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Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

I thought I’d have a bit of fun and set you guys a little task. Now, I am not the best query letter writer. No really, I’m not being modest. I really hate writing them.

Below, I have swallowed what little pride I have, and copied an old query letter of mine. Now, your task is to read it:

Donna Newton
1 Writers Lane
London

Mobile: 01234567891
pointwelldonna@googlemail.com

5th July 2011

Agent 007
Their Office
Agent Lane
London

Dear Mr Agent,

Re: Legend – The Messiah’s Cross

The Legend is a supernatural story set around two Reapers in a small Texan town. The idea was created for TV, and the pilot was written for the American market. Earlier this year I went to L.A., where my manager also suggested I adapt it into a novel.

I have been writing for many years and my previous publishing credits are all article based within the UK magazine market. I am a member of the Romance Writers of America and belong to Kristen Lamb’s Warrior Writers Boot Camp. I spent many years with Essex Police, where a large majority of my ideas are born. I have written one other novel, and am ready to start my third.

I have enclosed a synopsis and three chapters as requested in your guidelines.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Donna Newton

 

Okay, read it? Good.

An author friend of mine, Linda Regan, severely chastised me for writing this letter. I want you to see if you can tell me why. Put your comments in the – you’ve guessed it – comments box, and I will publish the corrected version in a couple of days.

Have fun, and be kind to me.

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I used to wonder if there was a correct path I had to follow to become a successful writer.

I’m sure that isn’t unusual. After all, haven’t you all wondered the same at some point or another? And, wouldn’t you also admit to having listened to many writers tell their story in the hope of finding the answer?

Let’s take J K Rowling. Every writer knows that story; the woman who invented ‘Harry Potter’ on a delayed train from Manchester to London. In 1993 she was a single parent living on benefits. In March 2010 she was listed in Forbes as the 12th richest woman in Britain with a fortune of £560 million ($798 million).

Okay, so I have taken the most extravagant of examples, but was her path an easy one? ‘Hell no!’ (I bet she’d use those exact words if you asked her :D).

She was turned down by nearly every major publishing house until finally being accepted by an editor who worked for a then not-so-well-known Bloomsbury.

Or, what about Stephanie Meyer? She apparently had a dream and wrote a book called Twilight’, solely for her own entertainment. On her sister’s insistance, and ignoring every submission guideline known to man, she sent her manuscript to fifteen agents. Bagged one, and sat back to let the publishing auction commence. In 2010, Forbes ranked her as the 59th most powerful celebrity with annual earnings of $40 million. No wonder her husband has quit his job.

For any writer whose just starting out, it seems there are certain rules one must follow. Those rules are:

1)      Write a book. This is self-explanatory, and if I have to explain it further then you really should think of a career change.
2)      Find an agent. Some argue this. I personally think (if you find the right one) they are worth their weight in gold.
3)      Send your agent a query, synopsis, or even a chapter or two.
4)      Your super agent will have your book published within months.
5)      Count your millions as they roll in.

Okay, so there are a few holes in 5 and 6 but, in essence, these are the rules we, as writers, are told to follow.

So what is the reality?

Honestly? I think it’s a lot to do with luck. Of course you have to be able to write, although I’ve read a few books and asked myself the question ‘how the @%$*?’

But how many of you out there have found an agent via a chance meeting, word of mouth, being in the right place at the right time, or just by holding your breath and taking that brave leap of faith?

The pathway to success is a maze. There are twists and turns and lots of dead ends. We get scratched by overgrown hedges, worn out from all the walking and if we fall we get totally mud splattered. However, if you perceivere and you’re carrying with you a good idea that’s even 75% well written, I really believe you will conquer that maze and exit into publishing madness.

