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Archive for November, 2010

Meet Margo Lanagan …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on November 30, 2010

Over at ROR here, we’ve decided to run a series of interviews with Australian Spec Fic writers (starting with the ROR team).

So to launch the interviews we’re going to get some insights from 4 time Fantasy Award Winner, Margo Lanagan.

I met Margo about 12 years ago when my first trilogy came out. We were both guests at a convention and, as we were leaving, she mentioned that she was going to Clarion West. I think I mock punched her shoulder and said You lucky dog! And I think she came back with, You’re the first person who knows what Clarion is.

For anyone wanting to know what Clarion is, it’s a 6-week intensive short story writing workshop where the participants live in and are mentored by published writers and editors. Now we have Clarion South, thanks to the Australian Clarion team. S

ince that far off day, Margo has won four World Fantasy Awards, taught at Clarion South three time, and she’ll teach at Clarion West in 2011. Margo has been part of ROR since the first ‘let’s run away to critique each other’s books’ ROR.

Margo has kindly decided to do a give-away of a gift pack – the hardback editions of Tender Morsels, White Time, Black Juice and Red Spikes. See her give-away question at the end.

Here she answers some questions about her writing:

Q: First of all I’m going to ask you the classic TV News Reporter question – How did it feel to win your first World Fantasy Award back in 2005?

Astonishing! Doubly astonishing when I won the second one a matter of minutes later! I was watching on a live feed from the home office we had then; it was early morning of a school Monday, with the usual running-about going on around me. There was a stunned moment of stillness when all that disappeared for me – then a SECOND stunned moment of stillness. Followed by a lot of squeaking and flapping of hands and jumping about. Followed by days walking around on clouds.

Q: Now that we’ve got that out of the way … Your work is marketed as Young Adult, but it isn’t YA any more than ‘life’ is YA. Does this pigeon holing of your books/stories bother you?

No, I’m just glad they fit somewhere, anywhere. If anything there’s a bit of mileage to be had out of the ongoing what-IS-YA debate, particularly as my books sit so squarely on the crossover line. Plus, the children’s/YA festivals and conferences are a whole lot of fun. Writers for the young are often (I was going to say ‘less neurotic’, but I’ll change that to) neurotic in more enjoyable ways than writers for the mature!

Q: As someone who has both attended Clarion and taught there now, what do you think the attendee gets from this workshop and what do you think the teacher takes away from it?

Both the attendee and the teacher, but particularly the attendee (because they get the full six weeks, while the tutor emerges bloody but unbowed at the end of one week—sorry, Sean Williams, sometimes TWO weeks!) gets a super-acceleration of the development of her critical faculties. You’re working so hard and so fast that some of the things you’re learning just sink straight into your bones. You realise when you get home, sleep it all off and pick up one of your own stories again that the way you look at a story is forever changed; you see all the flaws and possibilities a whole lot more clearly; you have a whole lot more tools at your disposal to start on the repairs.

Q: When Marianne and I approached you back in 2001 to see if you’d like to join ROR, you agreed and have been part of the group ever since. ROR is very different from Clarion in that we critique our novels in progress and we’re all published in novel length fiction. Do you find ROR helps you in developing or directing your writing?

Absolutely. With every novel I get to a point where I just can’t see what I’m doing very well any more. Or I know what I want to do, but I’m not sure whether, or how consistently, I’m hitting the mark. It’s great to get the RORettes to have a look at the whole thing then, and throw questions and ideas at me. It helps loosen up my cramped thinking about the book, and see different ways I can progress past the state of stuckness. It also helps to look at what everyone else is doing, get some perspective, realise that mine isn’t the only project in the world – we’re all having a go (and in so many different ways!). That in itself is heartening.

Q: In your capacity as a member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council of the Arts, you must read a lot of manuscripts submitted to support grant applications. What are the things that drive you crazy about these manuscripts and what advice would you give someone preparing to submit supporting work for a grant application.

Writers assuming that the spectacle of their own writing will be sufficient to hold an audience’s interest – that gets tedious. It boils down to their not having a story to tell with this particular piece; their heart’s not in it, so it becomes purely a matter of posturing. And then the reverse is disappointing too – writers who have a gripping story to tell but clearly don’t think it’s worth taking the time to find the best words to tell it.

Advice? Send your very best work. Send work that’s related to the project you’re applying for, so that the Board can easily see what you’re intending. Be so committed to the project that you know you’ll have to complete it even if you don’t get funding.

