It isn't just the cover that first grabs our interest in a book, it can be the title too, so I think titles are important. Often authors struggle with trying to think of the best title for a story only to have it changed by their publishers anyway, and Pocket Novels are no exception. Most of my Pocket Novel titles have been changed or amended. The only one that has made it onto the cover 100% intact is The Smuggler Returns, but then that particular story just couldn't have been called anything else.
The Smuggler Returns = a story about a smuggler who returns.
Immediately the reader thinks, who is this smuggler? to where is he returning? Unanswered questions mean suspense. So this title contains suspense too. And action. And also a suggestion of conflict: something has changed, something is significant in this smuggler returning.
As well as titles being right for the story genre, I teach my creative writing students that good titles should contain at least one of the following:
Pocket Novel titles almost always contain one or more of these elements which reflects the fact that they contain action, suspense and drama. They are active stories with a keen pace and page turning quality. Good stories in the classic sense. My own Pocket Novel titles are no exception:
Intrigue, drama, suspense
The Restless Heart
Conflict, drama, action
The Smuggler Returns
Conflict, action, suspense
Secrets at City Hospital
Intrigue, drama, suspense
What are your favourite titles and what makes them stand out?
Wednesday, 23 May 2012
Here is a picture of my latest Pocket Novel - Love Triumphant, out last Thursday.
Steve Baxter disappears while interior designer Lizzie Hilton is doing the refurbishment of his property. His brother todd suspects Lizzie of being involved romantically with Steve who is due to come into an inheritance on his marriage. When it turns out Lizzie is also one of the last people to see Steve before he disappears her troubles really begin. Especially when she is fighting her attraction for Todd.
I don't know how other people write their pocket novels but if anyone is interested in my methods, I am definietly a 'panster'. I start by creating cv's for my character. I cut pictures out of magazines, supplements, newspapers etc. Then I give them a star sign which helps with characteristics. Each chaacter has an A4 page citing their details and a picture.
I put the details in a ring binder file. If I have a house that I like I put that in too. Then I think up a scenario - a job or a place that throws them all together. then I invent problems. I give everyone a secret in their past which I may or may not use, e.g. was once engaged to two girls at the same time; wrote an anonymous love letter to a boy at school. It helps me put flesh on my characters. I also think about what they did the week before the story begins.
Then I sit down at the keyboard and grind out my 50,000 words.
I don't go back to the beginning but once I am finished I re-write several times.
I like a dash of humour in my stories and I definitely like my heroes and heroines to have faults. In real life no one is perfect so why should a story be different?
I do draw on my memories from working at an international airport for 18 years, then as a health care receptionist. Ideas were virtually handed to me on a plate as I sat on the front desk.
So there you have it. We've all had interesting lives and every day we come across a situation that can be used. Never let any experience go to waste. Keep a notebook and eavesdrop shamelessly on conversations. Supermarket queues and bus stops are a wonderful source of ideas.
I have just had to sell up a family property and I think I have enough materail from that experience to keep me going for years.
Home some of my tips prove useful.
Wednesday, 16 May 2012
The first exercise and discussion in my pocket novel workshops involve the morality of pocket novel world. I spend a long time on it because, as my fellow Pocketeers will tell you, it is something that is so easy to get wrong.
We’ve all discussed at some point that pocket novel world is a rose-coloured world where nothing really bad ever happens. Even in my romantic intrigue where a murder takes place, it is all done ‘offstage’ and no one the reader may have come to like dies. I’ve heard that People’s Friend are looking for crime stories, but have no idea whether murder might be included in that. I suspect not, and that we’re looking more at cosy, victimless crimes.
It goes without saying that neither the hero or the heroine can be promiscuous, or ever have been, and neither should either be married or involved in a relationship with someone else during the course of their romance. I have to say I don’t like virgin heroes (preferring a man who knows what he’s doing), so I may hint that my hero is not inexperienced in matters of the bedroom … ahem. On the other hand, I don’t like a male slut either, so I also make it clear that he respects women and hasn’t slept around. Other times I don’t bother explaining it at all, and let the reader make up their own minds.
Of course he's a virgin ...
(apologies for the lack of vest, fellow 'Bruce in his vest' lovers, but I think the chest more than makes up for it)
Sex should always remain behind closed doors in My Weekly novels. In People’s Friend novels, don’t mention it at all, especially outside of marriage. Think waves crashing on the sand, or trains going into tunnels (okay, perhaps not the latter if you’re prone to the vapours). Kisses can be ‘passionate’, but don’t include tongues, and never overtly mention sexual arousal or use sexual language, not even euphemism.
Well I never...
