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Sunday, September 19, 2010

YA Mini Festival: Lili Wilkinson talks Writing from your Life

Session One for me was with Lili Wilkinson (author of Scatterheart, Angel Fish, The Not So Perfect Boyfriend and most recently, Pink), in which she talked writing from life, and book structure.

This post is about her take on Writing from Life. (Structure is the next post)

When we're told to write what we know, it doesn't mean getting out of bed in the morning and going to the toilet then brushing your teeth then grumbling hello to whoever you share your home with and going to the fridge to get your breakfast and are you asleep already because I kind of am.

We all have these experiences. What they're talking about, is writing what YOU know. What's unique about you.

We did lots of exercises. She made us write down things we like, we hate, we fear, our worst habits, physical sensations we love or hate and three things that tell people something about who WE are.

My three were:
  • I am a crazy dog lady
  • Family is very important to me
  • I get anxiety about dancing in public.

These are things that make up MY personality and how I interact with the world around me.

If you know three things like this about your character, you can hang your whole book on it.

We were given time to come up with a plot, in any genre. I thought I'd try a thriller, and this is what I came up with.

(We'll call her) Sarah is a 17 y/o animal lover. Her parents are traveling Europe for a month and she's working at the RSPCA. After hours, Sarah sneaks into the RSPCA and steals the dogs that are reaching their expiration date at the pound because she can't stand them being put down just because they don't have a home.
She has a dozen dogs at her house.

Her older brother who's a down and out type, taking odd jobs comes over and spends the night. He's in a lot of debt and has been working with some pretty dodgy people of late.

The next day he has vanished, as has the newest dog that Sarah rescued.

She gets to the RSPCA to find the dog's uber-wealthy owner, distraught. She'd been away, the dog sitter hadn't told her the dog had been lost.

People think her brother stole him. But Sarah thinks the dodgy people he has been working for have him, and for some reason they took the dog too.

...and so it goes on. It's not a stellar plot, but you see how my love of animals and love of my family have made a plot right here? Because "Sarah" is protective of them, I put them in danger to drive the plot and character forward. I feel like I have the beginning of something Veronica Mars-esque. I didn't quite work in the fear of dancing in public, but I'm sure there could be a hostage swap at a charity function for the animals or something. And not only does she have to dance...but with the BAD GUY. Or whatever.

I reckon Lili's really onto something. :) You could turn those three traits into a sci-fi, a fantasy, a romance. You name it.

Two of Lili's personal traits are being an only child, and changing schools a lot, and she has extrapolated these into her books.
For instance, when plotting Scatterheart, Lili thought about siblings. When you have siblings and no parents, you still have people around, you have support. But to be an only child with no parents? The main character, Hannah's mother is dead and father leaves her to fend for herself in Victorian London where young ladies of wealth aren't exactly independent. So she ends up, through misunderstanding, on a convict ship to Australia. Because she lost all of her family.

Lili's experiences of changing schools and the strange feeling of not quite fitting in at the start because what was cool at her old school was completely daggy at her new school, is also expressed in Scatterheart, in which upper class London girl, Hannah, is thrust into the life of a convict, with beggars, thieves and murderers. The change from wealth to convict changes how those around her treated her. She may not have been thinking about how cool she was, but she certainly had to adapt her own behaviour in order to survive among these new people.

What are some things that describe you, or are important to you?

Next up, Structure! But right now I have a dog demanding my attention so I'll go tend to that. It's very important, after all.



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