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Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

Calling writers of childrens and young adults books

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on May 15, 2012

Text Publishing have opened their Children and Young Adults Writing Competition again. See here for details.

‘Both published and unpublished writers of all ages are eligible to enter with works of fiction or non-fiction. Judged by a panel of editors from Text Publishing, the winner will receive a publishing contract with Text and a $10,000 advance against royalties.’

You can see the 2008, 2009, 2010 winners to get an idea. It closes June 1st, so set yourself a deadline and submit.

Posted in Creativity, Writing for children, Writing for Young Adults, Writing goals, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Margo Reveals What it’s like inside a ROR Crit Week!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on February 6, 2012

From Margo …

A Deepening ROR—a wRiters On the Rise workshop, from the inside

That's where we were circled in red

First there’s a bit of foreplay. Someone pipes up online: “When’s the next ROR?” Someone at the other end of the country: “I’ll have a novel draft ready by about January; how’s everyone else set?” And all the ROR-ettes speak up one by one, with their first or later drafts that are in synch, or the obligations or health issues or financial limitations or lacks of work-in-progress that’ll keep them away this time.

ROR meets roughly every 18 months to 2 years; I haven’t been able to get to the last couple of retreats but when this one was mooted, I decided that I had a chance, if I went hell for leather during November-December, of getting a super-rough first draft of my colonial NSW fantasy written for ROR’s perusal for the end of January workshop.

Tansy and Andrew scoped out Steele’s Island Accommodation; we discussed timing and settled on the weekdays 30 Jan-3 Feb, because the place is booked out with weddings most weekends.

All went quiet for a while. I dealt with Sea Hearts copyedits and proofs, wrote stories for Twelfth Planet Press, judged the Australian/Vogel’s Award, wound up my time on the Literature Board talked at the Brisbane Writers Festival, launched two other writers’ books, day-jobbed 3 days a week and, by the looks of the calendar, dined with a lot of different people. Clearly I didn’t scratch myself; there wouldn’t have been time.

On 1 November I started writing the draft of Formidable Energies. I registered with Nanowrimo, because I wanted some company, and besides, they have this neat graph that you can use to track your progress against the ideal path towards the 50K words. I like a neat graph, and I’d never make one for myself. Generally I’m not wordcount obsessive; this time, though, I definitely had to achieve a book’s worth.

It was lonely, exhilarating, hilarious, keeping up the pace, papering over the chasms in my research, blithely charging on, jumping in and out of the story, going from jam scene to jam scene and ignoring any bread-and-butter bits, but trying to keep it coherent enough for my ROR friends to be able to see what I was getting at, the nature of this beast.

I didn’t have the know-how, about Celtic gods, about Irish language, customs, culture and history—and only a 20-year-old history degree to help me with the convict ships, penal law and early colonial Sydney. I researched as I went just so I could picture enough setting in which to tell the tale. Perhaps this research was the most fun. I prowled around the State Library, requesting old travel books on Ireland and copying useful pages onto the iPad. I learned so much during that month—but most of all I learned what huge gaps existed in my knowledge, and the enormous job I might have on my hands if I ever went at the research properly.

And I knuckled down and wrote. Here’s my completed Nanowrimo graph, to give you the bare bones of the story of my month:

I was happy with that. I booked my ticket to Hobart. I wrote on for another 2 weeks into December, and managed a draft of 45K, which took the story from (what I imagined was the) beginning to (one possible) end. Manuscripts began to fly between email boxes. I did what pulling-together of the draft I could, wrote some explanatory/apologetic notes to cover the worst breaks, trailings-off and confused bits, took a deep breath and sent it off to my ROR-mates.

There was a flurry of communication as we sorted out accommodation moneys. Then came silence as we read each other’s drafts; that’s a lonely stage too, that one, keeping your opinions to yourself, addressing comments to an unresponsive screen, worrying that you haven’t quite captured what you felt about this character or that piece of plot logic, or that you haven’t phrased it helpfully. Weeks, it takes, reading five novels and assembling meaningful critiques.

Departure date loomed. I anguished a bit more over my reports, then saved them, printed them out for good measure and started packing.

The view up the estuary

Steele’s Island Accommodation: the perfect place for a writers’ workshop. Huge spaces for meeting and lounging in, more rooms and beds than we could fill, even with half our families along. Outside, a river-beach to stride along to the sea, a wooded hill across the water, waves and mountains in the distance, weather pouring across the sky. Only a few distant holidaymakers reminded us that there was a world beyond ROR. And the landscape showed that this was once an extremely popular place to feast on oysters. We kept to that tradition, at least.

