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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Blogger Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Commiserations on walls, slumps, ailments and hurdles; sounds like a grim week - but it also sounds as if you've been making progress, even if that hasn't yet translated itself into more words of your novel. Which it will, sooner or later.

I'm still summarising, not as far ahead as I'd hoped to be by now (no change there, then!) but the work is useful and will be productive in the end.

I'm glad to have been adopted as a novel racer, but not entirely sure I'm eligible as I'm on my second draft... it's good to have found this particular cyber-network, though. I plan to update my blogroll this weekend and will do my best to include you all.

10:38 am  
Blogger Lucy Diamond said...

Morning all,

I feel as if I'm slowing down and approaching The Wall too - not entirely sure where I'm going with the plot now. Really need to sit down and organise the order of my main events. Hmmm. I've not even managed 2,000 words this week - I'm just limping along rather pathetically.

Still, I'm off for a weekend away in a few hours with The Girls - one of whom is always coming out with excellent one-liners, so I will take a notebook with me and nick some of them hopefully!

10:47 am  
Blogger Lucy Diamond said...

Oh, and I forgot to say, the course sounded brilliant!

10:47 am  
Blogger Lesley Cookman said...

I've got excuses, too. Page proofs of book due out in May. I've managed to up the count to 31923 (almost 32000!), so only 50000 odd to go.

Love the sound of the rom-com course, and the book. Will have a look on amazon - but will it work with crime? Mind you, critics have said my crime is more Katie Fforde than PD James... (and not in the same league as either, unfortunately).

10:49 am  
Blogger liz fenwick said...

Commiserations Kate on the wall but it does sound as if the course will prove fertile ground when its digested.

I felt so guilty about not writing a single word last week that thus far this week have produced over 7000 and I have yet to write a single word today....sorting out builders is my excuse.

Lucy maybe the weekend away will be just what you need.

Zinnia, the community of racers is great and I'll look the other way and try not to be too jealous that you are on your second draft.

I have posted a first page challenge on my blog if any one is feeling brave or possibly fool hardy like myself????

Hope this week I pass the 50,000 maker. Trying not to think of this as the middle, don't want to sag. I have roughly broken the novel into thirds so I am no well into the middle as such and thankfully its still rolling or mostly I know where I want to go- I hope - my characters may have a different plan.....

10:53 am  
Blogger liz fenwick said...

Hey Lesley, well done against the odds! Is the construction finished?

10:54 am  
Blogger Helen said...

Sorry to hear about your bad week Kate. Hopefully next week will be a better one for you. I've been ill too and have berated myself for not putting in as much effort into my work (not just writing my novel but assignments and articles, looking after son - Cbeebies has helped there - housework, step & combat clases - the list goes on) but it's only once you feel better (and I had to have antibiotics to help me) that you realise how knackered you've been with a virus, cold or whatever and its no bad thing to take time out every now and again. Rest is the best medicine. Without feeling guilty about it of course!

Thankfully I feel 100% better now and I've been doing 1000 words a day this week. Would love to get to the 30,000 marker within the next few days. (Currently nearly 24,000).

Liz, love the sound of your challenge. Not sure if I'm brave enough yet, but have just re-read my first page just to see! My first two pages probably need a lot of editing, but I've put that off for a while as I've found them difficult to write personally. I'll see if I feel braver later...

11:18 am  
Blogger Jane Henry said...

My word counter hasn't moved this week, but I knew it wouldn't. Kids were still off on Monday, Tuesday was spent with best friend who haven't had a day alone with since the dawn of time (ie before her first baby twelve years ago!) - we spent most of it looking for her nutty dog, but it was worth it!, and Wed I was up in London meeting my ed. So yesterday and today I am catching up on other work/housework.

Next week I promise.

However, did come back energised by conversations with ed, who likes direction I am going in. Phew.

Kate - am allowed to go boy's pov but no exclusively, hurrah! - and the satirical sword has to be blunted (as I suspected). Still, I have a theory that all romantic fiction is inherently subversive, so I intend to subvert away!

12:10 pm  
Blogger Kate.Kingsley said...

Ooooh, the first page challenge sounds interesting: I think I’ll give mine a bit of spit and polish over the weekend and send it out into the world on its spindly little Bambi legs…..

