Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Hollywood knows a thing or two....

There are a gazillion resources out there for writers. I have recently been studying 'The Heros two Journeys' which is a talk which given by two giants of the movie making world - Michael Hague and Chris Vogler, which I downloaded to my Ipod. They are story consultants working in Hollywood and acknowledged experts in making writers' stories better. I thought it would be useful to outline some of what they say here, because it's good advice whether it applies to movies or books. They have both written detailed books and you could do a lot worse than study these if you are interested in writing better stories. Both believe that successful plots have both an outer journey and an inner journey for the hero/heroine. The outer journey is an adventure or drive to achieve a visible quest. The inner journey Michael Hauge sees as moving from being defined by others to defining oneself.

For the outer journey, the hero or heroine has to pursue a visible goal with a visible finish line.

The one primary objective of storymakers is how to elicit emotion, we read books to FEEL something.

At their core stories are very simple and built on a foundation of CHARACTER, DESIRE and CONFLICT. Every good story is about a captivating character pursuing some compelling desire and facing seemingly insurmountable objects in achieving it. That's it! All Hollywood movies Michael Hague claims, work on a visible level in those three areas.

So how do we achieve this in our writing?

CHARACTER Make your hero someone we want to root for, we have to identify with the hero - the reader needs to become that character. The reason Titanic is successful is because it is emotional to become a character who is in a shipwreck. We become Rose and experience the story through her. There are various ways of creating identification with the hero, one is to make that character sympathetic. In Titanic we feel sorry for Rose being trapped with someone she feels obligated to marry (particularly as he's a nasty bit of work - even though he's a millionaire). By then putting her in jeopardy we care about her. Another way to create idenfication is to make your hero likeable kind and good hearted, well liked by other characters in your story. Tom Hanks' career is based on those kind of people. We can also make that identification by making the character funny because we like to hang out with peole who make us laugh. A further way is to make the character powerful - very good at what they do, eg Indiana Jones, or a skilled lawyer like John Grisham's character in The Firm. Even a dysfunctional computer geek like Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is compelling for this reason. Your hero/heroine obviously does not need all these traits, but if you study successful Hollywood films very often these traits occur again and again.

DESIRE The foundation of a Hollywood movie is about the hero having a goal which is visible. In Titanic Rose's desire is clear - getting to America and winning the love of Jack. In Gladiator it's about killing the emperor who murdered the hero's family. In pursuing that goal there must be seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. If it doesn't seem impossible for your hero to get what they want, we don't care. That's why they made Titanic, they didn't make The Queen Mary. Right from the start we know Rose is going to encounter conflict in achieving her desires.

CONFLICT It is the obstacles which we see the hero overcoming which create emotion - the goal is necessary to drive your story and give your hero something to strive for.

However, there is another level - the inner journey. The outer journey is a simple journey of achievement and accomplishment, the hero wants to get something. They either want to win eg. Rocky or Chariots of Fire or to win the love of another as in any romantic story, or escape such as in the Truman Show or to stop a bad thing from happening eg a meteor hitting the earth or retrieve something eg Raiders of the Lost Ark. In this outer journey you know exactly what the finish line is. You are saying to the reader, 'I'm taking you on a journey, as the hero I'm going to get you to this visible finish line.'

But underneath that level is an INVISIBLE goal. I will look at that invisible goal as defined by Michael Hauge when I next post. Until then, it's a fun exercise to look at the films we love and to see how often the above scenarios are played out. They won't always be of course, but very often you will see that these are the foundations of a successful film and they can also be the foundations of any successful story we write.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Write What You Know

