"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: April 2016

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Location in Fiction: Where to Set Your Stories for Best Effect - and Easier Writing!

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When it comes to writing fiction, there are numerous advantages to creating a make-believe setting - whether it be a house, a street, a town or even a whole country.

Not only do you not need to worry about the little things like train and bus schedules, what time the sun sets, what kinds of flowers bloom where etc., you've also got free rein on all the buildings, the streets, the municipal systems, even the type of government.

Thorough writers who set their fiction in the real world can spend a lot of time checking police procedures, technology and how real places look, feel and operate.

When you make everything up - you save on all that research.

Okay, you still need to use you mind to imagine everything but no-one can ever turn round to you and say you got something wrong - because it just can't be wrong!

You can use semi real places that are fictional so you don't have to worry about total veracity.

Because, unless you're writing fantasy or science fiction, you don't need to go so far as to invent everything.

Many writers choose to invent just the town (and the people in it) and leave the country and state and its political system intact.

This is good way to create something credible without being a slave to the truth.

One major disadvantage is that readers have gotten used to modern fiction being set in real places - sometimes they even expect it.

Therefore, if you present a fictional town, some readers will baulk and cry: well, if that's not real, how can I begin to believe anything else this author tells me!

Some readers may feel cheated that you, as the author, are playing God and consequently can shape the 'rules' in your world.

This may hinder their willing suspension of disbelief.

Plus, there's the need to identify.

People like things to hold on to - things that feel real.

Sometimes one of the advantages of setting your story in New York, Paris or London can be the reader is filling in the details for you.

Place a reader in a nebulous, unfamiliar environment and they'll feel lost unless you describe the place fully - which may in turn slow down the pace of the story.

Stephen King's Castle Rock is a very familiar place - he uses it in many of his novels.

What many people don't realize is that this place is completely imaginary.

Sure, it's based on several places in Maine but it's designed to be a credible backdrop - rather than a real place.

Kathy Reichs uses real Canadian cities as the backdrops to her novels - describing them with a freshness that makes them very real - especially to readers who may never have experienced them first hand.

It's interesting that her stories have been moved to the US, and more specifically Washington for the TV viewing public - in the shape of Bones. One of my favorite shows.

Talking of great shows I love Elementary and the way they've put Sherlock Holmes and Watson in modern day New York.


Plus I love the theme tune by Sean Callery.

JK Rowling uses a combination of real English places like London and Oxford and imaginary locations like Hogwarts to root her reality in real life but also give her the latitude to take her readers on a magical adventure.

There's no right or wrong way to do these things.

Only one rule is important.

Whether your location is real or imaginary, it must be believable.

So - if you're tempted to invent a city, where do you start?

Make a map.

Start small - with just one street and move outward from there.

Some of my stories (two novels and about a dozen short stories) are set in a fictional town - loosely based on the place I grew up in - called West Ridge (or sometimes Westbridge in the UK).

I have a map - it's just a sheet of A4 I have near my desk when I'm write those stories.

Sometimes I will add to it if I decide I want one of my characters to take a walk round a park or drive over a bridge, or whatever.

The best part is that it's organic - it grows larger and more complex with every story.

It has bars, clubs, shops, roads, hills, rivers, housing estates, statues, parks, fountains and - best of all, it's as real to me as the keys on this laptop!

Why not invent your own city - if you like.

It can be a lot of fun.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success Is My Concern

Any suggestions for videos, feedback, requests for guidance, all welcome.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why Does Fiction Matter?

There are some strange folks out there who say they don’t like fiction. 

Or rather, they perhaps just don’t understand its purpose.

Many people say they never read fiction because it’s not TRUE, so what’s the point?

To any budding novelist this attitude is as heinous as it is incomprehensible. 

Unfortunately it is also surprisingly common.

My Dad, for one, thinks that reading novels is just too hard so he’s never bothered with them.

When I asked him to read one of my books once he said, “Son, just tell me what happens.” 

One of his favorite lines about books is, “If it’s any good, they’ll make a movie out of it.”

How many times have you heard this?

Often I’m sure - not least because it’s true!

The implication here is obvious. 

To non-readers, it’s not the writing that’s important. 

It’s the story.

While great writing might profoundly impress writers like you and me, most people just want the message, rather than the medium.

I would say people like stories for four main reasons:



Validation and,

To gain hope & salvation

These reasons have been the ‘point’ of telling and listening to stories since the beginning of time.

As a species, we need them.

They divert our attention from the mundane and take us out of ourselves for a while.

They can show us things we didn’t know about ourselves and others. 

We may gain valuable new perspectives to help us to better understand our neighbors, foreigners, even our enemies.

We need stories to make us feel better about ourselves--as human beings, as well as personalities. 

That’s why we like to identify with heroes and warriors--indeed, anyone who can show us how to overcome obstacles.

We need stories to help us make sense of life and the world around us.

In real life, there are no beginnings and endings, just infinite sequences.

You know how it is. 

You listen to the news. 

Everything is a segment, a teaser, a sample of every day life. 

Nothing makes sense because there’s no structure.

Without the confines that fiction offers us, we are drowning in a bewildering sea of actions and feelings and urges with no meaning.

And no end in sight.

Stories ‘frame’ real life into manageable chunks that have tangibility, involvement and purpose, whether for us individually or as a race.

Surely that’s what we were placed on this earth to do!

To make sense of who we are and why we are here.

