Wednesday, 15 May 2013
First, though, let's just set out the practical things you should know about rejection, then I will try to send your eyebrows up... So here we go: Firstly, we have to face it...
1) Rejection is inevitable. It comes with the job. Show me a successful writer who never got rejected, I'll show you a liar. Nobody likes it, but you do need to accept it and learn to live with it.
2) Rejection is rarely a reflection of your ability. Most of the time, there's a practical, business reason behind rejection. For example, if an publisher/agent can manage 10 writers, once they have ten, they reject everything else until there's some bandwidth. And they have to choose carefully what to do with that limited bandwidth, or they go out of business. Should an agent choose to work on, e.g., David Beckham's new book, or some truly brilliant story by an unknown? Sad but true - the certain money is in the one who isn't even a writer! So you don't even get read; you get rejected. The most common reason for rejection is that the genre of the submission doesn't match the genre of the publisher. Instant rejection. Nothing to do with the merits of your writing. So don't feel hurt personally. It's not usually an ego thing. Learn the lesson (if there is one), turn it around, and send it out again.
3) Rejection makes acceptance soooo much sweeter when it comes. I have my handful of deals, and when I look at the hangar full of rejection letters it took to get there, it makes me smile. And really proud of myself for hanging in there. Turn it on its head. If someone said to you: 'I'll give you a deal if you accept 100 rejections first.' You'd take that, right? Well, that's kind of how it works. Use every rejection to make yourself more determined than ever. Quality DOES win out. You know if you're good. Keep going. Dig deep. Go again. Bank those rejections, and crank up the sweetness of the deal when it comes...
4) Rejection is easier to take if you have already moved on. Get immersed in your next story and get excited by that, and any rejection of previous work is much easier to take. Agents and publishers take AGES getting back... so just fire and forget. Don't sit by the letterbox wringing your hands - people who do that are CRUSHED by those inevitable rejections. Don't phone them up and bug them. move on! Get the next one rolling! If you're going to be professional, you will need more stuff, and now is the time to write it whilst you have time!
OK. Here's the surprise one. When I work with writers who are taking years and years to finish a story, it sometimes becomes apparent that it's not their artistic nature or perfectionist tendencies that are the issue... it's the fear of Judgement Day. Before you finish something, it's easy to go to parties and flick your hair and say, 'oh, yes, I'm a writer, don't you know...' and discuss your story and the life of a writer; and people are impressed and life is pleasant. But of course, life only stays impressive and pleasant while the story remains unfinished. The day you say you've finished, it's up for evaluation... and the possibility of various forms of rejection. I'd say it's even harder for an aspiring writer, because the evaluation comes primarily from family and friends... and they need to be ignored, because unless they say something that totally resonates with your own self-criticism, it's not helpful. Writing for a 'public' who don't know you except through your writing, is different. Write for yourself. Be your own critic - it's YOUR story, and it's right when you say it is, not your mum or boyfriend (what do they know?!). Send it to agents and industry people, and accept what they say. You don't need to 'work with' your friends and family at all.
So is this you? Aspiring writers, particularly those with no deadlines, can take decades and still never finish, because they are so scared it isn't good enough. But you must never forget...
...the most important thing: it's YOUR story. If YOU say it's right, then it's right. Other people will have their views - including agents and publishers and producers - but you can't bend yourself to every opinion that arrives, and you can't force the commercial process. So put on your rhino skin, take the bull by the horns, bite the bullet, grasp the nettle, and adopt the proven, simple and powerful three steps to success John (Only Fools and Horses) Sullivan gave me:
1) Write the best stuff you can.
2) Send it off.
3) Go to 1.
If you think about it, it's all you CAN do. And it's all that every successful writer has ever done. So what are you doing reading this?! Get off the internet and get your work out there!
For more on the publishing process, rejection, story quality and the full conversations with John Sullivan and with publishing head, Stewart Ferris, check out The Story Book, which has full details on How to Do Step 1) !
Thursday, 25 April 2013
However, what if you don't want your characters to grow? What if you need them to stay exactly as they are in order to write a sequel? How can we use the power of character growth, but not actually allow any character growth?
