Sunday, February 5, 2012

New Novelists - Have You Tried Writing A Movie?

I have a pet peeve about first person point-of-view.

I find there are a fair number of books that rely heavily on telling, rather than showing:

I’m told a male lead is hot, sexy and caring, even though his actions are shown as manipulative, cruel and insincere.

I’m told a female lead is tough, even though she is shown as indecisive, passive and reactive.

This inability to look past actions makes me a terrible mind control candidate. I judge by what I see rather than what I'm told. I guess you could call me a "visual reader". You'll probably find "visual writers" penning movies, TV shows, comics or graphic novels.

I have enjoyed many books where the writer is being contrary on purpose. Sadly, there are just as many books where there is no supporting evidence to signpost this intention.

I can’t say this method is storytelling is wrong. There are dozens of books on bestseller lists (both-legacy and self-published) that do this. But, I've also read just as many first person books that are able to propel a story and characterisation forward visually, without having to tell me who the characters are.

So how can a teller become a seer?

There are many valuable tools for writers, but it wasn't until I wrote a screenplay that I really started to understand show-don't-tell in prose.

In screenplays, you only write what you see and hear. It's like plonking your novel in a sensory deprivation chamber. The kind Uncle Walter is so fond of. Your readers no longer have an ESP plug into the characters heads, which makes it vital that everything they say and do speaks for them. And you can't cheat by having everyone just say what they are thinking. You'd have to add "crazy" and "overly dramatic" to the character descriptions of every single one of your characters.

Writing a screenplay makes it easier to spot the problems.

If you rewrite your 300-page novel as a movie, and you can only manage 20 pages of story, then you'll know you are spending too much time in your character's heads.

A character-driven story can still have a satisfying beginning, middle and end, complete with stakes, obstacles, climaxes and resolutions. First person point-of-view doesn't replace this or make it any easier. If anything, I've always considered first person one of the hardest formats to write because it is rather tempting to just tell readers the plot, rather than let them see it for themselves.

Think of your favourite movies and TV shows.  Can you recall specific examples where action spoke louder than words ever could?

What/when was the last script you read? If it was Shakespeare in school, that's okay too.

Have you ever tried writing a screenplay? Would you be willing to give it a try, if you haven't?

I'll talk more about screenplays later, but in the meantime, there are plenty of scripts online that you can try out for yourselves. Remember to stick to movies/TV shows that you like or are in your preferred genre.

Some places to read more about screenplays:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Deadly Games (EE #3) BY Lindsay Buroker

Deadly Games (The Emperor's Edge)Deadly Games by Lindsay Buroker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: high fantasy with a touch of steam, a dash of magic and the tiniest sprinkle of romance

I'm not sure I can accurately describe how much I love this series. Lindsay Buroker nails it again in the third instalment. This edition is easily as cinematic as the previous two. You could transcribe it word for word onto the big screen and hold me riveted.

These characters continue to grow and endear themselves to me. Funnily enough, the character that struck me as the most changed was Maldynado. He really has become a rather loyal fellow who looks out for... well, Amaranthe, but there were several "Aww, the big softie" moments. I think he is acting more and more like her big brother (albeit one that doesn't get possessive or expect her to be chaste - we can leave that to Sicarius).

Akstyr worries me. He is useful, but I don't think he has formed the type of bonds for Amaranthe as the others have. She is the glue that holds them together, and he isn't quite as attached. I think when we get his point of view, we might see things differently, but I am expecting a surprise from him.

Amaranthe continues to be a lady to admire. She doesn't have to resort to seduction or lies to convince people to join her cause. Her humanity and passion do that. But I see a few cracks of doubt appearing here and there, which should open some interesting discussions going forward. I'd actually like to see how Sicarius might deal with her moments of doubt. She's always kept such a positive face for him. Especially since he is depending on her planning to bring him... well, potentially two rewards now.

Basilard was 100% correct. Amaranthe humanises Sicarius. But then, she brings the best out in each member of that team. I'm glad Basilard did not go through with his plan.

That epilogue was brilliant (as was the scene preceding it, but I truly do not want to spoil it for everyone who SHOULD be reading this book). What a brilliant tease for the next chapter in this series, which I hope I won't hound the author for too much in the coming months.

