October 14, 2019 · 4:18 pm
That was the question my mentor asked me, early on in my career. Since I had no yardstick to measure my pace against, I couldn’t give an answer but I presumed I was slower than other writers he’d mentored.
But now I know and the answer is it depends what I’m writing. Short stories I can write quickly, usually because a lot of the text is already in my head and I know the ending. And that’s why it can be difficult to maintain the momentum in longer pieces of work. A story outline will keep you on track, as will knowing your characters and what they want and what they’re prepared to give up to get it. These will help you with dialogue so that you’re not left guessing what a certain character might or might not say.
If you do write more slowly than other writers you know, don’t be concerned. Here are a few writers who took their time producing their first novel:
J. K. Rowling – 7 years from initial idea through developing the Harry Potter world to finding an agent and then a publisher.
John Boyne – wrote Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in 2 days but admitted to nearly 20 years of research before he started writing it.
J.R.R.Tolkien took 17 years to write Lord of the Rings, starting in 1937 and rewriting many sections before the complete works were finally published in 1954/55.
What all three authors have in common is a determination and commitment to their projects and that’s worth far more than the speed at which you complete a project.
June 7, 2019 · 2:41 pm
It’s your first feature film and you’ve written a massive, multi layered, firing on all cylinders, epic that requires fight scenes on galleons in full sail with hundreds of extras, cue Pirates of the Caribbean, as many lovable, funny characters as Toy Story, and as big a ready made audience as Harry Potter.
It’s the last of this list that is going to affect whether you get any interest or not from a film producer because the first thing you’ll get asked when you go looking for finance is “Who’s your audience?”
If you’ve already got millions of fans, the money will always be found and the film get made. It’s acquiring those fans that’s the hard part but if you can write a feature film, then you’ve already got the plot and layout for a novel and it is far easier to get a first novel published and begin to build that audience than it is to get a first film made.
Start building your reputation in another medium and your fan base will be there to follow you.
January 9, 2019 · 12:41 pm
So have you been taking a short break from writing over the festive period or has the short break suddenly become a bit too long? Have you slipped into ‘just another mince pie and glass of Prosecco please’ stupor, promising yourself you’ll get back to it tomorrow or maybe the next day or even next week.
I think Writers only write because they have to. The first draft is like pulling a tooth while scratching your skin with nettles. The second draft will be better, you promise yourself. At least the itchiness has gone but not the anxiety as you wait for your notes from your beta reader. And when they come, you wonder why you bother putting yourself through all this torment. Even Agatha Christie’s fictional character, Ariadne Oliver comments that she’d rather solve a murder than have to write one.
This comment from a writer who taught a creative writing class sums it all up. A couple of her students achieved considerable publishing success in a short time. At the end of the term, she asked what writing projects the class was planning, expecting the successful ones to be brimming over with enthusiasm. She was disappointed at their response – “It’s not guaranteed that we’re going to sell everything we write, so we’re going to give it up.” And the teacher’s reply? “I wish I could!”
You’re in it for the long haul, so stop complaining. Get on with it. Don’t procrastinate, don’t waffle, don’t stand on the side lines or the bathroom scales, lamenting the box of chocolates you’ve just ate. Even if it’s only a line in your diary – write something every day. I wish you all the best for 2019 – This is going to be a very interesting year and if you don’t know what the Chinese said about that adjective, check it out below. Be Happy and Write!
June 14, 2018 · 5:13 pm
One of the first pieces of advice I got as a beginner writer was to read other writers’ work. I’ve modified that for myself – read about the writers themselves as well. When you’re alone and suffering those scary writers’ blues and wondering if you’ll ever achieve the goals you’ve set, it helps to know that some really famous writers have been where you are and still have days when they doubt themselves or find it difficult to get that vivid idea in their head onto the page.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Judith Kerr’s brilliant children’s book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and it is also Judith Kerr’s birthday today, Thursday, 14 June. Judith Kerr is 95 years old and came to England as a refugee, escaping the wave of Fascism which took the lives of so many. The Tiger Who Came to Tea was a bedtime story she told to her daughter and it became her first picture book.
In a BBC Radio 4 programme this morning, she explained how she’ll make several copies of a piece of work to give her scope to play around and develop it. She freely admits that “Drawings don’t take me as long now because I’ve got better at it.” Such honesty is encouraging when so many famous writers prefer not to share their development process and give the impression that they’ve always been able to create with great ease.
Listening to her speak this morning and reading about her in the The Telegraph Magazine of 2 June, she had some useful tips and although she is an illustrator, she’s also a writer:
“I go on for as long as it works. You can’t just stop, even if what you’re doing is rubbish, because you have to work through that …”
However, when she has to stop, it’s always “at a point where the next thing is sort of in view.” And her final comment: “A blank page can be very intimidating.” We can all identify with that!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Judith Kerr!
“Pink Rabbits and Other Animals” available to download on BBC i player
April 7, 2018 · 4:12 pm
You need a destination when you’re writing, even if you’re not physically travelling. Whatever it is, book, play, short story or film, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up in a place you never intended with your protagonist not achieving their goal or overcoming the obstacles you’ve placed in their way.
But that’s not going to happen to you. You’ve planned it all out. You’ve got the chapter breakdown, you’ve written the detailed treatment – nothing can go wrong yet somewhere along the writing road, you lose your way and the ending’s muddled.
Here are three pieces of advice to avoid ending up in a cul-de-sac.
My first writing tutor told me to write down in one sentence what the main character’s aim was and to pin this on the wall in front of my keyboard.
Tony Jordan, gave me the second piece of advice, when I wrote for “Eastenders”. Always know what the end of the scene will be.
And the third piece was from a tutor on a screenwriting course, visualise what will be on the cinema billboard advertising your film. This last one will leave you in no doubt who the most important characters are and breathe colour, atmosphere and life into your story.
February 16, 2018 · 7:05 pm
It does whatever it says on the label – maybe it scares you, pulls at your heart strings, intrigues you but it’s complete and shouldn’t leave you wanting more.
They need to be standout, showcasing the talents of everyone involved in their genre, be high quality productions and have something that draws you to them and makes you remember them.
This is one of my favourites:
Je t’aime John Wayne – starring a young Kris Marshall
Available on YouTube and Wikipedia
October 12, 2017 · 12:13 pm
So you’ve just typed ‘THE END’. Whatever it was, and no matter how long or short it was, you’re flush with a sense of achievement . You’ve done it – you started, got past the middle and romped home to the end. Time to stick it on the shelf and give yourself some distance.
Some writers keep everything on the cloud but I like a couple of ring binders and print off every chapter of the first draft as I finish it. Then it’s like a real book when I come to the critical re-read and it’s as though I’m approaching virgin territory. Did I really write that?
At least a month after finishing the first draft, I begin to read. The way I work is at the beginning of each chapter I insert a page. At the top I put a heading, ‘First Impressions’ and half way down the page another heading, ‘Narrative’.
First impressions are useful because sometimes there’s a distance of several months between writing the first draft and reading it again and that gives you the brutal honesty you’ll need to make it better. You know instantly when something isn’t working, when it’s not dramatic enough, even when it’s in the wrong viewpoint. And while your spirit might sink at the thought of all the work ahead, your pride won’t let you step away. You invested so much time in creating that world, no matter how many drafts it will take, you’ve going to get it right.
The Narrative section is perhaps more important. Under this heading as you read, you’re going to jot down the precise plot points of what has happened in that chapter. Even if you think you know it off by heart, when you strip away all the description and simply list the events that move the plot along, you can be surprised to find contradictions and improbabilities, sometimes downright hilarious.
You can also find yourself having to make big changes and it’s important not to fudge around them. You’ll know when something’s not working and has to be changed. Grasp the nettle even if you’ll need tons of imaginary dock leaves later.
June 30, 2017 · 10:14 am
A few posts ago, I talked about how female actors were choosing not to wear make-up when filming. Amongst those who had made this decision was the actor, Sarah Lancashire. She recently won the BAFTA for Leading Actress in the Best Drama, Happy Valley, so less make-up obviously didn’t affect her performance.
