Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Posts tagged ‘momentum’

First Monday Mentoring August 2016 – What writing gifts will you share with your readers?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring, when I answer your questions about the writing craft and look at the realities of being a writer.

This month’s blog was inspired by two things – meeting a new baby in my adopted family, and some exciting reprints of my books. How do they go together? Well, the books are my babies, the legacy I’ll leave to the future, not least through the ongoing collection of my literary papers by the State Library of New South Wales.

Amelia baby 2

Meeting my gorgeous new rent-a-grandkid

Seeing my older books reprinted and in new languages – the latest being Chinese and Lithuanian  – tell me my stories still resonate with readers decades on. What will your books leave? Will you have written them or kept them in your mind or computer, unshared, all that inspiration lost forever? Because make no mistake, when you write, you inspire others. You show them how the world might be instead of how it truly is.

Given how bad things are in parts of the world right now, any shred of inspiration is badly needed. Despite being so often belittled, romance novels play a key role. My first, Love’s Greatest Gamble (1982), dealt with the aftermath of a family member having PTSD. It wasn’t known by that name then and the effects even less understood. You came back from a war and got on with it, burying your struggles in alcohol or – in the case of my heroine’s late husband – gambling. She was left to deal with the fallout and the huge debts left to a powerful man.

gc4613194841532942669

My novels have also dealt with miscarriage, adoption, self-image, eating disorders, and a very current issue, domestic violence. The book, Man Shy, was challenging to write while keeping  a balance between the issue and the love story. At one point, I almost gave up but my editor encouraged me to continue, and the book has been reprinted in any number of languages.

If you want to write about  a serious problem, you must take it seriously. Before writing about the heroine’s miscarriage, I researched widely and interviewed  friends who’d had the experience, in order to deal respectfully with what – to the mother – is the loss of their child. No trite dismissals or assurances it was “for the best” and “you can always have another.” One of my friends remembered her son’s would-have-been birthday for the rest of her life.

Another favourite is Man and Wife, where the heroine is a corporate maven ridiculed in the media for her clothing choices. No man goes through this. Furious, my heroine hired a man to be her “wife” and give her the same domestic back-up most businessmen enjoy. This connected with readers on so many levels, most telling me they needed a wife themselves. That he turned out to be her industrial rival made the story more fun, but the undercurrent of gender inequality in the corporate world lingers today. Man and Wife came out in 1984.

I’ve been published in book form for 40 years. One of my personal inspirations, Star Trek, debuted on American television 50 years ago this month. Why has that show endured when so many others have vanished without trace? Again, I believe it’s the inspiration the show provided. Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, one of my writing mentors, dared to explore racial equality, gender roles, the morality of war, and many other issues – all in the guise of a science fiction show. The pre-CGI effects, cardboard sets and rubber-suited monsters were the best that 1960s television could do. But it was the careful thought behind the scripts (not all, but a significant number) that has kept the show relevant for half a century.

 

Every writer is asked where we get ideas. It occurs to me now that they may be asking about the substance behind the boy-meets-girl story. On August 9, I’ll explore this question via a Masterclass at the Canberra Writers’ Centre on how to blend our real-life experiences with fiction.  Click here for details. Only on writing this blog, do I see I’ve been doing this my whole career. My own struggles with weight, constantly moving house and being the new kid on the block and the like, form a subtext to much of my fiction.

My beacons science-fiction series published earlier this year by Momentum (Pan Macmillan) are new-kid-on-the block stories, except in the guise of aliens with strange powers, living among us. I didn’t set out to write that issue and only see it now, with hindsight. As it should be. Using stories to bludgeon readers over the head with issues doesn’t work. Instead, you take real people as your characters, figure out what they’re struggling with in their lives, and write that story. How they overcome their struggles is your plot, the inspiration being a by-product of their journey. The readers will “get it” as mine have for the last 40 years. As Star Trek fans like me have been “getting it” for 50 years.

