Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Posts tagged ‘Island of Dreams’

To writers, looking at pictures of Hugh Jackman is work…honest

Pictures, YouTube videos, magazines…we writers have the best excuse to study them all. Whether it’s Hugh Jackman, Johnny Depp or Justin Babemagnet, they’re our source of hero material. The same with travel. Anywhere a writer goes is fuel for a future book, and the trip most likely tax deductible. Check with your accountant on this, it’s not my field, but we have to get our material from somewhere. Vacations are a great resource.

A few years ago I sailed to Cape York and Thursday Island on a converted cargo vessel. Before setting off I decided this would be a complete vacation. I wouldn’t take notes, hunt out possible locations, collect local real estate magazines for property references. My writer brain would be completely off line. After travelling widely in the name of research, this really appealed and I soaked it up. Snorkelling, fishing, sight seeing, wining, dining, all done without a notebook in sight.

Then I came home and…I’m sure you can guess the rest. Yep. I wrote the entire trip into a book called Island of Dreams which was later serialised in Woman’s Day. And I kicked myself for not keeping receipts as proof that I’d been working the whole way. Because I had. Unbeknown even to myself, I’d stored away scenes and story possibilities for what became a widely translated book, one of my favourites.

Research beckons...

Lesson learned. No matter where I’ve travelled since, I consider the trip at least partly research. Because the well has to be filled somehow. Your first few books may be written from experience and set in familiar places. But sooner or later you’ll need new input and the stimulation of new experiences.  You may not use any of it for months or years, but you will find yourself dipping into the well and coming up with a snippet you don’t remember storing away, and giving it to a character in a current project.

You see, writers are never off duty. Always some part of us is observing and taking note of the people, sights, sounds and smells we’ll later use in a story. That’s just how it is.

There’s only so much you can learn from online research. To really bring a location to life, you have to be there and feel how it feels. Writers of fantasy or paranormal books have different challenges. For the most part you can’t physically visit the places in your books. But I’ll bet anything that the rainforest glade on Planet Glorious will have its inspiration in some magical place you visited here on earth.

What’s your favourite kind of research? Have you been intrigued enough by an author’s research to want to visit the places she describes? I created a restaurant in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia and had readers asking for its address, as sorry as I was that it’s made up. People also say they’d like to visit Carramer, my South Pacific island kingdom. It’s a fantasy, too, but if you visit Noumea and Hawaii, you’ll see where my inspiration came from. Research is fun and writers are always doing it, whether we know it or not. So look at your hunky guy pictures and dream of your faraway places. For a writer, it’s all in a day’s work.


on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook


Naming rites – how to find the right names for your characters

We all know celebrities are different – why else would chef Jamie Oliver, name his children Buddy Bear Maurice, Poppie Honey Rosie, Daisy Boo Pamela and Petal Blossom Rainbow? Superhero fan, Nicholas Cage, called his offspring Kal-el Coppola, while the Beckhams have baby Cruz, and Gwyneth Paltrow had an Apple. I’m not making these up. Check for more.

Romance novels used to be a haven for exotic names – one of my earliest books featured hero, Race Wolfendale, I kid you not. Today you’re more likely to read about Matt, Jack and Adam, and that’s no bad thing. I once read an American romance where the heroine’s double-barrel name was so distracting I had to modify it in my head just to finish an otherwise enjoyable book.

So here are five handy hints for character naming:

  1. The name you choose should be different enough to be interesting, but not so off-the-wall as to sound ridiculous (see above). It can help to match an unusual name with a more everyday one – such as Kerry Greenwood’s lady detective of the 1920s,  Phyrne (pronounced fry-nee) Fisher.
  2. Think about the ethnic origins of your character name. If it’s Greek (like Phryne) or Italian, can you include some ethnic aspects in your character’s background? In my book, Island of Dreams the heroine, Lisa Alexander, had Russian parents. Her birth name was Lisanko Nikitayevna Alexandrov and her parents’ refugee background had much to do with Lisa’s character. I turned plenty of mental handsprings trying to find an authentic Russian name that would convert to a convincing Australian version.  The success of that book and its many translations and serialisation made the work worthwhile. More importantly, Lisa had greater depth because she wasn’t born on page one.
  3. Don’t stop at the first name that comes to mind. Occasionally a character will come to you fully formed including their name. This is a gift from the creative gods. Use it and be thankful. More often, writers have to work at finding the ideal combination of hero and heroine. And if you want these people to marry one day, consider how her first name and his last name will go together. If Ms. Paltrow’s daughter marries someone called Pye …well you get the idea.
  4. Avoid similarities between the names of main characters. This is basic but often overlooked, especially if you change a name during the book’s development without considering the other names already in place. Having a Mac and a Matt, a Jenny and a Joanne, while they may not look all that similar, can cause confusion in the reading.
  5. Have fun with your characters. Explore them and ask what they might be called and why. When researching for my MA, I was surprised to find that nearly all my heroines have more than one name, like Lisa above, and it was usually important to the story, yet I only connected the dots with hindsight. It’s also impossible to think of a name that doesn’t belong to some real person somewhere. As long as there aren’t too many similarities – calling your hero Fred Bloggs and making him a lawyer living in a particular part of Adelaide, say, when there’s a real person fitting all these elements – you should be OK legally. Search for a particular name on Facebook and you’ll be surprised how even the most unusual name is shared by dozens of people. I’ve had emails from people with the same names as my characters. Most are good-natured and think it’s fun. A few hint that I may have borrowed their names unfairly. I refer these to the disclaimer in every book that says any resemblance etc etc is purely coincidental. Just because a friend’s name creeps into a book now and then, as a compliment to them, doesn’t change that disclaimer one bit.

How do you choose character names? What are your favourites and least favourites in fiction, and why? Share by commenting below.


on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook


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.
  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.

Tag Cloud