My current story? The novel I’m working on at the moment is an adaptation of a script I wrote with fellow writer Natalie Duggan. We were asked over to LA where I was told ‘get it written as a novel’. Two days later I was at the DFW writers convention pitching it to an agent. I was nervous, unprepared, had no chapters, no synopsis….nothing. But, he liked it and requested I send him the first few chapters once I’d drafted them. Was this down to talent? Maybe a little. After all,the LA trip was based on a pilot we’d written. Was this down to luck? Again, probably. The script had been sent to our lawyer who read it just as our manager telephoned regarding an unrelated matter, and just happened to mention she was looking for new writers. Hell, maybe it was just good old fashioned Fate stepping in.

It certainly helped that this agent had worked with our manager before. It certainly helped that I had the ‘TV pilot’ angle to ‘glitter and dazzle’ the pitch. Hell, it helped that the agent didn’t seem to mind the complete unprofessionalism of pitching a book I hadn’t even started to write!

I was told by author, Linda Regan, that a big part of being accepted by an agent is YOU. If you are interesting, then you are half way there.

Now – This is my favorite part of blogging. I love reading your comments and stories….. So, I want to hear your stories – good, bad or just downright cringeworthy. You tell me the things you have done to try and win the heart of an agent or publisher – no matter how embarrassing – and the success stories involving luck, fate and a sprinkle of bravery.

(Like my Facebook page and join myself and other writers for a natter – to my American friends, that means ‘chat’.)

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Months ago, probably some time before Christmas, I recorded a programme on Sky called Facebook vs Twitter. Not the usual thing I tape on Sky, I’ll admit, but something about the title intrigued me. However, being the busy bee I am, and this has nothing to do with my lack of organisational skills or my need to watch The Mentalist, Supernatural, Rookie Blue or Hawaii Five-O first, I never got around to watching it. Then, this past weekend, something strange happened. I had an hour to spare. I know, me having a whole uninterrupted hour. It’s unheard of. Anyway, I decided to watch it, mainly so I could delete it and increase my 3% remaining recording time. 

With a cup of tea hot in my hand, I settled myself on the sofa and pushed play on the controller. I was met with a curt message stating I had to subscribe to watch the chosen channel. (This was a channel I’d found totally by accident while rummaging the listings, and which had some obscure name I can’t even remember). So, after clicking ‘select’ a few more times just to be sure, I deleted it…..regaining one measly percent in the process.

Now I was bothered. I wanted to know which was the more popular. Twitter or Facebook? And as a member of the female population, what we want we usually get, right?

The only way I would satisfy my curiosity and find out for sure was to look at my own use of the two internet phenomenons.

Facebook:

A few years ago I succumbed internet pressure and joined Facebook. Up until that moment in time I’d been frequenting Friends Reunited, which I thought was the crème da la crème of the social networking world. I’m not embarrassed to admit that when it comes to computers, I’m the least nerdy person I know. I fumble my way through the cyber world on a daily basis and Facebook was no different. I err…, *cough cough* struggled.

BUT, and oh yes this is a big BUT…. once I’d got to grips with the site I absolutely loved it. Friends Reunited, I’m sad to say – oh okay, I’m not sad because now I find it utter rubbish – was cast aside like an ex-boyfriend. By joining Facebook, I found so many more friends and some of whom I’d long since forgotten. It was like reliving my youth all over again.

Twitter:

Then along came twitter. I’d just got to grips with Facebook and to take on another computer based task was daunting and stupid and one I first resisted. But everyone was talking about it and the name ‘twitter’ was thrown at me from every angle. Everywhere I looked I saw its name, luring and daring me to join so, and not one to back out from a challenge, I did. No one was safe from my @-ing and I followed everyone famous I could think of. I ended my fourteen day campaign with; go on guess how many followers? None. I know, I gasped too. It’s a surprise, right? I couldn’t fathom why Ricky Gervais or Eliza Dushku didn’t follow me back. I mean, me? Come on! Distraught, I blamed my laptop, called twitter a ‘loser’ and, on bended knee, grovelled my way back into the arms of Facebook where I felt happy and secure.

But I wasn’t happy. I am and not one who likes to be beaten, and especially by a website, so I revisited twitter a few weeks later. I tweeted about my running the 2010 London Marathon, I tweeted about TV’s Supernatural (don’t ask), and I tweeted about writing. Suddenly I was conversing with other tweeps.

