Category Archives: The Creative Process

Adaptation: From Novel to Screenplay to Film

Judy Sandra – Writer, Director, Producer

These days it’s almost a given that a film will be based on a novel or book of non-fiction.  While I also write original screenplays, I decided to adapt a novel I wrote into a screenplay for a film that I will also direct. The following thoughts on adaptation come from my personal experience of adapting the novel The Metal Girl into the film project “Metal Girl.”

From Novel to Screenplay to Film

Novels and films are such different species that it can feel unnatural to marry them.  After the adaptation, the only thing they will share will be a story, the setting, and the characters. A novel is a completed art form.   One author writes the book, and one reader reads the book one at a time.  If it’s a successful book, many people, even millions of people will read that same book. While each reader will see the story through their own imagination and personal interpretation, the printed words will never change.

A screenplay is the blueprint for a film.  Very few people will ever read the original screenplay.  From the screenplay, the film will be created through the collaborative efforts of the director, cinematographer, actors, and all the creative professionals that contribute to the making of the movie.

The screenplay will evolve over the duration of the actual shooting of the film, with input and collaborations between the director and actors, and it will continue to evolve during the post-production process of the film—through the editing and finishing processes. The screenplay is a fluid and ever changing document.

I emphasize this to call attention to the fact that a screenplay is not a work of art. The film is the work. The screenplay is part of the work, a very significant part, but one that remains mostly invisible. The screenplay is the beginning of a process of the making of a film.

While this may seem an obvious point, it becomes a very important one when thinking about adapting a novel to the screen.  To me the screenwriter, the novel I have in front of me is a piece of writing that I am now going to bend to the medium of film.  The first thing to consider is adapting prose to dramatic writing and the limitations of the screenplay format.

From prose to screenplay format

To adapt the prose into a screenplay, I have to think about the story differently, as a series of scenes in three dimensions.  Also, to accommodate the average length of a film–one hour and forty-five minutes–most working screenplays are between approximately 90 and 105 pages. The narrative of an average 300-500 page novel simply won’t fit. Something—a lot—has to go.

How does one tell a novel length story in a 105 page script?




Efficiently, using the language of film.

What actually happens in an adaptation is that the story of the book gets retold in the language of film. In essence, you will be writing the original story again, but this time, it’s going to be a movie. That’s how it felt when I adapted The Metal Girl.  I was re-writing the novel, telling the same story in the same situations, but this time I was telling it using pictures, music, sound, and color. How would I tell that story, what would it look like, and how would those characters come to life on the screen?

Planning the adaptation: Structure

What elements of the story would stay and which could I cut out? Which characters, events, locations? What parts could I eliminate and what parts did I have to keep to portray the theme of the story and the main character’s journey?

What would change, and what would stay the same? This is not always evident at first. Through all the versions of the script, some events, situations, characters in the novel will be lost, but at the same time, other elements that were not in the original story might be added for dramatic effect. Further changes will occur over the course of the shooting and editing of the film.

The old adage of filmmaking is true: “There is the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit”.  A film is an evolving creative process, but that’s one of the things that for me makes filmmaking so exciting: you never really know what a film will be or look like until the end.

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Beginning, Middle, End

The first consideration is the structure of the film story, which may have to differ from the structure of the novel. Deciding on the best timeline for the events of the story in the film is the first thing to adapt. In film one wants to build the narrative and keep the audience guessing. Surprise is an important element of screenwriting—the twists and turns of the plot—and one of the devices that holds the attention of the viewer.

A novel also has to move forward, but doesn’t have to build on emotion in the same way as a film.  A film takes the audience on an emotional journey. The film must hold you in your seat in rapt attention for one sitting of 90 to 105 minutes. So the screenplay must be structured in such a way as to build towards a dramatic, emotional climax that is resolved by the end. The words on the page don’t need to do that. The book can be of interest and engaging but we can put it down and come back to it later.

For example, in The Metal Girl, one very important event in the development of the main character Charlotte happened in the early part of the novel. But in the screenplay “Metal Girl”, for dramatic purposes, I put off that moment, building up to that point later in the story. When the moment occurs in the film, the audience is ready for Charlotte’s emotional response, and it becomes a turning point for the development of her character and the arc of the story.

Characters—Subtracting and Adding

In the same way that the narrative structure may have to change, in the screenplay you may have to make changes with characters in the story, especially if there are a lot or there are many incidental characters.  For the reasons of character development, the story arc, and the time constraints of a film, incidental characters need to be kept to a minimum.  Some characters in the novel fell away because I didn’t need them as they weren’t a crucial part of the story.  In the novel they may have added another color in the development of the main character or to the texture of the story, but in the film they were unnecessary extra details.

