If you’ve got an idea for a novel but you’re struggling to flesh it out into something with plot and coherency, you’re not alone. The more I work on developing my novel idea, the more I feel like I’m trying to carve a sculpture…in the dark…without a reference photo. It’s easy to come up with a concept but how do you turn that idea into a story? How do you create characters that feel real, complex and interesting? Most of all, how do you make your story good? If you’re having trouble finding the answers to these questions, it’s not a bad idea to turn to someone who’s already figured them out.
On the first weekend of November, I attended author Christine Wells’ workshop Novel in a Day: Plot Structure, Character Arcs & Everything Else. The timing of this couldn’t be more appropriate considering NaNoWriMo had begun just two days before. Writers of all ages, genres and backgrounds attended. Some had written novels in the past, others had gotten stuck halfway through a draft and hoped the workshop would help them figure out what to do next, and quite a few were total beginners.
Christine Wells has written thirteen novels; she talks about writing with the ease and confidence of an experienced author. She broke her workshop into three main parts: premise, plot structure and character arcs. Christine walked us through the classic techniques and structures, those that have been tried and tested. According to Christine, she was simply giving us some tools, not rules that needed to be strictly adhered to.
The structure of the workshop broke the novel-writing process into manageable chunks. First, we looked at premise: what it is and how to create a compelling one. Then, we looked at how to develop an engaging plot structure. Lastly, we went over character: the different kinds, the archetypes and how to weave a character arc with your plot structure. The way Christine walked us through each element of the novel made the writing process seem far less intimidating and provided an invaluable toolkit for any writer struggling to shape their idea into a compelling story.
The tips Christine gave us probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but they certainly provide a good starting point for any writer who has found themselves staring at a blinking cursor, without any idea of what to do next. I arrived at Christine’s workshop with an idea – something half-formed, fuzzy and obscure. I can’t say that I left workshop with a plot, fully formed and ready to go, but I think I finally have some tools that will help give my sculpture some shape.
Missed out? Don’t fret. Be on the lookout for more workshops with Christine Wells here at Queensland Writers Centre!
GenreCon 2019 is almost here and we want to ensure everyone has the best conference possible. To help achieve this we’re introducing a new app, Storyline, to help everyone find their tribe no matter where they sit on the Introvert-Extrovert spectrum. So, if you’re coming to GenreCon make sure you’re prepared and download the free app now. When you get to GenreCon, visit the Storyline stall to receive your free GenreCon bonus word pack. Then you are set to go with Storyline as your official conference chat ice-breaker!
Everyone coming to GenreCon has access to the word prompt generating app. While the Line’s on your side of the screen, it’s your turn to tell the story. When it crosses the centre, your co-player picks up where you left off. Speed up, slow down, dump each other in it. StoryLine is infinitely flexible and can be enjoyed by players of any age. Play it Classic, Sudden Turn, Random Words, Poetry Tennis. Record your story and post it for posterity or share your brilliance on social.
After five years in development between Australia and the UK, GenreCon is proud to be the launching pad for StoryLine: the storytelling app. We know how much work goes into a manuscript, but writing is also meant to be fun! StoryLine is the infinite story-generator in your pocket. It’s a mini-gym that not only exercises your own creativity, but helps you easily meet and interact with like-minded playmates. You can play with a friend or a stranger: in a venue queue, on the bus to the Con, over lunch or coffee, waiting for your session to start.
Genre-specific word packs have been handcrafted especially for this year’s GenreCon. They’re all included, along with the game and all its add-ons, in your GenreCon ticket. Just come to the StoryLine stall to download your wordpacks. Go crime, fantasy, romance, mystery, SF – or make your own genre.
StoryLine is the brain-baby of Brisbane writer and actor Andy Foreman, better known as Manuel in Faulty Towers the Dining Experience and Dr Two Shoes at the Queensland Children’s Hospital. Andy’s long career as a professional improviser and comic performer embraces seventeen years touring the world with Faulty Tours; three years as a Clown Doctor; seasons of Theatresports at Belvoir Street and La Boite with the likes of Glyn Nicholas and Andrew Denton; gameshow Bite the Bucket; and long-running genre improv shows including Limb Trek, Sherlock Holmes and the Voices of Terror! and Scared Scriptless. Andy and helpers will be at the StoryLine stall to answer your questions, give tips, or just play games with you.