I managed to get a few followers (no they were not all family members or offers of Viagra), these were actually legit followers, and what’s more, I was having fun. I was tweeting over the moon!

Twitter is where I first met author and social media guru Kristen Lamb and was invited to become a Warrior Writer. Then I read her book ‘We Are Not Alone – A Guide To Social Media’ and my life was transformed. Suddenly, ‘Donna Newton’ was a brand with a Facebook Fan Page and somewhere I could chat with other writers and update what I was up to.

I also met my co-writer Natalie Duggan on twitter, which led us to L.A, a TV pilot, and a manager.

Plus, twitter is fun, fast, and quick. I like to talk and I like to ramble, so twitter is perfect for me. I still get a buzz every time I see one of my tweets RT’d (retweeted).

On the other hand, Facebook allows me to talk more – something I really do like doing. 😀 I love conversing with other writers and I like being able to find links and other information easily on one page.

So, Facebook vs Twitter?

That is the million dollar question and one I don’t know the answer to. I do know that both should come with a health warning: “These sites are addictive and bad for time managing your writing.”

So, now tell me which you prefer. Give each a mark out of 10 and we will tally the ratios and see which one fairs.

My verdict is        Facebook 7/10   :     Twitter 8/10

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A log line is one short, sweet, grab you by the seat of your pants, sentence that explains your whole story. Simple 😀

“What?” I hear you gasp. “I can’t do that! It’s taken me over 70 thousand words to tell my story.”

Well, suck it up. You now have to tell it in less than 30. :p

“But why?”

Oh, stop whining :p  One very good reason is this: Agents and editors are extremely busy people. If you’re lucky enough to get ten seconds of their time to ‘pitch’ your idea, trust me when I say you’ll wish you had a log line. The last thing agents want to hear are ‘..and then this happened’ or ‘..oh, I forgot to tell you about so-in-so at the beginning’. You need to hook them and quick. A good log line will do that.

Don’t’ worry, though. Like every professional, and I’m going to use a chef as an example because I’m very hungry and cannot stop thinking about food – crumpets topped with cheese and tomato to be precise… DONNA! Back away from the crumpets! *cough, cough* where was I? Ah yes, log lines….your finished product will only be as good as the ingredients you use.

Here is what you’ll need (courtesy of author and social media expert, Kristen Lamb).

1 drop of protagonist
1 cup full of antagonist
1 spoonful of active goal

Mix well and leave to settle.

See, simple.

But, beware. If you fail to use the ingredients as instructed, your log line just won’t rise to the occasion. Oh, alright, I’ll tell you my first log line. No laughing.

An American socialite witnesses a murder and goes on the run from the MOB and FBI, but an attempt on her life leaves her with selected memory loss and it is up to a London police officer to uncover her past before they’re both assassinated.

And breathe. No choking. Excellent, lungs refilled? Then let’s continue.

There are so many things wrong with this log line, it would be easier to tell you what’s right with it….absolutely nothing. It’s too long, has too way too much back story, and blah, blah, blah.

So what went wrong? I followed the recipe. Well, yes that’s true, but then I just plonked everything on the plate and hoped no one would notice. Let me explain – Writing the words is only part of the processes. The order in which we place them is a whole different ball game.

The format for a log line should be something close to this:

An ADJECTIVE NOUN (protagonist) must ACTIVE VERB the ANTAGONIST before  SOME REALLY HORRIBLE THING HAPPENS (stopping the protagonist from reaching her goal).

Now, if I’d presented my log line correctly the finished product may have looked something like this instead:

‘A quiet museum curator suffering from amnesia must uncover her secret past to unlock the real reason the mob has put out a contract for her life.

Ok, I’ve embarrassed myself enough (something I seem to do a lot on this site), and now it is your turn. Be brave and mirror in the comment box your first/final log lines. Alternatively, if you have a log line you need help with, add that too. Everyone will be kind, I promise 😀

Now, I’m off to make some crumpets….