Steeles Island Midden

But aak!, Formidable Energies was scheduled for the first critique session in the morning, and I hadn’t thought about it for six weeks—how would anyone’s comments make sense to me? So after the welcome dinner, deep into the first night and early in the morning I went over it again, reacquainting myself with its wild ambitions, its flights of fancy, its longueurs and its pathological avoidance of any form of action on the part of its main character.

Then on the Tuesday morning, all those weeks of solitary work suddenly blossomed into community, and made perfect sense. My story, which had seemed so stale and stuck, sketchy and hopeless, suddenly loosened, lightened and took flight on contact with the possibilities brought to it by my colleagues. From feeling as if I couldn’t progress without wearing amounts of research and tedious clunky plot-making, I went in the space of 2 hours to being excited about the many, many ways this story could go, the means by which I could get my main man moving, the significance I could bring to the powers plaguing him, both in Ireland and the new land. I saw the way forward; I saw several ways forward. I couldn’t wait to get back to the ms. and try out these ideas.

Just as good, if not so directly personally affecting, were the rest of the critique sessions. I would come out of the 2 x 2-hour sessions almost unable to think straight, I’d absorbed so much as I listened to Rowena, Richard, Dirk, Tansy and Maxine’s encounters with the same manuscripts. They’d responded so differently – or they’d felt the same, but phrased their response so differently, or come up with some completely ingenious solution. It was thoroughly absorbing to watch other RORers’ novels fly apart under each critiquer’s hands and then be brought back together in new ways.

Thank you so much, ROR-ettes, for the time and thought that went into your reports. Thanks for the privilege of reading and considering your works in progress. Thanks Tansy and Andrew for finding Steele’s Island, Dirk for the wonderful food, Daryl and David for radiating calmness, Steven for tourist-ing on our behalf, and Raeli and Mima for providing an understorey of questions, songs, sand-sweeping, fruit-eating and general play.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Authors and Public Speaking, Book Launches, Dialogue, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Point of View, Research, Story Structure, World Buildng, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Raring to ROR…

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on January 18, 2012

As some of you might know our ROR writing group gets together every 12 – 18 months to critique our books in progress.

Back in 2001 at the first ROR we read Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice anthology and wept over Singing my Sister Down, which went on to win a World Fantasy Award. That was also the year we read Maxine Mc Arthur’s Less than Human, which went on to win the Aurealis Award for SF in 2004.

Since then there have been many RORs, and critiqued many books. Some of these books have been shelved or are still waiting to be completed and others  have been published, some of have won awards or been shortlisted for awards. (This reminds me I must update our success page. There’s been more sales since then. My bad).

For those of you who are interested, I’ve blogged about how to set up your own ROR group and how we critique. There are eight of us, but due to life, family and deadlines we don’t get to every ROR. (I’ve done them all so far, but I’m a bit of a ROR groupie. I even maintain this site in my spare time. All very sad, really).

Our next ROR is coming up in a couple of weeks. Having a deadline to get a book written for is a great motivator. We’re all madly reading each other’s WIPs (Works-in-progress), writing reports and planning to run away and be full time writers for a week!

There will be one book launch and possibly two, stay tuned!

From the Steele's Island web page. Link below.

This time we’re going to Tassie to Steele’s Island. Looks perfect for a bunch of nerdy writers!

So I’d like to raise a glass of cyber champagne to:

My writing friends, ROR ten years* on and still going strong!

* We couldn’t squeeze in a ROR last year in 2011, which would have been exactly 10 years, so this 2012 ROR is our official 10 year birthday bash.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Awards, Book Launches, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Writing Craft, Writing goals, Writing Groups | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Inner Life of a Successful Writer

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 29, 2011

Chocolate and Coffee - also must haves for the writer!

Back in the late nineties after I had my first children’s book published I wrote up a Beginning Writer’s Checklist (here’s the updated version).

Recently, I came across this post The Common Traits of the Successful Writer by Bob Mayer, Part One and Part Two. He starts with:

‘It’s not normal to sit alone and write 100,000 words.  So let’s get that out of the way.  You aren’t normal.  You aren’t in the bell curve and you aren’t necessarily on the good side of the curve. ‘

I had to smile.

He says the publishing industry is changing faster than ever and he’s absolutely right. Once there was one way to get published – Write. Write short stories and books, develop your craft, attend workshops, develop your craft, make short story sales, enter competitions. Do all this while writing every day. Win or place in competitions. Develop your craft. Approach publishers with a CV of published short stories  and placings in competitions, get rejections.  Attend more workshops. Develop your craft. Keep writing. After about 10 years get that first publishing contract from a major publisher. And then you really start to learn, because as a writer you never stop learning.

