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Posts tagged ‘writing’

First Monday July – what does romance writing look like in 2020

As I write this, I’m wearing my Judgy McJudgeface while reading the short listed entries in Romance Writers of Australia’s Valerie Parv Award. Once I choose the winner and rank the finalists, I write each one some feedback, figuring if you’ve reached the finals, you’ve earned the attention.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has changed the entries I’m seeing which include more cynical, snarky stories to out-and-out escapism. Neither is right or wrong. As Leslie Wainger, one of my American editors said, it’s all in the execution. In other words you can get away with a great deal, as long as you do it well.

Some things are still needed – strong characters with goals they’re desperate to reach, and a compelling story we want to invest time in reading.

The Valerie Parv Award Medal

The old tropes are welcome but need – as it’s put now – to pivot with the times. The crisis has swept away a whole strata of stories that would have been fine not so long ago. As my agent, Linda Tate says, it’s no longer enough to write a “good” story, you need to write something really special.

If you story involves a “marriage of convenience” (where the characters agree to marry for reasons other than love) it must give readers something they haven’t seen before. What does a marriage of convenience look like in a Covid-19 world?

How will social distancing change your characters? On social media, discussion is raging as to whether contemporary stories should reference the pandemic at all. As they’re written in the “eternal present” this is your decision. Some writers have already changed works-in-progress, setting them a year or two before the crisis. Others choose worlds we can escape into.

Society has changed drastically in the last few months and until a vaccine is available, the changes are likely to be permanent. Watching older shows online, even if set only months ago, I find myself yelling at the screen, “Get away from them.”

There’s much talk of a “new normal.” What does this look like for your characters? Even if you don’t mention Covid-19 it will likely cast a shadow over personal interactions. Some changes are less physical than they are states of mind. What will international travel and world cruises be like in future? How will characters relate to each other?

Readers still want larger-than-life characters, not fragile creatures wrapped in bubble wrap. But they are changing, sometimes in unexpected ways. Rumour has it that the ultimate spy, James Bond, gets a toddler daughter in his next movie. Stay tuned.

As the world changes around us, our stories need to change, too. As I noticed reading for the Valerie Parv Award, romantic comedies are having a resurgence, along with cosy mysteries, fantasies and fairy tales, all re-imagined for the new normal.

Apocalyptic fiction is having a moment, but needs to end on a hopeful note. That, at least, stays the same. As the indomitable Kathryn Falk, publisher of Romantic Times, said long before Covid-19, “There are no Mr. Rights, but there are Mr. Trainables.” The phrase seems to predict the new normal. Then again, Kathryn is known for setting trends, rather than following them.

Look at the different romance tropes, a trope being a recurring theme. How could you reinvent them for this strange new world? Some readers collect books that use their favourite tropes and they still resonate, provided they feel fresh and exciting.

 

Here are some favourite tropes:

Amnesia, Friends/enemies into lovers,

Second chance at love, Royalty & billionaires,

Fake relationship/ engagement/marriage of convenience,

Wounded hero or heroine, Unexpected baby,

Stranded, forced to rely on each other.

Sub-genres include military, sports heroes, rock stars and rural settings

Can you create a romance story that will become a future trope? Somebody had to write the first marriage-of-convenience story. This is a time to be daring, to push the boundaries. As long as you have two individuals who fall in love against impossible odds, the sky’s the limit.

What would you love to read next? Is that the story you need to write? Share your thoughts in the comment panel below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but comments can appear immediately if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of  90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney

 

 

First Monday June 2020 – is your plot a prison or a road map?

As the world cautiously opens up after the Covid-19 lockdown, I’m exploring some ways to get those writing muscles back up to speed. Not long ago I was asked to explain the difference between plot and story structure but held off while we dealt with our “new normal.” We’re still dealing, but I’ll tackle the question here. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

Plot is what happens in your story. Structure is how you show the plot unfolding. It makes your readers eager to learn what happens next.

Some writers resist plotting, afraid of losing interest if they know everything that happens. I used to be the opposite, obsessively plotting, afraid of running out of content. Over time I learned to plot the major events and turning points and let the characters supply the rest.

A rough plot is a road map, not a prison. It provides the reassurance of a desired ending while allowing the flexibility to make changes to the story as we write.

As I always say, there’s no one way to write, only what works for you. Try some of these approaches until you find your best fit.

Desert Justice is featured in this anthology

An excellent guide to structure comes from Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, and uses the code, ABCD.

A = Action

Action isn’t all shoot-outs and car chases. It’s when something happens before the reader’s eyes instead of in flashback or summary. My romantic suspense, Desert Justice, opens when the heroine gets caught up in a plot to assassinate the ruling sheikh. An action scene can happen in an office, if the new boss is accusing a character of passing sensitive information to a competitor.

