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Posts tagged ‘The Leopard Tree’

First Monday September – having a “what if” writing moment

It’s all very well to have plenty of writing time. But what do you do if your idea bucket is not only empty but leaking? “What if?” is a question I use often,  both to develop a story and to solve ‘plot-holes’ during the writing.

For example, there’s the reader favourite of twins switching places. Usually the hero is fooled for a time. But what if the hero knows from the start that the twins have switched places, and decides to teach them a lesson? This question turned into the inspiration for my book, Centrefold.

One twin is a financial journalist and the other is a centrefold model for a men’s magazine? The finance writer loses her job after she is mistaken for her model twin. When the opportunity arises for her to take her twin’s place, she decides she may as well, since she’s getting the blame anyway. Unbeknown to her, the photographer is not only dating her sister, he sees through the plan right away. Cue a story I had a lot of fun writing.

“What if the hero had arrived by UFO?” became the basis for The Leopard Tree. The book was originally accepted by Mills & Boon, London, until Alan Boon decided British readers weren’t quite ready for a hero with UFO connections, and wanted me to remove this element.

I felt strongly that the hero’s air of mystery highlighted the sense of him being a loner, the odd man out in his community, and decided against making the change. The book was eventually published with the UFO element by Harlequin’s then-sister company, Silhouette Books in New York. Sometimes you have to wait for your readers to catch up with your ideas.

Writing my 3-book series, Outback Code, gave me a whole string of what-if moments, starting with the question, what if there was a long lost goldmine on the characters’ outback property? Each book in the series had its own romantic elements, but the over-arching mystery wasn’t solved until book three, with each couple contributing more pieces to the puzzle.

Probably my favourite what-if became Operation Monarch, a romantic suspense novel set in my island kingdom of Carramer. The what-if question was whether the hero, a notorious bad boy, was really the heir to the throne. The heroine was the present monarch’s bodyguard assigned to the hero until the what-if was resolved.

If you’re going to spring a major what-if on readers, you need to plan how you’ll overcome obstacles that would normally get in the way. Resolving whether my hero was the true heir could be handled by DNA testing. Despite what we see on TV, DNA testing takes a couple of weeks for a result, for now anyway. There are faster versions but they aren’t as conclusive as the slower method.

This gave me a time limit when my hero and heroine had to deal with the situation and each other.

Later, in Desert Justice, I played with another reader-favourite trope, the idea of a ruling sheikh as hero with an Australian woman caught up in a plot against his life. Having one or another character falling in love in unfamiliar surroundings, is often called a “fish out of water” story. This plot appeals to me because it links to a “core decision” formed by my family’s many house moves, making me a perennial fish out of water. We make these decisions about ourselves early in life and they can be hard to change.

Desert Justice is featured in this anthology

When you’re told that readers want fresh, new stories, it’s tempting to think you need a bizarre plot that no-one has done before. But tropes such as twins or sheikhs remain popular for a reason, pitting your characters against each other on a deeply emotional level.

These tropes work provided you give them your own unique twist, as I did by having the hero catch on to the twin substitution right away. In another book, my characters agreed to a pretend marriage to comfort a dying friend who wanted to see them get together. The heroine was a stunt woman who worked in movies, giving me the perfect twist. What if the actor she asked to be their marriage celebrant was a real celebrant in his day job, and the ceremony was legal?

You can use what-ifs to play with plots and ideas as long as you keep the emotional tug-of-war between the attraction the characters feel, and the conflict keeping them apart.

Have you ever used a what-if to kick start your story? How did it work? Share your thoughts in the comments 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 what-iffing,

Valerie

Congratulations to Kristin Silk, 2020 winner

of the Valerie Parv Award. I look forward to

mentoring Kristin in the months ahead.

First Monday Mentoring Nov – how do writers fill the creative well?

Last month I blogged about the importance to your professional development of attending writing conferences and festivals. Today I’m talking about another aspect I call “filling the well.”

How do writers find new things to write about? It helps to be interested in a wide range of subjects, not only those of personal concern but appealing to the world at large. My family calls me a “mine of useless information”, though it comes in handy at trivia nights, because I’ve researched such a wide variety of topics from opal mining to space shuttle operation.

You can combine your conference attendances with rambling research either related to your current writing project, or simply because it’s there.

In my book, The Idea Factory, I called these absorption trips, a name coined by screenwriter, William Goldberg, who suggests you become a sponge, soaking up input wherever you go. Almost any experience can be turned into an absorption trip, from dentist visits to shopping trips. Train yourself to see not only what’s there, but what could be there. What if your dentist is making a fortune through selling illegally plundered gold teeth? If you use this idea, best not use your real dentist’s name to protect the innocent.

When visiting new towns and cities, explore the local businesses, talk to the locals and learn as much as you can about their lives and why they do what they do. Tell them you’re a writer so they don’t think you’re just nosy. Most people I’ve met are flattered by sincere attention.

I’ve also developed many story ideas from reading journals I don’t normally see. Flying to a writing conference in Brisbane not long ago, I was leafing through the in flight magazine, fascinated by a reference to an Irish town as a “thin place” where the boundaries between the real and the supernatural are easily breached. Tantalising as that concept is, I won’t write about it because any writer seeing that reference will feel the same.

Stories “plucked from the headlines” need to be written quickly or not at all, before another questing mind can beat you to it. Many writers believe their ideas have been “stolen” when the truth is, we are all exposed to much the same creative influences. Years ago I indulged my passion for sci-fi by creating a romance hero who might have arrived by UFO. While the book, The Leopard Tree, was in production, I read a review of another book where the hero…you guessed it. There’s no copyright on ideas, only in how they are developed by the writer.

Best-selling novelist, Dean Koontz, said in an interview that he advised writers to do two things. The first is to write, write, write. Concentrate on developing your writing craft to the highest calibre you can. The second is to read, read, read. Koontz says the more you broaden your interests as a reader, the more you broaden your talent as a writer.

He says you should read a book first as a reader, then analyse it to discover the “nuts and bolts with which the story is built.”  As you make the effort your subconscious “will make all sorts of associations and connections, and over time it will give you the critical understanding you are seeking.”

Researching facts is best done through Google and similar resources. Your absorption trips supply the bits you can’t research – the sights, sounds and even smells of a new place or setting, and the accents, clothes and attitudes of the people you meet. Not only will these details fill your creative well with new ideas, they will add a richness to your writing that you can’t get any other way.

Recently I explored some wonderful new places in the USA including a magical Butterfly House and a tour of the Johnson Space Centre, Houston. Tax deductible because it’s research, My story and I’m sticking to it.

How do you find your new insights and stories? Have any of your travels resulted in ideas that excited you enough to write about them? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up 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

Masterclass  Canberra, Australia : 18 November  Romance Writing Re-imagined  ACT Writers Centre  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-re-imagined-with-valerie-parv-tickets-35421113504?aff=Valerie 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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