John Sullivan told me, in discussion about his wonderful series, Only Fools and Horses, that the last thing he needed was character growth, because when writing a series across years and dozens of episodes, character growth can trap the characters against a ceiling. They can only grow so far, then they become fulfilled. They have undergone the change that made them so interesting, and have nowhere else to go.
That is why a truly great story - great because it does feature character growth - is often followed by a poor sequel. The protagonist has already made his life journey, is fulfilled and has learned his life lessons, so there is no room for further growth in the sequel, so the second story disappoints.
John would also use forms of character growth that didn't fundamentally change the character of the character, if you see what I mean. So, for example, Del Boy having a baby was an emotional plot line that would be considered as a form of character growth, but still meant he could be precisely the same Del Boy at the beginning of the following week without any change to his fundamental character.
The other fine dynamic for using character growth but avoiding protagonist change is to allow a character other than the protagonist to learn a lesson and to grow. Look no further than my old favourite,Back to the Future, in which the protagonist, Marty McFly, doesn't grow at all. The character growth that gives the story all its amazing power comes from Marty's father - George McFly, who learns to be assertive - and changes his life fortunes to the positive as a result. But Marty remains the same. Imagine trying to continue George McFly's adventures into the sequel from that end-point. That would be really, really difficult, because he's ended this adventure having grown and become fulfilled. His story has been told, and there's no more that can be satisfactorily told. His journey to fulfilment is complete. That's why they moved on to the next generation and to a whole new character (Marty's son) to have someone they could advance up life's ladder.
In all the Jack Reacher novels, Jack stays the same, but the bad guys learn some very serious lessons, and although their progress is generally negative - leading to jail or the grave - this is still a form of character growth - that is why death is such a regular feature of stories even though it is surprisingly rare in our real lives. In most superhero and detective stories it's the bad guys that do the growing - forced down the ladder of life by the lessons they learn.
So characters do not have to change and grow, but you can still use the power of character growth in four ways without your character growing:
2) Have very definite negative character growth in the antagonist (shining a light on positive learning and growth).
3) Offer your protagonist the opportunity to grow... but then have him turn it down (Jack Reacher), or fail to make the most of the opportunity (Del Boy).
4) Use forms of character growth, such as marriage or parenthood, that do not implicitly change the character of the character.
Thursday, 21 March 2013
The questions writers really want answering are: “How do I make the most of my story ideas? How do I tell my story to its absolute best? How do I guide my ability to tell stories without damaging my natural talent? It takes me months to find out what’s bugging me in my story. How do I understand and solve story problems quickly and effectively? What gives one story power and another one not? What are the story tools that are available to writers that make stories grip and intrigue?”
Thursday, 7 March 2013
Firstly, let's outline that key question, because that is what gives it its attraction, and is also what lets it down, because they blow the power of that key question halfway through the story.
In a futuristic vision of North America, The Hunger Games is an annual entertainment put on by the repressive government ('The Capitol'). Each of the twelve districts must donate two people between the age of 12 and 18 to the games. All 24 of these young people - 'tributes', as they are called - are set free in a televised terrain where they must kill or be killed. Only one of the 24 can survive, and return home an honoured hero. The story follows the journey of the two tributes from District 12: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). The tension in the story comes from our knowledge that, although their relationship is steadily growing and intensifying as the story progresses, only one of them can survive. As the story goes on, they begin to fall in love. Oh, My God. The key question looms large over us and tightens its grip because we know, at some point one of them... is going to have to kill the other one. Excellent, excellent, gripping, powerful story.
Tuesday, 5 March 2013
Let's see if a modern story can be seen to live up to Aristotle’s key elements, defined literally thousands of years ago. Here they are. An effective story has three essential elements:
- Firstly, we have the Harmartia - a ‘fault’ or ‘flaw’ that disturbs the protagonist’s balance of life.
- Secondly, the Anagnorisis - the ‘realisation’ of what this flaw means to the protagonist and the action that will be required to restore balance.
- Thirdly, the Peripeteia - a reversal of expectation that pays off the story and brings the world back into balance at conclusion - but in a way that is unexpected (in the sense that it didn’t work out the way the protagonist intended and/or the audience thought it would).