Why is it so important for female actors to portray themselves in a naturalistic way? First, the world of drama becomes more like the ordinary world of the audience and female viewers will connect better to the actors. It’s all about role models and even adult women need those but do they need the ones portrayed in films. Yes they can dye their hair the same colour as the heroine and get longer lashes but when they’re playing Jane to some he-man’s Tarzan, as soon as the screen goes black, they’re back in a real jungle where too often they really are Jane.
It’s not just about making role models for ourselves but about finding stories that mean something to women. Female actors are trying to do this all the time as well as finding work. For too long, actresses have gone from playing the love interest for the lead man to playing the lead man’s mother – apparently the only acceptable roles for women in a male dominated industry.
When groups of women are portrayed in films, not many story lines dip beneath the surface of what society expects from them so it was good to watch a conversation between Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern talking about how much they enjoyed working with each other on “Big, Little Lies”. In Witherspoon’s words,
“I think the show pulled back the curtain on what women are really thinking in marriage and life and that it’s not just the persona we construct for society.”
“Big, Little Lies”, the screen version was adapted from the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty.
This difference between the real world and film where women are concerned was forcefully highlighted when Jessica Chastain spoke out at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
“Chastain, a member of the 2017 festival’s jury, was witness to 20 of the world’s most acclaimed new movies and noticed a disheartening trend. The Academy Award-nominated actress acknowledged that there were exceptions, but most of the female characters seen at the festival were passive and empty shells of characters. Chastain continued by saying that these characters did not reflect any woman she had ever encountered in real life and that the lack of accurate representation speaks to how the world views women as a whole.” (uinterview.com/news)
Unfortunately, until there are more female directors and writers, film story telling is unlikely to change and neither is the world.
For further insight into women in film this article in the guardian is worth a read. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/27/geena-davis-institute-sexism-in-film-industry
April 20, 2017 · 10:38 am
April 20, 2017 · 10:34 am
At the turn of the year I sat with my daughter in an otherwise empty cinema. She’d just commented that we had our own private viewing when a mother and her young son arrived. It was term time and I thought it strange that he wasn’t in school. Then the film started and I forgot about them.
A Monster Calls is about death and how a young boy comes to face a terrifying truth. Both the book and the film were written by Patrick Ness inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd, who died before she could realise it. Both book and film share a dark, frightening world in which a young boy is visited by a monster who comes to him each night to tell him a story. On the last night, the boy must tell the monster his own tale but it is a story that is too terrible for the boy to speak.
Both the film and the book are dark and the foreboding atmosphere fills you with dread as you wait for the Monster’s arrival each night at the same time and the nightmarish landscapes which the boy must visit until the very last night when it is his turn to tell his own story. In the film, Liam Neeson voices the Monster, his deep, booming voice vibrating through the terrifying world that the young boy, played by Lewis MacDougall, inhabits. His mother is played by Felicity J0nes. It’s no spoiler that the boy has to face his mother’s death and all that means to his world.
The language and visualisation is dramatic and dark. As writers we have to find the best ways to tell a story that will affect our audience dramatically and the build in tension and fear is palpable in this film. We know what is coming but we still remain in our seats, living our hero’s torment on the giant screen as it sucks us into his dark world, hoping that somehow he will escape his fate but knowing that he can’t.
In real life when we are faced with the spectre of death, our language is more restrained, the monsters are in our heads but we subdue and control them with civilised language when we tell their story. Yet they never go away. How do we talk about our own death though when we can see that it is imminent? Steve Hewlett, a journalist with the BBC, used his training to tell his story from diagnosis to near death. His words were quiet, his message succinct but just as in the darkness of that cinema, I could not control my tears as I listened. Here was a journalist plying his trade, delivering his message so that we could understand it, no melodrama, no self pity, for he knew that those of his listeners who were able to feel, would do so somewhere in the depths of themselves. His words were not dramatic but the weight of them was as wounding as the images of Lewis MacDougall’s struggle in A Monster Calls.
When the lights went up in that auditorium at the turn of the year, the mother and son were no longer there.
You can listen to Steve Hewlett in the BBC podcast at the following link. TheEddieMairInterview-20161121-SteveHewlettISeeMyConditionAsABitOfAStory.mp3(3.12MB)? From:aod-pod-uk-live.akamaized.net
or Search The Eddie Mair Interviews on the BBC Website.