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Archive for April, 2010

tips for writing steampunk

Posted by richardharland on April 30, 2010

Hi! Had a good start to the day today. Hollywood interest in Worldshaker has moved up another level – now the movie agency has a definite ‘client’ and wants to talk film rights. So it goes from my literary agent in Australia to an agency specialising in film rights in LA – and my people talk to their people, as they say!

I promised to produce some writing tips on steampunk, and I’m finally keeping my promise. Here goes –

WRITING TIPS FOR STEAMPUNK (as told to a clockwork angel)


Should you do a lot of research? I don’t think so. After all, you’re writing speculative fiction, not historical fact. The worst thing in the world would be to accumulate a mass of information about 19th century clothing, furniture, etiquette or whatever – which you then felt obliged to include just because it’s true.

No! The spirit of steampunk is creative anachronism – that is, doing history and getting it wrong. Like steampunk fashion guru Kit Stolen, we’re all anachronauts. What’s matters isn’t the fact but the feel – the feel of a different past era. So, sure, immerse yourself in 19th century novels or non-fiction until you can swim in that world like a sea. Then swim away from it! Use the historical reality as a springboard for your own imagination. Do-It-Yourself—that’s what steampunk is all about!

It helps if something in the 19th century particularly inspires your imagination. For me, it was the gaping difference between the respectable façade of morality and propriety, and the very ugly goings-on behind that facade. The Victorian class structure gave me my inspiration for Worldshaker.


I believe 19th century novelists like Charles Dickens didn’t just observe the world around them, they had a vision of it. And their vision still fascinates today—like the Arthurian vision of mediaval times. It’s a gothic imagination – as in forbidding castles, subterranean caverns, romantic mists and storms – but re-applied to their contemporary reality of fog and steam, cities and factories. What I like is that it’s a dark vision and a suggestive vison, not seen in the clear light of day.

Maybe that’s why it was such a great time for imagining horrors. So many classic horror figures come from that time—Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, Jekyll and Hyde, the Baskerville hounds. On the one hand, the official shiny progressive optimism, but on the other hand, a dark and morbid streak of fear and uncertainty.


The 19th century produced so many iconic figures – great criminals, great eccentrics, great monsters, great rogues. That’s what I look for in steampunk. Characters like Isombard Kingdom Brunel or Jack the Ripper or Sir Mormus Porpentine (oops, I slipped into my own fiction there).

I think steampunk writers have to steer between two pitfalls. On the one hand, you should never just present modern people in 19th century fancy dress—that’s as bad as futuristic SF where the characters still think and speak exactly like contemporary Americans. On the other hand, you should never become so obsessed with historical re-creation that a modern reader can’t get involved with your characters. They have to live across the ages …


If steampunk already has its generic traits, I guess one of them is fast-paced storytelling. I don’t say it ought to be be that way–and if you count China Miéville as at least steampunk-related, then great steampunky fiction can just as well have a very slow pace. But … a strong narrative drive is something that publishers may expect and look for.

Every tip I can offer on maintaining narrative drive in steampunk is also a tip for maintaining narrative drive in any genre, so it’s already up on the web in the STORY section of my website,


Steampunk is in some ways fantasy and in some ways SF. One problem it shares with both is how to introduce a whole world without info-dumping, but it’s not easy to use the classical fantasy strategy and start from a corner. Like SF worlds, steampunk worlds are more likely to be urban, with good communications, so it’s not so easy to arrange for ignorance! In Worldshaker, I take a main character whose very sheltered upbringing has protected him from the realities of his own world; it’s also a world where many of those realities are never spoken about in polite society.


Here again, I think steampunk writers should steer between two pitfalls. You wouldn’t want to have characters lapsing into jargon that sounds 21st century, and you wouldn’t want to use such jargon in your author’s voice either. On the other hand, you don’t have to write like someone writing in the 19th century – if only because 19th century novelists were very heavy and over-descriptive by our standards. And your dialogue still has to be lively and spirited, not just historically accurate.

I guess what I’m saying is that anachronism is okay so long as it doesn’t jar and stick out like a sore thumb. In Worldshaker, there’s one moment when Quinnea exclaims:

‘Oh, I will [be proud of you]. But a mother’s heart … a mother’s care … a mother’s panic attacks …’

As my editor pointed out, the phrase ‘panic attack’ doesn’t really belong in this world of juggernauts. I agreed, and I’d have taken it out – except that that bit of dialogue cracks me up whenever I read it. (It is funny, I swear … okay, you have to be there!) So we left it in, and nobody’s objected yet.



