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Archive for the ‘novel’ Category

It’s Happening

Three years ago, I read and wrote about a book which concerned itself with the process of planning and drafting a screenplay, Syd Field’s Screenplay. At the time, I read it with an eye to plotting in a novel in a regimented three-act structure just like a film. I had decided that this was the key to my first novel: if it’s a regimented structure, planned in advance meticulously, there is less possibility of failure or non-completion.

Between then and now, I have completed a Creative Writing MSc, and I finished the 25,000-word dissertation which accompanied that, along with a number of short stories. But after the MSc, life got in the way for a while. After agonising and mentally beating myself up, I gave myself a reprieve, and carried on plotting and planning and intending. 

I have not finished a novel yet. Emphasis on the ‘yet’, because a novel is what I am working on right now. In April this year, something happened in my life which seemed to push a ‘RESET’ button in my brain. Suddenly, I wanted to spend more time on my own. I was happy to stay home and miss out on a party every now and again. I wanted to write.

I re-read Syd Field, and plotted a novel from beginning to end, resulting in an 8,000-word chapter plan, one which is so exhaustive that I hopefully have no excuse but to continue until it is written. And then I started to write.

It’s been a slow process, and I’m nowhere near the end, but I’ve got a 20,000-word draft so far and I’m still going. I’m writing blind: typing madly, not re-reading, aware that if I look back and see the trail of terrible sentences I have scattered in my wake, I’m doomed. As long as I get the first draft on paper, I can fix it later.

For now, it’s write, write, write. I’ve set myself a deadline: first draft by November 20th. It’s a bit ambitious, so I might need to try harder to say no to the fun parties, and ask some friends to nag at me a little more (I respond well to nagging).

Here’s the great thing: it’s happening. I’m doing it.

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Dear Future Me

Five years ago, I found a website which enabled you to send an email at some predetermined point in the future. Fully immersed in an early-twenties ‘what-am-I-doing-with-my-life’ panic (which some people call a ‘Quarter Life Crisis’), I wrote an email and released it into limbo for five years, and then promptly forgot about it.

Until last month, when this arrived in my inbox:

Subject: Hello to the Me of the Future

The following is an e-mail from the past, composed 4 years and 12 months ago, on June 18, 2008. It is being delivered from the past through FutureMe.org

Dear FutureMe,

Don’t forget all the things you need to do. Don’t get bogged down in the same job for years and years – there are things out there which need doing and experiencing.

If you’re bored – hand in your notice in your job. Go travelling, explore your own country, learn to drive, write a book (for God’s sake, write a book if you haven’t already. Go on a Creative Writing Course or something).

This is the best age you can be – the opportunities available are endless and it is stupid not to take advantage of them. Don’t settle down, don’t buy a house, don’t have kids – not yet. There’s too much to do. Whatever you do, don’t get to 50 and feel resentful and bitter. It would be no one’s fault but your own.

I hope that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you’re happy and you haven’t forgotten how promising life is. I hope you’ve had excellent experiences and realised who you are.

Feel comfortable in yourself.

I don’t know what it is I am trying to say to you – there’s too much. I guess the message is:

Don’t lose yourself in trying to find yourself. Make sure you don’t look up from your desk one day to realise that all the thinks you were “going to do” have become things you “could have done”.

You wanted to be a writer, an actor, an artist, an ecologist, an explorer, a traveller, a musician, a gardener, a historian, a buildings conservation officer, a museum curator, a psychologist and so many other things.

You’ve always had that itch to produce something – that feeling that something wonderful is bubbling inside you just waiting to explode from you in a fountain of creative greatness. Don’t forget.

You’re vivacious and interesting, exciting and fun. You’re friendly, kind and nice. This is your identity. I hope you’ve realised and remembered.

Don’t forget who you are,

Love from you,

Aged 21

On the day I received this email, I was on a trip to Skye, seeing more of the beautiful country in which I live. I’d handed in my notice at my job, because it felt like time for a change, and I’d started writing a novel, because the time felt right. I haven’t bought anything bigger or more expensive than a fridge, and I don’t yet intend to, because I still believe that it’s not yet time to settle down.

And at this moment in my life I know, infinitely more than I did when I wrote that email, that I’m okay with the person I am and the decisions I’ve made. But I’m very pleased that 21-year old Rosie popped up out of the blue to remind me I’m on the right track.

 

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How do you know when a short story is a short story, or possesses the potential to be extended into a novel?

While I was on holiday (just got back, very sunny and lovely with lots of reading), I had an idea for a short story. I sat in the shade of a beach umbrella by the hotel pool for a couple of hours, and ended up with around 1.5k of a first draft. I liked its tone: familial drama, with a little humour. My boyfriend said it reminded him a little bit of Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother. I definitely can’t complain about that!

