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First Monday Mentoring April 2021 – three most-asked questions about writing

Not long ago I blogged here that with writing, the learning never stops. To many people’s surprise, I still buy books about the writing craft. Even if I learn one new tip, the purchase is worthwhile.

As I’ve said many times, there’s no one way to write. Most teachers will tell you how they write. Not necessarily a bad thing. If Stephen King, Nora Roberts or Liane Moriarty give me advice, I’ll give it a try. If it works, terrific. If not I can try something else. You can do the same. Now for the questions.

Is there a formula for writing romance?

Yes, there is a formula – but not the one you expect. Frankly, if I was given a computer program, had to press a few keys, and out comes a book, I’d certainly try it. So far I’m still waiting.

For me, the “formula” is simply having two characters who meet and are strongly attracted. There must be a huge problem coming between them. This problem, also called the conflict, is so big that readers can’t see how it can be resolved to allow the characters their happy ever after, or happy for now.

Dozens of books have been written on how to create the conflict. Basically you need to know who these people are, something about their history and emotional make-up. Then you’ll need their greatest fear, and what character you can pit against them who fulfils all their emotional fantasies while triggering their fears big-time. All fiction has conventions but formula, hardly. Not when people and their stories are so varied.    

Where do you get ideas?

Ask an editor or publisher what books they most want to see and they’ll say “a story that’s fresh and original” or “a good book.” They can seldom define either, only that they know it when they see it.

Here’s the best definition I know. When you watch a talent show, you see talented people doing extraordinary things. They may hit all the right notes, juggle or play an instrument but they need another factor to win, something you can’t pinpoint but you recognise as soon as you see it.

This elusive factor can’t be taught. Polished perhaps, but it’s usually inborn. They do what they do for love, because they can’t not do it. As a writer, do you have that quality? I don’t know. But if your work is put in front of me, I’ll know it in an instant.

The words may be raw, the grammar wobbly, but if you have that factor your story will compel me to read on to find out how things turn out. This isn’t to say you can’t improve your work, but first focus on telling a story only you can tell.

Your characters may seem like ordinary people in a mostly ordinary setting. They may be the only people in their community who don’t have the special “thing”. Think Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker.

This is the story others will see as “fresh and original” because it felt that way to you as you wrote. You’ll be so in love with your people you can’t wait to get their story down. Get excited about your characters, fall in love with them, feel along with them. This is an idea in its purest form.

How do you know if you’re a writer?

This is a question I’m often asked in interviews and at writers’ conferences. As a child I wrote before I knew what a writer was, thinking everybody made up stories for their own entertainment.

I believe writers are born with the storytelling gene. You may scribble here and there when you can. You may enter competitions involving writing. Or write your family history in a more creative way than just who was born when and did what.

You may think everybody does this, especially if you don’t know any writers. The opposite also happens, when you find a local or online group and immediately think everybody is writing a book.

The only definition of a writer is a person who writes. Whether you’re published or not, sell squillions or not, that’s the bottom line. If any or all of these fit you, you can safely say you’re a writer.

Do these answers work for you? Please share your thoughts in the box below. They’re 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

NEW! Hear Valerie Parv podcast with Craig Cormick in

SECRETS FROM THE GREEN ROOM  https://tinyurl.com/3w52kf3s

BUY NOW 34 Million Books, Australia’s Queen of

Romance shares her life and writing tips

Part memoir, part writing guide

print and ebook buying links at www.valerieparv.com

Try a new short read – Her Royal Secret Santa

on ebook universal link mybook.to/SecretSantaParv

takes you to your nearest Amazon site

Find Valerie on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

First Monday Mentoring March 2021 – Unprecedented Writing Challenges

Let’s face it, a writer’s primary tool is language. Just over a year of living with a global pandemic has changed not only our language, but our relationships with each other. If we’re not careful our writing may be another casualty.

In Australia, phrases like social distancing and contact tracing are now commonplace, with Corona Virus Disease quickly being shortened to Covid. Technically Covid-19, but who’s counting?

Then there’s self-isolating, quarantine, lockdown, and the unprecedented popularity of…unprecedented.

Many people now work from home (WFH) or meet virtually via the internet using platforms such as Zoom, with varying degrees of success. Many of us chuckled over the US judge and lawyers conferencing on Zoom, one of the parties appearing to be a white kitten with wonderful eye rolls, apparently due to a rogue filter.

Others are photo bombed by children, animals and half-dressed family members, leading to Zoom fatigue and the self-explanatory label, covidiot. No wonder “quarantini” drinks are a thing as we check the news for “donut days” with zero new cases of community transmission. The actual consumption of foods such as donuts and sourdough bread adds “Covid kilos” possibly piled on after too many quarantinis.

