Thursday, 14 November 2013

Why is Genre Important to Success?

Genre is a real tricky devil... and absolutely key to your success. 

When we start out on a writing career, we don't see it like that. Genre is a restriction. Something to at least ignore and probably rebel against. You gotta be unique. You're going to prove yourself by doing something different. The only reason you would ever want to know the rules is so you can break ‘em good.

Weeellll, it's not quite like that. You do need originality but you also need to be professional. There's definitely a place for you to be different, but you also need to be commercially switched on. And it is through understanding the role of Genre that you can know the time and place to be creative and different and the time and place to be compliant and run on the rails of genre. 

Every story divides into two 'levels'. One level allows you to show how professional you are and how you have mastered your craft. The other level allows you to be different and show off your creative originality. These levels are firstly, the top level arcs across the whole story (what the story is about) and, secondly, the detailed content of the sequences (how that story is told).


  1. The top level arcs, defining what your story is about, should be fixed within a genre. 
  2. The detail of the individual scenes/chapters - how you deliver those arcs - can change infinitely with your uniquely different creative brilliance. 


For example, if I tell you I'm going to go to Paris, you know exactly what I'm doing overall. The top level arc is a clear message, instantly understood. You will know if I've achieved my aim if I get to Paris. However, the detail of how I get there - the scenes along the way - involving bike, walk, plane, train, hitch, characters, disasters comedy - whatever - how it takes place in the detail is infinitely up for creative originality.  

My creative brilliance is separated from a clear genre message. The rules of the genre are obeyed, buy my originality can express itself within that genre. 

The trick is to define the top level material – the big picture that can be marketed – smack down the middle. Know your genre, be cynical and professional and and live in the middle of the mainstream. Really. Do it. Make it a rule (you know I don’t like rules…) Then within those boundaries, in the detail of how you deliver your story chapter by chapter, scene by scene, be as inventive and different as you possibly can. 

Why not be different at the top level? Let's say, for example, that I am the most brilliantly amazing talented soccer player the world has ever seen, but I want to show the world just how brilliant and original I am, so I refuse to be limited by the laws of the game and I keep dribbling the ball (brilliantly) over the lines and out of play, then guess what… I'm a useless footballer. Hold on — I thought we agreed I am the very best footballer? (Thank you.) Yes, David, you are. But commercially, you're utterly worthless if you won't accept the genre rules. 

I hate that it’s true, but I could barely give you a single piece of better advice if you want commercial success. Become professional and understand your craft within the context of a genre, and then become creatively brilliant and mind-blowingly original within the boundaries of that genre.  

Why? Because we, the public, as consumers, like to know what we're getting for our investment of time and money in a story. I don't go and see a film randomly or pick up a book without any pre-commitment evaluation, and neither do you. You read reviews; you look at the marketing material; read the back cover; hear the interviews; look at the trailer, the poster, the title, the star, the character... You want to know if it's the kind of thing that will suit your likings. And that means genre.  

But before you get anywhere near getting assessed by the public, you as a writer, have to sell yourself and your material to an agent/publisher/producer. And I promise you, you are dead in the water if you don't have a clear genre. They will only take on a clearly defined genre piece, because they know they can't sell it if they don't. Look at it like this: When your publisher sells a book to a retailer, the first thing the buyer asks is: Which shelf does this go on? If it isn’t COMPLETELY obvious where it goes in the shop, then it’s rejected. Instantly. It could be brilliant but sorry, if the buyer can’t tell what genre it is, then neither can the public and it won’t sell, so he won’t buy it from the publisher. 

Don't forget, the retailers/buyers don’t read the content. They look at that top level marketing-by-genre potential and decide 100% on that whether they can sell it. The content is secondary and entirely irrelevant to the sales process. Hand the buyer a Lee Child novel and – boom. No problem. He knows where that goes. He know the public will understand this book and what you get from it. They will be looking at the Crime section in the first place, because that's the kind of thing they like, and if you put the right cover design and title and author and character under their nose... Ka-ching! Lee Child is bang in the middle of a genre and he writes a book a year in that same genre, with an unchanging lead character and has done so for the past 18 years. And that equals commercial success (to the tune of close to 20 million novels sold). He never EVER tries to be clever with genre. And that’s the cleverest thing he can do. 

