Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and the fun stuff about being a writer.

This week’s blog was inspired by an email conversation with a columnist in a regional newspaper (themselves, sadly a dying breed). The column has no website, no email, no means of getting in touch other than by mail or phone.

When I finally tracked down an email contact to compliment the writer, he was predictably pleased that I’d reached out. But on the bottom of his response was the line, “I don’t read all my emails…pick up the phone.”

Well, no. Writers don’t get to tell our readers/customers how they can read our work. That’s up to them.  I used to wonder how you could read my books on a phone. In a word, convenience. You nearly always have a phone with you.

Beacon Homeworld 2

My current Beacon sci-fi series is published by Momentum, the digital-first arm of Pan Macmillan with the last in the series, Homeworld, released last week. I had to edit the series entirely online, rather than marking up a printed copy, which used to involve a language of editorial squiggles we mostly don’t see any more. To me, the hash sign # still suggests “space out” and we’re not talking taking illicit substances, but spreading out a piece of copy.

No longer. I love hashtags because they connect people to your conversation. The Twitter hashtag #AmWriting is read by millions around the world who share an interest in the writing process.

I admit I sometimes struggle with technology. Sometimes it’s me; sometimes the technology. But I soldier on because it’s fun  being part of this exciting world.

Celebrating a couple of decades working together, my agent gifted me an iPad Mini, a generous gift by any standards. I felt totally challenged by it but persevered and it’s now the best camera I’ve ever had. Not long ago, I had a live chat on it with writer friend, Jennie Adams. For her, it was early evening in Australia. For me, it was midnight in Las Vegas and we chatted as I waited for a flight #lovemyiPad

Other ways NOT to be a writer today:

Refuse to deal with ebooks.

Like most writers, I like print books, but my Kindle has over 500 books on it. Sometimes I’ll read the ebook version because I can have it NOW. Then I’ll order a print copy, especially nonfiction, to study at leisure.

Overlook technology in your stories

I see this a lot with entrants in the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia. Too often characters are stuck in last century. There’s almost nowhere your characters aren’t linked by their devices. I’m judging this year’s finalists very soon with the hashtag #ValerieParvAward on Twitter and I’ll be looking for tech savvy characters.

Change the story to take account of real life. You can only have batteries go flat so many times. Likewise, in a story, you can only have doubt about a person’s parentage for two weeks or less, before DNA testing gives the answer. In Private Sydney, written with James Patterson, Kathryn Fox wrote about new technology that gets it down to one hour and while not as detailed as the longer tests, still reveals a lot. Using technology can broaden your story. Need characters to find answers to something? Let them share on social media or Google the details. Every writer I know blesses Google for making research a breeze.

If you aren’t already, get good at researching. Writing Homeworld, the final  book in my Beacons sci-fi series, I needed to know if you could launch a space shuttle off the back of a Global Express private jet. My net search turned up the PR division of the plane’s makers who sent my query to the designers. They not only wrote back that it could be done but included diagrams, thrilling me with their generosity. Learn the tricks to search terms and dive in.

You notice the difference if you dip into the past for entertainment. I enjoy the1980s cop show, T J Hooker, starring William Shatner, my tweetheart. Thanks for that lovely word, Joanna Sandsmark. He’s seen here with fellow Star Trek alumni, Leonard Nimoy. Watching him in action is fun, but I can’t help wishing for a cellphone every time he has to find a phone to take care of police business.

Kirk T J Hooker 2

Another fav. Is  Murdoch Mysteries, a detective show set in the 1890s where everything is old school. Yannick Bisson as eye candy in the title role doesn’t hurt, either. Former VPA “minion” (what previous award winners call themselves) Erica Hayes writing as Viola Carr, writes a fun series about the daughter of Dr. Jeckyll who inherited his affliction. In these page-turners,Viola employs the tech of the day – plus some neat inventions of her own – beautifully. Don’t take my word for it. The Wall Street Journal reviewed the first in the series – you can’t do much better than that.

Currently I’m developing a book where one lead character steps back in time. The other remains in the present with all its technical goodies, while my character has to deal with the comparatively low tech of the time she finds herself in.

Love it or loathe it, this is our reality as writers today. Technology also changes how we write – but that’s a subject for another blog.

