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Posts tagged ‘Desert Justice’

First Monday September – having a “what if” writing moment

It’s all very well to have plenty of writing time. But what do you do if your idea bucket is not only empty but leaking? “What if?” is a question I use often,  both to develop a story and to solve ‘plot-holes’ during the writing.

For example, there’s the reader favourite of twins switching places. Usually the hero is fooled for a time. But what if the hero knows from the start that the twins have switched places, and decides to teach them a lesson? This question turned into the inspiration for my book, Centrefold.

One twin is a financial journalist and the other is a centrefold model for a men’s magazine? The finance writer loses her job after she is mistaken for her model twin. When the opportunity arises for her to take her twin’s place, she decides she may as well, since she’s getting the blame anyway. Unbeknown to her, the photographer is not only dating her sister, he sees through the plan right away. Cue a story I had a lot of fun writing.

“What if the hero had arrived by UFO?” became the basis for The Leopard Tree. The book was originally accepted by Mills & Boon, London, until Alan Boon decided British readers weren’t quite ready for a hero with UFO connections, and wanted me to remove this element.

I felt strongly that the hero’s air of mystery highlighted the sense of him being a loner, the odd man out in his community, and decided against making the change. The book was eventually published with the UFO element by Harlequin’s then-sister company, Silhouette Books in New York. Sometimes you have to wait for your readers to catch up with your ideas.

Writing my 3-book series, Outback Code, gave me a whole string of what-if moments, starting with the question, what if there was a long lost goldmine on the characters’ outback property? Each book in the series had its own romantic elements, but the over-arching mystery wasn’t solved until book three, with each couple contributing more pieces to the puzzle.

Probably my favourite what-if became Operation Monarch, a romantic suspense novel set in my island kingdom of Carramer. The what-if question was whether the hero, a notorious bad boy, was really the heir to the throne. The heroine was the present monarch’s bodyguard assigned to the hero until the what-if was resolved.

If you’re going to spring a major what-if on readers, you need to plan how you’ll overcome obstacles that would normally get in the way. Resolving whether my hero was the true heir could be handled by DNA testing. Despite what we see on TV, DNA testing takes a couple of weeks for a result, for now anyway. There are faster versions but they aren’t as conclusive as the slower method.

This gave me a time limit when my hero and heroine had to deal with the situation and each other.

Later, in Desert Justice, I played with another reader-favourite trope, the idea of a ruling sheikh as hero with an Australian woman caught up in a plot against his life. Having one or another character falling in love in unfamiliar surroundings, is often called a “fish out of water” story. This plot appeals to me because it links to a “core decision” formed by my family’s many house moves, making me a perennial fish out of water. We make these decisions about ourselves early in life and they can be hard to change.

Desert Justice is featured in this anthology

When you’re told that readers want fresh, new stories, it’s tempting to think you need a bizarre plot that no-one has done before. But tropes such as twins or sheikhs remain popular for a reason, pitting your characters against each other on a deeply emotional level.

These tropes work provided you give them your own unique twist, as I did by having the hero catch on to the twin substitution right away. In another book, my characters agreed to a pretend marriage to comfort a dying friend who wanted to see them get together. The heroine was a stunt woman who worked in movies, giving me the perfect twist. What if the actor she asked to be their marriage celebrant was a real celebrant in his day job, and the ceremony was legal?

You can use what-ifs to play with plots and ideas as long as you keep the emotional tug-of-war between the attraction the characters feel, and the conflict keeping them apart.

Have you ever used a what-if to kick start your story? How did it work? Share your thoughts in the comments box below. They’re monitored 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 what-iffing,

Valerie

Congratulations to Kristin Silk, 2020 winner

of the Valerie Parv Award. I look forward to

mentoring Kristin in the months ahead.

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 February – What’s the point of writing anything?

Lately I’m hearing this question a lot from writers, both aspiring and multi-published. They say creating a work of entertainment seems pointless in light of the political upheavals all around us, and shared in confronting detail on social media.

They’re questioning the wisdom of billionaire businessmen as romantic heroes when the paradigm is undermined by world leaders and politicians in the real world.

We have been here before. Waking up to the horrors of 9/11 in Canberra Australia, I first thought it was promotion for a movie. Would that it had been. Instead we all had to deal with the awareness that our world would never be the same again.

As terrorism became an escalating threat, I remember discussing with colleagues whether sheikhs could ever be heroes again, right when I had a romance novel called Desert Justice on the drawing board. Sheikhs have long been a romance staple, along with twins, secret babies and characters with amnesia. Readers enjoy these stories, especially when writers put our own twist on the trope.

I concluded that my sheikhs had nothing to do with reality and never had. They were fantasies I shared with readers all over the world. Mine were mostly reformers anyway, to fit my feminist inclinations. So Desert Justice went ahead.

Then there was the Y2K bug, (for Year 2000 bug) when we feared a worldwide computer meltdown because programmers had routinely shortened dates to two digits – 99 instead of 1999 – potentially causing every system in the world to go haywire or crash when the program spun over to 00. Time Magazine’s slightly tongue-in-cheek cover blared, “The end of the world? Y2K insanity. Apocalypse now! Will computers melt down? A guide to Millennium Madness”

time-magazine-cover-jan-18-1999

Tongue in cheek or not, Time’s publishers set up a bunker in their basement, equipped to produce the magazine in the event of catastrophic breakdowns. None of which, as we know now, were needed. The Y2K disaster never happened.

But most such fears have some basis in reality.

Nor do I mean to make light of our fears right now. In Writing in Difficult Times Kristine Kathryn Rusch blogs about her feelings after 9/11 at http://tinyurl.com/hwq5ke5 and says, “Writing didn’t matter when faced with the loss of life and the outpouring of grief. It didn’t matter in the face of the kinds of horrors human beings can impose on each other.

And the irony was, for me, I had been writing a book that I believed did matter, that it was about things people needed to know and see and understand. I felt passionate about the book, until the world changed.

“…And that was when I had my epiphany. I realized 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.”644244_605309199480761_1647106081_n

I understand her feelings. Writing has never been easy even when you have a reliable publishing path and keen readers. When you have neither, the journey seems endless. But pointless? Never. I’ve been at book signings where my readers say they’ve stockpiled my books to help them through upcoming surgery. Or that something I’ve written has directly changed their thinking in some way, or given them comfort in a time of struggle. How can this not be valuable? In her blog, Kathryn sets out some sensible, doable steps to help deal with whatever crisis you’re facing. If it’s getting out there and applying your skills to help out, do that. If it’s donating money, or raising awareness, do that. It’s OK to give yourself permission not to write while you handle the crisis.

Then, when you’re able, get back to the keyboard and write your truths in your own way, as novels, movie scripts, articles or blogs. When you write from your own inner truth, your words will affect readers in ways you can’t even imagine. That’s a valuable contribution, too.

By making sense of your own world, you help your readers do the same. As long as you keep writing.

How are you dealing with the world today? Has it affected your writing? Comments are moderated to avoid spam but  appear right away for subscribers, or after you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s latest book, Outback Code, is OUT NOW,

3 books complete in one volume for summer reading

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