Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Archive for the ‘Writing craft’ Category

First Monday Mentoring Oct 2019 – writing in the fast lane

In previous blogs I’ve looked at how many words you “should” write in a day, the answer being whatever suits your style and life commitments. Everyone is different and whether you write 200 or 2000 words in a given period is up to you.

Just as there are marathon runners and sprinters, there are those who happily write huge word counts. Others write more slowly, perhaps editing and polishing as they go. International best selling writer, Dean Koontz admits this is his style and it hasn’t done him any harm.

There’s another kind of pacing to consider, and that’s the pace of the story itself. It’s great when readers say they couldn’t put your book down, and even better when they say they didn’t want the story to end.

Most writers, including me, are avid readers and I’ve found myself slowing down near the end of a wonderful book, reluctant to part company with characters I’ve come to love. But just as many readers are turned off by thick, dense-looking narratives.

As we move into the final quarter of the year, we’ve all heard – or said ourselves – that we don’t know where the year went. Wasn’t it Christmas only a couple of months ago? Possibly the perception is due to how much entertainment we now pack into a year.

We order online for same-day delivery. There’s speed dating for everything from partners to publishing. Dating shows like “The Proposal” show the lovelorn “meeting and marrying” in an hour. Big life changes happen on screen in an hour on “This Time Next Year.” Even irascible chef, Gordon Ramsay, fixes a restaurant’s problems on fast forward. In movies, transitions are almost instant. Watching the movie “Yesterday” I was impressed how scene changes were shown by running huge translucent headers like LA or LIVERPOOL across the screen.

The need for speed has revived short stories and novellas under 40,000 words. Print and ebook page counts are shrinking. US analyst, Zach Obront, studied dozens of New York Times best sellers and found the average hardcover novel in 2011 was about 500 pages. By 2017 it was under 300 pages and still dropping.

Average word counts have gone from 80,000 words to 60,000 or even less. American retailer, Walmart, told my publisher, Harlequin, that aging customers were asking for larger print sizes. This is easily handled on eReaders, of course, but for print books it meant reducing word counts. My book, “Desert Justice”, was ready to be published and I was tasked with removing 10,000 words from an already-edited book. At first I cut back all descriptive details. Readers now Google anything they want to know more about. Then I made sure every word worked. A tough job but the book was the better for it when I was done.

It’s great to fit in

Modern books need to get in and out of scenes as quickly as possible. Dive straight into the first chapter as close to the action as you can. You may have to write and delete a couple of chapters of set-up. In my current project I wrote 2,000 words of flashback then deleted them in favour of a scene where the heroine sees the hero run off the road on his motorcycle and stops to help.

In general I’m writing only enough description to bring the scene to life. Then it’s on with showing the story through dialogue and action.

Shorter paragraphs and chapters can save those reading on devices from a solid screen of unbroken text.  Putting a hook at the end of each chapter has always worked, keeping readers engrossed. Likewise I like to set love scenes in unexpected places, not only bedrooms. In writing workshops where I’ve challenged the group to come up with interesting settings for love scenes, we have inadvertently entertained people within earshot of our efforts. I hope we’ve given them some new ideas as well.

Technology is a given; have characters use it even in remote locations.  If not, have reasons why not. Avoid repeating information you’ve already given. Readers “get it.” They want the story to move along at a fast clip while we compete with streamed TV, movies on Netflix and endless memes of cute cats.

What changes have affected your writing lately? What pushes you out of a book? Share your thoughts in the comments below. It’s moderated 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.

Happy writing!

Valerie Parv

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

SAVE THE DATE

My new workshop is Making Your Book Work

Saturday Oct 12 in Canberra for ACT Writers Centre

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/making-your-book-work-with-valerie-parv-am-tickets-61205601602?aff=Enews

 

 

First Monday July 2019 – why authors don’t have to go it alone

There have been many successful collaborations between writers, among them Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye, Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society written by Mary Ann Shaffer and completed by her niece, Annie Barrows. Actor, writer and philanthropist, William Shatner, manages his prodigious output by working with co-writers including Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, David Fisher and Chris Regan.

