Tag Archives: book talk

setting a scene young writer children stories

Writing tips for kids: Setting the scene

An Example of a Two-hundred Word Short Story:

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

She pulled the blanket around herself, steadying her hot chocolate and sinking into the soft cushions. She reached for her book and balanced it on her knee, creasing open well-worn pages. Both hands now free, she clasped her mug, enjoying the warmth as it flowed into her fingers.

The crash from upstairs was sharp. Sudden.

Chocolate stained her book and splashed over her blanket as she lept up.

She left the mess on the floor and crept to the door. A deep pounding, like ocean waves, thrummed in her ears.

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

She reached for the door handle, releasing her stifled breath.

The hinge squeaked. She stopped, dreading another sound from upstairs. Silence.

She entered the hallway. The gasping rhythm of her breath the only sound. Feet stretching in shaking tiptoes, she took the stairs.

A single creak. That traitorous step announced her, and a crash from upstairs answered the call.

She stopped in horror as more crashes followed. Then thumps. Fast, rhythmic beats.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

They grew closer. Her throat tightened. She could feel her pulse in every breath. Then she saw it.

A pair of huge ears popped up over the top step.

The rabbit had escaped from its cage again.

Share your Storytelling Talents and Win a BRILLIANT Prize

The above story is one hundred and ninety-nine words long. I chose this wordcount very much intentionally as I’ve been invited to judge a local short story writing competition for children (I live in Crieff, which is the largest town in Perthshire, Scotland).

The maximum word count for entries is two hundred words (hence my own demo). Entries can come from any child aged from five to fourteen. Entries are separated into three age categories (5-7, 8-11 and 12-14) and the deadline is this coming Monday. Click here to find more information about Crieff Hydro’s National Storytelling Week Competition.

Perhaps you are one of the hundreds of children looking to enter the competition or a parent of a child who intends to enter. Alternatively, you may simply have arrived here because you like telling stories and are looking for writing advice. Either way, I thought I might offer a few hints and tips to help you set the scene in your writing.

Setting a scene

There are tons of different ways to set a scene but today I’m going to concentrate on three: pace, mood, and direction. Strictly speaking, these things aren’t simply connected to setting a scene but knowing about these will help you understand good ways to make a scene more interesting and easy to follow.

Setting the Pace

As a writer, you are in control of a few unusual things outside of your story. One of these is the fact that you have a small amount of control over your reader’s breathing.

Even when someone reads inside their head, the placement of commas and full stops (and any other types of punctuation), controls how they will breathe while reading.

You can use this change in breathing to influence their feelings in relation to your writing.

Short sentences, fast pace

Photo by Sourav Mishra on Pexels.com

If time is passing quickly, then a short, sharp sentence will help move things along much better than a long one. You can still be descriptive but use description sparingly and concentrate on really powerful descriptive terms.

In the sample story above you feel the story’s speed increase partly by experiencing the shorter sentences. Even if you don’t read it out loud, a short sentence will make you think of breathing quickly. Short sentences are good for suspense, action, and excitement.

Long sentences, slower pace

Photo by David Dibert on Pexels.com

Longer sentences (like the paragraph at the start of the story) can be a good way to make a reader feel relaxed (though it can also be used to show off different emotions). Longer sentences slow the reader’s breathing. This can be relaxing, but really the sentence length is a simple way of helping a reader feel that time is moving slowly.

Be careful not to make a reader take too long on each sentence though, or they might get so relaxed that they lose interest in your story!

Not a hard and fast rule

As with so many things relating to anything artistic, rules like these don’t always work. People can always find interesting ways to break rules or simply bend them.

However, it is hard to deny the influence that a writer has over a reader’s breathing, and it would be a shame not to remember this simple trick when writing. It’s a really easy and clear way to ensure that the pace of your story is the pace you want.

Setting the Mood

The mood of a story can be hard to show but there is one simple thing to look at when testing out a scene. What a character does is shown in the verbs you choose but there are hundreds of different ways of describing a movement. Take walking as an example:

A character can stride into a room. Right away we know that they are relaxed and confident.