Beacon Starfound3

What of yourself do you or will you give to your readers? I believe it’s why we need to tell stories, and why readers soak them up. We all need inspiration. If it’s not out there, maybe it’s inside you, waiting to be shared.

What do you think? What books have inspired you? What do you want to share? Your thoughts are welcome in the comment 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 writing and inspiring others,

Valerie

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT NOW
Beacon Homeworld OUT NOW

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also via
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

Advertisements

First Monday Mentoring for June – the joy of series for readers and writers

This week a new writer asked me if he should tell the publisher he was submitting to that his book was the first in a series. This is a fair question, as many books come out in series these days and are enormously popular with publishers and readers.
The answer depends on your relationship with the publisher. If you have a track record, even in other areas of writing, the publisher may be open to considering your book as part of a series. More likely, however, they would want to publish the first book as a stand-alone to see how it does before committing to more of the same.
Of course if you indie publish, you can do as you like, although I advise you to write two or three books in the series before self-publishing the first. Just as online streaming of movies and TV shows has led to “binge watching”, many readers prefer to collect an entire set of books before starting on the first. Recently I read two books in a series only to find I didn’t have book #3, although I did have book #4. I jumped on to Amazon and downloaded the next book to my Kindle so I could read the in-between book before continuing to the final one. Impatient? Who me? But I have a lot of company.
The results can be rewarding, with follower numbers growing as more books come out. Think of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series or Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” books. Characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, and many others have passionate followings.
If you’re writing series characters or settings, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Each book needs to provide a complete story within the pages, even if you have an over-arching story that all the books will span. This leaves readers satisfied but also keen to read the next book in the series. Readers regard your characters as friends, and your settings as places they can feel at home.
2. Filling in backstory in the second and subsequent books needs to be done with a light hand. Too much back story bores the people who read the first book. Too little annoys readers who’ve just discovered your series.

3. Each book should raise the stakes, while introducing new characters and story elements, to avoid any feeling of repetition.
4. If you use familiar elements such as vampires, royalty, small towns etc. you need to give the books your own unique twist.

 

The best aspect of series writing is being able to fully develop your fictional world. My current Beacons series of sci-fi romances is set in my own South Pacific Kingdom of Carramer, which began as the setting for several series of romantic suspense novels. Although frankly, if I’d known I would set eighteen books in Carramer, I would probably not have outlawed divorce. Over the years, getting characters out of marriages that aren’t working has been an interesting challenge.
When I decided to write the Beacons series, Carramer was a natural choice of setting. I’d always wanted to explore the province of Atai and its population of indigenous people. I saw them as very spiritual, making it easy to place a private space program there and include their natural mysticism in the story.

 

The next novella in the Beacon series, Continuum, is out next Thursday, June 9, published by Momentum, Pan Macmillan’s digital-first imprint. The three books in the series span the role my Beacons and their superpowers play in defending the Earth against a massive alien threat. Having two novellas in between let me explore individual characters and their histories.

This is another advantage series have over single titles – readers get to know your characters more thoroughly than they might in a solo book.

Cover Continuum
However you approach your series, readers should want to find out what happens next in your world. From the outset, it helps to have an idea of the overall story arc, as J K Rowling did with the Harry Potter books. You don’t need to know everything that happens. With the Beacons series, I certainly didn’t. But I did know how the story would play out at the end, rather like setting out on a journey with the destination in mind even if you aren’t sure of the exact route you’ll take.

