Pantsters and Pitches

I’ve finished the edits for Billabong Bend, and am having a break from writing. Instead I’m riding my horse, pulling up ragwort in the paddocks and generally enjoying the beauty on offer here at Pilyara. Writing is never very far from my thoughts though, for a new novel is brewing.

pantster 1I’m a pantster at heart. My stories evolve organically. I’d get bored if I already knew everything that was going to happen – and it seems I’m in good company!

“Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort, and the dullard’s first choice.”  ~Stephen King in On Writing

“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through.”  ~Ray Bradbury

pantster 2Ha, take that plotters! 🙂 However the realities of commercial publishing make a degree of planning essential, especially when you’re pitching an unwritten book as I’m doing for the first time. Writing an outline is always tricky, but what if you don’t know precisely what happens yourself? I like to start with a short synopsis, 120 words or so. This can be lengthened or abbreviated as needed. The most useful pitch advice I ever received was a simple formula. This is a story about …….. who wants more than anything to ……… but can’t because ………. ‘If your story doesn’t fit into this template, you don’t have one.’  And my teacher was right. This breaks the narrative down to its bare bones – character, goal and conflict. Take The Wizard Of Oz for example. It’s a story about a little girl named Dorothy, who wants more than anything to go home, but can’t because she’s stuck in a strange land. I used this formula when I pitched my first novel Brumby’s Run to Penguin. ‘It’s a story about a spoilt city girl named Samantha, who wants more than anything to build a fresh future in Victoria’s beautiful high country, but can’t because it means stealing her sister’s life.’ Worked like a charm

panster 3So now I need a pitch for my new novel.
– I’m not too worried that I don’t know how it ends yet. Pitches for me have always worked best when they don’t tell the full story, but finish instead with a hook, an intriguing question.
– I’ll concentrate on character and conflict, and never mention theme. As novelist Sophie Masson says, ‘Themes belong in English studies, not in novel outlines.’
– It will be my very best writing.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, and a heartfelt thank you for your support during the year. Here’s to a wonderful 2014!!!

christmas in the bush

AC Flory – Fab New Indie Author!

Meeka 2It’s great to welcome a terrific new indie author to Pilyara. AC Flory has recently published an intriguing new science fiction novel – Vokhtah. And the wonderful thing is, it will be free on Kindle from March 1st through to March 5th! As a teenager, my brother and I were actually very strong on science fiction. Classic authors like Asimov, Wyndham, Bradbury and Heinlein are still favourites of mine today. AC Flory is a master at world building, and also at telling stories from a non-human point of view. I like that very much! So now it’s over to my guest …

Thanks for inviting me to your blog Jennifer. We write in very different genres, you and I, but one of the things we have in common is a deep passion for the Australian countryside. It seems to go with us wherever we go, and whatever we do.
When I first began writing Vokhtah, back in 2004, I was focused on the main characters, who are all aliens. I needed to create people who were obviously not human, and differed from us in almost every way, from biology and language, to ethics and culture. Yet at the same time I had to find points of overlap.
While I was struggling with my honourable, but sociopathic aliens, I began seeing the world in which they lived as a massive influence on their racial and social development. I began to see Vokhtah as a harsh and unforgiving planet, a crucible for natural selection where only the strong thrived, and the weak became food.
Australia is not quite as unforgiving as Vokhtah, but there are parts of it that come close. There is aching beauty here, but Australia is far from tamed. It is not safe, and it is not forgiving of the complacent.
When my parents and I arrived here, we were refugees from the Hungarian Revolution. To Europeans, used to a tamed, green land, Australia was a… shock. I was only four at the time but I still remember peering out of the tiny window of that propeller plane and seeing nothing but brown and gold. It was summer, of course.
We did find an oasis of green in Wagga Wagga though, and all this time later, that first year in Australia is still fresh and clear in my mind. I was a city kid let loose in a wonderland of grass and trees, and a sky so big you could get lost in it.
Much has changed since those halcyon days in Wagga. I’ve learned to fear Australia as well as love it. Not surprisingly, many of those feelings sneaked into the creation of Vokhtah. Even some of our animals sneaked in while I wasn’t looking. The akaht are flightless, bird-like creatures with fur instead of feathers, but they do bear a striking resemblance to emus, and the aquatic pakti are like six-legged crocodiles with very long tongues!
Something few people know is that the cover of Vokhtah is based on a photograph taken here in Australia. With a slightly purple filter, and some clever Photoshop magic, my wonderful designer transformed a slice of Australia into Vokhtah. I was gobsmacked because the cover matched the image in my head so perfectly.
I did not consciously set out to write ‘about’ Australia, but I believe that even in fiction, we draw on our passions. I think that’s important for all writers because drawing on what we know, gives authenticity to what we write, even when the genre is as alien as science fiction.
Thanks for allowing me to ramble on Jennifer, and best of luck with Currawong Creek. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Many thanks for proposing that interesting connection. I hadn’t made it before. If you’re in the mood for something out of this world, do yourself a favour and take advantage of this great free offer. See blurb below:

‘Vokhtah is not a gentle planet. Ravaged by twin suns, it tests all living things in the battle for survival, but none more so than the iVokh.

Intelligent, and clever with their hands, the iVokh [literally meaning ‘small Vokh’] live in eyries under the protection of their huge, winged cousins, the Vokh. However when the Vokh battle each other, the first casualties are always the small creatures who serve them.

The only place on the whole planet where iVokh can truly be safe is in the Settlement, an eyrie ruled by the Guild of Healers rather than a Vokh. Yet even there, change is coming, and not for the better. Thanks to the healers’ obsession with abominations, even the Settlement may soon become a battle ground.

As one of the few healers not terrified of abominations, the Blue is determined to save the Guild from itself. It leaves the safety of the Settlement with a caravan of Traders, intent on manipulating the Vokh into dealing with the abomination themselves. However life, and iVokh politics, are never simple.

Aided by just one reluctant ally, the Blue struggles to survive in a savage landscape where even the elements are vicious. If it dies without completing its mission, the Settlement could well die with it. Yet what can two, frail iVokh do in a world where the predators are all starving, and iVokh are very much on the menu?

Time is running out, for both the Blue and the Settlement.’