Q: Your writing plays with words. It’s very lyrical and you appear to have a love of words for their own sake. Have you always felt this way? Does it just flow from you, or do you sit there and agonise over which word to use?

Yes, I’ve always been a word-head. I started off writing poetry, where you learn to use individual words at pretty much their full power setting, but I did end up wanting to feel that words were flowing from me, rather than being coughed up with difficulty and lots of revisions per line. With prose, sometimes it flows; when it’s difficult it’s not so much agonising over every word as rewriting a scene over and over again, like practising a high dive over and over, trying to feel my way into getting it right. I try to keep the agony level down, and the anxiety level; I’ve found that the more relaxed I am when I approach writing, the better (and speedier) is the result.

Q: Your stories/books often explore very dark themes and they look at the world through a lens that makes the ordinary seem outré. I’m assuming that your stories reflect your inner mind or perhaps the way you see the world on certain days. Does writing help you exorcise your demons/make sense of the world?

I think the demons don’t so much get exorcised as just exercised; taken out and walked around where I can get a good look at them. Mostly when I’m doing this I don’t really know what I’m doing; sometimes it’s years before I realise what a story was REALLY about. But a story will feel right as I put it together; I’ll know that I’m hitting the nail on the head, even if I’m not quite sure what the overall construction is about.

Similarly, I’m not making sense of the world, usually, when I write a story; I’m making some vague, puzzled gesture, or  pointing in horror or dismay at something, or throwing it up in the air, or poking and prodding at it hoping it’ll speak to me, and say something truthful.

Q: Do you find yourself returning to certain themes and if so, what are they?

This is something I can only see in retrospect; during the writing, I don’t find it useful to think in thematic terms, not directly. Certainly I don’t think about theme for a short story, and for a novel I only do so after a certain amount of work, when I need to start establishing more clearly to myself what the story’s about before I can proceed sensibly.

In very broad strokes, the things that I tend to be interested in include: childhood and adolescent realities; power in relationships, its use, misuse and negotiation; increasingly, middle and old age and their preoccupations; sensory experience and the way it triggers emotions.

Q: Now that your work has won almost every literary award out there, is there still an award you would like to crack?

It’s really nice to win awards, but it’s dangerous to aim yourself at them; that seems to me a recipe for disappointment, and there are enough disappointments in life without creating more for yourself!

I think what all the awards in the end have taught me is that, okay, yes, there is a part of me that just moronically goes on hoping for endless amounts of acclaim and reward and will probably never be satisfied, but that also the actual writing has to be motivated by something more substantial than that hungry ego. To be satisfying in a healthy way, the writing has to be an exploratory venture for me, or a challenging project; I have to be stretching myself in some way, trying to do things I haven’t quite attempted this way before. It has to be reward in itself; once I’ve achieved that, any external affirmation I get for it is icing on the cake.

Q: There was a big gap between your novels Touching Earth Lightly in 1996 and Tender Morsels in 2008. During this time you published three short story collections. Was there a reason why you concentrated on short stories during these twelve years?

Ah, but I DIDN’T concentrate on short stories. Short stories were what I distracted and encouraged myself with while I attempted a number of larger writing projects. Remember the fantasy brick I brought to ROR? At least three years were devoted to that brick. I went to Clarion West to run away from that book, and that’s where I learned how to cheer myself up with short stories. Then there was the junior quartet, two-and-a-half volumes of which I drafted before the complexities of the overarching plot did me in. They weren’t the only novels I had a go at in that time. If my short stories hadn’t been doing so well, I wouldn’t have been able to keep bashing away at all those projects.

Q: At ROR we always do our realistic goals and our dream goals. So what are your realistic goals (what are you currently working on) and what are your dream goals?

My most pressing deadlines are for a novel restructure and four short stories by the end of the year, then another 3 short stories by the end of January. If I meet those without damaging either myself or anyone around me I’ll feel I’ve really achieved something.

My dream goal? To keep the stories coming, all kinds of stories. To surprise myself, to enjoy myself, with what I write.

Q: If you had to give one bit of advice to a writer just starting out, what would it be?

Just keep going. Doggedness will do as much for you as inspiration will.

Margo’s latest Fantasy Award Winning piece appears in X6  from Coeur de Lion Publishing.

Giveaway question: What is the name of the boy narrator of Margo’s award-winning story ‘Singing My Sister Down’?

