Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Gone skiing!

For the first time EVER.

Am very excited.

And a little bit scared.

Am particularly scared of heights/chair lifts.

And ski clothes. Why do they make you look the size of a house?

Anyway...les slopes, here I come!

Back soon.


Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Authors online (Jane Costello and Caroline Smailes)

The Liverpool Daily Post are running a series of author interviews and readings on their website. I particuarly love the one with Jane Costello where she talks about how she became an author.

Jane and I are represented by the same agency and I was delighted when she turned up to my book launch in December last year. Not only is she lovely but she's a very talented writer and recently won the Romantic Novelists Association 'Romantic Comedy of the Year' award for her book "The Nearly-Weds".

Check out her interview:

Not only that but fellow blogger and general lovely person Caroline Smailes gives us a tantalising taster of her new book "Like Bees to Honey" which is out in May.

Watch Caroline read an extract:

Monday, 22 March 2010

Developing characters in screenplays

Okay, so the last screenwriting session I attended was about character. There are three basics of character:

1) External elements e.g.

- gender
- age
- physical distinctions (eye colour, hair, skin, build etc)
- movement (facial expressions, the way they walk, mannerisms)
- verbal expression (slang, pitch, speed of voice etc)
- appearance (clothes, cleanliness, style etc)
- sexuality (how is it expressed)
- tension/pleasure (how are they expressed)

2) Inner elements e.g.

- intelligence and knowledge
- introvert or extrovert
- temperament and quality of judgement
- what do they like/dislike about themselves?
- what or who do they care about most?
- self image
- what do they want in the future?
- what do they fear?

3) Context e.g.

- relationships (friends, family, lovers, co-workers etc)
- culture (birthplace, education, occupations, nationality, ethnicity etc)
- their past (both personal and within the confines of the story).

Very early on in the session we watched how Jack Nicholson's character is introduced in the credits of 'As Good As it Gets'. How, we were asked, is his character portrayed and what devices did the screenwriter use? We talked about the way the female neighbour's expression changed when she saw him, the way the MC tries to get the 'little doggie' into the lift and then chucks him down the garbage shoot, about the language he uses and his attitude when he talks to his gay neighbour and the way his OCD is introduced when he locks and unlocks his front door and flips the light switch on and off.

We discussed the fact that Jack Nicholson's character is a racist, homophobic, rude, inappropriate and unlikeable but we still find him compelling. Why? Because he's unusual and interesting. All of his flaws are on show.

I've been thinking about flawed characters since that question. WHY did I find the rapist, paedophile character of T-Bag so compelling in Prison Break (so compelling in fact that I didn't want him to die!)? Why are people so fascinated with Tony Soprano? (I've recently started watching the Sopranos for the first time and found the early scene with him wading into his swimming pool to feed the ducks really interesting. A bit like the whole 'make your main character sympathetic by having him be nice to a dog' thing). Why is Hannibal Lector so fascinating in Silence of the Lambs?

Anyway, something the tutor said is equally applicable to novel-writing and screenwriter - "You only get the opportunity to introduce a character once so find a way to give the audience/reader a handle on that character".

In films there are five different ways to introduce the audience to a character (often more than one are used):

1) A snipped of their childhood (e.g. Broadcast News)
2) Their relationship with their family
3) Their reputation (e.g. Clint Eastwood's character in 'Unforgiven'. People talk about him before he's introduced)
4) Pure visuals (e.g. Audrey Hepburn's character walking through the streets in the opening of Breakfast at Tiffanys)
5) Through voiceover (e.g. Adaptation or Transpotting)

Something else the tutor pointed out, and this is definitely true of novel writing, make sure that your character WANTS something (really badly) at the start of the novel and make sure they pursue that desire actively. Over the course of the film, or novel, the character changes - often realises there's more to life than what they want. In my novel, Heaven Can Wait, Lucy wants to be reunited with Dan more than anything in the world and the central plot is entirely focused on her attempts to try and make that happen. Does she change and learn anything by the end of the novel? Yes...but I won't say more than that in case you haven't read it yet!

