Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • June7th

    Jock: Oh, that’s just my pet snake Reggie!
    Jock: Come on! Show a little backbone, will ya!

    In the classic movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, after Indiana Jones’s death-defying encounters after he loots the golden idol, dodges poison darts, avoids the giant rolling stone ball, flees from angry locals and a nasty rival archaeologist, this exchange in the plane that provides his escape is welcome bit of comic relief. Indiana Jones, afraid of snakes? After all those heroics he’s upset at a harmless python giving him a cuddle? He has a weakness after all! How human!

    Yes, it’s comic relief and it’s perfect timing after the breathlessness of the helter-skelter opening but it’s also a magnificent example of a very useful writing tool, that of Foreshadowing.

    Foreshadowing is the art of dropping in something early in a story that turns out to be important later. Done well, it’s immensely satisfying for the reader/viewer, especially the ones who’ve been paying close attention and can feel rewarded for their efforts. And if they haven’t, it’s an ‘Oh, yeah!’ moment as the connection clicks. It’s a useful technique, and one well worth adding to your Writer’s Toolbox.

    In Raiders of the Lost Ark the rewarding moment comes much, much later, when Indy and Salah have found the Well of Souls, the keeping place of the Ark of the Covenant. Once they uncover the way into the Well, Salah is puzzled by the way the floor far below is moving. Indy tosses in a burning torch and glumly says, ‘Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?’

    Imagine if those lines were said without the earlier scene. Having to wade among deadly snakes is no picnic, but because it’s been established that Indy has a particular fear of snakes the ante has been upped. He has to face a special, personal, challenging – possibly disabling – fear and so the scene has even more tension than it would otherwise have had.

    Indy could have peered into the Well of Souls and simply said. ‘I have a lifelong fear of snakes, Salah’ which would have served, but the cleverness of the foreshadowing technique is much more subtle, much more artful, much more adroit.

    We see foreshadowing all the time in books, TV and movies, but it’s often heavy-handed. For no obvious reason, the camera lingers on that piece of jewellery, basically announcing that it’s going to be stolen later, and at the same time the soundtrack rises to draw your attention to it. A big neon sign – invisible to the characters but clear to the audience – may as well be blaring ‘Pay Attention to This!’

    How does Raiders of the Lost Ark avoid this ham-fisted approach? The secret is that Indy’s fear of snakes is revealed in a scene that has its own integrity in the context of the narrative. There’s a reasonable rationale for him to state this fear in the context of the scene – he’s discovered a big snake crawling into his lap! At first, it looks like it’s another trap/challenge/danger he has to overcome in order to escape with his life, on top of the aforementioned crushing stone balls, poison darts, spiders, bottomless pits and so on, but that’s turned on its head by the revelation that it’s a pet and we laugh – and we remember.

    Foreshadowing is a useful and potentially impressive writing technique, but like all writing tools it can be implemented well or it can be implemented poorly.

    When the object/person/situation is first introduced to your narrative, give it a rationale in the context of the scene, a reason for it to appear above and beyond ‘It’s going to be important later on’. This way, the reader is likely to accept it as integral part of that moment in the story and not see it as an obvious ploy, shoehorned in just so it can play a part later in the story. When it does appear again, the reader will be both surprised and delighted.

  • May31st

    I’ve finally made public a two minute sneak preview of a project I’ve been working on for some time: I’m writing a fantasy epic and complementing it with a podcast that explores the world I’ve created. The podcast will delve into the history, the geography, the culture, the politics, the arts and the backgrounds of the multifarious characters in my story. It’s a chance to expand the narrative outside the covers, to add depth and complexity to what is already a fascinating world of magic and adventure, a world where people live, love and strive while in the heavens above an eternal battle goes on between gods and demons – a struggle that sometimes results in the detritus of war falling to the land beneath, with far-reaching consequences.

    The World Below the War in the Heavens is a story of intrigue, betrayal, alliances, romance, lost hope and fast friendships all played out in a world that is an absorbing character in its own right. Listen to the preview below, and keep an eye out for subsequent podcast episodes, available in all the usual places.

    The podcast website can be found here.

  • April27th

    Soon I’ll be in Sydney for the first time in ages, appearing at the Writers’ Festival next Saturday evening (1st May) and again on Monday and Tuesday for the Secondary Schools’ Days. Looking forward to it!

  • November19th

    The first draft is you telling yourself the story.

    The second draft is you telling the story to trusted readers.

    The third draft is you telling the story to your cat/dog.

    The fourth draft is you telling the story to random strangers on the street.

    The fifth draft is you telling the story on a nationally televised chat show.

    The sixth draft is you telling the story to the general assembly of the UN.

    The seventh draft is you telling the story to a shadowy transnational cabal.

    The eight draft is telling you the story to yourself again, but under a blanket, in a hushed, quavering voice.

    The ninth draft is the story achieving self-awareness and telling itself.

    The tenth draft is the story rebelling against its master, destroying you and itself in an orgy of violence witnessed by villagers with flaming torches and pitch forks.

  • September20th

    • 1 x 2-3 kg lamb shoulder, bone in, fat trimmed.
    • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved.
    • 1 tablespoon ras el hanout*.
    • 2 tablespoons oregano leaves.
    • 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes.
    • 400 ml beef stock.
    • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, plus extra to serve.
    • salt and cracked black pepper.
    • currants, 40 g toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley or coriander, cooked couscous to serve.

    * Ras el hanout is an aromatic North African spice mix. Here’s one recipe. There are many.

    • 1½ teaspoons ground black peppercorns
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
    • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
    • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
    • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
    • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • Combine, makes about two tablespoons

    Method: Preheat oven to 170 degrees. Put lamb, garlic, ras el hanout, oregano, tomatoes, stock, pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper in a baking dish and cover. I use the cast iron le Creuset.

