"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: May 2013

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Who Says Crime Doesn't Pay?

Dear Fellow Writer,

Looking around the Net, trying to get guidance as a writer, can be daunting. 

There seems to be a million and one things you can't do!

And for every rule, you can think of at least five fiction authors who ignore the advice - and yet remain popular and successful. 

Writing shouldn't be that hard, should it?

Of course we should all aspire to improving - but if we risk getting blocked then I think we should ignore the advice and just... well, keep writing (because that's how we learn the most anyway.)

Oh, and on the subject of superb fiction, my beautiful and talented wife has a new book out on Kindle:
Maya and the Daring Heist

Who Says Crime Doesn't Pay?

Rob Parnell
Not available yet!

I have a new writing course starting next week.

That's the image associated with it - above.

It's not live yet. It won't go on sale until Monday. 

Crime fiction has been popular - in the background - ever since it was formulated as a genre over 150 years ago.

Some say Edgar Allan Poe was the first author to truly explore the possibilities of detective fiction with his Murders in the Rue Morgue short story - first published in 1841. 

Poe created the template for the brilliant yet quirky detective in C Auguste Dupin - who uses attention to detail and an almost 'literary' approach to investigation - whereby clues are sifted logically by the detective  - and narrated by his sidekick - for the benefit of the reader - a brilliant way of engaging the reader in the detective's thought process.

This technique is still the way it's done today.

There's something intriguing about uncovering a mystery and living out the consequences of logical deduction that is still in evidence in the works of Denis Lehane, Stuart MacBride, Jonathan Kellerman - etc - actually the list of modern crime writers using this technique is fairly endless!

Others point to Wilkie Collins' book, The Moonstone - published in 1868 - as the forerunner of the modern crime novel. It uses multiple points of view - one at a time of course, to explain the suspects' stories.

In this way, the reader is invited to join in the detection of the truth, alongside Sergeant Cuff, a technique still exemplified by writers like Sue Grafton, Agatha Christie et al.

The poet, TS Eliot, was forthright is claiming that Poe did not invent the detective novel, Collins did. I think mostly because The Moonstone is so much longer than Poe's short story!

As an aside, there's been much debate about the ending of The Moonstone - which many regard as 'unbelievable'. I won't spoil things by telling you the end twist as it still gets used to this day!

The point is that a plot twist that stretched credibility was evident in the very first detective novel - so surely we'd have to accept that outlandish twists are probably part of the genre!

The average joe would be forgiven for thinking that the modern detective was invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the form of Sherlock Holmes.

A Study in Scarlet, the first story that featured Holmes and Watson was published in 1886. It's common knowledge Holmes became hugely popular - and remains so to this day.

Conan Doyle had a love/hate relationship with Holmes. His savior as a writer to be sure, but also his nemesis in some ways. A victim of his own popularity, Doyle resented Holmes grip on the public imagination and tried to kill him off, inevitably being forced to bring him back!

The crime genre could be said to have been finally cemented by the hard boiled American detectives of the 1930s.

Writers like Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler wrote about struggling private detectives trying to earn a crust and find meaning in a harsh new economically unsympathetic world - a clear metaphor for the writer's life in my view.  

It would remiss not to mention Agatha Christie's importance in the growth of the crime and murder mystery genre. Considered by some sources to be the biggest selling author of all time, her influence on the genre cannot be underestimated.

It's interesting though that Raymond Chandler for one, was unimpressed by her writing abilities!

Since then the crime fiction genre has undergone many incarnations but rarely moved outside of the 'requirements' of the genre.

And what are the requirements? Simply put:

A murder or two (or many), a detailed analysis of the clues and the personalities of the suspects and the eventual uncovering of the truth that must be a surprise.

If you want to know more about the crime fiction genre - and get all the details on how to easily create you own crime fiction novel - then look for my email on the subject - coming to an inbox near you soon!

Keep Writing!
 rob at home

"Don't ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story." Ben Bova

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Planning for Success

Dear Fellow Writer,

Be fascinating - apparently that's how to ensure you get your blogs and articles read these days. 

But exactly how one goes about being fascinating is hard to quantify for a writer - it's all relative isn't it?

I mean when you're in love with someone then everything they say and do is fascinating. It's caring that makes the difference.

P!nk boiling an egg would probably be fascinating - or Lilo crashing another car - or Richard Branson painting a wall - it's a celebrity thing. 

