Guest Blog: Getting to the heart of your story (Bryony Pearce)

In our third guest blog post, the author of over 11 books and one of our first UV finalists, Bryony Pearce (UV2008), encourages writers to really get to the heart of their story to make sure every moment resonates with its purpose. 

Getting to the heart of your story

It is easy to get to the heart of your story, right? After all, it’s your story. You wrote it. You know what’s at the heart of it. But, as a mentor of aspiring writers, I find that this is one of the areas that is most complex and confusing. People regularly struggle with this and sometimes, even miss it out, leaving their stories heartless and, consequently, pretty lifeless.

So, what is the heartbeat that drives the blood through your story? How can you identify it and how can you keep the focus there?

For this you need a two-pronged approach.

First, you need to know the message of your story.

What do you want your reader to take away?

Is your message that ‘bullying is bad’ (like my Weight of Souls), or is it a message about growing up (like my Phoenix Series), is it a feminist message (Windrunner’s Daughter), is it about trust and blame (The Girl on the Platform, Raising Hell, Savage Island, Cruel Castle).

What is your message?

Sometimes, if you’ve come up with a story first, and it’s grown organically, you might not know why it is that you’ve picked this story to tell. So, take some time and unpick it – this could involve some soul-searching. You need to ask yourself:

  • Why is this story important to you?
  • What does it take from your own life?
  • What do the characters fear and what do they learn?
  • How does it end?

You should be able to tell, when answering these questions, what message is, or should be, at the heart of your story.

Once you know your message, write it down, pin it somewhere you can see it and make sure you are thinking of it all the time when you are writing. How can each scene emphasise this message?

In The Weight of Souls, for example, my story about bullying, the main character is bullied, not only by the stereotypical school bully (and associates), but by those who stand by and let it happen and by her father, who forces her to bend to his will. Every character in the story has some relation to the bullying at its heart – perhaps they are standing by her, perhaps they have abandoned her for fear of retribution, perhaps they are ignoring what is happening. In the end, the bullies get their comeuppance and lessons about empathy are learned. The main character learns to love and trust again.

Once you know your message, and you know that each scene must reinforce that message, the next step is to make sure you drive your narrative onward while keeping your message at its heart. The best way to do this is to ensure that your main character has a goal. A mission, if you like,which relates to your message,which has stakes for failure, and which will propel your protagonist through the adventure you are writing.

In The Weight of Souls, one of Taylor’s bullies is murdered and she has to solve the crime. If she fails, there are supernatural as well as real-world consequences (stakes) – the murderer will get away with it and will likely strike again.

This goal (and the stakes for failure) should be introduced during the inciting incident. The goal should not be achieved until the climax and it should drive the narrative to a conclusion that reinforces your message.

When entering the UV anthology, you can only send your opening, so you must make sure that the message (heart) of your story is beating throughout your first few thousand words.

Your character’s goal should grow from your character’s needs, wants and fears, so establish those in your introduction by giving us scenes that show us who your character is. Establish the mood of your story, which will reinforce your message and, if you can, give us a scene or scenes that highlight your message. For example, in the opening of The Weight of Souls, we meet a gang of nasty bullies. In Raising Hell, Ivy defeats a hell hound, only to be blamed for failing to protect a student from a rich family. In my winning UV entry, we saw my female MC facing her mother’s illness and deciding to defy the rules of the patriarchy and go out alone to save her.

Good luck with your writing and I hope to get the chance to buy your book one day.


Bryony Pearce was a winner of UV 2008, which seems really long ago now! Winning UV helped secure her an agent and, since then, she has sold eleven books to publishers, including YA award winners: Angel’s Fury, Savage Island and Phoenix Rising. She has also had several short stories published in adult sci-fi anthologies and has, recently, branched out into writing adult thrillers.

Her debut adult thriller, The Girl on the Platform, was published on 15th April by Avon.

She also has two YA novels out this year, Raising Hell (UCLAN – June) and the sequel to Savage Island: Cruel Castle (Stripes –August).

She lives in the Forest of Dean and is always looking for new writer friends. Find her on Twitter @BryonyPearce, on Instagram @bryonypearce, or on her website: www.bryonypearce.co.uk.

Before You Click Submit, Part 3 – Eight Ways to Make Sure Your Submission Hits the Mark

As we get closer to the opening of UV submissions, we’re posting tips to make sure your submission stands the best chance of making it into the anthology.

Eight Ways to Make Sure Your Submission Hits the Mark

Shine by Candy Gourlay

Award-winning author and one of the first UV finalists Candy Gourlay has kindly given us eight incredible and direct tips to make sure your submission is ready to wow our judges:

Tip 1: Intrigue starts with your first chapter. No explanations. Make your reader desperate to find out what happens next.

Tip 2: Voice. Everyone talks about looking for a voice. Voice only happens when your characters have come alive. How do you do that? Inhabit your character and build the plot from within.

