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Posts Tagged drama
My guest this week says that for the first part of her life, performing music was everything to her. She spent most of her teenage years singing two-part harmony with her sisters and was set for a career in music when a bout of depression wiped out her desire to perform. During her recovery she began to write romantic comedy, which seemed a natural way to use her awareness of pacing, rhythm, texture and emotion, those innate senses that help us master the reader’s experience. Now she uses music for companionship while she writes and to put her into a creative state of mind. She is Kirsty Greenwood, romantic novelist and founder of the site Novelicious, and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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Music, dead rock gods, psychedelia consciousnesses and the CIA – this novel definitely had to feature on the Undercover Soundtrack. Its title came from a Jimi Hendrix song, and germinated when the writer was just 17 years old. It took him another 15 years to write, though, when an Elvis track kicked his imagination and gave him a vivid scene set in a bar in rural Missouri. The novel is Beyond the Will of God, the writer is Talking Writing columnist David Biddle, and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
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My guest this week began using music as a sanctuary in a busy, rumbustious house. But she soon found that the music was having its own inspirational influence. For her unconventional romance novels she finds rich emotions in the music of Enya, Enigma and Clannad, which also complement the settings of her native Snowdonia. A bereaved character was embodied by an album from Sarah Brightman; a male protagonist was found in The Kings of Leon. Wait – a romance novel with a male protagonist? Well, I told you she was unconventional. She is Jan Ruth and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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‘Tell me about pace,’ said one of the panellists in my video interview at John Rakestraw’s. If we hadn’t had a time limit I’d still be talking now.
A well-paced story is like an act of hypnosis. It has a travelling beat that takes control of the reader’s attention. It proceeds at just the right speed to trap the reader a little longer, urge them to turn another page.
How is it done?
With constant development and change.
You might assume pace is only a concern in fast-moving plots, such as thrillers. Not so. Every story will benefit if it is written with an awareness of pace; even a leisurely character journey.
Indeed, pace is a fundamental in most dynamic artforms – not just storytelling.
Video and music
If you’re making a video, you want to change something every 15 seconds. The change might be subtle, such as fading a colour, or panning a picture so the view reveals more. Or it might be obvious, such as switching to a different image or bringing in new music. Listen to a piece of music and you’ll hear how it’s being constantly modified. Even a simple verse/chorus/verse structure, which appears predictable, is developing. Other instruments are joining, variations are being made with the phrasing, note patterns or rhythm.
Singers do it too. When I used to take lessons, I was told that if a lyric is repeated, it must have different emphasis or emotion. (‘I get a kick out of you’ ‘I get a kick out of you’.) Listen to an actor repeat a line. The repetitions will not be the same (unless for a deliberate effect).
Law of physics
So audiences need change. This is, if you like, a physical law of any dynamic art. They need to be kept attentive while we have our wicked (or wonderful) way with them.
How can we do this in stories?
1 In a story, pace comes from change. Always be developing. In every scene. The change doesn’t have to be big. It can be tiny, such as the reader’s perception of a situation or a shift in a character’s attitude. But every scene should take the reader somewhere they didn’t expect. Scenes with no change lie flat on the page.
2 Remember the singers and actors. Look for repeated lines, emotional changes and plot events. If you repeat something, develop it or make sure it will be read differently – perhaps with new significance. (Unless you intend deliberately to keep it static.) Another type of repetition is the function of a scene – in My Memories of a Future Life, I jettisoned a scene that repeated an emotional beat I had already covered. Here’s the post that explains. This kind of repetition is hard to spot. The surest way I’ve found is by making a beat sheet, where I summarise the entire book by writing the purpose of each scene. This reveals the kind of repetition that will spoil the forward momentum. More about the beat sheet (left) in NYN1.
3 Don’t be slow but don’t rush. An ideally paced story keeps up with the reader’s need for change. Although we want to pull them along, we don’t want to overtake them. Paradoxically, if you do this, they might feel the story is slow. So when your trusted critique partners tell you a scene flags, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cut material. Try writing a version where you enlarge a moment, explore it more. See if that does the trick.
4 Use variety. Readers get numbed if too many successive scenes have the same tone (except at the climax). Vary the feel of each scene. Give readers a breather after major revelations. Give them a lighter moment or regroup around the campfire after you’ve put them through the wringer. Another way to use variety is to cut away to a subplot. The contrast will intensify the impact of all your scenes. Again, the beat sheet will show you this at a glance.
