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First Monday Mentoring March 2018 – making unexpected writing discoveries

Whether you plot your stories out in detail, or prefer to let the story unfold as you write, it’s a good idea to leave room for serendipity to play a part.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines serendipity as “making happy or unexpected discoveries by accident.”

These happy, unexpected discoveries are the ideas or story twists coming seemingly from nowhere – the dog you didn’t know your character owned; the plot twist you didn’t see coming; in short, anything you didn’t know was going to be in your story until it popped up.

I’ve been making these discoveries for years and know enough now to let them come. Even if I don’t know why a character acquires a dog, I leave it in. As Kate Grenville says, “It can all be fixed tomorrow.”

If you don’t find a use for that dog, it can disappear as quickly as it showed up. Just don’t be too hasty. I’ve had pets, sisters, plot developments of all kinds arrive, apparently from nowhere, but really from something my subconscious has been mulling over. I leave the reference in until I find, perhaps many chapters later, that it’s exactly what the story needs.

The dog may rescue hero or heroine, or alert them to some bad thing about to happen. The surprise sibling may be a character’s saving grace, downfall, keeper of vital family information…unknown to me until they’re needed.

In my Beacons sci-fi series , I wrote two novellas linking the three books of the series together. The first novella, Beacon Starfound, concerned a character called Guy, the genetic twin of Adam, one of my alien beacons. When I conceived Guy I had no idea of his role. Gradually he became more mysterious and interesting, until by book three, Beacon Homeworld, he proved essential to resolving many story threads.

Having Guy develop as he did was pure serendipity. Or was he?

I think these “happy and unexpected discoveries” are far less accidental than they seem. When a story stalls and I can’t get past the block, it’s almost always because I’ve taken a wrong turn. Once I would have been tearing my hair out. These days I let my subconscious figure things out.

If I try to force the story to go my way, the result invariably lacks a spark. So I wait. Frustrated, anxious, but telling myself I’ve been in this place before and always found my way out.

If I don’t have time to wait, I fall back on my trusty “twenty options” process from The Art of Romance Writing. I’ve blogged about this here and at workshops because it’s such a reliable tool. It’s best done with pen and paper. You can on screen but paper feels more freeing, somehow. Up to you.

Down the left hand side of the paper write the numbers one to twenty, leaving a line of space between each number. Then you pose the story problem to yourself – for example, why does the heroine go to meet the bad guy without seeming too stupid to live.

Then without stopping, you write twenty ways you could solve this problem. For example, he could be the identical twin of someone the heroine trusts. He could blackmail her in some way, holding her dog hostage, perhaps. Or he could fake a message to her from the hero.

Keep going until you’ve listed at least twenty options. I’ve listed over a hundred in some cases. There’s no right or wrong number but twenty seems to stretch you a little while getting past the obvious answers. Generally the first ones you think of are those everybody comes up with. Around the middle you get a little silly, the hostage dog being an example. Force yourself to keep going until you’ve listed at least twenty, or however many more suits you.

When you’re done, read over the list. Is there a germ of something workable in one idea? Could some be combined? If your list gives you nothing useful leave it for a while and try again next day. Persistence pays with this one.

In my current manuscript, serendipity has already struck. My hero owns a valley I plan to use in several books. As I was writing, the hero’s brother-in-law mentioned some additional land for sale adjoining the valley. Hero can’t afford the land because…reasons. BIL suggested a partnership. So far I don’t know why this extra land exists but I’ll go along until my brain works it out and lets me know.

The only thing I know for sure is that the land will have a purpose in relation to the story. In writing, that’s how serendipity works.

Have you ever had a random element jump into a story, only to prove essential later? Share your thoughts in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post appears right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing and may serendipity bless you work,


on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s book, Desert Justice in Her Hot Desert Fantasy

Anthology – out in ebook and print now

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Birthright

Beacon Novella Starfound

Beacon Earthbound
Beacon Novella Continuum
Beacon Homeworld

via & – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

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


First Monday Mentoring February 2018 – give your writing a Valentine!

As a romance writer I’ve spent many a Valentine’s Day doing press, TV and radio interviews. Once I was involved in the whole 7 Sunrise weather, each half-hourly cross coming back to see what we were up to. Having a mischievous mind, I dreamed up a romance novel plot using all the presenters on the show as characters. This was true “flying by the seat of one’s pants” as I had no idea beforehand, what they were likely to want.

