Sunday, March 27, 2011

My pitch is pants

Last week I talked about an event next Friday that will explore the heart of the story, and I was intending to talk about pitching a story on Wednesday, but I didn't because I hadn't. I still haven't, what I have are four and a half wafflely sentences/paragraphs that are to put it politely 'bleurgh' and a serious crisis in confidence. I can't write a pitch. I even asked the organiser of Friday's event to write my pitch and she replied 'Mwahahaha'. OK, she didn't exactly reply like that, but she did say that she found it difficult herself and that's why Friday's event was good practice.

While staring aimlessly out the window of the bus this week, I did think that there were certain similarities between writing a pitch and planning a teaching unit. You have to identify the key concepts and link them together into a statement that makes the student ask questions. The difference is that teaching unit statements are usually written in passive voice, have no value statements and must be true, but vague, so as not to kill all questions.

Then I started examining the differences (as you can see I wrote a lot of pitches). Well, for a start in the pitch you need to say exactly what is going to happen. And on top of that you need to say it in a wow, zing, whoopy doop kind of way, while still leaving your reader wanting to read more. It was at about this point that I started stamping my feet and screwing my fists into balls and saying: I CAN'T DO IT!

So having identified loss and friendship last week, I need to marry those together with all the above ingredients, right?

Nathan Bransford, over here, suggests that a good pitch includes these three elements:

  •  The opening conflict
  • The obstacle
  • The quest

And I'm beginning to think that I need to seriously revise my novel...

So... basically the opening conflict is that Ella's best friend Morgane goes missing.
The obstacle is that Ella is twelve and big people don't think that little kids are good at finding people, right? And the quest is to find Morgane. There's a bit of a twist in that Ella's mum is also missing and Morgane is not exactly twelve... or human.

Do you want to read it? Do you want to write my pitch? Have you got any fabulous tips, because I'm floundering here? I asked the frog to pretend to be an agent and then to pretend to be an agent being a ten year old girl. He did all that willingly and then went 'Bof'. For those of you needing further explanation, this is not great.

And with that I will try and write a pitch that is not pants.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The heart of the story

I was going to moan about various aspects of my ever so slightly stressful life, but then I kind of put it all into perspective and frankly my house hasn't fallen down, nor has it been washed away by a giant wave, and I'm not being bombed or attacked. In fact, really, stuff could be better, but all the important people are right here in this room with me (apart from the cat).

Then I thought I'd explain where I've been since last week, but I think I can sum that up in one sentence. I went to Berlin (HOORAY!!!) and then was very, very busy with work.

Right, so now let's talk about some interesting stuff and I warn you now that I am:
a) going to waffle on;
b) ask YOU some rather difficult questions.

On the 1st April SCBWI France has organised a cocktail party, literary discussion, and pitch session with agent John. M. Cusick. He has also written a book called Girl Parts and if you don't know who he is, there's an interview here.

The literary discussion will focus on: How can I find the heart of my story and will it be enough to make an agent fall in love?

So I'll now start to waffle. There's been a lot of stuff about being a pantser or plotter bobbing around the blogospehere, and I have to say that up until NaNo this year I was a complete pantser. Now, although I planned A twist in the tail, I did somewhere in the back of my head question whether the planning was going to leech all the creativity out of writing. So I knew what I was going to write, but ... HERE COMES b) well what's the heart of my story? I know, you don't know, you haven't read it, but what is it? Is it the themes? And if it is the themes, how do I say it in a snappy, hey, love this story kind of way? And should we plan this heart, or does this heart just come out as you are writing? 

BACK TO a) Personally, I think that the heart comes out as you write. I don't think I've ever sat down and consciously thought: I'm going to write a story about homeostasis (partly because I didn't even know what it meant until last week), but what do you know, one of my characters is the epitome of homeostasis. And I didn't conciously plan to write a book about friendship either, but that's what jumped out as I was writing. What I'm coming around to thinking is this. The more I read author websites/blog posts the more evident it becomes that we all write in different ways. So whether you are planner or pantser it doesn't matter, but there comes a point where we have to find the heart to give the story a healthy beat. 

What I mean is at the moment I am wrestling with a very wet MC (no pun intended). What jumped out after the first draft was that the reader had no idea what the MC's motivation was, so I built up the theme of friendship and made that clearer. But the MC is still bleurgh. And now (seriously, just now) I'm thinking that my MC is really dealing with loss and that might be what makes her a stronger character. So perhaps the heart of the story is really what's in the heart of that main character, what is driving your main character and therefore the story.

BACK TO b) So what do you think? Please let me know before April 1st in the comments. Ta very much.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Writing on Wednesday: You couldn't make it up*

On the 19th February I sat in the car while the bubba grizzled in the back because she had been woken up early from her nap and the rain pounded on the windscreen. I stared at the small print in that burgundy book and my brain refused to comprehend. It's not 2011, I said to myself, no it's not, no it's...oh, yes, oh fuck yes it is! And there I had to accept that I was sitting in a car in traffic with a packed suitcase, two Eurostar tickets, a birth certificate, a letter of permission to leave the country with my own daughter, her passport and a pissed off child and a soon to be pissed off frog.

