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Posts tagged ‘Covid-19’

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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