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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How to Create Compelling Characters

Dear Fellow Writer,

I hope you're well and happy - and that your writing is going well.

Thank you if you bought my latest Amazon book, The Easy Way to Write Romance That Sells - many of you did because it went straight in at number one in the Writing Skills category!


Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern

Robyn has a new book out today. It's a fun story for kids about who's better at cricket: boys or girls! Go HERE for that. 

How To Create Compelling Characters

Rob Parnell 
A character's individual agenda will usually become what drives your story but first you need readers to care about your hero. So what can you do to make your characters instantly compelling?

Readers often root for characters that are innocent victims - or who are subjected to forces that are beyond their control. The girl running from the psychopath or a lost child, or an employee set upon by her boss, or a man struggling against the natural world. Even a nun or a prisoner. All of these characters have the ability to instantly illicit sympathy from the reader.

People like to identify with characters in danger. Think James Bond or Harrison Ford at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although the viewer has no inkling of the character the first time they meet them, they want them to escape / beat the bad guys and triumph.

Jeopardy works for any characters involved in a life or death situation. Whether it's Clarice Starling at the beginning of the book Hannibal - she's FBI but that doesn't stop her from being terrified of an upcoming shootout. Or Carrie, where a teenage girl is taunted by her schoolmates for having her first period in the famous shower scene at the beginning of Brian de Palma's movie (based on the book of course.)

Ideally your character should be instantly likable. It's hard not to root for someone who cares for the sick or let's an old lady have a seat on the bus.

Show your character being kind - don't just say, He's kind and caring, your reader won't believe it unless you show the teacher helping a student, or a father coaching his son on how to ride a bike.

Open with the Character
As I mentioned above, it's hard for us humans not to like the first person we're introduced to. James Herbert, the British author, used to play with this aspect of our expectations in his novels. He would show the reader a character, describe them in detail and just when you liked them the most, he would kill them off! A clever twist on the guidelines - but I wouldn't recommend you do it too often!

Skilled Individuals
People are naturally drawn to characters that are obviously good at what they do. Have you ever wondered why you might identify with a bad guy who is a good killer, a thief who succeeds in stealing a fortune in jewels, or a computer hacker that can bring down the CIA's mainframe? These are all examples of how we automatically admire great skill in others, no matter how nefarious.

Of course the same rule applies if the character is a good guy, using his skill to the benefit of others.

Familiar Settings
Deep down, we all want to believe we're the same - and have the same values. We treasure life, freedom, choice and the right to live our lives in comfort. At the beginning of a story, we like to see people doing ordinary things and living a good life (at least for while, until it gets boring!) You'll probably have noticed that this how the majority of horror stories start: the happy family, the good life, the innocence of youth etc. Horror stories use this convention because it's a very powerful way of drawing the reader into a highly believable situation before the 'unbelievable' happens.

Flaws and Foibles
This was one of the first pieces of advice I got from a literary agent. Make your characters quirky, he said. Of course I took it to heart and made all of my characters slightly odd with irritating personal habits.

I think the trick is not to go over the top - and present slight flaws and charming foibles that will endear your reader to your characters to the reader.

We should accept that there's something about the idea of having superhuman powers that intrigues us as a species. Perhaps it's related to the prehistoric myths regarding a time when gods allegedly roamed the planet - or perhaps it's more down to earth than that.

Perhaps as humans we always aspire to be more than we are, and would like to identify with being a superman or wonder woman - though why we need snazzy costumes to appear impressive is anybody's guess!

Be the Reader
One of the simplest ways of drawing in a reader is to tell the 'I' story. First person is eternally compelling but new writers often misunderstand why this is.

When a reader reads a story from the perspective of the writer, they are not generally identifying the writer as the kind of person they can relate to. No, in essence, they become the character. They share his world view while they are reading. The character is the reader. Many writers shy away from revealing themselves in writing but, counter logically, revealing your deepest and darkest thoughts is what the reader wants in order to fully identify with the 'I' character.

However it should be remembered that, when writing from the first person point of view you, the author, should not be in the story. The reader is only interested in the character and ultimately only in themselves in your character's shoes.