Romance writer, Emma Darcy, was the pen name of couple, Wendy and Frank Brennan. After Frank’s death, Wendy carried on the Emma Darcy name alone.  I also have a prized copy signed by all four contributors to Dead of Night a series of paranormal stories by Nora Roberts writing as J.D.Robb, and her friends, Mary Blayney, Ruth Ryan Langan and Mary Kay McComas.

The world’s biggest-selling author, James Patterson, teams up with other writers because he surely has more ideas than one person could write in a lifetime. One of his books, Private Sydney, was co-written by Australian crime writer, Kathryn Fox.

2018-19 Valerie Parv Award minion Stella Quinn

You can also manage your stress by having friends watching your back. For 38 years my late husband helped me brainstorm plots and research aspects of his life such as serving in three armies and hunting crocodiles in the Northern Territory. In turn I wrote gags for his cartoons.

Other support services I use include accounting, legal advice, IT support, website design, gardening, cleaning and general hand-holding. I value all these people, but especially the latter. Let’s face it, nobody understands the struggles and joys of writing quite like another writer.

They’re there for me when the ideas refuse to come, when I’ve made a best seller list and even when I’ve had to kill off a character. In turn I’m there for my writing BFF s– the Bat Cave members know who you are. We’ve met up all over Australia and the world. I’ve even combined some roles, taking two bat friends we dub The Three Batketeers to a personal meet-up with William Shatner.

My agent of more than 20 years, Linda Tate, deserves special citation. She runs a “people gallery” of celebs, sports people and creatives including Mr Movies, Bill Collins, who died recently. When I met Linda, my goal was to be to romance writing what Bill Collins was to movies. While nobody can match his encyclopedic knowledge of film lore, with Linda’s help I’ve come close, being made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for writing and mentoring.

Among my closest supporters are the minions, as the past winners of the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia, call themselves. We share a unique rapport that goes beyond the mentoring I do while they hold the award. Next month at RWA’s annual conference  I’ll crown the newest minion, and we’ll celebrate at the much-anticipated annual Minions’ breakfast.

The same conference will see my agent and I presenting a session on Getting Back the Joy of Writing. With the publishing industry in such turmoil, joy is needed more than ever, whether you’re traditionally published, indie or a hybrid of both.

Agent Linda and me giving a talk at the National Library, Canberra

Writers tell me they’re overwhelmed by everything they have to do, from promoting on social media to designing covers and hiring their own editors if they’re indie publishing, leaving little time to enjoy the writing process.

Some writers say they feel ready to give up as burnout looms, or sadly, after it hits. In our session, Linda and I will look at better ways for writers to manage these and other stresses.

Your stories are precious gifts only you can share. Even if you work with another writer the resulting gestalt will be unique. It’s so sad when a writer dies with her work locked inside her, like friends who’ve planned to write “someday” which we all know never comes

Some say they’d like some help, but can’t afford the luxury. How can you not afford people who free up your energy so you can write? In my opinion this help is beyond price. Look around you. Who among your group would brainstorm ideas, share info they know and you don’t, celebrate your triumphs and be there when you struggle? Using professionals is a test of your professionalism. Plus your cheer squad will be there with wine, chocolate or funny memes to lift you up so you can keep writing.

Who has your back? Is it a partner, writing friends, paid professionals or a combination? Find them and value them and you’ll never write alone.

Share your thoughts in the comments below. It’s moderated to avoid spam but your comment can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy (and joyful) writing,

Valerie

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

Valerie and her agent, Linda Tate are

presenting at Romance Writers of Australia’s

National Conference Sun 11 August 1-2pm

http://tinyurl.com/y52tghw4

 

First Monday Mentoring May 2019 – let your writing show who you are, but carefully

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I answer your questions about writing. Today’s query asks how to make your characters more real?