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Does our success as writers have more to do with luck than talent? Or do you think talent prevails over luck every time?

Well, speaking on behalf of my own experiences, I know it has a little to do with both; talent cannot function without luck and vice versa.

Recently, I co-wrote a Supernatural TV pilot, called ‘The Legend’. I had never written a script before, knew nothing about layout and formatting, but dug in, worked hard, and voila, a pilot was born.

At the end of February, my co-writer friend and I were attending the DFW Writer’s Conference in Texas. Now, I class myself as a thrill seeker, but my co-writer went a step further and thought it would be an excellent opportunity to stop by L.A. and ‘pitch’ the TV idea to some Hollywood bodies. Laughingly, and if not just to humour her, I agreed.

We queried everyone we could think of and arranged some meetings. One meeting in particular surprised me. It was with an entertainment lawyer. I asked my friend why she had contacted an entertainment lawyer, to which she simply replied, “why not?”

That entertainment lawyer read our script and loved it. At around the same time a manager contacted this lawyer, and at the end of their telephone conversation asked if he knew of any ‘new’ writers. He looked at our script and emailed it over to her. She read it, loved it, and promptly contacted us.

Two new script-writers left her office a week later with several projects and ideas to write; she wanted to see anything and everything we wrote.

In essence – we had a manager.

All that came from querying a lawyer. Now I’m not telling you email every lawyer you can think of; we also met with an actor and a producer – both of which have attached to the project. But with each person we met, we were recommended to someone else, and each contact is now a person we have met with personally and can email ideas and projects without the need of a query letter. Hence we have a VIP backdoor where only solicited work is allowed to enter.

So yes, I believe your career is made with a mixture of luck and talent:

Luck – Maybe we didn’t go about querying in the correct manner, but we did it politely and professionally…..and we got the face to face meetings we wanted.

Luck – We happened to be liked, and first impressions seem to be everything in this business.

Talent – That all important synopsis were our hook, and led our readers into wanting the script.

Talent – The script is why wanted people to meet us.

Without these key ingredients, I would not be sitting here now, blogging about my experiences. I walked away from L.A. a very busy girl, but having my writing described as very well written and with strong voice was a boost to an area of writing I am very new at, and being praised as audacious was fun – I mean, me, audacious? Honestly 😀

So, tell me if a mixture of luck and talent has led to any of your successes.

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The UK has had an amazing amount of snow this winter. I frequently found myself standing in the kitchen and just looking out the window at the white covered fields that surround my house – hey, I’ll use any excuse not to do the washing up and snow seemed to be the excuse everyone was using for not working. 😀

One thing is for sure. Snow is beautiful. It can transform even the most horrid of places into a serene and peaceful area befitting any Christmas card.

But then it struck me. Snow is extremely cunning and deceitful. It lures you in with the promise of fun but in reality, it has claimed the lives of so many people. In fact, snow is a real killer and its sister, the wicked Ice Queen, is worse. She is just pure evil and will stop at nothing to make our lives a misery, particularly the ones who don’t take up arms and prepare for her arrival. Frozen pipes, black ice, and have you ever been hit with an iced snow ball? That will draw blood, guaranteed.

So, then I started thinking of other items that lure us in with their perfect beauty, only to attack when we least expect it.

Roses are classed as one of the most elegant and beautiful flowers. Their aroma is intoxicating and they are arguably the most stunning flower created. They draw you in. You have to smell that rose, to touch its silky petals….and then, BAM! Either a thorn stabs you through the thumb or a big, fat bee flies out from the hidden depths of the flower and stings you on the nose. I mean, these flowers are given on Valentines Day as a sign of love for crying out loud. What you’re really getting is a box of thorns hidden by silk petals. If you love me, send me daisies. They won’t draw blood and there’s nowhere for any killer bugs to hide.

So I guess what I am really saying is this. If it happens to snow on Valentines Day, and you have to walk the length of your pathway to collect a box of roses from your post box, just stop and think of the senders real intentions.

Okay, so this was just a fun post, but can you think of any other perfections that have flaws?