If you’re a writer, where is all this leading? I hear from many of you that working from home isn’t too big a challenge. WFH has been a writer’s normal for as long as some of us can remember. But that’s before someone threw in “schooling from home” while trying to hold down your usual day job if you’re fortunate enough to keep it.

Some writers thrive on WFH, although it’s fair to say mostly those without school-aged children. By and large the majority of writers I’ve consulted say they’ve written far less then they’d expected, given the limits on outings, social engagements and travel.

Therein lies a big clue. Writers need things to write about. Virtual get-togethers don’t provide the same input. Going out in a mask may work for superheroes, but it’s tough on those of us who need human interaction, if not for story material, then for priming the well of our creativity.

We accept the need for social distancing, but romance writers write about people touching, arguing, hugging, loving. Bumping elbows works, but can you see your characters doing it and having the physical response that leads to a romance?

I’ve turned off TV shows where the actors are mostly masked. Yes, it’s the new normal, and the medical benefits are undeniable, but facial expressions are also part of our language toolbox.

How are we to deal with such changes? Some writers are choosing historical periods where they feel more comfortable with character interactions, steaming up series such as Bridgerton and the like.

Personally, I’m writing stories set in my invented South Pacific island kingdom of Carramer. Her Royal Secret Santa is out now on Amazon in ebook (links below) and my current work-in-progress is Royal Right Hand Man. Carramer is my secret hideaway, untouched by Covid, and readers like it that way.

I made this choice because, of all the translations of my work received lately, the majority are Carramer “royal” books, set in a modern world that we barely recognise any more.

Medical experts suggest even with vaccines, we may have years before we can truly relax. By then the habits of social distancing may be too entrenched to change. Only time will tell.  

For me, romance novels have never been about reality. We live with our everyday partners and mostly wouldn’t change them. Over the years surveys conducted by Harlequin show that we have no wish to hook up with a romance hero. They are fantasy. And sales tell us as the real world gets darker, demand for fantasy increases both on screen and on our devices.

As a writer, how are you coping with this new normal? Are you writing Covid elements into stories, or getting as far away from them as you can? How are you priming your creative well? I’m totally supportive of the measures taken to keep our communities safe, so this isn’t anti-anything of the sort. What I’d love to hear is how you’ve kept your writer-self safe and productive, or what you plan to write when you can.

Please share your thoughts in the box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy creating,


Valerie

Try a new short read – Her Royal Secret Santa

on ebook universal link mybook.to/SecretSantaParv

takes you to your nearest Amazon site

OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title: 34 Million Books,

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

Print and ebook buying links at www.valerieparv.com

Find Valerie on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

First Monday Feb 2021 – Writing’s blessing and its curse

Recently there’s been much talk online about what writers like and don’t like about the writing process. One answer that cropped up is how much we like “having written.” Makes so much sense. The writing part is the work, while “having written” is a chance to stand back and admire your handiwork.

Many writers are surprised but also encouraged that I find the going hard sometimes, despite having written so much.

Writing isn’t like a trade you can learn and then graduate. Unlike building a house where you lay the foundations a certain way, frame up the walls and lay the bricks or add timber cladding, there’s no blueprint for writing a book.

Even deciding where to start is a challenge. Frequently you’ll start too far back and have to lop off the first pages or even chapters, before instinct tells you where the book really starts.

Judging contests like RWA’s Valerie Parv Award, this is the most common problem I see. Imagine if our mythical builder lays a nice set of foundations only to discover that the house really starts on the upper floor?

Sometimes I’ll know where my story starts and it’s usually in the middle of a major change for a lead character: a new job, reunion, a death of a person, a relationship or a planned future. These changes are key right now as the global pandemic affects everyone’s plans. Even if the story has nothing to do with a pandemic, the hopes, fears and challenges are the same.

You may not share your character’s exact experiences, but chances are you’ll share the emotional upheaval and connect with your readers on this level.

Currently many of us are expected to pivot – change career directions – and writing is no different. Just as our mythical builder must deal with change, but still build a structure with bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and living rooms, our stories are changing into ebooks, audio books, online reading, streaming and other formats.

As attention spans shrink, readers don’t want screens filled with solid text. I’m now writing shorter paragraphs and chapters – 2,000 words tops, where I once wrote 5,000. Less detail and more getting on with it, as one reader put it.

Here are three things to keep in mind for writing in 2021:

1. As the real world changes, characters must change, too, living on their phones and devices, bumping elbows in greeting, and shuddering at being enveloped in a hug. We don’t have to write about a pandemic, but we do need to be aware of how story worlds are changing, and will continue to change to reflect our new reality.

2. Equality and diversity must be taken into account. Even historical settings may need tweaking for contemporary readers – Bridgerton, anyone? Keep reading across your genre, whatever it may be. Heroes who were acceptably pushy and macho not so long ago, must take account of their heroine’s feelings. For me, no has always meant no, but now it must be very clear that any relationship is consensual.

