Thursday, August 23, 2012

I am educated in writing screenplays, however I am told that a novel is the first step in getting attention for an adaptation. Do you write this novel with the adaptation in mind or stick with the true novel writing and hope that someone can see it?

There are different views out there about the best road to getting a novel or a screenplay noticed. Personally, I wouldn’t write a novel in order to get a movie made, or write a screenplay in the hopes of having it novelized.

Every art form needs to stand on its own. Novels don’t always translate well into movies since movies are more visual (external) and novels often include lots of internalization in the minds of the characters. Unless you rely on a voiceover, you would need to physicalize all internal struggles when translating a novel to film.

There is always a reductive quality to translating one art form to another. In other words, you’ll always lose something that the first art form offers when you translate it into another form. It’ll have to be changed, and in that change it must conform to the limitations of the second art form.

I tend to naturally write very cinematically. I flip point-of-view sections in my novels the same as a director might change camera angles or switch scenes to render the story from different characters’ points-of-view. Because of this, I think my novels will translate well into film. (And it is a possibility.)

A novel that’s printed by an established publisher has to go through many gatekeepers—an agent, an acquisitions editor, a publishing board, a project and copy editor, and proofreaders. Because of this, if you have a published novel, I think producers will take a more careful look at it than they might from an unknown screenplay writer.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How do you suggest an unpublished author spend their time at a writers’ conference? Especially, one-on-one appointments?

This will, of course, depend on your writing goals, how far along you are in your project, and your experience as a writer. If you’re just getting started writing, I’d suggest you speak with editors, agents, or other writers about the biggest mistakes they see aspiring writers make. In time, it’ll save you a lot of work and, hopefully, keep you from reinventing the wheel and repeating the mistakes others have made.

Make the best use of your time by meeting with the people who are the most likely to help you reach your writing goals. This might take a little research, but it’ll save everyone time.

One-on-one appointments are usually short—sometimes as short as three minutes. However, many times they’re about fifteen minutes. Still, that’s really not enough time to hand someone an article or story to read and then give you input. Instead, pick the brain of the person you’re speaking with. Let them see that you are serious about the craft of writing. If they ask to see a synopsis, proposal or manuscript, tell them a realistic date that you will have it ready. Give them your card. Thank them for their time.

If you’re pitching to an agent or editor, hone your pitch. I’ve heard it’s best to keep them to twenty-five words. Then, be ready with a more complete synopsis if the agent or editor asks you to tell them more. Also, come prepared with a one-sheet pithy synopsis of the story and a short bio in case they ask for it.

Throughout the conference hang out with different people at meals, breaks, meet-and-greets, and so on. Network. Collect people’s cards. Follow up.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What do you do when you're writing a book that you want to be a full-sized novel when you're done, but while you're writing it you realize that you're not going to make it to that many words?

This is a common question that comes up at writers’ conferences—it seems that it’s not that unusual of a problem. The main thing to remember is to not add words for the sake of adding words.

Readers are much more interested in an engaging and well-told story than they are with word count. And now with the emergence of e-readers, length is becoming less and less of a concern for publishers. 

Genre affects reader expectations about length. Generally, literary novels, romance and young adult fiction can get away with being shorter. Complex historicals, thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction are typically longer.

As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest that if your story is fewer than 30,000 words you call it a short story. If it’s between 30,000 and 60,000 call it a novella. From there on up, most people will consider it a novel. Most novels don’t exceed 130,000 (although several of mine have); beyond that the story might realistically be broken into two 375 pages books.

I’ve never had to work through having to add words myself (usually I’m trying to reduce my word count), but here are my thoughts about it if you feel the need to add to your story.

(1) Be concise. Make every word count. If you can make your story shorter, do it. If you can make it longer but you don’t need to, don’t do it.

(2) If someone asks you to “flesh out” your story, take a careful look at it to make sure you’ve rendered every scene in a way that readers can see what’s happening, that you have created a protagonist who is sufficiently three-dimensional, and that the story is emotionally engaging enough to keep up reader interest. If it seems to you that “fleshing out the story” just means “increasing the word count to a predetermined number,” then push back against making the changes.

(3) Don’t add a subplot just to create a longer story. Only add a subplot if it provides necessary dimensionality to the protagonist. Every “subplot” is really another facet of the main plot and if you can drop or add a subplot without altering that, then drop it.