Friday, February 23, 2007

Coffee Break 6 and the Rules of Rom Com

Word Count: 42,175

OK, I admit it, I have hit The Wall. No more words this week. I have my excuses: cold, cough, ladders being delivered at all hours, brand new Orange SPV M3100 to play with (God I am terrified of dropping it), 40 scripts marked, boyf leaving his job, doubts about what to do with this particular project, toothache...but to be fair I am also approaching that mid-point slump which I always get with a book.

I may not have extra words but I do have about a dozen handwritten pages of scrawl, asterisks, block capitals and other ideas following the rather excellent Script Factory course on the Rom Com genre I attended a week ago today. Screen-writers tend to approach work in a much more structure-focused way than novelists, and though certainly the book allows much more flexibility in form, commercial authors in particular have a lot to learn from the screen approach. Apart from anything else, we live in a very visual culture, and the story structures being used by Hollywood and TV drama and even the non-linear structures of video games are increasingly the narratives that consumers are most familiar with, particularly younger readers.

That might sound a bit pompous/academic, but what I think it means is that commercial writers have to understand those structures too - not follow them slavishly, but be aware of the need to keep the pages turning. OK, so many of us do that instinctively, but it never does any harm to be reminded.

The course, hosted by the vivacious Marilyn Milgrom (like a very glam Miss Jean Brodie, strict and passionate), looked at the conventions of Romantic Comedies and its inherent problem as a movie genre: the audience understands the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-finds-girl-again structure so well - and expects that outcome, most of the time - that a writer has to work hard to keep the tension and the suspense going, to make it believable that the boy and girl (or boy/boy, or girl/girl) might NOT end up together, and most important, to make us care whether they do or not.

We had a lot of fun on the day, discussing movies and stories and brainstorming ideas. There was good food, too, and interestingly an equal number of men and women. I've done the Robert McKee course, but this worked far better for me: more interaction (as opposed to none in Story!), specific to the world I write for, and light airy room - environment makes an enormous difference. Afterwards I also raced to amazon to buy Writing the Romantic Comedy by Billy Mernit, which was the basis for some of the ideas Marilyn was explaining, and was so excited I even went for First Class Postage rather than SuperSaver!

The book is terrific, really straightforward but written in a lively style, with good movie analysis that makes you want to race out and watch the DVDs again. It also has great check-lists for each element: character, plot, theme.

The author, Billy Mernit, also has a fascinating blog. Really worth a good old surf around.

Is his book the ultimate blueprint for novelists who write about love? Not exactly, but then it doesn't set out to be. It's excellent food for thought, but the beauty of novels is that you can break the rules and - hopefully - retain readers, in a way that movie test audiences won't let you. One bad vote from them and your film goes back to the edit...

Now there's a thought. Test audiences for fiction works-in-progress. I guess it happens already on the web to some extent, but imagine if your finished draft went out to 100 readers and then came back 'it's good but can you change the ending?'

So what's everyone else been up to? Next stop, choosing a new word meter.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Cold Remedy and Champagne Cocktail

Word count: I am not even looking, as it's the same

Poor Zokutou Word Meter seems to be under the weather. I know how it feels. I am usually a great believer in drugs for all ills, so as soon as cold symptoms appeared I stocked up on cold remedies. Only instead of the branded ones, I went for some own-brand ones. And that's where the trouble started.

There's a day capsule, stuffed full of caffeine to keep you alert during waking hours. Then there's a night capsule, with secret sleeping potions, which I very rarely use as I have no trouble sleeping usually. But they are not at all clearly labelled, especially for one whose faculties are already reduced. So I have accidentally taken the Night Ones during the day, not a good plan at the annual party hosted by my publisher. These events are truly glam and so I took not just one but TWO capsules. To pep me up, you know.

I had a lovely time. The champagne was flowing (and flowing) and as usual I was trying endlessly to find the waiters who happened to have the few vegetarian canapes (there were sausages on sticks, salmon, eggs benedict with haddock, all sorts...and occasionally a fab and groovy mini-baked potato, or salsa tart thing). I did eat beforehand, but even so felt surprisingly drunk, surprisingly quickly. By the end of the evening I was feeling less than 100 per cent on this planet. Well, I am only ever about 80 per cent here, but even less than normal. As a result I was chatting to complete strangers. Not that I was making any sense, mind you, but I was having a lovely time. Oh yes. Not so the poor people I was chatting to.

I woke up on Friday, feeling groggy but not hungover at all. Weird. I had to get organised for this Rom Com day yet felt other-worldly. Arguably not a bad state for a day about romantic writing...

It was only on Saturday at 3am when I WAS having trouble sleeping and remembered I had some night ones in the box, that I found the night-time blister pack and discovered two missing...and through a process of elimination, worked out what I'd done. I then took one of the pills (at 3am) and was in grog-central all yesterday.

I don't know if you remember but years ago there was a rumour amongst adolescents that you could get very drunk on aspirin mixed with Coca Cola (don't try that one at home) - now I seem to have stumbled on the adult version. I shall call this cocktail Kate's Downfall: Champagne, empty stomach, Night Cold Remedy capsules.

