Vision Meetings

Welcome to the Vision Writers webpage.

We meet on the first Sunday of every month, Feb – Nov.

Venue: Brisbane Square Library
266 George St,
Brisbane Queensland
Australia 4000

The meeting room we use is 1.9

Time:
11:00am – 2:00pm

If you’re thinking of coming along to a meeting, consider joining the VISION Discussion List (Yahoo! Group) to check on meeting times and ask questions.

More details and exact dates can be found on the Meeting Times page.

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Writing Prompt: Platinum

platinum-t07-103b-wikimedia-commonsVision Writers is officially 20 years old this month. Woah! We are Brisbane’s oldest speculative fiction writers group and this is our platinum anniversary.

So fittingly this month’s writing prompt is platinum.

Just that. Platinum.

Let’s see where our active imaginations take us!

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Happy Anniversary!

birthday-cake-757102_640Wow! Vision Writers is officially twenty years old!

To think two whole decades ago Rowena, Marianne, Adrianne, and (who else? I’m sure there were others but I don’t know who – I’d love to if only for historical accuracy and the sheer joy of knowledge ;p ) sat down together, founding a writers group and critiquing one anothers work.

Having recently contacted several past attending members I’ve learned we’ve held meetings in lots of other places than just the two libraries I’ve attended meetings at, and I’ve been impressed by the breadth of work and friendliness of every member I’ve spoken to. I think that’s one of the best things about being a part of Vision Writers. Everyone is so open, friendly, and helpful.

Going to your first meeting can be so daunting, and I think though our meeting attending numbers have more than doubled in the last few years compared to when I first joined, I think the group is just as welcoming. Everyone’s eager to try and include newbies in conversation and encourage them to submit (take the plunge!).

So, Happy Birthday Vision Writers!

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Taking the Time To Savour Your Action Scenes

gary provost five word sentencesHappy Father’s Day for yesterday to all the dads out there. We had a very laid back meeting on Saturday (it was moved from Sunday to Saturday just this month so we weren’t forcing people to chose between the meeting and Father’s Day). It reminded me of the meetings we used to have when I first started, only five or six of us showing up at the meetings, the discussions and tangents we went on while giving feedback — and no time limits!

Despite there being less pieces to critique and less people critiquing there were still several good bits of advice from the meeting that are applicable to more than just the pieces they were given to.

My favourite bit of advice from this month’s meeting is related to action scenes. Chances are you’ve heard the advice to use short, punchy sentences for impact. This is good advice, but like anything, can be taken to far.

In the extreme this can result in action scenes which feel too rushed, too dry, maybe even like just a laundry list of actions taken.

How to avoid these outcomes? Don’t forget to vary your sentence length. If you aren’t sure of what I’m saying, read the Gary Provost quote I’ve used as a picture for this post.

Another way to avoid it is to add some description in. Not too much, use it like pepper, not potatoes. So let’s look at a basic scene to start: (be warned, violence ahead)

“Jason threw the rock into the bushes on the other side of the agents. The agents turned to see what made the noise. Jason burst from the bushes. He leaped at the agent on the left, punching her hard in the face. Then Jason turned on the other agent, only to come face-to-face with the barrel of a beretta. That’s when Jason took on his wolf form and tore the man’s throat out.”

OK, not bad, but it was a bit dry, a bit rushed, and doesn’t really evoke any emotions. Now let’s try it with a few embellishments.

“Jason lobbed the rock over the agents heads so it landed in the bushes on the other side of them. The two agents spun, searching for what made the sound. Jason burst from the bushes, launching at the female agent. He wasn’t a fan of hitting women, but when that woman would shoot both him and his entire family just for being what they were he didn’t struggle with the decision so bad. He slammed his fist into her face hard enough to knock her flat on her back.

Jason turned on the other agent only to come face-to-face with the barrel of a beretta. Jason swallowed hard. He only had one option left: Be what he was. A growl rolled up, past the lump in his throat, and he felt the bizarre prickling sensation of fur sprouting out all over his body. At the same time he felt the stretching and expanding as he changed size and shape into his wolf form. He surged forward and slightly to the side, past the gun and straight at the agent’s throat.”

It’s not perfect, but now we’ve got some emotional connection to Jason. We can see what he’s feeling and thinking. That helps us care about the result of the action scene. We’ve also added some more lively descriptions of the action which make it feel less like reading a bland list of actions taken. Sure it’s twice as long, but it’s a more interesting read because we’ve taken the time to savour the action rather than just rushing through.

Though don’t forget not to over-embellish. Too many details and asides can bog down your reader, detracting from the pace and tension. As usual, moderation is key.