B = Background

Only sketch in enough background to let the reader know what’s going on.

Recently on TV’s Master Chef, each contestant was given a photo of themselves with a person who’d influenced their career or made sacrifices for them. They had to cook a dish to symbolise the connection. Thanks to this superb snippet of background, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

There’s a family connection in Desert Justice, too. She’s looking for her mother’s brother and needs the sheikh’s help. The brother is conspiring against the sheikh, but we don’t learn this until much later.

C = Conflict

Romance readers know the characters are attracted to each other. Conflict is what keeps them apart. It must be strong enough to last throughout the story and must be be solvable, not based on something they can’t change, such as their ethnicity.

They also need goals they desperately want to reach. My heroine wants to find her long-lost uncle. Since he threatens the sheikh’s life, their goals are in conflict. According to Hollywood writing guru, Michael Hauge, the goals must be visible so we know whether or not they are attained. Internal goals such as the need for love, happiness or personal growth come secondary to achieving the external goals.

D = Development

Development means creating the events your characters experience while moving away from or closer to their goals. Think of development as a journey. What stops must be made on the way from first meeting to happy-ever-after? This forms your story structure, whether detailed road map, rough outline or any combination to suit your writing preferences.

Development can mirror a real journey like The Odyssey or Thelma and Louise. A learning curve: think Beauty and the Beast. Or a suspenseful tale such as my Desert Justice.

Regardless of the story you wish to tell, using ABCD will get you there. Start where the problem starts – Beauty being stuck with the Beast, or my heroine caught up in a plot against the sheikh. Think big life changes – a bride left at the altar; a property dispute that could leave your character homeless. Drop readers right in the middle of the situation and go from there.

Give your characters interesting, page-turning challenges. What’s the very last thing the character wants to do? Leave them no option but to do that. Show us what they go through physically and emotionally. Push them to the brink. All events should be like links in a chain: cause – effect; bigger cause – bigger effect, biggest cause – OMG I can’t do this – they do it anyway, ultimate climax – satisfactory ending.

The ending should resolve the conflict between them, leading to the happy-ending they never thought they could have. Take your time with the ending. Show how they’ve grown and changed. Think A Christmas Carol where Scrooge sends the urchin to buy the biggest turkey in the butcher’s shop. He’s laughing when he pays for the bird, letting us see how far he’s come emotionally. Increasing emotions in your characters puts readers in touch with their own emotions, IMO the reason most of us read fiction.

A strong, clear structure gives you room to let readers share the emotional journey. My writing muse, Gene Roddenberry, called it “straight lining the story.” Yes, I give them goals to strive for and actions to take, each leading to the next as the stakes get higher and higher. But these days, I don’t keep them endlessly busy. I give them space to figure out what they need to do and, most importantly, how they feel along the way.

Do you plot as you go, or let characters lead the way? Neither is right or wrong, only what works for you. Share your thoughts in the comment panel below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but comments can appear immediately if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of  90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney

 

First Monday Mentoring April 2020 – What to do if you can’t write during the Covid-19 crisis

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring in a very troubling time. I had already drafted a column about the importance of “build” in a story – the craft of gradually lifting the story to almost unbearable levels as readers wonder if/how things will work out. But I decided that information will keep for another blog.

Instead, I’m sharing some outstanding advice for the times from bestselling author, Chuck Wendig. If you’re struggling to write, or craft, or art or simply get up and face the day, this is for all of us.

I’ve been a full time writer since before I knew what a writer was. My words have been my living through 90 published books, film scripts, newspaper columns, articles, short stories, magazine serials, speeches and masterclasses. You name it, I’ve written it. Having months ahead when we can only venture out for essentials should be my nirvana.

On my desk are ideas for a new Carramer royal romance, and a film script I want to turn into a novel. Yet I’ve written not one useful word. It’s as if my brain has forgotten how to do something that should be as normal for me as breathing. Not under the present crisis.

Yesterday I went to the supermarket for a few essentials. Chocolate is so too an essential. By the time I got back to my car I was terrified, feeling more scared than I’ve felt addressing an audience of two thousand people. I couldn’t wait to be “safe” in my writing cave. I had no reason to be scared. The store was quiet. Everything was sanitised. Yet the fear was real and left me feeling shaken and useless.

Then into my inbox dropped a blog from Chuck Wendig. Here’s what I wanted to share of his wise words:

“It’s hard to concentrate when everything is so strange, so broken, so dangerous. It’s like being told to paint a masterpiece while on a turbulent flight. It’s just not the time.