Written by: Alan Baxter
Publishing has never been a straightforward business, but in the old days it was less confusing. The avenues to publication were restricted and everyone had to follow more or less the same procedure. The “gatekeepers” established the rules and we had no choice but to dance to their tune. These days, more opportunity than ever exists to get published, but more isn’t always better. More opportunity can be better if you arm yourself with knowledge. I’m certainly no expert – in all honesty, no one really knows all there is to know about publishing any more – but I do have a wide range of experience, spanning all kinds of deals over some fifteen years. My takeaway from it all? Hybrid is best.
I’d had some moderate success in the small press with my first two novels and with some short fiction in the early years of my career. I’d also dabbled in self-publishing, initially with my first novel, then that got picked up by a US-based small press, and I subsequently self-published a novella and a non-fiction book.
Then, in 2013, I signed a three-book deal with HarperCollins under the Voyager imprint here in Australia. That’s my “Big 5” legacy publisher series. Since then I’ve signed a variety of deals with a variety of publishers of differing size, most recently a third book deal with Grey Matter Press in the US. I plan to continue chasing Big 5 deals, I will continue to publish with the small press, and I have other self-publishing plans for the future too.
There are dangers and benefits of building a career with all these methods, but I think the biggest danger is building a career with only one of them.
As a caveat, this is of course all based on my personal experience and observing the business going on around me. Other people will have vastly differing experiences and opinions and they’re probably not wrong. I’ve screwed up and I’ve got lucky, as have many. It’s good to remember that old adage: If you can’t be a role model, be a warning to others. It’s always been a truth of publishing that there are no hard and fast right ways of doing anything. People have seen success and failure with a plethora of approaches.
What decisions should you make and why? Breaking into the Big 5 can be really hard. Staying in with the Big 5 can be equally hard! There are a literal metric fucktonne of publishers out there in the small to mid-sized indie playing field. Some of them are kicking goals and building fantastic author careers. Some of them… are not. Then there’s self-publishing with all its inherent problems and benefits.
So how do you figure out where to go with your precious word baby? It partly comes down to what you’re willing to do, and what you’re willing to accept. If you plan to hold out for the Big 5 deal no matter what, good for you. Best of luck! If you’re keen to be an entrepreneur and business-person as well as an author, self-publishing might rock your world. If you want your work out there but can’t crack the Big 5 and don’t want to do all the business and technical side, building a name in the small press might be the route for you. Over the years, as your career and your back catalogue builds, you might find yourself like me, with a finger in all those places.
When it comes down to it, the only thing that will give you a career is people talking about your work. That leads to people reading it and buying more and talking about it some more, and the feedback loop is under way. This is why I exhort people to always talk up books they’ve enjoyed. Word of mouth from enthusiastic readers is worth more than any marketing budget most of us will ever see. If you’re trying to get noticed in the online marketplace, that’s a sea of noise to navigate. You need other voices to amplify your own. A lot of books either aren’t noticed at all or they flare young and die, rather than bursting onto a scene and growing. All the books you know about are the ones which did well. All the others, and there are SO many, well, you don’t know about them, do you?
So really, any career in writing is about getting noticed. Think about the options, learn about the different paths you can take, and the pros and cons of them all, then make informed decisions that best suit you. You’ll make mistakes, but learn and move on. The only single truth of any publishing route is this: The successful ones didn’t quit.
Written by: TM Clark
What do Hannibal Lecter, Cruella de Vil, Darth Vader, The Sheriff of Nottingham, The Joker, Norman Bates, Bellatrix Lestrange and Gollum have in common?
Answer: All villains.
But they are so much more than just villains. They’re Supervillains. Amazing villains. Despicable and atrocious villains. Characters we hate.
Or is it that we can’t help loving them a little as well and despite all their flaws, and despicableness, we want them to turn from the ‘dark side’ or die as retribution for being who they are? Or maybe not…
What makes a villain so appealing to our readers, that they keep coming back for more, book after book?