This doesn’t mean being inaccurate, even in historical settings, but be aware that the entire historical world wasn’t white as well. Create characters of different ethnicities and backgrounds, not as curiosities, but as reflecting reality.

Right from when I started writing romances, whenever I had a doctor, lawyer or the like in my book, I’d make them female, to make the point that the authority world doesn’t have to be exclusively white or male. I’ve always written characters of different ethnic backgrounds and physical abilities because that’s how I see the world. Do your research, of course. Don’t write stereotypes. But be aware of your choices and chance to influence particularly younger readers.

3. Accept that the blessings of being a writer are also its curse – there will always be more to learn. Study new writings and trends without being imitative. Your voice is exclusively yours and deserves to be heard. The worst of the pandemic has also created opportunities. There’s an explosion of indie publishing that smashes boundaries and opens doors. Your book can be out there more quickly than you ever dreamed possible.

If not for the chaotic state of traditional publishing, I doubt I would have indie-published 34 Million Books, Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips. Part memoir and part writing guide, it’s a book I’m immensely proud of. I followed it with Her Royal Secret Santa, a Carramer Christmas story. Who knows what will come next? Blessing or curse, the choice is up to you.

How are you handling the new normal of writing and publishing in 2021? Please add your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” to subscribe here. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy pivoting and writing,

Valerie

Try a new short read – Her Royal Secret Santa

on ebook universal link mybook.to/SecretSantaParv

takes you to your nearest Amazon site

OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title: 34 Million Books,

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

Print and ebook buying links at www.valerieparv.com

Find Valerie on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

First Monday Mentoring January 2021 – change the ‘donts’ in your writing life to what you ‘do’ aim to achieve

In the last minutes of 2020 many online friends posted memes booting 2020 out, saying good riddance, and commiserating on the trials and tribulations of last year.

For most of the world, this was a trying year and I haven’t heard anyone regret its ending. But regret is a negative emotion, hardly a useful guide to what we do want from 2021. An example of this came from American psychologist and NASA consultant, Dr Denis Waitley, with whom I was fortunate to work when he visited Australia. He explained how, years before, he was asked by a retail client to help them reduce shop-stealing.

Dr Waitley suggested placing a barely noticeable message under the store’s background music, saying, “Don’t shoplift. Don’t shoplift.” To everyone’s surprise, cases of theft went up. When he changed the message to, “Please pay at the checkout,” the figures dropped dramatically. Next time you want something done, replace “Don’t forget to…” with “Remember to….” even as a reminder to yourself. Positivity works.

It can be harder to work out what you want than what you don’t want. Here are some positive changes you CAN make to your writing life in 2021.

Be kind to yourself

Instead of beating yourself up for not writing every day, or reaching a specific word count, put star stickers on a chart, or create a sparkly list on your phone of what you did accomplish. Break the task into bite-sized pieces. I used to put housework on my to-do list until I broke it into specific chores I could cross off as I went along. Which would encourage you more – putting write book on your list, or setting 200 word daily goals?

Do some meditation

Above all, writers need time to think. Forcing yourself to write, you may miss the inspirations that come from letting your brain relax. I do Chakra meditation most days, but you have many options. Gardening, walking, playing with pets, all allow your thoughts to wander as you consider your story options. Just remember to write down or record on your phone whatever ideas come, so they’re available to you later.

Take screen breaks

If I’m off social media for a day, I’ll get PMs or emails asking if I’m OK and did I get their message. The sender means well but it’s impossible to create new material if you’re constantly on call.

Try new challenges

For me, this was indie-publishing my memoir, 34 Million Books. The experience was such a buzz, I committed to writing a Christmas ebook set in my invented kingdom of Carramer. Started in early November, the story was up on Amazon by December 2, and is one of the most fun writing experiences I’ve had in years. Your challenge can be as easy or hard as you like but should feel exciting and even a touch scary.

Be your authentic self

Within sensible security limits, share your authentic self on social media. Be open about your writing challenges and ask others how they deal with similar issues. This isn’t humble bragging or virtue signalling, it’s an honest attempt to connect with others on the same path. Many times I’m asked when the fear of the blank screen will go away and the writing become easier. I believe we write to see if we can do it. No writer ever knows it all. This keep the work stimulating.

You can also nurture connections beyond your writing goals

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of connections, whether friends, family or colleagues. Make time to meet, online if actual meetings are restricted. Hang out with animals. My rent-a-cat Jessie, and Cookie the teacup poodle are special furry friends who give far more than they take.

Last week I discovered that the current Valerie Parv Award holder, Kristin Silk, whom I’m mentoring, shares my love of guinea pigs, and we’ve happily exchanged GP experiences on Facebook.