And so, I want you to know, you shouldn’t expect yourself to be somehow a better, more productive person in this time. You can be! If you are, more power to you. That doesn’t make you a monster. But if you’re finding yourself unable to concentrate, that’s to be expected. That is normal. Normal is feeling abnormal in response to abnormality.

You must be kind to yourself and to others when it comes to what we think people can and should be able to accomplish during this time. Ten million people are out of work, suddenly. People are sick and dying. The thing we crave at a base level, human interaction, is suddenly fraught and fragile. Hell, everything is fraught and fragile. We’re only realizing now that it was fragile all this time.

None of this is normal. You don’t have to feel shamed into forcing normalcy as a response.

So what, then, is the answer?

There really isn’t one. There’s no playbook for this sort of thing. No therapy regimen, no best practices. Best I can tell you, and this should be taken with a grain of salt so big you’d have to chip away at it with a pick ax, is that you try your best. And when you fall well short of that, you instantly, and intimately, recognize why. And you forgive yourself, and you forgive the rest of the world for also falling short (“rest of the world” does not include politicians or billionaires, by the way) and you try again.

And it’s okay if you can’t focus on writing, or reading a book, or planting a garden, or patching drywall, or whatever. Find a different thing. Keep busy when you must, but also don’t be afraid to sit with how you’re feeling and accept it. Accept it unconditionally. Accept your anger and sadness, accept your delirium, allow yourself the time to drift and to fail. Also accept any joy you feel, and do so without guilt. Joy is hard-won, and if you manage that victory, there’s no shame in that. Take the victory lap. We will have to hunt joy like an elusive beast across the wasteland.

If you capture it, celebrate.

I think most of all, don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Now, maybe more than ever, don’t compare yourself to others. Everybody’s not only trapped in their houses, but also trapped in their own maelstrom of emotions, too. Let that be true. You can talk it out. You can share how you’re feeling. But don’t compare in a way that punishes you, or that paints your own feelings as a transgression.

This is all very new to us.

Normal is gone. There will be a new normal. We’ll get there. We’ll get through this. But things will change and that’s going to be okay. Maybe better than okay. Maybe we’ll come out better in the end. But we don’t have to be better now, we don’t have time to be better overnight. This isn’t work-from-home. This isn’t your time to shine. This isn’t time to be productive. If you are, embrace it. If you’re not, forgive it. Do what you can do. Be safe.”

Read more at Chuck’s http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2020/04/02/none-of-this-is-normal/ As ever I add a language alert. Chuck has …ahem…an interesting way with language.

If writing is what you can do, great. If not, do what you can. Ask a question or share your thoughts in the box 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. Stay well.

Valerie

The 2020 Valerie Parv Award is now open April 6 to 26. Details at

htpps://romanceaustralia.com/contests-overview/Valerie-parv-award

Valerie is a Member of the Order of Australia

Author of 90 books in 29 languages

Australia Day Ambassador

Life Member, Romance Writers of Australia

Australian Society of Authors’ medal recipient

On Twitter @ValerieParv, Facebook and www.valerieparv.com

Represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd, Sydney

 

 

 

First Monday Mentoring November 2019 – do you always write from the heart?

This week I was reading The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker the second novel by past Valerie Parv Award Winner, Joanna Nell, when I found in the acknowledgments, her  appreciation for encouraging her to follow her instincts and write her book from the heart.

She’d certainly done that. At one point I was reading in such an emotional mess I didn’t think I could finish the book because I was feeling all the feels. Thankfully I did finish and the ending was totally worthwhile.

Joanna’s acknowledgment made me think about how important it is to invest yourself in your writing. Years ago an editor at Mills & Boon, London, proposed a change I’d already considered and rejected. When I told her so, she asked me how often I followed my instincts. I’d was forced to admit that I’d been second-guessing myself , trying to give the editor what I thought she wanted.

Nobody knows what will sell until it’s out there. Ask J.K. Rowling about her many rejections before Harry Potter became a publishing phenomenon.  Far better to follow your writing instincts and tell the story you passionately want to tell.

With so many books being published, the biggest challenge to readers is discovering your work. Joanna’s first book, The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village, also published by Hachette, was launched with a national book tour. Her delightful humour and focus on love in older years meant she had a keen readership waiting for her second book.

Joanna Nell signs her much-anticipated new book

Some years ago when I wrote a book on creativity, The Idea Factory, published by Allen & Unwin,  my late husband drew a cartoon of a person being X-Rayed, the doctor indicating an actual book showing up on the screen. “Yes, there is a book in you.” These days it seems not only does everyone have a book in them, they can’t wait to get it out.

