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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Writing Prompt: Paradoxical Titles

285174This month’s writing prompt is inspired in no small part by Sean Platt & Johnny B Truant’s ‘Caveman Timecop’ and James Scott Bell’s(writing under K Bennett) Zombie Legal Thriller series. Those concepts are hilariously magnificent and, well, inspiring.

So, how to come up with a paradox though? Well, first pick your genre. If you haven’t got a favourite use the random number generator and score a genre from the list below:

  1. Haunted house/hotel horror
  2. Circus horror
  3. Steampunk
  4. Medieval fantasy
  5. Outer-space science fiction
  6. Time travel
  7. Near future science fiction
  8. Vampiric horror
  9. Historical romance
  10. Urban fantasy

Now you’ve got your genre, try to think of something that would be ludicrous or even downright idiotic to include in such a story – like a caveman as a time cop.

If you’re struggling, start with something just a little strange or funny, for example the lycanthrope your vampire must fight (and inevitably make out with) in the urban fantasy transforms into something really not cool, like a tea cup poodle (Yes, I’m obsessed with this idea. I want to read this story ;p ). Try and go one up from that. And then even a step further from that.

You could try to mind map out your ideas if you find mind maps helpful.

Even if you can’t get to something truly paradoxical, perhaps you’ll at least get inspired by just the slightly odd idea. Where ever you can, take the inspiration and revel in it.

When you’ve written it we’d love to hear about it – link or talk in the comments below so we can all enjoy.

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Talking About Speech

need I say more?

need I say more?

We had a lovely number of newbies show up to check out our meeting yesterday, and the two newbies who came to last month’s meeting returned for this one – both diving in and submitting works for critique.

As always there were plenty of great tips and advice, enough that I might even write some extra posts about some of the other information, but for now, let’s stick with speech tags.

For the beginners out there speech tags are what you use to show who spoke the line of dialogue that just happened(or in some cases is about to happen), for example: ‘Dave said’, or ‘Wendy asked’, or ‘James begged’.

Common writing advice is that when writing for older audiences (YA, New Adult, and Adult) one should avoid using fancy speech tags, such as ‘raged’, ‘demanded’, ‘whined’, and ‘screamed’. Instead stick to the simple stuff like ‘said’, ‘asked’, and ‘replied’. Don’t be tempted to add an adverb on the end either(like ‘she said lovingly’), you might¬† as well have used the single, stronger word.

The reasoning behind this advice is twofold.

First: your line of dialogue should be written well enough that the reader will automatically read it with the correct tone.

Second: too much usage of these fancier speech tags begins to grate on a reader’s mind, distracting from the actual story. Even more so if some of the tags don’t quite match how they just imagined the line was spoken, or if — in an attempt to not use the same words too often — you get a little too creative and use a word that’s odd for a speech tag, like ‘he dribbled’. While it might fit, one does not typically ‘dribble’ words (though it’s not impossible).

Now, before you go back through your manuscript and replace every instance of ‘declaimed’, ‘shouted’, and ‘hissed’, let me point out I don’t think a totally spartan approach is the right way either. The occasional more adventurous speech tag in the right place, when you want to create a strong impact with that particular line, can really draw attention in a good way. Be careful and sparing with the dramatic tags. Use them like spices in cooking. As one of my writing teachers once told me “Use it like pepper, not potatoes.”

A parting tip to end on, you can skip speech tags all together if you desire. Instead add a bit of action taken by the speaker immediately proceeding or following the line. And when there’s only two speakers, you can just skip the tags entirely after establishing an order as the reader can figure out who is talking by whose turn it is. For example:

“Where did you put the remote?” Gillian looked over to Damon as she dug her hands through the gaps between the couch cushions.

“I left it on the couch.” Damon didn’t shift from his chair, just pointed to the very piece of furniture Gillian was frisking.

“Well it’s clearly not here.”

“Well it’s not like I put it anywhere else.”

See, you can hear the sarcasm dripping off Damon’s response at the end without me putting ‘Damon retorted sarcastically’, and you knew it was Damon by whose turn it was to speak.

Try going through your own manuscript and tinkering with the tags. Or practice with an all new piece. Either way, shouldn’t you be writing right now?

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Vision Writers At The Aurealis Awards

Last night myself, Geneve Flynn, and Talitha Kalago attended the ceremony for the 2015 Aurealis Awards.

Talitha was a member of the judging panels for Best Horror Short Fiction and Best Horror Novel categories(you can read her article on things she learned being a judge). Geneve had been to workshops at the Contact 2016 convention. I went along as current president of Vision to admire all the past presidents and other members in attendance.

Our founding members Mariane de Pierres and Rowena Cory Daniells were the MCs for the night, entertaining us with their self comparison to Thelma and Louise – though promising to not drive the awards over a cliff.

I was impressed to see past president Kathleen Jennings taking the stage to hand out some of the awards as well as Kate Eltham. And let’s not forget a huge congratulations for past president Trent Jamieson for winning TWO categories with his novel ‘Day Boy’.

The table we sat at just happened to turn into the unofficial Vision Writers table as Chris McMahon asked if he could sit beside me (neither of us knowing at the time who the other was), Trent Jamieson joining him and Alicia Wanstall-Burke on the other side. The wonderful Paul Landynore joined us, and we forgave him for not being a Vision member ;p

It was a wonderful night celebrating Australian Speculative fiction and I can’t wait for next years ceremony (fingers crossed its in Brisbane again).

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