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Grab that reader in the first 10 minutes

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on November 27, 2010

There’s a saying in movies that you have to grab the viewer in the first ten minutes.

Next time you’re watching your favourite movies take a look at what has happened by the ten minute mark.

By the time those precious ten minutes are up, the viewer should know who the hero is, what he/she wants and what the main thrust of the plot will be.

And they should CARE about the hero/heroine  otherwise they are not going to keep watching and you’ve lost them. The same goes for books.

How far can a reader get in ten minutes? Ten pages, one chapter? How long do you have to capture the reader?

Rather than worry about how long you have, concentrate on making your opening so gripping, the reader has to keep turning the pages.

I love genre. I am unashamedly a genre writer so, for me, Story is King (or Queen if you are worried about sexism). And for me,  Story = Plot driven by Character. Now that I’ve warned you about my (not so) hidden agenda, here are my tips.

When I run workshops I tell aspiring writers make me care. To do this:

Give your hero/heroine a BIG problem.

Make your readerlike them. (They don’t have to be all sweetness and light. In fact I like a character better if they have failings. Abercrombie’s Glokta is one of my favourite characters!).

Put your hero/heroine in danger.

Reveal something to the reader, that the character doesn’t know. Make it something they need to know.

Make the bad guys really bad, but with a motivation that would be logical. And if you really want to turn the screws, make your baddie a little bit likable, too.

Set a time limit.

Make your character determined to do something (even if it turns out to be the wrong thing). There is nothing so irritating as a character who vacillates.

Keep back-story to a minimum. (I know this is hard in fantasy and SF because we build these amazing worlds and societies, which impact on our characters’ motivations and life choices. But it is the PEOPLE the reader cares about, not the history). You can fill the reader in later. As a reader, I’ll take a lot on faith if I am captured by the characters and their dilemma. I can catch up with back story later.

Logic – make sure your world building is logical. Nothing breaks the reader’s suspension of disbelief faster than a logic flaw. And if there’s one in the first chapter, the book is likely to be riddled with them.

There’s lots of good advice for writers on how to make their opening chapter/s riveting. Here are Mike Gagon’s tips for writing a great opening for your books. And here at Fiction Notes they cover the basics.

See here for some analysis of openings from Sarah Hoyt over at the Mad Genius Club. And here’s some first paragraphs.

See Leanne C Taylor’s article on how the 10 minute movie rule applies to games. 

For fun see here for great opening sentences from science fiction books, a post by Charles Jane Anders. And here are 100 great opening lines from all sorts of books. Andhere at is a list of opening chapters (an excerpts) from novels, if you want to do some reading to compare how other authors handle this.

Those first 10 minutes, when the reader steps into your world and into your character’s shoes are critical. Do you have a favourite opening page or two, that gripped you from the start? Is there an author you know you can rely on to sweep you away?

Posted in Characterisation, Creativity, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Writers and real life …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on November 20, 2010

While I dream of running away and joining a writer’s convent where someone brings me meals and I sit in my room all day long wrestling with my muse, this is not going to happen.

People used to ask me, How do you find the time to write with 6 children and all the volunteer work you do on art’s management committees? And I used to jokingly say it was the writing that kept me sane. (This was true, that was why it was a joke).

Now days I am struggling to get near my computer to write. You’ll all identify with the position I’m in – five kids at home, renovating the house, working part time (except for weeks like last week when I do 12 hour days to get through the marking) and trying to complete three books to hand in to my publisher  early next year.

This morning I sat down at the computer to get stuck into a scene I’ve been having trouble with and I struggled with it.

For one thing the computer room is half dismantled because we’ll be tiling it in a few weeks and we have to move everything out. So there are boxes everywhere and I have to pick my way through them to get to the desk. (I hate working in the middle of a mess. Mess makes me twitchy).

Then, because it was the first time I’d been home all week, everyone came to me. They wanted to show me assignments and ask me questions. (Yes, I love my family but … I couldn’t get any steam up because I was constantly interrupted.

The other thing was I felt utterly flat. The marking I’ve been doing is very challenging (analysing storyboards and explaining why shots and camera movements did or didn’t work and making suggestions to improve them), so I was mentally drained.  My creative well was dry, and I became frustrated with myself because I couldn’t just switch it on at will.

Here are a couple posts I’ve done in the past about creativity. Feeding your creative crucible and Creativity, can it be harnessed? In the end I went out and attacked the weeds in the garden because I had to do something. (And the garden desperately needed weeding. Not only am I a bad mother, I’m a bad gardener!).

