Friday, February 23, 2007

Carole and the plotting of the Dragonkeeper books

We had a professional development session on Tuesday night at black dog. We run PDs for teachers but this was aimed more at the publishing professionals at our authors, illustrators, designers and ourselves. Carole spoke on plotting particular the plotting of the Dragonkeeper trilogy. It was an excellent evening. Carole spoke at length, and the questions and answers flew back and forth between audience and speaker.

What captured my imagination was the discipline with which Carole approaches her writing, how she harnesses her passion and ideas. She usually starts work at 7:30 in the morning and writes only in the morning (unless a deadline is very much looming) and the afternoon is reserved for research, going to the library and all the other things she needs to do in her life. She says she's not a writer who just sits down and writes and sees where it takes her. Once she knows the idea of the book she sits down and plans the plot. This will change as the book evolves but she begins with a plan. She is a fan of plot and thinks that it is especially important in children's books. Children's expectation of a storyline is that it goes up and up - Cinderella begins in the ashes, an invitation arrives, she goes to the ball, dances with the prince, wins the prince's heart, they get married and live happily ever after. And some writers, especially those gifted with youth, give children these storylines in their books but Carole says for a book to capture the imagination it needs more. It needs ups and downs, light and shade: Cinderella is in the ashes, the invitation arrives (good), she's forbidden to go (bad), the fairy god mother arrives, C. goes to the ball, but she has to leave by 12 (and her coach rather embarrassingly almost turns into a pumpkin), she leaves a slipper, the prince's butler (or whatever) comes with the shoe for it to be tried on, but C. is not allowed to, the butler insists. the prince and C get married (resolution). So up and down the story line goes, up the hill and down the dale, sustaining the readers interest. Carole also builds in two or three subplots. (A US reviewer criticised Carole for putting too many villains in Dragonkeeper.) Each of which has their own story arc.

One of the the things that fascinated me was the systematic way Carole sat down to solve problems. Carole has a white board for plotting and has a notebook for each book. When she's stuck or uncertain as to how to resolve a problem. she writes down as many different soluions to the plot problem as she can and then reviews. Often she said combining possible solutions made the best solution. (I hope I got this down correctly, Carole? Please correct if not.)

Carole said that what she was doing is creating worlds, so building on consistent foundations is important. The moon was important in Dragonkeeper, so she found a year in the lunar calendar that suited her purposes and stuck to that throughout the book.

I know other writers including Sue Lawson who use notebooks, especially for the back story. When Sue's characters live in a house she looks for a plan of a house that will suit the books needs in the real estate section of the newspaper. As an editor it is often the detail that brings the book alive for me.

I've just captured a small part of Carole's talk here.

Thanks, Carole, for an excellent presentation.


Delwyne said...

Thanks for these insights, Andrew, very interesting. I adored Dragonkeeper. I really liked to POV article you provided a link to recently as well, delwyne

Jayne said...

Both interesting and frightening from a new author's point of view. Working full time and trying to write as well is not a task for the feint hearted. Dragonkeeper is such a spell binding book that it is not hard to imagine that Carole required such discipline.

Jayne said...

Also found it interesting Andrew. Couldn't put Dragonkeeper down.
Many thanks.

Shane said...

I have been fortunate enough to have Carole speak to my Grade 5/6 class. The kids were able to see a real writing cycle that a real author uses. So much more than the plan-write-correct-publish cycle that so many kids work through in so many classrooms.

If you teach and have a chance to expose your kids to experts like Carole, go for it!

Emma said...

Andrew, never mind sending Carole to Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney - what about CHRISTCHURCH???? ;-)

My kids and I are hangin' out for Dragon Moon, and Borders Riccarton doesn't even know it's on its way, let alone the ETA! How can we get a copy soon?

Cheers, Em