The online diary of a dreamer creating Contemporary Romantic Fiction - because Every Woman needs Love and Laughter in her Life.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

This blog has now been closed and transferred to Ray-Anne's new blog.
I would love to meet you at my new house - so please-

Click here to be transferred:

Happy 1st June- and it's a special Birthday!

I started this blog for real in June 2007.

On the 11th Jan 2007 I decided to try my hand at this Blogging lark and actually managed one single post of a few lines -before putting it out of my mind.

The next post was on 27th June 2007 - I was gearing up for the RNA conference and my brain turned to the larger world outside my office.
I made so many new friends in the Romance writing community I knew that the Blog was the ideal way to keep connected through our chosen form of creativity.
Since then I have created 200 posts and had over 4000 page hits.

And now it is time to move to a new virtual house/ blogsite.
I do hope that you will pop in and say hello.

Thank you all.

Monday, 26 May 2008

All Change.

Saturday 24th May. 12.20pm outside Kefallinia airport- outside temp. 32oC. Calm, cobalt seas and sky. Warm breeze carrying scent of jasmine and oleander.

Monday 26th May. 7.39am Basingstoke backbedroom - outside temp - well, it is cold, lashing down with rain and the trees are bending over in the wind. Scent of toilet bleach and electricals.

See pics above. I don't really need to add any more to that, do I?

Back here in the real world, and it is all change.

From 1st June I shall be migrating over to a new blog on Wordpress. The address is :

All of the posts from this blog will be transferred over, and this blog will be kept open for a month or so then archived. You can still make comments on the Wordpress blog as normal from a Blogger account.

Why move?

Wordpress has a lot more features - including the ability to add a lot more layers and background pages similar to a website. I do not currently have a website and am holding back until I have a clear idea of what my PenName is going to be, so Wordpress seems to me like a great stopgap site.

And the new blog will be under my name, making it easier for folks to find me.

I do hope that you will bookmark my new site and come and visit from 1st June.

In the meantime I need to work on the new blog so it is ready for visitors.
See you there soon.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Summer Hols

Just when the good weather reaches the UK - I am leaving for my hols.

2 weeks in the Ionian should give me the boost I need to finish the thriller revision, and gear up for the next couple of books which will take me over the summer.

Hope the sun shines on you, wherever you are, and see you again soon.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

J J Abrams and Amy Tan on Creativity

Jurgen Wolff * had an excellent blog and several websites for creative people and his daily blog is always interesting.

Through Jurgen I have come to know of the TED Lecture series where leading experts in all fields of modern life are invited to give short presentations.

It is an awesome reference on the mind processes of some of the most inspiring people in the western world today.

This morning I listened to J J Abrams talking on the Mystery Box.

J.J. Abrams traced his love of the unseen mystery -- the heart of Alias, Lost, and the upcoming Cloverfield -- back to its own magical beginnings, which may or may not include an early obsession with magic, the love of a supportive grandfather, or his own

Go here to watch on YouTube:

In another genre, Amy Tan spoke at this year's TED Conference.

'Novelist Amy Tan digs deep into the creative process, journeying through her childhood and family history and into the worlds of physics and chance, looking for hints of where her own creativity comes from. It's a wild ride with a surprise ending.'

Brilliant. Fascinating to learn about the completely different mindset of another writer.
Go here to listen to it -


Sunday, 4 May 2008

Holiday Packing - The Jeff Kitchen Screenwriting Method

This is the Dilemma.

I am about to start a two week holiday in the Greek Islands [ see picture - this is the view from the kitchen window].

Question: Do I take a complete break from this writing business? Do I go on strike, and refuse to give in to the separation anxiety, angst and general lack of functionality associated with not telling lies on paper on a daily basis.
IN other words. Do I actually take a holiday from writing anything other than postcards?

OR? Do I accept the inevitable and stash enough paper and pens in my hand luggage [ just in case the suitcase goes missing in two airports, you understand] since this greek village has a 'mini-market' where the supply of children's school exercise books and pencils can be very limited. I may, gulp, RUN OUT..

And what if I am obliged to read fiction written by other authors who, another gulp, are ten times better than I am at holding the reader spellbound on her poolside lounger? Forcing me to face the fact that I am doomed as a thriller/romance writer and my old day job is a much better idea.

Two new A4 pads- squared paper of course, and six ballpoints. No laptops. No palm held.

I feel a lot better now. Thank you for your concern. Nothing else to see here, go about your business folks. All well.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Authors talking

Borders have a series of Interviews with authors such as Lee Child, John Barrowman, and Freya North which are great – lovely to hear your favourite author live.
The Freya North interview about ‘Pillow Talk’ looks like it was from the RNA Awards lunch this February

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Time Management for Writers

How do you spend your time? What makes your brain buzz?

Business versus Creativity?

For the sake of discussion, let’s say that I have to divide my working life as a writer of fiction into three basic - and very broad- categories.

1. Organisation of Time. Energy. Money.

*Time Management. Focus
*Developing Skills and Techniques
*Vision and Planning - Goals
*Discipline and Focus on Key Objectives

2. Marketing

*Brand Creation
*Writing Proposals and Query Letters
*Finding an Agent.
*Promotion of Self - Speaking, Blogging, Internet Presence
*Promotion of your work
*Attending Conferences and Meetings

3. Creating

*Story Development
*Building the Outline and Synopsis or Treatment
*Writing the Text
*Editing to Blockbuster quality
*Rewriting and Polishing

For some people, creating the manuscript is the number one priority.
Without a wonderful story to promote, you don’t have anything to sell, but what if you were a beginner - or were being published by small press publishers, who did not have a large budget for promotion and marketing, how would you manage your time to achieve all of these tasks?

You have a book you want to sell.
AND you want to learn your craft.
AND you have a deadline for a bigger, better, more compelling book in your contract.

How do you manage your time? By hours each day? By hours each week?

Talking to other writers, this seems to depend upon :

*what stage you are at in your career. Published authors feel obliged to spend a lot more time on promotion and less of learning craft techniques than unpublished authors.