How do you deal with technology in your writing? What books do it best for you as a reader? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re monitored to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Valerie

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT NOW
Beacon Homeworld OUT JUNE 30

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

 

 

 

 

 

This week a new writer asked me if he should tell the publisher he was submitting to that his book was the first in a series. This is a fair question, as many books come out in series these days and are enormously popular with publishers and readers.
The answer depends on your relationship with the publisher. If you have a track record, even in other areas of writing, the publisher may be open to considering your book as part of a series. More likely, however, they would want to publish the first book as a stand-alone to see how it does before committing to more of the same.
Of course if you indie publish, you can do as you like, although I advise you to write two or three books in the series before self-publishing the first. Just as online streaming of movies and TV shows has led to “binge watching”, many readers prefer to collect an entire set of books before starting on the first. Recently I read two books in a series only to find I didn’t have book #3, although I did have book #4. I jumped on to Amazon and downloaded the next book to my Kindle so I could read the in-between book before continuing to the final one. Impatient? Who me? But I have a lot of company.
The results can be rewarding, with follower numbers growing as more books come out. Think of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series or Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” books. Characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, and many others have passionate followings.
If you’re writing series characters or settings, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Each book needs to provide a complete story within the pages, even if you have an over-arching story that all the books will span. This leaves readers satisfied but also keen to read the next book in the series. Readers regard your characters as friends, and your settings as places they can feel at home.
2. Filling in backstory in the second and subsequent books needs to be done with a light hand. Too much back story bores the people who read the first book. Too little annoys readers who’ve just discovered your series.

3. Each book should raise the stakes, while introducing new characters and story elements, to avoid any feeling of repetition.
4. If you use familiar elements such as vampires, royalty, small towns etc. you need to give the books your own unique twist.

 

The best aspect of series writing is being able to fully develop your fictional world. My current Beacons series of sci-fi romances is set in my own South Pacific Kingdom of Carramer, which began as the setting for several series of romantic suspense novels. Although frankly, if I’d known I would set eighteen books in Carramer, I would probably not have outlawed divorce. Over the years, getting characters out of marriages that aren’t working has been an interesting challenge.
When I decided to write the Beacons series, Carramer was a natural choice of setting. I’d always wanted to explore the province of Atai and its population of indigenous people. I saw them as very spiritual, making it easy to place a private space program there and include their natural mysticism in the story.

 

The next novella in the Beacon series, Continuum, is out next Thursday, June 9, published by Momentum, Pan Macmillan’s digital-first imprint. The three books in the series span the role my Beacons and their superpowers play in defending the Earth against a massive alien threat. Having two novellas in between let me explore individual characters and their histories.

This is another advantage series have over single titles – readers get to know your characters more thoroughly than they might in a solo book.

Cover Continuum
However you approach your series, readers should want to find out what happens next in your world. From the outset, it helps to have an idea of the overall story arc, as J K Rowling did with the Harry Potter books. You don’t need to know everything that happens. With the Beacons series, I certainly didn’t. But I did know how the story would play out at the end, rather like setting out on a journey with the destination in mind even if you aren’t sure of the exact route you’ll take.

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Finally, here are five Cs to include in your series:
• Characters – real people your readers come to care about and want to spend time with.
• Continuity – also known as Consistency – if you introduce elements in one book, make sure they are consistent with what happens in the next or previous books. Keep a series “bible” of physical descriptions, back story and other elements in file card form, as charts or on a program such as Scrivener, for quick reference as the series progresses.
• Complications aka Conflicts – even characters with superpowers, like my beacons, must have failings and difficulties to overcome, ideally in each book, the challenges growing to almost unbearable level by series end.
• Change – also known as Character Development. Your story people should grow and change as they overcome the obstacles in front of them.
• Completion – unless you want to keep the series going – and readers will love you if you do – you should tie up any loose ends by the final book. It’s easy to lose track of an individual and leave their story hanging, but trust me, you’ll hear about it from readers. In my romantic suspense series, Code of the Outback, I dealt with the stories of a woman and her two foster brothers. In the final book I mentioned a third brother but didn’t give him his own story. I was still getting emails about him years after the series ended, until I finally wrote his story in a novella, so readers could stop worrying about him.
How do you like to read series books? Do you have favourites? As a writer, do you have a series on the drawing board? This blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,
Valerie
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Follow Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT JUNE 9Beacon Homeworld coming June 30
via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)
Google Play (All devices except Kindle)
iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)
Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I open this blog to discuss the writing craft and what it means to be a writer, the stuff hardly anybody else talks about.

I’ve now had books published for four decades, and almost every time I’ve put a book to bed, I’ve known exactly what I wanted to write next. In fact, I could hardly wait to get started. But not this time.

Oh, I have plenty of ideas. Most writers do. There are books I can write, but nothing that won’t wait. There’s a nonfiction book so far along in development that I have a huge box of reference books getting in the way under my desk. Two potentially strong characters each want to have a book, perhaps a series each. They’re also happy to wait.

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When not writing, I’m a shopaholic online and off, whether for myself or as gifts. One day a friend, AJ Macpherson, writing as Maggie Gilbert – http://tinyurl.com/jex9dsa – shared the rule she uses to decide whether to buy a particular item. Is it a gotta wanna must have? Running potential purchases through this filter saves me a ton of money and shopping mistakes.