5 Become aware of your prose. Pace can come from your style. Not from show-off words or sparkling metaphors, but at a basic, moment-by-moment level. Virginia Woolf said ‘style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm’. What might she mean? I like to think of it as the fall of syllables in a sentence. This is independent of length; a well-paced long sentence is as easy to read as a short one. But often we use more syllables than an idea needs; we cram in adjectives, adverbs and similes when we’d be better to choose a more vivid verb. (‘She shouted in a harsh voice’ or ‘she roared’.) A smooth sentence, though, makes every syllable count and uses them with grace. It has a quality of control, which keeps the reader in surrender to the writer’s mind.
Pace keeps a story alive and restless, makes it grow in the reader’s mind. It sets up an imbalance, a need for resolution. When this stops, you let the audience go. And the proper place for that is …
thanks for the runner pic Jacobo Garcia
Well that’s my take on pace. What’s yours? Let’s discuss!
actors, authors, Cole Porter, deepen your story, drama, entertainment, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, how to make a video, how to pace a novel, how to write a book, how to write a novel, how to write a song, I get a kick out of you, John Rakestraw, literature, making a video, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, pace, pacing, prose, prose style, publishing, repetition, Rewriting, rhythm, rhythm in prose, Roz Morris, singers, song structure, story structure, structure, style, Virginia Woolf, vocalists, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel
My guest this week is another Undercover Soundtrack veteran. In fact, she deserves this title twice over, as she was the first of my guests who also wrote some of the music that helped her create the book (and she then made it available as an album). This time, she uses music in a different, but equally creative way. Her main character is a child who has behavioural problems and eccentricities, and struggles to understand the adults’ world. The metaphorical language of song lyrics, jumbled through a child’s mind, became a cornerstone for her to understand the character. She is Jessica Bell and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
authors, behavioural problems, child's view, childhood, deepen your story, drama, entertainment, female writers, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, having ideas, how to write a book, Jessica Bell, literary fiction, metaphorical language, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, novels, publishing, Roz Morris, self-publishing, The Book, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, Women Writers, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing life, writing to music
My guest this week measures his novels in rainstorms. More accurately, I should say he measures them in how many times he has listened to one rainstorm during the writing. His novel is about a dreamy and messianic boy, and he used a loop of weather noises to cocoon himself in a mental space where he felt composed enough to write. The result is a meditative post, perhaps perfect for summer days in the drowsy grip of a heatwave. His name is Bryan Furuness and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
GIVEAWAY Bryan is giving away 2 paperback copies of The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson to commenters here. Extra entries if you share the post on Twitter, Facebook or other platforms – but remember to note in your comment here that you have! He also asks that if you happen to win, he’d be extremely grateful for a review on Amazon or Goodreads – favourable or otherwise.
Also, don’t forget that there’s a giveaway here on the Purple Blog as well… to celebrate a new cover.
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Before she was a writer, my guest this week was a musician. Proficient on piano, guitar and French horn, her most cherished instrument was her own; she yearned to be an opera singer. That didn’t work out, but she says she still feels ruled by the visceral power of music. Her stories come from musical phrases and metaphors that don’t explain themselves. Sometimes she writes by candlelight. She is award-winning urban fantasy author Leah Bobet, and she’s on the Red Blog with her Undercover Soundtrack.
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The warm heart is the bond we feel with the central characters. It is the pleasure of spending time in their company. I hesitate to call it liking; it may not be so simple. Our attachment may be to just one person and their flaws and troubles, or it may be to a web of relationships. It is affection, but rough-edged. It is warm, but it might not be cuddly. It’s push and pull, trouble and strife, idiocies and idiosyncrasies. But it is where the reader feels at home.
And then there is the dark heart. The dark heart is jeopardy. The shadow at the end of the alleyway. The characters may have other problems in the story. They may fight miscellaneous foes. But the dark heart is an ultimate disturbance that will demand a day of reckoning.
Two long-running TV shows illustrate this in action. Fringe has both hearts. The central characters form a story family. Some of them are bonded by filial ties: the father, Walter; the son, Peter. There’s Olivia, the FBI agent who becomes Peter’s lover. There’s Astrid, a lab assistant sidekick who becomes a close friend. They are the warm heart of the show; the humans who have real and complex relationships and sally forth to do battle. And Fringe has its dark heart. The characters are on borrowed time; every day brings them closer to a confrontation they cannot escape.
One heart down
By contrast, Doctor Who, whose title character actually has two hearts, only has one of them working.
The story’s warm heart is in good shape. The Doctor and his TARDIS companion always have a vibrant relationship that brings us back week after week. We also get drop-ins from the extended story family: the Doctor’s wife; the occasional friendly alien he befriended while saving them. Previous companions are also available. This creates a galaxy family bonded by experience and affection.
The warm heart beats strongly. But the dark heart does not.
Now that might seem like nonsense. Doctor Who is all about getting into danger and fighting monsters, right? But they don’t treat these as seriously as they treat the character universe.