Take a break from your four walls. This isn’t always possible during lockdowns, but when you can, visit a cafe for takeaway if need be, and people-watch to refill your idea well.

How will you refresh your writing self for 2021? Share in the comment box 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 New Year, happy writing,

Valerie

Try a new short read – Her Royal Secret Santa

on ebook universal link mybook.to/SecretSantaParv

takes you to your nearest Amazon site

OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title: 34 Million Books,

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

Print and ebook buying links at www.valerieparv.com

Find Valerie on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

First Monday October 2020 – why readers need your writing now

I promised myself I wouldn’t write any more about the pandemic, figuring many of us are already on overload. And for people who’ve lost loved ones, the topic is particularly painful.

But it seemed the pandemic hadn’t finished with me. For years people have urged me to write my life story. The truth is, I didn’t know where to start. Attending a writers’ conference in Sydney gave me a surprising answer.

Walking around the city led me to the former head office of hardware chain, Nock & Kirby. As a copywriter in the company’s advertising department, this was where my writing life truly began. Instantly I knew the way into my story.

I also decided I would indie-publish the book. This was a far steeper learning curve than expected but also hugely satisfying. I went from manuscript to paperback and ebook in under three months, admittedly with a lot of expert guidance. Without the restrictions of the pandemic, the book may never have happened at all.

At the same time I knew it wasn’t enough to record my own writing journey. The other side of me is a teacher and mentor to emerging writers. I decided to address that side through a series of “writing takeaways” linked to my experience of being published for over forty years. The book would thus be part memoir, part writing guide.

Then a writer who was also planning a memoir asked me if she had to start with her childhood and continue in life order, which she’d didn’t want to do. Was it okay to write in episodes or chapters with related content? That was soon after I launched 34 Million Books, and was exactly how I’d chosen to tell my story. 

Right now a lot of creative people are struggling, with no or limited audiences for books and movies, except when streamed at home; when libraries can only allow a few people through their doors, and books must be disinfected before being reissued. As I say in my book, helplessness and despair don’t make good writing companions. Yet somehow we have to keep going for ourselves and our readers.

American writer. Kristine Kathryn Rusch blogged about her feelings during 9/11, saying, “Writing didn’t matter when faced with the loss of life and the outpouring of grief. [Then] I realised that escape is rest. It’s important. It gets us away from the horrors, the terrible things, the stresses and upsetting moments of everyday life.”

Here’s an excerpt from 34 Millions Books about writing in times of crisis:

1. Don’t make light of what you do. Stories provide an important respite from the trials of real life.

2. Realise that there have always been pandemics, floods, fires and other life-changing events. If you can’t write for the time being, do what you can to help, whether donating in cash or kind, or volunteering your services.

3. Tell yourself it’s okay not to write. Give yourself time and space to deal with the crisis around you. The manuscript will still be there when things improve. And so will you.

4. Give yourself a break from the turmoil. For me that’s when news media repeat the same stories and images over and over. It’s okay to screen out the drama for a time and make stories. If email and social media alerts keep dragging you back, find ways to filter important messages so you can focus on your work.

5. Refuse to feel guilty for doing something you love, something valuable and needed. By making sense of your own world, you help readers to do the same, as long as you keep writing.

Have you written about some of your experiences to help others? How do you keep focused during troubled times? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but if you click on “sign me up” at right, your comments can appear right away. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Take care,

Valerie

OUT NOW Valerie’s latest title:

 34 Million Books

Australia’s Queen of Romance shares her life and writing tips

on Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

Management: The Tate Gallery Australia tategal@bigpond.net.au

First Monday August 2020 – how to be a Valerie Parv Award writing “minion”

Over and over, we’re hearing how our world has changed. If you’d told me last August that I’d be announcing the winner of the 2020 Valerie Parv Award via Zoom at a virtual writing conference, I’d have said you’re dreaming. But thanks to a nasty bug which doesn’t need any more publicity, this is our “new normal.”

Even more astonishing is that this year we’re celebrating 20 years of the Valerie Parv Award under the banner of Romance Writers of Australia.

The winner’s name is a secret until the official announcement later this month but the short list is already out. Congratulations to the finalists, in no particular order, Amanda Newberry, Karen Lieversz, Kristin Silk, Davina Stone, Dianna Lennon, Rachel Armstrong and Frances Dall-Alba. One of you will be my new “minion” as past winners call themselves. As a previous minion tweeted when the list came out, someone’s life is about to change and they don’t even know it.

I’m always thrilled to see the minions winning awards, publishing all over the world, and becoming great friends. The saying is, “once a minion, always a minion.” Sadly, a virtual conference doesn’t allow our annual Minions’ Breakfast where we catch up wearing our special tiaras.

