How to write fantasy fiction for children

The Snowbirds by Jim FitzsimmonsEver fancied writing fantasy fiction for children? In today’s guest post Jim Fitzsimmons, author of The Snowbirds, tells us why writing fantasy stories is really no different to any other kind of writing, “because there are certain elements which are common to every genre of fiction.”

Have the idea

First of all you have to have an idea, and this can come from anywhere, a chance remark, something which happens while you are out walking, an interesting news item, or even someone you know or meet. It is important that you keep your eyes and ears open.

You need to try and think of something that hasn’t been done before if you can. This is obviously proving more and more difficult, but you can sometimes get around it by taking a familiar theme and looking at it from a different angle. I find fairy stories and traditional folk tales from around the world are an immense source of inspiration.

My inspiration for The Snowbirds came from a holiday in Sweden where I visited an Ice Fair. On the final day when the sculptures were completed, candles were lit in each of them and that night the flickering flames seemed to bring the statues to life.

Develop your plot

For my novel I took the art of  ice sculpture, set it in Japan where there is a wonderful annual Ice Sculpture festival in Sapporo. I combined this with the character of Jack Frost and linked him to the Russian character of Grandfather Frost to create an adventure involving two ice sculptures that come to life.

For me it is very important that I work out the plot as much as I can, even before I start, because I personally need a strong framework to keep me focused. This doesn’t mean that you can’t deviate from it if you suddenly have a brainwave, but it saves a lot of wasted time sitting at the computer wondering what is going to happen next. Plus I always strive for a strong beginning, middle and ending.

Shoji, the protagonist of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Shoji, the protagonist of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Create your characters

It’s difficult to say which comes first, character or plot – it can be either or both. Of course, you need to decide where your story will take place. This can be an imaginary world, inhabited by weird and wonderful characters in which case you can let your imagination run riot, or you can set the story in a more realistic and down to earth place and let the magic unfold. This has the advantage of heightening the magical fantasy element by contrast.

When creating characters of any sort it is important to make them as realistic and interesting as you can. They must be believable in order for the readers to want to know what happens to them. A good idea is to write down as much as you can about each one. Not just what they are like in appearance, but also their likes and dislikes. You may not use all of this in your story but it will help you to identify more easily with your characters as your story unfolds.

The world of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

The world of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Know your world

If you’re writing about dragons, fairies, witches or any other of the usual fantasy characters, you must be clear about the world you are writing about. This is why I tend to stick to magic happening in the real world.  It’s the one I know best and you can always add magic to it.

If you’re creating a total fantasy world you’ll need to make plenty of notes about the characters, where they live and their purpose. That’s why some fantasy books include a map of that world so that children can get a good idea of where things are in relation to each other, and if the characters set out on a quest, it can show the path of their journey.

Consider the age of your readers

When you start on your plot or storyline it is important that you think carefully about the sort of story you want to write and the audience you’re aiming for. It’s no good creating a really complicated plot with lots of twists and turns for very young children as most will find it hard to cope with.

Most plots are concerned with the characters having a problem and trying to find a way to solve it. In The Snowbirds the  problem for Jack Frost is deciding which of the two snowbirds carved by rivals Shoji and Orochi will make the best companion for his Grandfather Frost, and he devises a cunning plan to send them both on a journey to the North Pole, during which the true character of each snowbird is revealed as they react to various meetings and situations.

The basic formula for most stories is to decide:-

Who your story is about;
What happens to them;
Where it happens to them;
Why it happens;
How your characters respond.

The quest of The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Introduce conflict

Your plot can involve your characters embarking on a quest to find something, or they can be transported to a different world where they have to overcome an evil tyrant or monster. Or you can create a beautiful world where everything is wonderful only to have it destroyed by the arrival of someone or something.

In each of these situations there’s an element of conflict and drama to keep readers interested. Th conflict can be between your protagonist and other characters, with themselves or with their surroundings.

In The Snowbirds there’s conflict between Shoji and Orochi at the beginning when they’re rivals in the ice carving competition, and there is conflict between the two Snowbirds as they travel on their journey.

