Monthly Archives: March 2017

Learning from the movies.

cinema-310x165This is a lesson I have yet to apply to novel writing myself, but I thought I’d pass on a few tips I was given when I attended a screen writing workshop recently. Successful Hollywood films, apparently, all conform to a fairly strict formula. And it is a formula that has been used by some of the most commercially successful writers, like Sophie Kinsella or Dick Francis. Once you know the formula, you will probably be able to other best-selling authors whose work follows a similar pattern. And, if you are so inclined, you will be able to irritate friends and family, as you settle down on the sofa with your pop-corn and cola, by pointing out the key components of the formula in the DVD of the latest blockbuster.

Essentials ingredients of a Hollywood movie: 

  1. A film must have a hero (or heroine, of course)
  2. The hero must be ‘on a mission,’ be it to kill a dragon, or get married.
  3. The hero has to have an antagonist
  4. Each film will have a three act structure
  5. Act One: Introduces the premise of the film (novel): the hero, their world, a trigger (often negative) incident, and a big event about 12 pages in. Act one also introduces the antagonist and shows us the hero’s fears and flaws. Also in Act one (the next 20 or so pages) you get an exposition as the viewer / reader needs to know what the film /story is about. You also need an incident to set up the plot,  you need to set up the love interest, and a big moment to end the first act of the film / first third of the novel. I.e. by this point we have met the hero, the antagonist, the love interest, and have a petty good idea about the story-line.
  6. Act two is the longest.  The hero faces problems and obstacles. Things get desperate, hero cinema catsfaces – and faces down – his fears. Hero will ‘grow’ during the act. Act two will include the film’s / story’s ‘big moment.’ This is a critical scene that will be literally at the half way point, to keep the viewer’s / reader’s attention. Act two will end on a high point or a low point. If the film / story is to end happily it will be a low point, and vice-versa.
  7. Act Three will be short and sharp – sometimes referred to as ‘the race to the end.’ Hero and antagonist are still pitted against each other as equals till the final showdown. Hero’s ‘arc’ is continuing to develop  The end of Act three must be emotionally satisfying for the viewer/ reader.
  8. A blockbuster ‘ bestseller will usually end with an element of mystery that offers a potential story-line for another film / book.

Now I think about it, it’s not just modern ‘airport’ books that fit this formula – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice pretty much follows this pattern, even including ‘sequels’ written by modern writers! But then, no doubt if she were alive today, she would be writing for Hollywood or TV.

If you have enjoyed this blog, and would like to read some of my novels or short stories, please go to one of my Amazon author pages:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

Capturing a child’s view of the world

Happy ‘Everybody Reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare

Today, to be a little bit different, I’m sharing an excerpt from Penelope Lively’s memoir of her childhood growing up in Egypt, Oleander Jacaranda. In chapter three she recounts a number of her very first memories, noting how surreal and disconnected, what she calls this ‘assemblage of slides in the head,’ is. At the time of writing the memoir she could not work out the chronology for when each event occurred, and noted how important it is, to an adult mind, to understand things in a linear and sequential way. Not so for a small child.

Excerpt:

It is only very small children who retain this wonderfully surreal vision. It is an anarchic vision, too. They are seeing the world without preconceptions or expectations, and therefore anything is possible. [Unlike adult perceptions] The child’s view arises because of an absence of expectation, not a manipulation of what is known.

Her insight into how children see the world is, I feel, a useful guide for any writer trying to get into the head of a small child, or someone who, for whatever reason, can not think like a ‘normal’ teenager or adult – think of Mark Haddon’s novel written from the perspective of an autistic boy. The nearest I have got to capturing the child’s ‘anarchic’ view is in my short story for young teenagers, Sleeping Beauty. Here the young heroine is in a coma and sees things in a more surreal and fantastical way than the adults around her do, or she would if she were fully conscious. Children don’t understand the world as adults do. But how they make sense of what they see and experience, is sometimes more real.

Links:

sleeping beauty

 

Sleeping Beauty : myBook.to/TheSleepingBeauty

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01CKKNG7Q

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

How much is a comma worth?