This week has been good: I’ve managed to delve a bit deeper into my background, and I’ve got a few more words down (approx 3-4,000, but not sure as I am a luddite who writes in longhand in a notebook to start with!) Word-o-meter has not been updated because I hate fiddling around with the blogger template, so I am using the excuse that Kate says that Zokutou is kaput, which is reason enough for me to steer clear of it for the time being!

Most importantly I have a renewed “zip” about me at the minute ~ maybe it’s the feeling that spring is on the way, but I really feel like I can do this now, unlike the last few weeks when I felt like I was flogging a dead horse and feared I was writing the wrong book. Things are gooing much better after my wobble, but I have reasoned now that even if it does turn out that I’m writing the wrong book, well that’s a lesson in itself, a part of the learning process, and any writing practice is useful, as I’ll have learned that I can get actual words onto an actual page.

Many thanks to Jane Henry for her kind and helpful comments on last weeks coffee break: your advice regarding going back to research was great as it was what I wanted to do (although it felt like “cheating”, somehow!), your comment felt like “permission” and it really helped. As for the running, I’m not in training for anything specific, I just got it into my head that I should be running 15 miles a week! Have decided to ease up on that self-imposed rule now, and oddly enough have ran more than usual this week! Lesson learned: stop hemming yourself in with obligations and everything comes a little more easily.

Here’s to a great weekend everyone ~ I look forward to catching up on all your blogs asap.

12:34 pm  
Blogger Caroline said...

Hi all.
I have finally started writing again. The new structure is in place and I even have a title. I am up to 32,050 but most of that is in a redraft. As I'd not written for so long, I am spending my time reading/editing the story. It's slow and painful.
I am battling with the 'this is rubbish, why are you pretending that you can write' voice inside my head. It is loud.
But it's great to be back ;-) Honest.
(Kate your course sounds fab)
Take care and have a good writing week,
Caroline x

1:10 pm  
Blogger JJ said...

Hello - I hope I'm not too late for coffee. Better make it an after dinner coffee, as it's 9.15pm here in Bangkok.

I'm feeling quite wibbly wobbly about everything at the moment, and can't decide if it's the writing, the planning, homesickness(odd, as I haven't had any in 18 months of being here)or daughter's (my baby!) birthday tomorrow (she's going to be 11 - where the robin redbreast has that time gone?).

So no writing done in the last 48 hours, but I'm trying to be kind to myself, not shout and scream like I feel like doing.

I am very glad to have joined the race because I know I would've given up (again) by now, and I'm not giving up. My personal 'race' when I joined was just to write, and not be stopped by the voices, so I'm going to write. This week, I'm going to write; I'm not aiming for any number of words, just to write.

Wishing us all well for the coming week.

2:36 pm  
Blogger B.E. Sanderson said...

Hi All.

My main excuses this week are: My kid was in the regional spelling bee on Wednesday (where she tied for 6th and is now headed for state). And I found a critique partner, so I've been reading and commenting on her work. (Instead of doing my own, unfortunately.)

I'll be working this weekend - full out and zooming, I hope.

Neat challenge, Liz. Let me see what my first page looks like and I'll post it later.

2:36 pm  
Blogger liz fenwick said...

I'm happy to see that there might be a few takers for the challenge. Mine is posted...for better or worse.....look forward to reading those who dare :-)

It sounds like its been a mixed week but it is the last full week of February and spring is around corner.....isn't it?

2:41 pm  
Blogger hesitant scribe said...

It seems like we've all been having a bit of a struggle this week - I'm even a day late for coffee!

I've not written much either, and as it's all by hand, I've no idea of word count, but it's got to be less than a 1,000. I've been working on a short story though, that will eventually be part of the novel, so I don't have to beat myself up just yet.

Just picked up a stack of creative writing assignments to mark, so that's going to cause problems for my word count this week. I guess I'll just have to sleep less!

Going to go and check out those first pages now - you are brave! I don't even want to look at my first page until I get to the end of the first draft in case I can't overcome the urge to bin it all!

Caroline - I have that voice too! I've started writing late at night when I'm so tired I can ignore it, and then typing it up whilst listening to the radio, so I'm not critising what I've done so far. I wonder where it comes from, that voice? Has anyone else got any ideas of how to overcome it?!

4:43 pm  
Blogger sheepish said...

Hello to old and new racers alike. I have had a funny old week part of which is described in my latest post, the rest I will talk about next week. It all means though that I haven't got much writing done, only about 1500 words, but I have been doing some editing.

