"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: June 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

My Life Downunder

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Rob Parnell


My Life Downunder

Rob Parnell

Still raining in Oz, like the gods decided we need more water. The land, the cities, the infrastructures are not set up for lots of rain - so we struggle to deal with flooding and power outs.

I like it here at this time of year because the constant wet reminds me of the UK, without the cold.

I came to Australia because I knew it would be good for my writing. I knew I could make it work here. Because London, you see, is a far too expensive place to live without a high paying job - and there's nowhere else I wanted to reside in England. The weather's too gray and sombre most of the time. And cold. Did I mention the cold?

Summer does encroach in the UK - for about a week in August. When the sun shines, millions of pink-skins head out to spend the day in the car, crawling through traffic to a crowded pebbly beach somewhere on Britain's battered coastline.

But most of my memories of England are of standing at bus stops freezing, living in rooms where heaters seemed incapable of penetrating the early morning frost and believing that cloud cover was just another word for sky.

I grew up in the British Isles so of course I remember the country lanes, the rolling hills and the idyllic villages that are apparently disappearing all the time these days. I watch Midsomer Murders to experience the country I miss - which probably doesn't exist anymore, not outside of a camera lens anyway.

There were too many people in the UK for me. City high streets were like hellish conveyor belts of humanity, thousands upon thousands of souls jostling for room in ever increasing urban sprawls that traded history and culture for shopping malls and carparks, much like the way this now happens the world over.

I came to Australia because I needed air, space and time to think. I needed a country where I didn't have to worry about money all the time. A place I could write, compose music and direct movies and plays all of the time instead of 'once I'd saved the money'.

How did I know that all this would be possible in the land downunder?

I don't know. I couldn't possibly have known. And yet it was a kind of knowing that drove me here. Not love - or the desire to start again or build a new life - nothing so grandiose.

No, I only knew I wanted to write - and do it for a living. And that just wasn't possible in the UK, not with price of property - the gold of modern society.

And so I'm here now. Writing in my beautiful office - that's currently doubling as a studio set with a green screen wall - in my beautiful house with my beautiful wife...

Of course I'm lucky to be here. I stood in line at the Australian embassy in London for four hours to be told that there was just no way I'd get a visa to live in Oz. They don't do that much, they said.

Immigration is a touchy issue here. Odd for a country that's basically been invaded by Europeans who then closed the door and said, no more!

It's government policy to allow 13,700 illegals in every year - and that's it.

I got in through stealth, subverting the system, like many others.

I arrived 'on holiday' one day in September 1999 and went the next day to apply for residency in South Australia - the only state that still let's you do that. Two years, a series of crass interviews and tiresome hoop jumping later, I was allowed to call myself Australian and, though technically I'll always be a British citizen, thanks to the power and glory of our dwindling Empire, I'm not allowed to use my British passport anymore - not if I want to re-enter the great land of Oz, anyway.

So what did happen to my writing?

Well, if you're reading this you'll probably know that I was right to trust that feeling, however it came about.

But really it probably wasn't Australia that made it all possible.

More it was the need in me to make writing my life.

Instead of just wishing, I needed to make it happen, at any cost.

Any cost.

When you want something enough, nothing can stand in your way.

Logic, good sense, lack of money and resources - none of that matters when you set your heart on something that absolutely must happen.

Just like Hollywood movies teach us.

Against all the odds we can have what we want. But only if we  realize that the only obstacles we face are those we build ourselves, inside of us.

Because the real issue is: not the pain of not getting what you want - that's an easy thing because most of us experience that every day. No, the real issue is: what do you do when you get what you want?

How will you feel when your dreams have come true?

What do you do then?

Will you be happy - and fulfilled?

That's why you need to follow your heart and intuition.

Because you really have to want and need what you get.

I once spoke to a motivation coach in my twenties. I asked her what it meant if you didn't get what you wanted.

She said it just meant you didn't really want it enough.

And she was probably right. Merely wishing and daydreaming is not enough.

If there's something you want - or need - then truly want it with all your heart.

And you'll make it happen.

