Posts Tagged write a novel

Write and finish your novel in 2011 – guest podcast on Unruly Guides

Is your new year resolution to write your novel? Perhaps you’ve vowed to dust off your NaNoWriMo experiment and finish it properly, or to do justice to the idea you started a while ago and had to put aside. If so, I have something for you! Roxanne McHenry of Unruly Guides to epublishing invited me on their podcast show recently, and asked me for my advice on drafting, revising and seeking feedback.

In this podcast you can get advice on:

  • planning your novel and filling in the plot holes
  • revising your manuscript effectively and thoroughly
  • keeping your motivation
  • solving problems in your story
  • finding a critique group that’s right for you
  • when – and whether to hire a profesional editor – and how to find one who is a good fit for you.


Here’s a sample of our discussion: ‘If you’re going to go along to a critique group, take along a short story, where you don’t mind what they say, and just see how they deal with your writing before you unleash the novel that really matters.’

You can listen to or download the whole podcast here – hope to see you there!

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From fragments we build a story – holy cow I’m in a movie with Matt Damon and directed by Clint Eastwood

I was hereabouts

Apologies for the bragging headline. At the beginning of 2010 I was an extra in Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Hereafter, starring Matt Damon. However, I also feel there is a level-headed, writerly post in it…

I just stumbled across my first review of Hereafter, in The Economist. I am of course, detonating with excitement (although I have to wait until January before it arrives in the UK). But reading the review, I can see for the first time how the scenes I was in fitted with the whole story. (Possible spoiler alert – there’s nothing here the press hasn’t shared, but if you hate to know anything about a film you want to see, you may want to look away.)

On the set I saw fragments –

Matt Damon going out of the front doors of Alexandra Palace looking upset

Crowd scenes at the London Book Fair

A female character giving a reading from a book on the afterlife

Some twins, one dead

A ghostly boy wandering through the Book Fair crowds

The ghostly boy’s twin chasing Matt Damon’s character

Derek Jacobi giving readings of Little Dorrit

These fragments have become:

‘Marie has a near-death experience and … writes about scientific evidence for an afterlife… Marcus’s twin brother dies in an accident and he goes looking for a psychic who can communicate with the dead… Lonely George (Damon), whose supernatural gift has wrecked his chances with a giggly beauty …  goes to sleep listening to Charles Dickens audio books. Indeed, Dickens turns out to be the improbable thread that will bring all three characters to the London Book Fair, where Sir Derek Jacobi is reading from Little Dorrit.’

Suddenly, it’s a story.

It reminded me of how I feel when I’m putting a novel together.

To start with, everything is fragments – locations I want to use, characters I know will be important, revelations I feel will be pivotal. Scenes that come in a flash of inspiration. None of them seem to particularly connect. It’s like seeing each of them down a telephoto lens and not knowing what’s around the edges, how it connects with everyone else.

Seeing the first reviews of Hereafter have reminded me of the fragments I was involved in. And at the time, my WIP was at a very sketchy stage, but now the view has widened. The threads have pulled together. Themes have emerged and resound throughout the story. And it’s now making sense.

It’s funny to look back and think what scant material I started with.

Do you find this with your novels? Or are you thinking, never mind about the writing, tell us about being in the darn film. Ask me anything you like in the comments. Or watch the Hereafter trailer here

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How to state the obvious – obligatory scenes in Stephen King’s The Green Mile

Sometimes writers have to state the obvious or
put in a scene everybody is expecting. But that’s
not a licence to coast. Here’s how Stephen King’s
The Green Mile  makes an obligatory scene into
something special

Stephen King’s The Green Mile is a story about the lives of guards on death row. One of the first things it does is set the scene with an execution.

Some writers might coast here – surely the material is startling enough that you don’t have to do anything else with it, right?


Here’s what The Green Mile does.

It shows two execution scenes, in stark contrast.

The first isn’t real, it’s a rehearsal. One guard plays the ‘condemned’ man. He gibbers like a loon and makes lewd last requests. When the other guards throw the switch he writhes and screams with glee. The prison governor allows them to lark about, knowing he is seeing nervous men struggling with a difficult job. He also tries to keep the joking to a minimum because there is a newcomer who needs to be trained. This allows us a way in – in several ways: the prison governor trying not to let the hi-jinks get out of hand, yet realizing the men need to let off steam. The guards themselves, coping with the stress the best way they can. And the new guard, seeing all this for the first time. It also gives the author a licence to dump in as much exposition as he wants. Masterful.

And then he goes one better by showing an actual execution. And how different it is. The prisoner is frightened. The governor handles him with great sensitivity. The guards who were roaring with laughter before are nervous and gentle.

The Green Mile could have gone straight to this scene, relying on the content to speak for itself. But because he put the other one before it, the real one becomes much more appalling. We see how strange and difficult a thing it is to extinguish life.

I often see manuscripts in which the writer assumes there are some things they don’t have to explain. Execution is a nasty business – who’d have thought?  Surely you don’t have to spell that out.

Wrong. For two reasons.

1 One of the things audiences have paid their money for is details of the grisly process. They need to get it somehow. What they don’t realize they want is for you to make it way more powerful than they were expecting. So you can’t just cruise with scenes like this.

2 In the world of your story, anything is possible. You could have, if you wanted, a bunch of prison guards who were completely blase, and no more affected by executing a man than if they were squashing a fly. You set the rules of the story, what is right, what is wrong, what is difficult and what is easy. And you have to demonstrate them.

So, an execution must be shown and it must be shown to be a difficult job. But The Green Mile turns this into storytelling gold.

Have you got any favourite examples of exposition and obligatory scenes that have been handled with panache? Have you solved similar problems?

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