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Posts tagged ‘research’

First Monday Mentoring July 2015 – the crime of author intrusion and how to avoid it

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I open this blog to your thoughts and questions on the wonderful, scary, maddening and exhilarating craft of writing. To start us off, this week I was asked how to handle author intrusion, sometimes called author convenience.

As the heading suggests, I see it as a crime that’s serious enough to get a book rejected.

Basically, the question comes down to whose book this is, yours or your character’s?

Since you’re doing the hard work, it’s tempting to say the book is yours, but you’re only the means by which the story reaches readers. They want to know what happens to the characters and how they feel and act as a result. Readers want to share the journey and forget they’re reading words on a page or screen.
Author intrusion is a bit like photobombing a photo – you stick yourself into a scene where it doesn’t belong. On social media, photobombs can be hilarious but in a book, they’re more often an unwelcome distraction.
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Here are a few ways an author can photobomb a book:

Give characters opinions that belong to you, instead of to them.
Their politics, religious beliefs or opinions may differ from the author’s, and should agree with the way you want us to see them. Creating characters to get your own beliefs across is a huge mistake and will almost certainly read as if you’re lecturing the reader.

Dump every bit of research into the story:
However fascinating your research, it only belongs in the story when it suits the characters’ experiences and knowledge. Say your story is about a farmer who’s had a meteorite come down on his land. Unless he’s a former scientist turned farmer, he shouldn’t know everything about meteorites, except as they relate to him and his experience.

Put modern thinking into your historical novel:
This can be a failure of craft as much as author intrusion. You haven’t researched the time period of your story sufficiently to notice when you have characters use modern expressions or act in ways that don’t fit the period. It’s okay if you’re writing about a time travelling character who would bring his/her own views and speech to the period, and would notice the differences, but the other characters must behave appropriately for their time.

You can also photobomb a contemporary, sci-fi or fantasy story by having the characters comment on settings and technology they would use every day. How often do you marvel at your tablet or smart phone, or even notice yourself using them? Characters should treat their world similarly.

Give characters skills or history that conveniently fits the story needs:
This is very common. Your mousy secretary is confronted by the villain and somehow knows how to fight him off. If you need her to defend herself convincingly, then go back and write in how her office had offered their staff self defense classes and a workmate had talked her into going. That way, when she’s attacked, we already know how she’s learned to handle herself.

Sharing her thoughts, fears and struggle to remember what she was taught will take us right inside the situation, as if it were happening to us. You can also share more of her character with us by showing how she acted in the self defense class.
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Putting yourself in the character’s place, writing much of the story in dialogue and through their eyes helps avoid author intrusion. Descriptions are limited to what that person would normally notice, depending on who they are.

A fabric designer walking into a room may notice the fabulous curtains, whereas a sportsperson is likely to see the expensive fishing rod propped up in a corner.

Story analyst, Michael Hauge, says you need to ask whether your characters would behave the way people with their background would normally act in this situation.

Say a business person stumbles on a dead body. Would they proceed to investigate the crime? As one of my editors said, too often the character fails to contact the police, the first thing most people would do. If the character is an undercover cop, however, their reaction will be different depending on the story.

Remember, the book belongs to the characters. Tell their story, rather than imposing yours on them. As movie mogul, Samual Goldwin, was reputed to have told his writers, “If you’ve got a message, send it Western Union.”

Now over to you. How do you avoid photobombing your story? 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
Order Valerie’s Beacons’ book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6

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First Monday Mentoring for writers – April 1st, no fooling

It’s that time again, the first Monday of the month when I open this blog to questions on anything to do with writing, the writing life and getting published in general. Feel free to ask me anything using the comments option below.

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Seeing that the first Monday of April falls on April Fool’s Day, I started to think of how writers fool ourselves about our writing and our careers. Do any of these sound familiar:

I don’t need to write anything down.
I’ll remember the idea in the morning.

I can hear some of you screaming, “Nooooooooo!” from here. The brainwaves we produce right before we fall asleep are perfect for generating new ideas. Unfortunately, they’re also totally unsuited to storing short-term memories. See the pattern? We’ll have some of our best ideas, but there’s almost no chance we’ll remember them for very long. Keep a pad or recording device on your bedside to capture your inspiration.

I’ll just go online for a few minutes, then start writing.

If you believe this, there’s a really nice bridge across Sydney Harbour I can sell you. Write first, then go play online. Even if you swear by your sainted mother that it’s for research, write first. Leave gaps for stuff you need to look up, and fill them in later. But write first.

I’ll write as soon as I’m inspired

Real writers don’t write when they’re inspired; they get inspired by the act of writing. If you’re not sure what you want to write about, start anyway. Write about not writing. Write about your characters or the ones that you would write about if you had an idea. When you let yourself write rubbish, magic happens. Gradually you start writing non-rubbish, and soon you’re away.

Playing one game of Solitaire
will warm me up to write

That bridge is still for sale. I found it’s perfectly possible to play Solitaire until two in the morning until I zapped every version of the game off all my computers. Just as there’s no such thing as eating “one Pringle” there is no such thing as “one game of Solitaire” (or Bejewelled, or Words with Friends, or whatever is the current time suck)
Writing gets you warmed up for writing.