Keep writing!
 rob at home


“Those who write clearly have readers, those who write
obscurely have commentators.”
Albert Camus

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Once Upon A Time

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Rob Parnell


Once Upon a Time

Rob Parnell

Tis the dark of winter as I write. It's June but this is Australia where the seasons are the wrong way round to everyone else.

It's been raining constantly for days. The wettest month for seven years they tell us. Of course we blame global warming - the weather's getting worse, we say, as we do every year, though the reality is probably different.

Once upon a time the world was a simpler place, where emotions and actions were more easily classified and understandable. That's why we start stories with 'once upon a time' - because this implies a place and time when truth was more apparent and simpler to recognize.

Beginning a story with 'once upon a time' is another way of saying: Listen to this story, it's true, it's educational, it will teach you something that is still true today.

Once upon a time adds weight to a story - it alerts us to the idea that there will be a moral hidden somewhere in the text - and that we will learn something important from history.

Of course it's just a writer's trick. Adding 'weight' to a story is just another way of asking your readers to suspend their disbelief for a little while. For just long enough to hook them with characters they might care about - and root for.

All great stories start with characters because we're people and we often need to see the world through the context of another person's eyes that become our own, to make sense of things, of ourselves.

The ability to identify with other people is a uniquely human capability, but apparently not one that sociopaths enjoy - a breed of human, I've read, that is more common than you'd suspect.

One in fifteen, a recent UK study found, could not empathize with their fellow man /woman in a way that made them care about whether they hurt them or not.

The cruel manipulator - aka the sociopath - is a recognizable archetype that manifests itself in fiction as 'the bad guy' or the dire circumstance with no apparent antidote.

Like an uncontainable virus, evil permeates fiction, forever trying to thwart our hero's actions and agendas. Without evil, and its vanquishment (is that a word?), there's no obstacle to overcome, no real story to tell.

Look at all the old myths and fairy stories - the common thread is there. From George defeating the Dragon to Little Red Riding Hood, the evil is personified through characters that must be destroyed.

In our make believe, once upon a time worlds, evil is easy to spot. The bad guys look bad and they wear cool clothes and speak with perverted intelligence and guile. They get all the best lines.

But in real life, evil is more subtle.

It comes in many guises and hides behind charm, distraction, even beauty. Evil shakes our hand and makes us feel loved, before stabbing us in the back.

That's why we need stories. To remind us that we can't always believe what we see, what we think we know.

The UK study I mentioned above also noted that sociopaths don't like fiction. They don't get it. They don't read novels - and only tolerate movies. I suppose because if you can't empathize with people, you're never going to empathize with fictional characters. You'll never see the point.

So fiction isn't for people that are evil, it's for the rest of us.

To help us. It's like a secret code, hidden in plain sight, to warn us about the dangers of those who would hurt us without conscience.

Writers tell stories to spread the word - that evil and its manifestations are everywhere, in everything, all around us.

But writers also present solutions. Ways to defeat evil and become stronger, better human beings.

Once upon a time it was simpler to identify the fire breathing dragon, the angry god or the soul sucking harpy. And the hero's quest was plain - to take his trusty sword and run it through the heart of evil.

Now, it's harder for us.

We don't even know what evil looks like half the time.

It's often bland and inconspicuous. The psychopath with an angel's face. The friendly corporate logo that hides the greed within. The politician's smile that never reveals the secret agendas of governments.

Fiction helps us deal with evil, injustice, cruelty, selfishness and the lack of conscience we see in the world around us.

Books and movies have become the 'bread and circuses' that distract and entertain us these days.

But never forget their deeper message. That, by recognizing and acknowledging evil, we are better prepared to meet and overcome it.

And create a better world.
That's what all writers want, surely.

Not a world without evil - but a world where good always wins, just as it did, once upon a time.

Keep writing!
 rob at home
”Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit." e. e. cummings

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Using True Ideas for Fiction

Dear Fellow Writer,

This Week

Had a weird dream last night about something that happened twenty years ago - funny how the mind does that...

Today, still working on the video interview with Robyn. Editing, makin' it sparkle! Should be ready in a day or so.

The Character Creation course is going really well. I'm learning as much as I'm teaching on this one! It's great fun to go back to basics.