One reason that some new characters may appear in the script is to move the narrative forward, as the film will have a different story arc than the novel. Also, one might add characters and scenes that don’t appear in the novel in order to translate internal thoughts into dialogue. For example, the novel The Metal Girl is written in the first person.  In fact, in the novel, the narrator doesn’t even have a name. Because the entire story is coming from her mind and also describes her feelings about situations that occur, I sometimes chose to create a character that didn’t exist in the book for her to interact with in order to turn her thoughts into dialogue and her internal emotional state into her responses to other people.




Keeping what works 

In spite of what I said above, sometimes what is written in the novel works perfectly well on screen. After all the film is based on the novel and you want to keep as much of the flavor of the original story as possible. In “Metal Girl” some of the dialogue in the screenplay comes directly from the  novel. Parts of the first person narrative in the book were used as voiceover in the screenplay. In the beginning of the film, we hear the main character Charlotte telling us about what we are seeing on screen as we watch the opening scenes unfold before she actually speaks in the film. Other scenes in the film were lifted directly as they were written in the novel. If it works, use it.

The End

The process of making a film, from pre- to post-production, typically takes one to two years. During that time the story has been guided by the director, writer, and producer with the collaborative efforts of the cinematographer and the entire creative team. Shooting every day is magical: how things come together on camera, what the performances will be. Putting the film together in post production—the editing and finishing process—is the final adventure.

Filmmaking is an unpredictable controlled chaos of creativity. At the end of this exciting, creative, and arduous process, you will have a film. The adapted screenplay will not be a replica of the novel, but hopefully will become a  film that is as special as the novel that inspired it.

Judy Sandra – Bio:

Judy Sandra is a director, writer, producer, and author. The screenplay “Metal Girl” is an adaptation of her coming-of-age novel The Metal Girl.  Judy has received four best screenplay award nominations for “Metal Girl”, including being honored as one of the three screenwriting finalists at the 2016 Nottingham International Film Festival, Nottingham, UK.

In 2016, she made her directorial debut with the comedy/fantasy short film  ”Angelito in Your Eye”.  Judy has received six international film award nominations for the short from international awards festivals, including for Best Comedy Short Film, Best Genre Film, and Best Actor.

LINKS:

Judy Sandra – Writer, Director, Producer
website: http://judysandra.com

The Metal Girl on Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Metal-Girl-Judy-Sandra/dp/0578038781/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264541453&sr=1-5

Follow Judy and on Social Media:

Facebook:
Judy Sandra Director: https://www.facebook.com/JudySandraDirector
Metal Girl – Movie: https://www.facebook.com/MetalGirlMovie
The Metal Girl – Novel: https://www.facebook.com/TheMetalGirl

Twitter:
@judy_sandra

Instagram:
@judysandra7

 

© Judy Sandra 2017

Creating Stories: The Uses Of Setting

Award-Winning Author Hank Quense

The story’s setting gives the readers a sense of time and location. This allows the readers to begin building images in their minds. The scene settings (which are subsets of the story setting) give additional image building information to the readers. But setting does much more than provide image building clues.
These uses are listed below.

1. The setting of the story should give an indication of the type of story the reader is about to encounter and this should be conveyed early to the reader, the earlier the better. Ideally, this should be the opening paragraph in a short story or the first few pages in a longer work. Is it a mystery set in Victorian London? Is it a story of survival set in war-torn Iraq? Are those vicious aliens on their way to Earth? The reader expects and has a right to know this stuff as early as possible. Don’t disappoint the readers. They may put the book down and never open it again.

2. There are two types of setting in a story. First, there is the overall story setting and second there is the settings used in scenes. The scene settings are subsets of the story setting. For instance, if the story setting is the Sahara Desert, then scenes can be set on sand dunes, at an oasis, in a sand storm or at a deserted fort.

3. Consider your characters acting out the story on a stage. Behind the characters, instead of the scenery typical with plays, there is nothing but white panels. The people who paid money to see the play would be dismayed by the lack of scenery, so too your readers will not like it if your story doesn’t have the appropriate setting to back up the characters.

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4. The setting used in your story has to be accurate. Don’t try to set a story in Manhattan’s Central Park if you haven’t been there. Likewise, the French Quarter in New Orleans is unique and shouldn’t be used by anyone who hasn’t walked the narrow streets.

5. On the other hand, if you develop an imaginary location, you can describe the area any way you want. If you use a backdrop of a historical period in the distant past, none of your readers will have been there, but you’ll still have to do research to get the setting accurate. You can’t use St. Paul’s Cathedral with its great dome in London right after William the Conquerer became king of England. St Paul’s wasn’t built yet.

