Saturday, 27 June 2009

Conflict and Gotham writers

This is the old pack horse bridge over the Whittle Burn in Ovingham, and has absolutely nothing to do with what follows, but it's pretty, and I like it. It was repaired in 1698, so it is pretty old.

The start of a story is important. It has to grab the reader. So the lead-in, from the first page to the inciting incident should introduce the protagonist, establish the genre and the setting and lead to the inciting incident. And you have to do it in an interesting way. You might want to show your protagonist in his/her normal world, which the inciting incident will disrupt and set the rest in motion. Or you might prefer to begin with an incident that will tip everything normal on its head, and run from there.

And for the rest - keep the conflict coming so that stakes are raised for the protagonist, weave in subplots and give it all highs and lows. Conflict may be many things - external, internal, spiritual, emotional, physical - but you need it. Reaching the goal has to get harder and harder. If the main character has nothing to lose, you have no conflict.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Gotham writers and scenes

A peaceful scene in a local churchyard - and all those lovely shades of green showing nicely.
Now for scenes -
each must have 3 things - relevance to the MDQ, a clash of objectives plus a structure of its own.
Relevance -move the plot along, either by introducing conflict or adding character depth
Conflict - tension or struggle of some kind
Structure - keep objectives out of reach, force the protagonist to shift tactics
Linked Scenes then form sequences. Simple. Ha! Now to try doing it!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Protagonist v antagonist

This is Prudhoe Castle peeping above the trees not a stone's throw from where I live. The trees are magnificent at this time of year - finally in full leaf and so many shades of green.
I am getting to grips with my Regency novel now. I've read enough about writing to appreciate that that though some writers express it better than others, they are basically saying the same thing. The trouble is remembering it when writing!
Constant reminders seem to work for me, so let me jot down what the Gotham writers say about characters. (Remembering that this book is on screenwriting and they have done a separate volume of Fiction which may say something else - I won't know until I get hold of it)
The Protagonist initiates, must be appealing and have the ability to change and demonstrate an arc of change.
The Antagonist presents the strongest obstacle to the Protagonist's goal(s). S/he may/may not be the villain. Sometimes the Antagonist is a force within the Protagonist's mind. (A neat way of expressing the Protagonist's weaknesses)
Minor characters must have desires that integrate with or act against the basic MDQ (Major Dramatic Question, otherwise known as The Plot) They need to be differentiated from each other or they will rapidly become one dimensional.
They like new characters to be introduced in 2-4 lines, not all of it physical description. This I realise I have not done. I've allowed the hero/heroine to describe each other.
Tomorrow - scenes.
and a footnote - I'm still not sure if Gotham is a real place or where Batman hails from. My education is sadly lacking.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Northumberland's flower

The newly appointed county flower of Northumberland - Bloody Cranesbill. It is of the geranium family and has a Latin name but I can't remember it. It is a shade that is hard to reproduce via a camera - it should be more purple than blue, and the veins are redder, hence the bloody tag.

I'm reading more of the Gotham Writers. It struck me that the aim of screenwriters is to " see a movie on the through it, experiencing the story. " I wonder if that is seeping into the fiction writing that many editors demand these days. All the instructions regarding show, don't tell, writing in the present tense, capture a scene in a few well honed words, short sentences, no ambiguiity, cut out the adjectives... don't write "Sally looks sexy," instead tell us "Sally sashays by, shimmering in satin."
Apart from anything else, that sentence is almost a tongue-twister of the Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper fame.

I wish I knew what sashay meant. For years I have read American words and phrases in novels by authors from Evan Hunter to Nora Roberts and although I can usually grasp the meaning, sometimes it isn't at all clear. My dictionary says this of sashay: "Walk or move ostentatiously, casually or diagonally." I'm not sure but I think the average American would have a different picture in their head as to how Sally walked!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Gotham Writers' Workshop

Almost at once I got things of use from the Gotham Writers.
Bearing in mind that they are focussed on screenwriting, there's a lot that is useful to fiction writers. Every story, they say, needs:
  • interesting characters

  • intense conflict
  • visual opportunity (using imagination instead of eyes)
  • emotional power
I've often wondered what High concept meant. I could guess, but was I correct? Well, now I can report that high concept is something big, exciting, flashy or weird and deals with huge ideas like mass destruction. Low concept deals with stories that are more like real life. Not what I imagined at all. Good thing I never tried to bandy the terms around!