I have a little leather bound book which I have filled with pieces of advice and pithy sayings over the years as I try to learn the art and craft of writing. It includes admonishments to myself such as ‘make hay while the sun shines’ (I find it hard to just sit down and write, I need cups of coffee and other distractions until half the day is gone). It paraphrases things writers have said, such as ‘I only write when I’m inspired and I make sure I’m inspired at 9am every day’ – I really like that one. My other favourite is ‘when I started to do well I thought I got lucky. Then I found that the harder I worked, the luckier I got.’ Great advice.
But the best piece of advice I found was ‘Write What You Know’ and I’d like to share my thoughts on that with you, especially if you are thinking of attempting your first Pocket Novel.
When I decided to try to write a Pocket Novel, I was overwhelmed by what I needed: a plot, subplot(s) interesting characters, character development and story arcs. I realised then that the last thing I wanted to worry about was the authenticity of my setting and other factual information such as the characters’ careers, especially over the course of 30,000 (now 50,000) words. I decided to give the heroine my own job – so she became an impassioned ecologist fighting for environmental rights against the hero, who turned out be a property developer. I wanted him to be the opposite of her so they could clash wonderfully. This story turned into my first published Pocket Novel ‘Wild For Love’. Of course my heroine Polly does things and thinks things about her job that are definitely not me but at least I didn’t have to worry about scientific accuracy and could concentrate on trying to get that elusive ‘page turning quality’ essential to romances.
You can use your career, any areas of expertise you’ve built up perhaps through hobbies and interests, and also universal themes of love, childbirth, even bereavement. If you’ve experienced them, that will come through in your writing.
It took me a long time to realise that there was a second meaning to ‘Write What You Know’ and that is, if you don’t know a subject it doesn’t mean you can’t use it but make sure you research, research and research until you do! Don’t be shy, borrow experiences from friends and family and there is always the local library and internet.
I have done this with my most recently written Pocket Novel which has been accepted for publication. I wanted my heroine Melody to be into fashions and fun clothes and accessories and live in that sort of world. So I decided she should be an up and coming fashion designer with a circle of creative friends. This was a challenge because I know nothing about that world. However, I do have a cousin whose wife is a dress designer and she was only too happy to help as most people are, if you ask them nicely.
So write what you know, and above all, just keep writing and get lucky!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Are My Weekly Pocket Novels Getting Bolder?

Part of my pocket novel workshop deals with the morality of pocket novel world (and there'll be a Pocketeers' post coming up from me about that in the future). I've been urging caution, on all things from sex to drunkeness to smoking. I haven't ruled them out altogether. I've just urged subtlety.

But one of my participants has told me that recently she read some pocket novels where one hero was a recovering alcoholic, another hero smoked, and a heroine complained that she had trouble getting 'laid'.

I can understand that the recovering alcoholic might work in the context of the tortured hero, and my latest PN is set in a pub (and the PF editor knows that but still wants to see the rest). But I am surprised to find a slang term like 'laid' in a My Weekly Pocket Novel, especially as we're advised to be subtle about sex scenes. In case the author is reading, I'm not judging her harshly in any way. I write erotica which uses much stronger language, so am in no position to judge. I'm just discussing this in terms of what MW have allowed in the past compared to what the editor seems to be allowing now.

I obviously need to read some of the latest to see if there is a shift in style and tone, but has anyone else noticed anything in the latest novellas that at one time we might have considered taboo? And if so, do you think that this might be because they realise that to survive they're going to have to appeal to a younger audience?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


How often are we asked, where do you get ideas for your stories? There’s no one particular thing that inspires me but a wholerange of different things. I often find when watching television dramas or films and even the news, that something strikes a chord ... the "what if" scenario. It might be something that might be applied to a story that is germinating somewhere deep down.

Places are another main inspiration. I can be driving somewhere, see a little track leading to a small cottage and wonder who could live there. Why are they there? What happens if they are snowed in? Flooded? There starts a story.
My visits other countries have inspired a lot of my stories, especially New Zealand. This amazing thermal park inspired "Hidden Places"

A visit to my son in Spain led to "I’ll Be There For You"

My home county of Cornwall is of course my main inspiration. This is the view from my "office" and has featured as a place in several stories, with a few alterations of course.

Sometimes, the characters come first. In what has become my Potteries saga about Nellie Vale and her family, the people always drove the stories and my own background as a potter’s daughter added the technical knowledge needed. Now I know them all so well, it has been very easy to write five of them featuring different members of the family. (Tomorrows Dreams, Dare To Love and Where Love Belongs are already published and the next is due in April. The title will doubtless change from my original)

Wherever the original inspiration comes from, my stories are character driven. I prefer not to plot carefully as I can then enjoy the events as they develop as a drama, romance or mystery. I want to keep going to discover what happens, though of course, I know the eventual outcome.

