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On Setting In Novels, by Robyn Bavati

A friend of mine had a small role as a middle-aged Jewish woman in the first season of a popular TV series, and was asked back for a second season. When she discovered that a scene written for her in the next season was almost an exact replica of one of the scenes she did in the first, she rang me to ask for ideas about how to make the new scene different. I suggested they show her baking challah – to which she replied, “But there’s no kitchen on the set.”

Fortunately, as novelists we have no such constraints, and can set our scenes wherever we like to add variety and richness to our story.

Setting refers to time and place, and is essential for conveying the world of the story. Most writers understand that a story set in eighteenth century France will have a different feel from one set in ancient Egypt, just as they understand the difference between a story set in an urban environment as opposed to a rural one. Your story may be set in the past, the present or the future, in a real world or an imagined one. You may wish to write contemporary fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, sci fi or dystopian fiction. When it comes to setting – your choices are huge – in fact, unlimited.

Unlike backstory (a requisite element of any novel but not one that must necessarily permeate the entire story), setting is one of the six basic elements of novel-writing. This means that, along with the other five basic elements (plot, character, structure, voice and theme), it must be integrated into every scene.

The three most common mistakes writers make when it comes to setting are:

1. Overlooking it altogether (eg. the scene might be a conversation between two people, but the reader never finds out where and when the scene takes place).

2. Describing the scene in far more detail than the story requires.

3. Moving a character from one scene to the next in an unwieldy manner as a result of not knowing how to simply set the scene.

Luckily, all these errors are easily fixed. If you think you might have overlooked setting in one of your scenes, read through each scene and check whether you have written a sentence or two early on in the scene that enables the reader to imagine where and when the scene takes place. If not, be sure to add these descriptors. Even if you think that what’s important is what is said, not where and when it is said, the where and when is still information the reader will need.

Perhaps you have already set the scene. Have you kept the description of time and place clear and concise? Or is the description overly detailed and hard to follow? Remember that every scene should in some way provide insight into character and advance the plot. Try not to let setting hog too much of the limelight. If you’ve gone overboard when describing your setting, pare it back.

Finally, let’s take a look at how easy it is to move characters from one scene to another just by setting the scene. The key lies in understanding that you don’t have to move your characters – just put them where you want them to be. For example, if you’re moving Tom from the living room to the bedroom, instead of a filler sentence such as, “Tom got up from his chair in the living room and went into the bedroom”, simply begin a new sentence with “Later, in his bedroom…” or leave a white space and begin a new scene with “In his bedroom that evening…”

A white space generally indicates a new scene – a change in time and/or place. If you want to begin a scene hours, days or months after the preceding scene, you don’t need to fill the reader in all that has happened in the interim. If anything of significance has happened, it will most likely have a scene of its own. There is nothing wrong with beginning a scene with a brief time descriptor such as “The following day”, “The next week” or “One month later”. Of course, it would be a mistake to begin all your scenes this way. You might like to begin with a description of place, or with action or dialogue. Eg.:

Tom approached the lane with his eyes firmly on the centre skittle. Though the bowling alley was crowded that evening, he managed to block out the noise of the other bowlers. He had to focus.

Or:

“How much did you bet?” asked Jane, as they entered the bowling alley that evening.
Tom winced, not wanting to admit they’d be out on the street if he didn’t win.

In both instances, the setting is taken care of early on, cueing the reader in on time and place.

You can also use setting to add richness to your story by taking your characters somewhere new and exciting, or by depicting the banal in an interesting way. As Samuel Johnson said, “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.”

Remember, you’re writing a novel, not a film script – no budget restrictions limit your imagination. So have fun. Let your imagination roam. Dare to explore.

