05 March 2020

#WriteCBC Tip and Task from Stephanie Thwaites

Stephanie Thwaites, literary agent
by Anna Davis Events, Writing Tips

It’s that time again!

Are you ready and primed for another edition of #WriteCBC, our Twitter writing competition? Our March special guest is the fabulous Curtis Brown literary agent Stephanie Thwaites – and we are most delighted to have her on board. Stephanie has been a friend and supporter of Curtis Brown Creative for a long time now, and frequently visits our courses as as a guest speaker.

She represents our wonderful former student Struan Murray, whose middle-grade novel Orphans of the Tide has just been published by Puffin to much acclaim – as well as the brilliant Catherine Johnson, the award-winning tutor of our online Writing YA and Children’s Fiction courses (you can apply now if you’d like to join the next course in April). And Stephanie has recently taken on several more CBC students as clients – some of whom are working on children’s fiction, while others are writing novels for adults. We happen to know there are deals in the pipeline, so watch this space for more news soon … 

If you haven’t joined in #WriteCBC before, you can very quickly get up to speed – just read this blog with information about how to play. It’s lots of fun and you might just win a free place on one of our six-week online writing courses.

So here we go – it’s time to get thinking and writing!

Stephanie’s writing tip:

When writing a novel for children, make sure your protagonist is a child, not an adult. Put the child at the centre of the story and the action – and show us the world of your novel through the child’s eyes.

When you stop to think about it, it’s pretty obvious that children should want to read books about children. Yes, there are a few kids out there with a genuine interest in the adult world – but really, how many of us feel that the young people in our lives are utterly enthralled by the adult conversation at the dinner table – or by the music we listen to or the opinions we hold?

Think back across our perennially loved children’s novels – and consider how many of them feature the secret worlds of children and the adventures that happen when adults are not around. From Peter Pan, the Famous Five and CS Lewis’s Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy all the way to Matilda, Harry Potter, Lyra Belacqua, and beyond – what we encounter, time and again, are lone children, orphans, kids away at boarding school or marooned in a fantastical land with a quest to undertake. There might be a peril to escape from, a secret held or a trauma to overcome. The danger might come from the adult world, or the adventure might involve the child protagonist navigating their way through challenges, mysteries or difficulties created by the adults around them – but it’s the children who are at the centre of these stories, and it’s the kids we root for. There are exceptions to the rule, of course – no writing rule is universal – but, yes, this really is the general rule in children’s fiction. So if you’re working on a children’s novel right now, take a look at your first page and check to see if your story kicks off by introducing a child character and taking us straight into their experiences and perspective. And if it does, give yourself a big tick and a biscuit!

Stephanie’s writing task:

Using the photo as a prompt, write me a mini-scene from the perspective of a child – or which is a story about a child. It doesn’t need to be children’s fiction, as such, but I want to enter into a child’s world (you can choose the age).

Write CBC prompt - rooftops

So now it’s time to go for it. Take a look at the photo and think what sort of story it suggests. We’d love to see lots of really different ideas and directions in your writing. Stephanie’s task asks you to put a child front and centre in your mini-scene. This doesn’t mean that you have to write in the first person voice of a child – you can certainly do that if you’d like to, but we know that not every writer feels very comfortable or at home in a child’s voice. We’re fine if you’d rather write it in the third person (‘he’, ‘she’ etc) but we do want you to take us into the experiences of the child in your story.

The other point to bear in mind is that Stephanie isn’t requiring you to write a story or scene that’s specifically written for child readers. We’re of course very happy if you’d like to approach the task in this way, but equally it’s fine if you imagine your readers to be adults. After all, there’s a lot of great fiction for grown-ups featuring child protagonists. Often, for instance, a child character is used as a kind of ‘naive narrator’, telling a story that he/she doesn’t fully understand all the nuances of, but which the reader can see more fully – for example, Room by Emma Donoghue.

Finally, I’ll just draw your attention to the fact that we’ve given you a photo which doesn’t actually show any people. We’ve done this deliberately in order to leave it to you to decide who the child in the story is – the age, gender, race and indeed everything else are up to you. Do take the time to think about who the child is before you start writing your task – the best tasks will be highly individuated, and will bring your character fully to life. It’s then up to you as to whether you introduce further characters into the scene, or whether it’s just your child protagonist up there on those rooftops or looking out at them from an upstairs window …

Our #WriteCBC winner is Johanne Winwood @supavillain999!

My finger’s sore, bleeding from picking moss off the tiles. I have to clean one whole tile before I can move. The four guardians are watching & Davy says they’ll push me off the roof if I don’t follow the rules. Davy knows about rules. Do as I’m told. Be a good boy.

Johanne immerses us into the world of her child protagonist, a child who is oppressed by the ominous guardians. The opening line is amazingly visceral and the reader can almost feel the pain in their own fingers.

Congratulations Johanne, you’ve won a free place on the six-week course of your choice!

Well done to our two runners-up @sarah_j_maxwell and @redadair. You each win a £50 course discount to be used on the six-week course of your choice!

If you’re feeling inspired after today’s #WriteCBC to write a book for children or young adults, take a look at our online Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course with tutor Catherine Johnson. The deadline for applications is midnight on Sunday 29th March.

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