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When I look back at the first book I wrote, I feel a twinge of guilt for my characters; all five of them to be precise, if I want to be picky and count the minions.

Why do I feel guilty? Because, unforgivably, I neglected to give them a life. I just dumped them on the wintery London streets of Shad Thames and said “Right, off you go and do this.”

To their credit, they did what I asked, but not to the best of their ability, and that is solely down to me, because I did not spend the time in getting to know them. A year ago, I would have sworn different. I would have told you my heroine was an independent woman, owned a bar and lived a relatively normal life with only her handsome neighbour next door for support. The hero, and her love interest, was an actor who was quiet and thoughtful and ……. Oh my God, so boring!!!

Then I met Kristen Lamb. She told me to write a back story for my antagonist, so I did. I proudly wrote four pages and emailed them over to her. Her reply? “Crap, do it again.” I was mortified. How could it be rubbish? (Yeah, ok, you can stop laughing.) But she was right. It was absolute tosh. Oh, how naïve I was back then.

The reason it was rubbish, and it’s so clear now that I cringe every time I think about letting Kristen read it, was this. My first antagonist was a nice, wholesome, little rich girl who went nuts because the guy she liked was in love with someone else. There was no venom about her. She was kind to others, well liked, popular at school – you get the picture. But my reasoning for creating this totally unrealistic girl, who went off the deep end, was because Glenn Close had done it in Fatal Attraction. If a block busting movie could do it, why couldn’t I? The problem was, Glenn Close was not the normal, hard working, successful woman she appeared to be before Michael Douglas slept with her. If you look closely, she was actually a borderline psychotic and her back story would have backed this up with actions, events and certainly haunting issues.

I was guilty of analysing the plot of a story too much and just letting the characters roll along for the ride. Now, however, and much to my husbands annoyance, I analyse and pick holes in everything on TV. Still, men are there for us women to annoy so I think it is a win-win situation. 😀

So, this is what I have been taught, and would strongly recommend to anyone creating a character:

It starts with their creation. They need a look, a height, and a style. Personally, I look for a picture of an actor or actress and go from there. Then give them a home, a childhood, parents, siblings, pets, school proms, jobs, friends, enemies, lovers, fears, stressors.…. you get the picture. What they do with them after that is then up to you. They can use them, annoy them, play with them or kill them. They can go to jail or become President, but their back story must lead them to the moment you start your book. You cannot have, like I did, a nice antagonist who turns in to a crazy, killing machine, because it is convenient to the plot.

If you are stuck, then I would suggest writing your own biography first. Start with where you were born, who your parents were, if you have any siblings. Remember your childhood memories, relationships, good and bad. Jobs you’ve liked and jobs you’ve hated. Gravesides you have stood at. Tragedies you’ve had the misfortune to bear. All these things define who you are now.

Oh, and one really important thing I have learnt is this. Your protagonist does not have to be perfect. Perfect is BORING! Give her a flaw. Make her human. I guarantee your reader will not dislike them for it.

Look at Mel Gibson in the first Lethal Weapon – he was a suicidal drunk. And Frasier, from the TV show of the same name, has serious commitment issues, but do we hate either of these characters? Do we ‘eck. In fact we become more compassionate towards them.

Now, as always, I want to know something. I want to know who your favourite protagonist is and what flaw they have. Hmmmm….. has that got you thinking?

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I want to play a game.

I’m going to say a word and I want to know the first image that comes to mind. Ready?

Sociopath.

What was the first thing you thought of? No cheating. Can I hazard a guess and say you probably thought of a deranged psychopathic killer, probably from one of your favourite horror films?

Now, what if I said you probably already knew a sociopath. Would you believe me? No? Okay, what if I said there was a high probability you may already work with one, live next door to one or even be friends with one. (God forbid you live with one.) Does that scare you?

Academics calculate that sociopaths account for around 5% of the population. So what exactly is a sociopath?