The other thing I’ve noticed is that when ever I get to rocky patch with the current book, I’ll slip onto Twitter or I roam the blogs and download my emails. All of which is fun, but it doesn’t get the book written. So I’ve set up a screen and an old computer in my bedroom and I’m going to work there (where there’s no internet). I won’t be tempted to go surfing the web and there’s the added bonus that my bedroom is up stairs and at the far end of the house, so people will have to Really want to talk to me if they want to interrupt me. So, set aside a place that is going to be your writing place and remove temptations such as surfing the internet (and writing blog posts like this one).

Douglas Adams used to say that he loved deadlines. He loved the sound they made as the whooshed by. I’m one of those people who sets themselves deadlines then works like crazy to meet them. (It’s the inner obsessive compulsive in me). So I’m going to set myself a goal because I simply Must meet my deadline. 50 pages cleaned up and edited every week, (except the weeks when I have to do 12 hour days to get through the marking).

I should be able to meet that goal. There’s no point in setting a goal that’s too difficult. You’ll give up before you start. I find that with first draft, if I set myself the goal of four pages of new story a day (that’s 1000 words) the book just grows and grows. There will be days when 4 pages is a challenge and there will be days when I do 20 pages easy. So, if you’re going to set yourself goals make them small and achievable.

Here is a collection of articles on Time Management for Writers. As you can see I’ve already done a couple of the things they suggest.

If you are serious about learning the craft of writing, then you simply must give yourself the time and the room to grow as a writer. You need to be able to experiment and write that weird story that keeps bothering you. An important part of learning is Play and being able to make mistakes. It’s very freeing to give yourself permission to experiment and attempt new things. So there is the craft of writing and then there is the business of writing.  Here is where Holly Lisle answers your questions about the business of writing. Which brings me back to my trilogy and trying to meet a deadline.

There, I’ve admitted I am struggling to get my trilogy cleaned up. The first step is to admit you have problem.

How are you going with your writing? Do you get diverted by Twitter and blogs? Do you get interrupted constantly by children? Are you burnt out from creatively draining paid work?

Do you have any suggestions you could share with me? Really, I’d love to hear how you keep the creative fire alight and get your stories written.

Posted in Creativity, Editing and Revision, Nourish the Writer, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , | 18 Comments »

Woot for Michele!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on November 19, 2010

A couple of posts ago we had a guest post by Michele Cashmore about the difference between writing plays and short stories. Great news!

Michele’s play ‘The Corpse cannot Play‘ has made it through to the gala finals of the Short & Sweet Theatre Festival.

What:  The Corpse cannot Play

Where: The Judith Wright Centre for the Contemporary Arts

When: Saturday 20th
Matinee Session @ 4pm
Evening Session & Awards @ 7.30pm
Tickets available here.

Mega congratulations from the ROR team, Michele!

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Nourish the Writer, Visiting Writer, Writing Plays | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Book Trailers on a Budget

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on November 13, 2010

The irrepressible Thoraiya, reader and commenter on this blog has had a novella published with Twelfth Planet Press. Yay, for Thoraiya. To coincide with the release of this back-to-back novella, she’s made a book trailer. I was so impressed with it, I’ve asked her to come onto the ROR blog to tell us how she went about this. Take it away, Thoraiya:

ROR has already posed the question of “do book trailers sell books?” The consensus seemed to be, “no, but they are fun.” I don’t have a novel coming out, but I do have half of a Twelfth Planet press novella double coming. I couldn’t resist joining in.

My favourite book trailers are always ones that are more like movie trailers than a series of stills, no matter how tantalising the stills may be. Examples include Rowena’s King Rolen’s Kin trailer:

And this trailer (  ) for a French pop-up book illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe.

I couldn’t afford professional 3D animation. However, I have a tragic history of creating animated GIFs known as stick-figure-deaths, usually in a gaming community context. And if a bunch of scribbles in MS Paint could be put together using MS GIF animator, so could photographs from a digital camera.

