Your best friend has read your manuscript, loved it, and said “This would make a great mini-series! I can just see Nicole Kidman as the main character! And remember how good Brisbane looked in Harrow on TV? You could be famous!”
You think, “I could do that!” – but how do you set about pitching your work?
Thinking of your favourite movies, or small screen binge-worthy sessions, is there some commonality with novels, biographies, or even true-fact material, that you have read that have made it to screens large and small?
Have you seen the movie of a book you’ve read and loved, and been disappointed by its adaptation to the screen? Or the reverse: a movie that surpassed the book on which it was based? What does a writer need to consider about their work, before pitching to a movie producer?
There are many well-known examples of movies adapted from novels, that have virtually eclipsed their books. How many people have actually read The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, or, at over 1,000 pages, Gone with the Wind? These movies are such classics that they have effectively replaced their sources. And what about modern works such as The Book Thief, or The Dressmaker?
There are books that have been adapted many times – think Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: made into three TV mini-series, and no less than nine movies, including Bollywood and Hong Kong adaptations. Not content with these direct adaptations Great Expectations: the Untold Story was filmed in 1987 telling the convict Magwitch’s story: what might Dickens have thought of that?
Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted into films, musicals and ballets, and even used as political set pieces, as well as still being produced in theatres around the world in close to their original forms.
So what is it about these stories that make producers want to have a go at yet another remake? Is it the story line? The snappy or moving dialogue? The conflict and its resolution? The humour? The action? A great theme? A charismatic character? Yes, to all, or some of, these, and yet not all adaptations make it in the big-time at the box office. And then there are the ‘first-timers’, of which yours could be the next one.
The word ‘adaptation’ is intrinsic to the process of taking a novel to the screen. A book relies on the author’s words to create images and inspire the reader’s imagination and desire to read on in order to find out what happens next, or how issues and conflicts are resolved. A movie or TV show has to find the essence of the story using visual and auditory methods to communicate with the audience. So, what is the essence of a story?
Does your work have a narrative arc, or story line, that carries the plot and characters forward? What, in other words, will keep the audience glued to their seats for a couple of hours, where a reader may take a matter of days. The mantra of ‘show don’t tell’ is never more important than in film. Literally, a picture paints a thousand words. Scenes, interiors, a character’s physical appearance are there to be adapted and interpreted.
It is possible that a producer will see something in your work that you don’t see: or, shock horror(!), want to eliminate some parts of the work (perhaps a favourite scene or character?) in order to accentuate a narrative arc or character arc/development. Elements, such as a back story, sub plots, peripheral characters and polemical musings just may not make it into a screen adaptation.
A movie or mini-series adapted from your written work will rely on the efforts of a great many people – think of the list of credits at the end of any movie – and is capable of enhancing and extending your audience and demand for your work. All these aspects aside, to see your story, the outpouring from your mind, up on the screen is an exciting prospect – even if it takes nearly as long for that outcome as it may have taken you to get it to this point!
So: Go pitch! And the very best of luck!
The simple fact is that fiction and film are different: as authors we rarely, if ever, think about the cinematic aspects of our work.
Often a written work will set a seemingly impossible standard for adaptation, with long detailed sentences, page-spanning paragraphs and comprehensive descriptions outlining a characters’ thoughts. A screen adaptation will remove all that and focus on events. There is no denying the things that make a great written work, such as narration; interior thoughts of the characters and writing style may be disregarded in the visual adaptation of the work as it transitions onto the screen.
Knowing if your work could transition to screen successfully, can be difficult, but as a starting point consider if your story contains three essential elements:
- A relatable PROTAGONIST– someone the audience can identify with from the very commencement of the film.
- An EXTERNAL IMPETUS that the protagonist aims to achieve by the conclusion of the film. This generates a finish line, allowing the audience to be engaged with the characters journey.
- Putting everything on the line. This seemingly simple act allows the audience to share in the characters highs and lows throughout the film.
There’s no denying film is a VISUAL MEDIUM. So, consider that movie storylines must be easily expressed in a single sentence. Also keep in mind stories that are hard to categorize are also hard to sell compared to stories that deliver a relatable experience and offer a predictable outcome.
When considering these experiences, two quotes from Stephen King come to mind:
Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit but taste completely different.