Posted in Creativity, Genre Writing, Steampunk, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 32 Comments »

Right, Thursday is Trent’s Day

Posted by trentjamieson on April 29, 2010

Ok, I’ve promised to blog here every Thursday. Perhaps I should have prepared something earlier. I’m in the middle – if we’re generous about what constitutes middle – of a first draft of book three. This is the book that concludes a lot of story arcs. While the previous two books are relatively self-contained they did leave threads, and it’s those threads that I’m tying up, hopefully with a lot of excitement, a touch of romance, and not too many knots.

This is the fun part of writing for me. Just getting the words down, seeing what the subconscious mind does with my plans, and going with it. I know how the book ends, and have even written the ending, but there’s still enough here to surprise. And it’s those surprises that make it so much fun. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy the rewriting and the crafting of sentences and scenes, but there’s nothing more fun than surprising yourself, feeling a scene just drag you along.

Now, I have a question.

I’m a writer that writes, fairly consistently, a thousand or so words a day – though if I don’t hit it, I don’t hit it and move on. But I also have the occasional daily bursts of up to about five thousand – usually I’m wrecked the next day though, so those five thousand words might mean I can’t stand the sight of my computer screen for a day or two.

Are you a slow and steady writer. Or a word burster? Or both?

Also, check out fellow ROR member Tansy Rayner Robert’s Blog. Her entry today on what it’s like to have a book on the verge of release is just brilliant.

Posted in Genre Writing, Good Dialogue, Point of View, Writing Craft | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

Update on Industry Insight

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on April 27, 2010

I’m taking requests. Chris has asked for a post on Pitching and another one on writing a Synopsis. I’ve drawn the ‘Post on a Sunday straw’, so I’ll slot them in over the next couple of weeks.

Any writing craft requests?

Posted in Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

INDUSTRY INSIGHT — where we answer your questions.

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on April 26, 2010

Being an author isn’t all Wine and Roses. Once you’ve written the book and edited it a dozen times then sold it, the work isn’t over.

That’s why authors survive on chocolate and coffee!

There’s the:

Structural Edit — This is where the editor looks at the flow of the narrative, suggesting changes to improve pacing and the over all story arc, if needed. Which means rewriting for the author.

Line Edit — This is where your editor picks up little things like clumsy sentences and errors like someone drinking a glass of wine twice. Which means rewriting.

Proof Edit — This is where another person (a proof editor with a meticulous eye for detail) goes over the manuscript and corrects tiny errors that you and your editor have missed because you’ve been concentrating on the larger picture. For instance in my new series King Rolen’s Kin we had to decide which words to give capitals and then make sure this was consistent.

Reading and approving the Proof Edits — This is exactly what it sounds like.

Writing the Blurb — this is really hard. And often the publisher uses this as a starting point for the blurb which may end up looking nothing like the one you came up with.

Writing the Author Bio — harder than you think.

Coming up with the Maps — If you have maps and many fantasy books do, this can take time to get right.

But there is also fun stuff like suggesting ideas for the cover and approving the cover. Sometimes, if you have several contracts for books, you’ll be doing several of the above things on different books, while writing the first draft of another book.

Over the last month the ROR team has been busy.

Marianne has seen the cover of ‘Transformation Space’, book four of the Sentients of Orion series. Plus she’s been redrafting book two of the Tara Sharp series.

Tansy has seen the cover of ‘Power and Majesty’, book one of the Creature Court series. Plus she’s been writing the first draft of book two.

Trent has been doing the copy edits of ‘Death most Definite’ book one of the Death Works series. Plus he’s been writing book three of the series.

Richard has just handed in ‘Liberator’, book two of his YA series, Plus he’s had good news on book one, ‘WORLDSHAKER’ has been shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Prize for YA Fiction in the NSW Premiers Literary Awards. Yay Richard!

Rowena has done the line edit on all three books of the King Rolen’s Kin series and seen the covers. Plus she’s been trying to write a completely new book in a new series.

Margo has been touring the world swanning around enjoying the success of her YA book ‘Tender Morsels’. Go Margo! Plus she’s been gathering ideas for her next book.

Maxine has been working on a book for the next ROR, while slipping away to ride her horse.

Dirk has been working on a book for the next ROR, while writing an opera libretto.

So you see the writing never stops even when you are not actually at your computer keyboard.

As they say on Mythbusters, between us we have over 70 years experience in the publishing industry, so we’re going to turn comments over to you guys. Do you have any questions?

