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For Writers — Microtension

I’ve decided to start a thread on this blog for writers. I used to write a monthly craft-of-writing article for the Romance Writers of Australia magazine, but after five years I stepped down. But I enjoy pondering aspects of writing craft, and find I miss it. So rather than go back, I’ve decided to pop an occasional writing post onto my blog, and have it open to anyone who’s interested. I’m really just musing about various aspects of the writing craft, rather than creating instructional posts. But if you’re not interested, just skip them — I’ll still be writing more personal posts and posts about my books as usual.

I’m also planning to put those previous writing articles up on my website to add to the others on my “about writing” page

So here’s the first of my dedicated craft-of-writing blog posts. It came to me when I was going through a small scene I’d written the day before and was thinking it felt a bit flat. And then I realized why . . .

Tension and Micro-tension

Many years ago I was in a masterclass for writers conducted by literary agent and writing guru, Donald Maass. 

We were asked to bring a finished novel in manuscript form — the idea was that the participants had to have finished a novel, that this was an editing/rewriting class rather than a class for beginner writers. My manuscript was only three-quarters finished, but I’d had a number of books published by then.

I brought my stack of printed off pages  (hole-punched and tied with a shoelace if I recall correctly). I was worried I might drop it and pages would go everywhere, even though they were numbered.

I learned a heap in that workshop — if ever you get a chance to do a workshop with Donald Maas take it. (See below for an on-line opportunity.)

One of the things he taught in that workshop was the importance of micro-tension.

In his own words micro-tension is “the moment-by-moment tension that keeps readers in a constant state of suspense over what will happen—not in the (overall) story, but in the next few seconds.

It’s not the kind of tension that comes from the high stakes story, or the circumstances of a scene, it comes from emotions — conflicting emotions.

One of the various exercises he gave us in that workshop seemed incredibly simple: he got us to open to a random page, and “make it worse” — i.e. find a way to increase the tension on that particular page.

At first it felt impossible — I’d worked hard on those scenes — but then I saw a way of doing it, and then I was crossing out bits and writing in new bits, and getting a whole other layer of tension into that page and that scene.

We did that exercise a few times on different pages, and I was amazed at what a difference it made. Scenes that had one main purpose, through just a few small changes, gained more complexity and intrigue. And added tension. 

I wish now I’d kept that printed off manuscript with all the scribbles I made over it as a result of that masterclass, but I didn’t. The final book was called The Stolen Princess and it was the winner of Romance Writer of Australia’s Romantic Book of the Year.

In the scene that I reworked the other day, the hero was investigating the heroine’s background. In the first draft, that was all he did — ask a few questions and get some answers. Simple and straightforward.  In terms of the plot, it did the job it needed to do. But when I revised it, by going deeper into his character and adding in a few sentences here and there to increase microtension, I was able to show that he had mixed feelings about what he was doing. And that by the end of the (very short) scene he had the answers to his questions, but also a few more questions, and his feelings were even more mixed. 

There are several Donald Maass workshops recorded on line that you can purchase to watch. Also more here. (For the record, I have no connection with Donald Maass or the organizers of these sessions.)

And that coffee cup above? That was the trademark saying of the late Emma Darcy and, way back when, Trish Morey had it printed on a mug for a conference she was organizing. I still treasure it. It’s a great reminder.

Do you mind me including craft-of-writing posts in this blog, or would you prefer I put them elsewhere. Let me know.

Favourite Historical!

The Australian Romance Readers Association had their 13th Annual Awards night on Saturday, and I was delighted to find my book, Marry In Scarlet (aka George and the duke) won Favourite Historical Romance.

 The other winners are listed here.

Usually this event is held in Sydney, in a lovely old hotel and it’s an annual highlight for me, not least because I get to catch up with a whole lot of friends — readers as well as writers. And in fact, last year, the last time I saw most of these people was at the last ARRA awards night, in early March 2020. I went out to dinner with a group of writer friends, and practically the following day my city (Melbourne) went into Lockdown).

The pic on the right is of our table in 2019 — Keri Arthur, Kelly Hunter  and I  always sit together at ARRA dinners and there’s invariably a VSP (Very Silly Photo) or three taken. But I’m holding them for future blackmail purposes so here’s a nice one instead of us in the dining room at the Castlereagh Hotel. (Photo taken by Kariss Stone.)

So this year, as has become normal for many of us, the event was run through Zoom, with us all sitting at home, waving to small square pics of friends on the screen. Nevertheless it was a wonderful night. I always enjoy awards nights, seeing people’s faces light up when their names are called, joining in with the clapping and cheering, seeing new writers receive their first public recognition — and discovering new-to-me writers and books to read. 

I remember one year when Kylie Scott blitzed the awards, and I sat in the audience clapping away as she received yet another award, thinking, ‘Who is this Kylie Scott and why haven’t I read her?’ So of course, I bought one of her winning books, and ah, I understood why she’d won so many awards that night. I  gobbled up her backlist and she’s been an auto-buy author for me ever since.