6. An effect of establishing the setting is the placing of limitations on the author and the characters. For the author, a space ship means he shouldn’t have the characters using swords and landline phones since these artifacts are from bygone eras. Your characters are also limited. A character in the Old West can’t have knowledge of computers or smart phones, unless he’s a time-traveler.

As you can see, the setting can have a major impact on the reader, especially if it isn’t handled correctly.

This article is based on material in my book Creating Stories.

© Hank Quense 2017



An Overview of Story Creation

Award-Winning Author Hank Quense

Let’s assume you are a new (or inexperienced) fiction writer.  You probably know that creating a story requires a great deal of work and thinking.  You may not know that the work involved is the same whether you are creating a short story, a novel, a play, a script or even a memoir.

“How can that be?” you ask.  Simply because a novel, a script, a memoir, a play, a short story are all stories.  And no matter what type of story you have in mind, each requires a number of common elements such as characters, plots, scenes, settings, character arcs and more.

The only difference between these types of stories is the output.  What the manuscript looks like, in other words.  The manuscripts for a novel and for a play will look very different, but the process of creating those manuscripts is exactly the same.

Let’s put that issue aside and discuss a different topic.  Stories are the result of three separate creative processes:

  • Ideas
  • Story design
  • Storytelling techniques

Let’s discuss each one of these processes.

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1. Ideas

A mistake many rookie writers make is to start writing a story when they have only a single idea.  While a single idea can be the genesis of a story, no story can be written from a single idea.  A short story needs perhaps a dozen ideas while a novel requires many more than a hundred ideas.  The writer needs ideas about the character development, plot events, the setting, the character arc and the scene designs.  To gather all these ideas requires time and a great deal of thinking.  This is where a notebook (a real one or a digital one) comes in handy.  You never know when a great idea when pop into your head.

2. Story Design

What is story design?  It’s the process of developing all the story elements such as characters, plot events and so forth.  To put it another way, story design is the where the writer incorporates all these ideas into the story.

I’m a planner (as opposed to a panster) so I spend a lot of time on story design before I attempt to write the first draft.  In most cases the story design process for a novel consumes three months or more.  A major portion of this time is spent on determining the scenes I need to get the characters from the start of the story to the climactic scenes at the end.

3. Storytelling

No matter how great your ideas are and no matter wonderful your story design is, if you don’t have the storytelling skills to hold the reader’s attention, your story is doomed.  Storytelling involves the use of a number of techniques that include point-of-view, foreshadowing, show-don’t-tell, stimulus & reaction, dialog vs exposition among other topics.




One storytelling skill that isn’t discussed much in writing books is the development of a writing voice.  Writers can’t tell a story by using their speaking voice: they have to develop a separate and distinct writing voice.  The reason for this is that our speaking voice tends to be boring.  Very boring.  Want proof?  Eavesdrop on the conversation between a few strangers.  I’ll bet you it won’t hold your interest for long.  So imagine trying to read a story written in a speaking voice.

I believe that once a writer understands the creative processes required to produce a story, the work can go forward more easily and more smoothly.

This article is based on material in my book Creating Stories.

© Hank Quense 2017

Ten Things I’ve Learned Writing Novels

Award-Winning Author Trace Conger

I published my first novel, The Shadow Broker, in October of 2014. It was a fascinating experience. Since then, I’ve published three additional novels and numerous short stories. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about the process of writing and marketing.

Your mileage may vary, but here are a few insights to noodle:

1. Writing a novel is only as intimidating as you make it. Starting a novel is like holding your newborn for the first time. You’re a bit freaked out thinking about your newfound responsibilities of raising a living, breathing human being. Taking on a novel can feel the same way, but it’s only as bad as you make it out to be. Take it one word or one page at a time, and one day you’ll wake up with an 80,000-word novel.

2. Outlines make the process easier. Other writers will debate this, but for me creating an outline kept me on track. I create a brief outline for each chapter, including no more detail than can fit on one side of an index card. After I have the story fleshed out, I sit down with my stack of cards and write each scene or chapter. Yes, the story changes. Yes, you’ll throw away some of your ideas or characters, but having a roadmap will help you get to your destination, even if you take a few detours along the way.

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3. It takes time. I’ve heard countless stories of indie authors pumping out three or more books each year. I don’t/can’t do that. While I’m not going to insinuate that these prolific authors are sacrificing quality for quantity, I will say that if you rush the product, your quality will suffer. Focus on creating a quality product. If you can write multiple quality books per year, fantastic, but if you can’t, then don’t.