Copy Lee. Set yourself apart from the competition by living exactly in the middle of the mainstream - THAT is genuine originality, because there’s nobody there. They’re all trying to be really clever out on the edges, inventing new genres and trying to be 'different'. Ironically, the middle of the fairway is the place where you find space to define yourself. Living there makes you different. Go to the centre of the mainstream. That will really set you apart. 

(My full conversations with Lee Child are featured in The Story Book.) 

Of course, if you aren't too bothered about commercial success, fine. Do what you like. But if you want to sell stories and make money, have no doubt about it: the commercial decisions are made firstly by genre, and then by content. Be absolutely clear and down-the-middle with your genre - what kind of story it is. Which shelf you live on. Then be unique and original and brilliant and different in the content - how you deliver that story.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Encouragement Through Rejection

So I'm going to tell you something you DIDN'T know about rejection, which will have you raise your eyebrows and maybe - just maybe - look at yourself and your writing a little differently. 

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 a publisher/agent can manage, say, ten 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 shed-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! 

Eyebrows UP! 
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 Rejection. 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 partner (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 also includes full details on How to Do Step 1) !

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Character Growth (When You Don't Want Your Characters to Grow)

If you follow my work, you will know that it is an attribute of the very finest stories - the ones that win Oscars, BAFTAs, Booker prizes and the like - that a character changes and learns and grows across the course of a story. (For more detail on this, read my Character Growth Blog .)

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.

Now, John made a big deal of being 'uneducated' in 'how to write', and had, shall we say, a significant distrust of story theory (which made our conversations somewhat interesting...), but it didn't stop him from being brilliant. He played on character growth with every episode of Only Fools and Horses, without letting his characters actually grow. He played on the pathos of failing to grow by having Del Boy and Rodney offered growth... but fail to improve themselves, and despite their efforts and the golden opportunities offered, they endlessly fell back down life’s ladder. This was brilliant story-telling, because it gave us, in the audience, a chance to see the decisions they should take to advance themselves (so in this sense there was character growth in the story), but their failure to learn and grow was both hilarious and frustrating... and allowed them to slide back down to square one so the beginning of the next episode could always start with a clean slate.

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.

I had a similar conversation with Lee Child. For his Jack Reacher novels, the eponymous protagonist had to end up exactly where he started if Lee was to produce another book to the same successful recipe (as he has done every single year for the last 17 years).  Interestingly - given the success of his series - Lee often used character growth without allowing Jack Reacher ultimately to grow. Jack Reacher would begin the story as a drifter, wandering into a new town. During the course of a story that has him work for good as a vigilante against the corrupt authorities, the criminals and the bullies, he would perhaps find a girl, fall in love, become integrated into a community, become appreciated as a local hero... At the end of the story he might be lying in bed with a woman who loves him, children who worship him, a mayor who wants him to join the city council... but inevitably, he would walk away from all this good stuff that might fulfil him. He’d tear it all up, spirit himself away in dead of night, and hit the road, to drift on to the next town. It’s just the way he is... but this hugely convenient character flaw that had him dismantle all that lovely character growth also allowed him to return to the same starting point as he drifts into a new town to begin his next adventure. Expert story telling. 

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. 

How can I use this in my writing?
So characters do not have to change and grow, but you can still use the power of character growth in five ways without your character growing: 

1) Have a secondary character change and grow (e.g., George McFly). 

2) Have very definite negative character growth in the antagonist (a tragedy shines a light on the positive learning and growth the character should have undergone). 

3) Offer your protagonist the opportunity to grow... but then have him turn it down (Jack Reacher), take something else he perceives to be of more value (e.g., money instead of the love that was on offer...), 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. 

5) Use issues of morality to allow your character to grow through conflict in a specific area of life - carefully chosen so as not to impact areas of life used in the next in the series. So, for example, if your protagonist learns lessons about morality in dealing with relationships in one episode, and in drug dealing in the next, the growth in each doesn't affect the other. (See my post on Morality in Stories for more...) 

Much, much more on the inordinate power of character growth and learning in my book, How Stories Work (2014).

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The C Word...

The most obvious difference I see between the successful writers I have met and the aspiring writers is confidence. Confident writers are focused and productive. They say, “This is MY story. I’m writing it MY way, and I don’t care what anyone thinks.” They put their blinkers on, they put the hours into what they think is right, and deliver. After that it’s part luck and part commercial savvy that decides whether the final product attracts deals or not, but this is the right approach to any artistic endeavour. So if self-belief and an uncompromising approach to writing is the way to go, what can a writer do to get precious confidence without getting tainted by someone else’s directions?