*the kind of writing you have chosen to specialise in. Graphic novels, mainstream commercial fiction, childrens’ books, romance etc. Each specific genre has their own specialist interest groups and online networks. Other non-genre fiction writers may struggle to compete with that word of mouth connection and persuade reviewers to take their books

*how interested you are in maintaining an online presence. Many writers are not keen on MySpace or FaceBook but are willing to blog a paragraph now and then
the writing.

* Some people love to write flat out for several hours. Others like to write in short bursts of perhaps an hour then break. They use the down time for the other tasks

*being organised and disciplined. Let’s be honest. Not everyone is talented in this direction. And most of use do have lives.

Overall conclusions?
If you imagine a self-employed entrepreneur, who is creating a unique product which they then want to promote and sell to a manufacturer/ investor… would that person not need to work in all three categories?
For example. A person making silver jewellery.
That person would need to work on learning the skills in silver smithing that they would need to create the finest version of their design.
Then find markets for their stunning work.

Time Management. Easy to say, hard to do..

Monday, 28 April 2008

The Opponent

I am currently working on extra character layers for the Antagonist in my thriller novel, brainstorming on how to make this character as compelling as possible.

First. How do you define the Antagonist?

For me, I have to start with a definition of the Protagonist – the character who owns the story, and whose active pursuit of her goal will drive the plot forward.
The Antagonist is the equally fascinating character who by pushing against the protagonist shapes the story and drives the plot by forcing the protagonist to act.

There a number of key aspects I want to keep in mind;

1. The Antagonist is the character who shapes the plot, the most important person in the conflict, the character who makes the reader worry and keeps her turning the page.
If I have worked hard, my reader will have sympathy and empathy for my heroine. The antagonist is now going to start throwing rocks at her.

The antagonist must be strong and active, somebody the reader fears will defeat the protagonist.
My heroine is strong, intelligent and a survivor.
My opponent has to be all of those things and more.

3. Since I am writing a thriller, I want the antagonist to be just as compelling as the protagonist, just as fascinating to read, just as smart, just as funny perhaps, just as good at what he does. In fact, the antagonist should be formidable in every way possible, and stronger than the protagonist – making her work hard and be creative. NOT just REACTIVE but PROACTIVE.
I need to show my antagonist in his ordinary life, doing his job. Even if this is carving the Mona Lisa with a craft knife on the stomach of his victims.

4. But the antagonist is also in need of something. He is pursuing his goal for the same reason that the heroine is pursuing hers: it’s important to his sense of self-worth, his identity. He may not have a character arc as powerful as the protagonist, but he certainly cannot be pulled out of the wings, twirling his moustache, to be the bad guy as in a children’s cartoon. No. He has to have a character profile. His own needs and goals. His own problems.

Why does he love the Mona Lisa? Is he Italian? What is his motivation?

5. The antagonist’s pursuit of his goal must be in direct opposition to the goal of the protagonist – creating ‘ Conflict Lock’ so that the two characters are locked in until one of them wins. It is this key conflict which is going to shape the plot- and shape the action of my hero, since she will be forced to react and act proactively is she intends to be the winner.

What is the Conflict Lock?
This is where the two characters may either both have the same goal – or they have different goals which are in direct opposition.
The best way of seeing this visually is by drawing up a 4 square grid and I tip my hat to Michael Hague and Jennifer Crusie for showing me this technique, which you can use from the Act level right down to individual scenes.

Protagonist GOAL= Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas with Toto.
Protagonist CONFLICT= She has to ask the way home from the Wizard – but the wicked witch of the west is determined to stop her from leaving

Antagonist GOAL = The wicked witch of the west wants her sister’s ruby slippers.
Antagonist CONFLICT = Dorothy is wearing the ruby slippers and cannot take them off. AND she wants to leave town.

The top two boxes of your 2 by 2 square are your protagonist’s goal and conflict (the action that is causing her conflict).The bottom two boxes are your antagonist’s goal and conflict (the action that is causing his conflict).
The idea is that the protagonist’s goal is the one thing that is blocking the Opponent from obtaining HIS goal. And the Opponent’s goal is blocking our Heroine from obtaining HER goal.
You should be able to draw an arrow from Goal Row 1 to Conflict Row 2, and Goal Row 2 to Conflict Row 1.

Result = Conflict Lock.

6. The key turning points of my story should track the building conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. From the start, I want to be able to imagine the Final Fight to the Finish between my hero and the person who has been blocking her all the way. I want to be able to track the fight between these two people all the way from the Inciting Incident – which should be caused directly or indirectly by the Antagonist – to the one to one final fight. Where only one of them wins – and the reader/audience will not know who this until it physically happens.

7. The reader wants to be on the edge of their seat to find out who will win – and it is no contest if the opponent is way superior to our heroine – they should be equally matched. Think of an equally skilled football game.

8. BOTH of these two key characters MUST be actively fighting for their goals – which might be the same goal. Two treasure fighters after the same sacred icon aka Lara Croft or Indiana Jones. Or one corrupt cop trying to keep hold of his million dollars so he can buy his life back, while the less corrupt cop tries to take the money from him as evidence. Or a divorced mother finds that her estranged husband has run off to India with their daughter, vowing never to return. That active fight will force the hero to change, adapt, be smarter, quicker, better.

9. Both of these two key characters will be forced to make decisions and take actions. Leading to character arc for one or both. Or a bullet and a medal.

10. I want to have my protagonist on the page as soon as possible – the first paragraph if possible. And that means I need my antagonist right there – or the result of his actions and decisions, as part of the SCENE ANTAGONIST who is linked to the main antagonist.
Example. Cops going to murder scene- finds the work of the antagonist, with clues.

Now. All I have to do is create this fantastic character. GULP!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

A question.

Why is it that, while re-writing your current epic thriller, you always get a KILLER idea for a NEW book, which is so MAGICAL and AWESOME, and TERRIFIC, that you just want to throw the book you are writing NOW into the back of the wardrobe where it belongs with all of the other discarded items, and start this NEW, better story which is bound to be a bestseller?

This new idea is TOTALLY commercial and High Concept.