And to top it all, my cold is still going strong, with a nice fluorescent chesty cough to go with it. You know those green Post-It notes? That colour.

PS: we have a couple more novel racers. If you're a novel racer and want me to email you the updated code, let me know. And does anyone know an alternative word counting meter if Zokutou problem is terminal?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Coffee Break 5

Word Count: the same...

Week five already? Can't quite believe that, can you, racers? It's been a pretty naff week for word count enhancement, but then again marking has taken over, and feeling poorly.

And today I am off to a course on how to write romantic movies! Can't wait, it sounds lots of fun. That's why I am posting early.

So what do you to in terms of training and development as a writer? I have always been a sucker for how-to books, personally. What works for you? And what's your objective for the next week?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Day Nurse at Night and Other Errors

Word Count: 42,175

Tip 1: Never take a Day Nurse cold capsule after about 9pm. Or with champagne over a Valentine's meal. Something about that combo has given me insomnia and I am one of the world's most accomplished sleepers.

Book has been moving slowly this week due to marking mountain from my college work. I have new sympathy with the people whose job it is to read the slush pile: not because the work is bad, but just the quantity. The other interesting thing is how much difference it makes if the work is correctly presented - after marking 32 assignments, just having the papers in the wrong order, or a peculiar typeface or layout, is enough to send me into a fury...Tip 2: always follow submission guidelines TO THE LETTER if you're looking for an agent.

By the way, say hi to two new novel racers, Peg and Lisa, now listed under the novel race banner. Incidentally, if you do ask to sign up, I promise I will do it but please bear in mind it may take a few days due to the fact that I hate html and try to do changes in bulk if possible...on the other hand, if it's taken me more than a week, do email me via my website to remind me!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bump on the head

Word count: 40,990

Being of a slightly deaf persuasion, I don't always hear my mobile. Last week I didn't hear it so it decided, aided by its vibrate function, to jump off the sideboard unit thing. This suicide bid was unsuccessful but it did result in the phone losing its ring. Which, in turn, led to a very annoyed boyfriend as I had to be LOOKING at the thing to know it was ringing. And though the life of a novelist isn't quite non-stop thrill, I do have better things to do with my life than stare at my mobile.

Cue much hilarity. Not. Things like boyf forgetting his house keys at 6am, coming back to the house, calling my mobile to let me in. Of course, I was asleep. He then rang the doorbell - which is very loud but even so, I couldn't hear it. No idea what woke me in the end, except it might have been the cat jumping on me, Skippy or Lassie-style, to raise the alarm. Boyf not happy.

So then I began the horrid task of trying to choose a new moby. I do think we are UTTERLY unprepared for this. When I were a lass....there was only one sort of phone, a beige one supplied by British Telecom or the Post Office or whatever it was called back then, and you had to RENT it 'cos it was so expensive.

Now there are trillions of them. And trillions of deals. And it makes my head hurt. I think there should be lessons in school on choosing consumer electronics. There probably are. In the meantime, the moneysavingexpert website has offered lots of sensible advice. Am very tempted by a Smartphone but will I ever have time to learn it?

Which is why I was hugely relieved when this morning I didn't hear the mobile alarm ring (as, you guessed it, it doesn't ring any more) and it vibrated off the bedside cabinet and GUESS WHAT, in a human-being-awoken-from-coma-due-to-second-bump-on-head-miracle, the ring came back. Hooorah.

So if you've lost any of your faculties over the years, you know what to do.

In other news, my friend Matt Dunn has become only the sixth man in history to have his book shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award. Go, Matt. His book, The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook, is VERY funny indeed and I hope he wins!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Coffee Break 4

Word Count: 39,224

Mocha for me. No cream, as I have so far have failed to reach my target of 40,000 words for the end of the week, although it's only 8.30am so I might manage it (and can I count Saturday?).

Even so, I think I am over a third of the way through, as I am determined not to let this book go far into six figures. I have also been struggling with a pivotal scene involving the heroine and one of her potential happy-ever-afters. Well, it's the one she's going to end up with, actually.

Because I have never really set out to write a full-on romantic comedy before (my other books have been, to me at least, much more about the heroines finding themselves), I found this scene became quite a hurdle to get over. How to hint at sexual tension without having a warning light flashing on the page - THIS IS IT, GIRL! - and so on. Any hints?

Something else I'd love to be nosy about, fellow racers: when do you first show your work-in-progress to people? Generally my editor or agent or the first people to see enormous great chunks of it, but I do read material out at my critique group (although, I think that it quite hard because it's difficult to judge anything from 10 minutes' worth, especially after we've had a glass of wine or two) and have also on occasion sent work to fellow writers and friends when I have been unsure or needing guidance...

So are you a wip-sharer, or a wip-hider?

Oh, and newbies, please do introduce yourselves and tell us what you're working on!

PS: Just added about 900 words so feeling better now!

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Taking a break...

Golly, fourth post in a day...not that they'll be there soon.