Alternatively, they could slip into a room. In this case, we imagine that they are quietly trying to enter without being noticed. They may be shy, or scared, or both.

Another possibility is that they could creep into a room. This character sounds sneaky, but you would need to add other things in your sentence to help the reader understand whether they are being devious or careful in their movement.

With just one word you can help draw focus onto the mood that you want your reader to feel. Verbs are doing words but the right verb can also be amazingly descriptive.

Adjectives are the words we normally think of as ‘describing words’ (words like ‘blue’, ‘warm’, ‘smelly’). However, sometimes a sentence with one good verb and no adjectives can do a lot more for your story than a sentence with a basic verb and two or three good adjectives. This can be even more important when you have a small word count (like you might find with a word limit of two-hundred words).

Setting the Direction

Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

You always know more about the direction or plot of your story than your reader does. This is yet another thing that gives you control over how someone will experience your story. You can choose to let a reader in on a secret that your main character doesn’t know or you can keep the reader in suspense alongside your main character.

In the story example above, the ending would be less impactful if the reader knew about the escaped bunny at the start of the story. they wouldn’t feel the fear and panic of the ‘intruder’ along with the main character if all along they knew that the noises were just a rabbit.

However, there are times when knowing more than the main character could help make the story more enjoyable.

Maybe your main character doesn’t know that they have a winning lottery ticket in their pocket and you tell the reader in line one of your story.

Now, every time your main character worries about how much something costs, or complains that they hate their job, you can let your reader enjoy knowing that lovely secret for the whole story until the big reveal at the end. It should still be fairly easy to get the reader to feel that excitement along with your character. In fact, they may even enjoy it more as they know how much the main character needed that money.

Go Write Your Story!

There are so many other factors that go into writing a story but hopefully, the tips in this post have helped you a little. Whether you are away to write your short story for Monday’s competition, or if you are simply reading this for general storytelling tips, I wish you the best of luck.

I would also love to hear about your stories so please leave a comment and tell me about what you’ve chosen to write. (Feel free to ask me questions too)

Thanks for popping by my site,

all the best, John

 

 

free creative writing course for kids celebrating stories literacy scottish curriculum for excellence

FREE Curriculum for Excellence literacy classroom resources

Very soon I’ll be launching a new ten-week series of classroom resources for teachers called ‘Celebrating Stories’. It’s based around the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence but many of the learning opportunities and outcomes will be relevant within other curricula as well.

Our focus?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The primary focus will be on literacy (as you would imagine, coming from an author). However, over the course of the ten weeks, pupils will also encounter challenges and opportunities to learn within other spheres as well; including maths, community engagement, art, and some components of design and technology. (You can find a full list of curriculum areas covered by downloading this document: Celebrating Stories Curriculum for Excellence Experiences and Outcomes for planning learning, teaching and assessment)

Your class will be taken through something like a miniature course in creative writing/ self-publishing. The class will choose the nature of the end result but the aim is that it will take the form of a class-published set of work which can be utilised to raise funds for the school.

Given the duration and level of work involved each week, this is an ambitious project for a class. Completing the set activities could take 2-3 hours of class work per week (or more) depending on your pupils’ level of interest.

I don’t want to be too specific about weekly time at this point as the programme is still untested. However, your class’ participation will decide how much things progress on their chosen project.

What do teachers get?

I will contribute both a teacher’s guide and relevant pupil printouts each week via email but the work will primarily be in the hands of pupils (with support and guidance from their teacher).

The course offers pupils the chance to develop teamwork and leadership skills, along with encouraging creative output, critical analysis, and developing their young enterprise capacities.

PLEASE NOTE: I can offer virtual and/or in-person support for schools (e.g. help with editing or formatting) but this isn’t a standard part of the ‘Celebrating Stories’ programme. I’m more than happy to help where I can but additional arrangments will need to be made if more involvement is needed (please contact me for details).

Will this work alongside normal classroom activities?