***

Robyn Bavati’s bio page

Robyn Bavati’s author website: www.robynbavati.com

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Robyn Bavati - Pirouette book cover    Moonshadow - Eye of the Beast by Simon Higgins - coverHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodThe Fragment of DreamsBurning Lies

Writing Novels in Australia
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Marketing And Sales For Novelists, by Greig Beck

Okay, I admit, I’m biased. I’ve worked in sales and marketing for 20 years and believe that, except for a few rare exceptions, marketing really matters.

You could be one of those writers who has penned a book and, like the rest of us, believe it’s fantastic, enjoyable and just what the public is looking for. Unlike everyone else, through the addition of some mystical Hogwartian factor, your book has an element of magic that cuts through and is picked up by book clubs, web genre-pages and millions of readers across the globe. Think 50 Shades of Grey or Hugh Howey’s Wool series.

If, like the great majority of writers, you are out there screaming ‘look at me’, you need to make things happen by yourself. You may be luckier than most and have a publisher who has a skilled marketing and publicity machine behind them. If not, then in the words of Michael Jordan: “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

I’ve been an author since 2009 and, even in that time, have seen monumental changes. The playing field is leveling and the internet has given everyone the same sized shop window. I’m luckier than most in that I now have a worldwide readership, and have books published globally in many languages and in various mediums (paper, eBook, audio, etc). When it comes to marketing, I’ve seen things that have worked and things that have not.

Okay, so your book has just hit Amazon, iBooks and other online retailers, and its ranking is still in the hundreds of thousands. You just need a couple of small things:

1. More people to read it!

2. More people to talk about it – and glowingly!

Here are some things that that might spark some ideas:

EMPATHISE: Most of us are readers as well as writers. So what makes you buy a book? For me, the first thing that hooks me is the cover art. Next, it’s the blurb. Maybe the first few chapters that you can sample, but, most of the time, I’ll already be sold. As many ebooks are inexpensive, if I don’t like it then I’ll just move to the next – so price is important – the lower the price the lower risk. What about book trailer videos? I’ve used them. I’ve also seen a lot. Although I hear good things about them being persuasive for wholesalers and book fairs, I’m just not convinced these work at the reader level. A book trailer has never influenced me to buy a book. Track record is a strong determinant of value. If I know the author’s work and have enjoyed it, then I’m more than likely to buy their next book. So, deliver a quality product and it will turn drop-ins into recurring customers.

BOOK REVIEWS: Know your audience! There are mountains of book reviewers these days. Some command the attention of thousands or hundreds of thousands of readers, while others just reach a small circle of friends. Seek them out and persuade them to read your work. There’s nothing like a good sales letter in an email – short, sharp and compelling. Introduce yourself, include a short punchy book blurb and then why you think they’d enjoy the work. It might be something like: “I saw you recently enjoyed Book of Bones. My book, Boney Book, is similar, but has X & Y as well.” Just look for reviewers who are writing about (and enjoying) books similar to your own. A key thing is to do your homework. Please remember your targeting: don’t try to get your horror book reviewed by a romance book lover. The review might not be what you wanted. If they write a good review, thank them and then link to their review on your website/Facebook page/other media. In return, they get more traffic back to their site. If they’ve reviewed one of your books and liked it, then there’s a good chance they’ll review your next.

BAD REVIEWS: Roll with the punches. We all get bad reviews. Some are worthwhile criticism, while others just show that whoever was spitting the venom hadn’t even bothered to read your work, or didn’t like the price or the look of you on your website with all those happy, smiling teeth! Never take them on, as all that might happen is they’ll wait for your next work and do the same again. After all, they’ve got nothing to lose and they’re anonymous. Did I tell you about the reviewer in India who hated my first book so much he tried to get his book blog readers to all write to my publisher to ask them never to publish me again? Thank heavens they didn’t agree with him, but still.

AVID READERS: Just as there are those who will dislike your work, there will be even more people who absolutely love it. They’ll seek it out, seek you out, write to you, want to know more about you and tell their friends about you. These are the readers that form your Praetorian Guard. They’ll write early reviews for you that are important for your rankings, and also defend your honor. Never forget them. Engage with them and always make time for them.

