Thursday, July 23, 2009

Your story – In a nutshell.

When it comes right down to it, you can have written a beautiful, lyrical story that you are completely unable to describe to anyone foolish enough to ask. At the moment I’m working on my synopsis for my soon to be finished WIP, Catch me a catch, and in order to do this successfully, I’ve been looking at some of the basic skills used by scriptwriters to sell their stories to us – the public.

I was introduced to these ideas by Blake Snyder, wonderful author of Save the Cat, and have found the examples below on the Internet Movie Database,
There are so many options out there when it comes to picking a film to go see, and the methods used to catch our attention I believe can also be applied to sell a book. (Although it should be noted that I haven't sold one, yet!) First, you have a poster, which combines a picture and a title, and somewhere there you should find a one line summary, the tagline which draws you in. Wikipedia defines taglines like this: The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and premise of a brand or product (like a film).

My current favourite is for The Proposal. This picture is great, it tells us so much about the movie, and the tagline is a classic in the making –

Here comes the bribe…

In the writing world, we’re used to thinking about the story, the synopsis and the query letter, but I think that in searching for an agent or publisher I can also learn a lot from the world of film packaging, so defining a tagline for my books is something I always strive to do, it helps me to keep focused on my story’s core.

The next step is the logline, a max 3 sentence description of the story.
Trusty Wikipedia says : The log line first came into use and was recognized as a separate form during the old studio days of Hollywood. The studios had script vaults in which they stored screenplays. Readers wrote a concise one line summary of what the script was about either on the cover of the script, on the spine of the script, or both. The log line on the spine of the script allowed people to read the log lines of scripts that were stacked without having to unstack them.

One of my favorite films is Working Girl, I love the script, and its succinct logline captures the film’s essence perfectly: For anyone who’s ever won, For anyone who’s ever lost, and for everyone who’s still in there trying.

Here’s the poster for The Family Stone – the tagline, Feel the love, is wonderfully sarcastic, and blends so well with the picture.
The logline was: An uptight, conservative, businesswoman accompanies her boyfriend to his eccentric and outgoing family's annual Christmas celebration and finds that she's a fish out of water in their free-spirited way of life.
Which sums it up perfectly, and lets the buyer know what sort of a story they're in for!
I also like this one, for Sweet Home Alabama – one one side is Reece Witherspoon's new life, represented by the fancy suitcases of her Melanie Carmichael persona, and on the left, the coon dog she
left behind when she relocated from Alabama. Rather than get into a long, complicated story about old husbands and new fiancee's the tagline simply states:
sometimes what you’re looking for, is right where
you left it.

Here are some more taglines and loglines that I hope you'll enjoy, I applaud the writers who managed to convey, in so few words, the heart of their stories - I'm striving for excellence with mine, if only so I can answer that question - So, what's your book about?
Independence Day - Aliens try to invade earth on Independence Day.
Dead Calm - A married couple, trying to recover from the death of their only child, are terrorized at sea by a handsome maniac.
The Hunt for Red October - A Soviet submarine captain uses Russia's ultimate underwater weapon as a means to defect to the west.
The Last Boy Scout - A private detective must team up with an ex-football star to catch the killer of a topless dancer.
The Notebook – Behind every great love is a great story.
The Lake House – How do you hold on to someone you’ve never met?
Blind Date – She’s the perfect woman, until she has a drink.
Meet the Fockers – and you thought your family were embarrassing
Love actually – Love actually is all around.
Four weddings and a funeral – he’s quite engaging, she’s otherwise engaged.
The Bourne Identity – He was the perfect weapon, until he became the target.
Romancing the Stone - She's a girl from the big city. He's a reckless soldier of fortune. For a fabulous treasure, they share an adventure no one could imagine... or survive.
PS I love you – sometimes there’s only one thing left to say
The Da Vinci Code – Seek the truth.
My best friend’s wedding - Julianne fell in love with her best friend the day he decided to marry someone else.
The Matchmaker - A comedy for the incurably unromantic.
Tin cup - Golf pro. Love amateur.
The Thomas Crown Affair - How do you get the man who has everything?
The Abyss - A place on earth more awesome than anywhere in space.
Alien - In space no one can hear you scream
X men - Evolution Begins.
Big – have you ever had a really big secret?
He’s just not that into you - Are you the exception...or the rule?
Twilight - When you can live forever what do you live for?
Confessions of a shopaholic - All she ever wanted was a little credit...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Things I've learnt along the way

Trish Wylie's doing this great thing over at her blog, its a sort of Virtual Nationals for those of us who haven't managed to escape - and it blends in perfectly with my Virtual Holiday week, starting tomorrow where I'm doing all things French, and pretending that soggy Ireland is in fact, blazing Provence.

Now, Trish suggested a blog entry about writing, and I've been doing plenty of that! When I started writing, about ten years ago, I decided that I was a great writer. Sure, I didn't know about grammar, how to get things to look right, but I could write a story, and that's all that matters, right?
Wrong. I started with Nanowrimo, an online, challenging competition to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This proved to me that I could do it, I could write the quantity, and when I read through it a lot of it was good, but what it didn't give me was STRUCTURE. Being a natural pantster, when my heroine on my third nano outing (who even I didn't like very much) walked past a window and was shot dead (and nothing I could do would revive her) I realised that there was something missing, and that something was structure. When I finally got serious about my writing and started to look at it with a critical eye about three years ago I decided that I needed to learn, and set off into the great wide yonder to investigate.

I did a course on starting to write. The most useful things I learnt from this was that you need to make sure you have a notebook with you all the time for jotting down ideas, and sticking in cuttings. Now I'd never be without an ideas book. It also opened up my vistas a bit, the teacher suggested we try writing a short story or two, something I'd never contemplated, and I discovered it was both fun and challenging.

Next, I found a writers group, but reading my stuff aloud to a group of people I didn't know who seemed to be best friends with each other (but not with me!) was daunting in the extreme, I'm naturally an introvert, and needless to say, I didn't go back. I enrolled in a teaching correspondence course, and went into instant shock, the challenges were useful, but the comments by my teacher were wounding. Too wimpy and delicate for straight talking, I limped back into the cave, to lick my wounds.

My next excellent find wasday long courses by Inkwell Writers Group, here in Ireland finally, tailored courses with like minded individuals who 'got it'! I'd always wanted to write for Mills and Boon, and when Inkwell announced that they were running a workshop with Trish Wylie, Abby Green and bringing over editor Jenny Hutton from Mills and Boon, I was one of the first to sign up. I'll never forget sitting in the room with Trish as she introduced us to her hero and heroine (she brought pictures) and talked about internal and external conflict. It was an eye opener. Now, my daily writing life is liberally peppered with as much reading and researching as I can get, there's always something new to learn.

I've done online courses with, especially many wonderful ones with Romance writer Laurie Schnebley Campbell (, and have joined the Romantic Novelists Association. Last year I sent them my manuscript, Bound to Love to critique under the New Writers Scheme, and its currently being looked at (I hope!) in Richmond. This year I'm in the NWS again, and in the process of finishing Catch me a catch, a modern heat set in a west of Ireland village, where a stand-in matchmaker tangles with a transatlantic Hugh Jackmanesque sailor. Trish and Abby have given me great support, Trish has some fabulous resources spread between blog and boards, and I did a great course with Ally Blake in Australia in March, so get out there and learn. learn, learn! As for publication, that's something to blog about another day!