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Posts tagged ‘minions’

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

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First Monday Mentoring for September – write characters who live for your readers

Welcome to the first Monday in September when I answer any questions you have about writing, and invite you to share your experiences as a published or emerging writer.

A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual conference of Romance Writers of Australia in Melbourne, among a record 400 attendees, about 100 being first timers. The enthusiasm level soared. Reunions were loud with much hugging, and we were blessed with outstanding keynote speakers including Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project, The Rosie Effect), New York Times bestselling author of historical and contemporary romances, Mary Jo Putney, Dr. Anita Heiss (novelist and social commentator), American romance writer, Patricia McLinn and many, many more.

At the awards dinner I announced the winner of this year’s Valerie Parv Award – incidentally named by RWA, not by me, I suspect as a good way to make sure I keep turning up. Congratulations to all the winners and place getters. The winner couldn’t make the conference but we had a long phone chat later to welcome Canberra writer, Carly Main, to the ranks of the minions – as past winners dubbed themselves long before the movies.

Carly’s winning book is a Roman-set women’s novel with romantic elements. I’ll mentor her while she holds the award, and we plan on exploring the world of ancient Rome together. Coincidentally, one of my current projects has a similar background.

A key conference theme was that writers are also readers, or should be. And we need to put ourselves in the reader’s place just as we put ourselves into the POV (viewpoint) of key characters including the villains. These “book boyfriends” and “book girlfriends” as they’re called on Facebook can become as important to readers as their real life partners. No greater compliment can be paid a writer than to take our characters so much to heart.

A case in point is Graeme Simsion’s character of Don Tillman, the socially inept hero of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

With Graeme Simsion at the RWA Awards Dinner recently

To enable this process, we need to provide vivid character descriptions , not only in terms of eye colour, hair, height and build, but who they are as people. The old ‘show, don’t tell.’ By showing us their thoughts and interactions with other characters, you draw us as deeply into their world. The success of Graeme’s book – soon to be a major film – speaks for itself. I’ve just finished The Rosie Effect, and am awed by of how vividly he brings Don and Rosie to life.

As Graeme does, we need to take readers on a journey with our characters – soaring with them, sobbing along with them – living with them through the story so that if the character dies, we mourn their loss. These are tall orders but they are what draws readers in to our fiction again and again.

I remember as a young reader being heartbroken at the end of the Narnia stories, not wanting to leave that magical world. Likewise when I reached the end of H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain series, the final book supposedly “written” by another character following Quatermain’s death.

When Leonard Nimoy – Star Trek’s unemotional Mr. Spock – died in February this year, millions around the world mourned, marking the passing of a beloved character who will live long in fiction and film.
My dream – and it should be every fiction writer’s dream – is to create a character as enduring as any of these. To blur the line between fiction and reality in readers’ minds.

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

Actor, Leonard Nimoy, as the iconic character, Mr. Spock

That means you’ve gone beyond characters to tell stories about people who live on outside your virtual play, even inspiring readers to write their own fanfic (fan fiction) about them.

IMO there’s no greater goal for a writer, and no greater achievement when you pull it off.
Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for August – as a writer, what kind of role model are you?

A meme that’s been around since the cave days – i.e. before Facebook – says if you can’t be a good example, you’ll have to be a horrible warning. Like it or not, we are all role models, but especially as writers and custodians of our society’s stories.

This week I served as the first Writer-in-Residence at Young Library and I found myself talking about the role models who influenced me as a writer. The first, of course, were my parents.

Valerie at Young NSW Library July 2015. Photo by Maree Myhill, used with permission.

Valerie at Young NSW Library July 2015. Photo by Maree Myhill, used with permission.

Few of us think of our parents as role models. Mostly we think they were the worst people ever to have children. It takes many years before we can admit they have a few virtues. And whether they were role models or horrible warnings is seldom clear. Usually we come to accept – particularly if we’re parents ourselves – that they did the best they could.

Mine gave me the means to become a writer. First, they introduced me to the library before I was even school age. Borrowing books, reading them, being read to were a natural part of our family life. As I began to create my own stories, again very early, I was never told it was “bad” or “a waste of time” to make things up. My father was dead set against lying, yet he was untroubled as long as it was clear I knew the difference between lies and stories.

This aspect resonated with the audience at Young Library. Many people came up to me between talks and said they would pass this information on to their children or grandchildren. Most who had a creative child in the family, had seen that child told to do something more “useful” or to go outside and play. Good advice in its way, unless you have the writing gene.

My father taught me to think before speaking, a habit still with me decades on. And by extension, that thinking itself was a skill worth mastering. How many of us get impatient with ourselves for daydreaming? Yet daydreaming is a vital precursor to writing, and while working on a story or novel.

I encourage new writers not to go with the first idea jumping into their heads, but to explore more story possibilities, and then still more, until they arrive at something excitingly original. You can’t do that without spending time staring out a window.

Member of the Order of Australia medal

Member of the Order of Australia medal

If you’ve visited my website, you know that in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, I was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). While overwhelmed by that recognition, I was delighted that the citation referenced my work as a mentor to emerging writers.

Mostly done through the Valerie Parv Award, run by Romance Writers of Australia, mentoring is about the most satisfying work I do. I’ve just finished reading the finalists for 2015, to choose my new “minion” – what previous entrants dubbed themselves long before the movies. I mentor the minion while they hold the award. The VPA has existed in its present format since the year 2000. http://valerieparv.com/award.html

It’s a joy to see each minion blossom throughout their year. One former minion, best-selling author, Kelly Hunter, said she was pleased I hadn’t tried to change her voice. My job, surely, is to help them make the most of their voices and considerable talent.