I love the movies, and when I go to see a movie that’s been made from one of my books, I know that it isn’t going to be exactly like my novel because a lot of other people have interpreted it. But I also know it has an idea that I’ll like because that idea occurred to me, and I spent a year, or a year and a half of my life working on it.
That’s the allure of many adaptations. Even at their worst, they all work off ideas and concepts that were at one time unique and exciting enough to compel the author to write anywhere from 300 to 2,000 pages.
Start your exciting journey in the world of adaptation with Queensland Writers Centre and Screen Queensland by submitting your work into Adaptable.
Open to writers Australia wide, the contest accepts any genre, fiction or non-fiction, published or unpublished. The deadline for submissions is 3 December 2018, make sure you make the most of this fabulous opportunity.
Writing a book is the easy bit. Getting it into the hands of readers is another story. How hard could it be to publish a book?
The first draft was completed at the end of July and the lease on my apartment was up at the end of March the following year. That seems to be enough time to publish and organise a book tour.
From this premise, I embarked upon a journey that has been both fun and more like the cha-cha-cha than a 10k run.
While the book was being edited, I turned my efforts to organising a book tour starting in April or May.
I had attended a few “Meet the Author” events in local libraries so that seemed like a good place to start. As this point, I had no detailed plan, no route, and no timings apart from something vague. I rang a few libraries and was asked questions that I hadn’t thought about like ‘Do you have an extract of the book so we can read it?’ and ‘We’ll have a look at your website to find out more.’ Of course, neither were readily available.
This is part of the cha-cha-cha, a step forward, one back and then one to the side. The side in this instance was setting up an author platform. Fortunately, I had a website with blog posts published intermittently through the year. All I needed to do was increase the posts relating to the topic of the book. That really wasn’t hard. Phew! I could become an author, yet.
Creating an extract was simple, but it needed a cover as well. I am not a designer and all the webinars on indie publishing said ‘Don’t design your own book cover.’ I thought it’s only to give an idea, what’s the harm? Using Canva, a browser based software; I set about creating something simple, just to tide me over. Have you ever done this at home and ten years later still using that temporary thing? Well, it couldn’t happen here, could it?
I sent out emails to those who requested the extract along with a huge caveat that it was still in the process of being edited. A week later I had my first booking.
Doing a happy dance was an understatement. I am unsure I would be as excited if I had won $100,000.
This gave me confidence and momentum grew. Then, another library wanted a synopsis, author biography, photos of the book cover and of me by the close of play. Firstly, I needed to find out what to include in a synopsis and one that was only one paragraph. I sent my attempt off to Lori-Jay of the Queensland Writers Centre to see if it passed muster. A few amendments later and the library confirmed the booking. Things were starting to move.
There is one gap, an RV. Last week, a publisher appeared out of the ether, keen to publish and can meet my deadline of the end of January.
My level of excitement is high. I have four events booked, 26 more to go. I am also booked to speak at a networking event with 30 people in March.
My goal has always been to get the book in as many hands as possible and to take the book tour to places that may not be on the usual track. I will achieve this. All I need to do is promote the virtual book tour using social media before March 2019.
Ask someone what they imagine when they hear the word ‘writer’ and they’ll describe a dishevelled artist hunched over a keyboard with abandoned cups of tea strewn around them.
This may not be far from the truth (I like to think I look slightly tidier, myself) but while we may write alone, we’re still writing for an audience and the only way to know whether we’re reaching out to our audience is to seek feedback.
Professional feedback is the most valuable way to develop one’s craft: to view our words through objective eyes that can suddenly spot weak verbs, wobbly plot arcs, and characters with questionable motivations. But in an inundated industry where most feedback we receive from publishers is monosyllabic, where can we get it? Writers have been creative in seeking it – we’ve formed critique groups, entered competitions, and joined organisations like QWC. If you’re lucky enough, you may even find a writing mentor.
In July 2008, I was awarded an Australian Society of Authors mentorship, and for the last year I’ve been working with Kate Forsyth in developing a junior fiction fantasy novel. The mentor/ mentee relationship is the linchpin of any mentorship, requiring trust, understanding, and clear communication. Kate is an experienced mentor and from the beginning it was an open and honest interaction. We were aligned in our goals, understood each other’s communication styles, and had similar expectations. During the mentorship, Kate patiently guided me through three major redrafts, unearthing writing muscles I never knew I had. After each draft she would construct a detailed editorial letter, which we’d discuss. Then I’d retreat into my hobbit hole for a few months to complete the next draft. Undertaking a mentorship is akin to running a marathon of the mind, and while I felt I’d trained hard in preparation, there were still sprints and stumbles along the way.