4. Your worst critic is you. I can’t remember a time in my life when I experienced more self-doubt than when I was writing my first novel. Every author has that voice in their head that tells them they’re a hack, their work isn’t any good, they’ll fail miserably, or they’re wasting their time. I haven’t figured out a way to silence this inner critic, but I have learned to tell him to get lost.

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5. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s all bull. Writer’s block is an excuse authors tell themselves when they can’t produce. Maybe it’s a slow idea day, or the words aren’t coming as fast as they did yesterday. Doesn’t matter. Put your butt in the chair and write. Even if you feel like you’re walking through quicksand. Move forward, one step (or word) at a time, and you’ll make it to the other side. I promise.

6. Marketing is hard. You think writing a novel is hard? Wait until you have to market it. Even if you sign a big deal with a publisher, you’re going to have to promote your book. Get comfortable with the idea, even if you aren’t. Get comfortable talking about it, contacting the media, researching book blogs, responding to readers, hosting signings, doing interviews, and writing blog posts (like this one) to support your work.

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7. You’ll become obsessed with metrics. You’ll spend hours Googling yourself, watching your sales, scrutinizing your Amazon author ranking, and stalking your reviews. Then one day you’ll realize you’re wasting your time and you’ll get back to work.

8. Your friends won’t buy your book. Some of them will, but most won’t. Most of your friends don’t read. Maybe because they prefer to spend what little free time they have binging on Netflix. Or maybe you just have crappy friends. Either way, don’t expect them to buy your book but do expect them to lie and say they will.

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9. You have to field lots of questions. Once people discover you’ve written a novel, they’ll throw every question imaginable at you. Who’s your publisher? How did you get your agent? Did you get an advance? What’s your book about? How long did it take you to write it? Where can I buy it? Where do you get your ideas? Can I be a character in your next book? Listen to every question, even the stupid ones, and answer with a smile. Everyone is a potential customer.

10. Authors are an incredibly supportive bunch. Maybe it’s because they’ve been in your shoes or understand your struggle, but authors are some of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. Two huge authors, Joe R. Lansdale and Jonathan Maberry, gave me incredible advice (even if they don’t remember doing it). Don’t be afraid to reach out to authors you admire. Ask questions and listen to their advice. You’ll be surprised at how accessible and helpful they can be.

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Bonus insight: There is a ton of horrible advice out there. I stalk the popular forums from time to time and am always amazed at some of the horrible advice that I see. One of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever heard was to publish your first draft to “get it out there” and then use reader review comments to identify weaknesses and revise your next draft. Are you kidding me? Scrutinize all advice and carefully consider who is dishing it out. I’m not advocating only looking to best-selling authors for advice (there’s great advice out there from authors at all levels) just make sure it passes the sniff test before you stake your reputation on it.

Trace Conger is an award-winning author in the crime, thriller and suspense genres. His Mr. Finn series follows disgraced private investigator Finn Harding as he straddles the fine line between investigator and criminal. Find out more at www.traceconger.com.

© Trace Conger 2017



Finding Forrester

Michael LaRocca of MichaelEdits.com

The existence of a movie — any movie — about the topic of writing is surprising enough. But for it to actually be a good movie? Wow.

I taught Advanced English Writing in several universities in China from 2002 through 2006. Showing this movie became an integral part of those classes, because so many of its themes are identical to what I was trying to teach. I was happy to watch it over a dozen times with my students, and lecture about it in a style more Robin Williams than F. Murray Abraham.

But all these years later, will I still think it’s a good movie? Let’s find out.

We begin by meeting Jamal, the student who hides his intelligence in order to fit in. Fair enough.

Jamal is also a writer who hides his writing. Do they still exist?

Sean Connery is William Forrester, the reclusive genius of a writer.

Jamal is writing all the time. By hand. He’s constantly practicing his basketball. He’s constantly practicing his writing. That’s how a person gets to be the best he’s able to be at either pursuit. Or any pursuit. So if you’re not writing every day, listen to Sean Connery and Rob Brown. Write every day. You’re never going to write like Shakespeare or shoot hoops like Michael Jordan, but if you write every day, you’ll get better at it than you are now. Unused potential is worse than lack of potential, because the former is a choice.

Jamal and Forrester are both obsessed with reading. As writers must be. Jamal snoops in Forrester’s shelves both to learn about him and for suggestions. I already know you’re reading every day. Aren’t you? How many times have I said it? If you don’t enjoy reading, you can’t write something that somebody else enjoys reading.

Jamal: “You read all these?” 
Forrester: “No, I keep them to impress all my visitors.”

