Monday, May 21, 2007

Writer's Never Stop Learning

WARNING!!! THIS IS A LONG ONE!!! GO-GET-COFFEE...

Thanks to a lovely new friend who has de-lurked here on the Blog as of yesterday and a lovely email I received from a young lady recently, I'm blogging on the subject of learning today and how I 'studied' to be a writer... Mind you - you guys might not get the answers you expect here - cos, well, you know - it's me...

My new Blog friend Nindespin (*waves*) asked about any craft books I might have read that set off the light-bulb above my head before I became a writer. And with a rather red face I have to stand up (at great risk of being stoned alive) to say I didn't read a single one before I started... Forgive me??? Because to stand here and confess that and then to also admit that I sold on a first submission kinda makes me top of the hit list doesn't it? Would it help if I said I wasn't the only one to ever sell on a first submission??? Please???

So the question would then be where I got my light-bulb moment from. And this kinda answers the question I got via email from a lovely girl who at eighteen has the same dream I had at eighteen - to write for Harlequin Mills & Boon. She asked what advice I could give her and I'm gonna do it both here and via email to her personally... The very first thing I'm gonna say is live as full a life as you possibly can.... I mean jam packed. Because when I started writing at eighteen I had this romantic notion of closeting myself away and writing the old fashioned way with reams of paper and a good fountain pen - and yes, the book that I first completed back then was the basis for the book I eventually sold - but it took my friends to drag me out into the big bad world for me to learn enough about life and people for me to go back to that book a decade later and make it into something real and, thankfully, sellable...

The way I see it is this - you know how we gals have a tendency to pick everything apart, see it from all angles and then try to put it back together again? - usually on the subject of our friends and our love lives - and normally over several glasses of something that will eventually turn a tale of woes into a giggle-fest? Well - to me - that's writer training. You know how you felt when you had your first crush, your first broken heart, your first relationship that just didn't fit - or if you're luckier than me - found the one that did? That's writer training for romance. And you know how you felt at your first job or struggling to pay the rent or how much you worked for a promotion or the first time you lost a job or how it felt when you worked hard and got your dream? That's writer training for character development. For me, the best thing my friends ever did, was get my ass out of the house and into the game of life. It may not always have been a pleasant experience, and believe me when I tell you there were rough times - but by learning and understanding why people do and say the things they do and say, by chatting problems through with friends and by seeing what other people do you learn about what motivates characters actions and that I think, helps make for believable characters.

So - life was my craft study I'm afraid...

HOWEVER - once you become a writer or if you've been trying to be a writer for a while, you realize (or you do if you're me) that learning about the craft is essential if you want to be here a while and if you want to improve! And THAT means learning. I don't think the learning should ever stop - from my point of view, we all have to earn our place and there are so many incredible writers out there that if we don't keep working at it then we don't deserve to be here - but that's just my philosophy - and I'm as vulnerable to the market trends and changes as the next person!!!

So, this year in particular I've been starting to pay more attention to the varying Craft Books that other writers read - and it's a subject oft blogged about! Even at The Pink Heart Society my good friend Ally Blake gave some samples of Craft Books she found useful (and some she didn't) - and let me tell you there is much debate from one book to the other and from one author to the other!

Now call me a simple soul - no, not simple on it's own! - but I like things to not blind me with science. Yes, I did do things like English Literature and History of Art so I do have a certain amount of knowledge on delving into things a tad deeper - but I like things set in terms that aren't too intricate and that get me thinking and making up my own mind. So certain Craft Books I won't even pick up - cos I know I won't read them and even if I do I'll end up dropping into a pit of despair because I think I should be doing all that stuff and feel like a moron cos I can't.

My mantra is this: Every Writer is a storyteller FIRST. So - for me - that means reading and watching movies to see how stories are told. Simplistic - yes. Naive - quite possibly. But it works for me. And I know I keep banging on about it - but it's whatever works for you! THERE-ARE-NO-RULES!!!

Frankly, I think it's why I started to get so stuck on the similarities between books and movies. And that started way back early in my life when I would read a book and then watch the movie and I was fascinated by why they changed some things or left certain things out, you know? I can watch a movie and admire the way scenes were put together, or how a character arc was developed, or the different ways they can get us to become attached and CARE about what happens next... And from all that and the editing process similarities in those DVD extras on out-takes, I started to form my own method and that eventually led to things like the theory on Backward Casting I use (which you can find on my Writers Tips Page) and the theories I have on editing and the like...

I guess what that means is I'm one of those people who works better with visual images laid out in front of me rather than a class on theory. I'm a do-er. Which is probably why in the horse world I did my exams through the NVQ system (which is hands on learning) rather than the Degree system (which can be a lot of talking about hands on learning without the actual hands on) - but I digress...

So I guess it made perfect sense that this year when I'm looking to the future and where I want to be that the kind of craft books I'm currently reading are more about the way Screenplays are put together. And with a day spent circling the talks I want to attend at the RWA Conference in Dallas this summer I tripped across one Michael Hauge - who has a book called Selling Your Story In 60 Seconds - and it's for BOTH screenplays AND novels - so SCORE!!! And folks - I'm now a convert. But in fairness, he had me at the page that said if I was reading the book in an aisle at Borders then I should just go buy it already. A sense of humour in the writing will always hold me you know... I'm a cheap date that way...