(The pic on the left is of Amy Andrews (standing) — who blitzed this year’s awards — with Keri Arthur and Kelly Hunter attempting selfies.)

The ARRA awards are voted on by readers, but they’re not the kind of award where anyone can vote — only ARRA members. And authors are not allowed to vote for their own books either. I really like that system. It completely avoids the “competitions” where there’s a social media frenzy with authors begging readers to “vote for me” (which I never do). So I always find the ARRA finalist and winner choices  worth noting.

 

 

Here are three wonderful ARRA stalwarts from Sydney — Lynn, Helen and Barbara.

And below that, some more fabulous ARRA members (Sydney, Melbourne and Wollongong) at an afternoon tea held a few years ago. I’m in there, too, second from the front on the right, in teal and black. The afternoon teas were “meet the author” and as well as delicious cakes and savories, each table had one author and  a table of readers — my table also has a fabulous bookseller. And you can bet we all talked books, books and more books. 

 

ARRA is a fabulous organization and I want to thank the organizers and members. I especially want to thank Debbie, Diane and Sharon who put the zoom presentation together so smoothly and well.

The pic below is of Shannon Curtis, Keri Arthur, Kelly Hunter and me holding our awards. Sorry, I’ve forgotten which year it was.

Are you a member of any reader group, formal or informal? I love talking books and reading with people. Long before I was ever a writer I was an avid and voracious reader and I still am.

To dub or not to dub

To dub or not to dub: That is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare)

Like many people all over the world, I’ve been watching Lupin on Netflix. It’s been a huge success, even in the USA, where I’m told French shows apparently don’t usually do well.

It starts as a kind of a heist story, but as the series progresses, you realize there’s much more going on, and the heist has a symbolic significance. It also stars Omar Sy, who is one of my favorite French actors. But more of him later.

I also like a lot of French movies and TV shows. My French is basic schoolgirl French from the dark ages *g* but I’m very lucky in that we have a public TV station here that shows TV and movies from all sorts of countries — in the original language with English subtitles. We also have a cinema chain that each year features a “film festival” from countries like France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Scandinavian, Asian and Latin American, as well as individual foreign films from a range of other countries. Again these are shown in the original language, with English subtitles.

So last month I started to watch Lupin. It’s not the first time I’ve watched a French series on Netflix — I loved Call My Agent which  was in French with subtitles.

Imagine my surprise when, as Lupin started, the voices of the actors were dubbed over with American voices.  No, no no! I told the TV screen! Dubbing ruins it. I think you lose so much of the atmosphere and subtlety if you dub an actor’s voice into another language. The voices, the expressions — acting is the whole person.

Of course, with subtitles you also lose some of the detail — they have to be brief and to the point, and they are often culturally slanted for an English-speaking audience — but for me that compromise is still much better than dubbing.

 So I went looking on line to see if I could watch Lupin without the dubbing. I found this article from the Chicago Tribune —and they agreed with me. Then,  after a little more exploring, I found that I could set up my screen on Netflix to watch it in the original French with English subtitles. So much better. (And if you speak/read another language you can select that too, I think.) Look up “help” in Netflix.

So I watched the first series of Lupin— one episode per night: I’m not a binge watcher, I like to spread out my treats—and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I’m about to start watching the second half of the series. I believe it was delayed by CoVid.

In the meantime, if you get the chance to watch more Omar Sy movies, these are two of my favorite French movies starring him.

The Intouchables  — here’s a trailer

Two is a Family (Demain Tout Commence) — here’s a trailer

Another French TV series on Netflix that I recommend is Call My Agent. (Original French title Dix pour cent; “ten percent”) I loved it. It’s a series set in an agency representing actors. Deals are struck, lost, mistakes made, coverups attempted, affairs are had, there is backstabbing, scheming, and all sorts. Each episode includes a real French movie star acting as themselves, which is fun. The dialogue is rapid fire, funny, snarky and clever.

The characters are fantastic, and they cover quite a range — straight, gay, young, middle-aged, old — in fact Liliane Rovère the actress who plays the agent called Arlette, is currently 88 years old! And on the show she is not only still a working agent, she is highly valued for her experience and skills. And there’s even a dog!

Another thing that impressed me was that pretty much every main character has a character arc across the first 3 series (18 episodes). I also really liked that series 3 tied the stories up nicely — so many series writers leave you hanging in the hope that another series will be commissioned. Not these guys — the finale of season 3 was wonderful. Here’s a trailer for the first series.

When Series 4 arrived, I dived into it and loved it just as much. Even though series #3 felt complete, this final series truly completed the story. If you decide to watch Call My Agent, I strongly recommend you begin with the first series.

Have you watched any of these shows? Recommend others? Do you get to watch many foreign TV shows or movies? Do you prefer subtitles or dubbing? And are you a binge watcher or not?