Amusing because Forrester’s an agoraphobe whose only visitor is the guy bringing his royalty checks and his groceries. (Wouldn’t you love to be an author living well on royalty checks for something you wrote 30 years ago?) But also a chance for me to riff on people who keep all the books they’ve ever read shelved at home. You know how much I love the written word. But Goodreads tells me that in the past three years alone I’ve read over 1000 books. Why would I keep them? I’m not going to read them all again. (Just the five-star books.) I do love a library, but I choose not to own one. I know where they are.

Jamal gets his writing notebooks back from “Window,” that strange old dude who we don’t know is Sean Connery because we haven’t seen his picture on every movie poster ever made. And what has this man of mystery added to the notebooks? Honest feedback. It’s not all kind. Not even close, actually. Brutally honest. That’s what we all need. And if we’re mature, it’s also what we want, because this helps us improve. Jamal’s first reaction was negative, but the next day, he’s knocking on the door. He says: “I was wondering if I could bring you more of my stuff.”




Finally, Jamal reads a book by Forrester. When Forrester gets the book back, he says, “Christ, you’ve dog-eared one of them. Show a little respect for the author.” I say screw the author. Have a little respect for the next reader. Don’t vandalize your books.

In the film, Forrester wrote one book. It won a Pulitzer. He reacted to a mix of critical praise and personal tragedy by not publishing another one. I don’t think you have to be an author to enjoy the pot shots he takes at critics.

Forrester: “I know what it is. The last thing I need is another person telling me what they think it is.”

I know the feeling.

Forrester: “Critics spend a day destroying what they couldn’t create in a lifetime.”

True.

Jamal: “What’s it feel like?” 
Forrester: “What?” 
Jamal: “Writing something the way you did.” 
Forrester: “Perhaps you’ll find out.”

I like that little exchange because, while I remember what it felt like to write at my very best, I’ll be damned if I can explain it to you. Write your own books and you’ll find out for yourself.

Jamal: “Did you ever read your own writing?” 
Forrester: “In public? Hell no. I barely read it in private.”

I used to say things like that all the time. But I did finally reread all fourteen of my published books last year. In private. Not bad, Michael. Not bad at all. Oh, and they’re better “inside proper covers and everything,” just like the author’s wife noted in the second Robert Galbraith novel. Don’t act like she’s weird for waiting.

[It’s eighteen books now. When the hell did I write this movie review?]




Forrester: “A lot of writers know the rules about writing, but they don’t know how to write.”

We know it’s true. But let me add that the writers who don’t even know the rules are screwed. You need not obey the rules. But you do need to know them. I break writing rules all the time, but never out of simple ignorance.

Clever dialogue about starting a sentence with a conjunction. Who knew such things were possible?

Forrester just sits at a manual typewriter and immediately starts writing. Jamal likes to think first. So do I. Hell, I’ve even used an outline once or twice. Also, I start with pen and paper or (more often) computer keyboard. Not a typewriter.

Forrester: “No thinking — that comes later. You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!”

I’ve used freewriting in class and given it a spot in my textbook. It’s a good technique, and I’ve seen a lot of students surprise themselves with the results. But I’ve also never written anything publishable that way. Blogable, perhaps. I do agree with the heart/head thing, of course.

Using other authors for inspiration can be a complex issue. Plain old stealing is wrong, but even the most original thinkers seek inspiration. The movie finally moves its dramatic conflict into high gear by examining all that. It was probably a bit predictable the first time I watched it. It was certainly predictable the fifteenth or twentieth time I watched it. But it still works. It’s still powerful, moving, and five-star all the way.

Enjoy!

Technical editing since 1991. Business editing since 2006. MichaelEdits.com

© Michael LaRocca 2017

Amanda Hocking: Another Fascinating “Rags to Riches” Success Story

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

I’m always on the lookout for author success stories to share with my blog subscribers because this is a tough business that requires a lot of inspiration to keep oneself motivated. It takes motivation to get yourself to consistently take the types of actions you need to be taking in order to achieve the success you desire.

I believe you get what you focus on. You can focus on the difficulties and heed the warnings of business advisers who insist that 90% of authors will never see the kind of success that authors like Amanda Hocking and Mark Dawson are seeing, and that you should therefore set your goals much lower in order to avoid disappointment. Or you can focus on the possibilities by going in search of the proof, all around you, that what you desire is indeed achievable … whether you write fiction or non-fiction.

The fact is, many authors are earning fantastic livings writing books nowadays. Wouldn’t you love to read an article that tells you exactly how they’re achieving this? If the answer to that question is “yes” then you’ll enjoy reading this: What Makes a $100k Author: 8 Findings Every Author Should Know. What I appreciate most about this article is that it provides relevant data about the realities of this business while also showing authors what is possible if they’re willing to put in the time and effort. It encourages authors rather than discouraging them.