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

All activities are checked against concrete outcomes within the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence so that the project doesn’t detract from their ongoing educational goals. (A list of key areas covered will be included in your welcome e-mail.)

Core activities are all aimed at level two outcomes, primarily within the Literacy component of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. Additional components, drawing on other skills, have also been checked against the relevant level two outcomes in the curriculum.

I should note that Celebrating Stories has no affiliation with Education Scotland, However, measures have been taken to ensure that this course will fit within normal classroom activities for pupils working in level two (p6/7).

What does ‘level two’ mean, who is this for?

This programme will primarily be of interest to teachers of p6 and p7 pupils in Scotland. (That’s around 10-12 years old, for those who are unfamiliar with the Scottish system for year-groups).

It has been designed for a single class (of around 30) but could also be used as a year-group project with minimal changes.

COST DISCLAIMER:

I should note here that there is no cost for joining the programme. No funds will be requested  (nor expected) on the part of Green Flame Books in relation to the e-mail based version of ‘Celebrating Stories’.

However, you may choose to pursue certain formats of media that (outside of the programme) will cost money (e.g. printing costs if you choose to hire a local printing company to print a booklet for you).

Though this may initially cost the school funds, the young enterprise component of ‘Celebrating Stories’ is aimed at helping pupils consider ways in which they might recoup any costs which arise from their activities. A whole section of the course looks at how pupils can use this as an opertunity to raise money for their school.

Any and all funds you raise are purely for your school.

Want to get in early?

If you would like to be one of the first to use this resource (or if you would just like to keep up with what I’m working on for/ with educators) you can subscribe to my teachers’ mailing list by following this link.

If you have any questions please post them in the comments below or as a reply to the welcome e-mail you receive from me.

Hope to hear from you soon,

All the best, John

Friends Of Old St Michael’s Children’s Book Day

This Sunday (25th August, at 12:30) there’s a great children’s books event along at Old St Michael’s Church Yard in Crieff. Positioned right on the site of Crieff’s first ever school.

Somewhere to enjoy a last wee taste of summer

The old school building has been gone for a while but it’s nice to be in touch with a bit of the town’s history; standing where it once stood.

As it looks now it’s a bright, open, grassy spot under a bit of tree cover. It’s a space that a lot of people in the town don’t know about but thanks to the work of the ‘Friends of Old St Michael’s’ it’s looking lovely and fully equipped for all sorts of events (and don’t worry there is cover if we get a spot of rain, they have a marquee set up ready).

Something fun to make back to school a little easier

The whole of Sunday’s event is family-friendly and there’s loads to do while you’re there. Learn to write with a real quill (like Harry Potter!) with Library of Innerpeffray, or listen to a story from an expert Storyteller. You can also travel through time with artefacts from Perthshire’s past from medieval times and the Victorian era.

Along with this you can participate in various art activities and enter a book review competition by sharing a review of your favourite story (with some GREAT PRIZES FOR THE BEST TALK).

And Little Old Me!?

So why am I telling you all of this? Self promotion obviously. I’ll be there as well, talking about the Jack Reusen books and about story-craft (and there might be a free book or two as well).

As you might know from previous posts, I offer bookwriting workshops in schools and I always love to hear what sorts of stories kids have locked up in their heads. I won’t be running a workshop on Sunday but hopefully we’ll get kids excited about writing their own stories, told from their own unique perspective on the world.

If you want to be kept up to date about the event (and you’re on Facebook) you can either mark yourself down as ‘interested’ or ‘going’ on the Facebook event page. That way you’ll be notified of any changes or other updates (plus it helps me feel good to know we’ve got a good crowd along 😉 ). It’s always good to support these sorts of events when they apear in town, hope to see you along on Sunday.

All the best,

John

Free Author talks for schools

free book talks author scotland perthshire john bray jack reusen

I recently passed my driving test (at the tender age of thirty-five). The surest motivation in the weeks leading up to it was school book talks. I’ve ran school talks before but I’ve always been lucky enough to be able to get to the talk on foot, by bus, or on more than one occasion I managed to wangle a lift from a teacher (thanks Mr Scoogle!).