Bottom line: Awesome storytelling. Engaging and unique characters. Flawless eBook. On my top ten list of books I've read in 2011 (which also includes the other two). Must read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Review Ratings and General Criteria

As a reader, I've never been comfortable with "grading" other writers. But, seeing how often I now use the number of 4s and 5s a book receives to influences my purchases, I thought I'd best establish a system for myself.

What I read: 

  • Pretty much anything that requires me to suspend belief.
  • Novels, novellas, screenplays, teleplays.

What I don't read

  • Stories that focus on gratuitous amounts of sex or violence; if your aim is to shock/sicken - I'm not your gal. I'm young at heart.

Do I accept submissions?

  • Not at this moment. My to read pile is scary. I do, however, take recommendations - though I can't guarantee reviews or purchases.

The Numbers

Rating Enjoyment Re-read Buy more from author
1 I probably didn’t finish the book Unlikely; Only if someone I truly respected convinced me to No
2 It was okay Doubtful I’ll watch what the author is up to, but will probably wait until he/she releases something that I can’t ignore, but I’ll probably only buy it if it is on special
3 I mostly enjoyed the book; minor niggles or it wasn’t from my preferred genres Probably not Only when the author is in my price range – bargain bins, second hand stores; Smashwords/Kindle ebooks
4 I really enjoyed the book; great storytelling or characters Yes; these are either comfort reads or stories that require more exploration from me Absolutely. I’ve been entertained by great storytelling and that’s all I want in my reading life
I LOVED the book so much I want to study it as though it were a new language Definitely; these stories make me love the craft of writing, and I’ll read them again and again in the hopes of learning from the masters I’ll be a true fan of these writers and gobble up every book they release

How do I come to this thrilling conclusion?

Beginning (first ten pages / first act / average eBook sample size)

I live by the "kill someone by page 10" rule of writing. It doesn't mean that someone has to physically die, it's just a nice way to remember that your story needs to have kicked off (or been very interestingly set up to kick off) at this point.
  • Is the tone/genre clearly established?
  • Is there a decent enough hook early on?
  • Arrives late; leaves early?
  • Is opportunity wasted by misplaced exposition?


  • Is the main character someone I want to follow?
  • Do the supporting characters have their own unique voices and lives?
  • Is the antagonist a worthy obstacle to the main character?
  • Are the relationships believable and genuine?
  • Personal stakes?
  • Are the “physical” obstacles believable?
  • Are the conflicts realistic or contrived?
  • Is their adequate tension throughout?


  • Did the story keep the promise set out by the premise and beginning?
  • Was there a satisfying pay-off? That is, a complete story was told, even if sequels have been set-up.
  • Did the characters learn anything / grow?
  • Was the Point Of View effective?
  • Did the writer “skip the boring parts”?
  • Did the writing seamlessly fade into the background of the story or did it come to the fore and distract from it?
  • Is there anything else that made this story sparkle?
* criteria will change from time to time; I read, I grow.

Monday, September 19, 2011

You have 10 minutes to make me care about your writing

I can usually decide if I'm going to buy or finish a book by page 10 (usually sooner).

I'm not Robert McKee, Larry Brody or any other awesome storyteller who can instantly recognise excellent characterisation, pacing, plotting and theme.

It just comes down to one simple question.

"What's in it for me?"

When I was a teen, I was supposed to have a date at the movies, watching Jurassic Park. I say supposed to because my date preferred walking around the shopping mall, discussing his gym regime and making me poke his biceps to prove that they were, I gather, bigger than the average Joe's.

This experience taught me two very valuable lessons. One, never date a guy who values the gym over Jurassic Park. And two, if you make me show up expecting dinosaurs, then you'd better make darn sure there is a noisy death by wobbly box or an impressively scary dinosaur claw within the first ten minutes, or you can go poke your own muscles all you want... by yourself.

Now, before you accuse me of being a bit unfair, I don't think this is an unreasonable expectation from your target audience. We live in the age of Google brain, competing tablets, thousands upon thousands of apps, YouTube, web series, online comics, podcasts and an explosion of self-published authors who are easily competing with the big boys (and gals). There are alternative entertainment options everywhere.

So you need to deliver on the promise you enticed me with. You may have captured my attention with a great logline, a fantastic book blurb, or even a gorgeous book cover. It's up to you to "clinch the deal".

"But so much cool stuff is gonna happen at the end!" you might enthuse.