Was it perfect? No. Good books were overlooked. (Some people lucked onto a book sale with their first book. Then they had to do all their development as a writer meeting deadlines in the public eye).

Now … People can self publish, release their books as e-books and Print on Demand. They don’t have to wait on recognition from major publishers. Of course this means a lot of books that are not ready for publication see the light of day. How do readers sift through these to find the gems? That’s a post topic for another day.

Back to the traits of a successful writer. This is an interesting quote from Bob Mayer:

‘Remember something about the art of writing: It is the only art form that is not sensual. You can see the colors and strokes that make a painting, feel a sculpture, and hear music.  The manner in which each individual piece in those fields impacts on the senses is different.  But every writer uses the same letters on a piece of paper.  You have twenty-six letters that combine to form words, which are the building blocks of your sentences and paragraphs.  Everyone has the same words, and when I write that word and you write it, that word goes into the senses of the reader in the same way.  It’s how we weave them together that impact the conscious and subconscious mind of the reader that makes all the difference in the world.

A book comes alive in the reader’s mind.  You use the sole medium of the printed word to get the story from your mind to the reader’s.  It is the wonder of writing to create something out of nothing.  Every book started with just an idea in someone’s head.  Isn’t that a fantastic concept?’

He’s right about writers all using the same 26 letters and the book going from the writer’s mind to the reader’s mind. But to me writing is deeply sensual. I create a Resonance file (See here and here). The file is packed with images, snatches of research, true stories and, while I don’t collect music, I know what music the characters would listen to. This file is a pale outer representation of the inner world of the story. In my mind the world of the story, it’s characters and society is richly sensual and packed with detail.

Mayer doesn’t actually list the common traits of successful writers because he’s plugging books on the topic. (The Writers Toolkit and the Warrior Writer – Both links were down).

Here’s my list of a successful writer’s traits:

1. A Passion to Write. This is the kind of passion that keeps you awake at night thinking about plots and characters. The kind of passion that drives you to sneak away from the family on Christmas Day to write because you just can’t keep away from the story. Which leads to …

2. Perseverance. The craft of writing is something you can read about in books, but often you have to ‘discover’ it as you write. The recognition of something only comes as you are doing it and you internalise the understanding. All of this springs from …

3. A Love of Reading. (This really means a love of story in all its forms). If you were the sort of kid who got lost in a book, if you are the sort of person who goes to see a movie and spends the next three days thinking about alternate endings, then you are a writer. The more you read, the more you internalise the craft of writing. And writing consists of …

4. A Love of Words for their own sake. I’ve always been fascinated by words, by the history that words contain and by the power of a single word, how it can change the meaning of a whole sentence. But words are just the building blocks for …

5. A Love of Story. Story is not plot. Story is a combination of plot (events that happen) and character (the people who react to these events or trigger them by their actions). Combine these two and you have something that comes to life in the reader’s head. Story. But just having a story is not enough. You need to hone that story with …

6. Persistence and Patience. (Writing is Rewriting) A successful writer needs the persistence to keep writing, but the patience to give your book time to sit while you mature as a writer. When you first finish a book you are too close to it to see the flaws. Time and distance is needed. Working on another project will help you hone your writing craft. Then, when you come back to the original draft of the first book, you’ll see ways to improve it. Published writers have editors who help them do this while meeting deadlines.

Do self published writers need all these traits? Of course they do. They need them more because they don’t have  a professional editor helping polish the story they love. Whether you self publish or are published by a major publisher you want your book to be the best it possibly can be. This means polishing the book and developing traits (strategies) to make you the best writer you can possibly be.

I haven’t mentioned writing groups here. I’ve done several posts on the importance of writing groups. ROR is an example of how a group supports the individual and furthers their craft. Here’s list of posts I’ve done on the topic:

Writing Groups where would we be Without Them?

ROR 101 (How we set up the group)

Critiquing 101

 

Do you belong to a writing group? Do you write every day? How do you motivate yourself?

Posted in Characterisation, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Editors, Nourish the Writer, Plotting, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Ghosts by Gaslight!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on September 14, 2011

Stop Press!

Richard says:

Just received some great news from my French publisher. They want me to go over for the Montreuil Book Fair, plus some bookshop signings and schools. They’ll fly me over at the end of November and rent an apartment for two weeks in Paris for Aileen and me. Formidable!!

And …

Whoo! The Ghosts by Gaslight anthology just came out from Harper Voyager in the US—and I’m in it! A very special moment for me, to be in the company of names like Robert Silverberg, Gene Wolfe, Peter S. Beagle, James Morrow and Jeffrey Ford!