The rest of us can't really be fascinating - unless we're informing others of something they don't already know or is of benefit to them.

I think it's better just to be yourself first - being fascinating is an exterior value judgment - and one we have little control over.

Keep writing!

Write From the Start

Planning For Success

Rob Parnell
The Road to Success
We tend to overestimate what we can do in a year. But we completely underestimate what we can do in a decade.

Having been a musician for much of my life I've noticed that many pop-star's careers can begin, bloom, explode and then crumble in the space of five to ten years. 

Three hit singles and you're the alternative to sliced bread - and then, just a few years later, you're working in a shoe shop, wondering what happened. 

I often wonder what happens to all the old pop-stars… I mean, do they all simply stop playing music? 

And if so, why did they start in the first place and keep at it only to give up?

Clearly luck plays a large part in achieving success - but I believe that we make our own luck by creating circumstances whereby we are in the right place at the right time - something that wouldn't happen without conscious action in the first place.

Success is one percent luck and ninety nine percent preparation. 

Because, without preparation, there's no way you'll be in a position to exploit the luck when it comes along.

Small Steps, Big Dreams

There's nothing worse than having a whole bunch of goals that you can achieve quickly and easily. 

Here's a mantra you should use regularly: I need bigger dreams!

Because once you get the hang of working on goals and dreams on a regular basis, you'll notice quickly that it's not actually that hard to get what you want. 

Anyone who puts in consistent action towards a specific goal can achieve their heart's desire without too much stress because that's the kind of world we live in these days.

What you don't want to do is to aim too low - for two reasons.

            1. You don't want your subconscious to believe that you will be happy with only a slight change of circumstance

            2. You'll have to keep stopping and planning to achieve bigger goals every two to three months

Let's begin the plan

Let your mind mull over the kind of life you will need to be living to give yourself the time and motivation to do the work you envisage on a daily basis.

How does this make you feel? 


Or fearful? 

Does it seem real, distant, or absolutely impossible? 

Bear in mind that much of what you believe is possible is based on your preconceptions - things you've learned, true or false, during your lifetime. 

And remember that not everything you believe is true for everyone else.
Often we limit ourselves because our belief system won't allow us to expand our horizons.
Put yours on hold for a while - and start to dream BIG!

Answer these questions:

What do you want, more than anything? (Your one big goal)

Why do you want that? (Make a list of reasons)

What would happen if you never got what you wanted? (Be specific)

Use your own notebook for these questions. 

Write about a page full of responses to each question. 

Explore your mind for answers. 

Try to hone in on what really motivates you to succeed at your chosen 'big goal'.

Don't be too vague either.

For instance, you may have a goal to become a bestselling author. 

Fine. But go further and ask yourself why you want that. 

For what purpose? 

To have fame and riches. Fine. 

But why do you want that? 

To be happy. Good. 

Go further. Why would that make you happy? 

What exactly about fame would make you content? 

Just recognition? Or adoration? 

Why do you need that? 

Is it ego based or because fame can be useful? 

Be specific about exactly what kind of fame you would want - and why.

Similarly, exactly how much money would make you happy? 

It's tempting to say billions. 

But if so, what would you do with all that cash? 

Save it, invest it, leave it to your children, fund charities? 

Again, be specific. 

Why do you need all that money? 

What would you use it for? 

Buying more things, looking good, traveling, investing in creative projects, feeding the homeless?

Hone in on who you are and what you really want. 

Imagine being the person you'd be if you were rich and famous. 

How would you feel? 

How would you act? 

What would you do? 

How would you conduct yourself, and live from day to day?

When it comes to listing the things that might happen if you don't achieve your goals, go deep too. 

If you suspect you might feel like a failure, ask yourself why. 

What exactly does failure mean to you? 

How would it feel? 

Why would it hurt? 

Perhaps you suspect that not much would change if you didn't achieve your goals. 

Why would that be? Would it really matter? 

What would you still have? 

List the positives as well as the negatives.

You'll be surprised how much you can learn about yourself - and discover what really motivates you - by doing this simple self examination exercise.

Keep Writing!
 rob at home


"Don't ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story." Ben Bova

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Keep Taking The Tablets

Dear Fellow Writer,

Busy week tidying up the house for Mother's Day last week. Good to finally have some time to catch up this week. 

Though we did have to take a morning off for dog training! Thanks, Wally.

Keep writing!

PS: Last chance to get the LIVE course below...