What this book does basically is make you break down your story into the key elements that will sell it. And already, not even a third of the way through, I've nodded my head so many times that I've gone right back to Amazon and ordered his other book on the Writing process. Yes, I KNOW it still says screenplays - but as I'm already a convert to the similarities I can pretty much put everything he's saying into the context of a novel. He lays the points down clearly - explains them all with examples I UNDERSTAND - and the fact that there are so many things I already do gives me faith that I'm not a moron and don't need to jump into that pit of despair!!! I LOVE HIM FOR THAT ALONE. But once I've read both books I'll come back and chat a bit more about them and once I've attended his talk in Dallas I'll probably come talk about it again.

But it's because I've found something that WORKS FOR ME that I'm so enthused by it... see? There is method on my madness...

Having said that, if you're looking to target Harlequin Mills & Boon then a VERY good place to start with Craft Books is Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide To Writing Romance - and I'm not just saying that because Kate has a new edition of it coming out this year and I was honoured enough to be asked some questions for it!!!! I'm recommending it because every single person I know that has read it has been helped by it! And cos if Kate doesn't know what she's doing when she has her 50TH BOOK on the shelf next month then LORD HELP THE REST OF US!!!

So there you go - the truth, the whole truth and nothing but... And if I find anything else that has given me a lightbulb moment along the way that I'll come back and let you all know - okay??? And thanks for the questions guys!!!

9 comments:

Nindespin said...

Hi Trish! {smiles and waves from across the pond} I confess, my jaw hit the keyboard. What!? Did not study craft and sold first book!!!??? Amazing!

I took heart at your comment about "seeing" your scenes when you write. I will check out the books you recommended. Have you read Robert McKee's "Story?" It is geared towards film, but I think it would work for romance novels.

Funny you mentioned Kate Walker's new book; I ordered it from Amazon.uk this morning! (Still the 20th for me) Gotta wait almost 2 weeks to get it 'coz I can't get it here in North America yet. I'm chomping at the bit for that one. :)

Thanks for answering my question,

Happy writing!

Trish said...

Erm... does that mean we're still friends??? If I promise to never mention it again would that help???

I see every single scene - quite often act it out (very very quietly to my cats) - and everyone that knows me in the real world knows that I have a certain *look* that means I've just seen a scene in my head. And no - it's *not* just constipation... It's my CREATIVE FACE.

Oooh... will look up that book RIGHT NOW! Sounds EXACTLY like my kinda thing!

Yes - I know that this current edition of Kate's book is down to it's last few copies so well done you for grabbing one! Hence the new print run. And I'm gonna say it WOULDN'T BE in another print run if it didn't sell. Also one of the nicest things about Kate is that she makes herself so accessible and she's a great supporter of new writers. And lemme tell you - when you meet her - she's a genuinely nice and fascinating person to talk to. As is her lovely hubby the BM... I've made some GREAT friends through writing you know...

And YOU'RE WELCOME. Always good to know I'm not talking to myself. Well... anymore than I normally do you understand...

Cole said...

Awesome post Trish!

Cole

Trish said...

Glad you enjoyed it Nicole!!! HOPE you went and got a coffee first?!

Nindespin said...

..."Creative Face"...too funny! :)

Robert Mckee's "Story" is mind blowing, from what I've read about it. BUT, very big wordie-ish and complex. Very intellectual. But definately worth it's weight in gold, from what reviewers say. He's the guy who "fixes" hollywood screenwriters who then crank out mega hits.

Laura Baker and Robin Perini have a spin off Mckee that is supposedly VERY reader friendly...
http://www.discoveringstorymagic.com/
They hold online workshops too! :)

Michelle Styles said...

One of the reasons that Trish sold on her first submission is that she is a natural born storyteller.

If you have read McKee's Story like I have, you will know there are two types of talent -- literary and story. It is story telling talent that is in short supply. Editors buy stories and Trish tells an exclellent one.

However, the need to control one's talent, and to prevent it burning out of control like jet engine fuel is why one learns about craft so that as a writer you don't feel like it is just dumb luck and so that your box of craft tools expands.

There is no right way to do anything.
Certain craft books appeal to certain writers at differnet times. It all depends on where your mind is at...

I read Mckee after learning that my editors had gone on a course with him. It now sits by my bedside table and I adore it, but that's me. Some people don't get much out of it.

FWIW

Trish said...

Michelle first up THANKYOU for the LOVELY compliment!!!!

I have to say the creativity burn-out is something I've stressed about this last year or so since I upped my productivity so you're absolutely right - and it's probably why I am starting to read more now... ;) I did approx four and a half books last year and am already working on my third for this year and keeping things fresh and thinking about more *complex* stories - delving that little bit deeper - does cause me more sleepless nights than it did before...

I'm getting more and more drawn to the McKee book I have to say gals - Michelle if you've found it helpful could you maybe blog a little about the parts you found most pertinent and I'll link across to it for the gang? - and for me *winks again*

Mind you, if I order much more from Amazon this month I'm gonna have to cut down on a few things - like food maybe... then again... that's maybe not a bad plan...

Donna Alward said...

Better late than never jumping in...

I also read and watch tv/movies with an eye towards story and construction, and also editing...what was cut and why, how it's paced....

I have the McKee on my amazon wish list, and I love Kate's book. I'm also a "don't blind me with science" girl and mostly with craft books I read and learn and then put them aside during the actual writing so I don't over think things...well in a perfect world anyway....

Nindespin said...

Hi Trish,

Have you heard of this one?

"GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict... The Building Blocks of Good Fiction" by Debra Dixon. Just got it in the post today and read it cover to cover. She uses films to illustrate her points. Fab book, and eye opening!