The wrong thing to do, which I see a lot in the writers I work with, is to go on endless courses or read a pile of books on ‘How to Write’. They inevitably provide you with a set of rules that seem to apply to famous stories.  As soon as you buy into this, your story becomes driven by structure. It becomes a little unnatural and it loses its spark, and you have your creative instinct damaged by someone else’s rules.

That paragraph may seem odd coming from a man who gives courses to aspiring writers, but I am very careful in my approach. The word ‘education’ comes from the Latin ‘to draw out’, and for writers, with precious, highly personal inspiration, the difference between ‘drawing out’ and ‘forcing in’ is a critical distinction. In my experience, what writers really need is not help from the outside to change what is inside. It’s help in making the best possible use of the inspiration that is already there.

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?”

There is only one person who can tell your story the right way, and that is YOU! Yes, you need knowledge of the craft of story so you are empowered to tell your story your way. Then you will also have the confidence to send it off and, importantly, take rejection knowing that what you’ve done is right irrespective of what the rejection letter says. Many of the writers I meet are hugely restricted by fear of rejection. So much so that they don’t even finish their work. Once it’s finished, it’s judgement day, and that is unbearable, so people keep writing and re-writing for years rather than face the dreaded judgement day. Again, confidence is the issue. If you know you have been true to yourself and true to your story, then you cease to care about external judgement. You listen, of course, in case something constructive resonates with you, but ultimately your own personal judgement is all that matters, so if others choose to reject it for their commercial agenda, so be it. Of course, rejection hurts, but it also goes with the territory, so grasping the rejection nettle and taking the consequences is something you simply have to do. John Sullivan gave me all you need to know about ‘How to be a writer’:

1) Write the best stuff you can.
2) Send it off.
3) Go to 1) 

What happens after that is out of your hands, so just go to 1) ,do 2) and forget it. Over time you will improve, and one day something will click. When it does, the weirdest thing happens: the pile of rejections become a massive badge of honour, and the glow you feel from success becomes magnified ten-fold by every single rejection you collected along the way.

Writers who become clients of mine are always surprised when we start work because I won’t read their story. I’m working to help the writer take responsibility for themselves; to find and shape the inspiration that comes from within. There’s only one right way to write your story, and that’s your way. If you think about it, there simply can’t be any other way to write your story. So forget the gurus and take responsibility. Yes, learn about story so you can squeeze the most from your ideas. Write every day, and say to yourself every day:

“My Story. My Way. And balls to the lot of you.”

Say it now. Say it out loud and mean it. Not only will you laugh at yourself, but take responsibility for your own development and suddenly life as a writer, and your path forwards from today, becomes very clear indeed...

Now. Go To 1).

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Hunger Games - Story Analysis



!This Article Contains Spoilers! 

The Hunger Games is something of an enigma. As you watch it, you love it, and it kinda keeps you gripped, because the premise is so good, the characters are very strong, and the key question provides excellent tension. But it is low rated by public opinion on IMDB, and leaves you feeling a little unsatisfied by the end, although strangely attracted to it at the same time. Here's why. 

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 world, 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 on reality TV. Only one of the 24 can survive, and return home a hero. But it isn't simply survival of the fittest. If a tribute appeals to the audience, they can gain practical help in the field from 'sponsors', so having public appeal is also a key factor. 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 (or are they? Is it just a ploy by Katniss for sponsors?). 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. 

So why – oh, please why – did the writers have the ‘Capitol’ introduce a new rule halfway through the game by announcing: ‘actually, just this once, we’re going to let two people survive the games, provided they are from the same district.’ What the hell would you do a stupid thing like that for?! The story is now shot to pieces. Oh! Two can survive now! Well, I wonder who on earth THAT could be?! Might it turn out to be - ooh, let me think now - might it be... Katniss and Peeta (the only district partnership we even know the names of anyway!)? Now we know who will survive. The jeopardy is decimated. The tension is gone. The story is over. There is no other subtext to carry the story. Finished. Forget it. Go home.

And it's SO good up until then! It's a crime! What doubles my horror at the way they utterly blew the story power is that they then, just in time for the very end, they bring it back in again! The Capitol make another announcement: 'Errr. We've changed our minds, and now only one can survive.' 