The value of a writing mentorship is the chance to experience professional feedback, however it is also a great challenge. Receiving feedback on your work can be tough – even a little painful – especially if it’s the first time you’ve sent your manuscript out into the world. Every writer secretly hopes that someone will announce their work as the Next Big Thing. Unfortunately, the reality of early feedback is often the need for significant re-writes.
How we react to feedback often has little to do with the delivery. Feedback can be challenging even when given in the most reassuring and gentle kind of way. Many writers find that their reactions are akin to moving through the seven stages of grieving and they may look something like this (Warning: reactions may have been heightened for dramatic purposes):
01 . Shock or Disbelief: OMG. Look at all those red marks. Every comment is negative. They hate it. Nothing can be salvaged from my wreckage of a manuscript. I honestly thought it was ready to send out. Am I that delusional?
02. Denial: OK, slow down. Maybe they were having a bad day? That’s it, their boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with them and they’re taking it out on my manuscript. Or maybe they’re not into my genre? If they prefer romance, how could I expect them to understand my gothic, transgender, steam-punk YA? They clearly don’t ‘get’ my voice.
03. Bargaining: Surely if I alter this tiny part in the story, my whole meaning will become clearer and the rest can stay as it is. Or maybe if I make this character a little more assertive/witty/ intense/muscly, they’ll understand my genius and take their comments back.
04. Guilt: I can’t believe I sent them this dreck. What on earth made me think it was ready to be read? How could I have wasted their time with such a clichéd, flawed, mud-heap of a manuscript?
05. Anger: I’m so stupid. In fact, the whole world is stupid – everyone and everything in it. I hate it all.
06. Depression: My writing sucks. I’ll never make it in this industry. Why bother? Never again will I burden the world with my atrocious writing, be it novel, blog post, email, or shopping list.
07. Acceptance and Hope: You know, on rereading the comments, they’re really not so bad. In fact, there are some great positives in there. I think they actually like my writing. Sure, there’s a fair bit to do, but I sort of knew that anyway. With a bit of time, I think I can fix this manuscript. It might just be the next Harry Potter after all …
I learnt a lot about myself during the mentorship. Namely that the quicker I accepted my reactions to feedback, the faster I’d move through the stages. If you ever have the opportunity to enter a mentorship or get professional feedback on your work, grab it with both hands. Just remember to embrace your neuroses and let yourself grieve any feedback a little. Soon you’ll be ready to run through the writing fields of your mind, wild and free and ready to rewrite.
Katherine is a children’s writer and illustrator whose first picture book, Squish Rabbit, will be published by Viking (Penguin USA) in 2010. She’s addicted to blogging and has had many short stories published in magazines, anthologies and educational publications.
For nearly thirty years, the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) has focused on supporting people who want to write. This year, we’re offering workshops for people who need to write in the course of their work and to help them achieve their professional goals.
Our professional writing workshops are staffed by experienced real-world instructors who pass on their writing skills in practical, engaging ways to ensure that the next time you’re writing a report, email or any other business document it won’t be a chore.
We recognise that both private and public service employees balance front-line responsibilities with administrative and management tasks that depend on writing. And by offering structured training to remove the stress of writing, we can help Queenslanders write words that are more rewarding, useful and valuable.
Whether you’re new to a role that requires professional writing, or you’ve been producing business documents for years, take a look at our professional writing courses to see how you can enhance your skills to make 2019 your best professional year so far.
Queensland author Karen Foxlee‘s new novel Lenny’s Book of Everything promises to be one of the biggest books of 2018, after Allen & Unwin (and the team behind Marcus Zusak’s phenomenally successful novel The Book Thief) secured the publishing rights in a fiercely-competitive seven-way auction. Ahead of its much-anticipated release on 24 October, QWC member and author Chloë Cooper spoke to Karen about the book.
CHLOË: Can you tell me, in your own words, what Lenny’s Book of Everything is about?