Another Valentine’s Day was with Denise Drysdale and Ernie Sigley on his show, talking about aphrodisiacs and whether canned oysters were as effective as fresh ones. FYI they’re not. We only used canned ones because fresh oysters and scorching TV lights are not a good mix.

One Valentine’s week, I was away on tour for my nonfiction book on real-life romance, I’ll Have What She’s Having. Since I’d be away from my own romantic hero, I arranged to have a Valentine’s card delivered to him every day until I got back. Gotta practice what you preach!

So how does this fit in with your writing? Whether you write romance novels or other forms of fiction, relationships are bound to be in there somewhere, even if they’re not the focus of the story. I’ve taken four elements out of I’ll Have What She’s Having, adapted for writers.

  1. With love goes respect

You can’t have a relationship, far less write about one, without this crucial element. And respect applies not only to the characters you bring together but also to your readers. Writing tongue-in-cheek always shows on the page. I’ve lost count of the writers who’ve told me they’re going to write a romance because they need to make some easy money. I don’t try to dissuade them, figuring they’ll find out soon enough. Some of the most demanding editors I’ve known have been in the romance genre.

  1. Let your lovers work out their own problems

Just as the best lines and scenes should go to the stars in a film or TV show, your characters should solve their own problems, whether romantic or otherwise. It’s a cop-out to have a wise old figure give the characters the advice they need to resolve their conflicts. Just as in real life, you don’t want the in-laws telling you what you should do, it’s better to have your literary stars arrive at their own solutions and really earn their happy-ever-after.

  1. Don’t make your characters read minds

Just as we shouldn’t expect a partner to know that we love them unless we say the actual words, we shouldn’t expect characters or readers to read minds. If your character is afraid of heights, show it early in the story, so later when he’s goaded to the top of a cliff, we’ll understand his fear. The reader can only go by what you put on the page, not what’s in your mind.

As writers we know where the plot twists are, and how and why everything comes together at the end…well, most of it, anyway. Sometimes we surprise even ourselves. But the key elements of the story need to be planted well before they’re needed- a process known as foreshadowing. If your character can click the heels of their magic red shoes to get back home, you’d better mention how they acquire the shoes long before the story climax. Be subtle so we don’t pay much attention at the time. In one of my sci-fi novels, Beacon Homeworld, the hero finds a black spot where his cell phone doesn’t work many chapters before he needs that black spot to resolve a big dilemma. Be sneaky in foreshadowing the elements you’ll need later on even if you have to go back and plant the details, but play fair. Make sure everything the character (and reader) needs is foreshadowed well in advance.

And finally…

  1. Send your favourite author a Valentine

These days it’s easy to connect with authors on social media. Most have a Facebook page or a Twitter or other account. If you liked their book, go online and let them know. Obviously sales are a good indicator, but it means a lot to a writer to hear that a character moved you emotionally, changed your thinking  or gave you comfort at a bad time in your life. Of course, the best Valentine to give a writer is a good review on Amazon or Goodreads. They need not be long or literary. A sentence or two of honest appreciation is fine. Authors have bad days and struggles too. Your review might be the difference between them giving up or continuing to write.

What’s your Valentine’s Day writing tip? Would you rather spend the day reading or writing? Please share with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy Valentine’s Day and happy writing,


on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook (come say hello!)

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 & – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

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



First Monday Mentoring January – one way to help your writing in 2018

When you start out as a writer – and even after you’re established, you’re bombarded with more advice than you can possibly use. At conferences and workshops you’ll hear about the ‘rules’ of writing. If you’re in a critique group, every member will have a different take on your work.

Many books on writing give conflicting advice on how best to tell your story, manage your career and handle social media. No wonder many writers end up confused, or worse, change the writing until it’s hardly recognizable as theirs.

On this blog you’ve read my belief that there is no one way to write, only what works for you as a writer. I recommend trying various methods to see what you’re comfortable with. Experiment with different writing times and places. Some writers work well in cafes away from other demands. Others prefer a dedicated writing space at home. Again, go with whatever works for you.

The one piece of advice I seldom hear or read is probably key – trust yourself.

Learn your craft and keep up to date, but above all listen to the small voice in your head struggling to be heard over  the clamor coming at you.