Now I’m fully mobile. I can get to the most remote little primary school in the middle of nowhere if I’m asked to. It’s a wildly freeing feeling and I can’t wait to see what it brings.

I’m aiming to have a new batch of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ (book 1) printed up over the next few weeks and then I’ll be all set for book talks wherever the call is issued (within reason). For this reason my schedule will mean that the first talks will take place some time in October.

I’m based in Perthshire (Scotland) and I don’t charge for book talks but I do fund them by selling copies of the Jack Reusen books at the talks themselves. I can set up a pre-order option for teachers so that pickup and signing etc. is as smooth as possible.

However, I’m also happy to turn up on the day with a batch of books. That said, pre-order ensures that I have enough books on hand at the talk (I can also pre-sign books to help reduce wait time after the talk is finished).

Talks can be themed around the methodology of writing, book production, story-telling, research, or I can simply talk about the books (this allows me to cater to classes from primary 3 and upwards). I’m also happy to discuss a more regular visit schedule for things like writing or book making workshops (though I may have to charge a small fee for these to cover travel, and resources, etc.)

If you would like me to visit your class (or other children’s group, club, or organisation) to talk about writing and stories please get in touch using the form below. I look forward to hearing from you. All the best, John

Visit to Fun Junction

On the 20th August, as part of Crieff Arts Festival, I’ll be doing an author’s visit to Fun Junction in Crieff. This will be the first time I’ve done one in a while so I’ve decided to make the most of it. 

Fun Junction has kindly agreed to offer prizes for a new ‘design a character competition’ (three £10 vouchers up for grabs). I’ll also be running a crossword competition where you can win signed copies of ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame’ and ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’.

On top of this I’ll be sharing a work-in-progress excerpt from book three (‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’). I’ll only be able to read this a couple of times on the day as the excerpt is longer than the usual readings. If you’re a fan of books one and two please try and make it along at either 1pm or 2pm to be sure to hear the sneak peek.

I’ve also ordered a reprint of the first edition of the Fey Flame. These will be the last original copies I’ll be printing. From then on the new edition will be released, featuring Karen’s amazing new cover art (along with some slight edits to the content). 

You can pre-order the new edition or get one of the last signed copies of the first edition on the day. I’ll also have plenty of copies of ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams’ to buy on the day too.

So here’s a basic run-down of what to expect on Saturday 20th (this coming Saturday):

From 11am I’ll be in Fun Junction to sign books, read excerpts of the first two books, provide entry forms for both the ‘design a character’ competition and the crossword competition.

At 1pm I’ll read an excerpt from the new book and I’ll be happy to talk about writing in general to anyone (child or adult) who might be interested in knowing more.

At 2pm I’ll be reading from ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ again. I’ll be packing up sometime after this but I’ll be sure to leave entry forms for the wordsearch and ‘design a character’ competition at Fun Junction. Entries will still be accepted until the following Saturday.

Last year the winning characters were included in a Christmas story which was released on Christmas eve. This year I’ll be including the three winning characters in another story, but this time it’ll be released in spring 2017. 

The winners will receive a £10 Fun Junction gift voucher, along with signed copies of books one and two.

I hope you’ll take the time to pop up on Saturday. All the best, John

Playing to an empty room? (and some info about competitions)

theater-105573_1280Just a short one tonight as I’m getting my ideas together for my book talk at ‘Writers Live!’ on Saturday. Basically that’s the main thing on my mind at the moment; will people come to my book talk? The idea of talking to an empty room is far more daunting than the thought of talking in front of a big crowd.

So far responses on the events page seem promising so I’ll try and hold back on the anxiety, also I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the entries for the competition I’m running in conjunction with Fun Junction.