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I created the “Author Success Stories” category on this blog as a place where you can read about the possibilities. The purpose is to encourage you rather than discourage you because, at the end of the day, if even one author can accomplish something that means it’s achievable. It’s possible. Focus on that, and you may just be the next success story that is inspiring others to do the same. You may become one of the pioneers who steers others in the right direction so that, perhaps one day, it will be 90% of authors enjoying massive success and only 10% who will never achieve it.

Which brings me back to Amanda Hocking, an extreme success story that first appeared in The Guardian back in January 2012, who went from obscurity (and essentially poverty) to bestselling status within 18 months of publishing her first book online. Amanda is now a self-made millionaire. Granted, there were several years of writing and work beforehand … as it often is with these “overnight success” stories. Amanda makes sure to emphasize that in this interview which I highly recommend you read. It is eye opening and inspiring. And most importantly, it shows what’s possible even after several disappointments.

Keep writing. Keep working. Keep the faith!

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STORY: How to Weave the Thread of Theme Into Your Writing

Mel Menzies

Story has existed since the beginning of time.  It is endemic to human nature, and is evident in cave-art (yes, it may be painting or carving but it’s there to tell a story), legend, folklore and mythology, the Bible, fairy tales and biography, drama, newspaper reports and novels.  But I wonder whether those of us who seek to write either fiction or memoir, truly understand the importance of its effect on human behaviour?  Let me explain.

THE EFFECT OF STORY ON READERS

Shortly before starting my Evie Adams’ series of mystery novels, I woke one morning with the following statement ringing in my head: Entertain your readers so that they will absorb truths they might otherwise resist.

Think about it.  Morality and duty to society are stated as key themes of Jane Austen’s novels.  True to the era in which she lived, she could have written on these subjects in a didactic, non-fictional manner, with the aim of teaching her readers how they might better behave.   Had she done so, however, I somewhat doubt that her books would have survived the twentieth century, let alone the twenty-first.  Yet survive – no, thrive – they do.  Precisely because she chose to convey these themes through the actions, dialogue and inner stream of consciousness of her characters, in response to the circumstances they encountered.




THE NATURE OF THEME

So what, exactly, is theme?  And how do we go about choosing it?

  1. Theme is the one word, or sentence, which characterises the reason for the book having been written, and its narrative.
  2. Theme might thus be described as the motive for your book; the message you wish to convey to your readers.
  3. Theme, for example, may be expressed as: forgiveness; destruction wrought by ambition; unrequited love; repentance; turning a self-centred life into a life which serves others, and so on.

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Thus, the story of a marital breakdown might focus on forgiveness as its theme.  Husband shoves wife aside and marches from room.  She falls and is injured.  The physical and mental trauma she experiences in hospital would be portrayed as a battle of will and emotion, in which pain, bitterness and anger would, naturally, rise to the surface.  Compassion, understanding, and empathy for the protagonist would be the obvious response in readers, whether or not they have shared similar life events themselves.

Adding to the conflict of the events the victim has experienced, and the feelings they’ve aroused, her sister is insisting that she takes legal action against her husband.   But what if the wife then searches her inner self and realises that she had some part in provoking the argument?  What if she catches herself out by recalling a similar event in her childhood, when she was, in fact, the perpetrator?  How, she asks, can she live with herself, harbouring bitterness and hatred, when she knows herself to be fallible?

As she goes through the inner arguments, and conveys them to her sister through dialogue, so, too, does the reader.  The story and theme play out in his or her imagination.  Until a decision is reached.  The denouement – the wife’s forgiveness of her husband, plus his remorse – leads to reconciliation.  To mutual happiness.  And to hope for a better future.

STORIES THAT DO MORE THAN ENTERTAIN

Your reader finishes the book feeling more than entertained.  His or her future attitude and actions have been influenced by osmosis.  You will have aroused questions in his or her mind; stirred up memories of relevant past events; perhaps, even, a determination to right a wrong.  They will have no need to be instructed in morality or clemency.  They’ve seen it for themselves.  And hopefully, they will have taken it on board.

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The story you have written, whether biographical or fiction, will have left your readers with a lasting impact.  Lives, behaviour and attitudes will have been changed.  Just think!  You’ll be more than simply a writer or an author.  As a lady who read my novel, Time to Shine, said to me: ‘That was a life-changer.’