Yes, it gives the story traction again, because now we feel the tension again - one of them will have to kill the other, but we've had an hour of knowing the outcome, so putting the doubt back in for what turns out to be ONE MINUTE is hardly going to rescue the thing. Clearly, the writers saw that they had to do this to create any kind of cleverness in the ending, so they put it back! Which just makes taking it out in the first place all the more unbelievable!  

What makes it even worse is that the Romeo and Juliet ending we are offered at climax (it's not what happens), whereby Katniss and Peeta choose to commit suicide together - thereby removing the power of the Capitol, making their love sublime for all eternity, making them into martyrs and causing a furious revolution in the districts - would have made this film an all time classic – BUT only if they'd kept that tension gripping us throughout. If the jeopardy had been there the whole way through we would have remained utterly gripped by the knowledge that one of them MUST die, doubly gripped as their relationship grows, and totally knocked out when they choose to commit suicide together to confound the Capitol and undermine their power. 

Now, I understand why they did it. They wanted to force a love story into the reality television show, and by announcing that two from the same district could survive, this was done, but the same 'love dynamic' could have been introduced by having Katniss, recognising the power of gaining sponsorship, feign her love for Peeta as a strategy all by herself. This would have shown her character growth and cleverness. As it is, that one announcement makes it a weak story and one of the worst errors and biggest missed opportunities I have ever seen. 

Apart from that trashed key question, the other serious issue is that there is no other subtext. All the story participants - the characters, the Capitol, the audience, author, you, me - everyone - know just as much as everyone else. Yes, the Capitol are sneaky and evil - but the moves they make are instantly communicated to all participants. There's no difference in the information held by the different story participants, Katniss and Peeta are trustworthy towards each other, even in the early stages when we know that they fell out in previous years and Katniss has good reason not to trust him now. Even the excellently dubious character who is to coach them - Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) - a previous winner of the games from District 12 - doesn't have an agenda and doesn't do anything dodgy, despite his clear dialogue with the Capitol. It just doesn't go anywhere. Despite the nature of the dog-eat-dog games, everyone knows everything that is going on. The human mind feeds off subtext - it's what we look for in a story, and this is why Hunger Games leaves a nagging hollow feeling you can't quite explain. 

Another negative is the real evil bad guy - President Snow. Katniss, through her anti-establishment rebellion, comes to his attention, and he shows his displeasure and orders that her 'hope' is removed. But nothing happens! There's no clear action taken as a result of the top man's displeasure or orders. No plan. No action. Nothing changes. The bad side of a story has to be proactive and threatening. Unfortunately, as it is... nothing changes as a result of his displeasure. 

I suspect - and hope - that the problems of this first film will be remedied across the course of the trilogy. The Harry Potter series is a little like this. Most of the individual films are rather difficult to enjoy in isolation (unless you've read the books), but the story power across the seven is awesome. Similarly with The Hunger Games, the potential is immense, and terrific foundations are now in place, but this first film, taken on its own, is not as powerful as it could have been with more subtext, and with the tension being allowed to persist throughout through our knowing that one of the two heroes must die at the hands of the other. If it had been allowed to persist, the lovers could still have been refused to play their game, choosing to live or die together, but refusing to kill one-another, but the power of the story could have been maintained throughout and magnified with this one simple story flaw being removed. 

Shame. Still - greatly enjoyable, and I suspect the trilogy will satisfy in story terms by the end. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Greeks have a Word for it...

I recently read Aristotle's 'Poetics' - the earliest known work of story theory. It was weird to be spoken to about story theory by a man who died 2,300 years ago, and extraordinary to find him speaking perfect sense in ways that still influence Hollywood today.

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).
So, taking Back to the Future as my example story, do these ancient structural imperatives hold up?

Marty McFly is going about his normal day when he is accidentally sent back in time (Harmartia - a fault which spins his world out of balance).

As he comes to terms with the challenges of getting home, he interferes with his parents' meeting when they were teenagers. Even if he could get home to 1985, he is going to be wiped from existence if his parents don't hook up. He realises (anagnorisis) he must get his parents to fall in love before he leaves, or else he will not exist in the future and will simply disappear.

Marty knows his Mum-to-be likes a strong man. And his Dad-do-be is weak. So Marty plans a big charade with his Dad-to-be to make him look strong in front of his Mum. The peripeteia (reversal) comes when he finally gets his parents together - but not in the way he planned - the charade goes wrong and his father is forced to demonstrate genuine strength. When he finally does get home to 1985 we are surprised to find that his family and quality of life have gone way upmarket compared to the life he left. His impact in 1955 has influenced his father's character and he is therefore born, 17 years later, to a stronger father and a whole different life.