And THAT'S why fiction matters!

Keep writing!

Any comments, suggestions for topics, let me know - oh, and subscribe to The Easy Way to Write!

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

What Is BAD Writing?

Let's first decide what is good writing.

Basically, anything that transports you as a reader is good. 

In a sense, it doesn't matter if the writing has lots of faults. 

Good writing is that which works for you - even though others might not agree. 

It's a personal thing.

Bad writing can work for your mother, your spouse or your best friends. 

They will not see the faults - and sometimes, neither will you.

But good writing is what moves many people - and for all the right reasons. 

This is why best selling authors are by definition good writers, even though the purists might criticize their style.

I've seen many arguments on writers' groups over the years about J K Rowling. 

It's fairly widely acknowledged (among writers) that her writing style leaves a lot to be desired. 

She breaks a lot of the rules of good writing but, her fans say, that's not important. 

Her mission is to tell great stories - which she's clearly very good at - and so who's to say she's a bad writer?

How can millions of readers be wrong?

Does her constant head-hopping really matter - even when it grates so much?

I used to have this same argument with musicians. 

It's easy for purists and cynics to say 'Taylor Swift is crap' but I would say that she must be talented and wonderful simply because she's so incredibly popular. 

To me, success is the benchmark.

If someone can inspire adoration, sales and loyal followers then surely you have to say they must be talented.

And writers who can inspire millions with their words must be good at what they do.

You might not like Dan Brown's writing style. 

I've heard many writers criticize him - but you can't ignore the profound effect his writing has had on the public. 

I've read all of his books - and I can't believe he makes us wait so long in between each one!

And sure, there are many tell tale signs of ineffective writing. 

Bad grammar, a clunky self consciousness, almost absurd verbosity…  

But don't let the mechanics - or rules - get you down.

Many would be great storytellers get so worried about their writing style, with all its faults, that they stop themselves from writing - for fear of embarrassing themselves.

But this is not productive.

Only writing is productive.

Sure. Pick up the rules as you go along - but don't stop yourself from writing. 

Listen to what others say and make adjustments but never believe you're not as good as anyone else.

Having read a million or so manuscripts in the last 30 years I would say there is only one really bad way to write.

And that is when an author deliberately sets out to write to IMPRESS.

You can tell they're saying, "Look at me, look at my writing! Aren't I great, isn't my writing superb!" 

Because, ironically, this has precisely the opposite effect on the reader.

They might not quite understand why they don't like it - but that niggling feeling that the author wants you to be impressed with them can be very irritating to read.

In a perfect world, the author must disappear from view. 

The only important thing is the story - or in non fiction, the information.

The interesting thing to me is that once authors grasp this fact, their writing seems to get better on its own.

Because the rules of writing are simply there to help clarify your meaning to readers. 

And good writing is clear writing.

Bad writing is that which is confusing, deliberately obscure or simply hard to read. 

It may be perfectly grammatical and error free but, let's face it, if it's dull and uninspiring, it's bad writing.

Till next time,

Keep Writing!

Any comments, suggestions, writers tips, let me know


Your Success is My Concern

The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Easy Way to Write Explained

Well, it had to happen at some point: Episode 13. 

To be honest I’m not all that superstitious - much.

So I decided to make this one about the whole point of my existence!

The Easy Way to Write - What's it all About?

First of all I should state for the record, that I believe the most surefire way of improving your writing is simply to write more.

Studying is one thing.

I try my hardest to offer good advice on genre requirements and writing style to make it easier for you to compete in the marketplace and get published.

What I don't do is force you to study other writers and how they go about what they do.

I think focusing on how a particular author gets their results is to slightly misunderstand the point of writing.

If you take a tertiary degree in order to study writing, you will be presented with lots of theories as to how writers go about creating stories and all the options available to a writer trying to emulate them.

But to me this is counter-intuitive.

Just because you have analyzed how Dickens or Conrad or Stephen King have achieved the final draft of their manuscripts, the knowledge doesn't necessarily help you when drafting your own stories or books.

Writing is a process.

Analyzing the final product tends to leave you in awe - and intimidated - when you should realize that a lot of changes and rewriting went on in order for the final product to look and seem so effortless.

That doesn't mean it was easy for the author, or that they didn't make lots of mistakes along the way - of course they did.

Nor does it mean that you shouldn't attempt to write something just as good.

When I write books, I’m often amazed at how different - and how much better - the final drafts are to our first efforts.

This is the process.

Writing is first of all about getting your thoughts down on paper.

Then it's about clarifying those thoughts into a coherent argument - whether it's fiction or non fiction.
Next it's about polishing.

Then it's about rewriting, changing your writing to suit others and especially your readers.

Then it's about submitting to publishers or self publishing.

What writing to me is NOT about is studying the greats over and over only to beat ourselves up into thinking that great writing is beyond you.

The purpose of the Easy Way to Write is to inspire you to get involved in the process of writing - and learn to enjoy it - and learn more as you progress and improve, based on feedback from the real world, not some classroom type environment.

Studying classic writers, while sometimes illuminating (once you know the terms of reference), should not be the focus of a working, or even aspiring writer.

Studying is for students.

Writing is for writers.

I want you to come to the Easy Way to Write and feel encouraged, inspired, energized and raring to write.

That's what the Easy Way to Write is all about.

Keep writing!

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Make comments and suggestions below if you want and take a look at some more of my video courses and books at the links below.


The Writing Academy

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