KAREN: In a nutshell, Lenny’s Book of Everything is the story of Davey—a young boy who, from the age of five, starts to grow and grow and grow. By the time he is seven, he is as tall as a tall man. His story is told by his older sister Lenny, who loves beetles more than anything in the world. She tells the story of Davey’s brief, remarkable life. Over the course of the story, which runs over a period of about two and a half years, they have an encyclopaedia set that arrives issue by issue to their letterbox. They live in a tiny little apartment with their single mother in a middle-sized city in the mid-West of the States, in Ohio. But, through the pages of the encyclopaedia issues, they experience the wonders of the world. Much of the story is about loss and grief, but it’s also about love and what a wonder it is to be alive.
What was the inspiration behind the story?
I had a rough idea, maybe ten years ago, after I wrote The Anatomy of Wings and thought that it would be my second book. I remember liking the idea of a single mother who has a child who just grows and grows. I tried and tried to write it, but nothing I did worked. So I just put it away and went on to write my other books. It was while I was doing the edits for A Most Magical Girl, which was a couple of years ago now, that the story, all of a sudden, started to call me again. It was really interesting. I tried to ignore it—I had to do those edits! When I finally got back to the story, the character Lenny was there; her voice was there. Straight away she said me the opening words that still start the story. It just felt like the right time to write it. My mum had died in the previous year, so I had all these things that I needed to sort out and think about. I think it was just the right time to deal with those big issues.
I loved the theme that the Burrell’s Build-it-at-Home Encyclopaedia provides. What was the inspiration behind this?
I’ve just always had this fascination with reference books. When I was eight, my family got an encyclopaedia set and that was a huge part of our lives. It was really quite life changing, actually. I tried to explore that idea and it ended up becoming such a huge part of the novel. I didn’t know how it would work when I sat down to write it, but when I did it just sort of became the metre of the novel. It kind of times the novel out, because issues arrive every week and they are going through the alphabet, learning about lots of lots of amazing things in the world… so I just went with it!
What was the best or most rewarding part of writing Lenny’s Book of Everything?
The most important part of any writing for me is bringing the characters to life. So seeing them all, draft after draft, just slowly coming to life on the page was very rewarding. I started to care about them all so much. Especially Cindy Spink, her story… I really love how she changed throughout the course of the story. Writing the book just made me really happy. Even though it is, at times, a sad book, it gave me a lot of hope.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in writing Lenny’s Book of Everything?
The ending is always very hard. I also found the whole thread about Great Bear Lake quite difficult—I can still get quite emotional when I think about it. The fact that they didn’t get to physically go there, but on some other levels they did. I’m funny about books and there’s probably a bit in every novel that I’ve written that can still make me cry. If it does, then I know that it’s worked.
Did your approach to writing this book differ from writing your previous books?
It did in a way. I felt, when I got to this story, that everything would be all right… the story was kind of all there. Usually, I just take so long to wallow around and I don’t really know what the story is about. But this one was different. Sure, I didn’t have everything mapped out and I did discover a lot of things on the way, but I just knew pretty quickly what the story was going to be. So that was quite different for me. And I think I just felt more confident. It’s taken me a while to feel a bit more confident in myself as a writer. But I think that grows with every story. This time around, I knew what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it. I don’t know why, but this was one of the easiest novels I’ve written.
Did you draw on any of your own personal experiences when writing the book?
I have a brother, so I did try and draw a little bit on our relationship; just some of the funny, silly things you do with your siblings when you are young. I definitely drew on personal experience with the character of Cindy—I’m a single mother who works two jobs, so I know exactly the kind of exhaustion she feels. That’s pretty authentic. And I guess also, the joy of opening up those encyclopaedia pages. I really did think a lot about when I was a kid and what that kind of knowledge meant when it came into our house.
Why did you decide to set the book in America?
I didn’t actually decide. It sounds weird, I know! Originally, I thought that the story was set in Australia. When I sat down to write it, all I had was Lenny’s voice. She started to tell the story and I was just kind of mucking around with her voice in the beginning, seeing what she could tell me. She kept talking about this place called Second Street, which is the street they live on. I was trying to imagine that in my mind and it just didn’t seem Australian. It looked American. And I thought, well that can’t be right, there’s no way I can do that, that’s too hard, I can’t set it somewhere else. But, you know, A Most Magical Girl was set in Victorian London and the book before that was set in an unknown city at the top of the world where it always snows. So I told myself to stop thinking about it and just write. I started to describe the street first and then it grew and I could really see it. I never had a name for the place—the publishers made me give it a name. A couple of times I thought that I could still change this, I could make it in Australia, I could make it in England, but by that stage I already had Great Bear Lake and I just knew it was where it was meant to be. So it’s fictional, it’s a completely fictional place, but it’s kind of a mix of places I’ve seen in the States and also stuff from TV and books and my imagination.
