Today’s my stop on the blog tour for ‘The Boy With the Butterfly Mind’ and I have a fascinating piece from its author about how she sets about writing a book and constructing a story – very useful to share with adults and children alike.
Told as a dual narrative, we follow the lives of Elin and Jamie.
Elin is struggling to come to terms with her dad leaving the family and thinks that if she’s is just perfect enough, he might come back to her and mum. This has left her isolated and lonely at school as she has no time for the other children, concentrating fiercely on her schoolwork or pouring her heart out in a story she’s writing.
Jamie is finding it difficult to cope with the impact his ADHD is having on his family and school lives. He can’t organise himself or focus on anything for more than a few minutes before his butterfly mind causes him to flit to the next thing.
When a change in circumstances causes the two to be thrown together, a secret war breaks out. Elin’s dad is never going to move back with a messy whirlwind of a boy living in their house.
Hard reading at times but sensitively written. It gave me real insight into the immense frustration felt and difficulties felt by some children with ADHD. This story will take you on a real emotional rollercoaster. Best-suited to those aged 10+
Now it’s time to hear from Victoria precisely how she goes about crafting such an intense story:
The Narrative Arc by Victoria Williamson
My first book, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, was published in April 2018, and since then I’ve done lots of school visits to talk to children about writing. One of the most common questions they ask is, “How exactly do you write a book?’
There isn’t one simple answer to this, but fortunately there is a simple structure that can help! It’s one that a lot of my writing follows, though often I’m not aware of having used it until I’ve reached the final chapter!!
Most novel plots follow a similar structure, called a narrative arc. It looks like this:
Stories often begin with Exposition. This is where the main characters are introduced, and we get to find out all about them. There are two main characters in The Boy with the Butterfly Mind. This is how Elin Watts introduces herself. She’s eleven years old, and she’s in school doing a maths test. She says:
It was only the third week of Primary Seven, and already everyone hated the Friday morning maths test.
Not me. I studied way too hard to get nervous answering a few easy sums, even if Miss Morrison was a dragon who handed out detention to anyone who even sneezed too loud. I had nothing to worry about. I’d never been in trouble for anything in my whole life.
“Write out twenty-four million, sixty-two thousand and seventeen in numbers,” she roared, shattering the silence into twenty-four million, sixty-two thousand and seventeen little pieces. I could almost see the fire from the Dragon’s breath singeing Lauren’s hair as she stopped trying to copy my work and stared blankly at her own book, the numbers already forgotten.
Ha! Jellybean brain. That’s what you get for cheating and not paying attention.
I bit back a grin at how easy the question was, and wrote the answer neatly below the last one, making sure to use my best handwriting. The girl sitting beside me shuffled closer, and I could hear her sniffing noises getting louder. Paige Munro’s runny nose was like a warning siren. A couple more questions she couldn’t answer, and she’d be crying all over her maths jotter. My hand flew across my book to cover my answers, and I leaned forward, protecting my work from the hungry eyes of the other kids who were either too stupid to do a few easy sums, or too lazy to study. Why should I share anything with them? They all hated me no matter what I did.
Although Elin sounds mean, she isn’t really, she’s just so focused on her family situation she isn’t able to care about anything else. Her parents divorced a few years ago, and her father started a new family. Elin lives with her mother and her mother’s new partner Paul. She’s not happy with her new family arrangement, and believes if she can just be perfect enough at school and at home, it will convince her dad to come back to live with her and her mother.
Jamie’s parents have also divorced, and he’s living with his mother, but also got another problem to deal with. He has ADHD, which stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and it means he finds it very difficult to focus on his work at school. He’s easily distracted, and his behaviour can sometimes be quite disruptive for the rest of the class. At the start of the story he’s also in school doing a spelling test, and this is what he says:
“Did you get that last word, Jamie?” The way Mr Patel says it I can tell he’s had to repeat the question. I nod, even though I have no idea what the last word in the spelling test was. I lost it somewhere between listening to Ryan blowing his runny nose like he’s trying to play the tuba, and watching Claire nervously ripping her notebook into confetti. Mr Patel says I distract the other kids, but it’s really the other way round.