What’s your personal April Fool’s problem? How do you deal with it?

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

5 ways that writers are different, and why it’s OK

In my writing life spanning more than 70 published books, I’ve tried to act as though writing were a career like any other. In countless media interviews I’ve  made my work sound like your average 9 to 5 job. Until now. Today I’m coming out of the closet so to speak, and declaring what all writers secretly know – we are different. And that it’s OK.

Here are some of the ways writers are different.

1. We’re scary to our families

Not because we’re eccentric, talk to ourselves and sometimes answer, poke and pry into other lives, although we do all this. But because we pull the bandaids off old wounds, drag skeletons out of closets, and expose family secrets. They’re disguised, of course, and often our families don’t recognise themselves. But we know. And they suspect.

2. Fleeting images brand us

No, I won’t watch the latest horror flick with you. The millisecond image on the promo is already seared on my brain forever. Yes, I know it’s a comedy. My mind treats it differently and the images haunt me. The autopsy scenes from NCIS, Mr Bean bursting his airline sick bag, the face of a friend as she lay dying. These images and countless others like them will haunt me forever. I need to protect myself from some images getting in because they never get out.

Oh yes, we also have multiple personalities

Oh yes, we also have multiple personalities

3. I should write but I can’t

The stories are mapped out, the research is done, the deadline looms. And still I can’t write. Imagine I forced you to stand on the crumbling edge of the Grand Canyon. You’d feel what a writer feels when faced with a blank screen. It’s not laziness stopping us from writing. Mostly it’s fear. Of the words not measuring up to those in our minds. Of disappointing readers. Of disappointing us.

4. We exist in our own timeline

We’re not in jammies at 4pm because we’re slobs, although we may be. We’re gestating a story, poem or book. We may have been awake till 2am making notes. Society and our families would rather we were 9-5 people, but the words have their own agenda and they come when they’re ready.

5. We move the world

We record the tiny details of a sunset, a cat’s fur, a child’s laugh, a moment of such agony that we make you cry along with us. We make you love people who never lived, and hate us when we kill them off. We make our pretend worlds so real that you want to live there, and talk about them with your friends on and offline. Sometimes you live in them with us through fan fiction, costume play and conventions. All of that is OK and a great compliment.

Taking you into our worlds is what we live for. We are writers, we’re different and it’s OK.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

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on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews of Birthright at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Six things I wish I’d known about being published, when I was starting out

Hindsight is always 20/20. It’s easier to look back and see your writing career more clearly than when you’re starting out. This year marks the 30th anniversary of my first romance novel being published. I had books out before then but they were nonfiction, and nothing beats the thrill of holding your first novel. Or your 50th for that matter. For me, the excitement never wears off. Last week I received the French translation of With a Little Help, and couldn’t wait to share the news with my agent and social networks.

I still get a kick out of my translations.The guy on the cover doesn't hurt either.

While I hope the thrill never stops, I’m glad some things have changed. Today I share six things I wish someone had told me when my journey began. They may save you some needless angst.

  1. Publishing is only the beginning. I thought of having my novel published as reaching a summit. I’d plant my “successful” flag, readers would cheer and I’d never worry again. Until my editor asked, “What are you writing next? And after that?” Readers might cheer, but they also want more. There are revisions to do, proofs to read, promotion, even before social networking became everyday. Plus writers’ conferences to attend, speeches, workshops and media. Rinse and repeat with every book.
  2. You can be ‘real’, your family won’t even notice. Using aspects of my family history in stories once kept me awake nights. What if family members were offended, hurt, angry? When one book I considered especially revealing came out, they read the characters, setting and situation as fiction. In other words, they didn’t connect real life with my story. Change the names and details to protect the guilty, and sleep well.
  3. No matter how many books you sell, someone will ask what name you write under. Nearly 30 million sales on, I still get asked what name I write under. Right before how long it takes me to write a book, and where do I get my ideas. Knowing I’m often the first writer some people have met,  I answer the questions as if they’re new to me, too.
  4. The fun stuff you get to do really IS research. If you read my previous blog about this, you’ll know that everything a writer does is research, good and bad. I know writers who’ve had major surgery and taken notes because it will come in handy sometime. Everything from lazing on a tropical island to cuddling a Tasmanian devil has found its way into my books.
  5. Your family IS proud of you but won’t necessarily let you know. One sister wishes I’d write like Stephen King. Not in me to do. I can only write as me. The other used to read my magazine short stories in the supermarket queue. She changed after learning that I’d spread this around.  No one I know has asked when I’m going to write a “real” book, mainly because I’d written so many books before turning to romance. But you might get asked. Rehearse the reasons why romance is the world’s biggest-selling genre in ebooks and print. Romance Writers of Australia has all the amunition you need here: http://www.australianwomenwriters.com/2012/02/australian-romance-writing-whats-there.html
  6. Changes in publishing are NOT the end of the world. Change has been part of the industry as long as I’ve been writing. The first time my adored editor was reassigned, I was a nervous wreck.  These days I roll with the punches. Editors move on. Lines and even publishing houses merge with others, disappear or reinvent themselves online. Print books become ebooks, audio and graphic novels. The one constant is they still need writers providing exciting content. Don’t panic. To paraphrase a popular saying: Keep Calm and Keep Writing.