What books and authors have had the greatest influence on you as a writer?
My influences are quite diverse. I will always remember The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I just love the story so much and it had such an influence on me and made me really want to become a better writer. I also love Ian McEwan and Philip Pullman… Philip Pullman wrote the most perfect fantasy novel… and Ruth Rendell—I’ve read every single book that she’s ever written because she does people so well. And I love the beauty of fairy tales, especially when I’m writing for children.
You work full time as a nurse—how do you manage to fit in your writing?
I’ve had a very good run at times, and I should never ever complain… Ophelia and the Marvellous Boys did very well overseas, so I was able to have a couple of years off. During that time I wrote The Most Magical Girl and Lenny’s Book of Everything. So there have been periods when I have been able to live the dream and write full time, but mostly it’s always been working and trying to write, working and trying to write… which, I guess is what most people do. It would be better to just live the dream, though!
What would you like readers to take away from reading Lenny’s Book of Everything?
I would like them to take away a sense of what a cracker of a miracle it is to be alive… what a wonderful world we live in and how much there is to learn and know. I think, also, a sense of hope that these difficult things in life can be faced. And, above all, love—all the different kinds of love there are in the world: neighbourly love, motherly love, sibling love, and the love between friends.
Chloë Cooper is a writer and a bookseller at Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane. She regularly interviews authors at Avid Reader and has appeared as a book reviewer on Radio National’s show The Bookshelf. Her work has appeared in The Lifted Brow, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, and others. You can find more of her work at chloecooper.net.
By Melinda Rogers, content specialist
Enhancing reputation, driving engagement and building success are crucial in every organisation. One way to achieve this is by developing a solid content strategy to underpin your business objectives. So what exactly is a content strategy, and why does your business need one?
To put it simply, a content strategy is about getting the right content, to the right user, at the right time. Content comes in many forms and utilises many platforms, ranging from video, blogs, brochures, articles and social media posts to something as simple as the wording on your business card. Standing out as a brand relies on producing meaningful and memorable content.
Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) has opened submissions for this year’s Manuscript Development Program, delivered in partnership with Hachette Australia, and for the first time is accepting Young Adult (YA) and general nonfiction entries.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program is a unique creative and professional development opportunity designed to support emerging writers from across the Australia to refine an existing manuscript over a four-day intensive retreat.
The program, which saw nearly 200 entries last year, has led to publication outcomes for scores of authors including Favel Parrett, Inga Simpson, Victoria Carless, Rajith Savanadasa, Charlotte Nash, Christopher Currie, Phillipa Fioretti, Darryl R Dymock, Pamela Cook, Kali Napier, Cathy McLennan, Sarah Ridout, Laura Elvery and many more.
“We are so proud to be celebrating ten years of our partnership with Hachette,” QWC CEO Lori-Jay Ellis said. “We look forward to once again shining a light on the very best emerging writers in Australia and helping them to develop their craft and career opportunities.”
“All at Hachette are incredibly proud of this program, ” Hachette Australia Group Publishing Director Fiona Hazard, said. “This is the tenth year, and we are delighted to have helped develop some stellar Australian literary talent over this time.”
“Our support of this program reflects Hachette Australia’s dedication to the Australian writing community. I am sure the next ten years will uncover more outstanding storytellers and look forward to the entries this tenth birthday year will bring.”
Up to 10 writers will be shortlisted to take part in the development program, a four-day retreat to be held in Brisbane, early in 2019. During that time, the successful applicants will work with Hachette Australia publishers, editors and authors to develop and refine their manuscripts.
The selected writers will also have the opportunity to take part in networking events with industry leaders, learning about the business of writing and establishing a writing career.
Applications Close: Friday 17th August at 5pm AEST
The short-list will be announced in November 2018
For more information and to arrange interviews:
Chris Currie, Queensland Writers Centre
07 3842 9952
NOTES TO ENTRANTS:
The QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program is a creative and professional development program for emerging writers from across Australia. The program does not guarantee publication, but is designed to support emerging writers to refine a manuscript.