Posted in Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , | 13 Comments »

WORLDSHAKER shortlisting

Posted by richardharland on April 25, 2010

Yay! Worldshaker has been shortlisted for the Ethel Turner Prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards! Completely out of the blue – how often do fantasy books get chosen for such prizes? This shortlisting means that the judges selected Worldshaker as one of the 6 best YA novels by any Australian author anywhere. And if I won, it would mean $30,000 in prize money. But I’m not expecting a further miracle, I”m just delighted at this success. Another small step in the march of fantasy …

Richard Harland

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Give-away Winners!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on April 24, 2010

Apologies for the late post. (My internet was playing up). Thank you for your response to Kate Forysth’s ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’ give-away. (For non Australian readers this may need some explanation. When we have a raffle the tradition is to tip all the raffle tickets into an empty ice-cream bucket,  give them a shake then ask someone to pull the winners out).

Kate dipped into the ice-cream bucket and came up with Mel Tescho and Kelly Ethan as the winners!

So, if you two email me, I’ll arrange to have your books posted out to you. (If you don’t know my email leave a comment).

Cheers, Rowena

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Kate Forsyth — Writing books for all ages …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on April 20, 2010

Introducing the lovely Kate Forsyth. Look out for the give-away of her new book at the end of the post!

I’ve written 23 books which range from picture books through early readers to older readers to young adults to adults. Basically, you can read me from birth to death!

I always know exactly who I’m writing for before I start a book. To me, the story demands its own shape, and that includes my ideal reader, the person in my head I imagine reading the book. That ideal reader is usually me, or someone very like me, but at different stages of their life. I wanted different things from the books I read when I was 8 than from what I wanted or needed as a reader when I was 13 or 24. So the type of story I tell changes according to the age of my reader.

Writing a novel is such a big and complex task, and so much of what we do is intuitive, that it can be hard to pin down exactly what we do and why. But there are a few things I always try and think about when beginning a new novel.

1)      The age of my protagonist
Often this is the single most important determining factor in deciding the age of my audience. If my hero is 11, then I imagine my reader being 9 or 10. If my hero is 15, I imagine a reader aged 12 or 13. Children don’t like to read books about people younger than they are – I remember beginning a book once, when I was 8 or 9, and then dropping it as soon as I realised the hero was only 7. I’m too old for that baby stuff, I thought. We used the same rule in the magazine world and called it ‘aspirational readership’ ie the primary readers of ‘Dolly’ were tweens – the teenagers had already moved on to ‘Cleo’.
Often the age of my hero is predetermined by whatever god it is that sends us characters to bother us into telling their stories. Many of my characters arrive like that – other characters slowly emerge during the writing process and it is then that I might have more control over who my target market is. Other times, I just know – my character is not quite 13 years old and has red hair, and so I am writing for 10+.

2)      The length of the book
Once I know I am writing for a certain age group, I know then how long my book will be. A picture book should be between 200 words and 500 words. A book for early readers (let’s say 6+) should be no more than 3,500-5,000 words, depending on the complexity of the storyline. A book for readers aged 9+ comes in between 35,000 and 70,000 words (though mine always seem to come in longer!). A book for readers aged 12+ can be as long as 80,000 to 100,000 words. Readers 15+ can sustain their interest for as much as 120,000 words. At this point, I should point out that I write fantasy books which are traditionally longer than other genres of fiction (so if you’re writing contemporary realism, I’d aim for the lower end of the spectrum!)

3)      Length of the chapters
Knowing roughly the perfect length of the book makes it easier for me to plan. In general, I find that the younger the target market, the shorter the chapters. So when writing early readers (6+) each chapter must be under 1,000 words. This is a comfortable amount for a child to read before bed every night, and enough for a mother to read 2 or even 3 chapters before bed. With children’s fiction, (readers aged 9+) I aim for chapters of around 2,500-3,000 words which means I can have up to 32 chapters (again a comfortable length to read in bed for half an hour before lights out). In writing for YA, I will write longer chapters, perhaps as much as 4,000 words per chapter, while in writing adult fiction, the chapters are often around 5,000 words on average. If chapters are too long, the child reader gets tired or begins to lose interest – a death knell for a children’s writer!

4)      Style and syntax
My style grows deeper, darker and more complex with each age group. My early readers tend to be light and funny and full of misadventure. My books for older readers have more introspection and a greater sense of danger. My YA books are more morally ambiguous, and my heroes often have to pay a high price for their triumph. I also think a lot about my diction and my syntax i.e. the type of words I use and the length and complexity of my sentences. Usually this begins as an intuitive process, but during the editorial process I really think about it very hard. On the one hand, I believe children love playfulness with language and love discovering new words. I worry about the diminishing of our literature and our vocabularies, and I love using the precisely right word. As Mark Twain said, the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between a lightning flash and a lightning bug. On the other hand, too many strange and difficult words makes the meaning incomprehensible to the learning reader. It can break the spell you are casting, reminding the reader that this is a constructed artifice  and not a ‘vivid and continuous dream’, which is what a good book should feel like. Finding the balance between these two is always hard and a matter for the writer to decide. In general, I try and opt for simplicity and clarity, with enough beautiful language and complex words to stimulate the reader and not so many that you weigh down the story and – horror of horrors – bore the reader.