Anyway, back to character. Towards the end of the session we interviewed each other as though we were the main characters in our short films. We were asked the following questions:

1) How old are you?
2) What is your family set-up?
3) Where do you live?
4) What sort of house?
5) Who do you live with?
6) What do you do for work?
7) What are your hobbies?
8) What makes you angry? (I thought this was a really interesting question and I had to think for a bit to work out what WOULD make my character angry)
9) When were you happiest (also a good question I think)
10) Faced with new situations how do you respond? (If you can nail your answer to this one you've got a good handle on your character's personality)

We were then asked questions specific to the character within the film:

1) Who are you?
2) What do you want?
3) What stopped you from getting what you want (in the film)?
4) Who helps?
5) What else stopped you?
6) When will you know you have what you need?

Okay, that just about covers it. You can probably tell from the scrappy way I've pieced this together that I haven't totally worked out how character in screenplays tie in with characters in novels but I think there's a lot of thought provoking stuff there. I hope you think so too!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Photo prompt

The other night Brighton was so misty the whole atmosphere of the city seemed to change. I took a photo and, to my surprise, it turned out wonderfully spooky. When I posted it on twitter earlier people interpreted it so differently I thought I'd post it on my blog too, in case it inspires someone to write a story...

(NB: This isn't the blog post on character I promised in my previous blog. That's up next...)

Author Blog Awards

I'm not suggesting for one second that you nominate my irregularly updated blog *embarrassed cough* but there are lots of great author blogs out there that deserve your support. AND you could win lots of goodies (books, e-books, e-readers, book tokens etc) just by nominating. It only takes a couple of minutes...

In other news I've just looked through my diary for the next few months and it's so jam-packed I'm wondering how on earth I'm going to get book 3 written! If I want to get it written in 5 months that's about 4,100 words a week which, if I find three blocks of time to sit down and write, is just about do-able. But is that likely without completely giving up my social life?


And I quite like my social life.

So what I think I'm going to do instead is give myself until my birthday to get the first draft finished (25th October) and if I can fit in a quick edit before Christmas that'd be great.

I'm still in the thinking stage (my favourite bit) at the moment and, prompted by a session in my screenwriting course earlier this week, I'm scribbling down lots of notes about my characters. More on character in my next blog post...

Monday, 15 March 2010

The beginning of book 3...

I did it! I wrote two synopses for book 3 last weekend and only lost a small handful of hair in the process (although I did huff and puff far more than normal).

Earlier today I sent synopsis A and synopsis B off to Lovely Agent, secretly hoping she'd go for my favourite - synopsis A.


I guess that's the green light to actually start writing it. do I do that again?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

A Screenplay, A Synopsis and a...Swanky Do!

Hi!...*peeps around monitor*...I can't believe I haven't blogged in over a month.

The official excuse: I've been hard at work judging my short story competition

The actual truth: I have been hard at work judging my short story competition (along with Sally Quilford and Tamsyn Murray who've worked their socks off and who I can't thank enough. Our job is done now and it's up to the agents/publishers to decide the winners from our shortlist) but I still haven't done any actual writing and admitting that on a blog called 'Writing about Writing' is a bit, er, embarrassing.

Anyway...I have been busy - mostly going to kickboxing and learning how to do a spinning back punch without lamping my partner (or myself) in the face. I also attended Orion's author party at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and very glamorous it was too - they even had the decorations from the previous night's BAFTA awards still up!

Oooh yes - then there's the screenwriting course I'm doing.

Now there's something writing-related to blog about!

Learning how to write screenplays is fascinating. I've always loved films and thought my novel-writing background would give me a bit of an advantage when it came to writing them - particularly the fact that I LOVE writing dialogue and am not so keen on description - but, in actual fact, I'm having to re-learn how to write. Apparently a mistake a lot of beginner screenwriters make is to go heavy on the dialogue when a lot should be shown through visual shots ('show don't tell' also applies in films).

One of the first things I learnt was that a film premise should be written in no more than three sentences (possibly a useful tool for authors who need to summarise their books succinctly).

To write a film premise you should:
  • State the genre
  • Introduce the central character - description, name, age etc
  • State the location/time
  • Mention the dominant antagonistic force
  • Indicate what the central character's dramatic problem is
  • End with a hook
In one of the first sessions I attended we had to try writing the premise for a film we'd seen but without mentioning any of the characters so the other students could try to guess the film we were talking about.

This was my effort:

A children's film about a little boy who lives in a single-roomed house with his grandparents. They're so poor there's never enough food to go around but when the little boy wins a golden ticket to the biggest chocolate factory in the world he's given the chance to change his family's fortunes forever. Can he beat the other children to the prize and survive the strange chocolate factory and its even odder owner?