Delivered as a retreat over three days, the program provides successful applicants with feedback on their manuscript from Hachette Australia publishers, editors and authors; training to support their writing career and access to industry professionals through networking events.
The Manuscript Development Program has supported more than 60 authors since the program began in 2008. The program continues to be an important pathway to publication for Australian emerging writers.
For the first time in the program’s 10-year history, general nonfiction and Young Adult (YA) manuscripts will be considered. The program is open to emerging writers who, for the purpose of this program, are defined as writers who are unpublished or with no more than one commercially or independently published work.
2018 Program Submissions Open: Monday 2 July
2018 Program Submission Close: 5pm (AEST), Friday 17 August
$55 (plus GST)– Public
$50 (plus GST) – QWC members and members of any of the following Australian State Writers Centres:
- ACT Writers Centre
- Writing NSW
- NT Writers’ Centre
- Writers SA
- Tasmanian Writers’ Centre
- Writers Victoria
- Writing WA
To Apply: Post the Application Form with the first 50 pages of your manuscript and a one-page synopsis to QWC at the address below:
QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program
c/o Queensland Writers Centre
PO Box 3488
South Brisbane QLD 4101
The Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) is a not-for-profit membership organisation that supports, celebrates and showcases Queensland writers and writing in all its forms. We work with our members and partners to promote a vibrant and diverse writing community across Queensland.
We are the leading support and resource centre for writers in Queensland, offering a comprehensive online and in-person range of services as well as information and advice for anyone interested in writing, whatever your level of experience of writing ambition.
QWC member Deborah Lee Terranova has been awarded a Q ANZAC Fellowship at the announcement of the recently announced State Library of Queensland fellowships.
It was one of nine fellowships and awards, collectively worth more than $100,000, announced at the Queensland Memory Awards ceremony in Brisbane.
Dr Jennifer Moffatt, the winner of the $20,000 John Oxley Library Fellowship, will explore a little-known ballot that helped shape the development of Queensland for more than a century.
In the 1950s more than half the land distributed in Queensland involved this lottery-style system, and Dr Moffatt’s research will bring new understanding to the state’s early pioneers and squatters.
The Queensland Memory Awards are celebrated annually and acknowledge excellence in research and the creation of new knowledge about Queensland’s history.
A major outcome of the fellowship program is to bring State Library’s vast collections to life and make their content and stories accessible to all.
2018 AWARD WINNERS:
- John Oxley Library Fellowship ($20,000) — Dr Jennifer Moffatt
(The story of Queensland’s selectors: how those who won land in a ballot contributed to Queensland’s social, economic and political development)
- John Oxley Library Award (posthumous) — Ian Poole
The professional photographer donated, arranged and described around 100,000 negatives, colour transparencies, photographic prints and scrapbooks for State Library
- John Oxley Library Community History Award — Yugambeh Museum, Language and Heritage Research Centre
Yugambeh Museum has developed its own language app to encourage young people and the wider public to engage with Aboriginal languages and heritage
- Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship ($15,000) — Hilary Davies
(History of the Canada Cycle and Motor Agency Ltd – one of Queensland’s major motor businesses)
- Letty Katts Award ($5,000) — Professor Peter Roennfeldt
(Brisbane’s Albert Hall 1901–1968: celebrating memory and heritage of a major performance venue)
- Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation Fellowships (4 x $15,000)
- Dr Martin Kerby (A war imagined: Queensland and the Great War)
- Dr Anastasia Dukova (Queensland Police and the Great War Effort)
- Deborah Lee Terranova (Queensland women and war: a multicultural perspective of the experiences of female civilians during World War II)
- Elaine Acworth (Put out into the deep — digital fellowship)
READERS tend to be extremely forgiving when a good story grabs them, and we fantasy writers rely on this suspension of disbelief to pull our readers down the rabbit hole of our twisted imaginations. It doesn’t take much though for the reader to pop back up out of the hole with an expression of disappointment when we betray their trust and push their credulity too far. And what sort of thing can do that? Let’s see what will drag a reader out of the adventure of following your Merry Band through your Fantasy Landscape.
If your Merry Band is all young, white, male, and straight – you’ve already lost me as a reader. If the only women they encounter are hot femme fatales or warrior chicks in chainmail bikinis or rotund grandmotherly bakers – you’ve lost me even more. More than half the world’s population is female and their roles are as diverse as their male counterparts, so don’t you dare use ‘medieval accuracy’ in a fantasy setting as a way to have men doing all the important stuff, because even in real history women have always been doing stuff outside their traditional role.