Character Creation Course

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell


Using True Ideas for Fiction

Rob Parnell
We all do it. When looking for ideas, we plunder our own lives.

From using people we know as a basis for characters to plotting stories based on things that have happened to us. It's just natural: writers have been doing this since writing began.

But we should remember that it's not actually the ideas that impress us or inspire us to tell a story. No, it's the idea's effect on our current mindset that usually gets us going.

Everything we see and do is filtered through our emotions - the part of the conscious mind that is interacting with who you are now, at this moment.

This is why some ideas lose their appeal over time. Not because the idea begins to be a bad one - but because our emotional perspective is constantly changing.

We are becoming different people all the time.

Which can be a proverbial pain in the butt if we don't write very quickly!

There's nothing worse than getting half way through a novel and realizing the original idea for your magnum opus has lost its sheen. Sometimes we struggle to remember what it was about the idea that was originally so fascinating!

Worse, in an attempt to 'fix' the novel, as in regain our emotional attachment to it, we can end up writing a different book that merely masquerades as the first...

The notion that an idea's appeal to us is based on a passing mindset is an important one for us to grasp.

Also, we should always bear in mind that an idea that seems wonderful and fresh and new to us could well seem ordinary and trite to anyone else - because others simply do not have the emotional attachment to the the idea that we have.

I see this play out a lot with my students. Their attachment to a certain event in their lives - and the desire to use that as inspiration - is sometimes completely out of proportion to the validity of the idea.

Of course, writers can use anything as a starting point. Indeed, a certain emotional attachment to an idea is often the ideal starting point.

But there's a need to go further.

Fiction requires that an idea is expressed in a believable way. And sometimes real events can be less believable than fiction!

You need to be careful to question the validity of an idea for fiction especially if it's based on truth.

Too often a writer is told that there's a section in a story where a friend might say, that's unbelievable. Only for the writer to quickly respond, but that's the bit that's true! The problem being the writer has failed to question whether the true event was believable in the context of fiction.

Also, when it comes to writing about our lives, we have to remember that just because something that happened to us seemed fascinating and wonderful at the time, it doesn't mean that particular event will be fundamentally fascinating or wonderful to anyone else.

Whenever you think you have a good idea for a story, use the following checklist before setting pen to paper:

1. Is the idea believable?

Fiction requires logic - in plotting, character development and point of view. Don't accept that just because something is true that it necessarily has any validity in a fictional story.

Question the credibility of the idea in the context of your story. If it fails to propel to story satisfactorily, consider deleting it.

See what effect that deletion has on the story.

2. What exactly is the idea?

Ask yourself: Is this idea a starting point, a plot twist, or an important element of the conclusion?

Does you whole story hinge on this one idea?

If so, you may have a problem. A flawed story idea can make a manuscript totally unsellable. And people - editors, agents and publishers - have an annoying habit of pointing out ideas that are flawed!

3. Does the idea work out of context?

One of the best ways to check an idea is valid it to take it completely out of context.

Imagine the idea within the context of an alien civilization. Or in amongst a different set of people or environment.

Would it work if the characters were completely different? Young, old, animals, androids?

4. If you had no emotional attachment, would the idea still work?

You need to take off those rose colored glasses and view the idea dispassionately. Admittedly this can be hard - especially if the idea has been wrapped up in your 'being' for a long time.

I knew a guy who based a fat series of fantasy novels on one event during his childhood that he found out later had never actually happened - he just thought it had.

Not only did it invalidate the entire premise of his story, he was crushed for a long time after he knew the truth. (He never sold the novels by the way.)

5. Could the idea be dropped if need be?

This is the very best test of an idea. When writing fiction, logic dictates that any idea is interchangeable if it starts to mess with the story. Usually, a fiction writer can and should drop an idea in favor of another more believable one.

When it comes to emotionally charged ideas - that is, our personal darlings - writers often can't let go, which is a sure sign it 'sticks out' and may not be serving the story at all.

It takes courage to take out your favorite bits - even when you know deep down they don't work!

If you're feeling this way about an idea, it could well be that you need to face - and question - your emotional attachment to it and perhaps deliberately remove it, just to see if the story isn't better without it.

It often is.

