Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

Posts tagged ‘writing’

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 August 2020 – how to be a Valerie Parv Award writing “minion”

Over and over, we’re hearing how our world has changed. If you’d told me last August that I’d be announcing the winner of the 2020 Valerie Parv Award via Zoom at a virtual writing conference, I’d have said you’re dreaming. But thanks to a nasty bug which doesn’t need any more publicity, this is our “new normal.”

Even more astonishing is that this year we’re celebrating 20 years of the Valerie Parv Award under the banner of Romance Writers of Australia.

The winner’s name is a secret until the official announcement later this month but the short list is already out. Congratulations to the finalists, in no particular order, Amanda Newberry, Karen Lieversz, Kristin Silk, Davina Stone, Dianna Lennon, Rachel Armstrong and Frances Dall-Alba. One of you will be my new “minion” as past winners call themselves. As a previous minion tweeted when the list came out, someone’s life is about to change and they don’t even know it.

I’m always thrilled to see the minions winning awards, publishing all over the world, and becoming great friends. The saying is, “once a minion, always a minion.” Sadly, a virtual conference doesn’t allow our annual Minions’ Breakfast where we catch up wearing our special tiaras.

Valerie Parv am and VPA Contest Manager       Karina Coldrick

This year, because of the lockdowns, we all got so much writing done. Yeah, me neither. The world is so crazy that it can be difficult to write at all, with crafting and baking having more appeal.  When actor, Debra Lee Furness, complained about being locked down with her family, a friend said she had no sympathy. Asked why, the friend pointed out that Furness was locked down with Hugh Jackman. Such a sacrifice.

Despite such challenges, this year’s VPA finalists are an impressive group. The entries ranged from a gritty Regency heroine; to a reunion romance; a challenging birthday gift; a mismatched couple finding love in the outback; an escape-worthy fling in the fairytale world; a friends-to-lovers story; and a page-turner “secret baby”.

The final entries, give readers respite or head-on challenges, sometimes both. There’s much experimenting with present tense. Backgrounds are sketched in with a light hand..

So how does a writer become the next VPA minion? These are some aspects I take into account:

  1. You write from the heart

Every highly-placed entry is a labour of love and it shows. Your story may not be perfectly written but your characters are people we care about from the start.

  1. You add a touch of originality

If two entries vie for the top prize, I generally favour the more original. Your story will have something special that transcends genre.

  1. You’re a storyteller

I look for a story that comes to life right away, giving us people we want to see triumph against the odds. I’ll read any genre or time period as do agents and editors. Like them, I forgive occasional writing slips as long as you give me a page-turning story.

  1. You have the X-factor

I know it as soon as I see it. The entry may not be the one I want to choose but the writing makes the choice inescapable. In her winning book, Shadowfae, Erica Hayes thanked me “for wanting so hard for this book not to win, that it did.” A great review in the Wall Street Journal backed me up.

In The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker, one of two books we worked on together, minion Joanna Nell included her “heartfelt thanks…for encouraging her to trust her instincts and tell [her] story from the heart.” IMO this is the very best way to write.

Rather than answers, I give the minions tools they can apply to any story. For example, identify the work the writing has to do. Every sentences, scene and chapter must have a job to do, revealing character, moving the story forward, deepening conflict, filling in essential background, or in a mystery/suspense, planting clues and red herrings.

Another VPA minion, Carly Main, said, “I’ve tried a few critique partners but nobody has ever suggested new ways of telling the story. Is it a matter of experience or do published authors look at manuscripts in a different way?”

I can’t speak for other authors, but I’ve known that once you identify why a scene or chapter is in there, you open up dozens of ways to achieve the purpose, rather than simply rewriting the scene in different words, making rewriting and editing much simpler.

Minion Michelle Somers
checks out a poster in LA

A well-honed story sense is part of the X-factor. The rest is studying your craft to discover not only what works but why. Curiously, however far you go into fantasy and sci-fi, or human psychology, as author and TV show-runner, John Yorke, points out, the basic human story structure remains constant, explaining the world to us, and us to ourselves.

Could you be a future VPA minion? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. The blog is moderated to avoid spam, but your comment can appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone. Happy writing,

Valerie

On Facebook and Twitter @valerieparv

Romance Writers of Australia virtual

conference details at – http://tinyurl.com/yyk76wyd

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

Tag Cloud