But that's not why I stuck around. Neither is the "great romance" you have planned, the massive action sequences, or the stellar mindgames you've storyboarded for your characters. None of this matters at the beginning. In the beginning, you just need to give me a big enough taste of the promise so that I engage in the behaviour you want: buy your book, read it, love it, and stick around for the next one.

First impressions count

My brain lives in TV land, so I'm going to throw some choice examples from the TV show, Castle, to illustrate. And while I do that, just remember two simple rules:
  • Arrive late, leave early
  • Show, don't tell
These two fit together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong, and you'll notice great examples of this rule in any good TV pilot.


Castle 1x01 "Flowers for your grave"

The general gist of the premise (yeah, I’m making it up, I have no idea where official premises live)
Super-famous mystery writer, Richard Castle, is suffering from writer's block. When a life imitates art and a murderer starts mimicking the killings in his books, Castle realises with the help of tough, homicide detective Kate Beckett, that curing writer’s block might just be deadly.

In the first act, is there a:

Mystery writer? Check.

Detective? Check.

Murder? Check.

Is he famous? Oh yeah. He's the rock star of mystery writers. He's signing girl boobies! But he's supported by his dramatic mother and a well-adjusted "uber-responsible" daughter who illustrate that - while he looks like he could be the stereotypical cad - he's actually more grounded than he appears.

Is she tough? Hell yeah. She has male underlings and they didn't sass her once! You know what that tells me? She's good at her job, like dah-yem good. Oh come on. I don’t suffer from insane troll logic. How many procedurals or movies have you seen that display a woman's "toughness" by having some dude insult her sexuality, just so she can beat him up/down/at his own game? By making it a non-issue, the writers of Castle have immediately elevated her to the "best person for the job".

Holy crap. Look at that! They fulfilled the promise of the premise within the first act.

Whatcha talkin' 'bout Willis? The mystery hasn't been solved and they haven't even teamed up yet. How on earth did they fulfil a promise?


There’s not much that today’s audiences haven’t seen. They’ve seen every trick in the book, so you get to use that to your advantage. Show us who your characters are. Trust your audience to fill in the blanks.

We don't need to see them acting as a team in the first act to know that they will become one. Even if we'd never paid any attention to the premise before flicking on the TV, we can see what this show is promising.

Both characters already have distinctive personalities and approaches. Within the space of ten minutes, this has shaped the tone of the series. He's a bit cooky; she's no nonsense. This sets the tone as lighter and less self-serious than a gloomy CSI or Law & Order-type procedural, but her brusque efficiency leaves the option open for darker approach than, say, Murder She Wrote or Diagnosis Murder.

Focusing on Castle and Beckett individually from the get go, visually illustrates that these two characters are going to be partners in screen-time, even if, in the beginning of the episode, they haven't even met. Splitting their narrative has made it easier to pair them up as equals. The caveat is that they needed to have teamed up by the end of the episode. There would have been no payoff for following two separate stories (she's looking for a murderer; he's trying to get over writer's block) if they hadn't.

Thankfully, she knows his books, so there's no long convoluted plot to team them up, so we can just get on with it. And by it, I mean telling a good story that doesn't leave the audience frustrated or negatively surprised.

What if

Imagine if your first meeting of Richard (within the first act) was in the morgue, as he slipped an underpaid attendant a hundred dollar note so he could see a dead body as "inspiration". What's your impression of him now? Would you believe he's well-connected, funny or grounded enough to team up with Beckett? How do you think that would change the Beckett-Castle dynamic? How does it change the tone?
So what is the first 10% of your story promising? And have you delivered it by the time your audience reaches the end?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Win a copy of Alexander Death!

The third book in the Jenny Pox (well, Preternaturals) trilogy by JL Byran, Alexander Death, is winging its way to us like an airborne plague on 30 September 2011.

But three lucky sods are going to get the chance to read it before then because of this awesome giveaway! The giveaway is international, which makes this little Rooney very happy.

Jenny Pox follows the tale of some very gifted - and in the case of Jenny - cursed individuals, who are not quite who or what they seem to be. Jenny is a character you can greatly empathise with. Her foe is someone I would very much like to drop down a well. Please can I drop her down a well?

This trilogy is not for the faint of heart. Adult themes, naughtiness and some gore is found within its pages.

Don't delay. Grab Jenny Pox and its sequel, Tommy Nightmare, from Amazon or Smashwords.