INTERVIEWS (all formats): Have a ready-set-go thumbnail sketch of your book on-hand. In the first on-air interview I did I was given a simple prompt: “Tell me about your book.” I suddenly realised, I couldn’t describe it quickly, so I waffled, umd and ahd, and, when finally done an agonising several minutes later, I knew I certainly hadn’t done my book justice. From that point on, I wrote and rewrote a small piece that succinctly gives the reader a reason to want to read it, and always had that handy and memorised.

ADVERTISE: Facebook and Goodreads are getting very good at audience targeting programs. If you wrote a book about a young, one-legged werewolf, now you can select target demographics right down to werewolves, one leg, and readers between 15 and 21 years of age, and also those readers that just love ebooks (tip, remember the differing time zones if advertising in several countries at once, and also that Sunday night is a big night for ebook purchases).

DON’T SPAM: Don’t overdo it with your readers on mailing lists or social media posts. Learn to get the balance right. Don’t bother going on some of those author/writing sites and continually talking up your work. All you’re adding to is authors spamming other authors. Hey, guess what they’re more interested in? Their own work, not yours!

CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS: Get involved with literary networks (no spamming!) and other authors. Advertise together, organise book signings together to share costs and goodwill. Go to events to be seen and heard, and to see how the successful authors do it. If you’re just starting out, then getting noticed matters. Sometimes you need to do free stuff: write articles or start a blog about things that interest you – and bonus points if you can segue into some of your stories (see some of my blog posts on Thriller Central). Also, offer to be a guest judge for literary prizes. Just do whatever you can to lift your name/profile above the crowd. Don’t forget, there’s an old saying: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” So don’t be afraid to ask other known authors to read and blurb your book. Sure, they’ll probably say no, as everyone is busy, but if the subject matter is what they like to read then you’re half way there.

BE PATIENT: Selling books is like a snowball rolling down a hill. The more books you have in the market, and the more readers who like your work, the more people will seek out your backlist. Sales generate more sales and the rolling snowball gets bigger.

Now, what are you waiting for? You should already be writing the next one!

***

Greig Beck’s author website: www.greigbeck.com

Greig Beck on Facebook
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    Rotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelist

Writing Novels in Australia
www.writingnovelsinaustralia.com

Powerless Heroes, by Michael Pryor

I know this article should really be called ‘Powerless Protagonists’ or ‘Powerless Main Characters’ but I couldn’t resist the nuance of ‘Powerless Heroes’. What I’m talking about is the tendency of many stories to have a main character who is helpless. Put upon. A loser.

I was once reading a book – and it shall remain nameless – when I ran into a character who lurched from disaster to disaster, relationships soured as soon as he touched them, businesses went downhill as soon as he joined and weather became inclement the moment he stepped outside. He was hapless in the extreme. I think we were meant to sympathise with him as an everyman, but I just grew more and more irritated – and then I had an insight.

It isn’t just that he was a victim of circumstance, it was his reaction to all this. Hardship didn’t make him stronger and didn’t make him more determined – he simply bore it with what was meant to be good grace but came across as peevish whining.

When writing, I maintain that main characters should be powerful in two senses:

Firstly, your main character needs to be in a position to act. By that, I mean she or he should be physically able to affect events in the novel. For instance, a hermit, all alone on an island, is probably a poor choice as a protagonist in a story about the wheelings and dealings in political circles in Whitehall, where up and coming crusader Holly Stanthorpe is caught up in a controversy that shows us the seamy side of the historic buildings clique. No, Holly Stanthorpe is better placed to be the main character, instead of poor shipwrecked Ishmael Callaghan, having to read about events by way of the erratic delivery of messages in bottles.

