Alison Goodman: Scene diagnosis

March 25th, 2016

Alison Goodman is an Australian writer of Young Adult fiction, including YA historical supernatural fiction set in the Regency period.

Her seminar looked at four different diagnositic tools that can be used to analyse a scene to work out if it works, and what can be improved.

Useful tools to take your scenes to the next level.

Goal and need: 


  • External and known by protagonist
  • A conscious desire

And / Or


  • Hidden and not known
  • The psychological growth necessary for your protagonist
  • An unconscious desire
  • Something that the protagonist must learn to become whole

For the strongest story, these should be in contradiction

How the go about goal – often based on false belief


Chris Corbett – How stories work

March 25th, 2016

Chris Corbett has written over forty hours of television – including episodes of MISS FISHER’S MURDER MYSTERIES, STINGERS, THE DOCTOR BLAKE MYSTERIES, BLUE HEELERS, THE SECRET LIFE OF US, MCLEOD’S DAUGHTERS and ALL SAINTS. He also wrote and produced the short films FENCES and THE APPLICANT which have screened at various festivals around the world including Tropfest and the Aspen Shortsfest. He has taught screenwriting at RMIT’s Professional Screenwriting Course, AFTRS, Open Channel, Melbourne University Summer Film School and at the Victorian College of the Arts.

Chris shared with us his expertise for writing scripts (which translates well to writing stories), which he structured around asking a series of questions.  So without any further ado, here are Chris Corbett’s Questions to ask of any story:

Question 1:  What is the world of the story? 

  • Is it distinct and interesting?
  • Could the story happen somewhere else or are there reasons it can only happen there?
  • What are the things the audience needs to know about this world in order to understand the story?  Eg Monsters Inc we need to know a lot of setup in the first few minutes
  • In Romeo and Juliet we need to know that this is a world where you must have your parents’ approval for your choice of partner
  • In Breaking Bad we need to know that this is set in America which does not have universal health care – so a cancer treatment can bankrupt you and leave your surviving family destitute.  The same story wouldn’t happen in Canada, France or Australia
  • Edge of Tomorrow and About Time are set in worlds that have specific rules that the story relies on

For the rest of the baker’s dozen questions, read on. (more…)

How to plot a pageturner: C.S. Pacat

November 1st, 2015

Plotting to create ‘narrative traction’, the page turning quality that drives readers through a book (and keeps them up until 3am)



  1. To learn new way of thinking about both writing and reading that raises your awareness of how page turning quality is created
  2. To learn techniques and strategies for  writing narrative traction


What is plot?

  • Plot is just one thing after another – plot is what happens
  • Plot is the book’s middle, beginning, and end
  • Traditional Three Act structure – plot has a shape


Act 1

Inciting incident – client commissions for a job


Act 2

Dark moment


Act 3

Build up to climax


Narrative traction 

  • Is the page-turning quality that drives readers through a book
  • It is not generated by accident
  • Use of specific techniques to create the desired result

Tension is NOT narrative traction

  • It is the promise that what is about the happen is something that the reader wants
  • It occurs when we believe that what is about to happen is even more interesting that what is happening now [my emphasis]
  • Not the same thing as escalation
  • Interest shifts to what happens next


Opening keynote address: Graham Simsion – Men in romance

November 1st, 2015

Graham Simsion is the author of The Rosie Project, background is in script writing

He is the only person who could have written The Rosie Project, but everyone has the ability to write their own story.

Male protagonist (Don) was easy to write, Rosie was the hardest – was originally called Clara but she was too much of a magical pixie dream girl so Simsion worked with his wife to create a believable realistic background


Pitch Perfect

August 27th, 2015

Kate Cuthbert (Escape digital imprint) and Sue Brockhoff (Harlequin Single Title) 


Pitching is way to get attention, get to know editor or publishing house

Good way of getting manuscript in front of editor


Before you pitch:

Are you ready?


  • Who are you pitching to?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What are they not looking for?
  • What are their parameters? Eg genres and subgenres, word length etc (category is 50 – 60k, while single title is around 80k – 90k)
  • Do your plans and theirs coincide?


Breakout 5: Self-Defence For Women: How To Write a Fight Scene – RWAus14

August 28th, 2014

Susanna Rogers – 2nd degree black belt in kickboxing, published romance author.  Publishes under the name Nina Blake 

  • likes to feel powerful
  • teaches kickboxing
  • can’t run, catch or throw, but can kick and punch


When in stressful situation or danger:  fight or flight mechanism kicks in

Physiological changes include:

  • heart rate rises
  • increased blood flow to muscles
  • pupils dilate
  • non essential things slow down (digestion stops)

There is a third factor that is rarely mentioned:  freeze


Breakout 4: The Dark Side: Psychology, psychopathy and stalking – RWAus14

August 26th, 2014

I have to admit that I had a great time at the dinner on Saturday night, and went to a room party afterwards.  I decided to sleep in a bit on Sunday morning so I missed the first session of the day (which was noted as TBA in my schedule anyway), and got there in time for my first breakout session.