You can already SEE the movie for this NEW idea.
You can hear the agents and publishers hammering on your front door, any door, fighting for the chance to carry this NEW book.

And NOT the book you know that you have to finish, and which, until yesterday, you thought was pretty good. It only needs another couple of weeks of 10 hour days of slog, re-structuring and complete change of opponent motivation etc to create a decent second draft.

While, all the time, this new cunning idea- which has amazed even you, goddess of genius, by how clever and unique it is- is lurking on a note card. Tempting you away from the true path of the righteous professional writer.


Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Advantages of having a great Publicist

No doubt you followed the 'Nibbies' book award with zero interest, but sorry to say that J K Rowling was the source of great amusement due to her 'wardrobe malfunction'.

Thank heavens she had her literary publicist Mark Hutchinson standing by to assist.

I think these pictures say it all.

Note to self. WHEN accepting major award, DO NOT chose dress likely to fall down at the front so that you are constantly having to hitch it up.

Second note to self. How did Katie Price manage it???

Go here to see the detail -


Saturday, 19 April 2008

Using a Dilemma to drive your story


A choice has to be made between two equally bad - or two equally good- alternatives.

Example. Our hero’s brother needs a life or death operation that costs serious money. But all of our hero’s cash is earmarked to finally turn his barely surviving business into a success, and to make a down payment on a new home, thus saving his marriage and removing his kids from a dangerous neighbourhood.

Example. Do you remember that true story where a young man was trapped by the arm in a rock fall in a remote part of US desert and having done everything he could to escape over 5 days, had to decide whether to simply wait until someone found him - which might never happen since nobody knew where he was - or cut off his own arm - and he might bleed to death. Aron Ralston chose the later.

Example. Many marriage of convenience stories or moral dilemmas - Charles Dickens loved them -such as where the pretty heroine innocent has to marry the repellant man to save her sister/aged parent/child from destitution or prison or some other terrible fate. Today it would be the unmarried mother who needs what this man can offer her. Or the person who has to lie in court to save someone they love.

Two equally unacceptable alternatives – two equally [very] painful choices.

Forced to choose between sacrificing himself or sacrificing a loved one, our character finds himself paralysed, unable to make a choice. A dilemma to lose sleep over.

Neither option is good, because each is at odds with the other.

One good central dilemma can be the ENGINE driving the drama.

Once your protagonist is trapped in it, the dilemma can build in intensity until the crisis point forces decision and action – no matter how much the heroine wants to put off making that decision, it has to be done. One way or the other. The dilemma is finally resolved at the point of resolution.

I have come to this point through an excellent book on Screenwriting - 'Writing a Great Movie' by Jeff Kitchen*. Working through this book has given me excellent insights into how I can polish my current WIP thriller and build the conflict.

Up to this point I had not recognised the fact that my thriller has at least four key dilemmas which drive my heroine, some from her backstory and motivation, some from the plot and action line of the story.

Pulling out the thread of each dilemma has helped me build the scenes which set-up the alternatives she has to choose from and build the conflict as the action progresses.


Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Thriller Writing Challenges

Among other things, I write Medical Thrillers.

And one of the greatest challenges I find is this: HOW TO MAKE THE CONFLICT PERSONAL?
What do I mean by that?
Imagine you have a medical condition or medical disaster- eg. A virus or a bioweapon perhaps, in your story.
The Bioweapon is not a conflict. There is no implicit emotional element in a virus - it is the EFFECT of the virus on a person which creates the conflict.

This is a tool used by an Antagonist as part of his plan to kill people and cause chaos - or perhaps something more creative, such as he actually wants to kill ONE Person and uses the bioweapon as a cover story.
The character of this opponent and his plan drives the action plot - and that is where the challenge lies.

John Truby* wrote an excellent critique of the movie ‘OUTBREAK‘ ** which explains some of the KEY CHALLENGES inherent in creating screenplay for an ‘Action Thriller’. This film came out in 1995 and stared Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey among others .

1. How do you create an ongoing and a building opposition when your opponent is a virus?
You can’t do it. You can’t have a dramatic fight against an invisible bug. So you have to have a personal opposition.
So, the main opponent doesn’t remain the virus, it is General McClintock.
Let’s look at this opponent for a minute. This guy is clearly a villain. In this movie we’re not going to see any subtlety of opposition between hero and main opponent. They’re not going to have a lot of moral fighting about whatever they might fight about. That’s not what this opponent is all about. He is there to provide as heavy an opposition as we can get for our hero.
This guy does have two really great advantages. One is that he provides the source for the conspiracy, where most of the plot comes from. Without him, we really have no plot. Once we hit those virus beats, we’re going to run out of plot. The other great advantage he gives us is that he escalates the story up to the battle. We can’t get to that battle without him.
There’s a second opponent besides McClintock and he’s an opponent ally. This is General Billy Ford.
As an opponent ally, he is somebody who appears to be a friend to the hero but is actually an enemy. General Ford is an in-between character in this sense. He acts fundamentally as an opponent but he also acts as a friend, especially at the end of the story.
Like McClintock, he is crucial for plot because like any opponent ally, he is hidden. The true nature of his opposition is hidden.

2. How do you get a personal line into a fast action story?
Because that personal line is what’s going to make it pay off emotionally for the audience. It’s very difficult to do because you’re moving so fast that you really don’t want to slow down and take that time.
How did the writers of ‘Outbreak - LAWRENCE DWORET & ROBERT ROY POOL- do it?

There are two storylines in this movie ‘Outbreak’.
The action line for the plot, and the personal line for the protagonist hero detective.
In Outbreak the writers take the time to establish a personal track between the husband and the wife. during the Set-Up initial scenes.
This is a crucial step, and is part of building the empathy of the audience with this hard driven scientist who is totally focused and skilled in his work.
He might be the world expert on this virus - but he is also still in love with his wife who he has just divorced. This Personal line holds steady throughout the story, and it grounds the movie, which goes all over the place, as it deals with the scientific details and action scenes. And it just gives a real solid, personal connection in a story that really needs it.

3. How do you focus all the action in a single arena.

Again, this is especially difficult in a film like “Outbreak” where you’re covering epic action, it covers a huge amount of territory. [The film is set in Zaire and at least four key locations in the US.] How did the writers of ‘Outbreak - do it?
By using a ‘Whirlpool’ effect so that the story starts wide, then gradually circles in to a small town in California, where the key players battle it out.

4. A third big problem is how do you create enough plot?
Although we have a lot of action in action stories, we often don’t have very much plot.
How did the writers of ‘Outbreak - do it?
There is a very strong SINGLE desire line.
We have the added advantage that it is a building desire line.
The overall desire line for the character in this story is to find the agent of this disease and to create an antibody to stop it. That pretty much tracks all the way through. Because this virus is so deadly, we have a time element involved in that we’ve got to solve this problem real fast or not just this town is going to go but it will spread throughout the entire country.
The writers take this spine of a plot line and build it, and build it. Increasing stakes. Adding a ticking clock in two places. Adding two foreshadow sections where where the audience knows the virus has already spread and how - but the hero and victims are ignorant, creating tension and excitement.
Plot comes from hidden information and sudden reveals.

Which leads to a very important point.

If you want a lot of plot, you MUST have a very active but hidden opponent. That’s exactly what we get in this script provided by the virus, and provided by McClintock.

In fact, if you were to break this script down, you would find that there are, depending on how you determine reveals, you would find fourteen to sixteen revelations in this script. That is a tremendous amount of reveals giving us a tremendous amount of plot.

*Go here to read the full article:*

*Go here to dowload the screenplay for ‘Outbreak’ which was written by LAWRENCE DWORET & ROBERT ROY POOL. This is the December 1993 Draft:

Monday, 14 April 2008


Here’s a useful bookmark: click it and it will generate a first name and last name from the U.S. Census data. Refresh to try again.

So far, I’ve ended up with Charles Hayden, Peter Ratcliff, and Gabriel Fiorini for the heros, and Devon Howard, Lori Smith and Cheryl Morgan for the ladies.


Friday, 4 April 2008

How to exercise while blogging

Summer is imminent. Which may require exposure of body parts unaccustomed to being seen for several months.. or longer. Without long trousers and sweaters.
There are bikinis in the shops. And shorts.
Since we are disciplined pros, accustomed to planning ahead [ snarf] it may be time to think of..gulp..getting out the summer clothing.
Before the shock turns us to choc and cake. Here are a few ideas to get the muscles working again before they atrophy.
29 Exercises You Can Do At (Or Near) Your Desk

For example; Hands and Arms

*Shadow box. Stand up and take a couple of jabs at the air.
*Arm pump. Pump both of your arms over your head for 30 seconds.
*Shoulder raises. Raise your shoulder to your ear, hold and then relax. Repeat, alternating shoulders. { I have always found this great for releasing tension in the neck from crouching over the keyboard}
*Wrist stretch. Stretch your arm out in front of you with the palm up. With your other hand, grab your fingers and lightly pull them down to stretch your forearm.
*Tricep dips. Put your arms behind your back, resting on your chair and slowly raise and lower your self. { chicken wings. say no more.}
*Elevated pushups. Lean on a sturdy piece of furniture and slowly push your body off of it in a sort of standing push up.
*Hand stretches. Tense and relax the muscles in your hands. Make fists, spread your fingers and bend your fingers.
*Flapping wings. Stretch both of your arms up and back, as far as you can. Bring them forward until they meet and stretch your arms out in front of you. Repeat.
*Water bottle weights. Use a full water bottle as weight to increase the difficulty of your work out. You can do front raises, overhead presses and bicep curls with a water bottle.

There are lots more here... the site also has lots of tips on how to increase productivity etc.

Well, the thought is there.
And there are only 7 weeks before I hit the Greek Islands. THE HORROR!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Jack Black tells us how to write a Story

Gather around and get yourself comfy.

Now, has everyone got tea and bikky?


Then listen quietly while the Story Wizard tells us how to write a story…

and there is even more - here:

Enjoy. Hope the sun is shining in your world.

What's playing on my YouTube right now? Josh Groban - Pride and Prejudice film montage.

Monday, 31 March 2008

Words from the Wise

J A Konrath has been summarising some of his words of wisdom over on his always stimulating blog *- and several resonated with my few remaining brain cells, crispy as they are.

‘Before you make the key, study the lock.’

‘It’s about what you have to offer, not what you have to sell.’

‘You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than landing a publishing deal. But understanding the market and working to improve your craft can have the same effect as climbing a tree in a thunderstorm, carrying a long iron rod.’

The last quote is particularly relevant in light of the recent interview with Neil Nyron, who said this -‘Whenever I get a new ms, here’s what I want to see:

1) Something different, a situation or character or voice that I haven’t seen hundreds of times before (or if they are familiar types, presented so damn well that I can’t resist them);

2) A sure command from the very first page - I want to feel immediately that the author knows what he or she is doing - if it’s wobbly, I’m just going to move on to another manuscript;

3) Something extra. This is hard to describe, because you only know it when you see it, but for me it’s a special intensity, a fierceness or passion that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

After all that, I’m interested in who the author is, because if the author has something about him or her that’ll help us gain attention for the book, give us a leg up amidst the sea of new fiction pouring out, then that’s helpful.’

Then, later..
‘Action or detail? The answer is both - I want to get swept away, get the adrenalin pumping, and that’s what the best thriller writers do so well. They don’t give you time to hesitate - you have to keep turning the pages. I often think of the writer and the reader at opposite ends of a rope, and the writer is pulling the reader forward, steadily, inexorably, not letting the rope slack or the pace sag, until the reader ends up, exhausted but happy, at the last page.

I also like the thriller writer to create his own universe, if appropriate, and invite the reader into it. That’s always been one of Clancy’s secrets - he brings the reader into his world, makes him feel he’s learning things no one else can tell him, whether it’s about technology or geopolitics or the way institutions think and act. Cussler does the same thing in a different way. He digs deep into history and technology, then transforms them into complicated interlocking what-if storylines and set-pieces.’