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

Kindle and Illustrations...

Here's a heads up for all of you who may have written a highly illustrated book in the past and been frustrated that Kindle is realistically only suitable for text-based books. 

My highly illustrated children's books sell very few in hard copy, and I'm very pleased to see my first one out there as an iBook. It needed adapting for the iPad/tablet/etc, specifically because you can only view one page at a time, so double-page spreads don't work, but but well worth the effort, and hopefully will make some sales! 

There are good instructions on iTunes on how to build the book - fairly easy, I gather, although if you want someone to do it for you, contact me and I'll put you in touch with The Grateful Ted, who did mine for me! Also a great advantage is that the illustrations are multi-lingual, and the little text there is can be translated to Spanish, Japanese, Vulcan - whatever - with relative ease, so suddenly your book can go global with no print costs, no distribution, no storage, no nothing. It's just out there. Forever. Selling...  

So if you made a 'Photographic History of Lingerie Through The Ages' do get in touch - I'll help you with that one... Or an illustrated children's book like mine, now's the time to dig it back out and pimp it up for the iPad! Take a look here:

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Subtext – The Most Critical Tool in the Story-Teller’s Box

What is subtext? Why is it important? Why is subtext fundamental to a story’s quality.

All writers are told that subtext is the ‘untold’ or ‘underlying’ story, and that stories must be delivered in subtext. Make no mistake - this is true. Without subtext, you literally have no story. However, what the great and the good fail to tell us is how in the world we are supposed to go about telling an ‘untold’ story? How do we bury our story, and still tell it, apparently without mentioning it?

So they give us examples. A character takes a girl by the hands, looks her in the eyes and says, ‘I love you.’ And the audience gasps, because they know that he’s about to leave her for another woman. This is all well and good, but still doesn’t help us understand how to deliver our stories ‘in subtext’.

What we need to know is what writers do to generate subtext.

Creating Subtext
Subtext results from what I call ‘knowledge gaps’. When you craft into your story a difference in the knowledge held by different participants, you introduce a knowledge gap – and simultaneously create intrigue and engagement. This is most easily expressed from the audience or reader perspective:

If the audience knows more or less than any character in the story,
                                  you have story delivery in subtext.

So there are two basic forms of subtext, based on whether the audience knows more or less than a character:
 
Revelation Subtext
Take a mystery story. We follow the detective through all the events, we see all the clues, and we try to predict whodunit. Then the detective arrests the blonde, and we think, ‘Wha-what? The blonde? But she’s innocent! She’s the victim!’ and our minds go racing back through all that has gone before to try and establish what the detective spotted that we didn’t. The audience knows less than the detective, and revelation subtext is built into the story.
          
 Privilege Subtext
As the detective bravely climbs the dark staircase towards the attic, his candle blows out and a chill runs through us all, because we know that there is an axe-wielding maniac waiting for him behind the door at the top. Knowledge gaps whereby the audience knows more than a character generate Privilege Subtext.


Within these two types there are at least ten mechanisms for introducing knowledge gaps. By introducing a mysterious character; by using a subplot to influence another plot; by raising questions in the mind of the audience (particularly ‘I know what the protagonist wants - how is he going to get it?’); by playing on audience pre-conceptions (just because he looks like a policeman doesn’t mean he’s not a criminal...); subterfuge (a character with a secret, an alter-ego, lies and deceit are all wonderful examples of subtext);

Other less common types of subtext exist, using implication and suggestion, metaphor and allegory, and a character’s subconscious aims, but we are best to leave these for another day.

The more the audience has to work to make up the story for themselves in the knowledge gaps, the finer the story is perceived to be, so make it your business to understand subtext. The quantity, depth and persistence of knowledge gaps in your story directly relate to how well your story engages an audience.

This is my specialist area and the subject of my PhD thesis. for full details and in-depth examples, take a look at section 4 of The Story Book.

Cheers!

David


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Does Advertising Work?

So listen, people. I didn't just write The Story Book. I originally got published for writing humorous travel books.

To encourage you to take a look, I've asked the publisher to reduce the price of the kindle edition of my first ever published book - for a limited period only - to a derisory 99 of your English pence.

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! 

 Amazon.co.uk


"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!October 5, 2012
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 . . .