381382_142629462509219_118031484969017_166800_1640305838_n
Finally, here are five Cs to include in your series:
• Characters – real people your readers come to care about and want to spend time with.
• Continuity – also known as Consistency – if you introduce elements in one book, make sure they are consistent with what happens in the next or previous books. Keep a series “bible” of physical descriptions, back story and other elements in file card form, as charts or on a program such as Scrivener, for quick reference as the series progresses.
• Complications aka Conflicts – even characters with superpowers, like my beacons, must have failings and difficulties to overcome, ideally in each book, the challenges growing to almost unbearable level by series end.
• Change – also known as Character Development. Your story people should grow and change as they overcome the obstacles in front of them.
• Completion – unless you want to keep the series going – and readers will love you if you do – you should tie up any loose ends by the final book. It’s easy to lose track of an individual and leave their story hanging, but trust me, you’ll hear about it from readers. In my romantic suspense series, Code of the Outback, I dealt with the stories of a woman and her two foster brothers. In the final book I mentioned a third brother but didn’t give him his own story. I was still getting emails about him years after the series ended, until I finally wrote his story in a novella, so readers could stop worrying about him.
How do you like to read series books? Do you have favourites? As a writer, do you have a series on the drawing board? This blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,
Valerie
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Follow Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT JUNE 9Beacon Homeworld coming June 30
via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)
Google Play (All devices except Kindle)
iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)
Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

Why making new book babies never gets old

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring for April.

You’d think after writing ninety-one books that having a new one out would be ho-hum.  But it never is.

Any published author will agree there’s a special excitement about seeing your new baby out in the world, whether in ebook or print. I’m told the feeling is  a bit like having babies  – you’ve brought to life something that never existed before.

It’s an amazing feeling.

You want to touch the newborn; count fingers and toes, show them off to anyone who’ll  indulge you. In book terms, that means reading over words you already know by heart and talking to others about them.

I’ve  been asked if I read my own books. Not in the same way as a new reader, but I certainly marvel that the jumble of thoughts in my head could turn into anything so beautiful. Until you find your first typo. No matter how many times you and your editors have gone over every word, there are always typos and they stab your new-parent self to the heart. You will also see things you could have written better, or differently. But basically you marvel that you did this amazing thing.

Then you wonder if you can ever do the amazing thing again. If you’re a writer, you will, of course, but don’t expect it to be any easier the second – or the hundredth time.

You will know what to expect; what the pitfalls are; but every book is its own creation. That’s what keeps the process interesting.

You need more than a good idea

Many non writers assume a good idea is all you need. Having an idea is wonderful, a new toy for your brain to play with. But just as raising a child involves more than giving birth, having an idea is only a beginning.

I totally get writers like James Patterson, who has so many ideas that he collaborates with writers all over the world. Australia’s own Katherine Fox joined them when she wrote Private Sydney. I was delighted for her. A new challenge, working with the single best-selling author in the world, bar none,  for more than a decade. What’s not to like?

Fox Private Sydney

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you they love all their children equally. Truth is they love them all differently. Some they never connect with at all, no matter how hard they try. Some they love from the moment they open their tiny eyes.

Ideas are the same. Some we can’t wait to write, yet they flounder on the screen. Others we don’t want to write but they nag at us, sometimes for years, until we give them life.

My Beacon series is one of those. I love science fiction, but I was busy writing romantic suspense. Who were these strange, half-alien people with extraordinary powers? Where did they come from? From that same biological soup we come from as people. Ideas exist in the ether, waiting for a writer to inhale them and give them life.

Beacon Starfound3

My Beacons – a listener, a watcher and a messenger from another planet – connect with the universe in superhero-type ways. From the start I knew them. Wanted to tell their stories. What came was a series of three ebooks and two novellas, the first published last month by Pan Macmillan’s Momentum ebook imprint. They’re publishing the whole series between now and the end of June, delighting readers who hate waiting for the next books in a series…cough, cough…me, for instance.

Beacon Earthbound

Here’s where the baby-analogy gets twisted. Unless they’re quintuplets, no new parent has five children in four months. Yet I’m loving that part, although my book-parenting skills are pretty stretched. I get to show off all five book babies in places I’ve never ventured before – iBooks Store and Google Play well as Amazon US, UK and Australia, and a host of other places.

That’s the beauty of book babies. We get to share them all over the world. Readers can buy or download them; review them; share their discoveries with friends. And book babies never get old.

As a book parent, what stories are you nurturing right now, or struggling to? Do you have favourites? How do you feel when you get a shiny new idea? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can skip this step by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy book parenting!