Character identification is part of a sacred pact between an author and the reader. The good writer understands that it is not the story or your writing that is important.

It is the reader's eagerness to become your character that defines your skill as a writer.

Keep Writing!
 rob at home
Rob Parnell
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nine Tales of Terror - a short story compilation from Rob Parnell

Dear Fellow Writer,

Something a bit different this week because I'm proud to announce the release of my very special short story collection, Nine Tales of Terror.

I've been working on getting this released for over a year now - collecting (and re-typing!) my published stories from anthologies, magazines and web posts. I'd lost all the originals in a computer crash - my guess is you know what that's like!

The article today explores the writing journey that ended in the creation of Nine Tales of Terror.

Keep Writing!
Your Success is My Concern

The Making of a Short Story Compilation

Rob Parnell 

One of the things about being a writing teacher is that you're often asked about your own writing. It's understandable. Writers want to be convinced that your advice is solid. And that you 'show' your teaching and don't just 'tell'!

In Nine Tales of Terror I hope I can demonstrate that some of the tips and techniques I teach actually do work!

A few years back I took a course on character creation and worked hard on creating a character that would become a hero for some of my stories. Enter Patrick Whynowski (pronounced Wonnoff), a rock musician of Irish/Polish descent who, along with Detective Inspector Theresa Maddox, explore supernatural crimes.

My original intention was to create a compilation of Patrick and Theresa stories entitled the Bad Blood Chronicles. I wrote about a dozen - many of which have since been lost. But three of the stories remain in Nine Tales. 

Dead Time - the violent murder of a beautiful teenager was committed fifteen years ago. The only witness is now a ghost that resides within the walls of a recording studio. A young psychic is on the trail of the killer - until she too is brutally slain. Ex-rock star Patrick Whynowski and Detective Inspector Theresa Maddox form an unlikely alliance to solve the crimes before the killer strikes again.

Writers often ask me about writing software. Sometimes it seems as though what people desire is for the software to do the writing for them! I wanted to put together a story where that actually happened!

Download - when Ken takes off time from his family and job to finish his novel, he doesn't expect his computer to have other ideas. Locked in a caravan with only his thoughts and his writing skills, Ken must use all his wits - and then some - to fight the software download that might just end up being the death of him.

I picked up a police magazine from my step-mother's house (Robyn's brother is a cop) and read about an horrendous case that was so awful I felt nobody would believe it actually happened without some exploration of the characters involved, hence:  

Unpaid Loan - All she wants is her money back but Shirley is a spoilt young rich kid who doesn't know about life on the other side of town. Loosely based on a true event, this story explores the depths of human depravity.

I visited Cambodia some time ago and was struck by the fact that there are so many children there - 86% of the population is under thirty - mainly because most of their parents were killed in a war that lasted over thirty years. It was a bit like being in a bizarre Peter Pan movie. The Naga came out of that.

The Naga - Jimmy takes a trip to Cambodia looking for peace and maybe something more spiritual amongst the ancient ruins of Angkor Watt. But there's a serial killer on the loose - or perhaps it's the dragon god of the Khmer people, wreaking revenge.

I read that one of my writing heroes, Graham Masterton, collects stories of mythological creatures and legends from all over the world for his stories and novels. I kind of do the same - which is how I heard about a stryga - a witch type creature who can become a beautiful girl to seduce men and then kill them after sex.

The Stryga - Something vicious is terrorizing Patrick and his rock band. The Stryga mates with guys and then rips them to shreds. Is this creature from beyond the ultimate cure for infidelity?

Talking of ancient legends - I've always liked the idea of re-writing nursery rhymes into horror stories. You know how it is - certain stories we tell kids have important messages - like Little Red Riding Hood. (Don't trust strangers etc) Hansel and Gretel is one of those stories (Don't get lost in the woods!) 

Strange Brew - When a couple go for a hike in the woods, they lose their way and end up in the house of a witch. Sound familiar? Yep, it's Hansel and Gretel brought into the modern age, with more terrifying and more graphic consequences.