5)      Sex and violence
I think this is where we see the real difference beginning to show. Basically, I feel books for readers aged 6+ should have no sex or romance (yewww! Boy germs!) and very little violence. If there is any violence, it should never be aimed at the children i.e the kids can trip the baddie over and sit on his head, but the baddie can’t sock them in the jaw. For readers aged 9+, a little romance is fine, as long as it’s only a look, a brush of the hand, a gentle kiss on the cheek – but smouldering sexual tension or an actual sex scene can really horrify them (I know this from bitter experience, having a mother buy her 11 year old daughter all my adult books to read. She wrote me a letter saying she’s really enjoyed the book – all except for the disgusting scene on page whatever it was!) Different markets may have different places where they draw the line. For instance, with ‘The Gypsy Crown’ my UK editor didn’t like it when my hero was knocked down and blood was drawn, while my US editor didn’t like the use of a scold’s bridle on one of the characters because of the underlying sexual threat.

I love writing for different age groups. I think one reason why I’ve been able to do it is because I have such a strong idea of who my ideal reader is for each book. I remember myself as a nine year old or a twelve year old so vividly, and I remember the books I most loved and the ones that most richly fed my imaginative life, and I write the sort of book I would have loved to have read then.

We have two copies of Kate’s latest book to give-away. Correct answers will go into a virtual ice cream bucket and Kate will pull them out. Winners will be announced on Friday evening.

What earlier book of Kate’s is ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’ a sequel to?

Posted in Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Visiting Writer, Writing Craft, Writing for children | Tagged: , , | 27 Comments »

Cover: Power and Majesty

Posted by tansyrr on April 18, 2010

Since it’s cover appreciation week (and if not it should be) I thought I’d pop mine up here – Power and Majesty is due out in June, and just went to print this last week, so I was finally allowed to share the pretty cover.

I had a lot more input into the cover design than I might have expected with such a big publisher – though of course there’s a big difference between ‘input’ and ‘say’. I suggested the dress depicted as being one of the iconic aspects of the book, when we were considering the possibility of a cover which just featured a design element rather than an illustration.

The final image decided upon was of the dress and its wearer Isangell, who is an integral but minor character of the book – but the image beautifully conveys the right kind of feel and style of the book. The first ‘draft’ of the cover I saw was unfinished (they wanted to check it was generally okay before adding more roses to the frock – understandably!) and depicted Isangell in a plain slip. She was standing on a balcony, and while the buildings in the background had a similar gothic feel to the end result, they also looked more ‘dark, foreboding castle on a hill’ than ‘dark, foreboding city’.

Asking for a city background was my big request! We also discussed the frock, the sky colour, and whether there should be naked boys falling out of said sky. (You have to squint, but there’s a distinct possibility that the flying shapes in the background aren’t birds, hehehe). The balcony railing vanished before the final result too, which I was pleased with because there’s an important balcony scene with a different character early on, and it might be confusing.

The cover to me feels like a really good balance between the Voyager ‘look’ and the actual story in the novel… and eeee, review copies are OUT there, so very soon people will be able to tell me whether they think the cover matches the book.

Also, for all of you who did request naked men falling from the sky on the cover, I would like to add that I have made a request for naked men fighting in a lake for Book 2. Sure, the chances are not high, but at least I asked. 😀

Posted in Covers, Publishing Industry | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

A sense of achievement

Posted by mdepierres on April 15, 2010

Dear ROR readers,

There are many rebuffs and disappointments along the road to being a career writer, but just often enough there are some uplifting highlights. When I received the final cover of my Sentients of Orion series, I experienced one these.

A profound sense of achievement. I wish you all the same experience. Don’t give up; perserverance can take you place no other mindset can.

Posted in Sales | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »

Time Poor Writers

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on April 15, 2010

Remember when you were  a kid and you had time to be bored. The Christmas holidays lasted for ever. Now I blink and a month goes by. Life gets in the way of my writing.

Our next ROR is going to be held the week before World Con, in Melbourne. I need to get my lastest book written. (240 pages done, only another 160 to go but I want to have the time to do a re-write). And I need to do this in time to send out to the other ROR writers so they can read it and do a  report. I’ll be doing the same thing for their books. Reading 6 or 7 manuscripts and writing reports on them is a big commitment, but it is worth it.

Only another writer can truly understand the joy of three days straight of intense talking about the the craft of writing. And then, of course, there is Dirk’s cooking!!!

Sigh. So I have better get writing. If only life would stop getting in the way of writing!

Posted in Creativity, Nourish the Writer, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »