Archive for the ‘novel writing’ Category

How to finish something

Posted: March 13, 2014 in novel writing, writing

Not rocket salad, but so true

12 Books in 12 Months

Do you ever feel like you’ve got so much to do that you’re forever catching up with yourself?

I do.  It’s got to the stage where my whiteboard of stuff to do (yes, I have a whiteboard with stuff to do installed on a wall so it’s the first thing I see when I come home from work) looks like this:

20140309-144712.jpg My super cool whiteboard.

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this really happened to me, just after I sent off the pitch to NFM:

 

introduction to crime writing

You know how they always tell you to have your ‘elevator pitch’ — 2-minute summary of your project  — ready just in case? This really happened to me.
I’m in the Algarve in a tourist resort to get some head space to work on a writing proposal. I’m chatting with my nice friend who asked me to look up the Dancing on Ice results  — which I do. She’s 81 years old and tells me she’s reading 50 Shades of Grey on her kindle. I say I read the first book and sort of could work out the ending.
“Yes, I prefer crime and thrillers,” she says.

We talk about Patricia Cornwell, PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, and A Touch of Frost.
I tell her about the project I’m working on here:
“It’s about a woman who’s kidnapped. Only she’s a bit unusual — she’s a 15-stone pole-dancer…”
“Ooh…

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This is a report I wrote after the Northern Film and Media Pitching Your Project workshop, which may be of interest to those attending the SSWAG Pitching Your Book workshop tomorrow:

There were 9 participants with 9 projects. We were given 9 minutes to read all 9 one-page proposals. We were to notice what struck us going through them all, and if any one stood out.

tell me less

This, for me, was the most eye-opening moment of the day. I looked at the 9 proposals before me. More than 9 pages: some people hadn’t kept to the limit. My overwhelming feeling was: tell me less.

I wanted some way to sift through the information coming at me. Christina’s words: give them what they need to know up front, I heartily endorse. Be clear. Suddenly the truth of that was borne in on me quite physically. I couldn’t see what I was looking at. Where’s the white space?

what I noticed

The difference between the verbal and the written pitches. The two that stood out on the verbal pitching would, if I’m honest, have gone in the bin on the strength of the written effort. One, for the spelling and grammar; the other, because it looked utterly boring – solid blocks of uninterrupted text.

Tip

Play to your strengths. If you’re a bubbly attractive presenter, but not so hot on your written pitch, get help on your weaker area. Spell-check and double check; run it past a writer friend; as with the verbals: practice, practice, practice.

Clarity and concision

My written pitch was commented on by half the participants as a model of clarity and concision. You can see it here. Don’t, though, copy it. It has its faults. And your pitch must represent your vision, your strengths.

I could claim credit for it, but really it’s the flip side of my lack of preparation. I was given a last-minute place on the workshop after someone dropped out. I had a few hours’ notice to create my one-page proposal. Less is more. The time limit concentrated my mind. I also emailed to find out what it should include and the preferred format.

Tip

Give them what they ask for, not more. If they say one-page, give them one page. If you don’t know what they want, ask – or look at their website. You can always point them to where they can look for more. Which brings me to:

CONTACT DETAILS

None of us put our details on our proposal. Always, always do this. (Unless it’s for a competition, in which case follow the Rules.) You’re not a secret agent. Every piece of paper or media that emanates from you should point straight back at you. You want them to know how to contact you, to see more, to arrange a meeting. On multi-page documents, put page numbers, title and some identifier in the footer.

Lay-out tips

  • no tiny fonts. 11 or 12 point for preference
  • don’t use Times Roman, sans serif fonts are easier to read, and more web-compliant
  • bold titles but don’t waste space with huge fonts in the title
  • use sub-heads for things you want to draw attention to
  • use bullet points or numbered lists
  • allow some white space
  • see below for the special rules for feature film scripts

Content tips

  • be concise: leave them wanting to know more
  • use hook-lines and images
  • have a clear premise
  • have an easy-to-read summary or synopsis
  • strong characters, vividly presented
  • read your summary for pace
  • if you have a ‘name’ on board, that will act as a hook
  • a clear lay-out should reflect a clear concept

Striking graphics

  • use colour, but test on a monochrome printer – your proposal may be photocopied and you still want it to be legible
  • for factual or entertainment programmes, use pictures, sketches and other graphics
  • for drama scripts, your words should paint the pictures
  • use your company logo or brand. Every proposal is a marketing opportunity

shortlist of thousands

Yes, you read that right. Channel 4 considered a shortlist of over a thousand for 46 programme slots. Commissioners receive thousands of submissions a year. This is what we’re up against. A minute to scan a proposal is probably quite generous.

what is it?

They are looking for this basic information: genre, length and format, number of episodes, channel, strand, slot on the schedule, audience.

who are you?

All contact details. If you are a company, who is the named contact person for the project?

Why are you the person/ people to do it? Can you deliver? What is your track record? For drama, the most important person is the writer. If you have a ‘name’ on board, use it.

can we afford it?