“The Company Articles of Edward Teach” is only 14 000 words, so I wanted only a very short teaser that didn’t give away too much. Just a hint that the two main characters come from different backgrounds (Muslim, Jewish) and that they end up on Blackbeard’s ship together. (Yarrr!) Here is the finished trailer:

Rowena wanted me to mention how I decided what words to include. That decision came down to timing and also a backlash against the Forbidden Rhetorical Question in agent queries. Agents say they need a good strong hook in the first sentence in order to keep reading a query but they’re sick of seeing rhetorical questions. This ignores the fact that most Hollywood film trailers include assorted clichéd rhetorical questions which are actually very successful in getting people (OK, maybe it’s just me?) interested. Since I was only making the trailer for my own enjoyment, well.

Welcome to Rhetorical Questions R Us.

(Yes. This post describes the making of the kind of book trailer I like, and I am in no way a judge of which book trailers are actually the best or will get the most views!)

On the timing issue, in my previous stick-figure-death experience I would often get the complaint that I hadn’t left the words up for long enough. I’m a speed reader and also I already knew the material, so I would short change the type of people who don’t like subtitled movies (an example here) – they would say things like, “that was fun but the words went away too quickly.” So. On the one hand, I think it’s important to give a sense of the main conflict of the book in a book trailer.

On the other hand, I wanted the clip to move along quickly, and that meant not more than a few words at a time. Some other book trailers I have seen include actual pages or paragraphs from the book, but if I want to read, I will pick up the printed page and construct my own trailer in my head. YouTube exists to provide graphic goodies to my brain. Assuming my trailer was going to be less than a minute long (and some of these suckers run at fifteen minutes or more), and that it takes a few seconds for the brain to register half a sentence, there was a natural limit there. Note that Rowena’s trailer is 43 seconds long and contains a single, conflict-charged sentence that displays a few words at a time. The pop-up book trailer is 93 seconds and displays no words besides the title of each to-die-for illustration.

Because I’m no composer, I did have to pay for the music, a thirty-second swashbuckling tune from AudioMicro . It was about thirty dollars Australian? I chose a 60-second piece first, but that turned out to be too long (see below).

The storyboard I already had didn’t match the music at all, so I threw it out and did a new one. Now I know why the studios always record the soundtrack first!

I made each frame by cutting out paper silhouettes. With a desk lamp inside a cardboard box and a blue bed sheet over the top, I photographed each silhouette. Here’s the setup in daylight (I took the pictures at night):

I regret not having the skills or peripherals to use any graphics program more advanced than Paint, because I’m certain that I could have saved time if I could have drawn the silhouettes directly onto a tablet and skipped out the whole scissors and paper part. Also, I initially thought I’d be able to get away with 5 frames per second, as I do in stick figure deaths, but it looked clunky so I had to go to 10 frames per second, and that halved the length of the trailer.

Once I’d animated each moving sequence, I was ready to whack them all into Microsoft Movie Maker. Yeah, Microsoft is apparently evil, but if you’ve paid for Windows and Word, you sure do get a lot of cool stuff for free.

In conclusion, it is really fun to play around with this stuff and everyone should have a go. As Mr Chrulew pointed out, everyone with kids has Lego (and Play-Doh!) in the event they’re not so keen on pen and paper.

But when you discover a plot hole in your future novel and need something repetitive to do, there is nothing like cutting out a hundred silhouettes with a dodgy pair of scissors while your subconscious solves the plot problem for you. And just in time for NaNoWriMo, too!

Thoraiya DYER is a newbie Australian writer of short fiction. You can find her fantasy and science fiction stories in Twelfth Planet Press anthologies Sprawl and New Ceres Nights, Fablecroft anthologies Worlds Next Door and After the Rain (forthcoming), Zahir #23, Aurealis #43, and next year’s ASIM #51. The Company Articles of Edward Teach will be her first published longer work. Find out why pirates are better than robots at visit Thoraiya here.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Visiting Writer | Tagged: , , | 12 Comments »

Writing a play Vs writing a short story

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on November 9, 2010

Vision writers’ very own Michele Cashmore has a play being performed next weekend (Saturday 13th of November). I’ve invited Michele along to the ROR blog to talk about the art of play writing. Take it away, Michele …














Thank you, Rowena for inviting me to do a post for ROR on writing for theatre.  Having recently completed an intensive weekend course in playwrighting with Short + Sweet Theatre with Alex Broun, one of the world’s leading ten minute playwrights, the topic today is playwrighting versus fiction.

I should emphasise here that I’m discussing short plays as opposed to feature length, so it might be more applicable to explore short plays (ten minutes) versus short stories.  What are the differences?