The threats are often negligible. Too often, the Doctor wins with a gadget, some fast-talking, an asspull or a vague wave of the omnitalented sonic screwdriver. He never has to raise his game to win. And the scriptwriters frequently bend the rules of their own show – thus disrespecting their own universe.
Although each series has an overall arc, which is where the dark heart should be beating its dreadful rhythm, it is false. It never produces a confrontation that will really put the Doctor on his mettle, or that could credibly destroy him. Even if the writers trick it up to look like that, he’s usually freed in one bound, and does not have to go through the wringer.
Because the writers don’t make us believe in the dark heart, the warm heart loses some of its power. You could say this demonstrates that we need the story to be taken as seriously as the characters are. Controversial.
Fringe goes one step further to genius. Here is why: the warm heart created the dark heart. Walter Bishop committed a crime that started an epic war. His son died, and so he opened a wormhole to a parallel universe and stole him back. The flawed warm heart let the dark heart in.
In a great story, the warm heart and the dark heart pump each other with life. The dark heart makes the warm heart more precious. And the warm heart makes the dark heart more terrible.
Let’s discuss some stories – film, TV or prose – with warm and dark hearts. Buffy, anyone?
antagonist, antagonists, authors, aviation, Buffy, current-events, deepen your story, Doctor Who, Dr Who, drama, entertainment, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, Fringe, gaming, heart, how to write a book, how to write a novel, how to write a story, inspiration, jeopardy, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Plot, publishing, Roz Morris, stories with heart, storytelling, transportation, videogames, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel
I’ve often thought we need to be able to film our dreams. While we’re at it, can we please record the fully orchestrated music we compose in them? While I’ve slumbered, I’ve written albums that surpassed my favourite artistes, and when my eyes open they’re gone. My guest this week clearly thinks the same way. He woke from a dream and wished he could preserve it on film… not surprising as he is a screenwriter and former head of production at Universal Studios. From this idea began a supernatural thriller – but it’s no ordinary book. He worked with a composer and sound designer to create a multimedia app that’s a book when you want to read and a musical experience when you choose to open your ears. And of course there are the secret pieces that showed him the souls and truths of his characters. He is Mark Staufer, and he’s on the Red Blog with his Undercover Soundtrack.
apps, authors, cross-media, drama, dreams, dreamscapes, dreamworlds, entertainment, evolved book, fiction, filming our dreams, Fix and Finish With Confidence, gaming, having ideas, how to write a book, how to write a novel, ideas, inspiration, Mark Staufer, multimedia, multimedia storytelling, music, music for writing, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, novels, oscars, publishing, recording our dreams, Roz Morris, screenwriting, scriptwriting, secret pieces, sound design, staufer, storytelling app, storyworlds, supernatural thriller, The Numinous Place, The Undercover Soundtrack, transmedia, transmedia storytelling, undercover soundtrack, videogames, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing life, writing to music
My guest this week is another of those enviably talented writers who is as happy playing a set of strings as a qwerty keyboard. Not only that, he is a playwright and an experimental performing artiste. He says his various novels correspond to musical genres and he often composes a soundtrack before he starts writing. Beyond his own compositions, many of his favourite musicians help to set the tone and create the atmosphere, and some of them end up as cameos in the story. And what a story – the book he describes as his ‘blues novel’ features hellhounds in suits, a 1938s afterlife (possibly) and resurrected loves. He is Nathan Singer, and he’s on the Red Blog with the Undercover Soundtrack to Chasing The Wolf.
authors, blues, blues music, Chasing The Wolf, deepen your story, drama, entertainment, fiction, Fix and Finish With Confidence, how to write a book, how to write a novel, inspiration, literary fiction, literature, music, musical genres, musicians, My Memories of a Future Life, Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Nathan Singer, novel features, novels, publishing, qwerty keyboard, Roz Morris, talented writers, The Undercover Soundtrack, undercover soundtrack, writing, writing a novel - Nail Your Novel, writing life, writing to music
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As @NailYourNovel I post 4 to 5 useful writing links per dayMy Tweets
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- ‘Music to make a creative space’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, Kirsty Greenwood December 4, 2013
- How to write down story ideas so you can remember why they were brilliant December 1, 2013
- Could The Undercover Soundtrack help you reach readers? Post at the Alliance of Independent Authors November 30, 2013
- ‘Sex, drugs, metaphysics and rock’n’roll’ – The Undercover Soundtrack, David Biddle November 27, 2013
- How do I develop something special in my writing? November 24, 2013
- 2 Tone Records and two cities riven by conflict – The Undercover Soundtrack, Catriona Troth November 20, 2013
- Social media: a message in a bottle November 18, 2013
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