This can be at the expense of thorough editing and overall presentation, particularly if you’re self publishing. When it comes to basic grammar, story structure, spelling and the like, standards are slipping everywhere. The internet is full of memes showing the difference between their, they’re and there, which your spell checker doesn’t always recognise, although they’re (they are) improving all the time.

A useful rule for editing, coined by sci-fi luminary, Theodore Sturgeon, he described as “matter vs manner.”

Matter is what you write about – the stories of your heart. IMO these are non-negotiable. No editor or critique partner or group should tell you what stories you can tell, although you may have to wait for the readership to catch up.

Manner is how you tell your story and it’s here that beta readers, editors and critique groups are most helpful. If you have a wonderful story but it’s getting lost in turgid prose, excessive adjectives, typos and spelling mistakes, these are craft issues you can fix.  As far as possible I want readers to enjoy the story without  distractions, and I welcome having structural issues pointed out. The story is mine but how it’s told is an editor’s province, ensuring my message comes across as I intend.

For example, if the problem is the common one of repetition – the author repeating the same information in a different way or in another scene, it should be fixed, no argument. All writers have pet words we use unconsciously until we edit them out in successive drafts. Common examples are just, only, well, in fact, etc.  What must remain is your message, your reason for writing a particular story. In this I urge you to follow your instincts and always, always write from your heart.

How often do you follow your instincts and write from the heart? Share your thoughts in the comments below. They’re moderated 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!

Valerie Parv

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

First Monday Mentoring Oct 2019 – writing in the fast lane

In previous blogs I’ve looked at how many words you “should” write in a day, the answer being whatever suits your style and life commitments. Everyone is different and whether you write 200 or 2000 words in a given period is up to you.

Just as there are marathon runners and sprinters, there are those who happily write huge word counts. Others write more slowly, perhaps editing and polishing as they go. International best selling writer, Dean Koontz admits this is his style and it hasn’t done him any harm.

There’s another kind of pacing to consider, and that’s the pace of the story itself. It’s great when readers say they couldn’t put your book down, and even better when they say they didn’t want the story to end.

Most writers, including me, are avid readers and I’ve found myself slowing down near the end of a wonderful book, reluctant to part company with characters I’ve come to love. But just as many readers are turned off by thick, dense-looking narratives.

As we move into the final quarter of the year, we’ve all heard – or said ourselves – that we don’t know where the year went. Wasn’t it Christmas only a couple of months ago? Possibly the perception is due to how much entertainment we now pack into a year.

We order online for same-day delivery. There’s speed dating for everything from partners to publishing. Dating shows like “The Proposal” show the lovelorn “meeting and marrying” in an hour. Big life changes happen on screen in an hour on “This Time Next Year.” Even irascible chef, Gordon Ramsay, fixes a restaurant’s problems on fast forward. In movies, transitions are almost instant. Watching the movie “Yesterday” I was impressed how scene changes were shown by running huge translucent headers like LA or LIVERPOOL across the screen.

The need for speed has revived short stories and novellas under 40,000 words. Print and ebook page counts are shrinking. US analyst, Zach Obront, studied dozens of New York Times best sellers and found the average hardcover novel in 2011 was about 500 pages. By 2017 it was under 300 pages and still dropping.

Average word counts have gone from 80,000 words to 60,000 or even less. American retailer, Walmart, told my publisher, Harlequin, that aging customers were asking for larger print sizes. This is easily handled on eReaders, of course, but for print books it meant reducing word counts. My book, “Desert Justice”, was ready to be published and I was tasked with removing 10,000 words from an already-edited book. At first I cut back all descriptive details. Readers now Google anything they want to know more about. Then I made sure every word worked. A tough job but the book was the better for it when I was done.

It’s great to fit in

Modern books need to get in and out of scenes as quickly as possible. Dive straight into the first chapter as close to the action as you can. You may have to write and delete a couple of chapters of set-up. In my current project I wrote 2,000 words of flashback then deleted them in favour of a scene where the heroine sees the hero run off the road on his motorcycle and stops to help.

In general I’m writing only enough description to bring the scene to life. Then it’s on with showing the story through dialogue and action.

Shorter paragraphs and chapters can save those reading on devices from a solid screen of unbroken text.  Putting a hook at the end of each chapter has always worked, keeping readers engrossed. Likewise I like to set love scenes in unexpected places, not only bedrooms. In writing workshops where I’ve challenged the group to come up with interesting settings for love scenes, we have inadvertently entertained people within earshot of our efforts. I hope we’ve given them some new ideas as well.

Technology is a given; have characters use it even in remote locations.  If not, have reasons why not. Avoid repeating information you’ve already given. Readers “get it.” They want the story to move along at a fast clip while we compete with streamed TV, movies on Netflix and endless memes of cute cats.