Action scenes can be tough to master, and the only way to master them is practice, so you better get started!

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September Meeting Date/Time/Location

Out of respect for Father’s Day the September meeting has been shifted to SATURDAY 3rd September, still at the usual 11am, but now at the Communal Bar and Grill (right out the front of the Brisbane Square Library).

Meetings will return to normal from the October meeting onward.

New September Meeting Details

Date: Saturday 3rd September
Time: 11am-2pm
Location: Communal Bar and Grill

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Writing Prompt: Don’t speak

3111207407_ea37525588_zThis is less a prompt and more a challenge. Can you write a story with no dialogue?

Normally it would be a terrible mistake to have a story with no dialogue, but if you come at it from the right angle, and have a good reason it could be great. After all, we learn the rules so we can know when and how to break them for the right dramatic impact.

Don’t forget to think about why your characters can’t talk. Be careful to not make things boring, don’t forget the fiction staples of conflict and change to keep things interesting for your readers.

I’d love to hear how you went, and read any results. Link or discuss in the comments below.

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War and Commerce

war mapHacked Fit Bits aside, this month’s best bit of advice from the meeting is to do with deeper levels of world building.

Be warned this is a very simplified explanation of what is a large and complex topic that I encourage you to research more deeply if you are working on an ‘epic’ or ‘interstellar/galactic’ scale in your fiction, or even anything which involves two or more opposing cultures/countries.

The piece this feedback was given on was an epic fantasy (though the advice is applicable to more than just fantasy) in which two nations – a still somewhat primitive war-like one, and a more modern commerce focused one – meet and the diplomatic issues between them (the story itself is infinitely more complex than just this one fact, but to help you understand the advice I felt some knowledge of the story would be helpful).

At one point one of the members of the more modern nation made a comment about how they had warriors, but not really much of an army, as they were far more focused on trade.  But in reality, that would not be the likely case. Commerce and the strength of a country’s army are often tied together.

To use some examples from reality: look at the USA and China, both economic powers and both with strong military forces. Russia is looking to bolster it economic standing once more so is putting effort into their armed forces.

What are some of the reasons behind this? Well, war is an economic drain on a country, money that would go to trade is instead spent on the myriad expenses of war – of which there is rarely if ever any monetary return on. Also trade routes can become restricted or entirely cut off due to fighting and enemy takeovers. A country that wants to trade freely needs to be able to scare off potential enemies so they never get into a war to begin with.

Back in the fantasy world, the wealthy country had also made little to no effort to prepare for their differently cultured guests. A country who was able to successfully trade well and strike good agreements with other cultures and countries would be well aware of the value of catering to your guest’s different needs and expectations. They would also know how a whole deal could fall through because of a mistranslated phrase or an unintended insulting gesture.

Military matters, commerce, and diplomacy are intertwined and if you’re going to have political stakes in your story it would be a good idea to try and gain a better understanding of these matters. Obviously this blog post is far from all there is on the subject, so don’t stop here, learn as much as you can so your world building can strengthen your story.

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Writing Prompt: Weak Sauce

2992040209_06452e0151_mWhat makes all those monsters like werewolves and vampires so scary? The fact they’re so much stronger than us. We couldn’t possibly hope to defeat them – unless we know their weakness.

But what if those myths were intentionally misleading? Vampires want you to think they can fly, transform, hypnotise and possess inhuman strength because otherwise if you walk too close to them with your garlic breath you’ll destroy them. They want you to keep your distance out of fear. The myths are a strategic defence.

Your challenge, pick a monster (popular or lesser known) and take every single one of their strengths away. How do they live? How did they(or their ancestors) spread the myths? Let the story flow(and chat about it or link to it in the comments).

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Letting Your Reader Breathe – Between Laughs

babylaughterAt yesterday’s meeting we had couple of comedy pieces submitted for critique – the unrelentingly side-splitting Victorian Horror piece ‘The Spectre In The Wardrobe’ by Tony Owens will be one to look out for, and the giggle-tastic and close to the group’s heart ‘Making Magic’.

While both manuscripts would have been covered in comments like ‘lol’ and ‘rofl’ (after all we want the author to know when we genuinely laughed aloud at the joke), our resident comedy expert, Meg, had some advice for those who submitted.

Firstly was to let the jokes breathe. To give you an idea of what that means think of when you watch a movie at the cinema. Right after some witty mercenary in a mask makes a quip all 100+ people in the cinema crack up. Now if without missing a beat one of the other characters were to make a witty response chances are every word that other character says will be drowned under the laugh following the first joke.

