Posted by: Natalie Hatch | August 3, 2009

Writers Conferences

Last year I had the priviledge of going to the Childrens and Young Adult (CYA)  Writers conference in Brisbane.  The line up of authors who gave workshops was fantastic. I especially loved sitting in on John Marsdens’ workshop, he has a way of sharing information which just stuck in my brain, and he’s a teacher/principal so he’s got to be great.

John  started us with a ‘What Comes Next’ activity where one member of the audience had to act out the directions of another ‘director’. It made me think of the types of things I was giving my characters to do in beats.

  • He also said that we tend to pack our pages with high energy stuff/directions for characters which in real life would have anyone confused.
  • He suggested that there’s not enough stillness in writing, we’re all trying to write big Hollywood action/blockbuster type stories, we have forgotten that the most poignant moments often happen to us in the stillness of life. (wow huh?).
  • The first few chapters of your story can have energy but don’t have to have fireworks, you need to give the reader a sense of understanding the main character first before they’ll care if he/she/it goes and dismantles a bomb or whatever.
  • Plot = interruption to routine
  • He uses the nothing, nothing, nothing, something idea when writing.
  • If you start with an interruption you then must give the normal routine soon after to establish the everyday world the character lives in. Otherwise you’ll lose half your audience.
  • The status of your character is important… The greater the gap from what the character believes they are and what they really are the greater the tension/conflict.

He also gave a few tips to improve our edits.

  • Learn language that is successful and flowing
  • Name everything you can, FIND THE NOUNS
  • Change your verbs – ie: went, got, went could be skated/wandered/ran, picked up/grabbed, wandered/sauntered etc etc.
  • Use pronouns that are more complicated, instead of we… think Character name + I….
  • Get rid of adverbs, in most cases you don’t need them anyway. Whisper is soft in most cases so you don’t need to ‘whisper softly’
  • If you can cut a word out do it…
  • Take out ‘I think’.
  • Second level of activity creates tension, we are fascinated by the by play between characters as they’re speaking.
  • Find out what things are going on between your characters that intensify their relationships.

I’m sure there’s a hundred more things I didn’t get written down. It was a great session.

I received John’s latest book ‘Hamlet’ in the mail today from Steph and the other great girls over at Text Publishing. I’ve been waiting for nearly a year for this one to be published. John has taken the story of Hamlet and shares it in a modern setting, it makes understanding the whole plot/storyline so much easier.

The CYA conference is on again this September 12th in Brisbane.  Places are limited so if you’re interested I would heartily recommend going along. It’s worth your time.



  1. Could you explain further about the “He uses the nothing, nothing, nothing, something idea when writing” point?

  2. Hi Carissa,
    John starts his books with the everyday things occurring, then when life is going good that’s when he throws in the ‘something’ to muck it all up.
    He said that at the moment most people think you should have a big bang on page one to start your novel off, but if you write well the bang can come a few pages in.

  3. Those were awesome tips! Thanks for sharing them.
    Sounds like you had some huge ‘aha’ moments from this session.

  4. For a long time I have been jealous of the Americans for seeming to have zillions of cool writers conferences. Now I can be jealous of the Australians too. Thanks ;o)

    But seriously, that’s great advice, thanks for taking the time to share it.

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