Secondly, your main character should be psychologically able to act. This doesn’t have to mean that they are out and out action heroes, ready to disarm the terrorist using materials close at hand, no matter how appealing that might seem. It doesn’t mean that they are successful in their attempts to act, but, to drive the novel forward and engage a reader as an accomplice, the main character should, at some time in the story, make decisions that affect the events unfolding in the narrative.

Without being physically able to act and psychologically able to act, we have main characters who are buffeted about by the seas of fate and destiny. This is all well and good for navigational buoys but deadly dull if you’re a reader.

***

Michael Pryor’s author website: www.michaelpryor.com.au

Michael Pryor on Facebook
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     Moonshadow - The Wrath of the Wolf by Simon Higgins - coverHalf Moon BayHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod

Writing Novels in Australia
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On Being An Indie Author, by Prue Batten

Being an independent author isn’t easy for the uninitiated. You are competing against traditionally published books with a massive publicity machine as well as against an ever-expanding market of indie published books.

So why did I bother?

I became fed up with the traditional system. It works on a long timeframe and less than 5% of submissions ever make it beyond the gatekeepers. It was time to look at other pathways. I was writing niche fiction then and, according to those in the industry, there was simply no market for it.

I had been working through Cornerstones Literary Consultancy in the UK and the editors there had honed my work within an inch of its life. They also shopped me around to agents. I was close to getting a London agent until she decided I lived too far from the epicentre of publishing, which so shocked me that it became a turning point in my life. I was a member of a peer-review site, www.youwriteon.com, funded by the UK Arts Council, and the week of that fateful moment with the London agent I received an email from the site saying they were venturing into print on demand publishing and asking if I was interested. I took all of an hour at lunch with author GS Johnston to make up my mind.

My life as an indie author began.

Since starting in 2008 I have never looked back. I write a book a year – the time it takes for me to research, write drafts, have it edited, beta-read, re-edited, cover designed, formatted and then released. I set up a website (since rebuilt), a blog and entered the social media world with much trepidation. I entered it at the same time as my peers at You Write On. We stuck together and helped each other. Slowly we began to make a name for ourselves. We followed serious commentators like David Gaughran, Joanna Penn, Joe Konrath and Anne R. Allen, and we heeded their advice.

When I began as an indie author, I was making one sale per month – hardly reassuring. Slowly the novels secured some momentum. I went into this pathway with absolutely no expectations and still have none. I wrote niche historical fantasy and have tended toward the niche side with my historical fiction, so I thought if I sold one or two I would be immensely happy. That said, it has paid off sweetly. How sweetly you ask? In the last twelve months alone, enough to pay for my kitchen and laundry to be renovated. Yes, a small kitchen and laundry but who’d have thought?

If I were to give advice on treading the indie path, it is this:

1. Read as much as you can about the industry.

2. NEVER publish the first book you write. Hone your craft before you present the reading public with a book.

3. Employ a professional editor who also has empathy and humour. You will need that support.

4. Find objective beta-readers.

5. Have a professional cover designed by a qualified graphic artist.

6. Find a formatter or learn how to format both for e-book and print.

7. Publish through a publishing service like Amazon, Smashwords or Draft2Digital. It is the best way to maintain control of your work and to get it into the marketplace easily for minimal outlay.

8. Find blogs, and readers who use them.

9. Enter competitions. An award validates a novel.

10. Expect nothing and enjoy the ride.

***

Prue Batten’s author website: www.pruebatten.com

Prue Batten on Facebook
Prue Batten on Twitter

***

     The Innocent

Writing Novels in Australia
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The Value Of A Critique Partner, by Rebecca Raisin

A year and a half ago I hadn’t even heard of the term critique partner, or CP, as we cool cats say. Typical of me, it just sort of happened without much planning on my part. Lisa, a member of my writing group, and I began emailing each other snippets of our work between our monthly meetings. Soon enough those daily emails evolved into a flurry of queries zipping back and forth.