Can this useful phrase help you decide what to write next? Is this project a gotta wanna must write?

If an idea has stuck around for months or years without pushing you to write it, then the answer might well be no. The best stories are those that keep you awake at night thinking about them. The best characters are the ones insisting you write about them.

A gotta wanna must write story doesn’t give you a choice.

Successful New York Times’ best selling author, Chuck Wendig, says the answer is to “art harder”. Bryce Courtenay recommended “bum glue” – sticking your anatomy to the seat of the chair and getting on with it. Both work – some of the time.

But at a time when the book market is awash with books, either indie published by their authors, or trad pubbed, does bum glue work? Yes and no.

Thinking about writing doesn’t get anything written, far less your master work. And as you battle to get the words down, you can’t know whether you’re writing a bestseller or wasting your time. Not one successful author knew which they were writing. Not J K Rowling, not George R R Martin. Not even Shakespeare. http://tinyurl.com/jcffftk Okay, maybe James Patterson, but he’s in a category all by himself.

Beacon Earthbound, Book 3 in my sci-fi series is out May 12

Beacon Earthbound, Book 3 in my sci-fi series is out May 12

There are three things you can do to get yourself moving again.

  1. Stop fretting and write.

In this, Chuck Wendig is right. The harder you art, the more likely you are to stumble on what you need to be writing. It may mean discarding the current words and tackling something else, but at least you’ll know what you don’t want to write.

  1. Fall in love with the words you’re writing now.

Writing books is like an arranged marriage. Sometimes you have to take the step and hope to fall in love later. Many times, a publisher has asked me for a book that is far from a gotta wanna must write, but I’ve taken on the project and surprised myself by enjoying the journey. Not always. The book I was asked to write about doing your own plumbing comes  to mind (yes, it was a real thing). However, saying yes to that project made me determined to write books I could put my heart into, leading to a long career as a romance novelist.

  1. Don’t be afraid to stop writing

If you’re a born writer, and only you know that, the drought won’t last forever. I was there when writers of the stature of Morris West announced their retirement from writing. Yeah, sure, whatever. You’ll be back. And they were. Story ideas will nag at you until one becomes that magic thing – a gotta wanna must write. Then you’ll be lucky if you can art hard enough to keep up. Welcome back, writer.

Are you struggling to find your next project, or to finish one that’s gone cold on you? Share your thoughts in the comments box below so we can all benefit. This blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

PS Since writing this blog, a new idea pushed its way into my head – a gotta wanna must write idea. Stay Tuned!

On Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Follow Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi  series

Beacon Starfound OUT NOW

Beacon Earthbound released MAY 12

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

Full list of titles and publication dates http://www.valerieparv.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring for April.

You’d think after writing ninety-one books that having a new one out would be ho-hum.  But it never is.

Any published author will agree there’s a special excitement about seeing your new baby out in the world, whether in ebook or print. I’m told the feeling is  a bit like having babies  – you’ve brought to life something that never existed before.

It’s an amazing feeling.

You want to touch the newborn; count fingers and toes, show them off to anyone who’ll  indulge you. In book terms, that means reading over words you already know by heart and talking to others about them.

I’ve  been asked if I read my own books. Not in the same way as a new reader, but I certainly marvel that the jumble of thoughts in my head could turn into anything so beautiful. Until you find your first typo. No matter how many times you and your editors have gone over every word, there are always typos and they stab your new-parent self to the heart. You will also see things you could have written better, or differently. But basically you marvel that you did this amazing thing.

Then you wonder if you can ever do the amazing thing again. If you’re a writer, you will, of course, but don’t expect it to be any easier the second – or the hundredth time.

You will know what to expect; what the pitfalls are; but every book is its own creation. That’s what keeps the process interesting.

You need more than a good idea

Many non writers assume a good idea is all you need. Having an idea is wonderful, a new toy for your brain to play with. But just as raising a child involves more than giving birth, having an idea is only a beginning.

I totally get writers like James Patterson, who has so many ideas that he collaborates with writers all over the world. Australia’s own Katherine Fox joined them when she wrote Private Sydney. I was delighted for her. A new challenge, working with the single best-selling author in the world, bar none,  for more than a decade. What’s not to like?

Fox Private Sydney

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you they love all their children equally. Truth is they love them all differently. Some they never connect with at all, no matter how hard they try. Some they love from the moment they open their tiny eyes.

Ideas are the same. Some we can’t wait to write, yet they flounder on the screen. Others we don’t want to write but they nag at us, sometimes for years, until we give them life.

My Beacon series is one of those. I love science fiction, but I was busy writing romantic suspense. Who were these strange, half-alien people with extraordinary powers? Where did they come from? From that same biological soup we come from as people. Ideas exist in the ether, waiting for a writer to inhale them and give them life.

