We chatted with Shivaun Plozza to learn more about her new book, A Reluctant Witch's Guide to Magic, and get some insight into her creative process.
Like most creative folks, Shivaun Plozza’s imagination isn’t limited to just one medium.
While Plozza is well-known for her writing, her creativity transcends the page. As a child, Shivaun spent hours in the forest with friends playing Star Wars, and today she often paints as a form of artistic expression.
Despite her creative spirit, however, Shivaun has mastered the art of routine which allows her to structure her days and complete one project after another. Her latest book, A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic offers the perfect peek into Shivaun’s colourful imagination, full of fun and quirky magic.
Worldbuilding in A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic
Aimed at readers ages 8-12, A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic is a middle-grade fantasy about a non-magical girl, Willa, who must unravel a witchy mystery to save her city, her friends and herself.
Sprinkled with fun, the book paints a fantasy world so rich that young readers will instantly feel transported to the Wild, the city squished between warring witch covens that just so happens to be Willa’s home.
While raining frogs and dancing chickens might seem far from ordinary, coming up with such fantastical scenarios has been a part of Shivaun’s life for as long as she could remember. After reading The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy as a child, the author has been dreaming up ‘wonderfully weird, quirky worlds.’
‘Anytime I would read, I would automatically extend that world in my head,’ says Shivaun. ‘Eventually, I started to come up with my own worlds as well.’ Whether she was playing a game with friends or fantasising about a fictional adventure, Shivaun was constantly letting her imagination roam free.
Today, having spent so much time flexing those creative muscles, she now finds it second nature to create magical scenarios like the ones in A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic. ‘because I’ve been doing it for so long, I don’t even know how I do it. My brain just goes into that pattern, and I start thinking about all these different possibilities.’
How she develops her characters
While a creative idea might be the perfect place to start, however, it takes a lot more than a single concept to make a good book.
In addition to capturing her most inventive ideas, Shivaun is deeply committed to creating a distinct tone and voice for everything she writes. ‘I take a lot of time to develop a unique character voice and tone of voice for the story,’ says the author. While it might sound like something that would come easily, establishing a distinct voice requires a lot of work, and Shivaun often spends multiple drafts perfecting it.
‘It’s very trial and error,’ she admits. ‘I’ll usually do a bit of planning first, and I’ll think about who that character is, what drives them, what their personality traits are and stuff like that.
'When I write the first draft, I just sort of word-vomit and see what comes out subconsciously based on all that thinking that I’ve done. Then I go back and I’ll pick out certain phrases that I might have used and certain ideas that have come up.
'The next draft cleans up a little bit, and I develop the little ticks that make a character unique. Each time I go back and do a pass, it becomes clearer and clearer until I get that voice. Then I find it really easy to write in the character's voice. I just slip into it.’
Other creative pursuits
As if all of that hard work wasn’t enough to satisfy Shivaun’s creative spirit, the author also paints in her free time. While she has always enjoyed abstract painting, Shivaun has only recently realised that her process for creating a painting mirrors her process for writing a book.
How? She describes it as a process of ‘constant layers.’
‘I do a layer randomly throwing things at the canvas, then I go, "oh I like that little section there, I’m going to bring it out" and adjust the rest of the painting to meet it.’ Just like she whittles down her first rough draft, the author starts by throwing everything out there, then zoning on what she thinks is working. ‘Slowly the layers form until a story ends up on the canvas how I want it.’
Though she always follows the same process, it’s completely unintentional. ‘It was interesting for me when I realised that I paint the same way that I write,’ says Shivaun. ‘That’s just how my brain works.’
For young readers who love A Reluctant Witch’s Guide to Magic and want to become authors too, here’s a bit of advice. ‘If you want to improve your writing, read. The easiest, most enjoyable and best way to learn how to write is to immerse yourself in the writing of other people who do it well.’
On top of that, she also recommends planning. ‘I have the whole month planned out,’ she explains. On a large whiteboard, the author outlines a general word count and her goals for each day. ‘I tend to write in sprints, so I’ll write in half-hour sprints for the first draft.’ Breaking the word count into half-hour chunks, Shivaun is typically able to meet her goal while still leaving pauses in between to reset her brain.
Want more? Read a Q&A about the book.
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