The common advice – write what you know – works in many ways. One of them is letting the reader glimpse your personal values through your characters. In mine I try to show their good qualities through how they act under pressure. Their defaults are honesty and kindness even if they struggle to live up to these values.

This doesn’t mean that every character is me. Far from it. They are their own people, shaped by the parenting they received, their experiences as they grew up, and the love they did or didn’t get from their adult relationships.

You as their creator give them these backgrounds, but having done so you lose some of your freedom. A character who has a rough upbringing may well struggle to form good relationships later on. One who has been smothered by “helicopter parents” may find it hard to take risks, seeking a protective partner even as it stunts their emotional growth.

It’s important to be consistent. If they try to surmount their upbringing they need to be aware of the struggle. Perhaps they’ve chosen previous partners unwisely and now resolve to do better.

In my Harlequin Superromance, With a Little Help, my heroine is a successful caterer, the odd one out in a family of high-flying physicians. Having experienced how the demands of a medical career can leave children feeling neglected, Emma Jarrett has no interest in medicine but it doesn’t stop her mother parading eligible doctors in front of her. The latest is surgeon, Nathan Hale, someone she shares a history with. Trying to stick to her ideals is hard as Nate’s appeal grows stronger. Being honest and kind is Emma’s default, challenged by what she considers Nate’s unsuitability.

If you give your main characters some of your own values, it’s easier to portray them as real. There were no doctors in my family, formal education stopping as soon as we were old enough to work. But I was the only writer I know about, so can relate to being the odd one out. I also saw patterns in my family that I didn’t want to repeat when it came to romance.

Having Emma resist partnering with a doctor meant she had to learn that not all of them are like her immediate family. On the other hand, Nate had to come on strong as the indispensable man, only learning differently as he faced mounting challenges including how fast he’s falling for Emma.  This growth and change is the character arc.

In Crowns and a Cradle, the monarch, Prince Lorne, had an unhappy marriage until his wife died leaving him with their young son. If I’d known this would be the first of twenty-three novels set in my South Pacific kingdom, I might not have made divorce illegal. But Lorne is stiff-necked, refusing to change Carramer’s marriage laws even for his own benefit. The situation cried out for a clash of values between Lorne and free-spirited Alison who literally washed up on his private beach. She fell foul of several traditions before accepting that Lorne was right; he had to set an example for his son and his people. But he was also a man, as he started remembering from the moment they met.

Whether they flout their history or stick to it as rigidly as did Prince Lorne, is up to you. It may help to try different approaches before you settle on what works best for your story. I like to make my characters stronger, braver and all-round better people than myself, why I suggest using your own values – but carefully. You don’t want perfect people who can do no wrong.

Nobility is a value I aim for. Noble is defined as fine, decent, righteous and many other good qualities which must be shown, not told. For example, if your heroine needs to raise money for treatment for her sick child, she must attain it by worthy means. Should she find a bag of money, the proceeds of a crime, say, she may agonise over keeping it but she must choose to do the right thing. This shows us her character so we don’t have to be told. In traditional romances the hero may offer her a solution through working for him, possibly the last thing she wants to do, but this is an honest way to help her child.

Your characters may not achieve their goals but it’s not for want of trying. If they fall short it’s for good reason, such as helping the hero or heroine achieve their goals, and in so doing, find a new goal they can achieve together.

What parts of you go into your characters? What don’t you like to see? Share your thoughts in the box below. Comments are moderated 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. Happy writing!

Valerie

www.valerieparv.com

If you’re near Canberra ACT on June 1, join me for a full day of Romance Writing Rebooted. By day’s end leave with a two-page outline of your romance novel.  Information and bookings –

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-rebooted-with-valerie-parv-am-tickets-55747747012?aff=Enews

Tag Cloud