Tip 3. Setting is context AND character, not information. Stop describing and start characterising. If your setting is alive, your reader will read on.

Tip 4. Cause and effect. If cause and effect is not happening then your chapter is static and your reader has probably died of boredom.

Tip 5. Don’t be anxious to make sure that your reader understands your story in the first three chapters. First chapters intrigue and lead your reader on. They are not there to explain. Trust the judges – they are reading a LOT of first chapters and I’ll bet a lot of them are explaining rather than exciting.

Tip 6. Select the eggs you’re going to offer in the basket. YOU DON’T HAVE TO PUT EVERYTHING INTO THE FIRST CHAPTER. You are more likely to engage a reader with a choice selection.

Tip 7. Make sure you identify WHO you’re writing for and that your sample is appropriate to your target readership. Oh, and here’s a guess … most people submitting will probably be writing YA. Ask yourself, is this the one that will help me stand out in the herd?

When you are editing down your chapter samples, don’t cut for word number, cut for MEANING and DRAMA.

Tip 8. When you are editing down your chapter samples, don’t cut for word number, cut for MEANING and DRAMA. I know so many people who edit down without realising that they are losing the deliciousness of their writing. This means you will have to be wise and practical about choosing what you winnow out of your text.

Check back soon for more top writing tips before you submit.


Candy Gourley was a finalist in UV2008. She has been a journalist, press photographer, web designer, short film maker, radio presenter (well, once) and fake American accent voice talent. She once helped overthrow a dictator (with several million other people). She has now forsworn revolutionary activity to become a children’s author. She is the award-winning author of Tall Story and Shine.  www.candygourlay.com

Getting Ready for UV2018 – Guest Blog with Kate Scott

In our fifth guest blog by a past finalist, Kate Scott, who was featured in the first UV anthology back in 2008, talks about saying yes to changes and inspiration. 

The Magic of Saying Yes

I have a good friend who has taken improv classes for years (‘improv’ being the obligatory shortening of ‘improvisation’ – those extra three syllables being presumably too taxing [or uncool] for those who have been initiated into the process’s dark arts).

As I understand it, taking improv classes involves being willing to writhe on the floor, stick chewing gum in your ear, or arrange chairs into endless representations of impromptu and entirely imaginary cars, airplanes or art sculptures. I am not brave enough to undertake any of those actions (On stage? With witnesses? The horror!) but there is one thing about improv that I do understand and try to emulate.

The one rule when improvising is that you say ‘yes’. Yes to all possibilities. Yes to all avenues. It’s essentially acting out the words ‘why not?’ (It’s also related to perhaps the most basic building blocks of storytelling, the ‘what if?’)

It was ‘why not’ that led me to enter the very first Undiscovered Voices competition.

I said ‘yes’ even though I had no idea (and no confidence) that entering my three chapters would get me anywhere. Where it got me was the most important ‘yes’ of my writing career to date – an inclusion in the Undiscovered Voices anthology. That in turn led to other yes’s (along with many, many no’s). That one yes is the main reason I (eventually) became a published author and a full-time writer.

Where it got me was the most important ‘yes’ of my writing career to date – an inclusion in the Undiscovered Voices anthology.

Holding ‘yes’, or at least, ‘why not?’ in your mind is also helpful when it comes to the editorial process. It particularly comes into its own when someone makes a radical suggestion about changing your story.

Your first instinct might be to say something along the lines of ‘You think I should give my superhero protagonist a flying-dog sidekick with a flatulence problem? You great, galumphing fool!’

But if you give it time and an open mind sometimes you’ll discover that you agree with them – and that they’ve just helped you to make an enormous improvement to your work. (Note: sometimes the suggestion is just that of a great, galumphing fool though. Not everyone likes flatulence in stories, even coming from a flying-dog sidekick.)

You don’t have to writhe on the floor or stick chewing gum in your ear to become a good writer – but you do have to say ‘why not’.

You don’t have to writhe on the floor or stick chewing gum in your ear to become a good writer – but you do have to say ‘why not’. You do have to take a chance on yourself. So take your writing, believe in it, and enter the UV2018 competition. Say yes. Because you never know, they might say yes too.

Submissions for UV2018 will open on 1st July 2017 and will close 15th August 2017. Why not sign up here for a reminder when submissions open?


 

Kate Scott has written over 25 children’s books (trade fiction, educational fiction and non-fiction) and over forty children’s television scripts. She is also a script editor and consultant for children’s film and television; a published/broadcast poet; and a playwright. Spies in Disguise: Boy in Tights won a Lancashire Fantastic Book Award in 2015. Her latest children’s book, Giant, has been longlisted/nominated for two awards. Another standalone novel, Just Jack, comes out in 2018.

Agents: Eve White at Eve White Literary Agency (Books) and Jean Kitson at Kitson Press Associates (Scriptwriting)

Websites: www.evewhite.co.uk and www.kitsonpress.co.uk/

Twitter: @KateScottWriter