Beacon Starfound3

My Beacons – a listener, a watcher and a messenger from another planet – connect with the universe in superhero-type ways. From the start I knew them. Wanted to tell their stories. What came was a series of three ebooks and two novellas, the first published last month by Pan Macmillan’s Momentum ebook imprint. They’re publishing the whole series between now and the end of June, delighting readers who hate waiting for the next books in a series…cough, cough…me, for instance.

Beacon Earthbound

Here’s where the baby-analogy gets twisted. Unless they’re quintuplets, no new parent has five children in four months. Yet I’m loving that part, although my book-parenting skills are pretty stretched. I get to show off all five book babies in places I’ve never ventured before – iBooks Store and Google Play well as Amazon US, UK and Australia, and a host of other places.

That’s the beauty of book babies. We get to share them all over the world. Readers can buy or download them; review them; share their discoveries with friends. And book babies never get old.

As a book parent, what stories are you nurturing right now, or struggling to? Do you have favourites? How do you feel when you get a shiny new idea? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can skip this step by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy book parenting!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s sci-fi series continues with Beacon Starfound, April 14 and

Beacon Earthbound out May 12.

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

Full list of titles and publication dates http://www.valerieparv.com

 

 

Last week we wished Happy Birthday to all the leap year babies born on February 29. Thanks to Julius Caesar simplifying the early Roman calendar, the extra day happens every four years and was designed to keep festivals occurring around the same season each year.
In Ireland it’s said that women may propose marriage only in leap years, a tradition that has spread worldwide.
But this is a writing forum, so we’re interested in your creative relationships. In 2016 will you be dealing with critique partners and significant others in your life? Proposing (pitching) work to an agent or editor? What will be your relationship with your muse? With the online world?

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I’m exploring some of these relationships during a 2-day workshop at the Canberra Writers’ Centre on 2 and 3 April, joined by my long-time agent, Linda Tate, who will share her take on the writer-agent relationship. The workshop sold out within days, showing that there’s a need for writers to focus on these aspects of the work.

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Equally important are relationships with family and friends. Writing can make us so inwardly focused that it’s easy to forget there’s life beyond the current manuscript. It’s vital we make time for real people, as well as fictional ones. For without real relationships and a social life, we can end up with little new to write about.

Cat writer

Four questions to ask yourself this leap year:

1. Is this writing project serving the people I care about?
It may bring income, make you a more rounded person – I know when I’m kept from writing, I become very hard to live with – but when my husband was alive, I made sure he knew how important he was to me. After he passed, I was glad I hadn’t put writing ahead of his needs. Keeping a work-life balance is key.

2. Is this project serving my goals as a writer?
Writing reviews or blogs and contributing to social media may feel like work – and publishers do encourage writers to have a strong online presence – but if your real writing work is neglected, it may help to look at your priorities.

3. Is this writing serving my wider community?
This doesn’t contradict point two, because community involvement provides ideas and enrichment to you, as a writer. Serving as a volunteer zoo guide at the National Zoo in Canberra for ten years got me away from the computer, meeting people from around the world, and befriending some truly amazing animals.

4. Is this project the best use of my time and energy?
Only you can write your books. A dear friend talked of a real-life experience she intended to write about “someday.” Sadly, she died with the book not even started. Her experiences were never shared with readers and are now lost forever. A famous meme on Facebook quotes J K Rowling on how she managed to be a single mother while writing her Harry Potter books. Her answer was that she didn’t do housework for four years. Priorities.

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Being a writer – if you’re serious about it – is a nonstop juggling act. If you add in a day job, life gets even more challenging. It’s up to you how you handle it. But look first at the time sucks – endlessly checking Facebook or Twitter; sharing so much of your life via your devices that you forget to actually live it; binge watching TV shows and movies.

There’s no harm in doing some of this some of the time, as long as you make conscious decisions on how to have a balanced life and still get your writing done.

2016 can be your year to leap ahead with your writing, and it doesn’t have to be at the cost of other aspects of your life.

Now over to you. How do you manage your writing and relationships? Will you be proposing (pitching) to an agent or editor this year? A leap year is about growth and change. And getting to that all-important happy ever after. Or happy for now. How will you get there?

Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can skip this step by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing,
Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

We hear a lot lately about reboots. The powerhouse Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, is considered a reboot because it takes the franchise in new directions with new characters. The recent Star Trek movies are most certainly reboots with much of the story canon amassed over fifty years being replaced with unrelated material credited to an “alternate timeline.” Yes, well…

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The term, reboot comes from computer usage. When a device refuses to perform, the first defense is invariably to turn everything off, wait a short time, then turn things on again. Often, that’s enough to get the device working properly.