I use a lot of dialogue in my writing so I can sit chatting to everyone as I write. Speaking the words makes sure the dialogue flows. I do have to stop and make sure there is some actual prose among it.
Whatever the inspiration, let it germinate and the story, characters and the whole thing will work eventually.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Command Performance - another giveaway

To celebrate my Cat-Rom Command Performance making it to and I've got another giveaway over on my blog. Simply put 'pick me' or words to that effect in the comments for a chance to win.

Command Performance Giveaway

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name

It’s very important to choose the right names for your characters just as it’s important to choose the right names for your children.
Readers have a certain expectation. If you are writing about a woman in her eighties then she wouldn’t be called Kylie or Jade but would much more likely be an Olive or Kathleen. A boy from a poor background living on a run down estate is unlikely to be called Tarquin. If you were writing about the children of celebrities then Apple, Peaches or perhaps Satsuma might be appropriate – the fruitier the better.
We produce an A4 sheet with information about each of our main characters. Having built up a profile of them we then make sure they have a fitting name. Sometimes this takes several attempts before we are satisfied. At times the name has to be changed because we have chosen too many beginning with the same letter which can be confusing for the reader. If our heroine is called Samantha then we are careful to be consistent when other characters call her Sam. It can be an added difficulty if one of us knows someone called Samantha and doesn’t like her much or she is in total contrast to our fictional character.
Dickens cornered the market in unmistakable names. Polly Toodle, Wackford Squeers and Luke Honeythunder being a few examples.
The good thing is that the characters in your story or novel can’t complain about the names you’ve given them. This is in contrast to your children who will complain that their names are too short, too long, too unusual or too common depending on what they’ve been given.
For places we try not to choose real names or replicate ones already used by other people. In the pocket novel we are writing at the moment we had chosen Medchester as the name of the town, but now see that Sally has used Midchester. Back to the drawing board. We try to choose an appropriate sounding name. We thought Medchester would be good for a town in the Midlands and names starting Tre/Pol/Pen sound Cornish.
Choosing names for people, towns, shops, rivers and hotels is all part of the fun of writing.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Discussion on my blog today - Crossing Over To The Light Side

The discussion on my own blog today is related to writing pocket novels as it grew from a discussion in my current Pocket Novel Workshop. It deals with the problems of staying on the light side of writing.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

UPCOMING NOVELS by Noelene Jenkinson

Because I'm not only in love with the heroes and heroines in my novels but also my country of birth, Australia, I use it as the setting for all my novels.
I have three trilogy series planned encompassing all the aspects of what I feel Australia represents to people all over the world. Its coast and beaches, its outback and its small country towns. All locales could not be more different. As a reader, I love reading about other places in the world so I hope readers from elsewhere will enjoy reading about my country.
Just to give you a sample, my loosely labelled "coast" trilogy will be set in three different coastal areas. One will be on the Gold Coast in Queensland, world renowned for being part of the magnificent Great Barrier Reef that runs along its whole length for thousands of kilometres, is visible from space and is a world heritage national park.


And the others will be set in a small town cafe along the peaceful south coast of New South Wales and in the popular village of Port Fairy on the Victorian south coast that stretches from Geelong west of Melbourne to the South Australian border. It is situated on the Great Ocean Road that runs for about 243 kilometres or 150 miles from Torquay to Warrnambool. It was built by returned soldiers from World War 1 between 1919 and 1932.

And for a taste of the others, my "outback" series will cover the vastly different flat red soil plains of cattle and sheep stations in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. And my "village" or small town series will be based on the inland town of Beechworth in north eastern Victoria, an early gold mining area, full of history and beautiful old buildings. Also renowned for its famous bakery.

I look forward to writing my characters' stories using some of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world. I would love to hear where your favourite romantic or holiday place in the world might be.