Share your work with a group if you like, but decide for yourself which suggestions to take on board. Where are the suggestions coming from? Are they from editors or agents who’ve been in the publishing business for years? Or are they from writers at the same stage as yourself?  Worst of all, are they from those who find it easier to criticize than to write?

Believe me, there are plenty of wannabes eager to undermine your confidence. And you also know from this blog that in writers, self-confidence is already in very short supply.

Over the dozen years I’ve mentored emerging writers through Romance Writers of Australia’s Valerie Parv Award, the greatest compliment I’ve been given is that I encourage my minions, as they call themselves, to develop their own voices. Every suggestion from me is offered on the basis that they should use what they like and discard the rest.

Unlike writers, kittens are born knowing what advice to ignore.

Many years ago my London editor suggested a different way some aspect of my story might go. I agreed, saying that I’d considered this approach but hadn’t gone with it. The editor then asked, “How often do you follow your own instincts when you write?”

Food for thought indeed. Truth to tell, sometimes I’d gone with what I thought the editor would like, rather than what I felt was right for the story. From then on I resolved to trust my instincts and write what worked for the book. It’s a course I recommend to any writer.

Last year I worked with the talented Joel Naoum, then publisher of the digital arm of Pan Macmillan, as he steered my Beacons sci-fi series through to publication. Every editorial suggestion came with the assurance that I could veto anything not working for me and my stories.

Even then I had to constantly remind myself that I had the final word, and really consider how each suggested edit would best serve the books. The result is a series I’m very proud of. The five Beacons books and two novellas are my stories told in my voice, with the added benefit of other eyes to see where aspects could be improved. Without doubt  it was one of the best publishing experiences of my career and I wish Joel much success in his Critical Mass consulting service for authors and publishers

Even if the people you invite to comment on your work persist in wanting you to make changes, always give yourself the right of veto. Carefully consider their suggestions then decide for yourself which ones best serve your book.

Take ego out of the equation. Look at the writing as objectively as you can. This is why writers are advised to put the work aside for a time after completion, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

Then consider how the changes will benefit your book. Try to pin down what is being asked of you. Is it to streamline the ‘through story’; strengthen characters; make the writing tighter? Every one has merit, and few writers get all of the elements together in early drafts. When you work out what needs doing and why, is there a better way to achieve these goals while staying true to your voice and vision? A good editor should be more than happy to let you fix a perceived problem your way.

This New Year make one of your resolutions to trust yourself as a writer. You won’t regret it.

How do you deal with comments on your writing. Please share with us in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy New Year and happy writing…and trusting yourself.


on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

I am honoured to be appointed Australia Day Ambassador 2018

to the Gundagai NSW community.

Look for Valerie’s ‘Desert Justice’ in ‘Her Hot Desert Fantasy’ anthology,

Dec 2017 on as well as K-Mart and Big W.

Find my Beacons sci-fi series –

Beacon Birthright, Beacon Starfound
Beacon Earthbound,Beacon Continuum
Beacon Homeworld
via & – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

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


First Monday Mentoring Dec 2017 – writing needs the gift of time

We’re all time poor. What free time we once had is now eaten up by social media, online activities and binge-watching TV series. Admittedly these are choices we make, but so much of life is lived digitally now that even restricting yourself won’t free up a great deal more time.

Yet as writers, we need time to think, to play with ideas – what if my character does this or that? As I say in The Art of Romance Writing, writers are working when we’re staring out of windows.

Last week someone posted on Facebook that writers “must write every day.” Past Valerie Parv Award winner, Erica Hayes, bounced back with, “Write when you can. We’re not in prison.”

I agree. Having made a living with words since my twenties, I know life doesn’t let you write every day and you’re not a failure if you don’t.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) finished last week. Now international, NaNoWriMo considers you a “winner” if you produce 50,000 words during November.

The worldwide success of NaNoWriMo shows that the challenge suits many writers. For others like me, it’s their idea of a nightmare. No surprises here. In a high school English class we were assigned to write a story on a set topic during the period. Most students immediately launched themselves into writing while I stared into space, dreaming up my story content.

Ten minutes from the end of the class I started writing. By then I knew who my characters were and what they were all about. I couldn’t have started writing any sooner. I still can’t. I started out as what’s called a plotter, the opposite of a pantser, writers who start putting words down before they know where they’re going. Over time and some 90 books I’ve morphed into a combination of both, plotting a little less and writing sooner while trusting my characters to help me fill in the gaps.