What changes have affected your writing lately? What pushes you out of a book? Share your thoughts in the comments below. It’s moderated 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!

Valerie Parv

www.valerieparv.com

@valerieparv on Twitter and Facebook

SAVE THE DATE

My new workshop is Making Your Book Work

Saturday Oct 12 in Canberra for ACT Writers Centre

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/making-your-book-work-with-valerie-parv-am-tickets-61205601602?aff=Enews

 

 

First Monday Mentoring June 2019 – why most writing advice you’re given is wrong

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I drill down into the reality of being a writer This month’s question comes from a new writer. Confused by the conflicting information available, he asked what writing advice he should take.

First let’s look at a fraction of what’s out there. Start with character. Start with plot. Start with a brilliant idea. Don’t kill the cat. Write from the heart. Show don’t tell. Write what you know. Write what you can imagine.

Write five hundred words every day. Or a thousand. Or five thousand. Don’t preach to readers. Write a morality tale disguised. Start with a theme. Discover your theme as you write. Use the hero’s journey, bullet points, clustering, brainstorming or whatever else is on trend.

The truth is, they are all wrong for some writers. They are also totally right for some writers. The only way to know is to try them. And even that is moot. According to Yoda, the wizened green sage from Star Wars, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

Of course Yoda never said that. He’s a made-up character (spoiler, sorry).Yoda’s wisdom comes from Star Wars creator, George Lucas and screenwriter. Lawrence Kasdan, although Kasdan was credited with that specific line here http://tinyurl.com/y2rr94co. Given the years they put into the writing, I wonder if Lucas or Kasdan would still say there is no try, even though it’s quoted everywhere.

More interesting to me is Kasdan’s observation from the same interview:

“I’ve always felt that genre is a vessel into which you put your story…”If you want to make a western, you can tell any story in the world in a western, you know? It can be about family, betrayal, revenge, the opening up of the country…Those stories never get old, because they are issues everybody faces every day. Who do you trust? What are the temptations in your life?

Even when you get to be my age, you’re still trying to figure that out…  What am I, what am I about, have [I] fulfilled my potential, and, if not, is there still time? That’s what the Star Wars saga is about.”

If you were free to choose the vessel that fits your work best, would some of the writing advice suddenly make sense? Could your story work best in the “vessel” of a romance, a fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, historical?

To me writing has always been a mix of good ideas, good writing and good timing. How many great books were rejected then published to huge acclaim when the market was ready?

When I mentor each year’s winner of the Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia, I give what guidance I can then advise the writer to use what they like of my suggestions and discard the rest. To me the author is always the final arbiter of their own work even if the market needs time to catch up.

Then, like Lawrence Kasdan’s comments, there’s advice that make so much sense, it becomes a meme on social media. One such is Nora Roberts’s maxim that you can fix a bad page but you can’t fix a blank page. In other words, write something, anything. Most writing is rewriting anyway. You write what Nora calls a “dirty draft” you can trim, add and edit to reach a semblance of your story vision.

Accept that there’s no such thing as a perfect story. Humans are by nature imperfect. How can our stories be any different? I’ll leave you with two quotes from acclaimed Chilean writer, the late Isabel Allende –

–          Don’t be paralysed by the idea that you’re writing a book. Just write.

–          Show up and be patient. I can hit my head against the wall because [the writing’s] not happening. But just keep   going. Keep going and it happens.

How do you keep the writing going? What advice speaks to you? Share your thoughts in the box below. I moderate comments to avoid spam. Your post can appear right away if you click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Keep writing. Keep writing.

Valerie

www.valerieparv.com

Appearing at Romance Writers of Australia’s

National Conference Sun 11 August 1-2pm

With my agent Linda Tate we’re presenting

Getting back the joy of writing”

http://tinyurl.com/y52tghw4

First Monday Mentoring May 2019 – let your writing show who you are, but carefully

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I answer your questions about writing. Today’s query asks how to make your characters more real?

The common advice – write what you know – works in many ways. One of them is letting the reader glimpse your personal values through your characters. In mine I try to show their good qualities through how they act under pressure. Their defaults are honesty and kindness even if they struggle to live up to these values.

This doesn’t mean that every character is me. Far from it. They are their own people, shaped by the parenting they received, their experiences as they grew up, and the love they did or didn’t get from their adult relationships.

You as their creator give them these backgrounds, but having done so you lose some of your freedom. A character who has a rough upbringing may well struggle to form good relationships later on. One who has been smothered by “helicopter parents” may find it hard to take risks, seeking a protective partner even as it stunts their emotional growth.

It’s important to be consistent. If they try to surmount their upbringing they need to be aware of the struggle. Perhaps they’ve chosen previous partners unwisely and now resolve to do better.