Write From the Start


Keep Taking The Tablets

Rob Parnell
I feel like one of those characters that's been in a coma for thirty years - either that or I've been in suspended animation like some science fiction hero on a space voyage.

I may be one of the last people on the planet to buy a tablet. 

A Samsung 10.1 to be precise - but my head has been turned upside down by this thing.

It's pretty damn fine.

I really only got it so I could show people my movies if I happened to be out somewhere. 

You know, if I bumped into Spielberg by accident or something... you never know.

Another reason was to see what my "Write Stuff" mobile app looked like. 

I mean it's all very well making an app but I needed to see it in action so to speak! 

I meant to get a small, cheap tablet. 

We've already got a Kindle and I thought, let's just get a color one so I can see what all the fuss is about...

The salesman talked us into something more substantial. 

And am I glad he did?

I've already downloaded one of those funky star charts you hold up to the sky. 

I'm still marveling how it moves around to tell you exactly what you're looking at!

I've started reading Dan Brown's new Inferno - something I may have waited to get if not for the tablet. 

It's pretty amazing to be reading a Dan Brown and to be able to look up pictures of the things he describes - and research the history behind his stories - something I always end up doing when I read Dan's stuff.

Plus, I've been using the tablet to write an outline for my latest novel - a crime thriller. 

It's great because I can use the 'Note" function, which allows me to write directly onto the screen - so I'm getting ideas down (in bed or at the beach) as fast as I can think of them!

I know I'm going to sound like an ad for Samsung but I can't recommend this thing highly enough.

Robyn has started calling it our third pet - because of the way I'm constantly playing with it. 

I've resisted the temptation to download any actual games. 

I'm still enjoying all the other stuff too much.

Like watching videos in the garden and being able to answer my emails in the car or in a cafe.

Okay, I guess I have to admit to the real reason why I held off getting a tablet for so long...

I've never liked Apple. 

There - I've said it. 

Mac users everywhere will be bristling - as they always do when they're not being smug about their 'virus free' machines.

But I always had a sneaking suspicion Steve Jobs, much as I respected and admired him, was a self absorbed honcho who might deliberately exaggerate what his products could do.

Strangely enough, when I read his autobiography, I discovered that's exactly what he did...

(There's a famous advertising poster from the 1980s showing a guy doing his accounts on his Apple Mac at the kitchen table - something that the machine was incapable of doing at the time.) 


From a writer's point of view I think a tablet is a much better alternative to scraps of paper. 

You can use it anywhere. On the hop. On the bus or train. So you need never let those ideas get away again.

I like the way PDFs open without extra software. I like the way you can input with a keyboard, a pen or your voice.

If I have one criticism it's a small one.

It's clear that the big guys - Google, Facebook, Apple - have this whole 'mobile' thing sown up. 

Sometimes you feel you're just walking through a huge virtual mall designed with only one purpose: to prize cash out of you.

It's way too easy to spend money on silly stuff you don't need because you're always just a click away from an impulse purchase!

Still, it's a small enough price to pay to feel so connected to everything - without actually having to step outside your door.

And for an unsociable self absorbed honcho like me, that's fabulous.

So glad I woke up in the 21st century - finally!

Keep Writing!
 rob at home

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Write Fast Till The End

Dear Fellow Writer,

I hope you're writing and getting closer to your dreams, whatever they may be.

Make plans for your future every day - and make sure your goals are fun, worthy and fill you with anticipation. 

Then do just one little thing today that will pull your dreams out of the ether and into being.


Keep writing!

Write From the Start


Write Fast Till The End

Rob Parnell
Writing short pieces - say up to around 5000 words - is usually fairly straightforward.

You can, in most cases, just start writing and keep going until you've said everything you wanted and then go back and edit for logic, sense and flow.
And to fix those pesky typos!

If you've missed something out, you can slot it into the text.

Or, if you've overdone a section - or the writing is bad or unnecessary - you have good friend in the delete button.

Writing longer pieces is different. 

Having a lot to say will take time and effort - the two things a writer cannot afford to waste. 

So what's the best way to approach writing longer works?
It's all about preparation. 

Knowing where you're going and having some idea of your destination.

Some writers say they can't write using a plan - or even knowing what the ending is. 

They cite Stephen King - who says he doesn't know what the endings of his stories are going to be when he starts out. 

It's deliberate he says because he wants to write his characters into impossible corners - and then work out how they're going to survive. 