Odd day. I've been rather surprised at my own reaction to what is a very minor deal in the scheme of things. I've had all kinds of risky and weird adventures in my day job over the years, but for some reason I am feeling very odd about my own judgement after this, so I hope no-one who has posted will mind me taking everything from today's ramblings down. I do appreciate your encouragement.

I'm also going to take a break from full-on blogging for a bit. I'll still post my word count, plus any interesting links I see, and I'd love it if people would still come on 'over' for the Friday coffee break. I promise to update the new racers so do please add comments if you'd like to join in but I need a bit of chilling time, I think. Probably only a few days...we'll see.

Happy racing, all.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Stage and Screen?

Word Count: 35,181

Have embryonic semi-cold/bug (bird flu?) so feeling slightly sorry for self. I blame the writers. Met a whole load of 'em at the weekend in a central London bar and though it was UTTERLY splendid to meet so much talent in one place, I was probably so excited that my immune system was not performing, bingo, bugged up!

Have really been struggling today, too. Decided to set a key scene at the Tower of London but it's been decades since I last visited, so I felt stuck. The web is a poor research substitute: great on facts, rubbish on 'feelings'. Considered hopping on the train but too buggy. Instead I unearthed a favourite childhood book, Children of the Tower, which helped a lot. But I still plan a recce soon.

Also had my assignment back from the OU Start Writing Plays course and got a good mark, and some even more encouraging comments. The tutor was excellent, and he is spot on about what's wrong with the play I sent. He describes one of the characters as: 'currently one of the least sympathetic characters I have encountered in a long time' - ah... that's not quite what I intended. He's also highlighted exactly where I could change this.

It's interesting how writing in different genres or media is so testing. I think that I now have a fair command of the tools of fiction writing: or at least, as good a command as I'm likely to get. That's not to say I can't improve, but I have a reasonable idea of how to play with the reader's sympathy and get them on side, even with a fairly villainous character.

Play-writing involves such different techniques, and I feel a bit like a child picking up a crayon for the first time: I'm making big, thick, uncontrolled scribbles, rather than fine strokes and detailing. But I was so heartened by the way my lovely tutor concluded, saying that - I hope this doesn't sound too much of a show-off, but I have shared the criticism too - 'Hit West End plays make a lot of money, and you have the talent to produce one.' I feel all glowy having read that. Isn't that the sweetest bit of feedback you've ever seen? I might have to delete it later but wanted to share it for now...

By the way, the number of Novel Racers increases all the time - check out our new recruits in the sidebar.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Coffee Break 3

Word Count: 31,148

Today I am drinking a flavoured Nespresso coffee, as recommended by official Nespresso Ambassador George Clooney. Is there no end to the human rights causes that this hunk is willing to endorse?

So that was did you get on? I am pretty chuffed at my progress, and at this rate I wonder whether I can aim for 60,000 words in the can before the end of Feb - though that seems a bit crazy. I have college teaching again this month, plus a heap of assignment marking, which is bound to eat into writing time. Maybe I should aim for 50,000 and then hope I can exceed it.

What are YOU aiming at during February?

And what are you reading? I asked this question at the first Uni seminars as I love hearing recommendations. I really enjoyed Tom Perrotta's Little Children, and am now moving onto the set book I am teaching on the seminars, Crawling at Night by Nani Power which is not a book I would ever have bought, but it's probably good to be made to read stuff outside your comfort zone. We shall see...

Oh, and if you're new, don't be shy. I will be adding a couple of newbies later but if you haven't appeared yet, still feel free to add your hello!

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hello Romancing the Blog Readers!

Now ain't that just the way? The day my piece about the Novel Race appears on the fabulous Romancing the Blog site, Blogger misbehaves. Naughty Blogger!

If you've come here because you'd like to join in, please click here for the rules (actually, there are hardly any rules, we're a very laid back bunch)- see the sidebar for the current participants, and either post a reply here or email me via my website to get involved.

We could have you signed up and ready to share in time for tomorrow's virtual coffee break. We'd all love to meet you!


Touchy and Feely Covers

Word count: 31,148

Something strange has happened with blogger today - I can post, but I can't see my own blog, or several other blogs either.

Had the first full version of my slipcover for The Self-Preservation Society this week, and it features this amazing, touchy-feely 'flocked' style finish. The idea behind the jacket is that my central character, Jo, 'wraps herself in cotton wool' by avoiding all, as you'll see in this picture, she surrounds herself in, yep, a cotton wool stole.

Anyway, what the clever designers have done is to add this furry texture to the white bits - only the cloudy title so far, but the bottom bit will be done too. It's very unusual, don't think I've ever seen it before, and cries out to be stroked, I hope! Because if you can get a bookbuyer to pick up a copy, then you stand a better chance of them buying it. An additional, curious benefit is that the cloud now very slightly resembles a mushroom cloud. Which, as the book is partly inspired by being a scaredycat child of the 80s who believed death by H-bomb was inevitable, is rather neat.

After a hectic day back at the University yesterday, I have been researching and writing today and trying to work out whether I will be more or less productive if I go for a walk by the river. On balance...I am going to head out in a minute as the sun is shining.

Oh, and I promise I will sort out new racers, once I can get access to my blog.