I think it was at the Melbourne Worldcon when Jack Dann said he’d like a story from me for a collection he was editing with Nick Gevers, a collection that combined supernatural with steampunk with Victoriana. Right down my alley! He mentioned other potential contributors he was going to invite, like Gene Wolfe and Robert Silverberg, Garth Nix and Sean Williams, and I remember thinking, well, it would be nice if just a few of them accepted. In fact, the final roll-call turned out way way better than Jack ever hinted. So many of my all-time favourite authors, including our very own Margo from ROR,with a very good ghost story called “The Proving of Smollet Standforth”.

I took it as my role to be a strong steampunk representative, since that’s what I’m known for nowadays. And the basic idea for my story had been lurking in my mind for a long time.  It tied in with the first memory that I’m sure is my own real memory—and not recreated from what adults told me—which is when I was about our or five. We were on holiday in the seaside town of Fleetwood, in Lancashire, England, and looking at Fleetwood pier, which had been recently destroyed by fire. It stuck far out into the sea, a wreckage of tangled, twisted girders, and not just tangled, not just twisted, but racked and contorted like an expression of agony, a frozen shriek of pain. That was the seed for “Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism”.

It’s sort of supernatural, but it’s also very definitely steampunk, with steam-age machinery at the centre of the story. Late nineteenth century research into electro-therapy is also involved, as carried out by such pioneer brain-scientists as Eduardo Hitzig, Sir David Ferrier and Friedrich Goltz. Although there are ghosts in the story, these are not ghosts as we have known them!

“Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism” was an amazingly difficult story to write, because I couldn’t get the voice I needed. I started to write in First Person, re-wrote in Third Person, tried again with a different-sounding First Person, another go at Third Person, and finally—phew! gasp!—hit upon a First Person voice that sounded just right. I guess the problem was the contradiction between using formal vocabulary and long sentences, necessary to get the 19th century feel, but also conveying intense emotion and an underlying thrill of horror. My lifeline was Edgar Allan Poe—I confess, I actually read a Poe short story every morning before starting work on “Bad Thoughts and the Mechanism”. I’ve never put myself  deliberately under an influence in that way before, but it worked!

Any questions on writing steampunk?

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Steampunk, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Congratulations Alisa Krasnostien and Twelfth Planet Press!

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on September 7, 2011

This post is also cross-posted to my blog.

Alisa Krasnostein is an environmental engineer by day, and runs indie publishing house Twelfth Planet Press by night. She is also Executive Editor at the review website Aussie Specfic in Focus! and part of the Galactic Suburbia Podcast Team. In her spare time she is a critic, reader, reviewer, runner, environmentalist, knitter, quilter and puppy lover.

Q: First let me say mega congratulations on being a finalist in the World Fantasy Awards (courtesy LOCUS) in the Special Award Non-Professional section for your work with Twelfth Planet Press.  I imagine you’ve been popping champagne ever since you found out. Did you have any inkling this was coming?

Thank you! My nomination was totally unexpected and took me completely by surprise.  I’m very excited because I was already planning on attending World Fantasy Con in San Diego.

 

Q: I was involved in Indy Press in the late 70s early 80s so I know how much work and money goes into this. If you’d had any idea that you’d be ‘working longer hours on the press than my day job and I still don’t have enough time in the week to get to everything that needs to be done.’  – (See full interview on Bibliophile Stalker) – would you have jumped in with as much enthusiasm?

Interesting question. I’m not afraid of hard work. I definitely lean towards the workaholic. I think also, being an engineer has trained me to get absorbed and focused on the task at hand. And the amount of time I work and the amount of work I create for myself is definitely self-inflicted. And I hear I can dial it back at any point in time if I want! I love indie press more now that when I first jumped in and I respect and appreciate the people who contribute to the scene even more so now that I know how much work and dedication and talent goes into everything that gets published. And I also believe that we are limited only by the passion, time, commitment and hard work that we put in. So. No pressure. And no regrets.

Q: And following on from that, if you could go back and give yourself advice about starting Twelfth Planet Press, what would that advice be?

The number one thing I regret is not taking my business more seriously from the start. My advice would be to set up my small press as a small business from the beginning and not rely on a box of receipts or a papertrail for forensic auditing later. I set the financial and business side up several years in and that was most definitely one of the most painful things to sort out. There’s so much more to writing and editing and publishing than the creative side and I would advise myself, and anyone jumping in (both at the publishing and the writing ends), to get a basic handle on accounting, legalese to read and understand contracts and basic business advice (like if you need an ABN and how to structure your business – will you be a sole trader or a company and what does that mean anyway?) .