Take a look at your own stories or story events. Do your sequences/chapters/scenes or entire stories live up to Aristotle? I've found that the Peripeteia is particularly significant. I analyse stories that bug me - they have conflict, great characters, key questions - lots of boxes ticked, but something not right... and often the problem is predictability. If a story is great, the chances are it is because it has a wonderful cleverness to it - and that will be the Peripeteia - a beautiful twistiness compared to expectation - shining through.
I imagine that anyone who has remained influential for 2,300 years probably knew what he was talking about, so I'd pause and think about this one if I were you...!
Tuesday, 22 January 2013
Sunday, 20 January 2013
Thursday, 17 January 2013
So show me some love, and I'll return the complement with funny, positive, uplifting writing that I personally promise will brighten your winter blues. Don't take my word for it - look at the sample reviews below and then click the button! This offer must end!
Buy the Book or Ebook from the UK
Buy the Ebook from US Kindle Store
|"One of the funniest books I have ever read." City Talk |
"Interesting, raucous and very, very funny. When it came to the end it was like saying goodbye to an old friend." TalkSport
"A seriously funny man with a great gift for story-telling." Spirit FM
Still not convinced? If you click on the left there are plenty more reviews on Amazon. Straight five stars across the board on Amazon.com. Here's the latest example:
5 out of 5 Stars. This is a DANGEROUSLY funny book!,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Ocean Boulevard - Adventures On The High Seas: An Epic and Exhilarating Journey All the Way... from a Boy to a Man (Baboulene's Travels) (Kindle Edition)This is far and away one of the funniest books I have ever read. The author is a comic genius. I literally fell out of bed laughing.
When I rose from the bedroom floor it seemed advisable to take a break from reading in order to recover my composure, and to give my laugh-exhausted innards a chance to resettle. I did a little cooking and then sat down for a small meal.
Unfortunately I also opened the story again and was soon in the throes of hilarity once more, to the extent that I inhaled my hamburger. Only the mercy of God allowed me to clear the blockage before I turned blue.
I'm telling you, this is a DANGEROUSLY funny book . . .
Wednesday, 31 October 2012
- Will Bond get the list back? Answer? No idea. It never gets mentioned again. It could still be out there for all we know.
- Will Silva kill M, or will Bond save her? Answer? Silva successfully kills M, and Bond fails to save her.
- Will Bond defeat Silva? Hmmm. Bond does kill Silva, but we have been told that Silva wanted to die with M, which he did. This is unfortunately now a perfect victory for Silva, who got everything he wanted.
Now, it’s not a story-crime to have the protagonist lose occasionally, and a bad guy win, but I would certainly have advised the producers against having James Bond - of all people - fail so badly on every count. But it’s not terrible story-telling - it's a choice that can be made. What is a bad story flaw is to raise a key question in the mind of the audience and then not follow through to address that question at resolution. The film drifts from around halfway through. There was no reason for that to happen. Not good.
Friday, 14 September 2012
...is a branch of literary theory that deals with the critical role played by the reader in the literary process. Without a reader, the pile of paper bequeathed to us by a writer is a dormant, useless object - as lifeless as a stone. It takes a reader with adequate ability to bring meaning to the writers words and generate a version of the writer's world in the form of mental structures in his mind, created exclusively from the reader's own knowledge and experience. A child may know all the words in an adult book, but cannot make sense of it because he doesn't have the necessary life experience and knowledge to create the intended structures in mind. And - get this - because we all have a different profile in terms of life knowledge and human experience, every single reading of a text produces a unique individual production of the writer's world. Every single reading of a text is a unique interpretation. A new version of that story personalised to that reader at that time of reading. Even two readings by the same reader will be different from each other.
A receiver of a narrative is not simply a reader of text but a producer of story.
How Can I Use This as a Writer?
Well, if a reader draws on his own life and human experience to produce a version of your story, you, as a writer, must write about the shared human values and experiences that will stimulate and excite the mind of your reader. What kind of writer activity does that to best effect?