In my Harlequin Superromance, With a Little Help, my heroine is a successful caterer, the odd one out in a family of high-flying physicians. Having experienced how the demands of a medical career can leave children feeling neglected, Emma Jarrett has no interest in medicine but it doesn’t stop her mother parading eligible doctors in front of her. The latest is surgeon, Nathan Hale, someone she shares a history with. Trying to stick to her ideals is hard as Nate’s appeal grows stronger. Being honest and kind is Emma’s default, challenged by what she considers Nate’s unsuitability.

If you give your main characters some of your own values, it’s easier to portray them as real. There were no doctors in my family, formal education stopping as soon as we were old enough to work. But I was the only writer I know about, so can relate to being the odd one out. I also saw patterns in my family that I didn’t want to repeat when it came to romance.

Having Emma resist partnering with a doctor meant she had to learn that not all of them are like her immediate family. On the other hand, Nate had to come on strong as the indispensable man, only learning differently as he faced mounting challenges including how fast he’s falling for Emma.  This growth and change is the character arc.

In Crowns and a Cradle, the monarch, Prince Lorne, had an unhappy marriage until his wife died leaving him with their young son. If I’d known this would be the first of twenty-three novels set in my South Pacific kingdom, I might not have made divorce illegal. But Lorne is stiff-necked, refusing to change Carramer’s marriage laws even for his own benefit. The situation cried out for a clash of values between Lorne and free-spirited Alison who literally washed up on his private beach. She fell foul of several traditions before accepting that Lorne was right; he had to set an example for his son and his people. But he was also a man, as he started remembering from the moment they met.

Whether they flout their history or stick to it as rigidly as did Prince Lorne, is up to you. It may help to try different approaches before you settle on what works best for your story. I like to make my characters stronger, braver and all-round better people than myself, why I suggest using your own values – but carefully. You don’t want perfect people who can do no wrong.

Nobility is a value I aim for. Noble is defined as fine, decent, righteous and many other good qualities which must be shown, not told. For example, if your heroine needs to raise money for treatment for her sick child, she must attain it by worthy means. Should she find a bag of money, the proceeds of a crime, say, she may agonise over keeping it but she must choose to do the right thing. This shows us her character so we don’t have to be told. In traditional romances the hero may offer her a solution through working for him, possibly the last thing she wants to do, but this is an honest way to help her child.

Your characters may not achieve their goals but it’s not for want of trying. If they fall short it’s for good reason, such as helping the hero or heroine achieve their goals, and in so doing, find a new goal they can achieve together.

What parts of you go into your characters? What don’t you like to see? Share your thoughts in the box below. Comments are moderated 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!

Valerie

www.valerieparv.com

If you’re near Canberra ACT on June 1, join me for a full day of Romance Writing Rebooted. By day’s end leave with a two-page outline of your romance novel.  Information and bookings –

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-rebooted-with-valerie-parv-am-tickets-55747747012?aff=Enews

First Monday Mentoring April 2019 – 4 ways good writers avoid fooling themselves

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring when I look at the realities of the writing life. First Monday this month is April Fool’s Day, the day jokers love and other people dread. But not all jokes are played on us by others. We writers have many ways we fool ourselves.

For example, just before falling asleep you have a great story idea. You tell yourself you’ll remember the idea in the morning but you’re fooling yourself. Just before sleep, your short term memory doesn’t store information well. Better to write the idea down then you can safely go to sleep.

Here are five more ways writers fool themselves. See if any of them sound familiar:

  1. I can write it tomorrow

None of us is guaranteed another breath, far less another day. This isn’t gloom and doom; it’s a reality check. Even if you do wake up tomorrow, and I pray you will, the day brings its own issues. You could spend hours fixing a problem you hadn’t expected, like me last week with my laptop. There went the precious hours I’d planned to spend writing. Luckily I’d kept my bargain with myself and written the day before, and the one before that. Losing a couple of hours wasn’t a disaster, but what if today had been the only day I’d set aside to enter a competition or meet a deadline?

Good writers don’t put off writing. They write today and every other working day, even if it’s only a couple of sentences.

  1. Someone else has already written my story

They may have written about the same events, but they haven’t written “your” story. A very dear friend talked a lot about a book she meant to write – what she called the Battle of Sydney – when Japanese mini submarines invaded Sydney Harbour in WWII. Working for ABC Radio, she’d had a box seat to see the events unfold. Her perspective was unique; her writing style original. Yet she passed away with the book unwritten for a whole stack of reasons, I suspect mostly #1 and #2 here.

Good writers tell their own stories in their own way.