Writers are also role models through story. What kind of morals and ethics do you share via your characters and plots? I aim to make the good guys noble. This doesn’t mean perfect, but at least striving to be better than they are.

My villains do bad things, but I give them reasons (motivation) for their evil, so they’re understandable, rather than simply evil for my convenience.

As a writer, what kind of role model are you? Do you describe yourself as hard working, or “lucky.” Luck may come in when submitting work to a publisher or agent, in that you may have just what they’re looking for at that time.

Inborn talent also needs luck, to win the genetic lottery. But do scientists or mathematicians call themselves lucky when their talent leads them to some great discovery? Not in my experience.

Likewise, luck seldom comes into play in writing. You may be born with the talent but without commitment, application and hard work, the talent stays hidden, like unmined gold.

What kind of role model are you and the characters in your stories? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for June – what does writing mean to you?

It’s First Monday again, when you can share your thoughts and ask me any questions to do with writing, editing or publishing your work. Today isn’t so much a question as sharing what I’ve discovered about writing in the last week.

Mostly I want readers to have the best possible experience through my books. Then there are the writers for whom I write this blog, and the entrants in the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia.

Each year I mentor the winner of the award, and feel like a kid at Christmas when one of my minions (their own name for themselves as former VPA winners) lands a new publishing contract, wins a book award, or makes a bestseller list as they frequently do.

I see this as giving back to an amazing profession where I sometimes have to remind myself that this is work. So imagine my excitement when The Australian Society of Authors awarded me the ASA Medal 2014 in Melbourne last week.

Here’s what was said about the medal, and some of my response. As more and more people at the presentation, and many hundreds of online friends, offered congratulations, I was reminded again of why I write – for the joy of telling stories. That my stories and work with other writers should bring me such an extraordinary honour as the ASA Medal, I consider the icing on my writing cake.

Valerie with Executive Director of the ASA, Angelo Loukakis, after the presentation

Valerie with Executive Director of the ASA, Angelo Loukakis, at the presentation

“The ASA Board awards the ASA Medal bi-annually to honour members of Australia’s writing community who have contributed significantly to our literary culture. Your contribution has been judged outstanding across the board, from the quality of your writing to your hard work in support of other authors, the principles of authorship and this organization itself.”

“This is one award that has to be earned” – Angelo Loukakis

In accepting the medal, I said in part:

“As one whose first books were chiselled on cave walls, I am honoured to be given this award and would also like to congratulate my fellow honoree for 2014, Nadia Wheatley.

My first published book, Growing and Using Herbs (Ure Smith), caused little fanfare in my family, not being a blockbuster or even a novel.

It took joining the Australian Society of Authors to make me realise I’d done something that mattered, I’d written a book and had it published, the first of more than eighty novels and non-fiction titles. I’m proud to be that rare breed, a writer supporting myself through my writing since my twenties.

In the Australian Society of Authors, I had great mentors, not only in matters of craft but also in the importance of giving back to a profession that has been good to me.

As well as the ASA executive and membership, I’d like to thank my agent of twenty years, Linda Tate. She not only has my back, but my front and the top of my head as well, even if I’m still waiting for that body double I asked for.

Receiving such an important award decided by your peers has to be as good as it gets. Thank you so much.”

Now it’s over to you. Why do you write? What gives you the greatest pleasure in your work? 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

The writing blog that almost made me cry

I’ve blogged recently about the Valerie Parv Award as it’s dear to my heart, not least because Romance Writers of Australia saw fit to carry it on in my name. I thought that sort of thing only happened when you’re no longer around. Or am I  mixing this up with street names? Thankfully, I didn’t have to drop off my twig for this honour, and after more than a decade of mentoring the winners, the award is an important part of my writing life. Personal life, too, as the winners – affectionately known as minions – are now friends as well.  The Minions’ Breakfast is a fun part of the RW Aust conference each year, when we catch up and welcome the newest winner. You can spot us by our tiaras.

This year’s VPA opened on April 23, restricted to a maximum of 80 entries for the first time. By the I posted this, all 80 openings were taken in under 24 hours. Today’s blog by Anna Cowan about her experiences as a minion moved me almost to tears.  http://annacowan.com/2012/04/23/the-valerie-parv-award-a-minions-tale/

The (in)famous Minions' Breakfast with tiaras

Knowing that you’ve been part of someone’s creative journey is rewarding and humbling.  Many winners are successfully published. Among them are Kelly Hunter, Mel Scott, Bronwyn Clarke writing as Bronwyn Parry, Rachel Robinson writing as Rachel Bailey, Erica Hayes, Kylie Griffin winning a prestige award from Romance Writers of America and seeing her first and second books published this year. This month,  Barbara Jeffcott Geris writing as Barbara de Leo was contracted to Entangled. Others are breathtakingly close. Yes, I’m looking at you, Anna and Michelle de Rooy.

The VPA started life as a contest run by the one-time Australian chapter of Romance Writers of America. In 1999 the award was renamed and placed on Romance Writers of Australia’s calendar in 2005. This year, RWA set a limit on the number of entries because the judging was getting out of hand. My work begins when I receive the final entries, and I guess statistically, your chances of reaching the finals this year are higher than ever.

It’s a rare year when one final entry doesn’t leap out at me much as a singer on The Voice grabs the attention of one or more of the judges within a few bars. Star quality is instantly apparent, and while I give every other entry a fair reading, that quality is usually unbeatable. In the acknowledgement to her first novel, Shadowfae, Erica Hayes even quoted me “wanting so hard for [her book] not to win.” She’s right, I didn’t want to spend a year living in her demonic worlds, but the quality of her writing couldn’t be ignored.

Have you entered or won an award that impacted on your writing? I’d love you to share your experiences by commenting here.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

Proud Friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

Established Writer in Residence at Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre, Perth July 2012

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

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