Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Hollywood knows a thing or two..... PART II


Last time I blogged I talked about what we could learn from Hollywood. Today I am basing my blog entry on the insight of Chris Vogler who has written best sellers about how to write for Hollywood which can equally be applied to our writing.

STAGING  Think about the roots of our art forms. The stage was vitally important as a means of telling stories before the general population could read and write, and we would do well to go back to those roots to think about how we communicate with readers. Staging is equally important in films as in novels. You have to stage things so the audience can ‘see’ them. Chris Vogler refers to Erin Brokovich where at one point in the script it says, ‘her face falls,’ and he remembered that moment in the film when the viewer is expecting Erin to protest at an injuustice but in fact that unvoiced gesture of her face literally falling made more of an impact. He points out that you have to make a picture in people’s heads.

I noticed this most recently in the film, ‘The Ides of March’ with Ryan Gosling who is a terrific actor who can make a minute’s silence say so many things. I shan’t put in any spoilers here for anyone who hasn’t seen the film. But his character, an idealistic young man moving in political circles changes considerably over the course of the story. He has to face up to some hard and sad realities and at the close there is a long close up where you see on his face a realisation, a hardening which in the hands of a skilful actor has a terrific impact. If, as writers, we choose our words well to describe our characters’ faces we also can make what our characters say have more impact.

BACKGROUND Think of backgrounds when you describe your characters, are they integrated and trying to blend in – or do they stand out apart from people, wearing garish colours, what can these clues tell the reader about your character. Thinking again of films and one from a very successful trilogy – this time the very strong Swedish filmmaking world rather than Hollywood, and consider Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as played by the extraordinary Noomi Rapace. Boy, does that girl stand out! Lisbeth has piercings in her face, her hair is jet black and cut in an unorthodox asymmetrical style. Her skinny limbs are tightly wrapped in black leather, her androgynous body could belong to a boy or a girl, heavy black eye makeup even black lipstick are designed to mark her out from the crowd. She hardly ever smiles, she always has a purposeful, direct look on her face and a determined walk. Lisbeth is literally no slouch. Looking back to my previous post on what Hollywood teaches us, it teaches us that one of the character traits which is extremely engaging is that a hero or heroine is powerful, they don’t have to be likeable but it is fascinating to see someone being good at their job. Lisbeth is a fantastic computer hacker. This even applies to contract killers such as Leon in Luc Besson’s film of the same name or Tom Cruise’s character in Collateral who is terrific at his job but you wouldn’t want to be the person he is hunting for! The reason we go on watching all these characters is that our sympathy is elicited for someone in that story. This is a key point in engaging readers. In Collateral, Tom Cruise hijacks a hard-working, moral taxi driver and forces him to take part in his crimes. The taxi driver has a dream, to open his own car business and we know that because he is going to call it Island Cars and he keeps a photo of a desert island behind the visor in his car to remind him of his dream. Instantly we are hooked. He’s a good guy and we don’t want to see him hurt, we want to see him triumph, we want him to go on that journey and he does. In the end, he triumphs, giving us a satisfying story. This brings me to the third thing I learned from Chris Vogler, and that is why fairy tales endure and how they can assist our writing.

FAIRY TALES Collateral is simply that, a fairy story. In the beginning the lone taxi driver picks up his princess – a beautiful female lawyer. He tells her his dream of owning his own company and you feel that as a lowly guy he could not possibly compete with all the princes she is likely to meet. In fact when he drops her off, even though she leaves him her card (or perhaps her glass slipper!) you despair of them ever getting together. The evil Lord in this tale is the contract killer, Tom Cruise who has all the charisma and fearlessness that the taxi driver never has until….. in fact Tom Cruise turns out to be also a fairy godmother. For, it is by putting the taxi driver in an impossible position that he is made to fight back, to stand up for himself and to defend the lady lawyer against her nemesis in the shape of…. Yes, you’ve guessed it, Tom Cruise’s contract killer. Fairy tales can teach us a lot, so, do go and write one or, read one because that, in many cases is what pocket novels are. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Who are the heroes in pocket novels?

I was interested to read a recent survey of Harlequin (Mills and Boon) romances that revealed doctors and cowboys as the most popular heroes, followed by bosses, princes, ranchers and knights. Surgeons, kings, bodyguards and sheriffs also made it into the top ten. I've certainly read plenty of romances with these hero types but it set me wondering whether there were particular heroes that were popular in pocket novels, and what these might be. Harlequin is mostly a North American company publishing romances for a worldwide audience. Whereas pocket novels are published by a British publisher for a mostly British audience. So does this mean just a few less ranchers in there or are pocket novels very different in the types of stories they contain? Harlequin Mills and Boon are well known for millionaire bosses as romantic heroes, and billionaire sheiks - but do they appear in pocket novels too?

I'll start the survey with my own pocket novels and hope that my fellow pocket novelists and pocket novel readers can also contribute stats on their books or pocket novels they have recently read. I'm certainly going to find it interesting seeing the variety of heroes out there.

My pocket novel heroes:

Noble - 1
Smuggler - 1
Gentleman - 1
Midwife - 1
Vet - 1

[Picture: Dr Tom Kent in Casualty, played by Oliver Coleman]

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Are Cliches Always The Thin End Of The Wedge? By Sally Quilford

One of the participants on my Online Pocket Novel Workshop said that she hoped to learn to write happy endings that weren’t clichéd.