  1. I don’t have time to write

If we let excuses make the running, the joke is definitely on us. Nobody ever has all the time they need to write. In my writing workshops and my online course, I have participants compile a list of reasons not to write, from the weather to kids being home on holidays, to technology issues (there’s still paper and pen) to other demands on our time. There will always be reasons not to write. Writing is work. I tell others that I’m working rather than writing, because we’re hard wired to respect work. Writing is often seen as something to be picked up or put down on a whim.

If you have stories to tell, you make time to write them. Good writers don’t fool themselves with excuses.

  1. I’m not good enough to write this

This is the saddest April Fool’s joke of them all. Someone in your life – perhaps even you – convinced you that you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. The truth is that nobody knows what makes a writer.

You may be the worst writer in the world, although I doubt that, but how will you know what you can achieve until you try? No writer thinks they’re good enough, even those we regard as the greats. In my career, I’ve found the opposite to be true – the writers most strongly plagued by self doubt are usually those whose words make the sweetest reading. The story in your head is shining, perfect gold, but turns into base metal as soon as you start to write. Accept this as the way things are. Be glad of your fears because all the best writers have them.

Write your story in spite of your fears. Do the best you can at the time.

Now, over to you.

Do you recognise these April fool’s jokes? What other ways do writers fool themselves? Share your thoughts in the comments 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

BOOK NOW! 01 June 2019  at ACT Writers Centre Canberra

Romance Writing Rebooted – a fun interactive workshop, back by popular demand. You’re guided to create up-to-date stories that flow. In one day create a 2-page outline of your novel as a writing guide & great selling tool. Book here:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-rebooted-with-valerie-parv-am-tickets-55747747012?aff=Enews

First Monday Mentoring March 2019 – how to create a story character in ten minutes flat

In all my years as a romance writer, I’ve been asked every question from where I get ideas, to how much money I make. I never answer the last one. One question I’m never asked is where I get my characters from.

They can be inspired by real life, but not as often as you might think. I may borrow aspects of people I know but rarely a whole person. Not only is it legally risky, but also because I want  my characters to live in the story,  rather than in real life.

My life rarely inspires my characters. In only one book, Island of Dreams, did they come close. She was the daughter of Russian immigrants who had a troubled history with their homeland. Unable to relax in their new country they moved around a lot and worried about their past catching up with them. This led my heroine to develop an eating disorder she had when she first met the hero, a journalist writing her father’s life story.

The family’s history came from my own migrant parents who also moved a lot and used food as a distraction from their problems. When the book came out I wondered how they would respond to my soul-baring. Short answer – they didn’t. The heroine’s family was Russian and we came from England. Nor did they connect their children’s eating issues with my heroine’s. From then on I created characters as I chose and didn’t give family concerns a second thought.

That said, you can use parts of your own background to create a believable character in just ten minutes.

You’ll need one other person for this exercise. A writing friend is ideal and you can work together off or online. If you have no other options, choose an interesting character from a TV show or movie, plus yourself.

Each of you starts by listing three “good points” you think you have. For example, you may see yourself as a good cook, a hard worker and trustworthy. Your friend makes their own list. If using a TV or movie character, make the list based on your observations of them.

Next you and your friend list three “bad points” you want to change. Or look at your TV character and work out their “bad points.” Don’t worry about being right or wrong, simply make the lists as you see them.

For example, things you want to change about yourself may include often being late, being forgetful or bad at managing money. None of the points need be drastic, just normal human failings.

Oh yes, we also have multiple personalities

Once you have your lists, exchange yours with your friend’s, or work on your TV character’s lists. It’s okay to use your own list provided you can be sufficiently objective. No, you can’t change the lists, you work with what’s on it.

You may be surprised by what your friend sees as their good and bad traits, probably different from the way you see them.

When you have the lists, the person who made them ceases to exist. The lists now represents a character in a story. Sometimes the good and bad points contradict each other. Like the person who sees themselves as a reliable friend despite often being late.

Use the lists to imagine a heroine in your story. Do their qualities suggest a name for them? What kind of work would they do? A poor money manager may not thrive in banking. But if they were in this job, how would they cope? Perhaps their boss is frustrated by the heroine’s failings but she’s the CEO’s daughter. How would this play out?

Already this character is coming to life. You could then make a “good and bad” list for her boss. The scenario so far suggests he might be a bit uptight, preferring computers to fallible humans. What if he and your heroine must work together on an important project? What if it’s something outside work, where he gets to see her good points in action, as well as her weaknesses? What might their task be? Perhaps a charity project that doesn’t suit the hero at all, far less having to work with this ditzy woman. No doubt you can imagine dozens of ways they could clash as their attraction builds.

