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Posts tagged ‘Harlequin’

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 Mentoring Oct 2019 – writing in the fast lane

In previous blogs I’ve looked at how many words you “should” write in a day, the answer being whatever suits your style and life commitments. Everyone is different and whether you write 200 or 2000 words in a given period is up to you.

Just as there are marathon runners and sprinters, there are those who happily write huge word counts. Others write more slowly, perhaps editing and polishing as they go. International best selling writer, Dean Koontz admits this is his style and it hasn’t done him any harm.

There’s another kind of pacing to consider, and that’s the pace of the story itself. It’s great when readers say they couldn’t put your book down, and even better when they say they didn’t want the story to end.

Most writers, including me, are avid readers and I’ve found myself slowing down near the end of a wonderful book, reluctant to part company with characters I’ve come to love. But just as many readers are turned off by thick, dense-looking narratives.

As we move into the final quarter of the year, we’ve all heard – or said ourselves – that we don’t know where the year went. Wasn’t it Christmas only a couple of months ago? Possibly the perception is due to how much entertainment we now pack into a year.

We order online for same-day delivery. There’s speed dating for everything from partners to publishing. Dating shows like “The Proposal” show the lovelorn “meeting and marrying” in an hour. Big life changes happen on screen in an hour on “This Time Next Year.” Even irascible chef, Gordon Ramsay, fixes a restaurant’s problems on fast forward. In movies, transitions are almost instant. Watching the movie “Yesterday” I was impressed how scene changes were shown by running huge translucent headers like LA or LIVERPOOL across the screen.

The need for speed has revived short stories and novellas under 40,000 words. Print and ebook page counts are shrinking. US analyst, Zach Obront, studied dozens of New York Times best sellers and found the average hardcover novel in 2011 was about 500 pages. By 2017 it was under 300 pages and still dropping.

Average word counts have gone from 80,000 words to 60,000 or even less. American retailer, Walmart, told my publisher, Harlequin, that aging customers were asking for larger print sizes. This is easily handled on eReaders, of course, but for print books it meant reducing word counts. My book, “Desert Justice”, was ready to be published and I was tasked with removing 10,000 words from an already-edited book. At first I cut back all descriptive details. Readers now Google anything they want to know more about. Then I made sure every word worked. A tough job but the book was the better for it when I was done.

It’s great to fit in

Modern books need to get in and out of scenes as quickly as possible. Dive straight into the first chapter as close to the action as you can. You may have to write and delete a couple of chapters of set-up. In my current project I wrote 2,000 words of flashback then deleted them in favour of a scene where the heroine sees the hero run off the road on his motorcycle and stops to help.

In general I’m writing only enough description to bring the scene to life. Then it’s on with showing the story through dialogue and action.

Shorter paragraphs and chapters can save those reading on devices from a solid screen of unbroken text.  Putting a hook at the end of each chapter has always worked, keeping readers engrossed. Likewise I like to set love scenes in unexpected places, not only bedrooms. In writing workshops where I’ve challenged the group to come up with interesting settings for love scenes, we have inadvertently entertained people within earshot of our efforts. I hope we’ve given them some new ideas as well.

Technology is a given; have characters use it even in remote locations.  If not, have reasons why not. Avoid repeating information you’ve already given. Readers “get it.” They want the story to move along at a fast clip while we compete with streamed TV, movies on Netflix and endless memes of cute cats.

What changes have affected your writing lately? What pushes you out of a book? Share your thoughts in the comments 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 writing!

Valerie Parv

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

SAVE THE DATE

My new workshop is Making Your Book Work

Saturday Oct 12 in Canberra for ACT Writers Centre

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/making-your-book-work-with-valerie-parv-am-tickets-61205601602?aff=Enews

 

 

11 amazing things to LOVE about writing… #11ElevenLive

  1.  Writers get paid to make things up. All the stuff that got you into trouble as a kid is what publishers will pay you to do now. The more convincing your made-up world, the more successful you’re likely to be.
  2. You’re never too old or too young to write. Among the world’s youngest published authors were a four-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy. Among the oldest was Helen Hoover Santmyer, whose book, And Ladies of the Club, came out when she was ninety. My first paid article appeared in the Australian Women’s Weekly when I was fourteen.
  3. Nothing you write is set in stone. Give yourself permission to write badly. Get rid of the critic over your shoulder telling you this is crap, you can’t do it etc etc. and simply write. As Nora Roberts says, “You can fix a bad page, you can’t fix a blank page.”
  4. You can get away with murder. If somebody seriously annoys you, create inventive ways to kill them in your story. Give them a different name and details, but have fun making sure the bad people in your life get theirs. Ditto the good people. They become your heroes and favourite secondary characters, although we’ll swear any resemblance is coincidental.
  5. You can steal and get away with it. Not other people’s words, of course. That’s plagiarism. Don’t do it. Write your own words, but take inspiration from the successful writers you admire. Study their writing to see how they work their word magic.

    Who says your author picture has to look like you?

  6. You can be famous without the hassle. You don’t see paparazzi camped outside a writer’s door. Even if you’re Stephen King, hardly anybody will know you on sight. I sat beside a woman reading one of my books on a plane. My photo was on the cover, but she didn’t look at me twice as I hugged my secret to myself.
  7. You’re working while staring out of a window. It’s hard convincing friends and family of this one, but it’s true. Losing yourself in daydreams and playing “what if?” with interesting concepts is your equivalent of laying foundations for a house.
  8. Every cool thing you want to do is research. I learned this after cruising from Cairns to Thursday Island. Deciding to treat the trip purely as vacation, I didn’t record expenses or keep a travel diary, just enjoyed the experience. A year later I used the details in my Harlequin novel, ISLAND OF DREAMS, which was serialised in Woman’s Day magazine.
  9. You can live and work anywhere.  I have writer friends in Sweden,  Alaska, Alice Springs, everywhere. We work in jammies, in the garden and in bed. Next October I’m working at Daku Resort in Fiji, leading a writer’s retreat. http://paradisecourses.com/category/writing/
  10. Writers need never be bored. Stuck in traffic, in a waiting room, in line at the bank? You can let your thoughts wander, solve a tricky plot point, create a character inspired by the lady in front of you, or imagine spending your next royalty cheque.
  11. Writing is the best fun you can have with your clothes on. Writing used to be a solitary business. When you’re deep in putting words on screen, it still is. But thanks to social networking, we can find each other, brainstorm ideas, commiserate over rejections, and celebrate successes. And you get to be part of fun things like #11ElevenLive  a worldwide link-up of artists, writers, film makers and musicians celebrating this once-in-two-hundred-years date.

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