I still need thinking time.

A trip to America a month ago was not supposed to be work. On every flight card under “purpose of travel” I happily ticked vacation. My muse had other ideas.

In Honolulu, I soon found myself up early at the desk in my hotel room, scribbling many pages of notes for a new novel. A few pages in, I glanced out the window to the Royal Hawai’ian Hotel and Waikiki Beach beyond. Even they couldn’t distract me from the story unfolding in my mind. It’s still revealing itself to me as I write this blog back in Oz.

Yet if someone had told me I must write every day of that vacation, I doubt my muse would have co-operated. Even muses need to get out and play sometimes. Last month I wrote about filling the creative well, exposing yourself to new experiences. In Hawai’i I realised  that’s what I’d been doing in Houston.

While I laughed, talked my head off and explored with my BFFs Sherry and Laura, my muse was soaking up new input. None of it was related to the new book, and yet it was. Had I not given my brain time out to admire astronauts and butterflies, my muse may not have connected the mental dots that led to the new idea.

And when all the note taking and scribbling was done, Waikiki was still waiting.

How do you treat your muse – as a mouse on a treadmill, or a fragile resource? Do ideas come to you when you think you’re goofing off? Please share your thoughts in the box below. It’s 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.

Have a happy festive season however you traditionally celebrate, and enjoy your writing in the year ahead.


on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

I am honoured to be appointed

Australia Day Ambassador 2017

to the Gundagai NSW community


First Monday Mentoring Nov – how do writers fill the creative well?

Last month I blogged about the importance to your professional development of attending writing conferences and festivals. Today I’m talking about another aspect I call “filling the well.”

How do writers find new things to write about? It helps to be interested in a wide range of subjects, not only those of personal concern but appealing to the world at large. My family calls me a “mine of useless information”, though it comes in handy at trivia nights, because I’ve researched such a wide variety of topics from opal mining to space shuttle operation.

You can combine your conference attendances with rambling research either related to your current writing project, or simply because it’s there.

In my book, The Idea Factory, I called these absorption trips, a name coined by screenwriter, William Goldberg, who suggests you become a sponge, soaking up input wherever you go. Almost any experience can be turned into an absorption trip, from dentist visits to shopping trips. Train yourself to see not only what’s there, but what could be there. What if your dentist is making a fortune through selling illegally plundered gold teeth? If you use this idea, best not use your real dentist’s name to protect the innocent.

When visiting new towns and cities, explore the local businesses, talk to the locals and learn as much as you can about their lives and why they do what they do. Tell them you’re a writer so they don’t think you’re just nosy. Most people I’ve met are flattered by sincere attention.

I’ve also developed many story ideas from reading journals I don’t normally see. Flying to a writing conference in Brisbane not long ago, I was leafing through the in flight magazine, fascinated by a reference to an Irish town as a “thin place” where the boundaries between the real and the supernatural are easily breached. Tantalising as that concept is, I won’t write about it because any writer seeing that reference will feel the same.

Stories “plucked from the headlines” need to be written quickly or not at all, before another questing mind can beat you to it. Many writers believe their ideas have been “stolen” when the truth is, we are all exposed to much the same creative influences. Years ago I indulged my passion for sci-fi by creating a romance hero who might have arrived by UFO. While the book, The Leopard Tree, was in production, I read a review of another book where the hero…you guessed it. There’s no copyright on ideas, only in how they are developed by the writer.

Best-selling novelist, Dean Koontz, said in an interview that he advised writers to do two things. The first is to write, write, write. Concentrate on developing your writing craft to the highest calibre you can. The second is to read, read, read. Koontz says the more you broaden your interests as a reader, the more you broaden your talent as a writer.

He says you should read a book first as a reader, then analyse it to discover the “nuts and bolts with which the story is built.”  As you make the effort your subconscious “will make all sorts of associations and connections, and over time it will give you the critical understanding you are seeking.”

Researching facts is best done through Google and similar resources. Your absorption trips supply the bits you can’t research – the sights, sounds and even smells of a new place or setting, and the accents, clothes and attitudes of the people you meet. Not only will these details fill your creative well with new ideas, they will add a richness to your writing that you can’t get any other way.

Recently I explored some wonderful new places in the USA including a magical Butterfly House and a tour of the Johnson Space Centre, Houston. Tax deductible because it’s research, My story and I’m sticking to it.

