The delicate business of killing characters

The Shivering WoodI will confess that I don’t really care for killing characters. It’s tricky business, especially when it comes to writing for children. After all, you’re inevitably killing someone’s favourite character. And kids tend to let you know about these things—and they don’t care if they’re kind about it!

But for me the bigger issue is the potential problem it creates for the author. It’s not just how you do the deed. I always find myself pondering the following points.

First, is this really the most interesting situation that can happen in the story? Is there a more interesting problem to throw at a character? Throughout the Kendra Kandlestar series, I’ve found better fodder in transformation, separation, or even injury. These types of situations propel the adventure forward and often leave me with more difficulties as a writer. But then again, if I ever find myself thinking, Oh, I shouldn’t do that. It will be hard to write . . . well, then I know I have to do it.

Secondly, what if I need that character again? Personally, I’m loathe to create a character that just seems a carbon copy of another. It’s why I’ve had certain characters (such as Pugglemud) that keep turning up in each book.

Which sort of leads me to my third point. Sometimes I just think characters have a will to survive, as if they’ve loitering inside my coconut, lobbying for their continued existence. I try arguing with them sometimes—but they’re like my students. They don’t always obey. And so they live on.

But why am I ruminating on this subject today? Well, despite all I’ve said above, I just wrote the death scene for a major character in my series. I’m nearing the end of the book, at the end of the series, and it seems to me this particular character has reached the end of its natural arc. To be honest, this death happened earlier than I expected. I thought it was a chapter or two away, but then . . . well, out came the scene. And it happened. Even I was surprised.

Now, before everyone starts speculating on who this character is, I want to point out that this book has a long way to go before reaching its final incarnation.Plot lines shift, ideas change, and editors stick their noses in here and there, rooting around the chapters like detectives searching for clues. So who knows? Maybe this particular character will be resurrected before all is said and done. For now, I’ve had to bid adieu to him. (Or her. I’m really not interesting in giving any hints!)

Plotting the battle for Een

I feel like my writing has slowed to a crawl these past couple of weeks; it hasn’t been that I’ve been neglecting the work. In fact, I’ve been diligently getting up early each day to slug it out with my words. The hitch is that I’m currently writing the final battle that occurs at the very end of the series between the Eens and the armies of Shuuunga, the Unger witch.

It’s not easy to plot an entire battle. (In fact, I teach a whole workshop on the subject, called The Writing Rumble.) There’s so much to keep track of:

  • Setting
  • Scope and scale
  • The characters
  • The motivations
  • The weapons and armour of attack and defense
  • The strategy and logistics of each side
  • The description (how much or how little detail do you provide?)

Unfortunately, I have an extra complication in the writing of this scene that I can’t quite get into here. Suffice it to say that it has to do with a certain limitation of Kendra during this final epic scene, which, as it turns out, has forced me to be very creative. Of course, there’s not just Kendra to worry about. There’s also Trooogul the Unger and some other favourites such as Honest Oki, Ratchet Ringtail, Uncle Griffinskitch, and Juniper Jinx. Even some new minor characters, such as Mercy Moonwing the hummingbird and Shuuunga the Unger witch, will get their moments. Oh, and of course, Burdock will stick his long pointy nose into the action too!

In any case, I always turn to my sketchbook to accomplish the plotting of complicated scenes. Here’s my thumbnail snapshot of the final battle of Een:

Plotting for the Battle of Een

Admittedly, my battle doesn’t appear that epic on this page. Let’s hope it has a grander impact in the final words and pictures!

The calm before the storm

I thought I would post the illustration I did this week for Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen. It shows Kendra in a moment of contemplation as she stands on the old tower of Clovinstand, awaiting for the attack of a monstrous army.

You’ll see Kendra looks a little different now; she’s changed a lot in this book! Not only is her hair different, but you’ll notice how long her wand has grown. Een wands, of course, grow in length as its wielder grows in power . . . and Kendra has certainly grown in power by this point in the story.

Kendra at Clovinstand

It’s actually been a challenge to write the last part of this book. I keep finding myself going in circles as I try to wrap up this series and tie together all of the various plot outlines. There are a lot of characters to look after, and many of them have competing motivations. I have to keep reminding myself what each of them want!

Another new ingredient for the magic potions kit

This one took some last minute hunting . . . but thank Een I embarked on this quest; this ingredient turned out be rather essential for the activity I led last week in class.

Stones from the River Wink are colourful, as you can see. They tended to sink to the bottom of most of the charm bottles we made in class last wee. Thankfully, I remembered to bring a healthy quantity of goop to the class, so some of my clever apprentices were able to suspend the stones in their bottles, resulting in a very magical result.

Potion - stones from the River Wink

Tiny bottles, enormous magic

Yesterday, I delivered my “advanced” magic potions workshop for creative writing students. The focus is still to develop an interesting plot device that demands writing with the five senses. The difference is that the students get to keep the result of the hand-on part of the activity, which is a tiny vial of enchanted elixir.

Here are some of the charms my students developed (by the way, the secret ingredient is GOOP) . . .

Potion bottle.

Potion bottle.

Potion bottle.

Potion bottle.

Potion bottle.

Potion bottle.

Potion bottle.

Potion bottle.

Potion bottle.

A hive of trade and trickery

I thought I would post this photo of my sketchbook showing an illustration I’m planning for Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen. This will appear during a section in the book when Kendra and her companions visit a strange town called Trader’s Folly.

This has been one of my favourites parts of the book to write. Trader’s Folly is like one giant bazaar. I took a lot of inspiration from the markets I’ve visited in Cairo, Mexico, China, Korea, and—most recently—Bangkok, which is home to the famous Chatuchak market. Chatuchak is known not only for its sheer size, but endless sea of (depending on your point of view) treasures.

Well, Trader’s Folly is like many of these markets, but with considerable more magic. Where else can you find battle-axe swallowers, scorpion jugglers, fire dancers, and pipe players who charm two-headed cobras? You can even treat yourself to such delectable snacks as pickle juice pudding, Phoenix ash tea, or a spider-on-a-stick. But it’s not all delightful. There are many less-than-generous creatures who lurk about Trader’s Folly—in particular, the Sphinx . . .

Sketch - A Hive of Trader and Trickery

Enter the dragon’s den

Actually, if you’re expecting this post to be about a new mythical scene in Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, then you’re wrong! My title of this post refers to last week’s class in my “Picture Perfect” workshop, which focuses on creative writing assignments connected to art history.

Last week, my students took inspiration from Leonardo Da Vinci and started designing their own inventions. Many of them were rather fantastical, others intensely practical (one of my favourite inventions was the prototype of a trap that was designed to capture the raccoons that are ever so determined to break into my house).

After the inventions were designed and built, we pretended we were on the TV Show, Dragon’s Den, in which would-be entrepreneurs try to sell their ideas to investors. In this case, the investor was ME!

Last step The students began writing short stories connected to their creations.

Here are some photos from the workshop.

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The diagrams below are for a taste changer. Don’t like broccoli? Then this machine will solve all your woes!

Invention

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Here’s a prototype of the taste changer, mid construction.

Invention.

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This photo shows the raccoon catcher in the background and an automatic dressing machine in the foreground.

Invention.

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How about a magic cookie jar that provides any type of cookie?

Invention.

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This student didn’t quite complete the prototype for her very intricately designed clockwork heart.

Invention.

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Here’s a photo of the completed automatic dressing machine prototype.

Invention.

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And, last but not least, every kid’s dream—a homework machine!

Invention.