A short play can be defined as emotional and something you feel.  It is a shared act of imagination for the audience to engage in and respond to the ‘suspension of disbelief’.  When we are talking ‘live theatre’ a play is a visual medium so the audience must be shown and not told.  A good rule of thumb for any storytelling.

And like all good fiction every scene should be pushing the story forward.  It should have a beginning, middle and an end.  But as with all art a good story doesn’t necessarily have to follow the conventions, so long as something happens within the first four – six minutes that will raise the stakes and hurtle the play to its conclusion.

In fiction you can explore the geographical location, or its surroundings or internal dialogue but in a play the only thing you have to rely on is dialogue.  Dialogue that tells the story.  As a fiction writer I find this a challenge not only because dialogue has to work twice as hard but because I love descriptive prose of location and setting, sound, smell –  everything that explores the senses.  When writing a play, you state where it’s set and that is it. E.g.  Mary’s kitchen at 2pm.

The layout of how a play is written is also quite different than the normal formatting of fiction but I won’t go into that here.

So what else is different?

Fiction: has a greater range of characters, introspection, or even narration.

Theatre: is first person dialogue, with the absence of narrative.  Short plays would ideally have no more than three characters/actors.  While these might be seen as a hindrance to storytelling they can in fact make the story stronger and heighten the tension provided the plot is sound and the dialogue realistic and showing.

The key elements to a play are:

  • Character;
  • Story;
  • Dialogue;
  • Theatrical and dramatic tension or humour;
  • Something/elements that keep people watching.

The key elements to fiction are:

The differences between a play and fiction are subtle and there are all kinds of variances to the above elements.

In a play you can have real time or stage time.

Real time:  the story is told in the ten minutes that you are watching.

Stage time: The ten minute play can span anywhere from 1 – 100 years.

In addition to this, there are generally two types of plays:

Direct address:  An actor/character speaks directly to the audience because they want something from the audience (it could be narration explaining the passing of time, or it could be because all the other characters in the play are dead).

Fourth Wall: is the imaginary wall between the audience and performers in which the stage has three walls with one missing.  The audience are not acknowledged or addressed as in direct address.

With theatre a play becomes a production. The writer must relinquish control, just as a writer does in effect when the book is published.  The writer has no control over how the reader may perceive the story.

A play, however, is not just about the writer giving over its story, it becomes a physical act upon a stage.  This requires actors and a director, all of which will have an influence on your story, and the finished product may be slightly different than how you first perceived it.  For me personally, I find this an exciting process as it’s a collaboration.  The writer in most cases will have no input once the play is handed over to the actors and director.

As in getting your novel published or your short story in an anthology, the reward for a playwright is seeing your words performed to an audience.  A play doesn’t get published – it gets performed and without that performance a play is simply a story along with all the other unpublished stories hiding in that bottom drawer.   Getting your words performed, is equally as competitive and equally as rewarding  once your words see the light of day as it is getting published.

Playwrighting is an exciting visual medium and one of the things I have learned since attending this amazing course is the importance and power of the short play.  A quote from their website sums it up nicely: Short + Sweet believes in the validity of the ten minute theatre form and that ten minute theatre works can stimulate, move and entertain audiences as effectively as longer theatre forms.

If you would like to explore writing ten minute plays I encourage you to check out Short + Sweet Theatre and Alex Broun as he holds classes throughout Australia on a regular basis.

For more information and bookings for the Short + Sweet Theatre Festival, currently held in Brisbane at the Judith Wright Centre for the Contemporary Arts from 10 November – 20 November 2010 click here or visit my blog for more details.

Michele’s ten minute play, The Corpse cannot Play will be performed as a ‘Wildcard’ session during the festival on the 13th November, 2010 (two performances only @ 1pm & 4pm).  Bookings here.

Michele is a Brisbane based writer and a graduate of the 2007 Clarion South Writers Workshop, a six week intensive residential programme for developing writers of speculative fiction.  You can find out more about her here

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Creativity, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Visiting Writer, Writing Craft, Writing Plays | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Diamond Eyes – Winner!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on November 7, 2010

Trick question: You’re ALL right:

For Mira: different characters pronounce her name differently, so why can’t we? e.g. Mee-rah, when Ben’s frustrated with her, shaking his head, or Mi-rah! when it’s an urgent shout for her to get out… and there’s even a sociopath stalker who chants Mira, Mira on the floor, who’s the sanest one of all?