Again, looking for ancient legends, I found reference to an irish spirit called a 'Puca" - a kind of ancient shapeshifter. Add in my hero, Patrick, and his family and you get:

Lair of the Puca - In Ireland there's a legend of a shape-shifter called the Puca. It can take any form it chooses. Now, it's chosen to become a savage killing machine bent on destroying Patrick's family. This is the third installment of The Bad Blood Chronicles.

I used to belong to a writer's group and they were almost all science fiction writers. They dared me to write an SF story. Now, SF works (usually) on the presence of a hi-tech artifact around which the plot revolves. I chose an animal! 

Common Ground - In the future there will be nowhere left to roam. All the land has been taken by a civilization struggling to exist in hi-tech pods. But amidst the people, there's love for Shenmi and Jonto, despite the interference of Dnez, the gorgeous star of Shenmi's new play. On Regus, people bond for seven cycles and have a pet that monitors - and feeds off - their affection.

Finally, I wanted to think of a horror premise I hadn't seen before. There's been haunted houses and scary basements but I though, what about a haunted cupboard?

The Closet - Imagine you have a cupboard in your house where everything you put disappears. What would you do? How much of your life would you want to get rid of? And how many people could you safely dispose of?

I hope you enjoy my enchanted foray into the supernatural and bizarre. Take a look at my new collection of short stories by clicking on the link below! Also, after you've read them, could you leave a review on Amazon?

I'd appreciate that very much!

Keep Writing!
 rob at home
"God made man because he loves stories." Rabbi Nachman

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Writers Need Space (to Write In!)

Dear Fellow Writer,

Respect to you this week for helping get my book, The Easy to Write Short Stories That Sell, into the Amazon Kindle TOP TEN!

It's been an amazing week - and I have you to thank!

Oddly enough I also did an interview this week. Not about writing - but about my (short) former life as a musician. You can read about that here. There's even a recording of a 1980s EMI single which they must have found (even I don't have a copy anymore!)

Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern

Do YOU want to be a successful independent author? Click on the pic! Independent Authoring

Writers Need Space (to Write In!)

Rob Parnell

Getting what you want in this world is an act of will over nature. If the natural un-tethered state of things is to move towards chaos, then humanity is here to inject order. And to create order we must make decisions about what makes our lives better, more comfortable and more effective, if possible without causing too much strife and discomfort to nature, to what's already good, or to those around us.

It's all very well having a Zen like respect for the universe, and a belief in karma, but we humans are designed to be creative. And as we know from physics, things cannot be created from nothing - it is all disassembled and reorganized energy.  

So in a sense all creativity is disruptive. And often the most disruptive thing a writer can do is to insist on having a writing space somewhere in their living quarters!

 I fought for years to get my own writing space. It was hard when I had no writing career to speak of. Trying to convince partners that I should be allowed to take over an entire room to have as my own was an uphill struggle. Often too, when I did take over a room and decorate it to my satisfaction, my partners would then decide I'd made the space perfect for some other purpose: a guest bedroom, a child's play area or even once, an ideal studio apartment for paying tenants. Gah!

It was easy enough when I was single. Simply putting a cheap desk in my bedroom usually did the trick. If the bedroom wasn't big enough, the kitchen table had to suffice. In one shared house I converted the cupboard under the stairs - which wasn't big enough to stand in and had no windows - or much air for that matter!

Stephen King used to write in the basement of his house, close to a hot water pipe that acted as a radiator in the cold months. He wrote in there during the evenings to, you guessed it, get away from the sound of the TV - the writer's perennial distraction.

Philip K Dick used to rent a tumbledown shack a couple of miles away from his apartment, so that he felt like he was 'going to work' to write, rather than stay at home and do nothing or get distracted by his (usually nagging) partner.
Meeting Robyn, my darling wife, also a full time writer since 1998, was a godsend. Not only did she already have a writing room of her own, she understood implicitly that writers need their own space. When we moved in together, two rooms were automatically set aside as writing spaces, one for each of us. I write and run my writing business from my office - my dream space, surrounded by thousands of reference books and files, all my toys, and more technology than I could have ever dreamed of owning!