Always include a budget or at least a ball-park figure. They need to know what it will cost, and what sort of production values. If your budget is substantially over the norm, you need to justify it. If it is cheaper, then you can use it as a selling point (provided you can deliver on budget). Everyone loves a bargain.

always prepare for the best case

Dating books recommend you wear underwear that you wouldn’t mind being seen in by George Clooney. (I had to type that sentence very carefully: with George Clooney, in George Clooney, in with George Clooney, within George Clooney.)

Buyers are looking for something to fall in love with. Your project may be it.

FEATURE FILMS: special rules

Feature film scripts follow a rigid (and boring) format. If you deviate from it, you mark yourself out as an amateur. You can find out about film script formats in any screenwriting book.

Drama scripts also follow industry-standard formats. You can download a template from the BBC Writers Room.

Someone sent me a link to BBC Radio 4 – On the Ropes: Max Moseley. Since sadomasochism is one of the threads in my new novel, I thought I’d share these thoughts.
Overall, Moseley came over as thoughtful, articulate and rational. The interviewer, John Humphreys, came over as a moralistic twat. Amazing how sexual moralism can make a wealthy Tory son of fascists seem progressive compared to Humpreys’ reactionary spouting. Moseley pointed out that what consenting adults do in private is nobody’s business but their own. How can it be ‘in the public interest’ what people do in private, if nobody is being harmed? Public figures are surely allowed a private life. Isn’t that a universal human right?
The interviewer made great play of the fact that the women involved in the orgy were being paid. Moseley pointed out that these women, in their private lives, with their chosen partners, did the same things unpaid. Humphreys snorted derisively: they would say that. I know a few pro dommes and all of them do it because they like it. Of course they like getting paid too! But getting paid for something doesn’t in itself make that activity disreputable. I like writing and would do it whether I was paid or not, but it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to get paid for it. Indeed, I’m sure Mr Humpreys, in private, likes to pronounce moralistically. I’m sure he’d be the first to argue that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be paid. The reason for calling these women prostitutes and making much of their being paid is to make a connection in the listener’s mind between their activity and the image of street prostitutes, trafficked women and vulnerable teenagers forced into selling themselves. But it’s an illegitimate connection. Those women are coerced not consenting. It is the absence of consent that is key, not payment.
Moseley was interesting, too, in that he’d kept this side of his sexuality secret from his wife of fifty years. As a novelist, what a stunning idea! Secrets are always powerful in any drama. They create motive and mystery and suspense. When you have trouble plotting, it’s always good to give your character a secret. My heroine comes from the other end of the political spectrum. She’s an anarcho-eco- erstwhile feminist, and her reasons for keeping her secret are to do with the repressive moralism espoused by some ‘progressive’ people – especially a certain type of feminist. One could contrast Moseley’s “It’s nobody’s business but my own” attitude with that of Tommy Sheridan, who also took on the News of the World.

Months are rooms and the first of the month the doorway. I always like to make a new start at the beginning of the month. But where to start?
The answer is, of course, wherever. But that’s no help at all.
I had some homework from Kath Kenny: threshold. So how about start with that feeling of standing on the brink of something, reluctant to commit. Like starting a new novel, or restarting an old one. The blank page always feels perilous, but there’s nothing to do but do it.
I’d started a kind of poetic word association string – I was inspired by the poems I’d written at the weekend – and that threw up ‘threesome’ and then I was off…
which resulted in this piece:

The story so far:
I have written the first draft of a crime novel, provisionally titled Dolly Maltravers Investigates: the Nigerian Web. As I came to the end, I felt increasingly bothered by three linked issues (which I will keep vague so as not to spoil the story for later readers):

  1. I think the villain is too obvious. Cui bono? It’s not much of a mystery for the experienced reader;
  2. their alibi is rather thin: why should the police buy it?
  3. their character is too antipathetic. They are rather dull, conventional, lacking passion – the classic shadowy perpetrator. It’s clear the author doesn’t like them very much.

Although this is only a first draft and it can be solved in the rewrite, these issues sap my morale and motivation to get through the grunt work. I write long-hand and have to transcribe from my notebooks, so there’s typing up, formatting, and maintaining consistency in both voice and plot). Basically, I’m a bit out of love with the whole thing because I see these gaping flaws.
Coupled with this we’re in the midst of the bleakest bleak midwinter. I suffer from SAD and find it increasingly difficult to motivate myself to do anything at all,
So I have set myself some very limited targets:

  • type up 1.6k words per day (4 pages of long-hand;
  • write 1.6k words a day of new material, which can be exercises from writing books or my own exercises;
  • blog the process here.

I have been working my way through Writing and Selling your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron (Writers Digest Books). I came to the chapter on the Villain, and I really didn’t feel like doing it. I had brainstormed what I could do to tackle the issues listed above, but I really didn’t know how I was going to get the energy to do it…
I remembered an exercise I’d been given in a writing class: Dear Author

November is Nanowrimo (notional novel writing month) where thousands of people commit to writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. Since one of my problems is actually finishing something before I wander off onto something else, I thought: I must be able to stick at it for a month, surely.

So here I am about to embark on the 30-day novel-writing binge, and here on this blog I’ll log my progress. It should also serve as a real-time experiment in how-to write a crime novel. So you should encounter such gems as: how to start; what to do when you can’t think of anything; plotting problems; boredom; events, dear boy, events; research and what to do when you haven’t done it.

watch this space