Hannibal Lector is the villain in four thrillers: Red Dragon (1981), The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Hannibal (1999), and Hannibal Rising (2006). Throughout these books, we get to know him as more than just a cannibal. He’s intelligent, he’s manipulative, a charming character, an enigma in our civilized society, and we try to understand why such a man became a monster … and in doing so, we want Starling to catch and stop Buffalo Bill even more. Villains are so much more than just a figure put in to make your hero look good.
Villains – anti-heroes – are characters created by writers.
CREATED… sometimes there might be a grain of truth in the characters, but mostly, they spring from the imagination of the writer.
Any writer can create them.
The trick is to learn how to create them well.
Make no mistake, in films adaptations, the actors who portray a villain and bring them onto the big screen help these characters to become legends. After all, Thomas Harris might have penned Hannibal Lector from his mind and onto the page. But, it was Anthony Hopkins who made Hannibal a household name when he added his own interpretation to the character in the movie. Thomas Harris had to not only imagine Hannibal but live with him inside his head for the duration of writing all four of the Hannibal books. He had to create him for Anthony Hopkins to take on the role. When I began this article, I had to look up the name of the author. But I knew the character.
People remember the characters. They fall in love with them or learn to hate them.
“A census taker tried to quantify me once. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone. Go back to school, little Starling.”
― Thomas Harris – Silence of the Lambs
Who wouldn’t be terrified when confronted with this type of monster anywhere other than inside the covers of a book?
All things considered, it’s the amazing ability of a good writer to create a character, who will endure, in the reader’s imagination, long after the book is closed.
As a writer, you strive to create an amazing anti-hero, a character strong if not stronger, than your hero. So that in the pivotal moment, the villain can hold the hero’s life close to damnation, and your reader’s heart will flutter.
Learning ways to improve the characteristics needed for a scrumptious villain in the world you create, is pivotal to moving a book from average, to beyond great – to memorable.
To learn how you can write villains that are memorably terrifying, come along to QWC’s workshop, Create the Perfect Villain on November 16. Don’t miss out – book your tickets now!
I turned the milestone age of 60 this year, which caused me to pause and consider the three ages of writing that I’ve lived through in that time. A metaphorical archaeological dig uncovered the Bic Age, the Remington Age and, of course, the recent IBM Age.
As a youth in the 70s, my 5-cent Bic pen scribbled many a rambling tale for friends and family, enough to know that I wanted to be a writer. Then, through the 80s and 90s, I moved up to a Remington typewriter used to sell my first short story to a Melbourne newspaper (oh how I miss that intimate thup of each key stroke), and I’ll have you know that in those days, “cut and paste” was not a figurative term. But it was in this IBM Age, with its inbuilt dictionary, thesaurus and grammar checks, that allowed me to streamline the process by progressively editing and amending as I wrote. And oh how I wrote …
Short stories in the wider speculative marketplace (particularly Horror and SF) became my initial forte which also led to pockets of journalism, seeing more than 100 stories published since, a format I still treasure and practice today whenever the opportunity arises. Unknown at the time, but the disciplines refined back then would eventually assist when writing my first novel, The Crossing, in the early 2000s (soon to be a major motion picture by BAFTA Award winning director, James Khehtie).
I believe exploring the darker side of fiction in those early days helped me with the transition to crime later in my career, not such a quantum leap when you consider that both genres explore our fears in one form or another. Writing to a strict wordcount meant being clear on one’s structure and content, which in turn meant identifying what was deemed “relevant” to the story, a key subject I highlight in my writing workshops. It’s too easy to write one’s self into a corner or extend the required wordcount without adding these tools to your writing toolbox. I recall advice from Stephen King when we were both panellists at the World Fantasy Convention in Canada back in 1984. “Less is more when it comes to scaring your reader. Let their own imaginations do the work”.
These skills would also guide the transition of novelist to screenwriter when James contracted me to write The Crossing’s screenplay (to be released as Dark Sky Island). Transforming a 400 page novel into a 90 minutes script meant that focus on the synopsis and most relevant book passages was crucial, and again the disciplines learnt writing short stories came to the rescue.
