On Wednesday evening, Ayr Writers’ Club were treated to a workshop run by our very own Janice Johnston. Janice joined the Club in the mid-’90s, serving as both Treasurer and President on more than one occasion. She is currently SAW Competition Secretary and has had many writing successes, writing for BBC radio in the forms of Hurley Burley and One Potato, Two Potato, and has had fiction published in various women’s magazines.
The focus of the workshop was on writing for under 7’s. As Janice informed us, a picture book uses text and illustrations together to tell a straightforward story.
Our first task of the evening was to find an object in your house and describe what it is used for and how you use it, to a five-year-old. Not as easy as it seems. Objects we came up with included a calendar, sellotape, a cheese grater, food mixer and a hoover.
Next, we had to think about other uses for household objects. We were delighted by stories of using a sewing machine pedal as an accelerator, pots and pans reimagined as helmets and a sofa that transforms into a coal lorry. And, a favourite of mums everywhere, polishing the floor while pretending to be an ice-skater.
Janice then spoke about main characters. Many picture books use animals as they can get into danger without scaring the reader too much, or indeed, giving them ideas.
But what about the story? Every story needs conflict, but again, keep it age-appropriate. A lost toy is good, a full-blown war is probably too much. Make sure the main character solves a problem. In a picture book, the illustrations work with the words to tell a story, but in a radio script, you need to describe more of the scene.
But remember, just because you have a child in the story, doesn’t make it a children’s story. The plot and language you use must be suitable for the age group.
Like with any genre, get into a bookshop and read, read, read (when restrictions lift, of course).
It almost goes without saying, but show, don’t tell. Janice gave us a list of sentences with weak verbs and invited us to re-write them using strong ones. Did he eat his lunch, or did he scoff it? Did she run, or sprint?
Our final task was to remember a vivid moment from childhood and write about it in the first person, present tense, and, where possible, use all five senses.
During the feedback, we were regaled with tales from younger years, including friends cutting hair, the first day at school and creating a wall of books to keep out annoying siblings.
Finally, Janice reminded us of the advice Linda Strachan gave us a few weeks ago. Start a story when the action starts. End it when finishes, don’t drag it out. Don’t have too many characters, and make sure each character is different from each other. Grab the reader right from the start. Edit. Ask yourself, is there a reason for the story? Read it aloud. Be original.
Many thanks to Janice for her wonderful and inspiring workshop. Now, get writing!