The only thing I don't have in the room is a phone - but that's probably just me. Hate the things. Over the years I've noticed the only people who frequently disturb you during the day are telemarketers - and bill collectors. And who needs them?

At the end of the day, it's not the physical writing space that's as important as the 'writing space in your head'. The room is really a giant trigger. You need it so that as soon as you walk in and sit down, your mind goes into writing mode, automatically.

There's a psychological advantage too. When you're not writing you often feel guilty if you're just thinking or staring into space. However, when you have a writing room, these activities take on a whole new dimension! A couple times a day I lean back in my executive chair, put my feet on the desk and close my eyes. Guess what? I'm still working! Because as far as I'm concerned, if I'm in my room, I'm in work mode - even when I'm surfing idly or watching YouTube - it's all research and 'writing related' to me, simply because I'm in my writing room.

Having your own desk and workspace is taken for granted in the corporate world. You wouldn't dream of employing someone and then not give them a PC, a phone, a desk, a chair and space in a cubicle. It's fundamental to productivity. So why would you think you don't need these things in a home office?

My advice is, wherever you live, no matter what the circumstance, you aim to get your own writing space - and, even if it's just the corner of a bed, an outhouse, or a cold step somewhere, you should begin to regard that space as sacred.

Because it is sacred - or will become so as time goes by. Once you've written for any length of time in your sacred writing space, then being blocked is an impossibility.

The mind loves routine. The more you do something in the same environment, the better able your mind is able to switch to the requirements of that setting. It's like training an animal to always sleep in the same place. It's the same phenomenon. We're creatures of habit. Once you understand that, you'll see the benefit of manufacturing the writing habit through self discipline and subconscious triggers - like your desk, chair, computer and personal writing effects.

You need everything that motivates you within reach. Your dictionaries, writer's market guides, encyclopedias, and your favorite writing resources should be only a step - or preferably an arm's length - away. Fill your space with personal trinkets that inspire you. I have a statue of Thoth - the Egyptian god of writing - on my desk. A bust of Beethoven, a banker's lamp, a rock crystal, a remote control toy helicopter and incense burning paraphernalia. All things that make me feel at home. I have pictures on the walls of past projects: book covers; play, film and writing-talk posters. I have a white board that I fill with inspiring quotes by other writers or people I admire. It all helps make my personal writing space feel special. And I believe it works wonders for my creativity.    

But what you mustn't do is to fill your writing space with distractions.

Once you have something in your room that persistently takes you away from writing: remove it. Banish it.

In one writing space I had back in the UK I wrote on a computer that had games on it. I was forever flipping over the screen to complete just one more level. It was disastrous for my long term concentration level - and profitability!
These days, I don't have any computer games preloaded on my writing computers. And when I'm writing, I switch off the internet connection. You can't concentrate properly if emails or updates are constantly 'pinging' when you should be focused on your next sentence!

Remember, writing is all about habit - and you have to get used to having only good habits in your writing space. The sacred is closely related to 'ritual'. And rituals require strict adherence if they're going to be meaningful - and helpful to you.
Keep Writing!

 rob at home
Rob Parnell
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What To Write In Your Author Blog

Dear Fellow Writer,

Thanks for being a subscriber. I very much appreciate your support.

We live in a marvelous time for writers.

It's now possible to carve out a career as an independent writer without having to rely on the support or endorsement of faceless corporate giants who actually don't have the resources to deal with all the talent in the world.

We can now go it alone -  and sell millions of our books - and we don't have to share the proceeds with agents, publishers or indeed anyone else who might stand between our writing and our fans.

Join the revolution!

Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern

Want to be the next millionaire Amazon author? Click on the pic!

Independent Authoring

What to Write In Your Author Blog

Rob Parnell

Your journey as a writer is probably going to be your starting point. This is good - because this is precisely what will make your blog engaging.

As a writer trying to promote yourself you have an advantage. You don't have to extol the virtues of a product or service. You don't have to construct a thesis on moral philosophy or a manual on the ethics of space travel before you begin a blog.