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People can reboot themselves, too. I know of several who are in that process now.
One of the most prominent is actor Wil Wheaton (Star Trek the Next Generation, Big Bang Theory, Neverland, Stand by Me, and many others)
Late last year, he announced in his blog that he was rebooting his life. Unhappy with himself, he made a public commitment to change, doing less of habits that harmed him, and more of those that helped, such as reading more, writing more and exercising more.

In an update this week, he graded himself on progress, giving himself an A on some items and an F on only one – writing more, which had been pushed aside by acting commitments. You can read his story on his blog http://wilwheaton.net/2015/10/seven-things-i-did-to-reboot-my-life/

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A writer friend I greatly admire, Diane Curran, announced yesterday on Facebook that she’s rebooting her life starting Monday, including returning to her beloved belly dancing classes.
“I’ve been a bit slack over the last couple of months. While I never returned to the Caramello and Iced Tea, I did take up Lindt extra dark chocolate and I still can’t moderate [my intake]. Adding back in dairy, grains and potato and reducing exercise and I’m feeling the difference in body and attitude.”
Throughout 2015, Diane transformed herself through diet and dance, until we barely recognized her, except for the sparkle that’s there through thick and thin (sorry, Diane, really bad pun). Starting today, she says it’s “back to Paleo, back to physical activity, back to writing a minimum of 500 words a day.”
https://www.facebook.com/chickollage?fref=ts

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Reboots don’t need to be drastic. In the last month, I decided that my writing office wasn’t serving me. I was doing nearly all my writing at the dining table, the room more and more resembling the office I wasn’t using.
It wasn’t rocket science to work out that clutter deterred me from using my “real” office. The big desk I’d had for years was a clutter magnet, unlike the dining table which I had to clear regularly because, well, it beat eating off the floor.
I bought a new, smaller, table in gloss white with chrome legs – the nearest desk I could find to a dining table. Added a gorgeous white file unit with red drawers that could serve as a return as needed, and went to work. With less surface area, paper can’t pile up. I love my new desk and spend almost all my working time there.
Like Diane, I’m also tackling a body reboot, having lost mumble-something kilos in twelve months. While not exactly gym-ready, I move much more, and no longer cringe at photos of myself in the media.
Writing more isn’t an issue since this year I’ll have published 90 books. But I have changed direction. I’m now writing science fiction, a genre I’ve always loved. Naturally, there is romance in there – albeit with a light touch. But the rebooted me is boldly going where I haven’t gone until now, and having a ball.

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Is there an area of your writing life you’d like to reboot?

Here are four ways you can tackle the job.
1. Start from your strengths
Rebooting yourself is a choice. It doesn’t mean everything you’ve written is wrong. Every word is part of your learning curve and will feed into the writing you do next. If exercise is needed, simply move more. Watch TV or make calls standing up. Weed the garden. Every little bit counts. Do workshops online or off. Find a critique partner in your new genre, and encourage each other.
2. See yourself succeeding
Spend a few minutes each day relaxing and picturing yourself succeeding. Visualise your book cover, or yourself in the spotlight, whatever fills you with energy and determination. Then look to your reboot list and start to make it happen one step at a time.
3. Be gentle with yourself
Wil Wheaton called his a “soft reboot”, focusing on the items he felt would make his life better. He didn’t throw out all his previous achievements, or come down on himself for the one area he felt needed more work. Like Diane, you may have Lindt extra dark chocolate moments. Recognise them and gently put them aside in favour of new behaviours that support your goals.
4. Feel the fear and do it anyway
This is a brilliant self-help book I suggest you read, although the title says it all. New always feels scary. If it doesn’t you’re not doing it right. Your reboot should take you out of your comfort zone into uncharted space. This week I’ve taken the biggest leap of my life into that space and you know what? It felt terrifying but exhilarating in equal measures. There are no guarantees of success, but if you don’t take the leap, you’re guaranteed to fail.

Minions take over world
Begin your reboot today. As a writer, choose a new direction or genre you’d love to try, and read in that field. Study the available markets. Then plan how you’ll write in it. 500 words a day is good, but 100 will do if it’s all you can fit in. Even at 100 words a day, you’ll have a novella or half a novel done by the end of this year, and that’s with most weekends off.
Let’s compare notes back on this blog in six months time. Not to beat ourselves up over what we haven’t achieved, but to look honestly at where we are and what still needs work.
Do you plan a reboot in your life? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can skip this step by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing and rebooting,
Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html
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Welcome to a new year of writing adventures. On the first Monday of every month, I answer your questions, invite you to share war stories, and help you along your writing journey.