To do this, we have to write in two ways: Firstly, Denoted information. We provide solid, factual information that is interpreted the same way by all readers to create a consistent story framework. If I tell you a story about a 'BEAR', you will get an image in your mind. But this is not enough information. She got a Polar bear; he got a fluffy teddy; you got a koala; I meant Angry Grizzly. So the denoted information must be clear and solid in order that the framework of the story is the same for everyone whatever their life experience. If I say I am about to be attacked by an angry Grizzy bear, we're all aligned with the same denoted picture in mind because we all have a common understanding of what an angry Grizzly bear 'means' to a person.
Secondly, Connotated information. This is where we get to the very substance of story. This is the information the reader brings to the party himself that fills in the gaps we deliberately leave in-between the planks of our clear and solid denoted framework. Let me put some more structures in your mind. I tell you I am being attacked by an angry Grizzly bear. I am cornered in a college music room and have only instruments to protect myself. You have a clear (denoted) picture of the situation because you know what an angry Grizzly 'means' and you know what a college music room is like; but now, you do something more. Your human understanding of the position of being cornered by an angry Grizzly has you responding emotionally and appropriately. The human in you wants to survive the bear attack, and your mind instantly searches for answers. There are possibilities that are unstated, and you instantly begin filling in gaps yourself - projecting possibilities, running through a mental list of musical instruments to find which I could possibly use to protect myself from being torn to pieces by a bear. THIS is story - not what I said, but what I didn't say. Not what I gave you, but what you gave to yourself from the threat you perceive that stimulated your human emotional response. If you are being attacked by a bear in a music room, what do you do to protect yourself? You can guess, and you do guess instinctively, but now we are getting somewhere as a writer, because the reader will read on, because he wants to know what happens next, and he instinctively feels a need for more information. This is the need you must work on as a writer. You have (presumably) no experience of bears in music rooms, so the story has stimulated you to new mental structures and new mental stimuli. The human brain likes this.
Mental stimulation through story comes from knowledge gaps. Show someone a gap in knowledge in your (denoted) story framework - work on human emotions to raise questions and create unknowns - and your readers will project knowledge into the gap and test it whether you ask them to or not. Then they read more. They cast around your story, desperate for new and more information to fill knowledge gaps because there is nothing like a gap in knowledge to make a person feel uncomfortable, insecure, intrigued, curious... and utterly engaged in the process of finding out the information that goes into that gap in knowledge and fills in the denoted framework from their own experience. This is story. And your reader needs to know what happens next...
What happened next? Me and the bear are forming a band. He's an amazing lead guitarist. Giraffe on drums. Mole on piano. Three hippos in short skirts on backing vocals.
Did you get a picture...?! Of course you did. But if I said that in my band there was a dremble-fogger mindi-lobbing furiously on a lingle, it wouldn't mean anything, and you won't get a picture (not the same as anyone else's, anyway!); not because they don't exist - they do - I invented them - but because these things are not part of our shared life experience. I sincerely hope not, anyway. Those dremble-foggers can give you nightmares when they mindi-lob...
Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Perhaps more importantly, how do I feel about the things I've said to aspiring writers on this blog and in my paid work as a story consultant now I'm trying to write under the influence of this kind of knowledge myself?
The Big Idea
I think the main thing that hits me is that my knowledge of story theory doesn't impact my early writing process at all. The fundamental fact that kinda undermines all theories is this: do you have a killer idea for a story? If you don't have a great story idea, or characters with compelling conflicts, all the knowledge in the world is absolutely no use to you. I guess this is why so few story analysts are writers of fiction themselves: they don't have any winning story ideas.
Write it... Or Analyse it?
And the first thing you must do when you have a story idea is let it pour out of you. If it feels good, don't stand there thinking about it - get deeply immersed in it! This is the joy of writing - the creativity, the world you build in your mind, the imagination and escapism - it's all brilliant, and I don't think I stress strongly enough in my story seminars or books the importance of just being yourself and getting stuck in. This is your story, you must draw it from your own heart, and the very last thing you should do is let someone else get their hands dirty in amongst your natural ability at this stage.