Neil S. Nyren is senior vice president, publisher and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons. He came to Putnam in 1984 from Atheneum, where he was Executive Editor. Before that he held editorial positions at Random House and Arbor House. Some of his fiction authors include Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Jack Higgins, W.E.B. Griffin, John Sandford, Dave Barry, Daniel Silva, Ken Follett, Randy Wayne White, Carol O’Connell, James O. Born, Patricia Cornwell and Frederick Forsyth.
At one point in 2007, he was the editor of 4 out of the 10 New York 10 Bestsellers

You can make your own conclusions from these selected extracts, but they have consolidated my own personal views that to be a professional PUBLISHED working CONTRACTED writer in 2008 you truly need a deep understanding of craft, creativity and business.

In other words. You must become an artisan.
A professional entrepreneur.
Trying to persuade another human being to invest their time and energy and money in the product you are trying to sell.
And sorry if that upsets the ‘artistes’, but that is the reallity of the publishing business as I see it.

From interviews such as this, I take away a range of key challenges and questions for my work.

For now - On with the show.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

High Concept Log Line - 'The Abduction'

As a follow on from the previous post on the creation of Loglines - I thought it would be kewl to apply the same strategy to a recent thriller novel ‘The Abduction’ from Mark Gimenez and see what I can come up with.

‘High Concept’ Logline for ‘The Abduction’ by Mark Gimenez.
The Main Protagonist = Ben Brice. Who will drive the detective elements of the Action Line.
But - also provides the main Personal Line in the story.

1. The Protagonist’s main character trait that begins his or her transformational arc.

He is an alcoholic living with his dog in a remote cabin. His main trait is the bitter guilt he feels about not being able to save the life of a girl during the Vietnam war = his ghost. Demonstrated by his alcoholism and loss of his family.

2. The Protagonist’s main function in the story.

Ben must become the detective who will never give up the search for his granddaughter, even when the FBI believe that she is probably already dead.

3.The main story conflict and the central question of the story.

Will Ben be able to find Gracie, his granddaughter, safe and well, before time runs out?

4. The Antagonist or forces of antagonism.

Ben has to face the army officers whose career he destroyed when he gave evidence against them for war crimes. Those same men are responsible for the kidnap - and it soon becomes clear that he is indirectly responsible for the crime.
There is a hierarchy of opponents working here.
Ben has to face his own internal demons, the ghost in his past, the FBI and local law enforcement officers who are unwilling to act, and heavily armed men, and take direct bloody action to save his granddaughter.

5. The Protagonist’s goal and transformational arc.

At the end of the story, Ben has saved the life of a child, is reunited with his estranged son and wife, has stopped drinking and the ghost from his past has been removed.

My idea for a simple LogLine for this Thriller would be something like this:
When the granddaughter of an alcoholic Vietnam war veteran is kidnapped, he refuses to give up the search and sets out to find her, and in the process becomes reconciled to the trauma of his past mistakes.

For comparison, the actual Blurb on the website for the book
[ ] =
‘Is there a Plan to our lives?…or are our lives just a series of random events?

Ben Brice lives alone in a remote cabin outside Taos and drowns his memories of Vietnam in Jim Beam. But when Gracie, his ten-year-old granddaughter, is abducted outside Dallas, Ben puts down the bottle and goes in search of her, afraid that his dark past has come back to haunt her. Or is it just a random coincidence?’

NOTE - this LogLine also includes the Theme of the book - the idea of life having a Plan of sorts.

The One Page Synopsis reads like this -
Ben Brice lives alone in the New Mexico wilderness, where he builds furniture and battles memories of Vietnam with oceans of Jim Beam.
Miles away in Texas, his estranged son, John, an Internet geek-turned-billionaire, half-watches his daughter Gracie’s soccer game while on his cell phone.
When her mother, Elizabeth, arrives, the coach reports that her “brother” has already collected Gracie. But she has no brother- the girl was kidnapped.
The FBI gets called, as does Ben Brice.
Though rebuffed by his family as a pathetic drunk, Ben hopes to help save his beloved granddaughter.
With dozens of Feds and cops camped out in the house, the family offers a reward of $25 million.
Then the cops, searching out known sex offenders in the area, find Gracie’s jersey and traces of her blood in the car of Gary Jennings, an employee of John Brice.
They bring Jennings in, the case is closed, and Gracie is presumed dead.
Ben, however, does not believe Gracie is dead, nor does he believe that Jennings is the abductor.
After uncovering an FBI lead that placed two men with a blonde girl in Idaho, Ben and John decide to check it out.
As the race against time continues, family secrets from their past make Gracie’s survival more uncertain than ever

NOTE - the focus is on the Inciting Incident and the role of Ben Brice.

Each line is a Plot Point. A turning point which forces Ben to make decisions and take action.

Conclusions? ‘The Abduction is a 500 page, probably 130, 000 word book. And the author has created an Action Line and Personal Line which can be expressed in a one sentence logline.
Awesome. As my American friends would say.

Thursday, 20 March 2008


Loglines. Premise. The Story Idea. The Pitch.

For a newbie like myself, these can seem bewildering concepts which are only relevant to screenwriters and of no value to fiction writers.


What do you say when someone who is genuinely interested in you works asks the killer question ‘ What’s the Story about?’ and 10 minutes later you are still giving him the backstory about the villian’s demonic mother in the Ukraine, and your potential agent/publisher/friend is desperately signalling to a colleague to find an excuse to get away from you.


Because you are boring, rambling, and worse, you have not answered the question. Or, even worse, you are just getting into your stride on all of the research you completed on the causes of the Franco=Prussian War and - wait for it - there is no story because you are still looking for characters who can postulate your theory.
And in doing so you have just demonstrated that you are anything else EXCEPT a professional author.

AHHH! Career alert!

So. What is your Story About?

To me, I have to be able to give a simple answer like this -
My story is about someone [ your protagonist]….who strives for [goal]… and this stands in his way [ forces of opposition and antagonism].

WHO he is, WHAT he wants, and WHAT he is going to have to overcome to get it.