If you’re a regular here, you’ll know one of my favourite tasks each year is mentoring the winner of the Valerie Parv Award, established in my honour by Romance Writers of Australia. For details of the 2016 award click on http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/110/Valerie-Parv-Award.html

Previous winners are nearly all multi-published now, taking out dozens of Australian and international writing competitions in all genres along the way.

What every writer's conscience should look like

What every writer’s conscience should look like

This year’s VPA holder is CARLY MAIN with her Roman-set novel, Memento Mori. With Carly’s permission, I’m sharing some questions she asked as we worked on her current chapters.

Your contributions are always so helpful. I’ve tried a few critique partners before, but nobody has ever suggested new plot points or new ways of telling the story. Is it largely a matter of experience? Do published authors tend to view manuscripts in a different way?

I’m also starting to think about my next book. I have two complete drafts which I now realise – as a result of [the VPA mentoring] process – I need to flesh out in terms of character development, motivations, conflict etc. and I’m worried I won’t be able to repeat the process.

Carly, 2016 is a milestone year for me. My 90th book will be published by Momentum (Pan Macmillan), meaning I’ve had books published every year for the last four decades. I was, of course, a child prodigy.

So experience is obviously a factor. Plus I’ve studied the writing process – my own and others’ – to discover not only what works, but why. Cultivating this awareness solves your concern about repeating the process.
I also try to give my minions (the name the VPA alumni gave themselves long before the movies) tools they can apply to any writing project. They’re tools I use in my own books, and they work.

Minions take over world

SO HERE ARE MY TOP 4 STORYCRAFTING TOOLS –

1. Ask yourself what work the writing has to do
Whether it’s a sentence, a scene or a chapter, every piece of writing MUST have a job to do. It can be revealing character, moving the plot forward, deepening the conflict, filling in needed background or planting clues and red herrings (in a mystery). Even better if the scene has more than one job.
When you’re editing, if you identify the purpose of the scene, you open up dozens of ways to achieve your purpose, rather than simply rewriting the scene in different words.

If the scene is only “pretty” or titillating, consider deleting it or combining with another scene. In Carly’s case, she had a crucial character to introduce and chose to combine the introduction with a scene that, until then, was doing no identifiable work.

2. Explore as many story options as you can
Say you have a love scene to write and plan to set it in the hero’s (or heroine’s) bedroom. Fine as far as it goes, but can you do better? I suggest listing at least 20 ways you could handle this scene to make it more original. Is there a mountaintop, a cabin, a creepy basement, or other setting you can use? Depending on the story, could you play out the scene on a private jet, in an office, under a circus tent, in an opal mine? I’ve used all of these and had a ton of fun with them. Readers enjoy the freshness, too.

My lists sometimes run to 100 or more options, including the outlandish and plain silly, before I hit on something that excites me. The trick is to avoid self-censoring, just let your imagination run wild. Only when you’re written out, should you evaluate your list, combine or develop the most promising options.

3. Ensure your characters’ actions DO speak for them
It’s all very well telling readers that a character is kind, honest to a fault, and loves small children. But do you show us these qualities? For example, a single mother is desperate for money for her child’s medical treatment. She finds a bag of money by a roadside. Having her use this money, even fully intending to pay it back, creates a different image of her than the one you intend. Equally, if she lies to gain a job to earn the money she needs, what does this say about her? It’s okay to show her being tempted, but she shouldn’t give in. It may nearly kill her to turn the money in, but you can use this to show her honesty is hard-won. You could show her attraction to the detective who takes her statement, or have him protect her from criminals who stole the money and think she has it. Or he thinks she’s in league with the bad guys. Showing the character’s struggles is a great way to reveal their true character and can lead to some wonderful, character-driven stories.

4. Use fewer words to better effect
This definitely comes with practice. Sadly, the words generally have to be written before we can edit out the repetitions, the information dumps (when we tell readers everything we’ve researched), and the slow passages. Give yourself permission to write as much as you feel you need. Let the finished work lie for as long as you can, a few weeks is good. Then read with a fresh eye and a sharp red pen.

Every writer is different and not all tips work for everyone. But it’s the old story about giving a woman a fish and feeding her for a day, or teaching her how to fish and feeding her for a lifetime.

You never stop learning. I still read how-to books on writing, seeking to gain even one new insight. Last week, it was Not Just a Piece of Cake: BEING AN AUTHOR by Hazel Edwards, author of the Australian childrens’ classic, There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake
Writing is a never-ending learning curve.

Feel free to comment or share your experiences below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam. If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. What are your best storycrafting tips?

Valerie

Member of the Order of Australia
Australia Day Ambassador
http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Welcome to the first Monday in December when I talk about the nitty-gritty of being a writer. A week ago I was reminded of perhaps the best part of the writing life, one we seldom think about – the effect our writing has on other people.

