Saturday, 28 February 2009

Just a reminder...

Sarah Davies gave a talk this week on writing a breakout novel. With the whole world feeling the credit crunch blues she warned that publishing too was feeling the pinch, and for that reason breaking in was harder than even (from being near-impossible already).

BUT...publishers are still searching desperately for the next BIG THING. Julia Churchill reminded us all that if there's no new talent, the well will dry up. There's only so many copies of Harry Potter special editions anyone would want on their shelves.

For those of you who couldn't make it, I've picked up the main points below. It was a timely reminder to me about not getting arrigant about writing. There's still lots to learn and Sarah's a great teacher. I hope Sarah won't mind me 'stealing' her talk.

The key points then:

1. The Concept. Needs to blow people's socks off. Sarah used the example of 'Thirteen Reasons Why' as a story with a great concept. A boy discovers a tape from a girl who's recently commited suicide. In the tape (there's 13 of them) she expains the boy is one of the reasons why she killed herself. Of course it needs great writing (we're assuming you know how to write by now), but its the concept that took it put it on the best sellers list.

2. Larger than Life characters THAT YOU KNOW INSIDE OUT. This has probably caused me more rewrites than anything.

3. HIGH STAKES. What are the personal stakes, and what are the public stakes? Failure must matter! It keeps the reader rooting for the hero. If they fail it will be VERY BAD.

4. Deeply felt theme. In the end, what's the story about? DO NOT preach to your readers. But why are you writing in the first place? What story do you think is so important that you want to spend years trying to tell it? If you're going to spend that amount of time, it's got to be something that matters, right?

5. Vivid Setting. The setting must be a character of its own. Think Hogwarts. Think Gotham City. Batman in Milton Keynes wouldn't work, would it? It doesn't have to be a fictional place, but it's got to breathe just as deeply as the rest. In fact it could be second only to the protagonist in importance.

There endth the lesson.


Tracy said...

Cheers for this, Sarwat. I couldn't make the talk and was hoping someone might post a few insights.

Hope all is well with you.
Tracy :)

Sue Eves said...

Most cleverly 'stolen'! - I had drafted a post for my blog - but I'll scrap it and link to yours.

Jon M said...

A nice summary, Sarwat, wish I could've been there! Maybe next time, who knows! I'm going to cut and paste this and stick it on my study wall!

Anonymous said...

Good to finally meet you, was a great talk. BTW, I'm from Milton Keynes but I'm not batman, ha ha!

SarwatC said...

All is very groovy. Hey, I'm off to Bologna this month!
I've stuck Sarah's comments on the wall infront of me. They really do cover all the key points about writing BIG STORIES.
The re-draft of The Dark Goddess starts tomorrow. A week on that then the mysterious PROJECT X.
I'll tell you about that in June or July when I finish it.
No, it doesn't involve Christian Bale. Despite the rant, I forgive him!

Holler said...

That was very interesting Sarwat. Good points. Unfortunate that I don't feel like I have a novel in me. I will just have to live vicariously through you :)

SarwatC said...

I only write because I couldn't handle a real job.

Shelley Souza said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SarwatC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SarwatC said...

Dear Shelley,
All very valid points. I'd like to pick you up on a few of them...
1) I LOVE THE 60's.
The best music (The Who, The Stones, Beatles, Hendrix, etc). Most importantly, the best Bond. Sean Connery is still my favourite, though Craig did come close in Casino Royale but I thought QoS was a bit of a disappointment.
2) Oh, also the NEW Chapter 1 in Devil's Kiss is NOTHING like what's on the website, before or after. I think it's stronger but has provoked some very angry responses. I suppose I'd better get used to it.
3) I think your friend asked for my opinion, which I gave. I could be totally wrong, of course, as I'm still on a very steep learning curve myself.
4) Having one hell of an editor. I have three. I worship the ground they walk on.
(by the way, the deleted comment above was me).

Shelley Souza said...

Dear Sarwat,

How could I not agree that 60s music was the best...I recently watched the performance at the White House in which Stevie Wonder received the Gershwin Prize.

I aplogise. I didn't mean to imply your opinion had not been sought and (as I understood) appreciated.

The before and after on your website. What I wanted to say, because writers are generally so industry-dependent, is that it's easy to fall into the trap of believing that style equals quality. It doesn't. Style is an indicator of current taste (based on cultural values). It's not necessarily an objective gauge of aesthetic; nor of originality: van Gogh's inability to sell his work during his life being a case in point.

Your before and after writing. I didn't feel after was an improved version of before. What I experienced was two different styles, both of which could have been further fine tuned. Picasso apparently said he never finished a painting he abandoned it. Isn't that what deadlines more or less force writers to do with their writing?

I thought your before and after had different strengths. The marked difference in their cadence, rhythms and landscaping would appeal to different sets of readers (while both might attract the omnivorous).

Liz said...

Dear Sarwat

I got a proof copy from Puffin yesterday when I got home from work. I've devoured more than half of it already (thanks to someone getting ill on my train this morning, I had an extra half an hour of reading) and I would LOVE to interview you. Please click through to my website and check it out. The email link is there.

Liz from My Favourite Books Blog

SarwatC said...

Dear Liz,
Great website! I really wish I could see the Dr. Manhattan event tonight, sounds utterly amazing. I've got my tickets booked for Watchmen on Friday night, alas not at the IMAX.
Would love to speak/email about an interview. I'll get back to you in the next few days.

Holler said...

My husband wants to go see Watchmen Sarwat. He didn't describe it well. He said it is a film about old superheroes. When I asked, what they do in the film, he said "save the world"! I am none the wiser, although I have seen the graphc novel lying about the house.

SarwatC said...

Tried emailing you, keeps bouncing back, don't know why. Are you on Facebook? Contact me via that and we'll arrange something.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Thanks for "stealing" it and sharing, Sarwat!


tony d said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Liz said...

Hi Sarwat

I've dropped you an email via Facebook - I am Liz de Jager.