Most writer's first blog post is usually about the writer constructing their first blog post - and that's fine. That's engaging, sweet and honest - all good qualities to begin a blog with.

Later you can talk about whatever you like. But try to always bring it back to the writing. You can write about any experience, event or circumstance - but then try to make it relevant to either you, the author, or your writing, whatever that may be.

Blog posts can be short too. 200 words is fine. More than a 1000 words and you're pushing the envelop anyway. Less is often more, as the saying goes.
If I'm stuck for things to say - which rarely happens - I'll make a list of ten possible titles for blog posts. Then I'll pick one the next time I need an idea. Generally I prefer to wait until the last minute and come up with an idea on the spot - and write that.

I find this latter approach helps if I want to say something about a piece of news or something a subscriber asked me - or whatever else has been creeping around my head that week! I think the trick is to be constantly on the look out for topics to blog about. It becomes a habit. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Pick a day during the week for your blog post - and stick to it. At various times in the past I've written blog posts every day. Personally I think that's too often - but I know that for some authors, daily posts work well for them. For a long time I wrote just one a week, every Friday morning.

I write two a week now - one for the Easy Way to Write and one for the Author Blog. But I think it's easier for me because I'm a compulsive writer these days. Just once a week is good I think, nice and easy and, most importantly for a writer, habit forming.

Rules of Engagement

I once wrote a blog about how to be popular online. I can't find it now - obviously Google didn't think it was worth immortalizing either - but in it I emphasized that there are certain rules it's best to abide by if you want your blogs to become popular and 'follow-worthy'.

After all, the primary reason why you're blogging is to attract followers, readers and potential buyers of your books. What you don't want to do is annoy folks, insult strangers or be so controversial you become some hated enemy of the people!

Light and fun. That's really the style you should adopt. Being angry and bitter can get you some notice - but it's generally short lived and hard to recover credibility from.

Funny is great. If you have a talent for writing humorous stuff, go for it.
Most times you'll just want to be interesting, informative and educational. That's where most successful bloggers excel - imparting information that is helpful to the reader, that solves a problem for them or offers a solution.

Many writers blog about how you can improve your writing and your book sales for instance.

The important thing is to be giving. You're not in competition with other authors. We're all in this together. And other writers can often become your strongest and most passionate advocates.

I read an ebook by a well known writer the other day (I won't name him) which said he thought having other writers as your subscribers was a waste of time. Counter productive. I don't agree.

Whilst I agree that ideally authors want readers and book buyers as subscribers, it would be a mistake to regard other writers as superfluous. Far from it. Writers are often the most voracious of readers of all. Plus, having a writer as a fan is pretty much the greatest compliment you can get in my view!

It's all down to your personality - and how you come across. If you're open and honest you'll attract the readers and subscribers that respond to your personality, your values and your integrity.  The thing to remember is that if you're writing for readers, you don't want to dwell too heavily on the writing process. Reader are more interested in the stories, your characters and your and their relationships with those characters.

I see much advice around these days that asserts that you should try to be different.

I'm not sure I agree.

I believe that unique is good - but that is achieved by being yourself.

If you're just deliberately trying to be different - as in obtuse, obscure or by playing devil's advocate, I'm not sure that will do you any good. Having been online for over a decade I've noticed one profound fact:

Most people don't want different. They more consistently want reinforcement of what they already believe.

Plus, if you're a writer of a particular genre, readers have certain expectations as to how you should act, think and what you might aspire to. You need to bear these things in mind as you blog. If you write children's books, for instance, I don't think your average reader will want to read about your drunken promiscuous orgies in Cancun…

Do this now: go to www.blogspot.com and get yourself a FREE blog. Use your own name as the blog title and send out your first blog post about being an author.

Connect your blog to your Gmail account (I think you have to do this anyway) and then get on to Google+. Invite all the friends in your address book and start following other writers.

Within half an hour you'll be on your first step to independent authorship!
Keep Writing!
 rob at home

“Every new writer is but a new crater of an old volcano." Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Writing Academy

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