The major point of any story is how the conflicts are resolved.

Surprise your readers

Finally, try and think of the unexpected. A neat twist at the end of your story will really add to your readers’ enjoyment. I hope I achieved this with The Snowbirds but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is.

It’s important also to remember that you’ll probably need to re-write your story several times. For me a great way of checking to see whether the story works is to read it out loud to a friend. You’ll find as you read it that some parts are great, but other parts might sound a bit clunky or laboured. I usually have a bright marker pen to underline those parts and I re-write them later.

Also try and read it to a group of children and gauge their response. You can tell immediately whether they are interested or not.

Above all don’t be afraid to get rid of any characters or situations that simply don’t work. In the end it will make for a far better tale.

Artwork from The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

Author bio

Jim FitzsimmonsFormer primary school teacher Jim Fitzsimmons started writing educational books in 1987 for Scholastic – Bright Ideas Series. He subsequently co-wrote books for Hodder Headline Home Learning series, The Blueprints series for Nelson Thornes, and wrote other educational books for Ladybird, Folens, and Harper Collins.

Jim began writing children’s fantasy fiction about three years ago and decided to self publish using Troubador. He lives in the Northern Lake District near the Scottish Borders with two cocker spaniels named Casper and Fergus, and enjoys writing, and painting watercolours.

Laura Robertson’s living art

Tiger Argentina by Laura Robertson

I know people who believe artists are born, not made, and in the case of Laura Robertson that may well be true.

“I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember,” she says. “It’s part of who I am. I live and breathe it. I can’t imagine life with doing art.”

Following her early urges, Laura studied illustration, printmaking and sculpture in Durham, London, Cambridge and Bristol. “For a long time I didn’t know what to do with it, and having children and losing all my free time made me determined to take it up again once I started to have free time,” she says. “These days I’m on the committee of two art trails and will exhibit in four this year. I have work in four shops and am a member of an artists’ cooperative, and sell work online. Pretty busy really!” Continue reading

Midweek writing prompt – evidence

Picnic bench mushrooms cr Judy DarleyEver watched a crime show where the body is discovered buried in the forest, given away by the profusion of mushrooms sprouting over the corpse? Maybe no, maybe so, but it’s an idea that lodged in my mind from somewhere.

While visiting a leisure park recently with my family, I spotted this gloriously orange crop of mushrooms nestle beneath a picnic table, and wondered what made them choose that spot, out of the whole park.

Picnic bench mushrooms1 cr Judy Darley

Is there a body nurturing them, quietly rotting in the earth just there, or is it something else hidden in the soil – something much less distressing and far more magical?

No, I don’t know what that might be. Why don’t you give it some thought and see what your imagination dredges to the surface?

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – A Capital Crime by Laura Wilson

A Capital Crime by Laura WilsonReviewed by Alan Hamilton.

I’m not a devotee of detective fiction. The kind where the author has a police or amateur sleuth who solves crimes oh so cleverly. Especially if the crime is committed in some idyllic or country house situation as though the whole thing were a deeply disturbing reversal of the natural order. But, at a satisfying 440 pages, A Capital Crime isn’t one of your run of the mill Midsomer Murders or Morse concoctions. This one mirrors, almost exactly, the Evans/Christie cases in 1950s Britain and the police content is relevant, carefully researched and entertaining.

It’s a challenge to take a real and notorious crime and give it new life as riveting fiction; one that Laura Wilson takes on and meets with great skill. Real crime, unlike the made-up kind I’ve referred to, is messy, generally unglamorous with unpleasant characters and, often, inept and unimaginative police work. Continue reading

Selfcontained

Self-Contained Man by Moira Purver

Self-Contained Man by Moira Purver

My story ‘Selfcontained‘ has been published by the marvellous Café Irreal. Hurrah! I’ve been sending them my less conventional tales for a while now, so am very happy this one has been chosen to be invited to pull up a seat, order a hot drink and join in the conversation 🙂

The Café Irreal specialise in publishing literary fiction that accepts (and welcomes) the possibility of the impossible and makes it common place. They define the genre here.

