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Posts tagged ‘characters’

First Monday Mentoring for June – the joy of series for readers and writers

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Happy writing,
Valerie
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Follow Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT JUNE 9Beacon Homeworld coming June 30
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First Monday Mentoring for September – write characters who live for your readers

Welcome to the first Monday in September when I answer any questions you have about writing, and invite you to share your experiences as a published or emerging writer.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual conference of Romance Writers of Australia in Melbourne, among a record 400 attendees, about 100 being first timers. The enthusiasm level soared. Reunions were loud with much hugging, and we were blessed with outstanding keynote speakers including Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect), New York Times bestselling author of historical and contemporary romances, Mary Jo Putney, Dr. Anita Heiss (novelist and social commentator), American romance writer, Patricia McLinn and many, many more.

At the awards dinner I announced the winner of this year’s Valerie Parv Award – incidentally named by RWA, not by me, I suspect as a good way to make sure I keep turning up. Congratulations to all the winners and place getters. The winner couldn’t make the conference but we had a long phone chat later to welcome Canberra writer, Carly Main, to the ranks of the minions – as past winners dubbed themselves long before the movies.

Carly’s winning book is a Roman-set women’s novel with romantic elements. I’ll mentor her while she holds the award, and we plan on exploring the world of ancient Rome together. Coincidentally, one of my current projects has a similar background.

A key conference theme was that writers are also readers, or should be. And we need to put ourselves in the reader’s place just as we put ourselves into the POV (viewpoint) of key characters including the villains. These “book boyfriends” and “book girlfriends” as they’re called on Facebook can become as important to readers as their real life partners. No greater compliment can be paid a writer than to take our characters so much to heart.

A case in point is Graeme Simsion’s character of Don Tillman, the socially inept hero of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

To enable this process, we need to provide vivid character descriptions , not only in terms of eye colour, hair, height and build, but who they are as people. The old ‘show, don’t tell.’ By showing us their thoughts and interactions with other characters, you draw us as deeply into their world. The success of Graeme’s book – soon to be a major film – speaks for itself. I’ve just finished The Rosie Effect, and am awed by of how vividly he brings Don and Rosie to life.

As Graeme does, we need to take readers on a journey with our characters – soaring with them, sobbing along with them – living with them through the story so that if the character dies, we mourn their loss. These are tall orders but they are what draws readers in to our fiction again and again.

I remember as a young reader being heartbroken at the end of the Narnia stories, not wanting to leave that magical world. Likewise when I reached the end of H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain series, the final book supposedly “written” by another character following Quatermain’s death.

When Leonard Nimoy – Star Trek’s unemotional Mr. Spock – died in February this year, millions around the world mourned, marking the passing of a beloved character who will live long in fiction and film.
My dream – and it should be every fiction writer’s dream – is to create a character as enduring as any of these. To blur the line between fiction and reality in readers’ minds.

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

That means you’ve gone beyond characters to tell stories about people who live on outside your virtual play, even inspiring readers to write their own fanfic (fan fiction) about them.

IMO there’s no greater goal for a writer, and no greater achievement when you pull it off.
Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

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

5 ways to keep readers out of your story world

As a writer I’ve done all five things until I learned better, and so can you. Keeping readers out of your fictional world can be as simple as not giving them the information they need to “be there” with your characters. This idea arose out of Facebook, when I compared notes with friends about what advertising we were seeing. Depending on what pages they “liked” or commented on, some saw anti-aging and diet products, others saw cars and travel. One day I was invited to have “famous hair.” Go figure.

The point is, we don’t all see the world the same way. Most of us know this intellectually, when we need to get it at the gut level. How readers see and react to what we write depends on it. If we don’t all see the world the same way, or only see certain bits of it, how can we be sure our writing isn’t keeping readers out, when we want to draw them in and make them forget they’re reading something we made up?

Here are five ways readers can be shut out of our stories. See if you recognise any of them.

1. Use lazy words
Words like short, tall, old, young are lazy words. They represent our view of the world. In my workshops, ages go from teens to eighties. Asking who considers themselves old gets few hands in the air, except for the odd joker, usually someone younger than me. Old and young depend on your OWN age and the goal posts shift with each birthday. We’ve all heard toddlers call someone in their twenties old, while headlines say, “60 is the new 40.” The solution is to “show, don’t tell.” Simply put, this means show the reader what’s there, rather than tell them what to think. Wrinkled skin, thinning hair, stooped build can all suggest a mature character. Describe what’s there and leave the rest to us. Ditto tall. Show the character ducking under a doorframe, or their feet overhanging the bed. Show us the character in enough detail for us to draw our own conclusions.