Comma usage can be surprisingly contentious. I am always surprised by how many additional ones proof readers put into my manuscripts before they go to the printers (though I have never seriously thought that they were paid by the comma). However, a recent court case has shown just how valuable a comma (or in this case the lack of one) can be.

In Maine, USA, a Mr O’Connor and 50 fellow truck drivers went to court to argue their caselorry for overtime pay. According to the laws of that state, workers are entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week, unless there is a specific exemption. The truck drivers’ firm had told the drivers they were not entitled to overtime pay because the law did not apply to those involved in:

“The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packaging for shipment or distribution of:  1)Agricultural produce, 2) Meat and fish products, 3)Perishable foods.”

The firm claimed that this clause included the drivers who distributed the product. The drivers’ lawyers disagreed, noting the absence of a comma after the word shipment. This, they argued, meant the law could only apply to the people packing the produce ‘for shipment or distribution,’ and not to those whose job it was to distribute it.

In other words, a comma after ‘packaging for shipment’ and before ‘distribution,’ would have made it clear that the drivers were not entitled to overtime. But the absence of a comma, judgemeant they were.

The case went as far as an appeal court judge who ruled that the language was indeed ambiguous, paving the way for the truck drivers to claim overtime pay.

 

Many guides to grammar state that you should never put a comma before the ‘and’ or ‘or’ that comes before the last noun etc in a long list. Such dogmatism is silly. As the case above shows, the lack of a comma at this point (it is sometimes known as the Oxford Comma, or serial comma)  can lead to ambiguity. The overarching guide for all writers, not just law makers, should be – will a comma here make my meaning clearer or not?

As writers, few of us are likely to gain financially from our use of commas, but by applying them judiciously we can at least save our readers from becoming confused. And that’s were a good proof reader comes in useful.

If you have enjoyed this blog, and would like to read more of my work, please check out my published work page, or go to:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

 

 

A short YA read for Sunday.

Happy ‘Everybody Reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare. Today I am sharing an excerpt from Sleeping First LoveBeauty. This is a short story that combines fairy tales, fantasy, hospital drama, and a teenage girl’s first feelings of love. The story can be bought as a stand alone e-book, and is also one of the stories in the anthology First Love, published by Summer Solstice.

Excerpt:

It seemed a funny idea of a quest to me, and Mum never got round to telling me this story, or teaching me to read properly. She got sick and died, and all I had left to remember her by was a head full of fairy tales and the recollection of her scent: l’air du temps, according to the label I eventually learnt to read. The scent still clung faintly to her dresses and a coat that Dad had hidden in the back of my wardrobe when Sukie moved in. Sometimes I would sit in my wardrobe and pull the door close, just to breath in the memories of a happier, safer, time.

Blurb:
sleeping beauty

Dawn has been in a coma for a year and is visited in hospital every day by her devoted father, occasionally by the ghost of her dead mother, and once by her vicious stepmother. Unable to move a muscle she monitors their coming and going and relives the events that lead to her accident. She yearns to wake up and live like a teenager again, but nothing so far has been able to rouse her from her deep, deep sleep. Then, on her fourteenth birthday she is visited by a mysterious delivery boy with a strange package.

 

Links:

First Love Anthologyhttp://bookgoodies.com/a/B01BH43NXS

 Sleeping Beauty:   http://bookgoodies.com/a/B01CKKNG7Q

myBook.to/TheSleepingBeauty

 

 

Paying attention to detail

I recently read a book during which I was constantly distracted by typos, changes of tense mid paragraph and poor page layout. It wasn’t a great book, but these distractions certainly didn’t help keep my attention on the story-line.

Aspiring writers often ask what they need to do to get their book published. Well, aside from a cracking plot and believable characters which no doubt you have already, you need to do all the boring stuff too.

Even if you do not spend money on these matters, you need to ensure your manuscript is properly edited to avoid repetition and inconsistencies – your heroine can not be blonde on one page and brunette ten pages later, unless you point  out on a page in between that she has had her hair dyed. She can’t be allergic to eggs in chapter one and have an omelette in chapter fifteen, without her suffering dire consequences by chapter sixteen. You also need to check and re-check for spelling and grammar mistakes, and ensure there is consistency in the layout of pages, paragraphs and chapters, without the odd blank page appearing in between.