Every story has a Major Dramatic Question, (MDQ) which becomes the single driving force of the plot. Example - Will Scarlett win Ashley? That is the MDQ for Gone With the Wind. She fails to win him, but it is still the MDQ.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Thunderstorms and Libraries

We have a thunderstorm rolling around above us
right now so I guess Whittle Dene burn will soon be flowing a good deal faster than it was the other day!
I read my first Jodi Picoult book last week. I've seen her name in the best seller lists for some time now and finally succumbed to curiosity. The Tenth Circle held my interest to the last page but it was one of those stories where the author withholds certain prime facts that alter the whole perception of the work. All the way through it was fairly obvious that something was not quite right about the juvenile lead character - "there's a rabbit off 'ere somewhere," as my dad used to say - and the parents are suspect in more ways than one, but we were not allowed enough clues to work it out for ourselves.
Remember me? on the other hand, is Sophie Kinsella doing very well. I have not read enough of hers to say it is her best, but this one seemed a little more than chick-lit to me. Imagine waking up after an accident, and finding you don't recognise yourself, and can't remember the last three years during which you evidently changed your entire personality. Good premise? I enjoyed it.
The French Gardener (Montefiore) is the story of a love affair. Quiet, reflective, and a pleasure to read. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, always magical.

Went into Newcastle to day to view the newly opened City Library, and was impressed. The old building closed mid 2006 and the new one opened on 7th June. Click here to check it out. Though I do not live in the city, nor even in the Tyne and Wear district, I was eligible to join and so I did. We tried coffee and a scone in the restaurant that is on a separate floor to the books, and visited the Local History and Interest level where I succeeded in drawing attention to myself by knocking a steel shelf marker onto the floor. Within seconds a member of staff appeared, asking if it had struck my toe. Good job it didn't, as the wretched thing was heavy. I also managed to shove my card into the computer and then look silly when it wouldn't accept it, do anything with it or regurgitate it. All borrowing is automated. With the help of one of the "floating staff" I managed to borrow a book - Writing Movies by Gotham Writers' Workshop.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

People's Book Prize and Grunters

Passed this beautiful lady and her bashful foal on a walk the other day. Yes, those are buttercups and daisies beneath their hooves.
I heard of something called The People's Book Prize yesterday. The website is here. As far as I can tell it applies to the UK only but I could be wrong on that as I have not read all the small print. I would have copied it here, but I can no longer get the blog to accept chunks copied from other sites.

I must admit I am wary of any site that offers something dependent on The Public Vote because that is so obviously open to bias, bribery and corruption! If you have a big family with an army of cousins, or a big office or university department to vote for you, it must be a huge advantage over the shy, retiring author who lives alone. I may be cynical, but hoping that sheer merit will get you noticed seems a faint hope these days. And yet the impossible does happen. Either way, it will be interesting to watch and see what happens.
And yeah! Wimbledon has announced that it will cut down on grunters and moaners! Persistent grunters will forfeit points, games, even matches. There is a list of grunters and their decibel output here The women seem to grunt far louder than the men. Navratilova says it is done to cover the sound of the ball striking the ground, as that gives away a good deal of information about the amount of spin on the ball. So yes, in my view, that is a form of cheating. And my ears will be so pleased to have those wailing grunts assaulting them no longer

Friday, 12 June 2009

Forgot to mention in my last post that I'm guest-blogging here today. Check it out - there's a book to win if you leave a comment, and there are lots of interviews with authors whose names you will recognise. Check out the archives as well as my piece!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Characters and countryside