Valerie Parv am and VPA Contest Manager       Karina Coldrick

This year, because of the lockdowns, we all got so much writing done. Yeah, me neither. The world is so crazy that it can be difficult to write at all, with crafting and baking having more appeal.  When actor, Debra Lee Furness, complained about being locked down with her family, a friend said she had no sympathy. Asked why, the friend pointed out that Furness was locked down with Hugh Jackman. Such a sacrifice.

Despite such challenges, this year’s VPA finalists are an impressive group. The entries ranged from a gritty Regency heroine; to a reunion romance; a challenging birthday gift; a mismatched couple finding love in the outback; an escape-worthy fling in the fairytale world; a friends-to-lovers story; and a page-turner “secret baby”.

The final entries, give readers respite or head-on challenges, sometimes both. There’s much experimenting with present tense. Backgrounds are sketched in with a light hand..

So how does a writer become the next VPA minion? These are some aspects I take into account:

  1. You write from the heart

Every highly-placed entry is a labour of love and it shows. Your story may not be perfectly written but your characters are people we care about from the start.

  1. You add a touch of originality

If two entries vie for the top prize, I generally favour the more original. Your story will have something special that transcends genre.

  1. You’re a storyteller

I look for a story that comes to life right away, giving us people we want to see triumph against the odds. I’ll read any genre or time period as do agents and editors. Like them, I forgive occasional writing slips as long as you give me a page-turning story.

  1. You have the X-factor

I know it as soon as I see it. The entry may not be the one I want to choose but the writing makes the choice inescapable. In her winning book, Shadowfae, Erica Hayes thanked me “for wanting so hard for this book not to win, that it did.” A great review in the Wall Street Journal backed me up.

In The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker, one of two books we worked on together, minion Joanna Nell included her “heartfelt thanks…for encouraging her to trust her instincts and tell [her] story from the heart.” IMO this is the very best way to write.

Rather than answers, I give the minions tools they can apply to any story. For example, identify the work the writing has to do. Every sentences, scene and chapter must have a job to do, revealing character, moving the story forward, deepening conflict, filling in essential background, or in a mystery/suspense, planting clues and red herrings.

Another VPA minion, Carly Main, said, “I’ve tried a few critique partners but nobody has ever suggested new ways of telling the story. Is it a matter of experience or do published authors look at manuscripts in a different way?”

I can’t speak for other authors, but I’ve known that once you identify why a scene or chapter is in there, you open up dozens of ways to achieve the purpose, rather than simply rewriting the scene in different words, making rewriting and editing much simpler.

Minion Michelle Somers
checks out a poster in LA

A well-honed story sense is part of the X-factor. The rest is studying your craft to discover not only what works but why. Curiously, however far you go into fantasy and sci-fi, or human psychology, as author and TV show-runner, John Yorke, points out, the basic human story structure remains constant, explaining the world to us, and us to ourselves.

Could you be a future VPA minion? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing,

Valerie

On Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

Romance Writers of Australia virtual

conference details at – http://tinyurl.com/yyk76wyd

First Monday July – what does romance writing look like in 2020

As I write this, I’m wearing my Judgy McJudgeface while reading the short listed entries in Romance Writers of Australia’s Valerie Parv Award. Once I choose the winner and rank the finalists, I write each one some feedback, figuring if you’ve reached the finals, you’ve earned the attention.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has changed the entries I’m seeing which include more cynical, snarky stories to out-and-out escapism. Neither is right or wrong. As Leslie Wainger, one of my American editors said, it’s all in the execution. In other words you can get away with a great deal, as long as you do it well.

Some things are still needed – strong characters with goals they’re desperate to reach, and a compelling story we want to invest time in reading.

The Valerie Parv Award Medal

The old tropes are welcome but need – as it’s put now – to pivot with the times. The crisis has swept away a whole strata of stories that would have been fine not so long ago. As my agent, Linda Tate says, it’s no longer enough to write a “good” story, you need to write something really special.

If you story involves a “marriage of convenience” (where the characters agree to marry for reasons other than love) it must give readers something they haven’t seen before. What does a marriage of convenience look like in a Covid-19 world?

How will social distancing change your characters? On social media, discussion is raging as to whether contemporary stories should reference the pandemic at all. As they’re written in the “eternal present” this is your decision. Some writers have already changed works-in-progress, setting them a year or two before the crisis. Others choose worlds we can escape into.

Society has changed drastically in the last few months and until a vaccine is available, the changes are likely to be permanent. Watching older shows online, even if set only months ago, I find myself yelling at the screen, “Get away from them.”

There’s much talk of a “new normal.” What does this look like for your characters? Even if you don’t mention Covid-19 it will likely cast a shadow over personal interactions. Some changes are less physical than they are states of mind. What will international travel and world cruises be like in future? How will characters relate to each other?

Readers still want larger-than-life characters, not fragile creatures wrapped in bubble wrap. But they are changing, sometimes in unexpected ways. Rumour has it that the ultimate spy, James Bond, gets a toddler daughter in his next movie. Stay tuned.

