Every scene or linking passage must be there for a reason.
Why is this scene included?
What about it will make the reader read on?
Does it start at the right point?
Does it end at the right point?
Is there a good blend of narrative, description and dialogue?
Look critically at too long explanatory passages – show your readers what is happening and what your characters are thinking, don’t tell them.
Look carefully at viewpoint through which you describe a scene – whose head are you inside? How would he or she see it?
Look at wording and phrasing. Take each sentence one by one – does it say what you intended it to say? Is it elegant or clumsy?
Prune unnecessary words – e.g. George shouted angrily.
Watch for phrases and words you overuse.
· your choice of words
· the phrasing of your sentences
· the content of the individual scenes
· the overall balance and content of the book.
Have you overwritten?
Does it entertain and interest the reader?
Has it got shape – is there a rise and fall of tension, does it twist and turn? Does it rise to a climax?
Are there sub plots – are they sufficiently interwoven? What difference could it make if I took them out?
Do the events grow out of one another? Is there cause and effect?
Is there sufficient conflict?
Is there sufficient variety?
Is there a change of pace?
Is the plot clear?
Is the story credible?
Have I surprised the reader?
Where and what are the little clouds?
Monday, 28 January 2008
Every scene or linking passage must be there for a reason.
Friday, 18 January 2008
The disadvantage of being a writer is the necessity to read actively and watch actively. Non writers can read and be entertained passively. The magic and joy of being entertained in blissful ignorance of how that medium of entertainment was developed and delivered to you will disappear forever once you train yourself to think like a writer.
The simplest example of this is in the world of comedy. I’ve known comedy writers who had become incapable of laughter. When someone told them a joke they merely considered it for a moment, then nodded their heads and mumbled, ‘Very good, yes, that works’. Not because they had no sense of humour, it’s just that they didn’t permit their minds to accept the surprise factor that normally triggers the laughter response: instead of laughing they analysed how that joke was constructed and whether it could have been done better. By learning different humorous formulae they are able to make new jokes themselves using the same structure.
When you next read a novel, think about the structure of the story and the way the subplot weaves around the main plot. Think about what the writer is telling you directly and what is being hinted at. Think about the length of the chapter, the length of the paragraphs, the style of the dialogue. Think about the amount of descriptive detail compared to the amount of action taking place. Think about how the writer is moving the story forwards, maintaining pace and interest, making you want to keep reading. You think this would ruin the story for you? Too right. But it has to be done. Do you think a magician is amazed by his own tricks? Of course not, because he knows how they work. Only the passive audience enjoys it. It’s the same with writing. Once you deconstruct someone’s writing in order to see how they did it you cease to belong to the fictional world of that story and you’re just a cynical outsider counting the number of adjectives in the opening scene.
When you watch a sitcom or a movie or a cartoon, think about the structure. Try to identify scenes, acts and twists and turns in the plot. Look for moments where the character develops into something deeper than they were at the beginning. Note the balance between action scenes and slow paced scenes. See how minimal the dialogue is and how much is said without words by use of expression, symbolism, movement and music. Think about whether the characters are talking directly about the plot or whether the story is moving forward as a subtle undertone in a dialogue that’s heavily pregnant with dual meaning.
This is what it means to think like a writer. You’re going to be a professional, someone who knows the tricks of the trade, the inside secrets that allow only a small number of people to make a successful career from their words. Keep that frame of mind the whole time. Live and breathe the concept of being a writer and thinking like a writer. Active reading and viewing will seem strange and uncomfortable at first. It’s only natural: you’re taking that red pill and leaving the matrix of polished entertainment forever. You’re about to enter the real world where you need to get behind the scenes and understand the commercial side of entertainment. Writing is the backbone of all entertainment media and you can join the elite few who get paid to provide those words for the rest of us.
Sunday, 6 January 2008
There's a novel that begins with a would-author imagining the arrival of his first script on the publishers' desk. He imagines, not a desk, but a table, around which sit all the dignitaries of the publishing house, all eyes on the one lucky person privileged to open the parcel and read the first peerless page of prose. There is a hush as the editor slowly rises to his feet. 'Gentlemen,' he says in hushed voice, 'hats off.' This, in other words, is it.
My friends, I have to tell you that it isn't quite like that. I worked for many years in publishing, I've worked as an author almost as long, and I know the trenches of both sides all too well. It is true that every author still has to feel that way about his or her script, and every editor has to feel that enthusiasm for a new writer's work in order to be able to defend it through thick and thin, while financial, sales and marketing, PR departments and everyone else concerned with the mighty mills of the trade have their say. The tricky part nowadays comes in controlling the emotion and putting professionalism first when it comes to dealing with agents and editors.
The computer age has made this both easier and more difficult. It's much, much easier to present a professional looking script, but on the other hand any errors show up more clearly. Typographical errors, spelling and grammatical mistakes, and inconsistencies of style leap out at the editor or agent much more starkly than they ever do to the author, who tends naturally enough to be more concerned with content than presentation. A major tip from my trench therefore is that computer spell checkers are not enough. They're fine up to a point but no spell- or grammar-checker can ever pick up words that are wrongly used in context (e.g. affect for effect), or words that have been wrongly typed but the mistake gives them a different meaning (e.g. form for from), or omitted words or punctuation.
Why is this important? After all, once upon a less commercially minded time, authors weren't expected to be concerned with such niceties, because the copy editor would rectify all such trifles. Now it's a different story. Besides the intrinsic value of a script, other factors come into play, and the initial one is the appearance of the script – since if it looks sloppy and unpolished it suggests the same attitude in its author, and today's market depends on a professional partnership between publisher and author in both their interests.
The other partnership which is equally vital is that between agent and author. The agent is the gateway to the publishing world, and thus the appearance of a script is of equal importance here. No one book is likely to make an author's fortune, though I'm sure there are exceptions – Gone with the Wind comes to mind. However, now both agents and editors need to foresee a continuing relationship with a prospective author, and here again the presentation of the first script can be vital in creating that all important favourable impression. Such is the competition, particularly in the fiction field, that the best presented scripts can inch themselves forward in the game to attract an agent or editor's attention. So no single-spaced scripts, please. Double spacing and a reasonable size type and margins. No point in making readers work harder than they need; they won't thank you for it. No extra spaces between paragraphs (except where the scene or viewpoint changes), and indent new paragraphs, rather than offsetting them from the left-hand margin (except of course at chapter beginnings, or the openings of new scenes after a white line space). This is all in the interests of easy reading, which means it is in the author's interest too. You want the attention to be focussed on what you are writing, and the easier you can make this for the agent or editor considering your script, the more likely this is.
What about electronic submissions, or disks, or CDs? Find out what the agent or publisher you have chosen wants. Reference books or websites should give you this information. Don't disregard it, or your script will be greeted not with a 'Hats off, gentlemen' but a hiss of annoyance. Not a good plan.
Amy Myers is the author of the current Marsh & Daughter crime series of which the latest to be published is Murder and the Golden Goblet and the first in a new series about a Victorian chimney sweep in East London, Tom Wasp and the Murdered Stunner has just appeared. She writes short stories for anthologies and magazines, a collection of which was recently published by Crippen & Landru. She also writes other fiction under the name of Harriet Hudson. Before becoming a full-time author, she worked in publishing for many years. Married to an American, car-buff Jim Myers, she lives in Kent – where many of her mysteries are set.