I love the recent change in the countryside. Fields are starting to look as they did in my childhood instead of the barren, weed and flower free zones they have been for so many years. The characters in my wip must have enjoyed flower meadows and hawthorn blossom just as I do. Buttercups are rampant at the moment.
The fact that my characters "live" not far from me, geographically speaking, means that I can easily visualise the places where I have them walking and riding, and I love that. I know a lot of research can be done via the research tools we have available today, but nothing, in my view, beats actually walking the ground you want your characters to tread. And some authors simply do not make use of Google Earth or the wonderful maps we have of this country, and I wish they did.
My current characters are suffering at the moment, and will be for some time to come - but I know I can bring them to a happy conclusion, so I am not weeping copious tears. It is a change of pace I am attempting - not adding more, but going deeper. Though yes, I suppose I am am adding more, for now I have shed the M&B contraints, I can look at subsiduary characters and bring them into play. I started out five years ago with multiple characters, and shed them all to concentrate on the H/h for M&B - now I'm back to where I started!
I am enjoying it. I think. Yes, I know I am. No more excited gasps or electric touches every time the hero walks into the room; now I can try and find out what my characters really think and feel about each other.
It may be something to do with the covers and titles of M&B Historicals these days but I am very reluctant to pick one off the shelves. If the covers continue to scream "erotica" and the titles follow the trend towards the Billionaire's Problem Bride/Her Noble Love kind of simplicity then I won't be buyng any more, which is a pity for there are some authors I enjoy - Cornick, Allen, Maitland - among the "pseudo" historicals ie, those with modern manners. dialogue and plot lines plonked down in Regency times. Yes, I know some people enjoy that sort of story, but they're not for me.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Can a hero be a jerk?

The pic on a slant is Aydon Castle, built in the late 1200s.
I seem unable to copy text into here as I used to do. It can only be because I've moved from Internet Ex 7 to 8. Is it an oversight, deliberate or am I doing something incorrect now? So instead of quoting someone, I'll now paraphrase a blog that struck a chord with me this morning.

Talking heroes and villains, the general feeling is that it is OK for a villain to be a jerk, but if a hero leans towards something that doesn't fit the strict hero credentials, the author is liable to get lambasted. I've had it happen, but I believe, like the writer of the blog, that heroes do have a tendency to slip into real life and do snap, bark, and do the occasional venial thing when they are upset, disappointed, or wake up with their noses out of joint that particular day.

Heroes are not impossible beings in my mind. They're human like the rest of us and so they have days when nothing goes right. Put them in a situation where the love of their life throws them over for someone else and I'd huff in scorn if all he did was say "So be it; she loves him and I must endure it." What a wimp, I say. I'd rather he threw something, or punched the rival, or let rip with a few choice swear words for an hour or so - and then got himself under control again.

"Defeats never make you grow, but you also realise how difficult what I achieved up until today was, and this is something you need sometimes. You need a defeat to give the value to your victories." Rafael Nadal.

Rafa may be talking, with his strange and wonderful grasp of the English language, about tennis, but his words have a strange echo for me and for everyone in this difficult writing game. Once upon a time I never thought I'd get a book published, and now I have. Then I had three published. Then I worry about why agents refuse me - and then I read Rafa's words and I think how far I have come. Vamoose Rafa! and Vamoose us!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


It has been an excellent year for blossom in this part of the world. That's a plain old hawthorn in full bloom and there are hedgerows full of them. The gorse has gone, all dead and brown, but now it is the time for hawthorn. I remember Anne of a Thousand Days - the scene where she was led out from her execution, I think, and she pauses to look at the blossom. "Why, the month is May," she says, reminding me that country people still use the old name for the hawthorn.

I am continually distracted from writing. Tennis goes on, and will for some weeks to come, and I'm an addict for this short season. The weather has finally reverted from temperatures in the mid twenties and gone back to its normal grey 18 degrees for a British summer. While the sunshine was so glorious, I spent a good deal of time out in the garden and walking in the countryside. We're never sure we'll see the sun again, you see, and already we're only three weeks away from the longest day.

It may be that I am bored with the story. Maybe I need to start on something new, and shove this one to the back of a drawer somewhere. Surely my lack of interest is telling me something and I ought to listen?

Monday, 1 June 2009


Ah, this picture says it all. Unbelievably, Rafa lost his match against a man he's beaten every time they played in the past.

"He didn't surprise me because I know how he plays and how dangerous he can be. I didn't play my best. I played very short and I couldn't attack. I made it easy for him to play at his level. But I lost. It's not a tragedy, I had to lose one day. I must accept my defeats with the same level of calm that I accept my victories."

Well, I should have more time for writing now. Until Wimbledon, that is. I hope he has a good rest, enjoys his birthday at home for the first time in years.

The picture is courtesy of Reuters.

Taking a Risk

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