Whose point of View?

 

First person has its draw backs.  You can only see what the protagonist/heroine sees unless you adopt a structure for your novel, where the reader can see subplots or the antagonist/baddie going about their business or you can use letters or diaries written by other characters.

But first person can be more memorable:  how much less dramatic would the following novel opening be, if it were in the third person?

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.  It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me”  “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier.

It draws you like a sleep walker into the dream like  story and the sense of danger surrounding the heroine but even as you read it, you are the heroine, you are in danger.

When a character’s a strong individual, first person can work really well.

Veronica Roth is completely at ease in her heroine, Tris in “Divergent” and using the first person takes the reader straight into her life and her world.  No matter where she is, you move when she moves, you feel her fear, her pain, so effective is Roth’s style of writing. When she runs to board the train, you know exactly how her feet feel as she begins to jog alongside and you hear her thoughts as she has to increase her speed before she reaches up and clasps an outstretched hand.  You are Tris.

In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’ heroine, Katniss is first person point of view as well, waiting  for the reader to step into her shoes. We’re inside her head, her feelings for Gale catch at our hearts, her love for her mother strikes a chord and as she fights for her life, we understand her choices in who she will save and who she must kill.

And if you’re still not convinced, Mslexia’s judges for their annual novel competition have just compiled their long list with comments on the factors that affected their decisions.  Amongst them was the following:

” … those written in the first person, with a strong and idiosyncratic voice, often grabbed their attention.”

But in the end, it’s the character who chooses the voice, in that moment when they pop uninvited into your head.

 

 

 

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Who owns a writer?

Question:Who owns a writer?
Answer: The person who buys their work?

If you’re a famous writer, you can become a bit like a celebrity where everyone who reads a cheap rag thinks they own a piece of you.
But do writers owe anybody anything? You wrote something, someone bought it and liked it and wanted more and more.

And they liked it because you created a whole make believe world they could lose themselves in, with a host of characters they could identify with, with magical powers they could use to solve any difficulty they came up against – it was their escape route from a world that was challenging and stressful and didn’t appreciate them. And most of us can identify with that.

And then one day the books stop. But hey, the writer’s produced a play with the same characters, the saga continues. You don’t go to see the play, well it’s in London and anyway you don’t go to the theatre but they’ve published the play. So off you go and buy it and then all your excited anticipation turns to dust. It’s not a book, it’s a play. Well yes, that’s what it says on the label.

Then just as you went in hordes to buy that writer’s books, now you descend on Twitter to lambaste that poor writer. One irate fan even suggests that “she owes me a book!”

J. K. Rowling doesn’t owe anybody anything. She had an idea, made a decision about how to deliver it and carried her decision out with the help of a playwright and director. There was never any secrecy about it; it was on the television news and in the papers.

If all of this furore highlights anything, it’s the ignorance of the different formats of dramatic writing – just because you like the Harry Potter movies doesn’t mean you’d be able to enjoy one of their scripts.

The irony of all this is the Harry Potter series of books is rightly credited with increasing readership amongst children but judging by the level of English displayed by the irate tweeters, it’s done nothing to improve their literacy – grammatical errors, misspellings and their inability to read labels! It’s a pity Harry Potter’s magic wand couldn’t fix any of that.

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Adapting screenplays and novels

On a writing forum recently, someone asked a question about why novelisations of television dramas and films were always so badly written. The answer is they were written by screenwriters, who aren’t used to writing description or thoughts and feelings.

Film scripts are economical – they have to be. The dialogue and the plot are in the hands of the director and actors and they bring it to life in how they react and interact. At most a screenplay will be 120 pages long – a novel can be as long as the market and the story requires.

Writing a novel from a screenplay needs a completely different set of tools and skills than the screenplay requires. Fewer characters, perhaps fewer locations in the screenplay but the novel allows as many characters as the reader can deal with, because the brain takes in the information differently. The novelist isn’t hampered by budgetary constraints either – characters can go to Mars, travel back 500 years and as long as the reader believes them, the cost is the same as placing their story in the 21st century in a supermarket.

There was a trend in the 80’s for books the size of doorstops with so many characters there were lists of them at the beginning, to help the reader identify who was who. It seemed like people had forgotten that the human brain could only hold so much information and keeping it simple worked. When stories originated they were drawn on a cave wall long before they were spoken – woolly mammoth and man with spear – job done. Even when storytellers gathered around campfires, there were likely only a few characters, if that, in their tales – look at the traditional stories:  Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel.  Walt Disney and Pixar might have had a problem with their multi character casts.