I was reminded of this a week ago while I was in Los Angeles attending a live event hosted by Reading Rainbow, an organisation dedicated to instilling the love of reading and learning in children everywhere. A few months ago, LeVar Burton, original Reading Rainbow TV presenter and Star Trek The Next Generation’s Geordie LaForge, relaunched Reading Rainbow for the 21st century at https://www.readingrainbow.com/

At the event, LeVar and two Star Trek legends, William Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart, read some childrens’ books to a delighted audience – we adults as enthralled as the children. Then LeVar talked about the power of “what if…” the cornerstone of many a writer’s new idea., and played the Reading Rainbow theme song reminding us that readers can “go anywhere” and “be anything” in their imagination.

After the readings, I got to sit down and chat with Bill Shatner, who readers of this blog know by now is one of my greatest inspirations, as well as LeVar and Sir Patrick. Exciting indeed and a story for another day.

L to R: William Shatner, Levar Burton and Sir Patrick Stewart read at the Reading Rainbow event I attended

L to R: William Shatner, Levar Burton and Sir Patrick Stewart read at the Reading Rainbow event I attended

Writers generally focus on the work of writing, the struggles, fears and disappointments when the story fails to live up to our hopes.

But what about when we succeed?

As Reading Rainbow reminded us, that’s when magic happens.

Whether you write in longhand, on a tablet, on a program such as Scrivener, or on cave walls, the process is the same. You start with a “what if…” and trust that your idea will capture your readers’ imagination the way it did yours.
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In the struggle to birth a story, it’s easy to forget that you’re taking readers on a journey with you, giving them the gift of your creativity and insight. Whether your readers number in the dozens or millions matters not a bit. When you make a story, wrap it in your words, and present it to readers, you’ve shared a piece of your soul.
In troubled times, stories can give hope – not by saying that all men are brothers, but by showing the brother and sisterhood between our characters. Others campaign for an end to domestic violence; we show how that goal might come about. When the future seems bleak, we show a positive future, as Star Trek itself has done since its first airing nearly 50 years ago.

These are gifts writers have been giving to the world since the cave days. Whether you celebrate Channukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or any other festive season, you are giving the world your gift of possibilities through your stories.

How you publish is also less important than, what and why you write. It may be a beloved hobby or your life’s work, as writing has been mine for decades. What matters is the sharing of your ideas with your family and the wider world.

The ability to create stories is a rare blessing. I believe it’s the reason why we keep writing despite the pain of rejection and the frustration of chasing a near-impossible dream. As the song says, we are aiming for a star that seems unreachable much of the time. But when we do reach it, the sense of achievement is incomparable.
You’ve spoken your thoughts through your writing, and been heard and understood by at least one reader. There’s nothing quite like it.

This season, I wish that feeling for all writers. Write because you love it; because you must; and because it’s the most fun you can have and still call it work.

If it’s in you to write – write. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Your vocation is to be a bringer of light to the world. Do it with joy and pride, and the curiosity of a child. Write even when it hurts.
The more you write, the more you’ll discover you can write. Only by sharing your words are you truly honouring your gift.

Feel free to comment or share your experiences below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam. If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

To all writers everywhere, thank you for giving me the gift of your stories and letting me share the fruits of your imagination. They make you more special than you will ever know.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Welcome to First Monday mentoring, when I open this blog to your questions and discussion about the writing life. This Halloween weekend , I’m looking at some of the scary aspects of the craft, and how you might deal with them.
If you’re dealing with any or all of these bumps, you’re not alone. Every writer, from the beginner to the multi-published encounters them at some time.
So cue the Twilight Zone music.
1. The fear that never goes away.
Writing is a voyage into the unknown. You’re digging around in your subconscious, dealing with elements of your humanity – and that’s just to create believable characters. If your writing explores darker elements, they may stir reactions in you as a person. While researching my masters, I looked at how writers do narrative therapy on ourselves (rewrite our personal histories for more satisfactory outcomes) through the stories we choose to tell. Any and all of these aspects bring up our own fears. No wonder we sometimes skim over the surface of scenes. The solution is to force yourself to go deeper, write what you’re most uncomfortable writing. There you’ll find your greatest truths, and perhaps your own healing.
2. The facts that trip up your story
These are myriad. From seasons that don’t cooperate with the story you want to tell to distances that your characters can’t have travelled in the time your story allows. These bumps, while scary, can be dealt with. Not by fudging the details, as you may be tempted to do, but by being less specific, changing the parameters. What you don’t do is leave things alone and hope readers won’t notice – they will.