Doing this exercise gives you real people to work with, because the good and bad aspects came from real people including yourself. It also beats listing aspects such as hair and eye colour and height.These can come later when you have a handle on who these two people are. The essential conflict also comes from who they are – in this case, one an uptight executive, the other an airhead with money. Now work out how they got to where they are and why they must cooperate on the project. You’re well on the way to having an original story.

How do you develop characters and stories? Share your thoughts in the space below. They’re moderated 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!

Valerie

The 2019 Valerie Parv Award run by Romance Writers of Australia opens April 8 and closes April 29, open to members and non members.  I mentor the winner for the year they hold the award.

Details:Valerie Parv Award 2019

Find me on Twitter @valerieparv  and Facebook www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course, www.valerieparv.com/course.html

 

 

First Monday Mentoring February 2019 – writing lessons we can learn from cricket

One thing I need to make clear – I know next to nothing about the game of cricket, despite friends’ best efforts to enlighten me. Nevertheless I found myself intrigued by an article by sports journalist, Robert Craddock, @craddock_cmail  in the January 7, 2019 Sunday Telegraph.

He wrote a 10-point analysis of the Indian cricket team’s “blueprint for success.” As I browsed his ten points, I began seeing them as a blueprint for writing success as well. The headers fit perfectly and I’ve adapted the content to apply to writing.

1 Be Fit and Fierce

The Indian team, says Craddock, have non-negotiable fitness levels for their players. Many of us have resolved to improve our fitness this year, but how many consider the benefits to our writing? A fit body translates to an alert mind and it can be acquired as easily by walking regularly, as by spending hours in a gym.

2 Wicked wickets

The lesson here is to ignore “good” or “bad” conditions (wickets) and write anyway. Waiting for the perfect day or mood to start writing is a sure way to get nothing done. If you find yourself saying, “I’ll write when…” try changing when to “now.”

3 Be flexible

Being flexible means not trying to be Nora Roberts or Liane Moriarty – they’re already taken. Create your writing practice around your special abilities and write your words your way.

4 Tough love

According to Robert Craddock, the Indian team practices all kinds of ball deliveries until they can handle just about anything. As a writer you can do the same, challenging yourself to write long, short, to a deadline and just for fun. Entering competitions – or even judging them – out of your comfort zone is another way to practice tough love on yourself.

5 Bold cuts

This means removing anything from your writing practice that doesn’t serve you well. Decluttering expert, Marie Kondo, calls this removing whatever doesn’t spark joy in your life. I have a well set-up office but found myself working at the dining table. Solution – change my old fashioned desk for a “dining table” type desk that’s smaller, streamlined, and makes me feel good using it. Likewise invest in stationery, pens, keyboards, any tools you enjoy using.

6 The anchorman

Craddock refers to one Indian player who shaped the mood of his team. You may be a one-player team but how do you inspire yourself? Do you read interesting articles – like this one, taking inspiration from a subject I knew nothing about? Watch vlogs and podcasts like Sarah Williams’s Write with Love, learning from some of the wonderful writers she interviews. Disclaimer: one of them was me, so I may be a bit biased. www.sarahwilliamsauthor.com/valerieparv

7 Bag of tricks

Do you write cleverly and with invention, aiming to improve your writing with every draft? I’ve written before about my 20 Options for ensuring originality. When writing a new scene I start with the numbers 1 to 20 down the side of a page or screen, aiming to fill in as many story options as I can. The first few are the most obvious, the next few becoming more fanciful, until I have more options for the scene than I’d dreamed were possible.

8 Back-up troops

When you run out of writing steam, do you have a writing buddy you can contact when the going gets rough, and do the same for them? Belong to a group on or offline? Have a library of “keeper” books to re-read for inspiration? These are your back-up troops.

9 Hard-yakka heroes

For my overseas readers, hard yakka is an Aussie term for hard work. As with elite cricketers, successful writers can be surrounded with glitz and glamour that obscures the hard work they put in to get where they are. Working around day jobs, family demands and rejection are all part of the long road to success, and must be repeated book after book.

10 Challenge yourself

Behind almost every published writer is a pile of books that died in the writing, were rejected despite their best efforts, and had the author questioning why they chose to write in the first place. To finish the cricketing analogy, I’ll quote Robert Craddock who says, “The (Indian Team) lost both series (against England and South Africa) but gained a tough shell that had them conditioned for anything in Australia.” Think of all those lost books as helping you perfect your craft and grow that tough shell.

What people or jobs inspire you? Share your thoughts in the space below. They’re moderated 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!

Valerie

Find me on Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook www.valerieparv.com

For more like this check out Valerie’s online course, www.valerieparv.com/course.html

 

 

 

 

 

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