I’ve actually got two different competitions running in conjunction with my book talk for Crieff Arts Festival but only one of them ends this weekend: The ‘Design a Jack Reusen Character’ competition is being run in conjunction with Fun Junction (where entries can be handed in). Simply design a character to feature in a Jack Reusen book. I’ll write the character into a short story which will appear on this site soon after the arts festival, but it will also be appearing in print and released inside a book that’s due to come out just before Christmas (I’ll post the title of the new book tomorrow night 😉 ).

You can submit a picture, a character description, or both. Just in case you don’t get a chance before the talk, I’ll also be bringing a big pile of paper and pencils along to the Strathearn Artspace on Saturday so that children (and adults if they want) can draw up their characters and hand them in either to me on the day. You can also drop off entries at Fun Junction up until 5:15pm on Saturday (if you want to take your time drawing/writing). Judging will take place this weekend and entries should either be dropped in to Fun Junction, or scanned and sent digitally to either the Jack Reusen facebook account, twitter account, or to jackreusen@hotmail.co.uk.

The second competition will now be running until the end of August: Simply explain what you liked most about ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ on the facebook page to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of either ‘Jack Reusen and the Spark of Dreams‘, ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘ or (if you don’t mind the wait), you can get an early release, signed edition of ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ when it comes out in the Autumn.

If you haven’t already, please pop along to the events page on facebook and say whether you’ll be able to make it along to the book talk (if I know that people are coming I might be able to relax enough for that ‘humming’ noise in my ears to go away 😉 ). As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

Crieff Primary visit

Crieff_PSI knew it was going to be a different kind of talk today because the whole class had already read the book. In fact they had literally just finished the last chapter when I got there, so they had lots of questions about the characters.

The great thing for me was seeing that I’d managed to make a story that they had clearly all enjoyed. I tried to write the books so there was something for everyone and today made me feel like I’d managed to get pretty close to that goal.

The added bonus of knowing that the class had all heard the first book was that I could get away with reading a wee sample of ‘…the Spark of Dreams‘. I think they enjoyed their wee teaser, and they certainly asked a lot of questions about what to expect in future books.

It was a fantastic day and a genuine thrill to see that Jack’s world had clearly appealed to them all so much, and I’ll definitely be down there again (if they’ll have me) to talk about any future books. In the mean time it sounds as though I might be getting some illustrations from the class, inspired by characters from the book, to share with you soon. I’m looking forward to what they think Jack, Thea, Sparky, and Harold look like.

Weirdly enough I spent yesterday in my p2 classroom in Comrie primary and today I was in my p3 classroom. The last couple of days have been really enjoyable and a wee walk down memory lane. Hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about it, thanks for reading, Cheers, John

Comrie Primary

image

Today I was at Comrie Primary School for a book talk. It was lovely to revisit my first primary school, and odd to see how different the school looks now I’m not four feet tall.

By the sounds of it there are a good few budding authors among Comrie Primary’s pupils and they had a lot of interesting (and some very practical questions) about writing.

That’s the fun thing about these kinds of events. Aside from getting a bit of feedback on my writing, these talks definitely help me build self-awareness as an author.

How do you make a character? Why do you write in this genre? What should someone do to become an author?

It’s tough sometimes; some of these questions are relatively easy to answer, yet I feel a little under-qualified to answer others.

What do I do if I want to be a writer? I was tempted to answer ‘you write’ but that’s too glib (and dangerously close to sarcastic) an answer for a budding young writer. The truth is that there doesn’t seem to be one way to ‘be a writer’ but even that would be an unsatisfying answer.

Instead we got into discussing some surprisingly practical elements of the writing process: from sentence structure and grammar, to royalties and the earning potential of writing. It was a surprisingly thorough discussion to be having with primary school children.

I’ve just been informed that the pupils have decided to create illustrations of some of the characters from the book. I look forward to seeing the results and will hopefully get a chance to share them on here if I can.

Of course; if you know any children who have read the book(s) and who feel like sending in pictures of characters these are more than welcome (adults can send things in too if they like).

I love doing school talks so if you’d like me to come to your school please get in touch and we can try and arrange something.

As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John