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s sci-fi series continues with Beacon Starfound, April 14 and

Beacon Earthbound out May 12.

via Amazon.com.au Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk – also
Barnes and Noble (Nook devices)

Google Play (All devices except Kindle)

iBooks Store (iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac)

Kobo (All devices except Kindle)

Full list of titles and publication dates http://www.valerieparv.com

 

 

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

Christmas gifts smart writers NEVER give themselves

It’s not only First Monday time again, when I open this blog to your questions about writing and publishing, it’s also the holiday season for people of many beliefs around the world. Someone posted on Facebook that this is the only time Chanukah and American Thanksgiving fell at the same time for 80,000 years. My math isn’t that great, but it is unusual. Hope you all have a wonderful time.
This is also the season for gift giving. I love giving presents (don’t mind receiving them, either LOL) and I enjoy hunting for items I hope will delight my friends and family. As a writer, I love gifts, too. But there are five items I would NEVER give myself and I hope you won’t, too.

1. Long breaks from writing
Yes, it’s holidays and you’ve worked hard all year. Maybe you did NaNoWriMo and managed to write your target 50,000 words in a month. Don’t you deserve some down time? Of course, but be careful. The point of NaNo is to get you writing every day, inspired or not, with a deadline you usually report to other NaNo-ers, keeping yourself accountable. A funny thing about writing regularly is the momentum and confidence you build up. If I don’t write for a few days, I come back rusty, taking time to get up to speed. I also lose touch with my current project and have to get back into that groove as well. Keep in touch with the work. Aim to write 200 words a day, taking the important holidays off. That’s only one page of writing a day. You’ll thank yourself after the break.
375711_307510792606137_688167775_n

2. Ignore health and wellbeing

It’s easy to do this anyway, with all the parties and feasting. But as well as the damage to your healthy eating plans, food comas befuddle your brain, the organ generating those precious words. Remember to alternate holiday cheer with lots of water, pudding with fruit, and couch time with swimming and walks. The outdoor stimulation may give you new story ideas, win-win.

3. Lack of time
Yes, the season is demanding and rushed. Shops are busy, crowds everywhere, calendars clogged. Giving ourselves the gift of time can be way down the list, if it’s there at all. On your crammed to-do list, include set times to write, or at least to play with story outlines and characters – this can be done on a lounger in the garden. After the holidays when, we’re still at home, is a terrific time to make progress. When the season ends, you’re raring to go because the thinking and planning is done.

4. Second-best equipment
So you’re writing at a wobbly table, sitting on a dining chair, killing your back and creativity. Even if your writing isn’t paying its way yet, think of good equipment as an investment. Use the holiday sales to buy yourself an ergonomic chair. Mine adjusts every which way with a pump gadget to adjust the lumbar support exactly right. Look for a hand-friendly mouse, jelly rest for your wrist, whatever helps you create safely. Your body will thank you. And keep the receipts. When your writing does make money, ask the tax pundits about what you may be entitled to claim back.

5. Giving up on dreams
This is 100% not a gift you should give yourself, ever. In the early days, your self belief is the only thing keeping you going. It takes enough of a battering with rejections from editors or agents, or well-meaning but tough comments from critique partners and writing groups. ALL of the writers who are now legends were once told they couldn’t write, their books didn’t work, they should stick to (insert thankless day job). They persevered and gave us our greatest reading pleasures. They didn’t know they were writing classics, any more than you or I know that now. History is the judge. All we can do is write the best books in us to write, follow our passions even if they’re not trendy, and keep going no matter what the rest of the world says. Best of all, dreams are free. Hold on to them.

What gift would you NEVER give yourself as a writer? Have you come close with any of these? Please share your experiences with us in the comment box below. I regret they must be moderated before appearing, to keep out rudeness and Spam. To have your comment appear right away, click on “sign me up” at lower right. I don’t share your email details with anyone.

Happy holidays and may your words flow freely,
Valerie
http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews of Valerie’s latest book, Birthright
at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Tag Cloud