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Twice a wife, three times a mum, and seven times a grandma, I’ve been a multi-published author (under several nom de plume) since the 1980’s, with a Sunday Times No 4 Bestseller published by Hodder & Stoughton.  I’ve been a keynote speaker at conferences, led workshops, and taken part in radio and TV debates, panels and phone-ins.

My latest series of novels – family dramas with a page-turning mystery solved, not by a detective but by a counsellor – are set in Exeter and Dartmouth, and are available from Waterstones or any good bookshop, Amazon,  or at discount via PayPal, from my book page www.melmenzies.co.uk/books.  All proceeds are for charity.

‘This novel not only entertains, it inspires,’ says author, Pam Rhodes.

What I like about Mel’s writing,’ says Devon Life reviewer, Annette Shaw, ‘is that she explores issues and problems we all face.’


© Mel Menzies 2017

NEXT TIME: Story: Planning Your Plot



[Rock Mechanics] You’re Probably Closer to a Breakthrough than You Think

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

Do you ever get the feeling that you’ve been hammering away at your book sales and marketing efforts forever, and yet you still can’t see any real progress with it? Still not selling as many books as you’d hoped you would be even though you’re putting in the one hour per day, six days per week or more that you promised yourself you would put in? Well, I have some good news for you. You’re probably closer to a breakthrough than you think—especially if you’ve been working at this for several weeks now. It’s science.

I came across this blog post the other day, and I found it so inspirational that I wanted to share it with you: 13 Signs You’re Close To A Breakthrough by Dr. Isaiah Hankel. Very early in this post, he talks about a field of science dedicated entirely to rock mechanics. He goes on to write that:

Back in the day, before we had things like drills, dynamite, and high pressure water jets, rocks were broken with handheld hammers. The process of breaking open a boulder by hand can take a very long time. Imagine trying to split a rock in half using a sledgehammer. You hit the boulder again and again and again but nothing happens. You don’t see any progress, which is extremely frustrating. But you keep swinging the hammer. Then, on the 30th hit or maybe the 300th hit, the boulder splits in half—like this. It seems like magic but it’s not. It’s science. Even though it looks like nothing is happening on the outside, each blow by the hammer is reducing the rock’s internal integrity. The rock is getting weaker. You just can’t see it.

CLICK HERE TO BUY THIS NOW!

For independent authors with small (or no) budgets in place to help them advertise and sell their books to the masses, much of their sales and marketing efforts must be done organically. One reader at a time. One blog post at a time. One video at a time. It’s the equivalent of trying to break a boulder with a handheld hammer one hit at a time, isn’t it? But if you click on that link above and view the boulder being split in half, it drives home the point that, just because you can’t see any of the progress you’re making in real time, you are still making progress.

No doubt you’ve heard the term “overnight success” used to describe people who become successful very quickly … or so it seems. But this is a myth. Usually, these people were already working for months (or even years) beforehand, honing their craft, learning their trade, perfecting their skills, hammering away at the boulder. Until, at long last, it split in half for them.

CLICK HERE TO BUY IT THIS NOW!

Here is a short list of Dr. Hankels 13 signs:

1. When you’re frustrated.
2. When you hear radio silence.
3. When resistance increases.
4. When they start laughing at you.
5. When you want to give up.
6. When you start rationalizing.
7. When you feel like changing your goals.
8. When you’re told to be realistic.
9. When it really hurts.
10. When the numbers say you’re wrong.
11. When people turn their backs on you.
12. When people try to help you.
13. When you’re scared.

You can read the details behind the points on this list here: 13 Signs You’re Close To A Breakthrough. Do any of them resonate with you? If yes, you may just be close to a breakthrough. Keep hammering! 🙂

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As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2017 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.



[2017 MWG Conference] When Traditional and Contemporary Publishers Join Together

Afternoon break-out session with Kim Staflund at the 2017 Missouri Writers Guild conference: Mastering the Elevator Pitch

I had the opportunity to present two break-out sessions at the 2017 Missouri Writers Guild conference in Columbia, Missouri, this past weekend: a morning session on dealing with the fear of writing/publishing and an afternoon session on mastering the elevator pitch when selling your manuscript or book. In between time, I had the opportunity to sit in on other educational sessions presented by agents and writers who work within the traditional (trade) publishing sector: Jenny Goloboy presented “Writing the Query Letter” to the authors who were interested in obtaining an agent to help them land a traditional (trade) publishing deal; Tim Waggoner, author of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and Kingsman: The Golden Circle presented an informative talk about novelization (which is turning a movie into a book as opposed to adapting a book for film).

