Monthly Archives: November 2014

Chop that plot!

The World's Largest AxePhil: One of the standard pieces of advice given to any writer is that you must remove anything that isn’t absolutely essential to moving the plot forward. This is certainly uppermost in our minds as we work through the suggestions from our publisher.

I’m inclined to suggest that it’s rubbish.

Yes, you need to remove pointless padding from the story. Keep things tight and the reader will be swept along by the text, but you can go too far.

Imagine this:

Boy is born, grows up, has a son and they defeat the baddies.

That’s all 6 Star Wars films in 13 words. If you’ve not seen them, I’ve saved you a lot of time. With the possible exception of the first 3, it wasn’t as much fun as seeing them was it?

How about:

Man meets old girlfriend. She leaves him.

Casablanca. None of that “Play it again Sam” stuff, just the plot.

I think reading a book is like eating a good meal. Yes, you can get all the nutrients from a single substance, but as the manufacturers of Soylent (not the one made from dead people) are discovering, eating is about more than just absorbing enough chemicals to keep you alive.

Likewise, reading is about going on a journey. Along the way you need twists and turns. Sometimes you need to stand and look at the scenery. Reduce a book to its bare bones and while it will be quick to read, the result will be a joyless affair.

Like a good steak needs a bit of fat, a good story needs a little padding. It’s just that both need only a soupçon of each.

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Book vs Film – Fight!

Candice: Phil and I had an off-line conversation after his last post about ‘World War Z‘ as I had written a post about it awhile ago when I saw the film. Apparently book trumps film in this world.

Now, as an author I should really agree on this as I think reading is great for many reasons.  It uses the brain, it helps you develop your own world and makes you creative, it is a great way to occupy the time.  However, sometimes its just nice to disappear into some real trash of a film and switch the mind off.

Saturday night I was home alone so watched ‘RED’.  It was a piece of terrible rubbish based on a DC comics idea of old CIA Agents coming back from retirement.  Starring Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren it went from predictable scene to predictable scene for 2 hours.  However, I loved it, mainly because I like those actors and partly because I was tired and needed to wind down.  If I’d been reading a book I would have managed 20 minutes and then ended up falling asleep.

But, on my bedside table I have a thriller  I’m working my through.  It’s by Linwood Barclay and the story is of a guy whose wife is killed in a car accident and after her death lots of things come out that don’t seem to reflect what he knew of her.  I’m only half way through as I only manage that 20 mins before bed but its good and I want to read more to know how it finishes.  But part of me likes the fact it is going to take me awhile to get to the end, rather than having it all in one hit like watching a movie.

I’m hoping to go to the cinema this week as I haven’t been for ages.  That is my ultimate film watching experience, as you can’t beat sitting in a darkened room with a big screen.  My ultimate reading venue; a sun lounger by the sea (with a cocktail!)

So, what do you think – book or film?

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World War Z

Phil: World War Z, written by Max Brooks,WWZBook is a very clever book. Written entirely in the past tense, it describes the ten-year long Zombie war as a series of individual accounts related to the author, a UN executive who has previously written the official report on the war. The idea is that these would have been in this report but were instead published in book form as they were too casual for an “official” publication.

Starting with a doctor who treats “Patient Zero” at the start of the outbreak, we hear from an ordinary soldier who fought in the failed American “Last Stand” at Yonkers, a South African who comes up with a practical but horrifying strategy to fight the zombies, the US general who takes control of the reconfiguring of society to fight back and survive along with many others.

Being an oral history, we don’t get to know everything. For example, no one explains where the virus that caused the zombies to rise up comes from. There are hints that it originated in China as a military programme but that’s never explicitly stated. There’s also an event called “the great panic” where it is hinted that a US newsreader finally tells the truth about the zombies on air – previously news had been suppressed – but while it’s alluded to, we never get any details, just the results.

Along the way, different countries handle things in their own way. Israel abandons the Palestinian territories and shuts the rest of the world out. The US goes typically gun-ho in a completely ineffective way initially. This is truly multi-national story.