Q: You did a post for Hoyden About Town on The Invisibility of Women in Science Fiction. It’s obviously a subject you feel strongly about.  Is Twelfth Planet Press seeking to address this issue with affirmative action?

Not in any formal or mandated way. Overall, I don’t have a gender imbalance issue at Twelfth Planet Press – I buy what I like and the best stories that are submitted to me. And funnily enough, that gender breakdown is different to the general norm (though that’s not true of my novella series).

The Twelve Planets – twelve four-story original collections by twelve different Australian female writers – is a project that came from a place of realising, at the time of idea conception, how few female Australian writers had been collected. That’s changed during the time of project development. But the Twelve Planets remains a project that will release over two years close to 50 new short stories written by women. And that’s something that I’m really proud to be doing.

Q: Twelfth Planet Press has had some remarkable wins for a new, small Indy Press. There were six finalistings in the Aurealis Awards this year. Two finalistings on the Australian Shadows Award. And Tansy Rayner Roberts’ novella Siren Beat won the WSFA Small Press Award for 2010. This novella was part of a series of back-to-back novellas that Twelfth Planet Press released.  It’s notoriously hard, from a writer’s point of view, to sell a novella to a publisher. Why did TPP start producing BtB novellas?

Thanks, I was particularly pleased with our Aurealis Awards shortlistings this year coming after seven shortlistings last year. It feels like validation for some of the choices that I’ve made particularly in terms of the direction I’ve taken. And the win from the WSFA was just unbelievably exciting. I’m so proud of the work that Tansy Rayner Roberts is producing at the moment.

I really wanted to have a product to sell at a particular price point, around the $10 to $15 mark. That was really the place that I started at for the novella doubles. I personally love the novella length, especially for science fiction and I loved the idea of paying homage to the Ace Doubles. I especially loved the idea of pairing two totally unrelated works and throwing them into a package like many of the Ace Doubles did. From a gambling sense, if you love one and not so much the other, that’s not a bad deal for $12. And from a publisher’s point of view I like the idea of perhaps enticing readers to find new or unknown to them writers or be exposed to a new genre by buying a double for one of the stories and getting the other one as a bonus. If I make the pairs right!

Q: An editor once said to me, I can’t tell you want I want, but I’ll know when I see it. This is incredibly frustrating to a writer. Can you tell us what you want?

Only that I’ll know when I see it. Sorry! But yeah, we look for what we aren’t expecting, what is outside of what everyone else is writing, that breaks new ground and feels fresh, that stands out from the pack. What I want is the project that stands out cause it’s not like all the other books on the shelf. I specifically look firstly for really solid writing – writing that is unpretentious and doesn’t get in the way of the story. And then I want to be emotionally or intellectually moved or changed by the work. I look for stories that demand my attention and then hold it. I look for stories that tell me something I didn’t know before – about myself, or about society or humanity. I look for a rewarding reading experience. So. Not much.

I’m very busy and I deliberately choose to read submissions when I’m in a bad mood and whilst doing something else. I want what I’m reading to demand attention, to demand I put everything down and just read it to the end.

Q:  A finalist placing in the World Fantasy Awards has to raise the profile of Twelfth Planet Press. Where would you like to see TPP in five years time?

I’d like to see us with wider distribution in brick and mortar bookshops all over the place (long live the bookshop!) and being in a position to pay pro rates for writing, art, design and layout. I’d like to see us pushing genre boundaries and continuing to publish top quality fiction by writers at the top of our field that inspires, engages and entertains.

Q: On a personal note, where would you like to see yourself being career-wise in five years time?

I’d like to be working full time for Twelfth Planet Press.

 

Follow Alisa on Twitter  @Krasnostein

Hear the podcasts on Galactic Suburbia

Hear the TPP Podcasts.

Catch up with Alisa on Linked in

Catch up on FaceBook

Drop by the ASIF Website.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Awards, Editors, Fantasy Genre, Genre Writing, Indy Press, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

On Reading and Writing …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 2, 2011

RORee Dirk Flinthart compiled today’s post in reply to an email from a would-be writer.


 

Your confession that you do not read novels is, I admit, a little daunting. Storytelling is an art form. The true art does not belong entirely to the writer. Each person who reads a story recreates it in their own mind as they go, and therefore each reading is a personal experience. It’s this necessary act of re-creation which makes the novel a form which can be more powerful than cinematic art – because the art of cinema happens on screen, in front of you. You experience a movie, rather than re-creating it. A novel forces you to be complicit in its own existence.