As the world changes around us, our stories need to change, too. As I noticed reading for the Valerie Parv Award, romantic comedies are having a resurgence, along with cosy mysteries, fantasies and fairy tales, all re-imagined for the new normal.

Apocalyptic fiction is having a moment, but needs to end on a hopeful note. That, at least, stays the same. As the indomitable Kathryn Falk, publisher of Romantic Times, said long before Covid-19, “There are no Mr. Rights, but there are Mr. Trainables.” The phrase seems to predict the new normal. Then again, Kathryn is known for setting trends, rather than following them.

Look at the different romance tropes, a trope being a recurring theme. How could you reinvent them for this strange new world? Some readers collect books that use their favourite tropes and they still resonate, provided they feel fresh and exciting.

 

Here are some favourite tropes:

Amnesia, Friends/enemies into lovers,

Second chance at love, Royalty & billionaires,

Fake relationship/ engagement/marriage of convenience,

Wounded hero or heroine, Unexpected baby,

Stranded, forced to rely on each other.

Sub-genres include military, sports heroes, rock stars and rural settings

Can you create a romance story that will become a future trope? Somebody had to write the first marriage-of-convenience story. This is a time to be daring, to push the boundaries. As long as you have two individuals who fall in love against impossible odds, the sky’s the limit.

What would you love to read next? Is that the story you need to write? Share your thoughts in the comment panel below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but comments can appear immediately if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of  90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney

 

 

First Monday June 2020 – is your plot a prison or a road map?

As the world cautiously opens up after the Covid-19 lockdown, I’m exploring some ways to get those writing muscles back up to speed. Not long ago I was asked to explain the difference between plot and story structure but held off while we dealt with our “new normal.” We’re still dealing, but I’ll tackle the question here. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

Plot is what happens in your story. Structure is how you show the plot unfolding. It makes your readers eager to learn what happens next.

Some writers resist plotting, afraid of losing interest if they know everything that happens. I used to be the opposite, obsessively plotting, afraid of running out of content. Over time I learned to plot the major events and turning points and let the characters supply the rest.

A rough plot is a road map, not a prison. It provides the reassurance of a desired ending while allowing the flexibility to make changes to the story as we write.

As I always say, there’s no one way to write, only what works for you. Try some of these approaches until you find your best fit.

Desert Justice is featured in this anthology

An excellent guide to structure comes from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, and uses the code, ABCD.

A = Action

Action isn’t all shoot-outs and car chases. It’s when something happens before the reader’s eyes instead of in flashback or summary. My romantic suspense, Desert Justice, opens when the heroine gets caught up in a plot to assassinate the ruling sheikh. An action scene can happen in an office, if the new boss is accusing a character of passing sensitive information to a competitor.

B = Background

Only sketch in enough background to let the reader know what’s going on.

Recently on TV’s Master Chef, each contestant was given a photo of themselves with a person who’d influenced their career or made sacrifices for them. They had to cook a dish to symbolise the connection. Thanks to this superb snippet of background, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

There’s a family connection in Desert Justice, too. She’s looking for her mother’s brother and needs the sheikh’s help. The brother is conspiring against the sheikh, but we don’t learn this until much later.

C = Conflict

Romance readers know the characters are attracted to each other. Conflict is what keeps them apart. It must be strong enough to last throughout the story and must be be solvable, not based on something they can’t change, such as their ethnicity.

They also need goals they desperately want to reach. My heroine wants to find her long-lost uncle. Since he threatens the sheikh’s life, their goals are in conflict. According to Hollywood writing guru, Michael Hauge, the goals must be visible so we know whether or not they are attained. Internal goals such as the need for love, happiness or personal growth come secondary to achieving the external goals.

D = Development

Development means creating the events your characters experience while moving away from or closer to their goals. Think of development as a journey. What stops must be made on the way from first meeting to happy-ever-after? This forms your story structure, whether detailed road map, rough outline or any combination to suit your writing preferences.

Development can mirror a real journey like The Odyssey or Thelma and Louise. A learning curve: think Beauty and the Beast. Or a suspenseful tale such as my Desert Justice.

Regardless of the story you wish to tell, using ABCD will get you there. Start where the problem starts – Beauty being stuck with the Beast, or my heroine caught up in a plot against the sheikh. Think big life changes – a bride left at the altar; a property dispute that could leave your character homeless. Drop readers right in the middle of the situation and go from there.

Give your characters interesting, page-turning challenges. What’s the very last thing the character wants to do? Leave them no option but to do that. Show us what they go through physically and emotionally. Push them to the brink. All events should be like links in a chain: cause – effect; bigger cause – bigger effect, biggest cause – OMG I can’t do this – they do it anyway, ultimate climax – satisfactory ending.