So, you see, I owe a great deal to the humble short story, without it’s teachings my novels The Crossing, Blackwater Moon and The Falls would not be the books they are today. Nor would the forthcoming 2020 releases of The Reach from Pantera Press, or Subterranean from Atlas Productions. And for that, dear reader, I remain forever grateful.
So here’s the situation.
You’re at a writers’ conference. Or a literary festival.
Let’s say you’re lining up for coffee. Or you step into the lift. And there, right beside you, is the publisher, or agent, or editor of your dreams. They’re at your mercy. There’s no escape. Now, you have a big opportunity. You have one minute – or less – of their attention to deliver a pitch that will, you hope, result in those magic words ‘Please send me your manuscript’.
Are you ready? When they say ‘tell me about your book’, are you totally prepared? Do you have words lined up to trip off your tongue? Or will you say something like, as I have done, and I freely admit it,
‘Well, it’s a story about a well, you know, a boy and a horse – only it’s not his horse actually – and well, they go off to war and all this stuff happens – oh, and did I say it’s in World War 1, and they’re both wounded in this really famous battle, but it’s sort of OK because they both recover, but then it’s really, really sad at the end …’
And the poor publisher is left totally, totally confused except for the fact that this is probably a Book They Do Not Want …
This is not what you want to happen. And it needn’t.
You can learn to develop a short, succinct, effective and riveting pitch that tells your target about your book and why your book is unique – in only 3 or 4 sentences.
Just be at the Queensland Writers Centre on Saturday 2 November between 10.30am and 1.30pm – and all will be revealed.
And while you’re there … you will also learn to develop a longer pitch. This is for those situations when, for example, you’ve booked an appointment with that publisher of your dreams at a writers’ festival or conference. You will have about 15 minutes of their time. Now, Dream Publisher will have already read the material you’ve sent in, and will be prepared to talk about it.
But there may be That Awkward Moment when Dream Publisher hands back your manuscript and says, ‘No, that one’s not for us’ Long pause. ‘But what else have you got?’
Are you going to waste this opportunity? You are not. Because you have a Plan B. A longer pitch about your other work in progress (or two, or three) – already prepared. And you can tell Dream Publisher all about them.
Again, you can learn how to do this: how to effectively present the most important, different aspects of your book. The unique characters. The interesting setting. The theme. Your carefully crafted plot twists. The amazing ending that no one will ever see coming. All in ten minutes or less.
And guess what? You can learn to do this at the Queensland Writers Centre on 2 November as well!
Do come along. And bring your works in progress.
(See The Perfect Pitch with Pamela Rushby for bookings.)
Written by M J Tjia
This year my third Heloise Chancey novel, The Death of Me, will be released in October. With each book, I’ve found I am getting to know and care about the characters more and more—both Heloise and Amah Li Leen, but also the characters who surround them in each novel. I enjoy the space a series gives me as a writer to explore their lives. I always intended for these books to be part of a series, and I have purposely drip-fed Heloise’s backstory to the reader, through both her memories and through Amah’s recollections. Mostly, I developed her backstory from what I have read of actual 19th century courtesans, and their experiences. In The Death of Me, Amah finds herself back in Liverpool, and we learn a lot more of Heloise’s childhood. In future books we will find out more about how she came to be a sex-worker and how she fought her way to her relatively elevated position.
I have found that one of the many attractions of writing neo-Victorian crime fiction lies in its capacity to explore the often missing dimensions of 19th century historical works—namely working-class women and the culturally diverse. When I was researching the Victorian female detective, I came across both fictional and documented literature regarding women of the time working as professional detectives. I think perhaps their main role was to spy; disguised as maids, nannies, seamstresses and so forth. In the case of my Heloise Chancey crime novels, I try to ‘re-imagine’ or ‘re-tell’ the lives of Eurasian women in London in the 1860s. As a successful courtesan, Heloise has attained a level of wealth and independence other working-class women could only dream of, but I have tried to be thoughtful as to how Heloise can also represent social and sexual restrictions placed upon young women, then and now.
