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Posts tagged ‘plot twist’

First Monday Mentoring March 2018 – making unexpected writing discoveries

Whether you plot your stories out in detail, or prefer to let the story unfold as you write, it’s a good idea to leave room for serendipity to play a part.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines serendipity as “making happy or unexpected discoveries by accident.”

These happy, unexpected discoveries are the ideas or story twists coming seemingly from nowhere – the dog you didn’t know your character owned; the plot twist you didn’t see coming; in short, anything you didn’t know was going to be in your story until it popped up.

I’ve been making these discoveries for years and know enough now to let them come. Even if I don’t know why a character acquires a dog, I leave it in. As Kate Grenville says, “It can all be fixed tomorrow.”

If you don’t find a use for that dog, it can disappear as quickly as it showed up. Just don’t be too hasty. I’ve had pets, sisters, plot developments of all kinds arrive, apparently from nowhere, but really from something my subconscious has been mulling over. I leave the reference in until I find, perhaps many chapters later, that it’s exactly what the story needs.

The dog may rescue hero or heroine, or alert them to some bad thing about to happen. The surprise sibling may be a character’s saving grace, downfall, keeper of vital family information…unknown to me until they’re needed.

In my Beacons sci-fi series , I wrote two novellas linking the three books of the series together. The first novella, Beacon Starfound, concerned a character called Guy, the genetic twin of Adam, one of my alien beacons. When I conceived Guy I had no idea of his role. Gradually he became more mysterious and interesting, until by book three, Beacon Homeworld, he proved essential to resolving many story threads.

Having Guy develop as he did was pure serendipity. Or was he?

I think these “happy and unexpected discoveries” are far less accidental than they seem. When a story stalls and I can’t get past the block, it’s almost always because I’ve taken a wrong turn. Once I would have been tearing my hair out. These days I let my subconscious figure things out.

If I try to force the story to go my way, the result invariably lacks a spark. So I wait. Frustrated, anxious, but telling myself I’ve been in this place before and always found my way out.

If I don’t have time to wait, I fall back on my trusty “twenty options” process from The Art of Romance Writing. I’ve blogged about this here and at workshops because it’s such a reliable tool. It’s best done with pen and paper. You can on screen but paper feels more freeing, somehow. Up to you.

Down the left hand side of the paper write the numbers one to twenty, leaving a line of space between each number. Then you pose the story problem to yourself – for example, why does the heroine go to meet the bad guy without seeming too stupid to live.

Then without stopping, you write twenty ways you could solve this problem. For example, he could be the identical twin of someone the heroine trusts. He could blackmail her in some way, holding her dog hostage, perhaps. Or he could fake a message to her from the hero.

Keep going until you’ve listed at least twenty options. I’ve listed over a hundred in some cases. There’s no right or wrong number but twenty seems to stretch you a little while getting past the obvious answers. Generally the first ones you think of are those everybody comes up with. Around the middle you get a little silly, the hostage dog being an example. Force yourself to keep going until you’ve listed at least twenty, or however many more suits you.

When you’re done, read over the list. Is there a germ of something workable in one idea? Could some be combined? If your list gives you nothing useful leave it for a while and try again next day. Persistence pays with this one.

In my current manuscript, serendipity has already struck. My hero owns a valley I plan to use in several books. As I was writing, the hero’s brother-in-law mentioned some additional land for sale adjoining the valley. Hero can’t afford the land because…reasons. BIL suggested a partnership. So far I don’t know why this extra land exists but I’ll go along until my brain works it out and lets me know.

The only thing I know for sure is that the land will have a purpose in relation to the story. In writing, that’s how serendipity works.

Have you ever had a random element jump into a story, only to prove essential later? Share your thoughts in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post appears right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing and may serendipity bless you work,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Valerie’s book, Desert Justice in Her Hot Desert Fantasy

Anthology – out in ebook and print now

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Birthright

Beacon Novella Starfound

Beacon Earthbound
Beacon Novella Continuum
Beacon Homeworld

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)

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First Monday Mentoring February 2018 – give your writing a Valentine!