The point I’m making is that in order to reach your audience effectively enough that they can read your work and re-create the piece successfully for themselves, you must have a visceral understanding of the dance that goes on between reader and writer. I’m not being colourful here to make myself look smart, or to obscure the subject: I’m trying the best I can to help you understand what it is you’ve set yourself to do.

One example of what I’m trying to talk about would be transitions.

Transitions occur in a novel when you close one scene, and open another. A character has a conversation in one room, then says ‘Oh, shit, look at the time! I’ve got to pick up my girlfriend from the airport’. The scene closes, and the next scene picks up… where?

An experienced or confident writer will jump to the airport, and have the character greet his girlfriend as she steps off the airplane. This writer knows instinctively that the readers will simply accept the transition, without blinking. On the other hand, beginning novelists very frequently lack this confidence. They forget how it is to be a reader, and they feel they have to add the details to offer verisimilitude, and to make sure the reader doesn’t lose the thread. And so this less-confident writer will create another scene in which the protagonist leaves the room, goes to his car, drives across town, curses the heavy traffic, glances at his watch to see if he’s late, parks carelessly and sprints into the airport building just in time…

… none of which adds anything significant to the story.

But it’s the instinct that counts. The experienced writer makes the quick transition because the experienced writer is also a deeply experienced reader. Not just a casual reader-for-enjoyment, but someone  who has picked apart the very act of reading, and has understood what is vital to the narrative, and what becomes lead-weight ballast because of its tedious irrelevance.

Transitions are merely an example. They are just one small part of the complex transaction which goes on between writer and reader. The point is that to create a novel successfully, a writer must either be fortunate enough to have an instinctive understanding of the process — or must serve a considerable apprenticeship, learning to see, taste and feel the hidden rules of storytelling.

Very few of us come aboard with that instinct full-blown. Some are lucky enough to find helpful publishers and editors who can assist them in developing those instincts. Others have to serve a difficult, demanding apprenticeship, relying on the help of fellow writers — and most importantly, on the examples they can see in the published works they read.

If you’re really planning to write a novel, you’re going to have to become a reader. Preferably not just of one genre, but of anything and everything. Most writers are so compulsive about their reading that they will literally pick up a bus-timetable and browse the advertising around the edges if they’re caught short of reading material.

Grab some novels. Read them from start to finish, the way you normally would. Now, go back and read them again. This time, look at the words on the page, and ask yourself how they make you think and feel. Ask yourself what images you see in your head, and why. Think about the cover of the book, and the ideas it sets in motion even before you pick up the novel itself. Pick adjectives and nouns and verbs at random from the prose, and ask yourself why the author chose those very specific words, and not their synonyms. Think about the POV characters: ask yourself what job they do in the story, and how the nature of the characters causes the story to unfold in specific ways. Then look at the characters who don’t provide a POV, and ask the same set of questions.

There are dozens of other things you can try, but this is a good start. Be careful, though. In some senses, this practice of analysis and observation can become a problem. Fill your head with it, and you’ll find it impossible to write with the freedom that you had when you were just ‘telling a story’. But on the other hand, the MS is only the first step. All these other things become necessary when you go on to convert the MS into a real, complete, functioning story.

Editing is the hardest part of the job, I’m afraid…

What books  inspired you to start writing?

 

Posted in Nourish the Writer, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Story Structure

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on June 4, 2011

I was having an email discussion with a few friends during the week about how writers try to second-guess themselves and how this can lead to  writers’ block, and Karen Miller gave me permission to quote her. She said don’t try and second-guess your readers …

‘ ‘… write the book, the way it wants to be written. And some people will love it, and some people will hate it, and some people will dismiss it for being girly (or genre, or not serious enough), and some people will embrace it because it speaks to them in a way no one else ever has, or ever can. It might succeed wildly, or it might sink without a trace. You can’t control that. All you can do is tell this story as searingly as you can.’

And everybody cheered Karen. Because we writers have little control over what happens to our books once they are sent out. All we can do is concentrate on writing the best book we can, the one that speaks to us and hope that it connects with readers.

But say you have a project/story in mind and you’re having trouble getting started. Maybe what you are looking for is structure to hang the story on. Then Tansy Rayner Roberts recommended this post ‘Linear Vs Patterned: A brief Discussion of Structure by Jennifer Cruise, writer of many bestsellers. It is an interesting post because she compares what we take to be the standard story telling structure, linear – starts at the beginning, has a goal in mind, comes to a climax and then it ends (male) – with patterned story telling – the repetition of events with details that change so that the changes become significant and are a revelation (female) .