How do you find your new insights and stories? Have any of your travels resulted in ideas that excited you enough to write about them? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up right away if you  click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,


on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Masterclass  Canberra, Australia : 18 November  Romance Writing Re-imagined  ACT Writers Centre 








First Monday Mentoring Oct – what writing festivals do for you

Money’s tight and living costs keep rising, I get that. Plus writing has never been a profession to make easy money. But recently I hear a lot about how expensive it is to attend writing conferences and festivals, many writers saying they can’t justify the expense.

My response is how can you not justify the expense? Perhaps you have a day job and it’s hard to get the time off. Yet writers whose time is flexible still resent the cost and time to attend these events.

Most professions require continued education. Why should writing be any different? In my long career I’ve had millions of words published in a variety of genres and translations but there’s always more to learn. Attending conferences and festivals lets me monitor changes in publishing, book marketing, indie publishing, and the fast-spinning world of social media. I’m also interested in other writers’ experiences. Not everything you hear at conferences and festivals shows up on social media.

The personal interactions are invaluable. We work alone a lot of the time. Getting out and “peopling” as a colleague puts it, not only renews friendships, but lets us discuss aspects of craft that don’t fit into a Facebook post or tweet.

I was reminded of these benefits at the recent Canberra Writers Festival where my agent, Linda Tate, and I presented a session at the National Library of Australia on how we work together, subtitled “how not to be screwed in 21st century publishing.”

Agent Linda Tate (left) and me with my books at the National Library of Australia before our presentation

Even savvy writers can be screwed in everything from contracts to options, advances and royalties. Before Linda became my agent twenty-plus years ago, I dodged a few bullets myself. And I can tell you, it makes a huge difference having someone else track those bullets, freeing me to focus on the writing.

As an indie, you can screw yourself unintentionally in the many details you must cover on your own account. An example is buying ISBN numbers (International Standard Book Numbers) your book’s ID in the reading world. Buying your ISBN numbers from, say, CreateSpace, can mean they are identified as the publisher instead of you. There’s a comprehensive article on ISBNs at the Self Publishing Advice Centre This is just one of many pitfalls indies have to negotiate.

As Linda and I are based in different capital cities, preparing our session, presenting it and sharing the success afterward were benefits of being on the festival program. We outlined how we work together, very differently from most author-agent relationships.  Her background is in the entertainment industry, so she isn’t inclined to submit books then wait months to hear back. Instead, she paves the submission’s way with the editor then calls to see how they’re enjoying the read.

Signing one of my books at the Canberra Festival

Whether you’re traditionally or indie published, if you have an agent and they aren’t keeping up, maybe check with them about new ways you can interact. If you don’t have an agent and want one, ask them to detail how their approach can be tweaked to better serve your books.

Like conferences and festivals, agents come with a cost. However a good agent not only recoups their commission in the deals they make, but the relationship should be more beneficial overall.

Here I need to address the “it’s all right for you” syndrome. Successful authors are supposed to take in stride the cost of attending writing events. Generally we do for the benefits described here, but bear in mind that every successful author started with a first book, building our brand steadily over many years. While nothing beats writing the best book you can,  mixing with writing professionals help us achieve our success, not the other way around.

As a writer do you attend festivals and writing conferences? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up right away if you subscribe – click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,


on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Workshop Townsville : 7 October  Story Magic Townsville Writers & Publishers Centre

Masterclass  Canberra : 18 November  Romance Writing Re-imagined  ACT Writers Centre 


First Monday Mentoring Sept 2017 – are you the next Valerie Parv Award writing winner

The Romance Writers of Australia national conference is done for another year, and with it the crowning of the latest Valerie Parv Award winner for 2017. She is Joanna Nell whose entry, The Unmentionables, deals with life and love in later years. I’ll be mentoring Joanna during the year of her award.

Joanna is the newest of my minions – the name past winners chose for themselves. They keep in touch, share their achievements, and we hold our annual Minions’ Breakfast at conference each year. Tiaras are worn and Joanna received hers at the RWA annual conference in Brisbane recently.

Judging and presenting this award is an exciting challenge and an honour. Thanks Romance Writers of Australia and Romance Writers of America’s former Australian Chapter where the award began.

As I read the short list I am very aware of the commitment behind every one. I know it’s a cliché but I see every finalist as a winner. You’ve shown you can write a book to suit your chosen market, and you’ve met the contest deadline.