Even if it was the starting point of the whole project!  

Keep writing!
 rob at home
”Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don't see any." Orson Scott Card

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ask the Author & Ray Bradbury

Ask the Author!

This week we'd like to invite you to ask your questions to bestselling children's author of 86 published books, Robyn Opie Parnell.

We're making a new video interview this weekend - and we thought it would be nice if YOU asked the questions! 

Please email me with your questions about writing or whatever you'd like to know about Robyn, here: rob@easywaytowrite.com

Please be quick - we're making the vid at the weekend!

Keep Writing.

Rob Parnell

Long Live Ray Bradbury

Rob Parnell

I've never been a big science fiction fan, even though the genre has touched my life at many times.

But I've always loved Ray Bradbury, who sadly died at 91 this week.

I loved the way he was never ashamed to call writing a career and was always so focused on helping other writers understand the craft.

He wrote every day - at least 1000 words - even when he was traveling. He wrote in hotel rooms, in cafes and bars and during journeys on the train, plane or bus. (Oddly, he never learned how to drive.) His relationship with the world was defined and enhanced by his writing.

He was a writer in the truest sense of the word.

When I was kid I read The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451.

451 was of course actually a political book - a warning to us all that any society that condoned book burning had lost its soul.

I never questioned the moral to the story - and haven't since.

One of the most enduring images I took from the book was that of the hero, Guy Montag's, wife. She was obsessed with getting the fourth wall of her TV room - so that she could feel like she was living inside the soap operas she watched.

It's kind of amusing to me that everyone these days is similarly impressed by huge flat screens, 5.1 sound and 3D, as though we too are trying to live inside a virtual world - where books have been relegated to second place behind the visual medium, even though they're often the inspiration that precedes everything.

Another Bradbury image that has stuck with me was a short scene in The Martian Chronicles where a guy is wandering the empty planet, convinced the whole population has disappeared or died - and that he is the last person alive...

---when he hears a telephone ring somewhere.

To me that scene just about sums up the human condition.

We're all alone - but seeking a connection.

It doesn't get more profound that that!

I've read a lot of Ray's short stories. To me, he wasn't foremost a sci-fi writer. He often used fantasy as a platform, yes, but really as a means to explore the way the human mind works - how a memory can twist and turn within us, how a smell or an image or an idea can flip flop around in our subconscious for years, only to pop up inappropriately and help us make sense of who we are and why we do the things we do, why we think the way we do.

Many of his stories focused on the way our youth defines the people we become. About how childhood impressions, no matter how wrong or irrational, stay with us - and affect the way we see everything after, when we're older, wiser and less prone to flights of fancy. It was clear he thought that the limited perspective of childhood was a wonderful thing - and a great source of inspiration for his work.

I remember reading that he liked titles.

And that he had lists of titles he wanted to use for future stories. I wonder now if there were any left over at his death!

Probably - he was prolific after all. Twenty seven novels and over 600 short stories. To think, he was largely ignored when he started - by critics and the public.

New writers should take heart from this. Getting yourself into the writing hall of fame is truly about persistence and writing whether you're recognized or not.

But it's also about getting yourself out there.

Bradbury, like many of the greats, began writing and submitting early - at the age of twelve to be precise, when he wrote a novel - a sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs The Warlords of Mars. Written out of love for the craft of writing, no doubt.

By eighteen his short stories were being published in magazines, though he wasn't paid for a story, Pendulum, until he was twenty one. He went professional a year later - and never looked back.

Many of my students email me, asking for advice about writing.

If you really need to find out about writing from a bona fide source, you could do a lot worse than to study Ray Bradbury.

His stories will transport you. Their honesty can't fail to hit you hard. He's the fantasy equivalent of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, even Hemingway.

And Bradbury's advice for writers is second to none - it's all true and backed by the solidity of his enduring integrity and reputation.

The literary world is a poorer place now that he's gone.

But, just as he would have wanted, his mid western surrealism will live on to inspire generations to come, of that I'm very sure.

Long live Ray Bradbury - a truly great American writer.
Keep writing!
 rob at home

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious and anything self-conscious is lousy. You cannot  try to do things. You simply must do things." Ray Bradbury

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