Before Lisa came along I’d follow my hubby around saying “Hey, honey, would you mind reading this story? It’s only 11,000 words…” He’d say “What’s that behind you!” I’d guilelessly look over my shoulder and, confused, turn back only to hear tyres squealing, my house bereft of said husband, with only the smell of burnt rubber for comfort. Of all the low down… Never mind, I now have a CP extraordinaire.

Lisa and I talk about everything from “What do you think of this as a character’s name?” to “I’m sending over my 60,000 word novel for edits.”

Each critique partner is different. If you find one, you might like to discuss what each person is prepared to commit to the relationship. Reading entire manuscripts with your red pen poised is time spent away from your own writing, after all.

Some CPs offer a certain amount of time, such as two hours every Friday. Others critique only when you’ve both finished manuscripts. However, Lisa and I are in constant communication. We look at each other’s work as soon as we send it and get back to each other ASAP, usually in a few days, depending on the length of the story. We send each other writing tips and tricks, marketing ideas and everything in between.

We have our editing down to a fine art and know certain writing quirks to look out for in each other’s writing. I use too many words such as ‘was’ and ‘all’, and Lisa swiftly banishes them for my manuscript (or MS for short). If any dreaded adverbs try to take over, we slay those suckers quick as we can. While you can spend a lot of time combing through someone else’s work it’s also a great way to see where you’re going wrong in your own. We get too close to our stories to the point that the words blur until we can’t see straight, but when you read through your CP’s MS things will jump out and have you scrambling back to your own with more clarity than before.

I’d be lost without Lisa. We’ve been through the trenches together, sending out queries and facing rejections until we both had our novels accepted, and, coincidentally, our contracts arrived on the same day.

If you do find a critique partner it’s best to set the ground rules, especially if you don’t know them in person. Be careful sending your work to someone you’ve met online unless they’re from an established group. Try and find a CP from your writing group or local writing centre before you look elsewhere.

There are reputable online groups for CPs, so stick to those if that’s the way you choose to find one. For example the Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) try to arrange suitable CPs for their members, and help you sort out how much time you’re both prepared to give, and all the nitty gritty that is conducive to a good CP relationship. It’s a great community of writer’s and they do look out for their members so can you rest assured, your work will be safe.

How About We CP? is a site run by literary agent, Jessica Sinsheimer. You can search for a CP by genre, or submit your own profile, and wait for people to find you.

When you do critique someone else’s work, do so in a professional, helpful manner. Point out what works in their MS before you knock the things that don’t. Even when you do have an issue with something it’s always nice to say it’s just your opinion and let them decide what works for them.

Like any relationship, it takes time to get to know the person. Lisa and I are completely upfront with each other about our work now, but it didn’t happen overnight. It’s not that we were dishonest before, but it took a while to get to know how the other wrote, and how we could best help each other, and what we felt comfortable saying.

If you haven’t got a CP I hope you find one as amazing as mine. Writing can be a solitary journey, but not so when you have a critique partner.

***

Rebecca Raisin’s author website: www.rebeccaraisin.wordpress.com

Rebecca Raisin’s bio page

***

     Moonshadow - Eye of the Beast by Simon Higgins - coverInheritance by Lisa ForrestBlackwattle Lake by Pamela CookHalf Moon BayHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod

Writing Novels in Australia
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Drafting A Novel: The Fast And Furious Approach, by Pamela Cook

I’ve been writing for more than a decade now, as well as teaching creative writing, and in that time I’ve discovered there are many ways to write a novel but most of them fall into one of two categories: slowly and carefully or fast and furious. Having tried both, I’m planting my feet firmly in the fast and furious camp.

My first novel was a labour of love, written over five years, revised in sections, re-drafted, and revised over and over again before I finally felt brave enough to send it out. I loved that novel – and still do. It taught me about word choice, style, sentence construction, description and went a fair way to teaching me about character, plot and structure.