I feel my analytical work makes it seem like developing a story is a very formal - almost scientific - process, but it really isn't and it really shouldn't be. Just write. Write lots. Get stuck in and follow your heart. It doesn't matter if you throw away 90% of what you write, but write you must if you are going to find out if your stories work or not.
I get lots of inspiration and new ideas from getting into the detail, so I just write - without editing and without polish - in order to get deeper into the characters and possibilities. I accept that I will not keep much of this rough content, but I get a great deal of progress out of it. Then it's back up to the top level analysis view to see how things are shaping up. I think my analysis work might encourage people to spend too much time thinking and not enough time writing. Juuuust get stuck in!
Productivity - the Key Differentiator
Too many writers wait for inspiration. These people rarely become professional. Successful writers work very, very hard to dig for inspiration by forcing themselves to write at the coal-face every day, even on those days when they have no inspiration at all. The successful writers work the hardest, in a very real sense, and I have no doubt that sheer dogged determination to keep delivering a word count and to hit deadlines is a massive differentiator in those writers who can:
a) find inspiration when none is arriving by itself; and
b) be productive enough to produce a book a year and thereby turn professional.
So my advice is this: write from the heart; write lots and let it flow. Then re-write using your head, your story theory knowledge and the dustbin. Be confident in yourself - there is no 'right and wrong' - if you write from the heart you will be fulfilled, irrespective of commercial success. Yes, learn the craft of story in order to help optimise your ideas and speed your process, not to dictate your ideas or BE your process.
So, what am I writing?
Thank you for asking... I'm currently writing my third humorous book. I've never really spoken about my humorous writing on this blog but if you are interested to see if a story theorist can actually write, here is the link to my first book of humorous tales. This book got me my first proper publishing deal. This is a fine book, in my opinion, and judging by the reviews, people do seem to like it. I do hate marketing so make the most of this - I don't plan to do it very often!
OCEAN BOULEVARD (Amazon- UK - Hard copy and Kindle)
OCEAN BOULEVARD (Amazon.com Kindle store)
"David Baboulene is a seriously funny man with a great gift for storytelling. One of the funniest books I have ever read." City Talk.
I hope you love it! Feel free to let me know what you think!
Thursday, 19 April 2012
Most writers get confidence in their early writing from some success with some short pieces. A writer might place an article or two, a short story published - 1500 words that get roundly admired. Then he does it again and feels a terrific - and well justified - sense of achievement as he receives the accolades of people who have genuinely enjoyed his work and he maybe even trousers his first payment for writing. Feels great, right?!
And it is at this point that the writer decides to set about the novel or screenplay he's been brooding over for the last few years. They open a new document, take a deep breath... and begin with their own version of 'Once upon a time...'
And this is the mistake. The trap is sprung. The writer is in trouble, and he doesn't even know it.
Writing 100,000 words or two hours of screenplay is a totally different discipline from writing a short piece. With 1000 words, we can begin at the beginning, write through to the the end, read it through, rewrite it, reorder things, screw it up and start again - whatever. Our writing method is simply to rewrite; read it again; then re-write again until it reads cleanly and no further changes are necessary. This is manageable, because even the most fundamental of changes can be managed and accommodated across the arc of the whole story.
So we set about our first full-length work in exactly the same way. Unfortunately, this rarely - very rarely - leads to success. To get to the end of a 100,000 word first draft, and then read it through and realise there are one or two wonderful changes you'd like to incorporate is a major new piece of work. To successfully manage all the ripple effects of even the smallest of changes is very, very tricky, and to do this two, three, four times is simply not sustainable in one lifetime. The vast majority of stories that are written this way end up dying in a drawer somewhere as the writer loses all sight of what the story was about, loses all vitality and connection with the heartbeat of the story and has no mental energy left to lift themselves for yet another re-write of such an enormous beast.
There is a saying that there are no writers, only re-writers, and there is no doubt that this is true. But there are limits, and a full length work needs to be approached in a different way if it is to have the best chance of getting itself finished. In my experience, the most effective method looks like this:
1. Begin with an idea. Question that idea to develop it. Ask what if? What if? What if...?
3. Once the idea has grown into a series of 20 to 30 component events leading to a clear ending, start pitching the story to people. Tell it out loud. It might not be something you want to do, but it is the single most valuable exercise in story development. Tell your story (that is what it is FOR!!) and you will learn SO much about it - the improvements will amaze you.