Of course, when writing historical fiction, writers need to be careful that their work is not too prescient. However, I would argue that, in some cases – such as Heloise’s tendency towards feminist thoughts and the portrayal of Asian Londoners – what might appear to be prescient might actually hold some accuracy. This is where research becomes a crucial part of writing historical fiction. By writing these excluded characters back into the story of Victorian London, I hope not just to give them voices and acknowledge the existence and experience of people like them, but also I want to shift negative representations that have grown out of mainstream narratives, such as the ‘sinister Oriental’. Fiction plays a large part in creating these negative perceptions and representations, and it can play an equally large part in shifting and remaking them.
Written By: Charlie Hester
On Saturday the 28th of September, Melbourne-based trans poet, author and philosopher, Quinn Eades brought his ‘Writing the Body’ workshop to the Queensland Writers Centre. While Quinn’s vast theoretical knowledge was evident throughout the workshop, what was most impressive was his ability to speak personably about these theories and with clarity, to break them apart, reconstruct them, and bring them to life. Quinn encouraged us to perform what he coins, Écriture Matière, which translates to ‘material writing’. This idea is an extension of Hélène Cixous’s Écriture Féminine, a feminist theory from the 1970s that called for women to bring their own bodies into literature, especially through experimental forms of writing. With Écriture Matière, Quinn instead calls for ‘all bodies to write themselves’.
Throughout the day, I had the chance to engage in a number of writing activities, including writing to photographs and music. The group explored the power of sound and visuals to open possibilities for new perspectives, ideas and moods in our writing, but also as a means of simply bringing playfulness into our writing practice.
Quinn talked about the variety of ways we can write trauma with the concept of ‘writing the body’ never far from mind. With Quinn, we considered a diversity of perspectives to write from, ranging from the individual who experiences trauma, to a community that experience trauma, to the witness who observes trauma. I learned that trauma is never necessarily ‘finished’ or able to be fit into a cohesive narrative, and Quinn stressed how our writing can reflect this, and that there are many ways and modes in which to tell these stories. For example, I was introduced to the concept of ‘fragmentation’; a loose writing style that uses poetic language and form to represent the fragmented, incomplete and often disjointed nature of trauma. This, alongside many other writing techniques, was discussed as a way to write past the limits of language.
Of course, using these theories and techniques with our own ideas and stories also takes skill. So, Quinn suggested a number of his personal favourite productivity techniques (or ‘writing hacks’). He mentioned the Pomodoro technique and attending writers’ groups where you can meet and share ideas with people outside of your usual circles (a la QWC’s Writing Friday!), and the notion of being a ‘life writer’ and bringing your lived experiences to your next writing session. My personal favourite ‘hack’ was the idea of overcoming writer’s block by leaving sentences unfinished – a way to naturally kick your brain back into gear – I’ve already started putting this one to good use (possibly even in the composition of this blog post!) and it has worked wonders so far.
Overall the workshop was a highly valuable experience. It was a great opportunity for me to engage in the open and inclusive dialogue with Quinn, to greatly further my knowledge of literary theories, and simply have a great day in the company of other passionate writers looking to broaden their minds and develop their craft in new and exciting ways.
GenreCon: There are heaps of conventions, many of which offer literary programming, so why choose GenreCon? What do you hope to achieve by attending?