Children exist. Old people exist. The disabled exist (even more so in a time with less scientific medical care), LGBT people have always existed. The chances of a random selection of the population being straight white young hot and male – unless it’s in the Straightland of the White Men – are vanishingly small. So if your Merry Band is a limited demographic, 1. Half your readers just noticed and put you on notice (one more gaffe and they’re throwing your magnum opus against the wall) and 2. There’s a much smaller chance of really interesting interactions happening between them.
Everybody eats, sleeps, urinates, and poops. Clothes that have been lived in for a few days – and your Merry Band won’t have cute dinosaur jammies when they’re trekking to the Mountain of Doom – get stiff, scratchy, and stinky. Everybody smells when they haven’t washed much. Animals do too. If you’re going to take a cat on your broomstick, you’d better be thinking litter boxes.
Your Merry Band will probably be digging latrines before they sing merry songs around their merry campfire on the way to the Mountains Of Doom to face the Big Bad. And they won’t be eating stew, because stew takes hours to prepare. They’ll be eating dry, tasteless trail rations or the tough, gamey, greasy carcases of anything they manage to kill (and skin, gut and bleed with no soap to wash themselves after) on the way.
The food probably won’t be enough for the energy they’re burning, so they’ll all lose weight and muscle tone and have vitamin deficiencies. And then they’ll be pooping – the ones that aren’t constipated from lack of fibre, that is. And of course the ones suffering from scurvy through lack of organic Fair Trade fresh vegetables. Fungal infections, blisters, sunburn, and dysentery are all a hazard. If your Merry Band isn’t pooping, and pissing, and smelling and hairy, then you’ve probably lost your reader. Throwing in a bit of wild projectile vomiting is always fun for the whole family.
You Can’t Climb a Wall With a Broken Arm
If your Merry Band just had a big battle – and any fight longer than about a minute is a big one – then they’re exhausted. PTSD is an issue here. They won’t be picking themselves up to trek another hundred kilometres. Injuries happen, and if there’s a broken arm that person won’t be using their arm at all for a long time – in fact they’ll be screaming every time they have to move (believe me, I’ve been there. Trips to the toilet involve a lot of screaming).
It’s fine to identify your Merry Band members as superpowered, but then again don’t break your own rules to let them climb walls with broken arms, and don’t make them completely invincible. Invincible people are incredibly boring.
Don’t Break Your Own Rules
Did I mention don’t break your own rules? Don’t have a deus ex machina where someone suddenly has the power to overcome whatever the Big Bad is throwing at them. And don’t you dare start at me with the ‘Power of Courage’ or the ‘Power of Love’ or even worse, the ‘Power of A Single Perfect Tear’. If she leans over him and a single perfect tear falls on his face that heals all his … well just don’t go there, okay? That particular trope is older than me, and I’m older than time, just ask my kids. Give your Merry Band a smart, courageous and believable way of beating the Big Bad. Or have the Big Bad win – that’s an option too.
Good People Can Be Ugly
This is a time-honoured trope – Good is Beautiful, Evil is Ugly. This can be carried through to Black is Evil, or Gay is Evil. Are your Merry Band all straight white hot and male, and your Big Bad ugly, dark and occasionally threateningly effeminate? Lose it, or you’ve lost your reader. What if your protagonist is ugly, or disfigured? People are going to react differently to her, aren’t they? And your readers will love her even more, because she’s having a whole lot more shit thrown at her (particularly if members of the Merry Band ate something dodgy on the way to the Mountains of Doom and are suffering from explosive diarrhoea).
Everybody Makes Mistakes, But Smart People Rarely Make Really Stupid Ones
So your character needs to go from A to B (for example, hole in the ground to Mountain of Doom). Picking them up and carrying them there by having them do something incredibly stupid – like ‘accidentally’ walking off a cliff, sliding down a slide, and trekking through a long cave that miraculously turns out to be the Lost Dwarven Mines – doesn’t work. Particularly if they’re supposed to be the Merry Leader of the Merry Band, and cleverer than the rest of them.
Being straight white hot and male with really good hair doesn’t automatically make a leader; organisational ability, motivational skills, and decision-making aptitude does.