My first bit of advice was to accept that romances, by their very nature, are clichés. Until you accept that, it will be impossible for you to write them because you’ll be trying to break a mould that does not need to be broken. When readers pick up a romance they expect certain things. They expect a heroine they'll root for, a hero they'll fancy and a Happy Ever After that brings the two together.
A traditional romance, even if it’s updated a la Bridget Jones’s Diary, is always going to be some variation of girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy back again. Happy endings in themselves are clichés. After some big misunderstanding or other conflict (without which you wouldn’t have a story worth reading), the hero and heroine get back together, kiss and then (either metaphorically or literally) go off into the sunset together.

Oh for a happy ending with Colin!

If you’re scoffing at this, then you’d probably also scoff at the readership who enjoy and expect these sort of endings. Mills and Boon are still going strong after 100 years by giving readers what they want. My Weekly Pocket Novels and The People’s Friend pocket novels still fly off the shelves every fortnight because the editors (and writers) are giving readers what they want. It’s a rose-coloured world that probably has never existed in real life, but it’s what makes them happy for however many hours it takes them to read the novels. They close the books feeling, if only for a short time, that all is well with the world. They might not have much to smile about in the real world, but they’ve been able to escape it for a while into a world where everything happens exactly as it should happen.

So don’t underestimate the power of clichés. Clichés are comforting, like putting on an old jumper that might be a bit baggy and years out of fashion, but is still the most comfortable piece of clothing you have ever owned.
So knowing all this, can you still make your stories less hackneyed? I think you can. In a novella I’ve just had accepted by Siren, the hero and heroine literally do ride off into the sunset together on a horse. But when you figure in that my heroine is terrified of horses, as shown earlier in the story, it takes on a whole different meaning. It’s a way of showing that she feels safe with the hero and trusts him not to let any harm come to her. So perhaps not so hackneyed after all. At least that was my intention when I wrote it. Whether readers will think ‘God that's corny' is another matter.

If it's good enough for Indiana Jones...

And this is perhaps one way of making sure a story and the happy ending that ensues isn’t clichéd or hackneyed. It will always have to fit in with what’s gone before, so pick one nugget of your story that may have just been used to show character development, and base the happy ending around that. Do remember that the ending must always come from the story, and not be suddenly tagged on because you’ve remembered you have to get the hero and heroine together by the end.
One of my least favourite types of romance is where the hero is absolutely awful to the heroine thoughout the story, then suddenly realises he loves her, apologises and, more astoundingly, is forgiven, regardless of what has gone before. But apparently this goes down well with some readers in parts of the world. A hero can be downright evil to the heroine all the way through, as long as he has the epiphany at the end and becomes a nicer person because of his love for her. If I were the heroine in that story, I’d need more than an apology to make me realise that this abusive man is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with.
Maybe this is why I like writing pocket novels. Such a hero or ending would never be permitted. Yes, they might be clichéd, and like that comfy old jumper, but that’s what keeps me writing them, and what keeps readers reading them.

I end by advising you to check out the TV Tropes page, which affectionately lists all the tropes (or cliches) used in fiction, film and televison, and also proves that romance writing isn't the only type of fiction that has cliches. It's a great way of learning what's gone before and finding out how you can play with those ideas for your own story.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Margaret Mounsdon

Second Time Around has just been accepted by Thorpe as a large print novel.

Widowed single parent Elise Trent thought no one could replace her husband Peter until she met policeman Mark Hampson. She is forced to seriously re-think her life when her mother in law accepts a proposal of marriage from long time companion Seth Baxter and her student daughter Angie and Mark's son Kyle get involved with an action group. Then Elise and Mark are further thrown together by a spate of country house burglaries.

The Heart Of The Matter has also just been accepted by Thorpe.
In order to save Georgia Cabs' reputation, Georgia Jones is forced to be award winning screenwriter Dominic Talbot's personal on set driver after he leaves his briefcase in the back of one of her cabs. When one of Dominic's crew inadvertently chops branches off The Magic Tree during filimng and Georgia explains about the curse, Dominic scoffs at the story until a cameraman breaks a leg, props go missing and the leading man catches chicken pox.
As this is my first Pocketeers blog I hope everyone will make allowances for any mistakes. My name is Margaret Mounsdon and I enjoy writing modern day Pocket Novels.
My above two novels were published in January, on the same day as it happens, one by My Weekly and one by People's Friend and as you can see will be going into Large Print.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Can you guess the title?

People's Friend always change my titles - I suppose I should come up with something more suited to their line. However, as all my books go on to be released at Linford Romance LP, and as e-books either with Aurora/Musa or regencyreads, I choose titles aimed at those markets. I've actually walked past a pocket novel on more than once occasion not realizing it was one of mine.
My Weekly have only changed a few of my eleven books - which made it a lot easier to remember to buy a copy when they came out.
Now these are the original titles -can you match them to the covers? I've put in one that hasn't been changed just to make it harder.
Miss Bannerman & The Duke,
Miss Shaw & The Doctor,
An Unexpected Encounter,
A Country Mouse,
Wed for a Wager
I will send a copy of my most recent title with Aurora/Musa - Miss Bannerman & The Duke - to the first three correct answers. Good Luck! This book is a Best Book on a review site - The Long and Short Reviews - and is up for Book of the Month 3/4th March. Please vote if you have time.
Many thanks