While that novel was in one of its brewing phases I participated in National Novel Writing Month: a challenge to write a 50,000 word manuscript in a month. Having spent over five years writing just under 90,000 words, I found the whole idea of Nano quite absurd but decided it would be an interesting experiment if nothing else. I beavered away at the computer for the thirty days of November in 2009, averaging around 1700 words a day and becoming a “winner” when I hit the 50,000 word mark at the end of the month.

This kind of fast and furious writing is along the same lines as freewriting, which I have been a proponent of for years as a means of unlocking the subconscious, allowing ideas to flow freely and without censorship. Writing guru Natalie Goldberg (who calls it writing practice or automatic writing) describes this type of writing as a “crack through which you can crawl into a bigger world, into your wild mind” (p 40, Wild Mind). Completing a first draft of a novel in this way forces you to keep moving forward, prevents you from indulging your inner critic and allows you to explore all kinds of crazy plot possibilities you might not otherwise consider if you write in a more organized, rational fashion. You have to keep reminding yourself each time you sit down to write that this is a first draft. Nobody else is going to see it in this form and it can (and probably will) be hideously awful. Only then will you give yourself permission to write without censorship. While there will undoubtedly be lines, or entire sections of the novel, that really are hideously awful, you may be surprised to find that by loosening the shackles your words and ideas will flow and your voice will be more authentic.

My first shot at National Novel Writing Month produced what later became my debut novel, Blackwattle Lake. When I returned to the original draft a year or so later I was pleasantly surprised to find that, while there was definitely room for improvement and expansion, there was a solid story to build on. Writing the novel from beginning to end without stopping to revise forced me to focus on plot developments instead of agonising over each word, line and paragraph. The agonising came later, during the revision process and then, after the novel was accepted for publication, the editing and proofing phases. But giving myself permission to just write in that first draft period was hugely liberating.

When it came time to write my next novel I decided to follow the same process, not quite as intensely but I did write around 90,000 words in three months when drafting Essie’s Way. Again I found the time pressure prevented me from nit-picking, resulting in a manuscript which could then be moulded and edited.

Apart from the unleashing of creativity that this process seems to foster, the daily commitment to my writing means that I stay in the dream of your story – you become more immersed in the world you have created than you might be if you adopt a more stop-start process. It also helps develop a stronger discipline, which is important if you’re really serious about writing.

In my time as a writer, and as a writing teacher, I’ve seen many friends and students spend years working on one project, often abandoning it when it hits a dead end or they become bored with it. I have also seen others who have created beautiful stories that have been lovingly nurtured and polished over a longer period of time. Some stories do take time. Not every novel can be written in one or two or three months. But if you’ve never tried writing this way I highly recommend it. At best, it will give you a manuscript to then keep working on. At worst, if it bombs, you’ve only spent a month or two of your life on it.

Happy writing!

***

Pamela Cook’s author website: www.pamelacookauthor.wordpress.com

Pamela Cook’s bio page

***

Blackwattle Lake by Pamela CookEssie's Way by Pamela Cook     Moonshadow - Eye of the Beast by Simon Higgins - coverInheritance by Lisa ForrestAbsolution Creek

Writing Novels in Australia
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Novel Openings: Creating A Fantastic – or Fatal – First Impression, by Simon Higgins

Just as in duelling, when writing a fictional piece, your foundational moves drastically impact on the outcome.

The reader is hooked and stays with you – or not.

That first impression registers as a fatal opening night debacle, or a fantastic, rave-review triumph. Your audience must be engaged from the start.

First suggestion: Exploit human curiosity.  

Most readers move from looking at the cover, to studying the blurb, to then sampling the first words of the book, with that familiar, wary, astute look on their faces. They have busy lives too. ‘To invest the time in this one, or not?’  They scrutinise the tone, language, inferences of the first few lines, getting the feel of the novel’ s world and voice. ‘Am I going to like this?’