There are some on-line blogs that start off talking about adapting a screenplay into a novel but half way through drift into talking about the reverse process, which has been the accepted trend for years.  Advice is that you choose the major characters from the novel and the stand out scenes and write your script around them, keeping in mind the end of the story.   You can turn this advice around for the reverse process but you could end up with a scaffold of empty rooms through which the characters move.  Adapting a screenplay to a novel is like moving to a different country and setting up home there.  To be able to write well in both mediums is a formidable talent – as Graham Greene displayed in The Third Man, both screenplay and novel.

Prose has to paint pictures for the reader and this is something that screenwriters aren’t used to doing.  The script is a tool to produce the entertainment, the novel is the entertainment.

 

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When Rock and Roll came to Liverpool

Yesterday was a black day for all the people who voted Remain, because the majority of the British people who voted, did so to Leave the European Union.  It’s understandable that many are concerned for the future and their jobs that they are worried will disappear as will the EU funding that’s supported countless enterprises and projects.

But this is not a political blog.  It’s a blog about reflection and also hope – this particular entry found its inspiration in a Face Book post  when a distraught Remainer complained that the British were ungrateful for the EU funding that had supported so many creative projects, although we have contributed our share to the communal purse.  I know there is wide spread concern in the creative industries for a future without this support or European co-operation/partnership.    We should remember, however, that Britain has been spectacularly creative in the past and we can continue to be so in the future.   Political institutions do not control what goes on in our heads or our imaginations and talent will eventually succeed.   Artists will always find ways round barriers and across borders.   It is too early to say – “we are doomed” – the politicians may think there is a line drawn in the sand but soft breezes and gentle tides can change all that, when there is mutual benefit.  Art, in its conceptual stage, does not need huge funds.  Europe may close its doors but there is the rest of the world.

In the mid 20th century, one of the greatest revolutions in music took place in a north west English port against all odds, without  EU funding, though industrial decline and social deprivation would have made it a shoe-in for such if it had existed.  However, it was Liverpool’s sea links with  America, from where Scouse sailors returned with records of a new kind of music and guitars, (mostly smuggled, hard-to-come-by in post war Britain) that created something that spoke not just to Liverpool and then the UK but to the rest of the world.    If we could do it then, we can do it now.  Have hope, faith and create.

And anyway, twelve gold stars on Ringo’s bass drum –  would never have worked.

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturday

Most of us have had that “I remember where I was” moment, when we hear of something that is so dreadful, the memory imprints itself forever.  It’s like  we’re outside ground zero but caught in the aftershock.  That’s the way I remember Hillsborough.   It was a sunny afternoon twenty seven years ago; I was in the garden with the kids.  They were digging in a flower bed and I was promising them a sandpit.  The phone rang. I went indoors to answer it. It was my sister-in-law – her son had gone to a football match and something terrible had happened and she couldn’t get hold of him. She didn’t know if he was dead or alive. I switched on the television. Outside my children were playing in the sun. Inside on the TV screen, other people’s children were dying on a football pitch.

It was a terrible day, waiting, listening, not telling the children what was happening,  until the news came – my nephew  finally arrived home safe but the shock and the horror of those scenes of what started as an ordinary Saturday didn’t go away.

A week later I took my children into Liverpool to buy them that sand pit. I can remember there being few people about and there was a strange atmosphere. Half way across Clayton Square in the city centre, suddenly everyone stood still. I can’t remember if there was a signal, a church bell or a ship’s horn but suddenly there was silence and nobody moved.  It was the exact time that the football match at Hillsborough had been halted seven days before.

I stood, holding one end of this large plastic sandpit with my son holding the other end while my daughter, unnerved by the silence, moved closer and grasped my hand.  Then through the stillness came footsteps and a man hurried past, staring straight ahead.  He didn’t look to left or right.  It was almost as though he was alone in that whole city, as though we were all of us invisible to him.   In a way it was symbolic of how the next 27 years would be as the families of the men, women and children who died at Hillsborough fought for truth and justice.

In 2005, I started a short film festival to showcase the work of new film makers and amongst the entries was a film, Bar to Bar from Mike Forshaw, a local emerging Director.   I saw a lot of films over the next few years but the ones that stand out are those that strike a chord.  I remember the images on the screen and connect to the characters and their emotions.  I remembered the clarity of the images and the honesty of the characters’ portrayal in Bar to Bar.  A few years’ later, we showed another of Mike’s films, Slippin’, which had been shown at the London Film Festival the previous year.  Again  I found this same connection to the characters in the clear story telling.

