Breakout 2: The Inside Story: Valerie Parv – RWAus14

Australian auther Valerie Parv is an international best seller, who has sold more than 29 million books.  She writes primarily for Harlequin / Mills & Boone, however she has also written a few books on the art and craft of writing.  I have the revised 2004 edition of The Art of Writing Romance, and also Heart and Craft, which is a collaboration by some of Australia and New Zealand’s top romance authors.  I have found them both interesting and informative books – the way some of them describe their personal writing process is hilarious.

Valerie Parv also has an annual writing award that was established in her name in 1999.  Contestants have to submit the first 10,000 words of a novel, and a 1,000 word synopsis of a romance or romantic elements novel.  The winner is mentored by Valerie for a year, and nearly all the winner have gone on to have top selling books.  She is incredibly generous with her expertise and her time, and often runs workshops at the RWA annual conference.  This was her workshop for the RWA 2014 conference.


How to Draw Your Readers into Your Fictional World 

When you are on facebook, you have a feed of comments and images.  You think that everyone you know sees the same thing, but in fact they have a completely different experience.   Likewise, when you write, you think readers are going to experience the story exactly the way you meant it.  But they will take different elements away from it.


How can we get our readers to see our world exactly the way we intended.  It doesn’t have to be identical, because as long as they are reading they are part of the experience.  However there are techniques to allow readers to get as close as possible to the way we envisaged our story.    Five techniques are detailed below:

1.  Words

  • they should not stand out on the page, or draw attention to themselves
  • strip back words
  • show don’t tell – give them something to do
  • words bring your characters to life

Give the readers the tools to draw a mental picture of what you are writing

  • use descriptive words but avoid tall, small, young, old etc

Put as much emotion as you think you need into the story, and then double it

  • let your readers see the scene through your characters eyes


2.  Consistency

  • no matter the genre, be consistent in the details about your characters and locations
  • once you have put your details down, you are ‘stuck’ with them, you can’t change them later without people noticing
  • eg alien abilities – how they work


3.  Little details – Be specific

  • little details can bring your story to life
  • little details put the reader in the location   eg a Russian swearword if the character is Russian
  • if you mention a tree or flower – what kind of tree or flower?  It will bring an image to mind, and also help anchor a particular season or place
  • you don’t need to put all these details into the story, but know them yourself, it can help colour your manuscript


People can’t distinguish between a vivid dream and an experience that they actually experienced  (research)

  • you want your readers to feel that way from reading your characters and story
  • you want your characters to have agency – do actions that make sense for them to do, not because the writer needs it to happen.


4.  Stretch yourself creatively

  • need to avoid clichés
  • every scene, every chapter, every word – push yourself creatively to stretch yourself

Ask yourself:

  • where is this scene taking place
  • what is happening?
  • what does the scene have to do
  • how can I make this special and different



  • grab bit of paper, number 1 – 20,
  • write different ways the action may happen.  Don’t just or second guess yourself, this is brainstorming
  • As you work your way down the list you will get more and more original ideas.
  • Stick with it, you may be able to combine some of them to get what you need

5.  Don’t try to be perfect

  • Perfectionism is not your friend.
  • You don’t need to have a perfect manuscript before you take the next step


The Known and the New 

known elements

  • found in other stories
  • familiar elements – eg school story, loner investigator, fish out of water

the new

  • what have you added or created that is different


eg Harry Potter


boarding school, underdog friend


magic, wizardry, the magical world


The Big Question 

this is what keeps readers reading, asked through the book (or even a series like Harry Potter)


My story: 

The known:

  • gumshoe detective
  • urban noire feel
  • client needing assistance

the new:

  • fantasy setting
  • non-human characters
  • racial special abilities
  • the feel of the urban fantasy setting

Your thoughts and stuff

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