But then….

“I know the ending’s quite weak, but –”

“Oh, I thought you hadn’t finished it yet. Definitely need a better ending.”

“Ah. Right.”

“But it’s a short story? I thought it was going to be something bigger.”

“Really? Oh. Well, I suppose it could be. Let me have a think about it.”

And over the rest of that day, that short story with a weak ending developed into around thirty possible chapters. There are a number of logistical problems at the moment, and if the plan were to remain as it stands, the reader would definitely have to make some definite leaps of faith. But those issues will resolve themselves as I think about it more. But, I do have some reservations.

Firstly, I liked the lighthearted tone (but dealing with quite a big issue) of the initial story (or first chapter, if we’re looking at it as a potential novel), and there was a strong theme running through it. These would be difficult to sustain throughout a novel, but I think a novel would be better if I could manage that. So this reservation might be just laziness talking. I.e. “I could just polish this into a story within a week or so, or I could slave over it for months and still not be happy. Now, which one do I want?” Hmmmm.

And secondly, how do you even know if an idea has the… well, the substance to survive transformation from a tiny kernel of a story into a huge monolith of a book?

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I think I am the type of person who needs to do something thoroughly and properly, otherwise I risk giving up halfway through. It’s why I have dozens of notebooks with only the first five pages filled in, because I decided my handwriting wasn’t neat enough, and suddenly that notebook isn’t good enough to write in anymore (oh dear). It’s why I take great care when choosing a pen from a stationer, and why it’s very important that my desk is tidy, otherwise I won’t sit at it (just realised why I haven’t sat at my desk for about two months).

A couple of months ago I got a spark of an idea for a novel, and after writing everything down in a vague semblance of chapter plans and character profiles, I realised I had no idea where to start. I knew I needed to begin it properly, otherwise I wouldn’t get anywhere. So I got in touch with a writerly friend of mine and asked if he had any recommendations for books about structuring and planning a novel. The next time I saw him, he handed me a copy of Syd Field’s Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. I was a little bit perplexed, and it sat on my desk (which, yes, was messy) for a long time, until I realised that I would have to return the book before I move to Edinburgh, and I was spurred into action.

The book is great. Field breaks down the process of writing a screenplay into manageable chunks. He quantifies everything (suggesting how many pages of character biography to write, etc), which works for me as perspective like that helps me understand and stops me getting demotivated.

You’re encouraged to describe your screenplay in one sentence (“A PERSON, in a PLACE, doing a THING”) before you begin writing or planning, and then you slowly build the foundations of your idea until your main character has a context and a history, and a mapped trajectory of character development through your screenplay. Unlike Stephen King in On Writing, Field suggests you must know your ending before you even plan your beginning. He repeats the important messages (“Action is character”) until you’re a little bored, but that’s the way those messages will stick in your head.

Yes, it is a book about writing a screenplay, and some of the guidance isn’t entirely relevant to a novel. Field presents the structure of a screenplay as completely formulaic, with Act One taking place from pages 1-30, Act 2 pages 31-90, and so on, but if you’re using this book as a basis from which to plot a novel, that formula could offer a valuable guide which may point you in the right direction, but which shouldn’t constrain you to a great extent.

It’s important to remember that film and novels are different mediums, so the rules will never be entirely applicable across the board, but I did really enjoy this book and I think it offers bottom-up ideas and foundations which can be applied to many forms of writing. I would recommend it.

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My plan for June, July and August, aside from reading as many books as I can cram into my free time and writing lots, is to send some stories out into the world for the first time.

Stemming from A215, I will have three stories which are almost submittable, in my opinion, and this is reflected in the marks given to me by my tutor. So I plan to submit them to one place at a time, and keep a record of where I’ve submitted and when I expect to get a response.

Thinking out loud (as I haven’t researched this with specific stories in mind yet, aside from my TMA05 story), I would prefer to send off to print publications, as seeing my writing in physical print strikes me as more satisfying and exciting than online.

Similarly, I might look at some competitions, but I’d probably prefer conventional publication if it’s achievable. I might like to aim some new stories at specific competitions in the meantime, writing specially for them.

As well as this, I will be reading a book about writing film scripts, not because I want to write them, but because I suspect the advice is applicable to novel structure, and I would like to finish my chapter plan for a novel idea I had a few weeks ago. At the time, I felt that I didn’t have enough knowledge of novel structural conventions to complete the plan and begin writing, as the second draft would need significant structural reworking if I started too early.

I’m looking forward to my three months of commitment-less (except job-work, of course) writing before the MA starts, and I intend to take advantage of it as much as possible.

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