As a romance writer I’ve spent many a Valentine’s Day doing press, TV and radio interviews. Once I was involved in the whole 7 Sunrise weather, each half-hourly cross coming back to see what we were up to. Having a mischievous mind, I dreamed up a romance novel plot using all the presenters on the show as characters. This was true “flying by the seat of one’s pants” as I had no idea beforehand, what they were likely to want.

Another Valentine’s Day was with Denise Drysdale and Ernie Sigley on his show, talking about aphrodisiacs and whether canned oysters were as effective as fresh ones. FYI they’re not. We only used canned ones because fresh oysters and scorching TV lights are not a good mix.

One Valentine’s week, I was away on tour for my nonfiction book on real-life romance, I’ll Have What She’s Having. Since I’d be away from my own romantic hero, I arranged to have a Valentine’s card delivered to him every day until I got back. Gotta practice what you preach!

So how does this fit in with your writing? Whether you write romance novels or other forms of fiction, relationships are bound to be in there somewhere, even if they’re not the focus of the story. I’ve taken four elements out of I’ll Have What She’s Having, adapted for writers.

  1. With love goes respect

You can’t have a relationship, far less write about one, without this crucial element. And respect applies not only to the characters you bring together but also to your readers. Writing tongue-in-cheek always shows on the page. I’ve lost count of the writers who’ve told me they’re going to write a romance because they need to make some easy money. I don’t try to dissuade them, figuring they’ll find out soon enough. Some of the most demanding editors I’ve known have been in the romance genre.

  1. Let your lovers work out their own problems

Just as the best lines and scenes should go to the stars in a film or TV show, your characters should solve their own problems, whether romantic or otherwise. It’s a cop-out to have a wise old figure give the characters the advice they need to resolve their conflicts. Just as in real life, you don’t want the in-laws telling you what you should do, it’s better to have your literary stars arrive at their own solutions and really earn their happy-ever-after.

  1. Don’t make your characters read minds

Just as we shouldn’t expect a partner to know that we love them unless we say the actual words, we shouldn’t expect characters or readers to read minds. If your character is afraid of heights, show it early in the story, so later when he’s goaded to the top of a cliff, we’ll understand his fear. The reader can only go by what you put on the page, not what’s in your mind.

As writers we know where the plot twists are, and how and why everything comes together at the end…well, most of it, anyway. Sometimes we surprise even ourselves. But the key elements of the story need to be planted well before they’re needed- a process known as foreshadowing. If your character can click the heels of their magic red shoes to get back home, you’d better mention how they acquire the shoes long before the story climax. Be subtle so we don’t pay much attention at the time. In one of my sci-fi novels, Beacon Homeworld, the hero finds a black spot where his cell phone doesn’t work many chapters before he needs that black spot to resolve a big dilemma. Be sneaky in foreshadowing the elements you’ll need later on even if you have to go back and plant the details, but play fair. Make sure everything the character (and reader) needs is foreshadowed well in advance.

And finally…

  1. Send your favourite author a Valentine

These days it’s easy to connect with authors on social media. Most have a Facebook page or a Twitter or other account. If you liked their book, go online and let them know. Obviously sales are a good indicator, but it means a lot to a writer to hear that a character moved you emotionally, changed your thinking  or gave you comfort at a bad time in your life. Of course, the best Valentine to give a writer is a good review on Amazon or Goodreads. They need not be long or literary. A sentence or two of honest appreciation is fine. Authors have bad days and struggles too. Your review might be the difference between them giving up or continuing to write.

What’s your Valentine’s Day writing tip? Would you rather spend the day reading or writing? Please share with us in the comments below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your post can appear right away if you click on ‘sign me up’ at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy Valentine’s Day and happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook (come say hello!)

Valerie’s Beacon sci-fi series out now!
Beacon Starfound OUT NOW
Beacon Earthbound OUT NOW
Beacon Continuum OUT NOW
Beacon Homeworld OUT JUNE 30

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)

 

 

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