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

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.