Now, you might suggest that zombies are a stupid enemy – completely preposterous in fact, but that doesn’t make them any less entertaining. There’s also an allegory with current events. Were Ebola or SARS to spread dramatically, how would nations react to the threat? More to the point, how would society react? How would you handle such a threat?

The book plays everything straight and works well because of it. Fastidious research and realistic assumptions from the author make a fundamentally silly idea work brilliantly. The idea of a series of verbal accounts from different points of view is inspired. Maybe it’s been done before, but I don’t recall it. A fascinating read.

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Future Talent?

Future Talent logoCandice: I’ve been doing my customary search of the web looking for juicy things to pass on to you, lovely audience, and I came across this really good article on BBC Future Talent.  Based around other activity happening Birmingham as part of Radio1Xtra activity there are workshops around how to write and develop, with a bias towards online webisodes.

‘Great’, thinks I, ‘Lets get down to these and see whats what.  But there I get stopped in my tracks, unfortunately they were LAST WEEK!  Balls is my response to that, as there was some juicy stuff there and it was all on our doorstep.

However, part of the point of all this activity is to promote a competition they are running, which closes in March 2015.

“Bring your ideas to life and write, produce, perform, direct and edit your very own pilot webisode.”

The prize, the potential to have your own series.

Now, Phil and I have always said we are writing a novel, but we have been told before that our ideas are very ‘filmographic’ (made up word!) ie they work well as pictures.  A lot of our inspiration comes from TV and Film, and obviously I have designs on having my only ever speaking part in the film of our books (abit like Stan Lee’s cameos in Spiderman) but we are not working towards  a script. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t, or even work up one of our other ideas into something.

I have no camera-holding filming experience, but I do know how to make one.  In fact one of the last things I did in my old job was to talk about storyboarding a pop video.  Hum, perhaps its time to rope in some friends and a digital camera and see what we can do…

Check out the BBC Future Talent Storify page here.

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Taking criticism on the chin

Have you seen my troll?Phil: One of the projects I work on has an associated web forum. Users can comment on the publication whether they read it or not as well as discussing many other topics.

Sadly, some see this as an opportunity to have a pop at the editorial team with wide ranging statements along the lines of “The last issue was a load of rubbish” or “I want a better magazine”. None of these provides any help producing said better magazine and are just posted to give the writer a little thrill that they’ve bullied someone and can get away with it thanks to being on the web.

I’d suggest that they then run off and boast about their cleverness to their friends but I suspect like most trolls, they don’t have any.

Being on the receiving end of this kicking, can be very hard indeed. More than once I’ve wondered what the point is and started taking more interest in job adverts. After all, you do your level best and the only response if from some pathetic individual holed up with a computer who gets a thrill from being nasty.

Nowadays you can’t avoid this, the only salvation is to realise that you are often looking at one or two individuals who just make a lot of noise. The majority are happy with the results and many do use the opportunity to say so or indulge in helpful discussions, something I really enjoy.

What does this have to do with writing our book?

Well, we’re working through some publisher comments at the moment. Happily, there is nothing bad and some of them have fired us up to write extra scenes that will enhance the story. This has been great fun and the additions have enriched the text.

Others though are more contentious. Taking criticism isn’t easy and there are a couple of suggestions that we aren’t so happy with. Not angry or upset, simply we disagree.

Being a writing duo makes this a lot easier – we’ve chatted and agreed with each other that we don’t agree so there is none of the ruminating in the middle of the night wondering if the whole project is all rubbish that can affect the solo author.

This is helped by the publisher making it clear that these are just suggestions. When we meet them, we’ll chat over the ones we disagree with. So far, having someone who isn’t as immersed in the book as we are reading and commenting has improved the text and long may this continue.

And as you are head for the comments, if you wouldn’t say it face to face, don’t say it on-line.

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Curiosity killed the cat?

Candice: No, I’m not referencing an 80’s pop band here, but a recent personality test I did at work.