4. If there are frustrations in your story, think about meaningful conflict, character growth and subtext in every event and across the story as a whole. The source of your frustration will almost certainly be in one of these areas. Learn about these key story elements in order to speed up your writing process.
5. You are now ready to write the first draft. Even this process, because it is slower, will generate new ideas, so be prepared to go back up to the previous level and rework the story at the event level.
If you follow this process - without writing a single word in earnest until you know your entire story from front to back and have broken it down into manageable chunks - subsequent changes to the drafts will be minimal and editorial rather than fundamental, and your chances of becoming the proud creator of a fine, finished product will be greatly enhanced.
This is a brief, blog version of the method. An in-depth analysis of a proven story development method can be found in The Story Book; A develoment method discussed in step-by-step detail, from the seed of the idea to the distributed film, with Bob Gale on how he and Robert Zemekis developed their story: Back to the Future.
Sunday, 1 April 2012
Event Key Question
As discussed, the classic story structure we learn in our first year of story theory looks like this: an inciting incident raises a key question in the mind of the audience. The key question is pushed and pulled in the battle between the forces of protagonism and those of antagonism until the climax when we find out the answer to the key question. So, for example, the tortoise challenges the hare to a race (inciting incident). The key question is raised: 'who will win the race?' At climax, we find out the answer to the key question (the tortoise won the race).
This is a key question raised through an event. A 'plot' level key question - and although this is very clear and simple and is a fine mechanism, found in many great stories, it is evident that the very finest and most highly rated stories often do not have a clear and evident Event Key Question. So what do the finest stories have instead?
Character Growth Key Question
In the more highly rated stories, we in the audience are asking ourselves: 'What will happen next?' and we are gripped, but there is no clear and identifiable inciting incident raising a key question that carries us forwards. The Ugly Duckling is an example of such a story. A duck is born. It is different from the other ducklings, and suffers bullying, ridicule and social exclusion. No obvious key question is raised. So why are we intrigued?
Because we are powerfully locked on to the question of fulfilment for our protagonist. We are aware that our protagonist has a yearning - an ambition - with which we empathise. In life, we naturally crave a sense of belonging; we desire successful relationships and we feel secure if we fit in with communities and groups. So we want the duckling to be fulfilled as we desire to be fulfilled ourselves. We recognise the character suffering in these terms, and we are gripped by our own feelings about these issues in our own life, so we want to see what will happen to the protagonist's fortunes. The duck becomes a beautiful swan, achieves a sense of belonging in a group of other glorious swans, and the bad guy animals who ridiculed and excluded the ugly duckling look foolish and rather ugly themselves. The Ugly Duckling becomes fulfilled through an unexpected reversal in fortunes, and we are heartened and satisfied by the story and by the 'life' lessons we have understood. So the key question is there, but it is: "Will the protagonist find fulfilment?"
This is kinda important, because every single story of all time has either an 'event' key question, or a character growth key question, or both. Always and forever. Although a character growth key question tends to characterise the very finest stories, I would suggest that the easiest high power stories to write are probably those that have both. The Hare and The Tortoise is based around a very clear key question (Who will win the race?) but also has a second strand of character growth. We (and The Hare) learn a life lesson along the lines of 'more haste less speed'.
So as a writer, I would suggest that when you find a story idea that has potential, you need to look for how the story idea is going to describe a character arc of growth up the ladder of human values, and how that character arc is going to be achieved in the context of the real world challenges presented by the plot level 'event' that look like they will take the protagonist downwards in life.
Or to give an example from a story that has both, let's look at - guess what - Back to the Future. Marty McFly is sent back to 1955 in a time machine ('plot' event) raising the key question: 'Will he ever get back to 1985?'. Answer at climax - yes, he will); but the real story lives and grips and engages us on the question of George McFly's character growth. When George grows from weak and unassertive to take out Biff with one punch, he grows into a strong and confident man, and it is this life growth that defines the whole story.
Will George find fulfilment? He certainly does, and there is the Character Development Key Question.