The ending should resolve the conflict between them, leading to the happy-ending they never thought they could have. Take your time with the ending. Show how they’ve grown and changed. Think A Christmas Carol where Scrooge sends the urchin to buy the biggest turkey in the butcher’s shop. He’s laughing when he pays for the bird, letting us see how far he’s come emotionally. Increasing emotions in your characters puts readers in touch with their own emotions, IMO the reason most of us read fiction.

A strong, clear structure gives you room to let readers share the emotional journey. My writing muse, Gene Roddenberry, called it “straight lining the story.” Yes, I give them goals to strive for and actions to take, each leading to the next as the stakes get higher and higher. But these days, I don’t keep them endlessly busy. I give them space to figure out what they need to do and, most importantly, how they feel along the way.

Do you plot as you go, or let characters lead the way? Neither is right or wrong, only what works for you. Share your thoughts in the comment panel below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but comments can appear immediately if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of  90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney

 

First Monday Mentoring May 2020 – what you CAN write during the crisis…and a challenge

Last month I looked at why many writers are finding it hard to write during the Covid-19 crisis, even if you have more time at home than ever.

One meme going round the Internet says:

I was going to write my novel when I have time.

Now I realise the problem wasn’t the time.

Instead we’re fitting in an orgy of bread making, cooking, crafting, and organising our homes. The clue may be under our noses. All these activities are largely governed by our left brains, the areas of logic, reason, order, judgement and the like. The right brain deals largely with creativity, possibility, daydreams and fantasies.

Rather than physical divisions, right and left brains are now regarded more as groups of function located in different parts of the brain, called on in various combinations according to the task at hand.

It may help to imagine your left brain being in charge of facts, while the right deals with fantasy. For us to feel comfortable our left brains prefer “everything in its place”. At present, few of us are in familiar territory. Even at home we may be working remotely, overseeing children’s lessons, worrying about family and friends. Sometimes it’s hard even to remember what day it is. With much of our world in crisis, the left brain tries hard to stay in charge, making it easier to cook, sew and organise, than to access the creative zone needed for writing.

 

The problem can be unrelieved stress which impacts health in everything from disturbed sleep to major illness. Feeling uncertain and out of control much of the time compounds the problem. Getting accurate information without overwhelming yourself can help manage stress levels.

Some writers can work anywhere, taking their creative space with them in the form of favorite pens, laptops, or whatever else their left brains need. Used often enough, they can reassure the left brain that it’s safe to relax, allowing the right brain to do its thing.

If you write full time, working from home may be slightly less difficult, but having the family around all the time, and your attention pulled a dozen different ways, can still be a strain. So how do you get your left brain into its happy place and out of the way of your creative right bran? Here are five suggestions.

  • Set up your writing place. If your desk has been taken over by children studying at home, find another quiet spot to set up your writing device, favourite stationery, coffee mug and project notes.  Until the new space feels familiar, aim to tackle left-brain tasks such as outlining a story, developing characters or writing cover blurb. Set up a small whiteboard and coloured markers, file cards, a program such as Scrivener, whatever works for you.
  • Set realistic goals and word counts, even if they’re below what you can usually achieve. My mantra is, “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done.”
  • Try to go to your writing place at a similar time each day. Sit there staring at the screen even if nothing comes. Set a timer for how long you’ll stay put. Your right brain is soon bored. Write a few words in the general direction of your project and you may find your right brain getting the message.
  • Use rituals to encourage a creative mindset. Favorite music, scented candles, even a few games of Solitaire may help. Set a time for the rituals to end and the writing to begin. Interviewing a character can help. Ask them who they are and what they’re doing in your story. Write stream of consciousness. Keep going, asking the character questions until they start to answer back. I suggested this process to the current holder of the Valerie Parv Award. She tried it and emailed back, “OMG this is amazing. You’ve just taught me automatic writing.”
  • Be grateful for whatever progress you make, and tell yourself you look forward to your next creative session. Then reward yourself with something enjoyable; gardening, cooking, sorting through old photos or playing with pets. These let your right brain mull over what came from your previous session. If you find this happening, grab your phone or notebook and capture whatever comes. Ideas can be easily lost if not noted down.
  • Be kind to yourself and appreciate whatever you manage to achieve. Write whatever you can, wherever you can. Keeping up your writing practice will stand you in good stead when you’re able to get back to it on a more regular basis. Remember not to compare yourself to others for, as the Desiderata says, always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself. And remember Plato’s advice – life must be lived as play.

English actor, Jacob Scipio (Bad Boys for Life) is stuck at home in London. In an interview with journalist, Duncan Lay (Sunday Telegraph, May 3, 2020), Scipio said, “ I try to write every day and I‘ve been writing more in quarantine. What’s helped me is a bit of routine, cocooning myself and trying to find some enjoyment in this time.”