Kai-ron / ky-ron if you know your mythology of tortured heroes (Chiron was the centaur who taught Achilles and other warriors, which is appropriate to his relationship with Mira), or Ch-ron / Shee-ron if he strikes you more as a gentle-giant, which is also appropriate in his case.

Same goes for Beesh / Beach, which can even sound like bitch if you’re a character who’s being deliberately snipey at her.  The character is a French-Australian park ranger on North Stradbroke Island, which is virtually ALL beach… And yes, Jess nailed it as French… according to my Dictionary of Romance Languages, (published 1864), it was already lost from the language by the 1860’s – and it did originally mean bitch – which is ironic, because it’s back in the French language now with ma biche which means my darling… complete opposite, which is also appropriate to the evolution of this character.

So five winners… can still be six if Jess changes her mind, since I confess to mis-pronouncing Hermione too… She was Her-ME-on, to me… Or Her-my-on-ee once I got to know her better as a softer character, but I still can’t get myself to drop the “o” for Her-MY-nee… Then again, I love fantasy where silent letters are often drop’d as redundant anyway 😉

If anyone already has a copy, I can send them either an autographed book plate for the copy they have, or a copy that’s autographed to whoever they wish, so they can give one away as a gift.
(Rowena here, email me at-  rowena(at)corydaniells(dot)com – and I’ll arrange to have a copy of Diamond Eyes sent out to you)

Posted in Book Giveaway, Book Launches, Genre Writing, Visiting Writer | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Back story, the bane of the SF and Fantasy Writer.

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on November 6, 2010

We’ve had a request this week from Sally, who would like to:

‘see a post about how to feed in back story without swamping the narrative drive and tension’.   ‘

We writers of speculative fiction spend so much time building worlds, with distinct societies each with their own  history then we try to write about the people who live there. This leads to the dreaded info-dump. The people who live in the writer’s invented world already know their customs and history. How is the writer going to convey this to the reader?

If you’re Tolkien you won’t worry, you’ll put it all in, including the poetry you wrote about events that happened a thousand years ago.

But this is hardly ideal. The modern reader wants ‘bang for their buck’ they want to be swept away on an adventure, not to be lectured.Since I am always having trouble with this one I asked the ROR team for their insight.


Richard Harland says:


One method is for the author simply to tell what happened.

Five years ago, Denny had had an affair with …
The house had been inhabited by drug gangs, and a brutal murder had occurred just months before Vee and Lorrie moved in …

If you kicked off your first chapter with a dramatic scene, telling some backstory could be a way of starting your second chapter. Old-fashioned, but simple and economical.

For a writer nowadays, the obvious method for feeding through a backstory is to have a main character remember the past. It’s effective so long as it doesn’t look like a cheat. The only thing worse than a character standing in front of the mirror and thinking about his/her appearance is a character standing in front of the mirror and remembering about his/her past life and recent history. So corny and clichéd!

Please, can we have a character’s memories genuinely prompted by something that happens, something that’s said? And when they are prompted, can they look like genuine memories rather than a plot synopsis?

When we remember past events, we rarely run through the full story—this-led-to-that-led-to-the-other—which we already know. We zoom in on the emotionally charged highlights and the bits that are relevant to us right now.

I reckon backstory memories often seem more plausible when they’re questions rather than statements. We don’t pore over the detail of past events merely to re-state them to ourselves, but we do when we’re puzzled or uncertain about what happened. We might run through the whole chain of cause and effect if we’re trying to spot something that doesn’t gel, something that doesn’t make sense to us.

For the rest of this article see Richard’s free writing tips here and here.

Dirk Flinthart says:

Backstory and exposition is some of the toughest material to work into a decent narrative. It’s especially difficult in speculative fiction, where your story may depend upon some element which is entirely impossible in the world as we know it.

I think that the real trick isn’t fitting the stuff in. I believe it lies in knowing how much to leave out.

The joy of reading is that it’s an interactive, constructive process. The readers literally rebuild the narrative in their minds as they work through the story, and it’s that process of engagement, that act of rebuilding which constitutes the most engrossing and rewarding part of reading a story. The very best stories leave you full of questions and suppositions afterwards, imagining what might have happened next, or what might have occurred ‘off-screen’ at crucial moments in the plot development.

The point I’m making is that every time we provide backstory, we take away from the reader an opportunity for creation, for real engagement, for ownership of the story. Every time the author says canonically: “C happened because A and B happened first, in that order”, we eliminate the rest of an infinite alphabet of possibilities that the reader might well find more intriguing than our own.