I’ve done a lot of psychometric tests over the years, in fact they used to say I was a ringer as I have a degree in psychology and had studied these things. Things have moved on in 20 years but fundamentally they are the same underneath, but I found the results of this test the most useful I’d done in ages.

The main thing this test highlighted was my lack of use of my curiosity. It seems that I like to stick my nose into everything and find out what makes it tick, or constantly explore new things, something that my current role is not doing.

Not as a direct response to this but certainly a factor, I’m off to start a new job in a weeks time. Phil and I were discussing this at our other catch up on Friday and how we differ on that front. I love a new challenge and get bored very easily, so have enjoyed changing jobs or projects over the last few years. He doesn’t like the idea of starting somewhere new and prefers something a bit more comfortable and known. Now it’s not going to easy starting this new role. I haven’t actually changed companies in 3 years so I’m going to find it a struggle to learn all their terminology. But I’m certainly going to use my curiosity to its full extent to make the most of it.

This personality trait is also reflected in my need to do more that just work and sit on the couch. Hence the trips to the gym, holidays and writing. I think it’s a good thing, though in recruitment people can see you as flighty and in life it means I’m constantly looking for something new, so not really allowing myself a break. But hey, if that is where my ideas and therefore the great novel we have written, so be it!

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Timely writing

AustraliaPhil: Candice might suggest that Monday’s chatting session started slowly while she recovered from a lack of sleep but it wasn’t entirely Erin’s fault that she was dozing off.

You see, I was in full Oz-bore mode with tales of my recent holiday. My friend was able to nod politely as I rambled on about the things I’d seen and places I’d been. It was probably best to have run through this without her being fully compos mentis. At least that way I didn’t end up wearing my hot chocolate!

Anyway, the trip to Oz was handy as while there, I found the prefect location to set Book 2. OK, we’ll have to tow it half way around the world but that’s a minor issue. The point is that I’ve had some ideas for months now but nothing really seemed to gel. Until I got off a ferry at… well you’ll have to wait to find out.

With this sorted, roughing out the basic plotline for our book became a lot easier. The other advance is a 500 word scene that Candice wrote a few weeks ago. Without intending to, she provided a perfect turning point for the plot. After a few minutes chat in the pub after food, we realised that she’d also managed to introduce a character who would be incredibly useful to the plot.

A couple of months ago we had none of this. Maybe we’d have come up with suitable alternatives but we both love the plotline that these have given us and now can’t wait to get on with the writing. First though, there is the little matter of finishing the tweaks to Book 1.

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It’s amazing what the mind can do

Planning SeshCandice: After a night that took me back to when my daughter was just weeks old (ie no sleep), I met Phil for a preplanned brain storming session.  I have to say that my heart wasn’t initially into it as I was shattered and some what frazzled.

A latte and muesli started to move me into a better place (though I only drink decaf so its more about the taste of coffee).  After a bracing walk round the local park and some more hot food in our local Weatherspoons I was finally starting to feel human.  Unfortunately in the process we’d probably lost 2hrs of pondering time, but it did move us straight into the ‘throwing post its on the table’ part of the session.

The ideas came thick and fast, though this is not the first time we’ve talked plot for book 2 but its the first time we’ve tried to make it into something real.  1hr 20mins later and we have an end to end main plot line and some additional ideas to keep the interest by adding some comedy asides.

What I like about our partnership is we can question where each idea goes, and does it work or not.  It made me laugh when I knocked something out of the plotting as I knew Kate wouldn’t do it. We really know our characters that well.  And that’s another thing, they are our characters.  When I’m writing the notes, I can also see who would write each part as we definitely fit into one group or another.  Kate is definitely MY character, I write most of her scenes.  Gareth and Kelvin, well they are all Phil.  Love parts – that’s me.  Comedy – probably more Phil.

So we are down to meet again on Friday, one to work on the comments from our publisher on Book 1.. and then the fun stuff, having a bash at writing another book.

And Erin, well her excuse is three new teeth in one go!


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