Usually I suggest adding your thoughts in the space below. This time, I invite you to contribute a few words of actual writing. Using some of the suggestions here, create a title for your new story, briefly describe a character, or write a grabby opening sentence, and share the result in the comment space. Or use the challenges when you’re in your own writing space, and let us know how you did.

Let’s make some new words happen.

Happy writing,

Valerie

Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of 90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney

 

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring April 2020 – What to do if you can’t write during the Covid-19 crisis

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring in a very troubling time. I had already drafted a column about the importance of “build” in a story – the craft of gradually lifting the story to almost unbearable levels as readers wonder if/how things will work out. But I decided that information will keep for another blog.

Instead, I’m sharing some outstanding advice for the times from bestselling author, Chuck Wendig. If you’re struggling to write, or craft, or art or simply get up and face the day, this is for all of us.

I’ve been a full time writer since before I knew what a writer was. My words have been my living through 90 published books, film scripts, newspaper columns, articles, short stories, magazine serials, speeches and masterclasses. You name it, I’ve written it. Having months ahead when we can only venture out for essentials should be my nirvana.

On my desk are ideas for a new Carramer royal romance, and a film script I want to turn into a novel. Yet I’ve written not one useful word. It’s as if my brain has forgotten how to do something that should be as normal for me as breathing. Not under the present crisis.

Yesterday I went to the supermarket for a few essentials. Chocolate is so too an essential. By the time I got back to my car I was terrified, feeling more scared than I’ve felt addressing an audience of two thousand people. I couldn’t wait to be “safe” in my writing cave. I had no reason to be scared. The store was quiet. Everything was sanitised. Yet the fear was real and left me feeling shaken and useless.

Then into my inbox dropped a blog from Chuck Wendig. Here’s what I wanted to share of his wise words:

“It’s hard to concentrate when everything is so strange, so broken, so dangerous. It’s like being told to paint a masterpiece while on a turbulent flight. It’s just not the time.

And so, I want you to know, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be somehow a better, more productive person in this time. You can be! If you are, more power to you. That doesn’t make you a monster. But if you’re finding yourself unable to concentrate, that’s to be expected. That is normal. Normal is feeling abnormal in response to abnormality.

You must be kind to yourself and to others when it comes to what we think people can and should be able to accomplish during this time. Ten million people are out of work, suddenly. People are sick and dying. The thing we crave at a base level, human interaction, is suddenly fraught and fragile. Hell, everything is fraught and fragile. We’re only realizing now that it was fragile all this time.

None of this is normal. You don’t have to feel shamed into forcing normalcy as a response.

So what, then, is the answer?

There really isn’t one. There’s no playbook for this sort of thing. No therapy regimen, no best practices. Best I can tell you, and this should be taken with a grain of salt so big you’d have to chip away at it with a pick ax, is that you try your best. And when you fall well short of that, you instantly, and intimately, recognize why. And you forgive yourself, and you forgive the rest of the world for also falling short (“rest of the world” does not include politicians or billionaires, by the way) and you try again.

And it’s okay if you can’t focus on writing, or reading a book, or planting a garden, or patching drywall, or whatever. Find a different thing. Keep busy when you must, but also don’t be afraid to sit with how you’re feeling and accept it. Accept it unconditionally. Accept your anger and sadness, accept your delirium, allow yourself the time to drift and to fail. Also accept any joy you feel, and do so without guilt. Joy is hard-won, and if you manage that victory, there’s no shame in that. Take the victory lap. We will have to hunt joy like an elusive beast across the wasteland.

If you capture it, celebrate.

I think most of all, don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Now, maybe more than ever, don’t compare yourself to others. Everybody’s not only trapped in their houses, but also trapped in their own maelstrom of emotions, too. Let that be true. You can talk it out. You can share how you’re feeling. But don’t compare in a way that punishes you, or that paints your own feelings as a transgression.

This is all very new to us.

Normal is gone. There will be a new normal. We’ll get there. We’ll get through this. But things will change and that’s going to be okay. Maybe better than okay. Maybe we’ll come out better in the end. But we don’t have to be better now, we don’t have time to be better overnight. This isn’t work-from-home. This isn’t your time to shine. This isn’t time to be productive. If you are, embrace it. If you’re not, forgive it. Do what you can do. Be safe.”

Read more at Chuck’s http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2020/04/02/none-of-this-is-normal/ As ever I add a language alert. Chuck has …ahem…an interesting way with language.

If writing is what you can do, great. If not, do what you can. Ask a question or share your thoughts in the 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. Stay well.

Valerie

The 2020 Valerie Parv Award is now open April 6 to 26. Details at

htpps://romanceaustralia.com/contests-overview/Valerie-parv-award

Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of 90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney

 

 

 

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