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Posts tagged ‘conflict’

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
via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also
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STORYCRAFTING LIKE A PRO – First Monday Mentoring January 2016

Welcome to a new year of writing adventures. On the first Monday of every month, I answer your questions, invite you to share war stories, and help you along your writing journey.

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

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

What every writer's conscience should look like

What every writer’s conscience should look like

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

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

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

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

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

Minions take over world

SO HERE ARE MY TOP 4 STORYCRAFTING TOOLS –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valerie

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

First Monday Mentoring for May: what stops you reading a book?

It’s First Monday again, time to share your thoughts and ask me any questions you have to do with writing, editing or publishing your work. Today’s first question was inspired by a discussion I had on Facebook with Serena Lockwood Dorman, so thank you Serena for the tip.

She said, “I just thought, Valerie, since you do the monthly advice blog for newish writers, you should do a post on what makes you stop reading a story. I’ve been reading a lot of stories on Wattpad and when I come across certain things I click out of the story right away. It would be helpful to know what instantly turns seasoned authors off.”

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I thought for a minute. As a reader, I’m fairly forgiving as long as the story grabs me. But here’s the list I gave Serena:

1. Bad writing. If the story has too many mistakes, spelling, grammar and the like, jumps around from one character’s point of view to another – known as head-hopping – or otherwise pulls me out of the story, then I’m not likely to keep reading.

2. Too much description not relevant to the story, so I skip. As Chuck Wendig blogged recently, we don’t need to see every sip of coffee the character takes. It becomes a distraction. As a reader, I want the words to disappear and have the story run like a movie in my head. When a character enters a room, I want to see what they see, not every stick of furniture as a judge on The Block sees it, but what’s relevant to that particular character. Put yourself inside their head and show us what they notice and why, as it relates to the story, and I’ll keep reading.

3. Good character doing bad things, even if for good reason. For example, a hero is broke and needs medicine for a child. He stumbles across the proceeds of robbery and decides to keep it – this still makes him a bad person IMO. He may be sorely tempted to keep the money. Another character may think he has – there’s a story in that – but ultimately, torn and tested, a good person will do the right thing.

4. One character out to despoil the environment the other character loves. For some reason this conflict appeals to new writers. Apart from being predictable, someone has to lose. There’s no solution where one or the other doesn’t have to give in. Think of another conflict.

5. Any story where the ending is obvious early in the book. Writers are your toughest audience. If you can keep us reading and wondering, you’ll keep any reader.

I’m also not fond of a heroine taking up with her late husband’s brother, or issues like spousal abuse, miscarriage or loss of a partner not treated seriously. They can provide powerful motivations, but do your homework and have a care for readers who’ve been there.

Now over to you. What stops you from reading or finishing a book? Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want your comment to appear without moderation, click on the “sign me up” button to subscribe. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

Valerie
About the author
Valerie Parv is one of Australia’s most successful writers with more than 29 million books sold in 26 languages. She is the only Australian author honored with a Pioneer of Romance Award from RT Book Reviews, New York. With a lifelong interest in space exploration, she counts meeting Neil Armstrong as a personal high point. She loves connecting with readers via her website valerieparv.com @ValerieParv on Twitter and on Facebook. She is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd tategal@bigpond.net.au

Is there a formula for writing romance novels?

Whenever I speak about romance to the media, give an interview or a workshop, I’m asked about the formula for writing romance. Aren’t they all the same? Don’t you have a computer program where you change the names of the characters and the computer does the rest? To all these questions my answer is, I wish. How much easier would it be to press a few keys and out comes a finished book? Instead of, as someone once put it, sitting down at a keyboard and opening a vein.

There is a formula, but not like any of the above. It’s simply that two people meet and are instantly, strongly attracted.  If they are ever to give in to the attraction, they must first solve a huge problem coming between them. This problem – also called the conflict – is so big that we readers think they will never be able to resolve it and earn their happy ending.  Every keen romance reader knows they will eventually walk off into the sunset together, just as the detective in a mystery will solve the crime, the monster will be defeated in a fantasy, or the superhero will save the world. The fun lies in making readers worry that the problem will win this time around, and there will be no happy ending.

If anyone knows of a computer program capable of delivering all that, please share the details with me right away. It would save me hours of working out who my hero and heroine are, their history and emotional make-up. What is their greatest fear, and how can I put them up against a character who fulfills all their emotional fantasies while triggering their fear bigtime?

One of my favorite questions to ask couples is how they met, what brought them together, what keeps them together? Apart from being great dinner party conversation, the variety of answers is amazing. My neighbors met while sheltering from a hurricane on a South Pacific island. Two of my relatives  from England met in Australia when they found themselves on the same bus tour. An elderly friend was given a cruise ticket as a thank-you for a good deed and fell in love with a wealthy man she met on board. Truth really can be stranger than fiction.

All fiction has its conventions, like the mysteries and fantasy novels already mentioned. But formula? Hardly. Not when people and their stories are so varied. I seriously doubt that I’d have written as many romance novels as I have (over 50 at last count) with the same level of excitement if all I had to do was press keys on a computer. But wait a second…I do press keys on a computer. I just don’t have the magic program to go with it. Guess I’ll have to keep doing it all the hard way.

How did you and your partner meet? What’s your favorite fictional couple? What don’t you like to see in a romance novel? I’d love to know your answers, all in the name of research.

Valerie

Follow me on Twitter @valerieparv

http://www.valerieparv.com

 

 

 

 

 

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