She also says: ‘it implies that men tell stories one way and women another and that’s clearly wrong. Scott Frank (writer) and Steven Soderburg (director) did a masterful job of telling a patterned story (‘Out of Sight’ movie), and women writers have been telling razor-sharp linear stories.’

Since we are all familiar with the linear story, it’s the one drummed into us from primary school onwards, remember – a story has a beginning a middle and an end, class – I’m going to look at patterned stories. Cruises uses a wonderful analogy and I couldn’t have said it better so I’m going to quote her.  She says:

‘… (is constructed of) scene sequences that form complete stories, and then juxtapose them with other pieces to make a pattern so that at the end, the pattern is the meaning of the story. Think of the scene sequences as quilt blocks, beautiful on their own, and the story as the finished quilt in which the blocks disappear when it’s finished to form a patterned whole. The blocks are beautiful, but it’s the quilt as a whole that’s the finished design.’  (Hence the beautiful abstract patterned quilt!).

I’m a big Firefly fan. If you’ve watched all of the Firefly episodes half a dozen times you’ll see that each one tells a linear story. Even in ‘Out of Gas’ which is told through flashback, the story is linear as we are led back to the beginning through a series of connecting flashbacks. But there is an over-arcing patterned story evolving in this series. Unfortunately for us, the networks cancelled the series and we will never see the whole pattern. Joss Whedon has said he thinks about the characters from Firefly every day and you’ll noticed that even in the follow up movie, Serenity, he added more pieces of the pattern. (Let’s hope that one day he will get the chance to make another series).

I’ve just handed in the first three books of my new series The Outcast Chronicles and there was something bugging me about the trilogy. Even though I have created an up-beat ending for this trilogy (don’t get me started on the number of emails I’ve had from readers wanting a book four of King Rolen’s Kin), I felt that something wasn’t quite right about the trilogy story arc. It’s exciting, the characters are interesting and they each face challenges that extend them. But now that I’ve read Jennifer Cruise’s post on Linear Vs Patterned story telling I realise I’m telling a patterned story, while trying to impose a linear structure on it.  With this in mind, I can review the trilogy and see if there are ways I can make the overall pattern of ‘the quilt’ easier to see.

So there you are, linear story telling Vs patterned story telling. Take a look at your books and the books and movie you love. Which are linear and which use patterned story telling?

(Just like to add here a big thank you to all the wonderful writers I’ve come across who’ve shared their knowledge and helped me grow as a writer over the years).

 

 

Posted in Creativity, Editing and Revision, Story Structure, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 9 Comments »

LIBERATOR – Giveaway Competition

Posted by richardharland on May 4, 2011

Hi!
Big surprise for me this morning – my author’s copies of the French edition of Liberator arrived in a huge parcel PLUS author’s copies of the German edition. I knew the French edition was neck-and-neck with the Australian, but I thought the German was a long way off. The UK edition won’t come out until July, and the US is due early in 2012.

Here’s a quick blurb on the book before we get to the competition —-
Liberator is the largest juggernaut in the world, 3 km long by 1 km wide, a vast mountain of metal rolling across land and sea. Unlike the Russian, French, Prussian and Austrian juggernauts, it has been freed by revolution, and the slave-class of Filthies are now in charge. They’ve even changed its name from Worldshaker to Liberator. But the other reactionary juggernauts see it as a threat to their world-domination, and, when Liberator calls in at the Botany Bay coaling-station, they converge to attack.

On board Liberator, fear and paranoia are building up day by day. Mysterious acts of sabotage and murder have turned the Filthies against the remaining members of the old ruling class, including Col Porpentine and his family and friends. Even Riff, the girl Filthy who seemed to care for Col, is now embarrassed to be seen with him. As extremism grows, a charismatic leader comes to the fore and a radical political coup launches a new kind of tyranny.

…… OK, that was actually my first attempt at a blurb, not the one that appears on the book.

Now for the COMPETITION! Since it’s a steampunk world, of course there have to be corsets in it.
(i) ONE FREE SIGNED COPY of LIBERATOR to the best entry on “My Favourite Corset” (no more than a couple of sentences/short pithy paragraph) You have to choose one out of the selection below and say why. The first three are male (men used to wear corsets, like Queen Victoria’s majordomo in Liberator) and the next three are female (and Lye, the charismatic leader in Liberator, has her own special reason for wearing a corset)

Enter by pasting in a comment. The corsets are
(A) MALE DASHING
(B) MALE CONSTRICTOR
(C) MALE BLACK
(D) FEMALE BLACK
(E) FEMALE: THE VIXEN
(F) FEMALE WITH RIBBONS

Go to it! Be inventive! Cross-dressing is allowed and encouraged (Queen Victoria wouldn’t mind). And when you’ve done with those images, there’s still ——
(ii) ANOTHER FREE GIVEAWAY COPY to anyone who comes up with the best description of “My Own Design of Corset, Much Superior than the Selection Above”.