"My passport's expired!"

And there, in that moment, as I realised I wasn't going to London, I could also see into the future, through the  rain that my trip to Berlin ON MY OWN, no Bubba, no frog, just me (and hundreds of other PYP school teachers) was circling the drain. 

Since then it's as if the everything going smoothly god has got it in for me and my kind BIG TIME.

You see the passport was one thing. OK I thought, if I have to, I'll get emergency travel papers, but now that god is just toying with me.

On Friday as I was leaving work with the deadline for reports looming large over my head, I did a million and one calculations in my head and decided not to take home my planner and half the assessment documents I would need to write reports. I had it all timed down to the last minute. I would meet the deadline and IN TIME.

Then on Saturday I woke up and couldn't walk. Like SERIOUSLY!

So, while I've had enforced rest for the lame, I thought I would see where my passport was at. Since Monday, I have had so many people telling me that my passport would get there on time. It's in the last stage, it just needs to be delivered. Is it here? NO.

So, then I thought I would print out my hotel reservation and plane ticket. Plane ticket? Oh plane ticket, wherefore art thou plane ticket?

That's a hint, right. I shouldn't go, right? I have a limp, I have no passport and I have no plane ticket.

I WANT TO GO TO BERLIN.

On the good news front though my copy of The Demon Collector by Jon Mayhew arrived, so if I ever get a passport, plane ticket and a taxi I'll have plane reading.

*This is not a short story by the way. THIS IS MY LIFE.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

March British Book Challenge 2011: The Crowfield Curse

Title: The Crowfield Curse
Author: Pat Walsh
Published: Chicken House, May, 2010

Synopsis: Strange things are happening around Crowfield, first William finds an injured hob and discovers he has the sight, then two mysterious men arrive and take lodging at the abbey. What is the meaning of this? Coincidence? Or the beginning of an unworldly mystery?

Star parts: The first two chapters directly pulled you into the action and the life of the abbey. The different characters in the book were well described and the reader gets a good sense of them. The language was beautiful and the premise of the story is also really interesting.


Black clouds: I found the pace of the book too slow. There was too much time spent on details of everyday life, which while they enabled us to see how difficult William's life was, didn't add to the action. Also, where there could have been action, the reader was constantly told how the characters felt. I felt that the book leant towards narrative, rather than a balanced mix of narrative, action and dialogue.

Do I recommend it: No. I thought twice about even reviewing the book and decided that I would, as in the end this is my opinion and yours might wildly differ.

To read more great reviews check out The Bookette here and the March BBC challenge here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Writing on Wednesday: World Book Day and Night

Tomorrow is World Book Day, but just in the UK and Ireland


OK, having left you with that thought for a few seconds, I'll move on.

The other 100 or so countries who participate, do so on the 23rd April, and do you want to know why?

Well, it turns out that April 23rd is when Miguel de Cervantes died. So in 1923 when Spanish booksellers decided to honour and celebrate the man this is how they decided to do it: Cervantes was born in Catalunya, where the tradition since mediaeval times has been for men to give their lovers roses on the 23rd April. The booksellers decided what if the women gave the men books in return.

In 1995 UNESCO caught onto the idea and what to do you know? Shakespeare also died on that day and some pretty famous writers were born on that day too, so UNESCO decided to jump on the bandwagon and call it World Book and Copyright Day. What with that not being terribly catchy, most people just call it World Book Day. And voila, a day to honour books and all things booky was born.

This year a new book event called World Book Night will happen for the first time in the UK and Ireland on March 5th. The idea is that:

On Saturday, 5 March 2011... one million books will be given away by an army of passionate readers to members of the public across the UK and Ireland.
The book give-away will comprise 40,000 copies of each of the 25 carefully selected titles, to be given away by 20,000 ‘givers’...
Quote taken from here
Last week Nicola Morgan over at Help! I need a publisher expressed her reservations about this event. You can read them here. In the same post instead of just complaining, she came up with an idea to take positive action so that everybody benefits in some way from World Book Night. She suggested that:
One day between now and next Saturday (March 5th), let's each of us buy a book, preferably from an actual bookshop, or direct from a publisher. Any book. Write inside it: "Given in the spirit of World Book Night, March 5th 2011 and bought from [insert name of shop] - please enjoy and tell people about it." And give it to someone. Anyone. A friend or stranger, a library or school or doctor's surgery or anything.

It's very simple and everyone wins: the bookshop, the recipient, the author, the publisher, the agent, even you, the giver, because you'll enjoy the frisson of pleasure that comes from giving.
 Nicola's idea has been greeted positively in the bookish world and has even been reported in the Bookseller, the Gruniad and been reposted on Facebook by my mate in Panama. If you would like to participate in the alternative WBN then go here and leave a comment in the comments box.

Happy reading folks.

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