    Cover and bake for three hours, turning lamb after an hour and a half.

    Uncover lamb and cook, meaty side up, for another thirty minutes.

    Remove bone and transfer lamb to a serving dish. It will break up appetisingly.

    Spoon over pan juices, drizzle with extra pomegranate molasses, and serve with couscous, currants, pine nuts and parsley/coriander.

    Variations: fresh chopped dates can be substituted for the currants, and chopped pistachios for the toasted pine nuts.

  • August25th

    I recently had a long, thoughtful chat with Sue Lawson, who runs the delightful ‘Portable Magic’ series of interviews, well worth a look for some fascinating insights into the writing process.

  • July24th

    When you think about it, we writers spend an awful lot of time trying to make our stories convincing. On one level we want to convince you that our stories are worth reading and, even better, worth spending good money on or worth borrowing from a library.

    Professional convincers

    But it’s more than that. When we’re writing, we’re hard at work trying to convince you that our characters are credible, that our plots are compelling, that our settings have the sort of verisimilitude that lets you step easily into the events we’re unfolding in front of you. Of course, this whole business of convincing can be even more challenging for we writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction, where we have to work extra hard to convince you to go along with a whole world that is often vastly different from our here and now.

    The techniques we use so that our stories are convincing are legion, but I’d like to point out one that is extremely useful and often overlooked both by novice writers and those who are experienced. I call it the Reaction Shot, borrowing from the world of cinema.

    We’ve all seen the moment in the movie when something dramatic happens – the bridge blows up, the train crashes, someone delivers a heartbreaking speech. And every director worth her salt then cuts away when this moment ends to those who are nearby, for their reactions. It can be entirely visual – facial expressions, movements of various sorts, gestures – or it could be verbal – screams, cheers, noises of affirmation or denial. The reaction underlines the dramatic event but it also emphasises that the event is real, because of course a dramatic event would inspire responses from those nearby, whether they’re bystanders or intimately involved.

    shocked crowd

    When we’re writing, too often we forget this important moment. We get bound up in the events, the happenings, the moments of drama – emotional or action – and after these heightened moments we forget to pause, draw breath, and dwell just a little on the reactions of those involved. Show these reactions, let the reader experience them, and the dramatic moment is emphasised, made more meaningful, and more convincing.

    Think cinematically and make sure you include Reaction Shots after your wonderful moments of drama. Your writing will be more convincing and far better off if you do.

  • July9th

    I thought I’d get it up on the website so everyone knows – I’m set up, available and more than happy to conduct online sessions. Workshops, talks, presentations or chats are all viable options. Get in touch using the Contact tab above, or email me at misc(at), if you’d like to discuss any or all of these possibilities.

  • June15th

    It’s been a long time, but I have a new ‘Laws of Magic’ novella for you: Brink of Disaster.

    It’s a totally free digital book for you to download and enjoy. Click on the image above, or the link in the final paragraph below.

    Eight years after the publication of the last of the series (Hour of Need, 2012) I found myself wondering what they’d been up to after we parted company, Aubrey, Caroline, George and the rest of the characters I’d grown so close to over the ten plus years of writing the series. In the intervening years, surely they would have embarked on all sorts of adventures, faced so many challenges, and generally coped with the exigencies of adulthood – in one way or another.

    So I decided to rejoin them, see what was going on with them and their lives, and share this with you.

    I don’t think revisiting characters after such a long time gap has been done in OzYA before. Some writers have followed characters over a number of years, but a time jump of a decade, almost reflecting the real time elapsed since the last book, is refreshingly different. YA characters become A?

    Covid-19 also had something to do with this project, as I thought it might be something to help alleviate the unease of these straitened times. I’ve striven for the same ‘Laws of Magic’ historical/fantasy/comedy/romance feel that gained so many readers when the series was released, and doesn’t the world need a little panache, style and grace right now?

    You can download it at Smashwords, and it’s one hundred percent free, my gift to you.

  • November4th

    On Saturday (2nd November) twenty-nine intrepid sightseers gathered in inner Melbourne to explore some of the locations of my books Gap Year in Ghost Town and Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town. I was a little worried about the viability of the occasion, because I woke up that morning to hear heavy rain on the roof – and it didn’t let up all day. I put my trust in the Bureau of Meteorology, though, and it promised that the rain would be clearing by the evening. Even so, I had my trust Bladerunner umbrella with me, just in case.

    I’d done my planning, plotting our course in Google Maps and walking it in rehearsal, but these things are always dicey affairs. How fast would people walk? What questions would they have? How long would they laugh at my jokes?

    Here are the locations:

    • Fitzroy Gardens
    • The Conservatory, Fitzroy Gardens
    • River God Fountain, Fitzroy Gardens
    • Allen and Unwin, Albert Street
    • Victorian Artists Society, Albert Street
    • Eastern Hill Fire Station, Gisborne Street
    • Royal Exhibition Building/Melbourne Museum
    • Royal Society of Victoria, LaTrobe Street

    At each stop, I regaled the crowd with some history (absolutely true) and some ghostiness (totally made up).

    As a bonus, Ellie Marney and Lili Wilkinson had agreed to be part of the night, with Ellie popping up at Allen and Unwin HQ, reading Poe’s ‘The Raven’ and sharing some juicy details about Melbourne’s ghoulish history. Lili appeared at the Hochgurtel Fountain in front of the Royal Exhibition Bulding and treated us to a scary reading from her work in progress. Monsters!

    We finished spot on 9.30, as advertised, a tribute either to my excellent organisation or the gods of good fortune.

    Many thanks to Lili and Ellie, but also to all those who attended. It was an atmospheric, convivial and wondrous night.