Strap yourself in! Get waisted! Enter the competition by pasting in a comment.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Book Launches, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Fantasy Genre, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book, Steampunk, World Buildng, Writing for Young Adults | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments »

How writers can create their own luck

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on March 19, 2011

Professor Richard Wiseman (no I did not make up his name) is a psychologist who writes about luck, deception, the paranormal, humour and the science of self help. I came across the principles behind his book The Luck Factor several years ago.

In this book, he analyses why some people seem to have better luck than others and discovers it comes down to four principles, which I’m going to relate to us as writers.

Authors  often feel a sense of helplessness. We slave over a keyboard, pour our hearts and souls into books only to send them out into the cold cruel world of editor’s desks. And even if our book does appeal to an editor it has to get past marketing at an acquisitions meeting. Then, if it makes it that far, all sorts of things can happen to it. It can get a terrible cover and never make the sales it deserves. So we tend to feel fatalistic about our books.

We can promote our books. We can do guest posts and send off copies to review sites and arrange give-aways. But there is always this element of luck. Luck to sell in the first place, hitting that Right Editor at the Right Time with the Right Book. And then, once the book is out in the shops, it has to be in the Right Place at the Right Time to appeal to the Right People, who will pick it up and champion it.

It helps if your books are lucky enough to get brilliant covers!

The publisher of Twilight did not expect it to be a smash hit, same with the publisher of the first Harry Potter book.  It is easy to look back and say, Oh Twilight appeals to the Tween market offering an adoring male (the leashed beast), or Oh Harry Potter offered the familiarity of boarding school with the fun of fantasy and an updated version of Enid Blyton’s Fantastic Five mysteries.

But we can’t anticipate what the next big thing will be. It is fair to say that publishers really don’t know why one book makes record sales and not another, otherwise they would only be publishing best sellers.

So what can you do to maximise your chance to get published in the first place. There is a point you reach where you have done the hard yards and you can write a good book. Then you have to get it in front of an editor. Let’s look at Wiseman’s four principles.

1. Maximise Opportunities

I’m always telling aspiring writers to enter competitions, go to festivals listen to editors and agents and find out what they are looking for. Your books will not sell on your hard drive. Only recently we’ve seen  self published author Michael J Sullivan get picked up by Orbit and Angry Robot signed Adam Christopher who had developed a following via Twitter. Then there’s Amanda Hocking the Kindle Millionaire who bypassed traditional publishers all together. So do your research, be ready with the book of your heart to place it in front of the public/editor/agent.

2. Listen to Lucky Hunches

At first I didn’t see how this applied directly to aspiring writers. Then I remembered how I sold to Dreaming DownUnder, the anthology which won World Best Fantasy. It was being edited by Jack Dann and Janean Webb and it was submission by invitation only. But I had a hunch that if I approached them and asked to submit a story, they’d say yes. They did and my story was accepted. The worst that could have happened was they might have said no. So follow your hunches.

3. Expect Good Fortune

This one basically means even when things go bad (as they did for me with a lean patch of nearly 10 years between my trilogies) lucky people don’t stop trying. I kept writing, kept polishing my craft, kept my eyes open, ready to take advantage of the first sign of positive feedback. So don’t let knock-backs stop you, after all, you’re not a writer, if you’ve never had a rejection. (See here for 14 Best Selling books that were repeatedly rejected).

4. Turn Bad Luck into Good

Sounds a bit Pollyanna, doesn’t it? Wiseman says: ‘Lucky people employ various psychological techniques to cope with, and often even thrive upon, the ill fortune that comes their way.’ Or if you are a fan of Julie Andrews – when one door closes a window opens. Who knows it could be a window of opportunity. <grin>

So there you have it, advice from Professor Wiseman that applies to writers. And if this is all a bit serious, see here for Wiseman’s LaughLab, where he set out to discover the world’s funniest joke.

(I posted this blog last night and totally forgot to give it a title. Blame my husband. He was hovering over me saying. Is it done yet? I want to put the movie on. LOL).

Posted in Agents, Creativity, Nourish the Writer, Pitching, Promoting your Book, Publishers, Publishing Industry, Sales, Writing Opportunities | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »