Writing Prompt: Role Reversal

The novel I’m writing now came from me wanting to make the protagonist of the story one of the ‘secondary’ characters of the quest. After all, we should be making all our secondary characters as strong and as fully fleshed out as our protagonists. I’d like to see what we all can do with that idea.

The challenge is, take a side kick and flip the script. It can be an acknowledged (within the story) turn about, like if Robin saved Batman. Or maybe something less recognised by the characters.

Can you do it in your current work in progress? Could your story be even more exciting from a different character’s view? Let’s see what we can do!

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What Came Before

Because of word limits on our submissions for critique and monthly gaps between meetings many of our members start their submissions with a synopsis of what happened before this latest installment. It’s a big help especially for people who might have missed a meeting so didn’t get to read the previous part/chapter.

A writer doesn’t get that opportunity when their book goes out into the world though. If you have a series you can’t stop someone from starting at book three, or maybe your publication schedule means they wait a couple of years between book two and book three. Then your first chapters have to do this work – but without being info dumpy and boring, because some readers will be binge-reading your books all in a row and don’t need too thorough a re-cap.

It’s a fine line to walk, giving just enough information to remind the reader who this character is and what they did recently without carrying on about it too long. Think of books you’ve read that did it poorly, think of books that did it well. Reread them and analyse what the authors did and practice it in your own writing. Beta readers and critique groups will be happy to let you know if you under or over did it. As with nearly everything, practice makes perfect.

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Christmas Freebie

From the 25th to the 28th of December the lastest Vision Writers anthology, Darkest Depths, will be available free from Amazon, so grab your copy if you haven’t already, and have a wonderful holiday season!

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Writing Prompt: New Traditions

This time of year is rife with traditions, whether it be the deeply religious, or the old family type. But what if you’re in a world without Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of our world’s familiar holidays?

What festival do they celebrate? Is it midwinter or midsummer? How does that weather effect the traditions? Are there typical costumes? Is it rooted in religion but deviated somewhat like Christmas? Or is it more deeply linked? Are there opposing religions who vie for attention this time of year?

Is this the perfect time of year for your desert nomads to cull the tribe’s weaklings in some form of trial?

Where does your imagination take you? What new traditions are you making for your world? Have fun, and have a wonderful holiday season!

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Too Much Of A Good Thing

darkest-depths-ebook-smallToday was a pretty funny meeting. Unintended innuendo had me laughing so hard there were tears in my eyes. It was also a touching meeting, with our lovely VP taking the time to bolster the confidence of another member. It’s touching to know we’re all in this together, and we’re all determined to make sure that our fellow members have the strength to move on. It was also a monumental meeting as we finally uploaded our latest anthology Darkest Depths (more on that later).

Amongst the hugs, tears, and cheers there was still critiquing though! The takeaway from today’s meeting is a problem that some writers probably wish they had. None the less it can be a story killer. The issue is too many ideas – in one story.

Sometimes (like in the opening chapter this feedback was given to) it’s a case of lots of cool and interesting ideas, but so many of them, in such rapid succession that the reader feels overloaded. Another possibility in the same vein can be a case of several ideas put together that don’t really mesh well.

With the first form, one possible fix is to spread out the ideas so they don’t came so thick and fast. What simply must be included in this scene for readers to understand and be drawn in? What can wait for another scene or even chapter?

The second possible fix is applicable to both forms of the problem. Ask yourself which of the ideas you can’t live without? Which are you most passionate about? Which can the story not survive without? Cut the others. If there’s still too many, go with the answer/s to the last question only.

Don’t be too scared to do this. Removing those ideas doesn’t mean you have to bin them completely. When you’ve finished this story you can write something that might better work with the discarded idea/s.

You know what there’s never too much of though? Awesome short stories. If you’re looking to sate your short story fix consider grabbing a copy of Darkest Depths, our anthology celebrating 20 years of Vision Writers meeting and critiquing.

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Writing Prompt: First Line Fun

photo credit Melinda Seckington

photo credit Melinda Seckington

Take your favourite book. What’s its first line?

We’re going to use that as the base, but here’s a few rules.

  1. Try not to work in the same genre as that book.
  2. None of the characters can be facsimiles of the characters from your chosen book.

Now, you need to take that line and change it a bit. Give it a new tone. If it was an optimistic line, make it dark and gloomy. If it was a ‘dark and stormy night’ your line could become something like ‘it was a brilliant golden dawn promising a glorious day’.

You don’t have to go polar opposite though, you can go on a tangent. Dark and stormy night becomes ‘a blustery afternoon were a simulation of early dusk came from oncoming storm clouds’.

Use you new line and go crazy.

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Filter Words

As always there was a wealth of good advice at the meeting. It can make it very hard to choose what to write about in these ‘meeting takeaway’ posts. This month I’d like to talk about filter words.

Filter words are quite nefarious, as they can seem like they’re drawing the reader into the story when actually they’re putting an extra layer between the reader and the experience.  That bit of distance is – strangely enough – the character.

For example:

“He felt the snow gather on the back of his collar” vs “The snow gathered on the back of his collar”

or

“She wondered how to avoid it” vs “It seemed unavoidable”

The first sentence is telling the reader what the character is feeling or experiencing, whereas the second sentence is letting the reader feel it directly, without putting the filter of the character’s mind between the reader and the experience. It puts you right inside of the characters body.

If you’re wanting deep POV, truly immersive writing steer clear of filter words like: thought, wondered, saw, heard, noticed, felt.

Why not open up your manuscript and use the ‘search’ or ‘find a word’ function and see how many results you get for each one of those filter words? You might be surprised at how many there are. But don’t despair, you’ve diagnosed the problem, you know the solution, and rewriting/revision is just as important a part of writing as the first draft. Go forth and revise!

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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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