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3. Carry around dead bodies
The “bodies” are the books you’d love to write, or have spent countless hours developing, but that aren’t working. Dr. Frankenstein could use lightning bolts to animate his monster, but he was still a monster. Stories with monster qualities are the same. You can check by stripping the problem story back to bare bones: Character wants (goals) because (motive) but (conflict). Do the same for each key character including the antagonist. This should expose any faulty reasoning holding your story back. If you can’t reanimate the story, it might be time to write something new that does work.
4. The ghosts of Christmas past
Charles Dickens nailed this one. Often the scariest things in our writing life are the things we didn’t do. Have you been promising yourself you’ll write that book “this year?” But this year has less than two months to go. Sit down today, right now if you can, and write the opening sentence of your book. The words don’t have to be great or even good, just start. Just as the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, the greatest books ever written all began with a single word. Start now.

Credible Hulk
5. The self-doubt demons
These are perhaps the scariest of bumps in the writing road. You look at other writers – in your critique group, online buds, in the news – and think they all have it together. You are the only one struggling. News for you: you’re not. Every writer struggles with self-doubt demons. Rejection is part of the job. Editing, seemingly the chain-saw massacre of your work, is actually a cleansing process, identifying inconsistencies, logic flaws and other elements the writer is too close to the work to see. Sometimes the person wielding the chainsaw is yourself. Just don’t be too quick to attack your words. First write them for yourself alone, only after you have a coherent draft (or several) let the world in to add their comments.

Writing is a scary process but it is survivable once you learn to expect these bumps. What haunts your writing life? How do you deal? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear  right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing,
Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

*** With thanks to friend and colleague, Jennie Adams http://www.joybyjennie.com/joy-hub-blog/ ***

Teaching master classes and mentoring new writers is a great way to shine a spotlight on your own writing process.
Focusing on how you construct a story reveals what works and – crucially – what doesn’t. The alternative, sadly, is learning by trial and error and many wasted words.

AORW cover
A few days ago, my agent, Linda Tate and I were working through a detailed outline of a new book.

It’s sci-fi, not a field she normally reads. Her feedback was invaluable for precisely that reason. She took nothing for granted, asking the “why” questions that someone more into science fiction might not think to ask.
During our talk I had one of Oprah Winfrey’s “light bulb moments” when a metaphorical light goes on over your head.
I knew why the bad guy was acting as he was. The key characters had to find out the hard way, as is proper. You should never make things easy for your characters. Far better to “get your characters up a tree and then throw rocks at them.” The rocks being the difficulties you put in their way so they have to fight for every bit of progress.
I’d done all that. In my story things go from bad to worse, and then to catastrophic. But I’d overlooked one thing I’d learned from teaching –

What the writer tells the reader does not have to be the same as what the characters tell each other.
Sure, you want to stay inside their viewpoint as much as you can, so readers feel as if they’re living the story rather than being told about it.
But an element called “reader superiority” lets readers in on information your characters don’t have yet. By sharing secrets, you heighten your readers’ enjoyment of the story as they wait for the characters to catch up.
A good example comes from Where Are the Children by Mary Higgins Clark. Her heroine may have murdered her children and gotten away with it. The woman has started afresh under a new identity, when the children from her new relationship mysteriously disappear.
If we thought that she’d actually killed her children, we’d have little sympathy for her. So Ms Clark sets up an opening scene where someone sinister is watching the heroine. At first, we don’t learn what he’s about, but we know the heroine is not the villain. However, the other characters only know her kids have disappeared twice under suspicious circumstances. They believe she’s a killer who got lucky the first time, and they want her to be caught.
Had we, as readers, not known she was being stalked, we might feel the same.
You don’t have to step outside the book and tell the reader. As Ms Clark did, you can show us what’s really going on, so we empathize with the character. Knowing she’s innocent, we want the truth to come out while fearing it will come too late to save her. The result is a real page-turner.

My lightbulb moment:

Rather than springing the truth on characters and readers at the same time, I need to reveal my bad guy to my readers before the characters work it all out. This can be done with a scene where we meet the bad guy when the leads aren’t present. It’s a multiple-viewpoint book so it’s perfectly legitimate.

I just have to remember to take my own advice.

Valerie as first Writer in Residence at Young NSW Library . Photo by Maree Myhill.

Valerie as first Writer in Residence at Young NSW Library . Photo by Maree Myhill.

The 3 things I’ve learned from mentoring and teaching –
1. Giving advice is easier than taking it
2. Knowing why something works means you can do it again…and again.
3. Say yes to every teaching opportunity; you never know what you might learn.
Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
Happy writing,
Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com

Sydney Oct 17, join Valerie at the Australian Society of Authors’ special event:
When Worlds Collide

adding romance to your speculative (and other) fiction.
Discounts available for participants attending from out of Sydney.

Click on car icon with $ sign on it.

To book phone: (02) 9211 1004 or go to
https://www.asauthors.org/event/14450/special-series-valerie-parv-am

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