Tag Archives: fiction writing

The first draft is … a work in progress.

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.

Happy editing!

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Filed under Constructive Criticism, Novels, Rewriting

The magical, wonderful world of children’s writing

Once upon a time in the world of publishing, there were adult books for adult readers and children’s books for children and never the twain crossed. Then Harry Potter was born and suddenly both children and adults were reading the same book or as it turned out, books as long as they began with the words “Harry Potter and …”

Suddenly it was okay for adults to read children’s books. Filmmakers tapped into this appetite for fantasy and fairy tales and plundered Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson in search of magic. The same adults, who wouldn’t have touched the books, found it okay to go and watch the stories on the big screen.

And the totally cross over market emerged. Children’s publishing which had never reached the figures of the adult market was suddenly booming. More books than ever were being published for children. It was adults who were buying them for their children and grandchildren but it was adults who in many cases were also reading them.

A children’s novel, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge has just won the Costa Book of the Year while another children’s book, The Fox and the Star has become Waterstones Book of the Year. This is only the second time a children’s book has won the Costa and the first time one has won the Waterstones. What is it then that raised them above the other novels, mostly written for adults? Could it be that they fulfil a desire for wonder, excitement, the unexpected and the need of our inner child to truly suspend our disbelief and go back to those strange worlds that captivated us?

Those worlds where anything is possible, where you can fly with the help of a friendly dragon, restore order or defeat evil with a spell from your magic wand and combat and win against almost unassailable, overwhelming odds – how could anything grounded in reality compete with the chance to become a child once more. I don’t know why there’s so much fuss about the news – but I suppose some people are born grown-up!

Oh yes, and to celebrate Libraries Day today – five out of ten most borrowed books from UK libraries were children’s!

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Filed under Characters, Children's writing, Novels

Suddenly September

Yes it’s happened again, another summer has flown past and we’re rushing towards the end of the year.  My time was divided between nose-to-laptop and a wonderful wedding.  Family weddings are joyous things where you share the moment when someone you’ve known and loved all their life begins another life with someone they love.  And then the day you’ve prepared for over many months is gone as quickly as the summer that you’re left remembering.  But from that day you have a mosaic of memories of faces, glances, laughter, words whispered and declared, silhouettes on the dance floor, speeches you remember so clearly, they’re etched in the air,  all of it your own private album, never dimmed by time, coloured by that unique moment, playing on a live, moving screen, unmatched by anything in the world.

You could lift them complete and slot them into your latest screenplay, novel or story and wonder why they don’t work or we could plunder them as writers do, though never the things that are closest to our hearts.  But the more you relive and remember, you’ll sift the essence and distilled, it will filter into your writing, though you must be careful with your own emotions, if you want your characters to be as individually pure as they can.

When I first started writing I was given a list of things you should know about your character which included what size shoes and colour socks they would wear and, okay, so maybe it was meant as a guide from which you could build a picture but there was nothing on that list about emotions.   Even the most bloodless, boring person has those and the reason they appear so sanguine could be just as valuable to the writer as what lies behind a life and soul of the party person.  Our greatest fears influence everything we do and every character has a colossal fear that drives and restricts them.  Find that fear and work out what is stopping them from overcoming it.   The best piece of advice I ever had from a script editor was “dig deep”.   But first dig into yourself and find out what your greatest fear is, and it will hurt, but only if you’re completely honest.

Some resources I’ve found valuable on character:  favourite screenplays, The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri and Laurie Hutzler’s Emotional Toolbox Character Map.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Character mapping, Characters, Film writing

Never, ever, ever throw anything away.

NEVER, EVER, EVER, THROW ANYTHING AWAY

A writer I knew once, in the depths of despair after a snowstorm of rejections – like buses, they always arrive together – took every single thing she had ever written and made a bonfire in the garden and burnt it all, and swore never to write another word again.

First of all, let me make it clear, I was not this writer, as in “There’s this friend of mine …” I’m not a good liar, which is why I probably write fiction. Everyone knows you’ve made it up, so it doesn’t matter and you also get to practise the lying part. And secondly, if I ever set fire to everything I’d ever written, I’d need a far larger location than my garden.

But the thing I admired about my friend, the writer, was the certainty with which she could decide to destroy all that time and effort, all those ideas, all the emotional input and give up writing. I wished I could be that brave, that sure of never needing to get those infernal words out of my head. If you can stop writing and not miss it, then you are very lucky. I’ve taken breaks from writing and filled them with travelling, working abroad, jam making and allotments and finally children before I gave up and went back to writing, bizarrely when I had the least time of all.

Just because you’ve had something rejected many times over, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a market for it somewhere, (see Rejection and the Boomerang post). A few years ago, I wrote a short film script. It was a coming of age story and it attracted some interest but never got made. It garnered its own little pile of rejections but I’d rather have that than dust and then out of the blue, an opportunity presented itself. A friend needed a script for a group of actors. Did I have anything that would fit? I had something that was almost right – that coming of age story. Since writing the original, I’ve changed computers several times and whilst everything’s backed up on disks, it was much easier to open a filing drawer and put my hand on the script.

There’s something about hard copy that’s satisfying – the feel of paper in your hand and it’s harder to ignore or pass over in the way you can a title in a document file. You can’t delete it in a temporary angst driven aberration. Like my writer friend, you have to give it a proper funeral pyre and if you expend all your energy in blue sky thinking like me, that’s a deterrent in itself.

But when you unearth this old script, be prepared. It’ll be a bit like seeing yourself in an old photograph next to a mirror – you’ll have moved on a fair few years but it’s what’s inside your head that matters not the exterior and best of all, your story gets another chance and you, another bite at the cherry. So whatever way you store it, hang on to it – all that person power and imagination. Don’t consign it to the digital dustbin or add to global warming. Keep it safe.

“Last Tango” is now in post production at ALRA North, Wigan.

There’s a special summer offer on my Anthology, “Life, Love and Holidays” on Amazon – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Love-and-Holidays-ebook/dp/B00B1EP2FC/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1376140013&sr=1-2&keywords=Life%2C+Love+and+Holidays

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Filed under Film writing, Short films, Writing and rejection