We don't all see the same things on Facebook or in the world.

We don’t all see the same things on Facebook or in the world.

2. Don’t be consistent
Science fiction and fantasy are fun to write. You can imagine the world any way you want. But having set the rules, you must obey them from then on. No good having gravity turn off every day at noon for an hour, then forget next day and have characters sit down to lunch. Or turn blue-eyed Sandy into brown-eyed Susan between chapters. Characters need to be consistent as well. If Susan is thrifty because of a poverty-stricken background, don’t give her designer clothes without a good reason, a splurge she may feel guilty about, or a conscious decision to fight her conditioning.

3. Don’t get specific
I can’t mention a tree in my books without knowing the species, whether it’s in flower (which dictates the book’s season) and other details. I may not use them all in the narrative, but I need to know them. Through the magic of Google. I can find exactly the Russian swear word, unusual computer bug, or character illness I need to make the book work. It’s said that the best way to hide information is on page two of a Google search, but I’ve gone through twenty or more pages to find exactly what I need. Get specific and you will draw readers into your story world.

4. Don’t stretch yourself creatively
Whole blogs are written about the language used in romance novels. None of your prose should be in there. Avoid purple prose (over-written descriptions); cliched character actions – looking in a mirror while you describe them; misunderstandings where the heroine thinks the hero is kissing another woman. Heroine then storms out without waiting to learn the woman is his sister. First decide what you want the scene to achieve. If it’s to separate the characters while they discover they love each other, what’s the most original way to show this? I make lists, challenging myself to come up with twenty or more ways this could be achieved. The first few will be the cliches, the repetition, the boring. The next few will be wild flights of fantasy, then slowly I’ll get to the nuggets of gold. Sometimes two or more points can be combined to achieve my goal. This method has never failed me.

5. Don’t finish what you start
This is guaranteed to keep readers out of your story world, because the point of entry is the finished book. Whether on a device or in print, your book must be where readers can access it. Erica Jong famously said for a long time she avoided finishing anything. As long as it was work in progress, it couldn’t be rejected. Your book will never be perfect. Using the points here can get you a lot closer, but the last step – putting your story in front of an agent or editor – is essential. As a writer friend put it, “books in my head will never get read unless I get up and write them.”

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Do you keep readers out of your story world? How have you overcome these problems? Please leave a comment here.

Valerie

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

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

First Monday Mentoring, making time to write

It’s the first Monday of the month (or the first Sunday if you’re in the northern hemisphere). You’re invited to ask writing-related questions here for me to answer. Lots of talented writers read and comment on this blog and your thoughts and writing experiences may help others.

Questions posted ahead of time will be answered during Monday October 1.

Sometimes the questions go past Monday into the week, and that’s okay too.

To kick things off, here’s a question I get asked a lot – how do you find time to write?

The short answer is, you MAKE time. Nobody has all the time they need to write. If you wait for the perfect moment, you’ll probably never start.

We find time for the things we really want to do. Not what we should do, or dream of doing – but the stuff that burns inside us, keeps us awake at night, and won’t give us any mental peace.

If that’s writing, then you’ll get up an hour earlier, or stay up later, skip a few TV shows, write in your lunch hour…you’ll make the time. You’ll plot in your head while waiting at the bank or post office, and create characters while you’re stuck at red lights.

Do you want to write, or do you simply like the idea of being a writer?

IMO it’s fine to write for your own pleasure, or to share stories with family and friends. Albert Facey wrote his life story for his family. It only came to a publisher’s attention when they took the manuscript to Fremantle Arts Press to be printed and bound. They published the book and it became the Australian classic, A Fortunate Life, later filmed for television.

Few memoirs do as well unless they have strong universal appeal.  But writing to give people pleasure, or for the joy of putting words together is a worthwhile end in itself, as is dabbling in painting or throwing pots. It’s only lately that the word “amateur” has become a put-down. It comes from the Greek for a lover of something. An amateur writer writes for love of the craft.

Either way, you’re a writer if you write. And you’ll make the time because you can’t not write. That’s just how it is.

Got a question related to writing? Feel free to ask me here, or make a comment.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Now writing short fiction for Living magazine http://www.livingmagazine.com.au

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