While it’s not exactly the same effect with reading, there’s a similar result, a dilution of amusement caused by the second (or third, fourth, fifth) joke when they are fired in rapid succession.

Another way to think of it is like the lesson from the May meeting about character burnout: too many characters=burned out reader. Same concept applies to jokes, if you space them out (like introductions to characters) they’re less likely to slip by or be buried in the mirth from the preceding joke.

And a more generalised comedy tip is to think of what kind of joke you’re going for. Is it simply a witty one liner, or are you going for the slow build story which, while it might contain quite a few of the aforementioned one liners, ultimately culminates in a hilarious laugh bigger (and often much more memorable) than that of a single simple joke?

Watch some comedians and see how they work. You’ll notice even the comedians who do rapid fire one liners will take a purposeful pause to let the laughter die down. But how do we know where to put those pauses? It can be hard knowing which of the jokes you wrote are actually funny, and which are so rip-roaringly such that they need an extra long break. This is where a writers group can come in handy – they can tell you which ones hit, which ones miss and which ones made them cackle so loud they woke up the baby in the other room.

Even if your story’s main genre isn’t comedy having a good laugh or two is rarely a bad thing so it’s a good idea to practice your comedic skills.

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Character Overload

And we're all pivotal to the plot

And we’re all pivotal to the plot

You’re at a party, and a guy comes up to you and shakes your hand. “Hi, I’m Bob,” he says, but before you can go deeper into a conversation with him a woman comes over. She introduces herself as Rachel, a veterinarian. Then Harry introduces himself, and before you can learn more about him three women walk up, Carla, Cheirie, and Lola. As they introduce themselves, you can’t even see Bob and Rachel any more.

Before Cheirie is finished telling you about her fashion line she’s working on for release in Spring she’s jostled aside by Carl and Zach, and then a woman called Elise grabs you by the hand and drags you over to the bar to introduce you to the wait staff and–

Burned out by all the names and faces yet?

It’s easy, particularly with epic fantasy, to have a lot of characters. Sometimes, particularly in opening scenes, you can write too many new characters in all at once, and you leave your reader with ‘character overload’: where they can’t remember who half the introduced cast is.

Worse than just confusing your reader, it can also lessen dramatic impact, because why do I care what happens to Lola or Carla when I barely got to see them? If they’re in mortal danger at the end of the party will I really notice or care?

To help with character overload there’s a couple of things to keep in mind.

First: Does the reader need to meet this person now? Is this character important to the plot of THIS particular scene? Are they necessary for the conflict? If they aren’t, add them later.

But they’re a main character you say? They need to be in the scene though they’ve no immediate effect on it because the reader simply must meet them. Let me disagree and give you an example you might know: In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Ron and Hermione don’t make their appearances until about a third of the way through the book.

Second: who do you remember best from the party? My guess is you probably remember Rachel the veterinarian and Cheirie the fashion designer, or Elise, who drags you around and introduces you to other people. Was I right? So why did they stick out? Because they had more to their character than just a name and a gender.

Fleshing out a character more can help. Maybe your story has an ensemble cast and you really do need those six people all in this one opening scene. So make them memorable. What do they look like, how can you show their personality and make them stick out of the crowd in the readers mind?

Using both of these techniques should help you with even the most epic of casts. It might not help much with the party though, maybe you should try to be less of a social butterfly.

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Understanding Powerful Scenes with Game of Thrones

Game_of_Thrones_title_cardLike a lot of you I imagine I watched the first episode of the new season of Game of Thrones today. And of course Foxtel was riddled with shows leading up to and following it to help ground you in what happened and pull in the viewer numbers.

One of the following features was a show called Game of Thrones: Greatest Moments. Basically a huge poll was taken to find out the twenty most popular scenes in Game of Thrones and while they show you the scene, several actors and other professionals analyse what it is about that scene that makes people love it so much.

It’s a great watch because you get to really think deeply about what’s happening in those scenes and you get to hear others dissecting it. And you also get to break it down yourself, notice other things you missed when you were just enjoying watching the show (like in the bath scene with Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth, where he reveals his side of the events that lead to him being branded Oathbreaker and Kingslayer – how Jamie is filthy top to toe, and Brienne is clean as can be).

But more than just watching it and analysing it, figure out what you can do to make this happen in your own scenes. Can you manipulate the readers feelings by working a character’s backstory and goals in such a perfect way that you can make the reader FEEL the pain right alongside the character? Can you work in that symbolism? Can you tap into that magic that makes a scene moving and memorable?

Watch it closely, figure out the tricks and triggers, and try it yourself. You’ll only know if you can, if you try.

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