Reaching the finals means your work has something special. I write an appraisal of every final entry to encourage you to keep striving. Minion achievements include everything from RWA’s Romantic Book of the year, to Romance Writers of America RITA awards for published books, and Golden Heart for unpublished. Minions regularly grace the Australian Romance Readers Awards , the USA Today and other bestseller lists and in one case, get reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

Congratulations to JOANNA NELL (left)
Valerie Parv Award Winner for 2017

Winners’ books are published by all the major publishing houses here and internationally and their readers number in the millions. You can see who they are on the VPA Hall of Fame at

Entries needn’t be exclusively romance. This year’s finalists included a Regency-set historical with a heroine posing as a pirate; my first-ever heroine specialising in dung-beetle reproduction; a beautifully-handled disabled heroine; a runaway bride and a reunion romance with a cranky heroine. Plus of course, Joanna Nell’s topical romance in later years.

So how do you become the next VPA minion? I take four aspects into account.

  1. You need to write from the heart

Every highly placed entry over the last 18 years has been a labour of love – and it shows. The writer has written a story s/he’s passionate about and can’t wait to share with readers. They aren’t always perfectly written, but they have compelling characters we care about from the beginning.

  1. You need a touch of originality

You don’t have to break the mould with a defrocked nun or a Playboy model character, although we have had a cross-dressing Regency hero, a gnome kidnapping conspiracy, and fairies on crack among past winners. If two entries vie for the top prize, I tend to favour the more original. Yes, there are conventions in every genre, such as the happy-ever-after in romance and the dead body in a mystery, but there should be something that transcends genre, giving us story we haven’t read before.

  1. You need to be a storyteller

I don’t use a score sheet to judge the final entries. I’m more interested in whether you give me a strong opening, a story that comes to life right away, and people I can care about and want to see succeed against the odds. I’m happy to read in any setting or time period and will forgive a few mistakes as long as you tell a gripping story. This doesn’t mean ignoring grammar or spelling, but they can be fixed. It’s far harder to fix a lifeless story.

  1. You know where you want the book to go

The winner can pick my brains, share questions and concerns, and have me critique work as we go along. I read with an editorial eye, helping the author to spot issues they may have missed through being too close to the work. The one thing I don’t do is alter the author’s voice. Ultimately, this is your story told in your unique way.

Finally there’s the X-Factor. Call it natural talent, star quality or the X-factor, it’s the extra something readers recognise as soon as they see it. The moment I start reading I know when the writer’s voice has the power to lift the hairs on the back of my neck. The book may not be the one I want to choose as the winner, but the choice will be inescapable.

Does your story have these qualities? The Valerie Parv Award 2018 opens on April 9 and closes on April 30, 2017. Details at  Have you entered previously, or plan to next year? Share your thoughts here. The 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 will present her Story Magic Workshop in Townsville, Queensland
on Saturday October 7
Valerie will also attend a Romantic High Tea on Sunday, October 8
Contact the
Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,


From Amazon for Kindle


First Monday Mentoring August – why am I so good at putting off writing?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when you’re invited to ask questions and share your experiences of being a writer – not the glamour side, but the realities hardly anybody talks about.

One big question rarely addressed is the problem of not writing. The dreaded P word – procrastination. You know the problem – you desperately want to write and you finally steal a few hours to yourself. You even have a fabulous idea you can’t wait to explore. You sit down at your keyboard and…Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

The words that sparkled in your head when you woke up that morning have been sucked away as if down a drain. You find yourself doing almost anything but facing that blank screen.

Okay, you get the idea. So what is the problem and what can you do about it?

First, cut yourself some slack. Creative work doesn’t run to a timetable. Nor can you produce something new without at least some struggle. That’s why you don’t try to write the perfect novel at first draft. You try to write something approaching your idea for a novel – what Nora Roberts calls “the dirty draft.”

The aim of a dirty draft is to get the story, chapter, scene or sentence down in some form. Even Michelangelo had to throw raw clay into a heap before he could shape it into the vision in his head. And that’s before he tackled the unforgiving marble.

Writers are lucky that we don’t have to work in stone. Everything can be changed. And trust me, it’s far easier to change a rough draft than to stare at the screen until sweat beads your brow.

Instead of going off to clean the fridge, force yourself to stay put. Write something, anything. Write a letter to yourself describing the story in your head. Sneak up on the story by writing around the scene. Draw the scene as a stick-figure cartoon. Write a ransom note from one character to another.

This kind of craziness can have a surprising result. You get caught up in the story almost against your will and you start writing. When this happens don’t stop to edit the work or consider if it’s right or not. Just let the words come. When you’ve done as much as you can, stop and breathe. Admire your achievement. You’ve gone from nothing to actual words. You’re a star.

This is really all there is to writing a novel. Figuring out the first bit, writing that; figuring out the next bit, writing that, and so on till you have your dirty draft. Then you can start to knock it into shape as a sculptor does the clay.

If you’ve tried all these suggestions and a few more and cleaning the fridge still looks good, ask yourself whether the idea is ready to be written? I frequently find that a major block is often a message from my muse telling me I’m going in the wrong direction. Give your story a shake-up, take it somewhere different and see if that helps. Then go do some mindless chore or sleep on the problem.

Writing Homeworld, Book 3 of my Beacons sci-fi romance series, I was well and truly stuck. After leaving the book alone for a bit I woke up one morning sure that the character I’d thought of as male was actually female. Further, she was a weather engineer, a profession I didn’t know existed until I went looking. As soon as she arrived, the book was off and running.

Procrastination is a strange beast. We may find ourselves doing almost anything but the work when actually, the story is bubbling deep within our subconscious and will surface when it’s ready.

Writer E.L. Doctorow famously said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Is procrastination your problem? What have you tried to get back on track? Please share your experiences here. The 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!


on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Coming up – Canberra Writers’ Festival 25-27 August 2017

Meet Valerie and her agent, Linda Tate, “in conversation” at

The National Library Friday 25 August 4pm-5pm, details


Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,


From Amazon for Kindle


First Monday Mentoring for July – why do we tell stories? Why do they work?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when this blog looks at the realities of the writing craft – the fear of the blank screen that never goes away, the sensation of being an observer in life and wondering if you’re missing the sensitivity gene. Truth is, you’re not insensitive – you’re a writer. Observing life at its most extreme: births, weddings, funerals, is what writers do. Then we translate the experience onto the screen or page and make sense of it for the non writers.

Into the Woods
Recently I read a fascinating book called Into the Woods: how stories work and why we tell them. The author, John Yorke, created the BBC Writers’ Academy and brought a vast array of dramas to British screens.
His book explores the unifying shape of narrative forms, from the archetypal fairy tale journeys “into the woods” to today’s blockbuster movies. Yorke says that stories are all rooted in the same ancient structures.
While he explores these structures in detail and shows them at work in everything from Star Wars to “kitchen sink” dramas, he doesn’t recommend that writers follow structure as a blueprint, but rather as a template to check your writing against after your first drafts are done.

Stories are not paint-by-numbers exercises.

You can follow every writing guru slavishly step by step and still not make a story that speaks to your readers. Writing is similar to baking a cake. We all use the same mix of flour, eggs, butter and flavouring – in our case, plot, characters and setting – but the results depend on how well you do the baking.
Yorke references a lot of writers I’m fond of, from Dr. Who’s Russell T Davies to William Goldman’s iconic Adventures in the Screen Trade, books I have on my shelves and refer to often. I’ve lost count of the number of copies of the Goldman book I’ve given away.
Interestingly, many of these books were written for screenwriters, before novelists discovered them. Many, like Linda Seger have adapted their books for narrative writers, but the originals – for me anyway – are hard to beat.
As Yorke contends, it’s all about structure and in this, readers raised on YouTube and Netflix increasingly expect novels to echo screenwriting principles. Get into a scene as late as possible, and out as early as possible. Keep the story moving regardless of genre. Let the readers do a lot of the work, don’t force feed them. Let them reach their own conclusions. Let them think.

If, like me, you enjoy revisiting classic TV from the 1960s to the 80s, you’ll notice marked differences between then and now. Today there’s far more showing than telling with fewer round-up scenes at the end where characters tell each other what happened and why, as if the reader hasn’t worked it out long before. Like dialogue, character actions are more natural, instead of moving around the page/set like chess pieces.

In the romance genre at least, storytelling was more fun before you could track people by their phones, or build suspense with a “secret baby” – a child the hero didn’t know he’d fathered. These days DNA testing leaves little doubt. Although a full test takes a bit longer than most TV shows and some books would have us believe.
But while limiting some story options, technology can open up new possibilities. In my Beacons sci-fi series, I used modern technology to hijack the space shuttle, and a private jet to launch it, supported by input from the jet’s brilliant designers. Google “Mandelbugs” for another topic I play with in the series.

Recently on ABC Statewide I had a fun discussion about the role of technology in modern relationships – using emojis in place of body language, for example.

Curiously, however far writers go out into space or how deeply into human psychology, as John Yorke points out, the basic story structure remains largely unchanged. The why of storytelling also remains fixed – to explain the world to us, and us to ourselves.

Why do you enjoy telling stories? Have you ever considered structure as a factor and how do you use it? Please share your experiences here. The 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!

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now
3 books complete in one volume
For international orders, print & ebook formats,
From Amazon for Kindle


First Monday Mentoring for June – should you write a book you don’t love?

Welcome to First Monday when I open this blog to discuss what it’s really like to be a writer – not the glamour stuff but the inside track on the fears, the struggles and yes, the joys of writing.

This week a writer told me she’d sold “the book of her heart.” Naturally I was delighted but curious – what was meant by “the book of her heart?”

Turns out it’s a cross-genre book about characters who’d haunted her for years, not the kind usually sought by publishers but one she desperately wanted to write, even if no-one loved it but her. She’d come close to publishing the book herself but didn’t have the cash and time to invest in the work.

That led to me to asking if she would ever write a book she didn’t love. After a long pause she said, “Almost all the time,” adding that she’d started out reluctantly, but had fallen in love with the story along the way.

This suggests you can start writing with your head rather than your heart. “Exactly,” she agreed. “I can’t afford to wait for the muse to strike. Sometimes I have to write first and the love comes later.”

And if it doesn’t? “Something else will,” she said.

With 90 books written over many years, there have been stories I couldn’t wait to tell, when the words flowed like warm honey. Others were like pulling teeth, needing many rewrites to make them work. And then there was the book on plumbing.

I’ve always treated my writing as a business, proposing book ideas to publishers who contracted me to write quite a few. At other times an editor would like my proposal but have another book they wanted me to write instead. Hence how to do your own plumbing.

First of all, technically you need a qualified plumber even to change a tap washer. Plus I had zero interest in water hammer, grease traps and septic tanks. But I’d signed a contract and I researched and wrote the best book I could, having a plumber friend vet it before submission.

Pleased as I was to have delivered the book as promised, that project made me determined to find a way to write books that I could also put my heart into.

Without the plumbing book, I might not have discovered romance novels.

I’ve always been a romantic at heart, but the plumbing book empowered me to try something new. Fifty romance and romantic suspense novels later working with editors in London, Toronto and New York, I’d become known as Australian’s “queen of romance” with translations in dozens of languages including Icelandic and Manga – Japanese graphic novels. And the only how-to books I’ve written since are on the writing craft, such as The Art of Romance Writing with editions in print with Allen & Unwin since 1993.

My muse, the wonderful actor, writer and philanthropist, William Shatner, says he believes in saying “yes” to everything. This has led him to amazing opportunities from motivating the astronauts on the International Space Station, to designing his own futuristic motor cycle. At age eighty-six he’s still the busiest man on the planet.

William Shatner recommends saying “yes” to everything

Saying “yes” to everything sometimes means writing about plumbing, but can also mean creating a sci-fi series that gave me one of the best experiences of my writing life. Google “Parv Beacons” if you’re curious.

My next “yes” is to collaborate with the talented Dr. Anita Heiss on a novel, something neither of us has done before. Who knows where that will lead?

What will your next “yes” be?

Here are three ways you can learn to love any writing project:

  1. Take pride in stretching yourself creatively. Find something to love, even if it’s the income from doing the work. How might that fund a project you really want to tackle?
  2. Use all writing as a learning experience. From writing advertising copy, I learned how to inspire readers to act on my words. From scriptwriting – how to tell a story in dialogue and action. From my nonfiction books on writing – not only what works but why, broadening my own understanding of the craft.
  3. Be open to writing many different things. Some will be fun, others not so. Learn something new from every project, even if it’s that you don’t want to spend your life writing about plumbing.

What people or projects have inspired your writing? Have you loved some writing and not others? Please share your experiences here. The 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!


on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is out now

3 books complete in one volume

For international orders, print & ebook formats,


From Amazon for Kindle



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