Make sure they do. From the outset, infer, provoke and draw them in. Make the first phase as intriguing as possible. People love to play detective. They pull themselves in quite naturally if the storytelling has enough of a hook, noting at intervals,  ‘Hmm… that’s got to be a hint…’ You lead them with mystery and implication deeper into the forest of your plot. Readers also love a well-written scene or chapter closing that leaves them buzzing with some final enigmatic image, question or plot revelation.

Doctor Id was my first young adult thriller with Random House Australia, Asahi Shimbun Japan, and Mondadori of Italy. Set in the 90s during the rise of the internet, it featured a cyber-stalking serial killer cunningly taking advantage of the newness, naivety and unpoliced boundaries of early online culture. Doctor Id also introduced Jade Draper, the computer-obsessed daughter of a homicide investigator, with this opening line:

Jade heard the footsteps and quickly hid the newspaper in her lap.

How many questions are implied by these twelve words? Most readers will naturally hypothesise an answer to each of them.

So be sure you make good on those little mysteries later in the unfolding tale. One must deliver. I did a lot of structural planning with Doctor Id. I was actually working as a homicide investigator in South Australia at the time I wrote it, so Jade’s harrowing adventure, perhaps understandably, came out as a very filmic, edgy crime story.

The Children’s Book Council of Australia made it a Notable Book of the Year in 1999. It was published in Italian and also serialised – with awesome Manga style artwork – in Japan, in English, to a print reading audience of millions around the Asia-Pacific region. Given my long connection with, and great interest in Asia, you can imagine how proud I felt. I went on to write two other crime thrillers, sequels but also stand-alone novels in themselves, Cybercage and The Stalking Zone, both with Random House Australia. Award winning actor and Aussies-into-Hollywood pioneer John Orcsik is the former star of the hit TV crime show Cop Shop and an accomplished director and producer. John wrote a marvellous screenplay conversion for Doctor Id. Random House Australia even brought out a collectible omnibus edition of the crime trilogy under the cover of The DreamWeb Files.

So I guess the book has obviously worked on at least a couple of levels. What writer dares hope for more?

Second suggestion: Don’t be afraid to employ dramatic devices as you open. 

If you’re especially good at action sequences, or perhaps have a knack for instantly setting up a tense, gothic or era-evocative atmosphere, then use that skill to plunge the reader straight in there. Write your first draft boldly and energetically, enjoying the ride just as the reader later will.

Another day, in ‘editing mode’, a very different headspace to ‘creating’, textual imperfections can be hunted down, edges smoothed, language polished, story shape improved, all that. But for now, just get the thing moving forward engagingly…

There’s a lot of dramatic power to be had in the tasteful use of time-shift devices. For instance, you might open with a snippet of the climax, as below, then take us back to the beginning of the main timeline. We then see events unfold that increasingly remind us of being swept towards a life-and-death finale…

The piece below, BTW, is an opening I have never actually used. If you like, try varying it and writing on from it to see if a novel results. It’s all yours.

I looked down at the gun in my hand, realizing what I’d done. Just 16 hours earlier, I could never have imagined such a moment. My day had begun normally enough…

Third and final suggestion for now: Aim for good balance.  

When you draft your opening, whichever path you take with it, make sure you include enough information for the reader to picture the scene, but alos try to keep your narration lean enough to generate a crackling pace. Striking that right balance in style between information and story momentum is an ongoing try-it-and-see learning curve.

How do we develop this skill? Nothing replaces actually attempting it, over and over. Feedback will tell you if you have succeeded and what to correct in order to do better next time.

***

Simon Higgins’s bio page

Simon Higgins’s author website: www.simonhiggins.net

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Moonshadow - Eye of the Beast by Simon Higgins - coverMoonshadow - The Wrath of the Wolf by Simon Higgins - coverIsland of the White Spear by Simon Higgins     Blackwattle Lake by Pamela CookInheritance by Lisa Forrest

Writing Novels in Australia
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