Being straight white hot and male with really good hair doesn’t automatically make a leader; organisational ability, motivational skills, and decision-making aptitude does. If that just sounded like the Position Description for the last job you applied for – bingo! There we are, leadership potential. Mutiny is always fun, too, if your well-designed and diverse Merry Band decides that choosing a leader based on straightness, whiteness, maleness and hair gel maybe wasn’t the best idea after all.
Know Your Shit
Horses are big-ass animals that eat a mountain of food and run at the sight of their own shadows. If you ride a horse all day then give it a ‘bag of oats’ at the end of that day, it will get colic then be dead of starvation by the end of two weeks (and oats are a ‘heating’ food that makes horses go stupid, as well). You can’t go without water for more than about three days maximum. Swords aren’t heavy. Revolvers don’t have safeties. Do Your Research – check on the internet. And then don’t parrot the research you’ve done in a long and technical description of why revolvers don’t have safeties – just don’t mention them. Ninety percent of your readers won’t notice and the other ten percent will nod approvingly. And none of your readers will throw your book against the wall.
Head Injuries Can Be Lethal
It’s very convenient to knock someone out to carry them somewhere, or to disable them without killing them because the Merry Band are the Good Guys. Unfortunately if Big Bad’s henchmen are unconscious then they’re already past the point of serious injury. A good solid whack on the head can lead to bleeding inside the skull that can squeeze out the brain and kill it dead. Anyone unconscious for any length of time isn’t going to get up and walk around like nothing happened. They should be in hospital, and if they are in a medically-starved mediaeval land, they can end up blind, brain damaged, lose their speech centres, or at the very least have a crippling headache, nausea and dizziness for a couple of days afterwards.
So Be a Clever Writer
These are the biggest things that draw me out of a fantasy novel – the demographics, the use of clichés, and shortcuts on plotting that don’t stand up. If this makes it sound like creating a believable fantasy novel that won’t throw the reader out is hard – well done. That’s exactly right. It takes a great deal of clever plotting and some shrewd decisions about characterisation and conflict to draw the reader in and give them the ride of their life. So take the hard path, and the reward will be readers who can’t wait to read everything you write.
Kylie Chan is the best-selling author of the Dark Heavens Chinese mythology-based fantasy series published by Voyager-HarperCollins worldwide. Her books have been translated into multiple languages and have consistently appeared in the top ten of Australia’s bestseller lists.
Queensland Writers Centre has announced its July-December 2018 Program of Events, and it’s safe to say it has something for everyone! From major award-winners to critically-acclaimed essayists, from bestselling genre writers to internationally experienced publishers and editors, writers of all levels and interests are bound to find inspiration and education. Highlights include an essay writing workshop with The Monthly’s music critic Anwen Crawford, a complete guide to the publishing industry with legendary editor and agent Mary Cunnane, an interactive seminar on novellas with Nick Earls and a workshop on writing fight scenes for women (featuring a live weapon demonstration!). See the full program here.
Queensland Poetry Festival have announced their two 2018 poets in residence! The two poets will play key roles in the festival program, including spending time getting to know local poets and audiences in Brisbane and regional Queensland. They will each host workshops, deliver readings and contribute to panel discussions as well as taking some time to write and enjoy all the festival has to offer.
The 2018 Arts Queensland Poet-in-Residence is Yona Harvey, an award-winning African American poet, literary artist and contributing writer to Marvel Comics’ best-selling Black Panther series, making her one of the first black women ever to have written for Marvel. Recipient of a Kate Tufts Discovery Award (for her debut collection Hemming the Water) and a Barbara Deming Award for feminists in the arts, Harvey lives in Pennsylvania, where she teaches poetry at the University of Pittsburgh and facilitates nonfiction workshops for adolescents writing about mental illness.
The 2018 Indigenous Poet-in-Residence is Alison Whittaker, a Gomeroi poet and law scholar. She was a 2017—2018 Fulbright scholar at Harvard Law School, where she was named the Dean’s Scholar in Race, Gender and Criminal Law. In 2017, Alison received the Judith Wright Poetry Prize for MANY GIRLS WHITE LINEN, and in 2015 her first collection Lemons in the Chicken Wire was developed under a black&write! fellowship from the State Library of Queensland. Alison’s latest collection of essays, short fiction and poetry, blakwork, is out in September 2018 with Magabala.