There were also sessions from contemporary (hybrid) publishers similar to PPG as well as self-publishers. One of my favourites was a class about self-publishing by a highly successful independent author of paranormal romance novels named Liz Schulte who earns “six figures” per year from online book sales alone. (Liz has agreed to write a guest post on here for us in the very near future.) I was also inspired by our keynote speaker at the dinner that evening, Sheri Fink. She is also a successful independent author like Liz. Sheri held the number one best seller spot on Amazon for her children’s book titled The Little Rose for 60 weeks straight; and she, too, earns a six-figure income from online book sales and has agreed to write a guest post on here in the near future. Being surrounded by so much talent and creativity certainly inspires one to write! 

New friends and fellow writers/authors from the 2017 Missouri Writers Guild conference: Kim Staflund, Judy Ellsworth Giblin, and Linda Story Runnebaum

These are my people. If I didn’t already know that before, I know it now just based on how motivated I feel after spending time with them. Writers. Authors. Publishers. Agents. All of you. You’re my people.

I think what I admire most about how the Missouri Writers Guild set up this conference was that they brought together people from the traditional (trade) publishing sector along with contemporary (hybrid) publishers and self-publishers. Attendees could draw information and inspiration from both groups to get a fuller picture of this dynamic industry. This is so forward thinking. We need to be doing this type of thing in Canada. In fact, we need to be doing it everywhere. It’s time.

Enjoying a great visit with “my people” at the 2017 Missouri Writers Guild conference

It’s time the traditional publishing sector begins to accept and acknowledge the legitimacy of independent authorship as more and more authors such as Sheri Fink, Liz Schulte, and Mark Dawson prove what’s possible. It’s time to bring together the traditional (trade), contemporary (hybrid), and self-publishers at the writers’ conferences everywhere that have, up to now, been reserved for traditional talent alone.

I’m looking so forward to sharing the upcoming guest posts on this blog with you. I used to spend my time “preaching” about the importance of selling to every author I came across. Now I want to focus on sharing the possibilities of it. I want to inspire authors to take the necessary steps to improve their own sales, and so I’m in search of today’s entrepreneurial authors who can share their success stories and tips with you all. I’ve named three of those authors in today’s post. You’ll hear from two of them directly very soon. Stay tuned!

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As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2017 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.



How to Create Your Best Novel

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

Creating your best novel is a team effort. There is the writing portion which you will do on your own, within the solitude of your imagination and writing room. And then there is the “polishing” portion of the process which is equally important to your success and requires an outside team of professionals for best results.

Writing Your Novel

I’ll start by including one of my absolute favourite quotes about writing by Gary Provost:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.





It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It’s like music, as he says. This is the kind of writing that will keep an audience engaged. It not only sings to them; but, with the right combination of vivid adjectives and visceral verbs, it can create such authentic, powerful imagery inside their minds that it keeps them turning the pages for more. That’s what you’re after.

And yet, there’s more to writing your best novel. Two more elements must be considered: character development and plot development. Here are two links that go into great detail regarding these two aspects of writing, so I encourage you to click on both and really take in this advice before sitting down to write your book:

Once your novel is written, now the rest of the team comes into play. The best advice I have for all writers—but especially the ones who plan to self-publish—is to get support. Invest in proper copy editing, graphic design, and proofreading. If you’re serious about book publishing and want to present yourself to the public as a professional author, then these things are so important to your end result.

Polishing Your Novel

The fact is, self-publishers’ books are competing in the marketplace with trade publishers’ books. Trade (traditional) publishers always have their books professionally edited. Always. This is why they can boast such high quality. In light of this, can self-publishers truly afford not to have their work copy edited in the very least? It may seem excessive to some, but it is a necessary investment if that author is serious about publishing and competing in the marketplace.

And no matter how engaging your story may be, the public is going to “judge your book by its cover” before they ever decide to read it. In fact, they’ll judge the interior, too. So, the graphic design of your book—both inside and out—should receive the same professional attention as the content itself. Hiring a professional graphic designer is always better than using a generic template builder.




Last but not least, I highly recommend you also hire a professional proofreader—a different set of eyes from your copy editor—to do the following nine-point check of the final designed book before you self-publish it anywhere:

Interior

• the front matter (such as the table of contents) is accurate and correct
• the back matter (such as the index) is accurate and correct
• headers and footers are accurate and correct
• bad breaks are eliminated
• text is kerned to flow smoothly throughout
• margins and trim size all measure properly
• spelling and punctuation is correct

Cover

• spacing, bleeds, and trim size all measure properly
• spelling and punctuation is correct

These are the steps the traditional (trade) publishers put each and every one of their books through. These are the steps you should also take to create your best novel. This extra attention to detail with make a huge difference in the public perception of your book and your overall success as a result.

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As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2017 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.