I'm not sure if I am brave enough for Liz's challenge yet but will certainly be looking in on fellow racers. Well done to those courageous souls who have a go.

I run 4 times a week to keep fit and because I really enjoy it. Amazing the number of times I get inspired while out running, the problem is remembering the great sentences I come up with til I get home!!!!

Have a great weekend and see you all next Friday.

4:54 pm  
Blogger Sezzie said...

Blimey what a day - I literally haven't stopped. Unfortunately I'm talking day job, not novel.

But on the novel front - although I have not posted in forever, and my word count has noy been changed in yonks, I have been doing some major editing work, so feel reasonably chuffed with myself.

That's all I have time for I'm afraid as I still have a stack of stuff to do before I can leave the office :-(

Have a fab weekend one and all.

4:56 pm  
Blogger leatherdykeuk said...

I've just finished for the day. I'm currently on version 3 of Beasts and Angels, trying to make it Felicia-centric. Unfortunately, the agent who expressed interest has gone of it, but it gave me much needed encouragement to make it more linear.

Ooh, and a new sword ordered.

6:01 pm  
Blogger Nichola said...

Just checking in here. I've just got in so I'm not in the best state to discuss my writing in anything like a coherent manner so will just say:

Accidentally deleted 5,000 words this week, re-wrote 700 of them, a lot of work to do over the weekend.

Oh well. Sleep first, then back to work. ;)

2:32 am  
Blogger Kevin said...

Keep missing the whoe Friday coffe break. Friday is pretty much the worst day of my day-job week, so I'm usially focused on getting through that and don't think about fun stuff like you guys until much later. Like the next day. And, since I run about five hours behind you, from your perspective it's lunch time the next day.

The workshop sounds fantastic. Definitely need to get to more of those -- if only there were some way to know in advance they'd be that good (and useful). Will certainly check into the book and the blog.

Below is copy and paste from my Live Journal entry yesterday (Mostly because that's easier than composing a new way to say the same thing.) Made this entry about 25 hours ago, after a 4AM-6AM read-through of what I'd been doing all week:
I lost 6,000 words this morning. Pretty much everything I've done since Monday evening. No, it's not that I forgot to save, it's that I realized they were the wrong words. Or words in the wrong order and in the wrong place.

I'm on a tight deadline with this novel and I was writing in a headlong rush around the edges of a full-time job and my family and all the other things that make up what is sometimes called "real life." I knew where I wanted to be with the story and I wanted to get there fast.

Result? Front-end info-dump as I poured large globs of backstory and updates onto the page. I was summarizing events -- bringing the reader up to speed, as it were, instead of telling a story. Telling, not showing. The problem with this sort of summation is it feels like writing while you're typing. It's not until you look back at what you've done that you realize what you've been doing. At least in my case.

What to do; what to do? Wail. Gnash teeth. Blog.

Then move 6,000 words from "Finished!" file to "notes" file. Lots of useful information in there -- information that needs to be in the novel. But it's information that needs to be hinted at, alluded to, teased out by the reader through observing the actions and listening to the words of the characters. Not marched out in relentless phalanxes of text while folks sip tea and consider their position or whatever.

6,000 words -- about 7% of my intended total -- down the tubes in a moment.
Good riddance.

Looks like I'm going to be needing that un-asked-for deadline extension after all.

Teach me to sneer at gift horses.

That was yesterday. Now it's 0800 on Saturday here on the coast of North Carolina. I've got a fresh brew of a new Rwanda organic coffee I'm trying and four hours before my weekly lunch with my father. If y'all will excuse me, I've got some writing to do

12:57 pm  
Blogger hesitant scribe said...

Just to say I've taken up the challenge and posted the first page of the WIP. Oh dear!

7:08 pm  
Blogger Bernardine Kennedy said...

I read that you're in a slump in the middle. I roll along wonderfully in the middle, its the beginning and end that I find hard to deal with!

8:00 pm  
Blogger Julia Buckley said...

Hope the toothache's better. I hate toothache, nothing worse, is there?

11:35 am  
Blogger Debi said...

Whether the slumps are in the middle or at the beginning/end it's so easy to forget each time they happen that they're inevitable at that point and there's no cause for panic.

Good luck with riding it out.

Came here via BWBD forum - and have linked.

4:03 pm  
Blogger mad muthas said...

that's a seriously sexy phone - i imagine it's so complicated to work that you'll need some time off to read the manual

9:42 am  

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