Next month in London, Mike Forshaw’s most recent film, Saturday, will be given its UK premiere at the London Sundance Film Festival.  Saturday is a powerful retelling of that day in 1989 through the eyes of a young boy who stays home in Liverpool, whilst his brother goes to the match.  It has already been shown at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in  the US but could not be screened in the UK, until the enquiry into Hillsborough had reached its verdict on the deaths of those 96 Liverpool fans.  Finally their families had truth and justice after 27 years.

The day after the verdicts, 30,000 people stood on Lime Street, not silent this time, nor invisible to the passer-by but singing the Liverpool FC anthem, ‘You’ll never walk alone.’  A scene that is beyond description but burned into the being of everyone who saw it.

I understand that the filmmakers of  Saturday  will be bringing this powerful retelling home to Liverpool after its UK premiere. I understand this because for in that strange way that Fate links and connects people and events, my daughter, Jennifer Monks, the little girl who held my hand nervously in that silent city, 27 years ago, became the Line Producer on  Saturday. 

Sundance Film Festival: London 2016 – Short Film Programme

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Save the writer!

So Google has won in its legal battle to perform wholesale theft of authors’ work, arguing that its digitisation project ‘fell under’ fair use of protected works and that it served the public interest. If it wasn’t so serious, this would be hilariously funny – Google is interested in serving the public interest!

Like everything that has a commercial aim, Google’s “short term public benefit” has a price as does everything that rips off creators, from the pirate dvds or the on-line unofficial films to the sections of writer’s works displayed for free.  Somewhere down the line, writers are going to ask themselves why they should go through all the agony of wrestling their ideas into print if they are not going to get paid whenever anybody logs in for a quick free read.  Maybe they’ll just stop doing this thing that keeps them awake at night because writers are the same as everyone else – they like a full stomach and a roof over their heads.

Mary Rasenberger, Exec Director of the Authors’ Guild in America thinks  this is exactly what will happen.  Authors in the USA are already among the most poorly paid citizens.  If they cannot make a living in the future, then … “only the independently wealthy or the subsidized will be able to pursue a career in writing and America’s intellectual and artistic soul will be impoverished.”   The “price of this short term public benefit might well be the future vitality of American culture …”

This is something that is also of concern in the UK where ALCS, the Authors’ Licensing and Copyright Society investigation into writers’ earnings found that in the last ten years, the number of full time writers had dropped as had their incomes.

In 2005 40% of writers earned their living from writing but by 2013 this had fallen to 11.5% and their earnings are well below the Living Wage.

Owen Atkinson, Chief Executive of the ALCS, echoes Mary Rasenberger’s words “These are concerning times for writers. This rapid decline in both author incomes and the numbers of those writing full time could have serious implications for the economic success of the creative industries in the UK.”  So it is in all our interests, not just the whingeing writers’ – a creative pool that reflects the diversity across society is healthier in every sense of the word and even the minnows in that pool should be valued as highly as the big fish.  Even tiny fees for excerpts of their work that are published on Google can make a difference.  Over a year, they all add up, as Google very well knows.

The last word on the subject has to be from the writer, Joanne Harris:  “Not everyone can be a high earning, high profile writer but all creators should have the right to be paid for what they do.”

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The trouble with not writing is you can’t stop thinking about it.

So the 80,000 word first draft is in a binder behind me on the bookshelf – well it is physically, but it may as well be in my hands as I try to get on with some other stuff – other stuff being not the novel that’s preoccupied me for so long.

Now’s the opportunity to write one of those short story ideas that have plagued the life out of me for the last six months and been slapped into place on the to-do list (the one in my head) because I needed to do one thing and one thing only – get to those two words that have beckoned on the horizon, glimmering in a literary, glowing, writers’ Shangri-la way – THE END.

Except the book won’t go away – it’s neither the characters nor the story – they’re lost somewhere in a mist. Instead in my brain the book is a solid object, with no name. It can’t be opened – it just sits there, a massive block of imaginary concrete that’s infuriating me and stopping me going anywhere, creatively anyway.

There’s always research – may as well check out those facts I wove into fiction – and there’s the concrete block again. Free range reading’s out – skimming, scanning and recording’s in. Everything to service the book again.

The deadline looms for the first edit. I console myself – who was it said “The first draft is always s**t?”

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