Naturally, there are times when backstory is necessary. But in practice, it’s usually far less necessary than new authors imagine.

If you must incorporate backstory, in practical terms there are at least three ways to manage it without too much slowing. Of course, you can always step out into the professorial, explanatory storyteller POV beloved of the Tolkien school of writing, but unless you’re lining up to churn out a thousand pages or so, that’s probably not your best bet. (Still, there’s a market for it, obviously!) But if you’re interested in keeping the story moving, the easiest way to incorporate necessary backstory is to have one of your characters deliver it. There are three ways to consider this.

1) None of the characters knows the information, but they have to find out: In this case, discovering the backstory becomes an integral part of the story. Clues are delivered. Information can be obtained, but uncovering that information is a quest in itself, an obstacle to be overcome before the plot can be fully resolved. Think about crime fiction: scenes of interrogation, examination, detection, and so forth. The trick is to remember the old rule: every scene requires conflict of some sort – so if your characters are just going to go to the library to look up old land deeds, for example, someone else should get there first and steal the critical information, or lose it in the vaults. Or perhaps the information is kept secure, and it has to be stolen. There are as many ways to carry this out as there are stories, but it can be remarkably effective.

2) One character knows the information, and can tell another, or act on it. And once again, the key here is to incorporate the delivery of information into the action itself. Absolutely do not have your characters sitting in a bar, drinking quietly, saying things like “Lo, it is written that during the final days of the Fornikarr Imperium the dread tantric master Duu-phuss the Lightly Endowed forged the now-legendary Three Dildoes of Fire at the command of Empress Booblatooie the Ninth…”

It’s acceptable to have one character ask a simple question for a reasonably simple response. It’s even acceptable to have one character deliver vital information to another at a necessary time. But dialogue doesn’t move the plot or develop action, so as a rule, if you can have your characters taking action while the information is passed on, you’re better off. Take the ridiculous lines above: if there was a bar fight going on, involving one of the minions of the enemy, the character delivering the information will have to keep it to a minimum, perhaps shouting it in bursts between clobbering bad guys – or whispering it nervously while the villains stalk the room, seeking their victims. Either way, we’ve got something going on, not just expository dialogue.

3) Both characters know the information, and the reader needs to know it too: This is at once the most interesting, challenging, and dangerous situation. This is the place where new writers start having characters say things like “As you know…”, which is a horrible concept. How often do real world people go around telling each other things that both already know? You’d sound like a pompous idiot if you tried to explain to someone that you’d arrived in “…a motor car, which as you know is a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine requiring refined petroleum products to operate…”

The joy of this situation for the writer is that it presents not just a hazard, but a real opportunity. If you’re using POV well, you can actually leave out the information, except for appropriate references in dialogue. Taking example above, you might have one character say to the other “… sorry I’m late. Ran out of petrol.”  Naturally, in this real world, the only response to that would perhaps be derisive laughter. But a reader who knows nothing of  cars and petrol now has the opportunity to wonder, and imagine for herself what ‘petrol’ might be.

Done well, this approach greatly strengthens the verisimilitude of the work, making the setting more intriguing and believable, and likewise strengthens the characters as part of that setting. When I edited the Canterbury 2100 anthology, for example, I had three separate stories from different authors, each of which explained why there were wolves running around England in 2109. However, the point of the anthology was to have characters telling oral stories to one another, and as editor, I realised that for the people of 2109, wild wolves would be an accepted fact of life. Explaining them would be like explaining ‘cars’ to you or I. So I very simply cut away all explanation of the wolves, and just left them in the stories for readers to wonder at – and to realise that this was a world in which wolves were a commonplace.

Some of the best examples of this technique come from writers like Cordwainer Smith, or more recently, Terry Dowling. Both of them, in constructing their fantastic worlds, have been quite willing to use evocative names and images without fully explaining them for the readers. We’re left to marvel at concepts like the Congohelium, or Underpeople, or Dowling’s land-sailing ships, all of which are simply accepted by the characters, and integrated easily into the narrative.

This is easily my favourite way of delivering backstory, and when I see it used well, it never fails to draw me into a narrative, and leave me wondering about the implications and the histories left unspoken by the author. The effect of this minimalist delivery is so strong and profound that it illustrates in the best possible way the old saw that ‘less is more’ – and in the case of backstory, the more you can leave to the imagination of the reader, the stronger your tale will be!


Posted in Editing and Revision, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »