Tricks from the Top to Improve your Writing

The Wicked Young Writer Awards deadline is looming (12th March 2018), and in order to encourage anyone considering entering, we have a round-up of advice from some of the best children’s authors in the industry. So whether you’re looking for tips ahead of submitting your entry to the Wicked Young Writer Awards, or have already caught the writing bug and want to improve, keep reading to find some great writing tips perfect for budding authors.

Cressida Cowell

Cressida Cowell, the popular author of the books How to Train Your Dragon that has gone on to beadapted into two films and a TV show has shared her tips for writing ahead the release of her latest book, The Wizards of Once.

My Top Writing Tip – Read lots, to give you a feel for the way different stories can be told. Also practise writing as much as you can – write, and re-write – don’t worry if you don’t finish a story, as long as you are practising, that’s what matters. Also don’t worry if your stories aren’t very long: I didn’t start out writing books as long as the ones I write now. You can still do research when you are creating your own fantasy world. Kids often think that ideas get beamed into an author’s head, or that when you write fantasy you can’t do background reading, but many ideas in The Wizards of Once were sparked by books I read about the history of magic, and magical creatures.

Inspiration – You can be inspired by your own experiences. Ideas I had about Vikings and dragons during summer holidays when I was 9 years old became 12 books, and a film and TV series. I had a slightly unusual childhood (I spent my summers on an uninhabited Scottish Island), but the world we all live in is full of extraordinary, wonderful idea for stories. You only have to watch an episode of Blue Planet to see that’s true.

Draw a Map of your Imaginary Place – I always begin my stories with a map of my imaginary place. Lots of other authors have done the same – Robert Louis Stevenson drew a map of Treasure Island before starting to write. This is a really easy way of thinking about characters and setting.

Think you are Not Good at Writing? Then think again – Often kids say to be that they aren’t very good at writing, but I know that’s not true – what they’re struggling with is the mechanics of getting the words onto paper. If you can make up a game in the playground, or you tell your friends stories, you can be an author! Get an adult to write or type for you, if you need to.

An Ideas Notebook – Keep an ideas notebook so you can scribble down ideas and drawings. This doesn’t need to be neat, and no one should be correcting it for spelling, because spelling doesn’t matter. I kept a sketchbook for The Wizards of Once for about 5 years.”

Lauren St John

Lauren St John’s portfolio of popular books include The White Giraffe, Dolphin Song, The Last Leopard and The Elephant’s Tale. Lauren also wrote Dead Man’s Cove, winner of the 2011 Blue Peter Book of the Year Award and a part of the Laura Marlin mysteries. Her latest book, Kat Wolfe Investigates is due out on the 17th May. Lauren has also worked as a Journalist for the Sunday Times and has shared her tips for writing too!

You don’t have to Begin at the Beginning – If you’re having one of those days or even years where a blank piece of paper feels like a cliff you’re expected to scale without ropes, forget about starting with the first sentence of your novel, story or chapter. Write what you feel most passionate about writing. If you’re in the mood for writing a thrilling chase scene that takes place on page two or 200, write it now. If you wake in the middle of the night longing to write about the moment the girl in your story rescues a runaway horse, or makes a break for freedom from some ghastly boarding school, get up and write it then and there. Writing something that moves or excites you often makes it easier to get back into the flow.

Think like a Journalist – No, I don’t mean one of those horrid tabloid reporters that you see in the movies. I spent years working for The Sunday Times and the essence of my job was to capture the sights, sounds and magic of a situation for our readers. Whether I was swimming with sea lions and Hammerhead sharks (yes,that really happened) in the Galapagos Islands, or interviewing Sia or Tiger Woods, I had to make readers feel as if they were there. That helps me now as a novelist. I want my readers to experience the sights and sounds of riding at Badminton or racing across the Savannah on a white giraffe. I want them to feel the thrill of finding clues or outwitting assassins alongside Kat Wolfe, my newest young detective.

Walk in the Shoes of your Characters – Beyond a vague outline, I don’t plan my books. That’s because I like to solve the mystery with my characters. For instance, in Kat Wolfe Investigates, there’s a scene where Kat climbs a cliff path in a sea fog to the futuristic mansion of her first pet-sitting client. It’s a nail-biting scene, and when I wrote it I felt as if I was with her and as scared of what she might find as she was. That’s the best bit about writing children’s books. You get to have the adventure yourself!

Sir Michael Morpurgo

Children’s novelist and writer of War Horse Sir Michael Morpurgo has been honoured with an exhibition about his life and writing process at the V&A Museum. With a large number of other books published, such as the Mudpuddle Farm series or his latest novel Flamingo Boy, Michael has a wealth of experience to call upon when offering writing advice.

Live an interesting life – Get out there, go places, meet people and move outside your comfort zone. Read a lot and widely, learn from other writers, from the greats. Every book you read informs, builds confidence.  With every book you read you are subconsciously finding your own voice.

Write just a Little Every Day – Have a note book handy wherever you go – a writer’s sketch book – and jot down thoughts and ideas, memories, snatches of overheard conversations, moments of high drama, or quiet reflection.   Frequency is important. The more you do it the less inhibited you become, the less you worry about words. From these jottings will emerge the ideas for your stories and poems.

Take the Time before you settle on the Idea for your Story – Find an idea that you care about, that you’re really passionate about, then research around it, read around it and dream it out in your mind. Don’t be in a hurry to decide but make sure it feels right.

I don’t Plan the Plot though other Writers do – What works for me is as far as possible to forget I’m writing it at all. I tell it down onto the page, as if I’m telling it to one person only, my best friend. Remember to be comfortable when you write.  Don’t hunch over. Don’t stay sitting too long. Get up and walk about every half an hour. If you dry up, go and do something else, put it out of your mind and come back fresh.

Remember to Write for Yourself – not for a market and give yourself time to develop your own style, your own voice.    It takes a lifetime. Enjoy it!

Jill Murphy

Writer and Illustrator Jill Murphy is well known for a wide range of works including the Worst Witch novels. These novels have inspired a TV series that has been refreshed, and is still running on CBBC. Jill has also gone on to write more popular children’s books such as Whatever Next!, and Peace at Last. Below are the tips that she has for aspiring writers.

Try to be Original – Don’t be too influenced by the books you’ve been reading – we’ve already got those! Try to think of an original or unusual angle if you base your story on well-known genres.

Use your own Experiences – Try to remember things that have affected you, either happy or sad and weave a story round that time in your life. You can always give it a happy ending, even if the incident was a sad one – it’s your story, you can do what you like with it!

Beginning, Middle and End – Make sure that your first paragraph grabs the reader’s attention making them want to read the next part of your story, all the way through to a satisfying ending.  The ending can either tie up all your loose ends, or leave the reader guessing what happens next, paving the way for a sequel!

Save all your Energy for Writing Your Story – Don’t tell people about your story or read bits to friends. I find that if I do that, I feel as if I’ve already written it and sometimes don’t finish writing it down. Speaking, and writing something down are very different processes. For a start, when you’re reading your own story aloud, you can do funny voices or put in emphasis and make it sound funny or easy to understand. You must remember that your reader will have to make sense of your story without any verbal assistance from you.

I do hope these tips will help you on your quest for the very best story you’ve ever written!

Hopefully, these tips and tricks from popular authors will inspire you to get writing. Entries for the Wicked Young Writer Awards close on the 12th March, and entries are accepted from people aged 5-25. Happy writing!

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