“ACCOMODATE,” Mr Patel says again. “Ac-como-date. Jamie, are you writing this down?”
I snatch up my pen from the floor where it’s rolled and try to find a free space on my test sheet to write the word. My handwriting’s a bit of a mess, and it’s not easy trying to squeeze the big words onto such a little line. Maybe that’s part of the test too. Maybe that’s why I always fail.
Ak, I write, then I cross it out and try A-c-k-o… No, that’s not right either. I scribble over it too hard and accidentally knock over the stack of books and pen holders I’ve built into a mini castle all round my desk. They go cascading onto the floor like a waterfall, and I leap after them like one of those Olympic divers jumping off the high board. I’m so busy gathering books and pens up I barely hear the laughter of the other kids. I’m used to it. It washes over me now in waves and I just drift along with it.
“Jamie, will you PLEASE sit down!” Mr Patel sounds like he’s running out of patience. It’s the second year in a row that I’m in his class, and I don’t think he can take another three terms of me and my craziness.Hi
After we learn about the characters, there comes the Conflict! This is something that happens that sets the rest of the events in the story in motion. In this book, what happens is that Jamie’s mother announces she’s moving to America with her new partner, and Jamie is to go and live with his father. But Jamie’s father is Paul, and Paul is Elin’s mother’s boyfriend, which means Jamie is going to move in to Elin’s house. Elin is horrified when she hears the news, as she realises she’s going to find it harder than ever to get her dad to come back now.
When Jamie arrives, she decides on a plan that will have big consequences for her whole family. Her mother says:
“Come on Elin, come and meet your step-broth—” Mum managed to bite the word back before it slipped out, and changed it quickly to ‘new friend’ instead.
I don’t have a step-brother! I wanted to yell. You’re not married to Paul, so he’s not my step-dad – I’ll never call him that. I don’t have a step-brother or a step-dad or a half-sister or ANY OF THEM!
There was just Mum and Dad and Gran and me, and we were surrounded by Monsters and Imposters who were trying to keep us apart. They weren’t going to win – I was too clever to let anyone beat me. I’d been working on plans to make sure Jamie never settled in this house and would end up back with his mum.
Plan A had been to keep my fairy-tale ending alive by talking Mum and Paul out of bringing Jamie here in the first place. Plan A had failed. It was time to move on to Plan B.
I set out the last cup, straightened the sauce bottles on the kitchen table, then went to join Mum in the hall. There was no avoiding it, I had to go and meet the enemy. I had to see exactly what I was up against if I wanted to win my real family back.
Plan B was war.
Rising Action – this is a series of mini-crises, or flashpoint episodes, which gradually escalate towards one big narrative climax. They don’t necessarily have to be individual events, and can be spread over several chapters, but they have to form peaks that keep the action moving forwards. Elin’s conflict with Jamie escalates in a series of incidents that eventually lead to the Climax of the story, and Elin does something she instantly regrets, setting in motion a chain of events that lead to her mother and Jamie’s father splitting up and Paul and Jamie moving out.
The Falling Action is where the story starts to resolves itself, and the loose ends begin to be tied up, leading to the Resolution. This is where the story gets wrapped up and a satisfying ending to each of the characters’ story arcs is reached. I won’t spoil it by telling you how this story ends though! It doesn’t necessarily have to be a happy ending, but it must round everything off and not leave story threads hanging.
And that’s how to write a novel!
– Wow! Some fascinating insights into Victoria’s writing process there. ‘Show don’t tell’ is something I’m always practising with children but it can be so hard to get a grasp of.
To hear more from Victoria and about the book, make sure you visit some of the other blogs who were involved in the tour. You can also read her piece about ‘The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle’, written for this year’s Empathy Day HERE.
*Many thanks to Kelpies for sending me this title to review*