For a short story it could be;

‘ Little Sarah, aged 4 and a half, is promised by her mother that she can have a chocolate ice cream, but first she has to eat her dinner vegetables. And they are ALL GREEN. Can she survive such horror?'
For a movie, how about;
‘Set in West Texas, a man on the run with a suitcase full of money is pursued by a number of individuals.’
Or ‘ When an attorney gets zapped by his son’s birthday wish, he learns that he can no longer tell a lie even when he tries, so he must now win the biggest case of his career by being honest.’

One sentence. A logline.

This is a SELLING TOOL for your work. The 30 second elevator pitch.

But what if you want a logline to keep YOU, the writer, on track during the writing and editing and re-writing. The paragraph you have taped to your PC monitor to remind you that this is what you are meant to be writing about?

For me, that is when the Logline becomes the Story Line. And it has to serve different functions.

Clearly states The Main Desire line for your hero which will drive the story from start to finish. This is the spine and passionate force in your story. Even for ice cream.
Sets up the Story Question. We know the tale is over when the Goal set out in the Desire line is achieved and the reader turns the last page.
Sets up the Character Arc for the protagonist.

The Unknown Screenwriter calls this his ‘COMPASS LOGLINE’ and provides this list of essential elements for an ‘High Concept’ Compass Logline:

  • The Protagonist’s main character trait that begins his or her transformational arc.

  • The Protagonist’s main function in the story.

  • The main story conflict and the central question of the story.

  • The Antagonist or forces of antagonism.

  • The Protagonist’s goal and transformational arc.

Go here to find out more about each element=

What do I need to know BEFORE I can create a compelling, and hopefully High Concept Compass Logline/Story Line for my latest bestseller?

I need to know who my Protagonist is.

What is she like? What are the character traits which make her unique and interesting. Her backstory and, most importantly, what motivates her to make the decisions she is taking in her ‘ordinary life’.

I need to know how my Protagonist will change by the end of the story- and why. I can then use this to focus on key aspects of my heroine’s character.

I need to know what the Inciting Incident is, and how this will create a compelling GOAL for my Protagonist which becomes the Story Question which will be answered by the end of the story.

What will she have to ENDURE on this journey?

Who or What is going to block my heroine from achieving her goal?

For me, I have to complete at least a first draft OUTLINE of my novel BEFORE I can answer these questions. The key turning points. A character bio for hero and her antagonist.
In some cases I have to write the first draft before I can answer these questions, since my ideas were still fluid at the Story Idea point.
I did not know HOW the character arc would be complete until my heroine took me there.
But I did have a basic Story Line from Day One.
I THEN use the extended logline to help during the revisions and editing.

PLUS I can use this one paragraph outline to create the perfect Back Cover Blurb for the book, and the extended selling material. Not a word wasted.

No one said this was easy…but, sheesh.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Word Salad

Stuck for the right word?
I believe it was Robert Southey who said, "It is with words as with sunbeams, the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.

"Project Gutenberg has available (free to all) Greenville Kleiser's classic reference book, "15,000 Useful Phrases: A Practical Handbook Of Pertinent Expressions, Striking Similes, Literary, Commercial, Conversational, And Oratorical Terms, For The Embellishment Of Speech And Literature, And The Improvement Of The Vocabulary Of Those Persons Who Read, Write, And Speak English."

This is a great tool for aspiring writers, because action lines really are about the mastery of condensed phrases.

To give you a taste, here are some of the phrases under the "A" category.

It's the almost contradictory phrases that excite me, such as, "adorable vanity, adulated stranger, artificial suavity, and agreeable frankness."

abandoned hope

abated pride

abbreviated visit

abhorred thraldom [thraldom = enslaved or in bondage]

abiding romance

abject submission

abjured ambitionable strategist

abnormal talents

abominably perverse

abounding happiness

abridged statement

abrogated law

abrupt transition

absolutely irrevocable

absorbed reverie

abstemious diet [abstemious = eating and drinking in moderation]

abstract character

abstruse reasoning

absurdly dangerous

abundant opportunity

abusive epithet

abysmally apologetic

academic rigor

accelerated progress

accentuated playfulness

accepted littleness

accessible pleasures...

And who does not love 'Accessible Pleasures?'


And now back from procrastination to hammer this synopsis into shape. With a bent spoon, wearing a blindfold, at the moment.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Back to the Business

I believe it was the crime writer Barry Eisler* who made the comparison between a writer looking for a literary agent, and a self-employed entrepreneur looking for a venture capitalist, who will be willing to invest in their product and their business. i.e. You. The writer.

  • Why should this venture capitalist invest their time and money in you as opposed to the 1000s of other writers out there?

  • Which publisher IS going to buy this book?

  • Who IS going to hand over their hard earned cash to buy this book you have create? What are the target demographics? How does it compare to other books already on the market?

  • Why should they take a risk with YOUR book? What have YOU got to offer them which is unique = and commercial? In marketing terms - What is your Unique Selling Point?

I personally find this a useful analogy. Even if it does offend the 'artistes', but then again, I WANT to be published and my work read and enjoyed by other folk.

  • I am the writer as entrepreneur. Self-employed. On my own.

  • I have created a ‘protype' if you will, of my work.

  • Now I have to convince another person that, if they take the risk and invest in my work, then I will give them a return on their investment.

So. What answers do we have to these questions?

Over the next few days I will be working on the synopsis for my crime thriller and attempting to condense this into a compelling premise, which can be used to pitch to a literary agent.

Wish me luck - I am going in. Gulp.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Character Development - 5 Stages of Grief

In 1969, based on her years of working with terminal cancer patients, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.”

While these stages represented the feelings of people who were themselves facing death, many people now apply them to experiencing other negative life changes (a break-up, loss of a job) and to people facing death or experiencing the death of loved ones.

Kübler-Ross proposed these Five Stages of Grief:

Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what is going to happen/has happened.”