What have you learned on your writing journey? Please comment below, and share on Twitter, Facebook and any other medium invented while I was blogging. Change is the one constant in life, not only for writers.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

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.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

Resolutions to improve your writing in 2012

Some of the most common resolutions we make this time of year are to lose weight, get fitter, eat healthier and so on. Many of them can be applied to writing. Here’s how.

Lose weight

An easy writing resolution to start with. Aim to shed some weight from your writing by saying what you want to say in fewer and simpler words. Clear communication is key. You want the words to carry your story rather than attracting attention to themselves. In literary fiction, the words can be a reason for reading, but in most other forms of storytelling, the reader should get caught up in what’s happening so they feel as if they’re living the events instead of being told about them by the author. Make every word work for its place in the manuscript.

Get fitter

Workouts for authors are a good thing. Spending most of our working days seated at a keyboard doesn’t make our muscles happy. There are standing keyboards, desks you can fit to treadmills, and many other devices to overcome this problem. Or you can set a kitchen timer to remind you to get up and move around at regular intervals. Computer apps do this as well. But what about a fitness regime for your writing? When you begin, are you writing ready? Is your mind elsewhere, worrying about family or job worries? Or on what to cook for dinner tonight?  It’s amazing what jumps into our thoughts when we should be focussing on the story at hand.

I recommend having “rituals”, routines you set up that get your mind into the same place as your body. Rituals can range from checking emails to reading over your previous output. Set a time for the rituals to end and work to begin but don’t nag yourself if you need rituals to ease into your writing.  Walking through the door of the gym gets you into fitness mode; so having a set time and place to write tells your mind that it’s time to write.

Your writing also needs to be toned up – with the basic research, outlining and character development in hand. You don’t need to know every detail of your research. It’s OK to put “to come” in brackets and hunt out specifics later. But constantly flitting from draft to research can be another form of procrastination.

Set up a budget

This is a favourite personal resolution you can apply to your writing. Choose a measurable goal you want to achieve and the time frame for getting there, then work backwords to how many words you need to write on a regular basis to achieve the goal. Do you want to enter a contest? Submit to an editor? What requirements do you need to meet? Just as a budget needs room for unexpected costs, your writing budget also needs leeway for life to intervene. Every writer’s word budget will differ depending on the time you have available. If it’s only a few hours on evenings or weekends, be realistic in setting your word budget and keep a diary or wall chart of your progress so you don’t short-change yourself.

What other resolutions would get your writing into peak form for 2012? Share your hints by adding a comment below.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and on Facebook

 

 

 

Is there a formula for writing romance novels?

Whenever I speak about romance to the media, give an interview or a workshop, I’m asked about the formula for writing romance. Aren’t they all the same? Don’t you have a computer program where you change the names of the characters and the computer does the rest? To all these questions my answer is, I wish. How much easier would it be to press a few keys and out comes a finished book? Instead of, as someone once put it, sitting down at a keyboard and opening a vein.

There is a formula, but not like any of the above. It’s simply that two people meet and are instantly, strongly attracted.  If they are ever to give in to the attraction, they must first solve a huge problem coming between them. This problem – also called the conflict – is so big that we readers think they will never be able to resolve it and earn their happy ending.  Every keen romance reader knows they will eventually walk off into the sunset together, just as the detective in a mystery will solve the crime, the monster will be defeated in a fantasy, or the superhero will save the world. The fun lies in making readers worry that the problem will win this time around, and there will be no happy ending.

If anyone knows of a computer program capable of delivering all that, please share the details with me right away. It would save me hours of working out who my hero and heroine are, their history and emotional make-up. What is their greatest fear, and how can I put them up against a character who fulfills all their emotional fantasies while triggering their fear bigtime?

One of my favorite questions to ask couples is how they met, what brought them together, what keeps them together? Apart from being great dinner party conversation, the variety of answers is amazing. My neighbors met while sheltering from a hurricane on a South Pacific island. Two of my relatives  from England met in Australia when they found themselves on the same bus tour. An elderly friend was given a cruise ticket as a thank-you for a good deed and fell in love with a wealthy man she met on board. Truth really can be stranger than fiction.

All fiction has its conventions, like the mysteries and fantasy novels already mentioned. But formula? Hardly. Not when people and their stories are so varied. I seriously doubt that I’d have written as many romance novels as I have (over 50 at last count) with the same level of excitement if all I had to do was press keys on a computer. But wait a second…I do press keys on a computer. I just don’t have the magic program to go with it. Guess I’ll have to keep doing it all the hard way.

How did you and your partner meet? What’s your favorite fictional couple? What don’t you like to see in a romance novel? I’d love to know your answers, all in the name of research.

Valerie

Follow me on Twitter @valerieparv

http://www.valerieparv.com

 

 

 

 

 

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