I was asked whether the heroine could be an unmarried mother. In this instance, I would always err on the side of caution. It takes only a couple of sentences to turn her into a young widow, and she is still coping with the demands of single parenthood, plus you have that extra bit of depth to her character.
Can the hero or heroine be illegitimate? I think this could be done in a subtle way. If you have them brought up in an orphanage or a children’s home (or with relatives) you don’t have to explain their parentage at all. Leave it to the reader to fill in the gaps. A lot of my heroines are orphans, though mainly because it saves me having to create a family for them, and also gives her a certain pathos as she sets out alone in the world.
I was also asked whether one character (not a main character) could be an alcoholic. I don’t think there’s a problem with My Weekly Pocket Novels as long as it is again done with subtlety and it’s made plain that the behaviour is frowned upon.
As the novels are meant to be warm-hearted and rose-tinted, it’s really best to leave things like drugs and alcohol out if you can. This doesn’t mean that your hero and heroine can’t go out for a meal and a glass of wine. Just don’t show them overindulging.
Maggie at My Weekly doesn’t mind a paranormal romance, but prefers there to be a rational explanation, and also that the story is historical. I’d avoid paranormal completely for People’s Friend. They don’t like spooky stories in their weekly magazine and I’m pretty sure they won’t like them in their pocket novels (unless anyone can tell me any different?)
One good source of guidance is the Hays Code, which used to govern film-making. It’s an old joke about the hero having to keep one foot on the floor during a love scene, and I’m sure we’ve all seen films set in the 40s and 50s, where husbands and wives sleep in twin beds.
The details of the Motion Picture Production Code (to give it its official name) are on Wikipedia and are a useful guide to what the readership of MW or PF pocket novels are comfortable with. I am very relieved to say that the rules governing interracial romances don’t have any place in pocket novel world. One of my heroes was part-Cherokee and I was delighted last year when I saw a People’s Friend Pocket Novel with a very pretty black heroine on the front cover. More recently the heroine on the cover of a My Weekly novella set in the civil war was mixed race, and I have an idea for a story featuring my own mixed race heroine, Rachel Jensen who starred briefly in Mistletoe Mystery.
Whilst the Hays Rules may sound Draconian, they can actually lead to some very subtle writing. It’s well known, I think, that I am a big Hitchcock fan. But I always contend that Hitchcock’s films were much better when he had to stick to censorship rules. You only have to compare a film like Psycho (where you only think Janet Leigh is naked in the shower) with the dreadful 1970s film, Frenzy, (which has a gratuitous and almost titillating rape scene), to see why. When the Hays Code was in force, writers had to be more creative about dealing with sensitive subjects. This subtlety can actually add to your writing, rather than detract from it. I actively encourage my workshop participants to watch films from the 30s, 40s and 50s to see how this is done. As it says on the Wikipedia page, Casablanca would have been a completely different film had Rick and Ilsa and run off together, instead of him doing the noble thing and giving her up to the greater good.
Besides, the brims of their hats would soon stop any shenanigans in the kissing department.
Much depends on the imprint you’re writing for. I think my fellow Pocketeers would agree that People’s Friend tend to be far stricter about morals than My Weekly. And if any of them know any different, I’d like to hear it. A fellow writer told me that her 90 year old grandmother loves the novels because of the world they present. There’s enough nastiness in the real world, without it turning up in the books that people of her generation love.However, things they are a-changing and I've heard that the My Weekly Pocket Novel editor is asking for slightly stronger storylines, with lost babies etc. My advice, however, would be to err on the side of caution, and let the editor be the one to ask for changes. That way she can advise you how to pitch it correctly, and you won't make any mistakes.
Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Wednesday, 2 May 2012
I attended a cupcake decorating class at the weekend. Bear with me – this is writing-related!
At the time I wished I hadn’t agreed with a friend to go. Wouldn’t I have been better spending the time writing? As it turned out the answer to that was no.
When I wrote later that day, I found my writing more energised, more inspired and more creative. I had been struggling with my WIP over the last week, finding myself repeating words and having mental blocks with the plotting. Suddenly I was away like a shot, the words flowing out onto the paper. Somehow, doing something completely different had refreshed my ‘writing muscle’ in a positive way.
I have a writing friend who likes to make bread in the mornings before writing (she’s lucky enough not to have to work). She finds the act of kneading the bread releases ideas for her writing day ahead. Other people use different rituals – maybe making coffee or walking the dogs to get them started. Then the blank page doesn’t look quite so daunting when you already have a notion in your mind of how to begin.
If you find that your writing is grinding to a halt, you may find it beneficial to put it in a drawer for the day and do something completely different. Or add a non-writing element to the start of your day.
I could start making cupcakes on all my days off – but that’s a dangerous road to go down...