Prior to the cycle, you have a normal-functioning person… Then, something happens that throws their world out of whack… They now begin the cycle:

Stage 1: Shock and Denial

  • Avoidance

  • Confusion

  • Fear

  • Numbness

  • Blame

Stage 2: Anger

  • Frustration

  • Anxiety

  • Irritation

  • Embarrassment

  • Shame

Stage 3: Depression and Detachment

  • Overwhelmed

  • Blahs

  • Lack of energy

  • Helplessness

Stage 4: Dialogue and Bargaining

  • Reaching out to others

  • Desire to tell one’s story

  • Struggle to find meaning for what has happened

Stage 5: Acceptance

  • Exploring options

  • A new plan in place

With the cycle now complete, this person returns to a meaningful life having been TRANSFORMED and experiences the following:

  • Empowerment

  • Security

  • Self-esteem

  • Meaning

However, Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns.

In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages, “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

You could ALMOST structure an entire story based on these 5 stages and while I’m not advocating exactly that, I’m almost positive that by learning just a little more about this model, you’ll go a long way toward creating believable characters and have your Protagonist TRANSFORMED by the end of your story…

Could be an interesting way to look at the character's journey.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Where you get your Ideas from

How about this handy little gizmo -

Just spin the dials aka ‘Da Vinci Code’ and lo, a special premise line shall appear.

Here are 3 fun ideas it has just generated for me:

* Erotic Coffee Cafe [ perfect waitress opportunity, undercover?]
* Dramatic Nuclear Restaurant [ what do nuclear power scientists talk about over their pizza and fries in the nuclear power plant staff canteen? ]

* Jewel-encrusted Modular Furniture [ Ikea should not have all the fun ]

Go here and create some for yourself.
If nothing else it will make you smile. Or kick start the little grey cells. Or both.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Sophie Kinsella

The weather here in Hampshire is so appalling, I am pleased that I do not have to venture far from home today, so best of luck to anyone who is out driving!
In the meantime, back at the slave pit, Sophie Kinsella has created a series of Podcasts [ she calls them VodCasts] about the creation of the 'Shop' books

Here is one about her writing process -

I think we can all relate to the concept that we are 'acting' out the part when we visualise the action and transfer it to the page.

What's playing on my YouTube right now? A gorgeous italian ad, for the water "Levissima".Song: How Long by Roberto Cacciapaglia, extract from his record "Incontri con l'anima" .

Now why don’t we have adverts like this in the UK?

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Playing the Numbers Game

Using Screenplay Outlines to help Edit your Story.

Is YOUR story hitting the beats?

Most writers create broad outlines for their work at the Story Development Stage.

Or second draft stage if they write blind and sculpt a story backwards.

Screenwriters would have you believe that they track the Action Line for a story much more rigorously.

There any SO many examples of how a story should track - from a Basic 3 Act to a 22 point revelation sequence and everything in between.

Blake Snyder has summarised the key stages in a typical Hollywood movie in a useful flow chart in his book ‘Save the Cat’ - which is available here:

It goes something like this: there are 15 steps in the screenplay format and each one corresponds to approx. position in the manuscript, so that the entire story is completed in 110 pages = 110 minutes on the screen for a movie.


1. Opening Image (1):

2. Theme Stated (5):

3. Set-Up (1-10):

4. Catalyst (12):

5. Debate (12-25):

6. Break into Two (25)

7. B Story (30):

8. Fun and Games (30-55):

9. Midpoint (55):

10. Bad Guys Close In (55-75):

11. All Is Lost (75):

12. Dark Night of the Soul (75-85):

13. Break into Three (85):

14. Finale (85-110):

15. Final Image (110):

This is a classical 4 Act structure- Turning points at about 25% and 50% and 75% of the script with the Black Moment in the last act. But having been through a few examples with recent films, I have to say that this basic structure is still valid.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Somewhere for your treasures/stash

Julie Cohen* has been blogging recently about the capacity of available storage space and her rapidly expanding collection of precious books.

Otherwise known in this house as 'The Stash.'

Could this be a possible answer?

To paraphrase Gollum - I wants them, I needs them. My precious.


Monday, 3 March 2008

How to write a Great Query Letter

'How to Write a Great Query Letter' is available as a Free E-book from the lit agent author Noah Lukeman.

There are so many resources out there on how to submit, but for the US market, many agents only ask for an inital Query letter= which can be sent by E-mail, so this is could be the only chance you might have to demonstrate your work.

No pressure at all then.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Things we Learnt at the Movies


Has several lists of key features which should be observed when creating a compelling plot.

For example:
1. If you try hard enough, you can outrun an explosion.
2. Women staying in a haunted house should investigate any strange noises while wearing their most revealing underwear.

3. Women's skin and hair can't be damaged by natural disasters, though their clothing can be shredded -- except for the bits required for minimal decency, which are made from completely indestructible fabric.

4. If a man and a woman are exposed to the same conditions and the same environment, the man will need to wear more clothing than the woman.

5. If a man and a woman meet under circumstances under which any two normal people would instantly hate each other, they will marry before the picture is over.

6. Deadly reptiles will always attack a woman first, even if she's in the presence of thirty men.

7. Women are immortal unless they take off their shirts or they're ugly.

8. If a woman takes a bath, bubbles will cover the naughty bits. If she takes a shower and reveals her naughty bits, she will die.

9. If a blonde and a brunette are in equal peril, the brunette will die.

10. High class strippers with a heart of gold can will, if the plot demands it, turn out to have specialized technical skills and abilities.

For lots, lots more go here: and prepare to snigger.

What's playing on my YouTube Right now? Duffy. Mercy.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Book Covers to Covet

One day, WHEN I am published, I shall hold in my hot sticky hands a book containing words in the specific order I created.

And lo, there shall be a cover on this masterpiece. In glorious technicolour. All Praise.

Something to look forward to.

[No photo is going to look good in that position.]

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Are you a HACK or an ARTIST?


  • Is commercial success your goal?
  • Would you ever write a movie or TV novelization?

What's more important: Integrity or making a living as a writer?

  • Do you rewrite based on editor or agent suggestions even if you don't entirely agree with those suggestions?

  • Would you ever write an adaptation of a comic book or videogame?

  • Would you ever change the ending of your book in order to make a sale?

  • Would you write about something you didn't care about if you got a fat paycheck?

  • If forced to choose, would you rather have artistic integrity or fame and riches?

  • Would you rather be Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code, or Marilynne Robinson, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Literature?

  • Would you rather be known as a genius by hundreds of people, or mediocre by millions of people?

  • Would you ever write for a character you didn't create?
  • What's more important: Getting the words right, or getting the words sold?

  • Would you write in a genre you don't enjoy for a lot of money?

  • Have you ever submitted something that you know isn't your best work in order to make a deadline?

  • What is more important: Fans or awards?

  • Would you rather have a bestseller that is critically panned, or a poor seller that is critically praised?

  • Would you ever ghost-write another author's series?

  • Did this quiz amuse you, or annoy you?

Webster defines a hack as: a writer who works on order; also : a writer who aims solely for commercial success.

To grade this test, check your answers with the key below, and keep track of how many times you scored as a "HACK" and how many times you scored as an "ARTIST."

Making a living - HACK. Integrity - ARTIST
Fame & riches - HACK. Integrity - ARTIST
Dan Brown - HACK. Marylinne Robineson - ARTIST
Medicore - HACK. Genius - ARTIST
Words sold - HACK. Words right - ARTIST
Fans - HACK. Awards - ARTIST
Critically panned bestseller - HACK. Critically acclaimed poor seller - ARTIST
Doesn't count.
0-1 HACK answers: you are an ARTIST whose integrity is solid.
2-3 HACK answers: you are an ARTIST who realizes that publishing is a business
4-5 HACK answers: you have some artistic integrity, but you'd rather make a living
6-14 HACK answers: you are a hack, but may have some integrity left
15-17 HACK answers: welcome to hacksville, population: you
What's playing on my YouTube right now? Soundtrack to 'A Beautiful Mind'

Sunday, 24 February 2008

You earn HOW MUCH?

In December last year, R J Ellory posted on the reality of the Fiction Publishing Business and how much most authors earn from their hard work and emotional investment.

It is not for the faint-hearted. Some key take-aways?

*Only 2 out of 10 books published make a profit for the publisher

*In 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies.

*The average book in America sells about 500 copies. In the UK it is significantly less.
*The average income of a published author is in the region of £7,000 per year.

For Romance authors some of this data is already familiar through the online communities and sites such as this:

The harsh reality is that the ability of an author to support themselves through their writing truly does depend on both;

*their productivity [ more titles = more potential income as their brand becomes established] and

*their ability to stick their heads out, above the 1000s of the other titles published and get noticed. Quality. Content. Visibility. Presence.

In other words, hard work. And then harder work. Day after day.

But you already knew that. Because you are a professional.

Saturday, 23 February 2008


I have a new character in my thriller - his first name is Erasmus.

There is something about that name ..... I love it and all of the connotations that come with it. And to me, it is spot on for a detective.

The best known Erasmus, was Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, 1466 – 1536, a Dutch humanist and theologian, whose portrait was painted by both Holbein, as below, and Durer, but there was also Erasmus Darwin and other luminaries.

Sourced Quotes from Erasmus of Rotterdam-

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.

Un-sourced Quotes

  • I consider as lovers of books, not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use, thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults.

  • It is the friendship of books that has made me perfectly happy.

Got to love that.

What's playing on my YouTube right now? Empire of the Sun soundtrack -

Friday, 22 February 2008

Writing the Commercial Bestseller

Crime and former Romance author Tess Gerritsen was interviewed recently by Sandra Rutton in SpineTingler Magazine about the very real and personal decisions writers take when framing their story.

For example;
Sandra Rutton : Recently, there was an exhaustive discussion about whether or not the mystery genre is stagnate. You stated:“If you write something different, REALLY different, you get punished for it in reader confusion and poor sales.

The vast majority of readers want the same thing, over and over again. If you give them something they’re not expecting, the chances are, only a minority will truly appreciate what you’ve done.“So your sales suffer. And that begins the downward spiral of your sales, a spiral that could well turn into a death spiral from which your sales may not recover. And then you can’t sell ANY books, and that’s where being truly creative got you.

“Some years ago, I wrote what I think of as my best book, GRAVITY. A thriller without any villains. A thriller set in orbit. It got the best reviews of my life and yet it sold the fewest copies. And it took me years for my career to recover from that disastrous experience.“Some of us long to write the truly creative, truly off-beat book. But we must do so with the full realization that for the most part, the reading public wants plain old-fashioned vanilla. “How hard do you find it to balance the scales between the idea calling to you, the thing you’d love to try, and the idea you know can sell?

Tess Gerritsen: Oh, it’s really hard! When you take on a risky and starkly different project, you’ll face resistance from just about everyone.
Publishers want you to repeat your past successes again and again. Booksellers may not know where to shelve your new book.

Cruelest of all are the readers, who may simply pass by your daring new book and reach for someone else, someone predictable.
I’d like to believe that my readers are open-minded enough to stay with me, to follow me in a new and different direction, but I know many of them won’t. T

hey certainly didn’t reach for GRAVITY. When a book I love does poorly, I’m most disappointed in my readers.
I think the only way one can survive as both an artist and a working writer is to limit the number of risks you take.

You have to give the readers what they crave, the books they’ve come to expect from you.

But every so often, just for yourself, write a book you need to write.Otherwise you’ll get to the end of your career and look back with regret on all the projects you didn’t write, but dearly wanted to.’

For me this interview frames the very real decision making dilemma writers face;
there are storylines and fiction scenarios which the author is passionate about and wants to communicate to the readers;

*she has to frame those stories into a format and tell them the best way she can
*she has studied the market and recognised the framework of crime fiction tropes which seem to be common to the bestselling work by popular authors - but they may not be in the style she writes in.
*she want to be a contracted, working, professional author. She also wants to express her personal voice.
*she knows that literary agents and publishers run a business to make money and to do that they need to sell consumers something they need and want/ or will want.

Time to bite the bullet and get down to create a product [ a single title book] which can appeal to a wide audience and will make itself irresistable to the market which is totally crowded - and STILL retain a unique and special voice.

Better get to work.

What's playing on my YouTube right now? Soundtrack music to inspire from Thomas Newman -