Any guesses?

Anyway, you get the idea! Can you summarise your novel in three sentences?

The other thing we've been learning about is the difference between narrative, plot and story in a film. A narrative is the totality of a screenplay. Sound, dialogue, colour, locations etc are added to the plot to form a narrative. A plot is the combination of various character/s' stories and/or theme(s) to form the dramatic shape of a narrative. A story is motivational framework for a character. It is different from narrative and plot as it relates to a single character and their motivation.

Story is basically the 'character's story'. In a previous post on this blog I linked to Julie Cohen's posts about character arc. Basically 'story' in a film is very similar and applies to main and secondary characters (in fact, all characters that play a major role in the film have their own story). The handout we received listed the main story types in films and I thought they might make interesting reading if you're currently trying to work out the character arc for your novel.

Here's a selection:

a) The Romance

i. A character is seen to be emotionally lacking/missing something/someone.
ii. Something/someone is seen by the Character as a potential solution to this problem (aka the object of desire)
iii. Barriers exist to stop the Character achieving a resolution with the object of dire.
iv. The Character struggles to overcome these barriers.
v. The Character succeeds in overcoming some, if not all, of the barriers
vi. The story is complete when the Character is seen to have resolved their emotional problem, and united with their object of desire.

Whether or not they stay united is up to the writer. Being united with the object of dire is the end of a romance story, but not necessarily the end of a romance narrative.

e.g. The stories of both Romeo and Juliet in 'Shakespeare in Love', Bridget in 'Bridget Jones' Diary', Mark Darcy in 'Bridget Jones' Diary'. Wallace in 'A Close Shave'.

b. The Wanderer

i. A character arrives in a new place
ii. The character identifies a problem associated with the new place
iii. The character attempts to solve the problem
iv. The character is successful
v. The character attempts to move on.

e.g. Alex in the film 'Snow Cake'

c. The Gift Taken Away

i. The Character is seen to have a gift
ii. The Character loses it
iii. The Character seeks to regain it
iv. The Character reconciles themselves to a new situation, which they discover in pursuit of the gift

NB: The character may not or may not regain the gift

e.g. Lilo in 'Lilo and Stitch', Golum in Lord of the Rings.

The other Character stories are:

d. The Debt That Must Be Re-Paid (e.g. Dell Boy in 'Only Fools and Horses')
e. The Spider and the Fly (e.g. Valmont in 'Dangerous Liaisons')
f. The Quest (e.g. Jason in 'Jason and the Argonaunts')
g. The Rites of Passage
h. The Character who cannot be put down (e.g. James Bond)
i. The Unrecognised Virtue (e.g. Donkey in 'Shrek', Julia Roberts' character in 'Pretty Woman')
j. The Fatal Flaw (e.g. Basil Fawlty in 'Fawlty Towers')

In the last session we had to come up with a premise for our own 10 minute screenplay. We had to read out our 3 sentence premise and then SAY NOTHING while the other people in our group discussed it and threw up potential issues and issues. That was a really interesting exercise as a premise that's crystal clear in your mind may be mud-like to someone hearing it for the first time! Several members of our group ended up totally re-thinking their original ideas.

I'm basing my screenplay on a short story I wrote a few years ago. It was placed in a competition a few years ago but hasn't been published. You'd think having a ready-formed 1st person POV short story would making writing a screenplay easier but noooooo... as there's no internal dialogue in a film (unless you include a voiceover, which is a bit of a cheat) you have to totally re-think how to portray what your character is thinking and feeling.

Anyway, learning about screenwriting is stimulating me as I'm learning a new skill and facing a new challenge but also making me think about how I can apply what I've learned to my novel writing.

In other news... no news on my book 2 edits. They're due any day but I haven't received them yet! I don't know why I'm so keen - I know I'll probably feel overwhelmed the second I read through them.

Edits or no edits this is the weekend I'm finally going to crack on with writing the synopsis for book 3. Actually that should be the synopses as I've got two ideas and I want my agent to give me some feedback on which she thinks is best. I know which one I want her to choose (see excitement in previous post!) but, given my previous history of providing two choices, it'll probably be the other one.

There - I've said it now - I'm going to write my synopses this weekend. I'd better do it!