Lee: Hi, and thanks for inviting me! It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of literary conventions, and for a number of reasons. Firstly, they’re a fantastic way for writers to refresh their creative well, allowing us to step away from our desks to travel to a new location where we can immerse ourselves in workshops and panels intended to inform and inspire our work. There’s nothing quite like it for improving productivity. And there’s no doubt that GenreCon’s programming is top-notch, offering world-class presentations, panels, and readings from award-winning writers, sessions intended to help you develop skills, explore current trends, and get the skinny on new markets and opportunities. If you need proof, just scan the programme: there’s horror’s superstar Kaaron Warren presenting her famous Found Things workshop—an absolute must-do—as is Aiki Flinthart’s Fight Like a Girl session, perfect for action thriller writers who want their work to be well-paced and believable. I’m hoping to get to the breakfast session hosted by State Librarian and CEO Vicki MacDonald along with Dr Anita Hess, who’ll be discussing languages and the importance of language and story in the International Year of Indigenous Languages. I attended a presentation by Dr Heiss last year when we were both speaking at New Zealand’s National Writers’ Forum, and I found her incredibly approachable and informative, particularly with regards to cultural sensitivity, so this session has to be excellent way to start the day. But in spite of all the wonderful sessions on offer, the main reason I’m looking forward to GenreCon is for the networking that occurs in and around the margins of the convention. I can’t wait to reconnect with incredible colleagues I’ve met before, people like Alan Baxter, Angela Slatter, Rob Porteous, Carleton Chinner, and Kaaron Warren. However, the antipodean dark fiction community is small and close knit, so there are many more Australian genre writers who I’ve have the privilege of editing, or I’ve appeared in an anthology with, or perhaps we’ve worked together on a committee or judging panel, and there still some others who I know only through reading their work. Imagine my excitement at being able to finally meet these wonderful writers, GenreCon providing the perfect opportunity to connect with them on a personal level and find out what they’re working on now. For newer writers, who haven’t attended a conference before, GenreCon will help you discover like-minded folk who are as weird as you are. People to help you celebrate and commiserate your writing efforts. It offers a safe space to discuss challenges, and work on solutions. A place to find your tribe.
GenreCon: Where can attendees find you?
Lee: Look for me at the Sunday panels, specifically the Report Back from the World panel featuring Sam Hawke, Kaaron Warren, Sarah Williams, Carleton Chinner, where we’ll be giving people some insights on international genre conventions and how to make the most of them. I’ll also be joining Alan Baxter, Aiki Flinthart, Rivqa Rafael, Angela Slatter, Kim Wilkins on Overcoming the Monster where we’ll discuss our favourite fictional monsters and how to beat them. Otherwise, stop me in the corridor and say hello. I’d love to meet you!
By: Andrea Baldwin
Conxiety: feeling nervous about attending a convention, conference, or any large gathering where there’ll be noise and bustle, and high levels of intellectual, emotional and social stimulation. If you struggle with conxiety, you’d probably be surprised how many others do too. It’s totally a thing. But it doesn’t have to be, especially at GenreCon. You probably already know these seven tips for transforming conxiety into concomfort, but please accept this as our permission to use them as much as you need.
- Getting there. Make it as easy as possible on yourself, whether that means asking for a lift, catching public transport, taking an Uber or driving. Allow plenty of time so you’re not stressed. If necessary, do a practice run ahead of time. It gets miraculously easier when you’ve done it once.
- Getting around. We’ll do our best with signage, and GenreCon will be littered with volunteers eager to help you get where you’re going. Don’t be shy, rock up and ask – that’s what we’re there for.
- Quiet space. GenreCon has a dedicated Quiet Space for when you need some time to sit, think, relax, rest and process. Also feel free to make use of the lovely green spaces around the State Library and along the riverbank.
- Other people. Sometimes they’re the stressor, but often they’re the support. Enlist a genre-curious friend to sign up for your events and come with you. Or connect with acquaintances ahead of time and arrange to meet up at the Con. Sometimes it’s nice just knowing a familiar face will be at the same event, even if you don’t hook up with them.
- Familiar things. There is nothing weird about lucky socks, your favourite water bottle/ notebook/ desk troll or whatever touchstone makes you feel at home. Actually weird is perfectly fine. It’s GenreCon — a celebration of creativity and imagination, especially yours. If you feel at your best in a Star Trek officer’s uniform, go for it.
- Grounding rituals. It’s amazing how comforting a simple ritual can be, whether it’s taking a sip of water or a slow breath, tensing and relaxing muscles in sequence, colouring in or counting backwards from threes. You know what calming strategies work for you. Have a secret weapon in mind, just in case things start to feel overwhelming.
- GenreCon is fun! Come along expecting to enjoy it and you will. Sure, there’ll be moments between venues with lots of people around, and some events (like the Night Market) will bustle with energy. Pick and choose what you want to see, hear and experience. Take care of yourself and remember the volunteers and organizers are keen to help with whatever you need. We’re all friends here and we want everyone to feel included and inspired.
Have a concomfortable GenreCon!