My particular story drew inspiration from a wonderful piece of art by Moira Purver, titled Self-Contained Man, which featured in the RWA’s open exhibition. I spent an afternoon there in late 2014, gleaning inspiration and taking notes. I rather fell in love with Moira’s beautiful sculpture. An idea about Self-Contained Man took root, and developed into a story told from the point of view of a sculpture grappling with the question of whether or not he has a sole. You can read it here.

I also had the pleasure of being invited to be a guest on the Steve Yabsley lunchtime show for Radio Bristol last week. The show was billed as being “Author Judy Darley, blossom poems and dormice” so I was in great company, though sadly didn’t get to meet any actual dormice. Steve talked to me about my book Remember Me To The Bees and asked lots of questions about SkyLightRain.com and writing in general, some of which I was able to answer intelligently, others less so. I read out snippets of some tales in the collection too – you can still listen to it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02gwq1y

Illustration, sculpture and skylines

Rooftop by Mark Boardman

Rooftop by Mark Boardman

This February, three very different exhibitions take over the Grant Bradley Gallery in Bedminster, Bristol.

Let Me Illustrate III offers up works  by 14 contemporary illustrators, including Mark Boardman, Katherine Coulton and Lindsay McDonagh.

“The overwhelming amount of visual imagery encountered on a daily basis means that illustration serves an increasingly important role in capturing our attention,” comments curator Marten Rostel.

The exhibition promises to showcase a diverse, varied collection in traditional and digital media of commercial and non-commercial work.

At the same time, you can see Bavarian wood sculptor Joachim Seitfudem’s darkly contemplative Momento Mori, and Streets, Lanes and Skylines by artist Susie Ramsay, whose new series of new pen and watercolour paintings focuses on Bristol’s old city and harbourside.

The three exhibitions will be at the Grant Bradley Gallery from 7th-28th February 2015, with the private view (which you’re invited to attend) on Friday 5th Feb at 6pm.

Any arty goings on you’d like me to mention on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Midweek writing prompt – carnival

Prague CarnevaleI’ll admit, I’m not usually a fan of masks. They frighten me in the same way that clowns do – what horrors are they hiding beneath the paint and glitter?

But in the guise of fiction, they offer a wonderful opportunity to play.

The image here was supplied by Prague Carnevale, who promise a ten-day fiesta that’s less about the raucous celebrations I usually associate with the excesses of carnival, and more about culture, with operas, ‘Music for an Aristocrat’ and music for lovers.

That doesn’t mean there’ll be no mayhem, however. One of the beauties of masks, as Shakespeare understood so well, was the potential for mistaken identity, secret trysts and treachery. The possibilities are endless!

If you write something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com. With your permission, I’d love to share it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons

The Snowbirds by Jim FitzsimmonsThis splendid book for children aged 7+ feels ideal for this time of year. Filled with shimmering descriptions of rural Japan in deepest winter, the beginning focuses on Shoji and his rival, a bullying older boy called Orochi, who compete to create the most beautiful carvings in an ice and snow sculpting competition.

It’s clear from the offset that Shoji is a kind-hearted lad who “always tried to do the right thing, even if it didn’t always work out that way.”

These early chapters of The Snowbirds offer a wonderful sense of realism, neatly grounding us in the world of the novel, especially through the sections in which Shoji’s father teaches him to carve. Family and friendship is a central theme in the book, with Shoji’s mother, father and little sister Emiko working hard to help overcome a catastrophe during the contest, and the Snow King listening respectfully to the advice of his grandson Jack Frost.

Both Orochi and Shoji create exquisite Snowbirds, which Jack Frost tells his grandfather about, knowing he is seeking a companion. The scene in which Jack Frost brings the birds to life is breathtaking – truly magical – and the characters of the birds is immediately evident, with brave, considerate Suno mirroring the traits of his maker, Shoji, while arrogant selfish Aisu is just like the unpleasant Orochi. Continue reading