Friends and ‘beta readers’ can help with this, if you don’t want to pay for the services of professionals, but if this work isn’t done, your manuscript is unlikely to be picked out from the piles beside each desk in a publisher’s office.

You may have already decided to go down the self publishing route. Your cover, title and story might be enough to tempt a potential buyer. But if your editing, proofreading, and page layout screams ‘amateur’ rather than professional, that might be the only book you sell.

I have been lucky, most of my work has been published by Solstice – http://www.solsticepublishing.com – or other creditable publishers who undertake to get your work ‘bookshop ready’ before it goes on sale. But, even with proofreaders and editors and my final check over, the odd typo still remains. Just goes to show what a difficult, albeit vital, chore this is. (And, even though I’ve read it twice and run a spell checker over it, I can’t guarantee that this blog is fault free either!)

My Amazon author pages:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

 

 

 

 

Happy Everybody Reads YA

Welcome to ‘Happy Everybody Reads YA’ #SundayBlogShare.

Today I’m sharing a review of my 2016 YA novel, Girl Friends, that appeared on Goodreads and Amazon Books last week. Writers appreciate reviews, and when they are as good as this, we positively glow with pleasure, and feel inspired to write more, and write better!

Review;

Girl Friends - coverThis book is truly a wonderful read. It starts early with a bleak portrayal of a typical evening in the life of Courtney Jacks; there is domestic abuse, alcoholism, and saturated fear throughout that first introductory chapter. But then you also immediately see what a good hearted person the main character, Courtney, is.

I think that this book touches on a lot of adult themes, but it is 100% something that Young Adults can and should read. There is the struggle to improve yourself, the delicate balance needed to maintain friends, how to overcome self doubt, and most importantly of all is how to save a friend who needs saving.

By the end of the story, I cared deeply about all the characters, and in post-analysis of their development, found no critique but only praise for how well Margaret made every character into a brand new creation by the end of the book.

The book was very enjoyable from start to finish, and I heartily give it a 5 star review.

Links:

 

Homophones and Homonyms

Do you know your homophones from your homonyms? Yesterday I was relocating a book on the history of English spelling that I had bought as a student. It had been written by my tutor, David Scragg, and I had hoped that buying it might improve my grades. It didn’t – though I suppose actually reading it would have helped!

Tucked in the book was an article from a newspaper. I’m not sure which one, or the date it was published. It was written by Charles Lewis, a barrister with an interest in language. His particular interest was the ambiguities in English and the problems this can cause ordinary folk, let alone lawyers.

His discussion of homophones and homonyms brought back memories of lecture halls in the ’70s that managed to be simultaneously  stuffy and drafty, and fellow students who managed to snooze peacefully through lectures on the more arcane areas of English grammar despite the uncomfortable wooden benches.

But the two ‘H’ words are quite fun. The examples given below may not work for all English speakers because we use different dialects, but you can probably think of your own word pairings that would.

Homophones are words that are pronounced in the same way, but are spelled differently, like Rome and roam, or horse and hoarse, or wade and weighed, see or sea. Teas / tease / tees. Rain /rein / reign. Homophones are words that sound the same, but come from different language roots (Anglo-Saxon / Latin / Greek etc.)

Homonyms, on the other hand, have the same spelling and pronunciation, but mean completely different things.  For example:  seal – the animal, and seal – the means of closing something; lock – hair or bolt; mine – colliery, or possessive; saw – tool, or past of the verb to see; see, the verb and see, a bishop’s area of responsibility. Again homonyms have come into common usage via different language roots.

There are also a whole pile of words that have the same spelling, but are pronounced differently: tear, wind, does. Lewis called these biphones.

A few words can fit all categories. One such is ‘row.’

  • Homophone – row (your boat) / roe (fish eggs)
  • Homonym – row (your boat) / row (of beans)
  • Biphone – row (your boat) / row (argument).

the-ghost-queen-001If you have enjoyed this article, and would like to find out more about my work, go to the Published
work page on this blog, or my Amazon Author pages.

My most recent work is a short story, The Ghost Queen. It is based  on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and is part of my Shakespeare’s women project. It is published by Solstice.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

myBook.to/GhostQueen