antagonist can look as ugly on the outside as they are on the inside. Some authors have done this extremely well, e.g. The Grand High Witch in The Witches by Roald Dahl. If you make their outer appearance match their personality, it will stay long in the memory of your reader.
You might, however, choose a more subtle antagonist. From the outside, Delores Umbridge looks like a sweet lady who wears pink and loves cats. On the inside, however, she is one of the worst villains in children’s literature. A little like Mrs Coulter in Northern Lights.
Sometimes their names sound terrible too, e.g. Miss Trunchbull or Lord Voldemort.
It’s your choice, but whatever you choose, you need to create a vivid image of your antagonist for your reader to relish.
10. Make Them Memorable
A challenge for all of us, I think you’ll agree.
But we owe it to our readers to provide them with antagonists that they’ll never forget. Antagonists that follow them into adulthood and are then shared with the next generation.
They become the stuff of legend.
Whatever awful things your antagonist does, make them worse. However hideous they look, make them uglier.
Your readers need to suspend disbelief and a powerful antagonist can help them do just that.
It’s our job as children’s writers to create characters children love. It is also our job to create characters they love to hate. Sometimes this is the most fun part of the job.
Don’t underestimate the power and the influence of a great antagonist.
Just make sure they get their just desserts.
When researching this blog post and video, I found the following articles and video that you might find helpful too. The YouTube video is fantastic and I thoroughly encourage you to take a peek.