The Dark Side:  Psychology, psychopathy and stalking

Professor Karl Roberts

  • Chair and Profess of Policing and Criminal Justice, University of Western Sydney
  • Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology, University of Massachusetts, MA
  • Expert witness in the UK

This was an excellent, informative session, and provided a lot of information and ideas for those writing crime, suspense, romantic suspense, mystery, thriller or other sub-gentres in the crime category.  Over all I would say it was one of the best all weekend, aside from the Friday workshop.

HOWEVER – and I don’t want to direct this at anyone specific (and I probably wouldn’t know their names anyway) – it also suffered from one of my pet hates.

Professor Roberts took questions from the floor from the start.  People were asking specific questions that presumably related to what their own story.  He jumped to the end of his presentation and despite saying he would go back, he didn’t really.  The whole presentation got derailed by those who only wanted to discuss psychopathy because it related to their own writing.  A lot of the information in his slides wasn’t even shown to us let alone discussed (I think a lot of it was on the psychology, but I’m not sure).

While I had some questions myself, I refrained from asking them at the time.  He provided us with his email address and said he was happy to answer questions we have that way.  I hope that in the future people will be less selfish about hogging the presenter’s time, because I for one was extremely frustrated we missed out on so much content.

And I would suggest that in future, all questions other than clarifications be kept to the end.

And now, on to the presentation we did get:

What do forensics psychologists do?

  • focus on human behaviour
  • assessment
  • human performance
  • explanation of motivation
  • clinical – psychological problems
  • forensic – specific application to crime and offending


Breakout 3: Revision & Self-Editing: James Scott Bell – RWAuS14

August 24th, 2014

Revision and Self-Editing for Publication (2nd edition) James Scott Bell


No manuscript is ever submitted exactly the same as it will be published – revisions will be required.   Just accept that.

Have a strategic approach to revision to make it consistent and easier.

Robert Heinlein’s 2 rules for writing

1.  You must write
2.  You must finish what you write

You will learn the most about writing a novel by making yourself complete one – and learning how to fix things

JSB’s corollary: 

3.   You must learn your craft as you write

eg  Read books on writing and craft, go to conferences, learn technique


 JSB rule:

don’t bore the reader


Breakout 1: Small town secrets: Jenn J. McLeod – RWAus14

August 15th, 2014

Jenn J. McLeod is an Australian author, who writes rural romance set in small towns.

This is the first time she has presented a panel, and although I am not particularly interested in RuRo myself, I thought the topic looked interesting for someone writing crime or thriller stories.  The secrets part features highly in those, and I am always interested in how these can be presented.  And I admit it, I got flashbacks to reading Miss Marple stories, which were usually set in small country towns.

The panel was very interesting, and hopefully I will be able to incorporate some of these elements into my story.   I also picked up Jenn’s book House for all Seasons, the first book in a tetrology.  It is a chance to find out if she knows what she is talking about (so far so good!)


Welcome to Friction Farm –  get ready to: 

  • seed some stories
  • plant some plot twists
  • foster some friction

Rural fiction is changing to a broader readership

There has been a shift away from poetic portrayals of country life

  • lots of personalities
  • potential for conflict


Why small towns work in novels:

if someone new comes to town, people know about it

if something changes, people know about it

if there is a scandal, people know about it

~ Juliet Maddison


Writing the knockout novel: Pt 7 – RWAus14

August 10th, 2014

How to write Dazzling Dialogue for your characters.


  • Dialogue is a compression and extension of action


The 8 essentials:

1. It has an agenda
Every character who says something in a scene should want something
A way to create instant conflict is to have characters express different agendas via dialogue

2. Flows from character to character
Make it sound natural, what that character would say
Don’t do an info dump via dialogue

3. Conflict or tension

4. Just right in tone

5.  Just right for each character:

  • Vocabulary (education, social class)
  • Expressions (peer group, regionalisms)
  • Syntax (word order, native vs non native speaker)

6. Try to put something unpredictable in every scene
Might be an action (egtapdancing on a boardroom table)
Might say something unpredictable

7. Compressed
Cut it back
More white space for reader
Make it less wordy

8. Subtext
Like an iceburg
Scene is taking place on the surface
What is not said is based on what is below the surface

  • Eg Character web
  • Back story
  • Theme

More details under the break


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