Obviously this works for Mr King. 

He says the only book he wrote using a pre-written template was The Dead Zone - but he says he found the book depressing to write because he knew the ending!

Fair enough - but I'm not sure this approach works for every writer - especially new writers who really need to get that first novel written - all of it, down on paper, existing - to help them get that sense of 'yes, I can write a novel, I have proof.'

Most new writers never get to feel that because they stumble during the novel writing process - and the book goes unfinished.

There's really only one way to get a first draft down - and that is to write quickly. 

Write the first draft before you change you mind about it. 

Before you 'grow' a little and have a different viewpoint on the world and therefore your story. 

It's easily done. 

You're all fired up with a story and can see its significance and importance - and then half way through - several months down the track - you wonder why you were so excited. 

Or you begin to change some character motivations slightly and, before you know it, the story doesn't work anymore and you have to bin it or start again.

Get your first draft down fast is always my advice - especially if it's your first novel. 

It doesn't matter how it reads. 

The first novel is a learning experience - an invaluable one. 

It will teach you more about the writing process than any other experience - and will stand you in great stead for the future.

But in order to write quickly you need a plan, a template you can refer to as you write - so you can push through blocks and keep on writing till the end.

The template can be a series of dot points, chapter headings or a detailed synopsis - it's up to you.

But that's my advice. 

If you sincerely want to write your first novel - make a plan. Know your characters, know your plot, know your story and its ending, before you start.

And then, keep writing - as fast as you can!

Keep Writing!

 rob at home

Rob Parnell
The Easy Way to Write


"Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the most. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window." William Faulkner


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Writing The Big Scenes

Dear Fellow Writer,

Free app, The Write Stuff, for mobiles and tablets, HERE.

Keep writing!

Write From the Start


Writing the Big Scenes in Fiction

Rob Parnell
Let me ask you a question.

Do you avoid / dread / loathe writing the big scenes in your fiction?

Over the years I've noticed one of two things.

One, the writer is so nervous about writing the big important scenes that they will subconsciously avoid them by taking ages over getting to them.

Here's how it goes.

There's a crucial scene in the story where there's a confrontation or a climactic event - and the writer is creeping up towards it, filling the pages with exposition and preparatory dialogue - only to freeze just before 'the big scene' and put off writing anymore - sometimes for months or, in some cases, years.

Two, the other scenario involves glossing over that part of the story.

You'll often see writers fill pages with the run up to the big event - all nice showing instead of telling and yet, when it comes to 'the big scene' it's told from a distance or from an uninvolved point of view or, most commonly, in retrospect, after the event.

This might seem strange, though I think it's fairly common.

It's related to the idea that writers are sometimes afraid to confront their own deepest emotions. 

I think that in the same way most sane people avoid confrontation, writers will avoid opening themselves up to a challenge.

Climactic set pieces make very compelling reading. 

Writers are often judged by their ability to pull them off - and perhaps that's the problem. 

Writers don't want to be judged by writing that is focussed, action based and as graphic as an open wound.

We'd prefer to hide behind the relative comfort of internal dialogue, character exposition and literary description. 


'Big scenes' normally involve heightened emotion - something not all writers are comfortable describing - because I assume they're worried that their particular experience of heightened emotion seems so personal - even private.

But that's the point. 

Readers want to know what other people's heightened emotions are like! 

They want to experience the thrill of adventure, danger, risk, marriage, death, murder and the myriad of other BIG emotions any one of us may fall victim to.

It's important not to shy away from the challenging - in life and your writing. 

Challenging yourself makes you grow - gain wisdom and lead a more fulfilling life.

You don't have to drive speedway cars to describe the thrill of it.

You can use your imagination - that's what it's for - and describe what you feel for the benefit of readers.

In a sense that's your job - to give a reader the experience of 'being there' without them having to leave their armchair.

You owe it to your readers to confront the big scenes.

As an exercise, try writing JUST big scenes - especially if you're a little afraid of them. 

I think you'll find that they're very satisfying to complete, even if they might take just a little longer to get right.

Get straight into the action. 

Keep the sentences relatively short and describe ONLY what is happening.

I'm sure you'll benefit - and so will your readers.

Keep Writing!
 rob at home


"Inspiration is always just one thought away." Rob Parnell


The Writing Academy

Welcome to the official blog of Rob Parnell's Writing Academy, updated weekly - sometimes more often!