Forget for a moment that you are a nice person and imagine this: You have two friends who, for some unknown reason, have stopped talking to each other. They both confide to you of their sadness at the situation and that each is going to contact the other to make amends. Now, being the nice person you really are, you would eagerly share this information – after all, it’s the morally right thing to do and you want your friends back as, well, friends. But I want you to imagine deceiving and lying to them, convincing them that each is still expressing their dislike for the other. Then I want you to feel very smug and happy in the knowledge that you have singlehandedly kept them from being the good friends they once were.

Are you horrified? Could you ever see yourself acting in this way? Of course not, but that is probably because you have a little thing called a conscious. You cannot act in a bad way because you would feel appalled and guilty. A sociopath does not have this luxury. They feel nothing. They are crafty and deceitful, selfish, and manipulative. They will take what they want and do as they please and not experience the slightest ounce of remorse or regret for any of their actions. They will hurt a ‘friend’ just as easily as they would hurt a stranger and they will do it with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.

A staggering 1 in 20 people are sociopathic which means that 5% of the population lacks any shred of a conscious, and worse still, these people can be very difficult to spot. Contrary to the belief that all sociopaths look like the Yorkshire Ripper, they do in fact, look just like you and me. They will charm you on first introduction and the majority of people will be blinded by their manipulation. But these people are cold. Maybe they are rapists, or domestic abusers. Maybe they are not violet at all but will think nothing of scamming or stealing from you. Unfortunately, the majority of people find out when it’s too late. Sociopaths are excellent at spotting your vulnerability and will use it against you to get what they want, using every trick in the book to succeed. But sociopaths are very jealous people and if you dare disagree or go against one then watch out; they will happily bring down upon you a reign of misery.

The only way to deal with a sociopath is to dissolve all contact and remove them from your life. Do not try to argue with them, or attempt to out smart them. Remember, they are sociopaths and do not ‘feel’ like the other 95% of the population. You have to protect yourself and you are not doing this if your time is consumed with making them pay.

Protect yourself and live your life. As Dr Martha Stout says, “Living well is the best revenge.”

So, now I will ask…..Do you know a sociopath?

For more on this I recommend reading ‘The Sociopath Next Door’ by Clinical psychologist Dr Martha Stout, Ph.D.

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I thought it would be fun to see if it was possible to write a story in no more than six sentences. This is what I come up with…

The Wrong Path :

He stood at the crossroads at the tender age of seventeen where, as predicted, he had received his first criminal record. He could have walked to the left and stayed on its disastrous path, ending up just another statistical drain on today’s society. But he chose the path to the right, working hard to reclaim his dignity and self respect. He cherished this path, gaining a rewarding job, loving girlfriend and loyal friends. He awoke on the day of his 22nd birthday not knowing that today he would be honoured a hero. Today he would rescue the life of a young child from a burning building, sacrificing his own life in the process.

NOW, it’s your turn. I want to read your 6 sentence stories. Good luck!

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Being as it was Halloween ‘an all, I had planned to write a blog last week about the creepy village I live in, but I changed my mind when I watched Halloween Resurrection on Saturday night. Now it is no secret that Michael Myers rates number 2 on my list of things I fear the most, right after spiders, which I find totally alien (there is absolutely no justification why they need eight horrible, hairy legs). Anyway, I snuggled under my duvet and, with hubby snoring next to me, I watched the whole movie. Anyone who has seen ‘Resurrection’ will no doubt agree with me when I say it doesn’t hold a torch to the original Halloween film. In fact I have no idea what number in the franchise this one is and, to be honest, I don’t care enough to spend the two minutes needed to Google it, but my god, does Michael Myers scare the crap out of me.

 A little piece of information you should know about me before I continue. Not much will frighten me. If I hear a noise during the night, I will go and investigate. Yeah sure, I thought I was going to have a heart attack while I walked alone (walked you hear, and I rebuke all rumours that say I nervously edged my screaming self round) the House of Horrors in LA’s Universal Studios, but the adrenaline rush was amazing!

Well, after the film finished I wanted to go to the loo (that means ‘toilet’ to my American friends) and, as always after I watch Michael Myers for 90 minutes, I was scared to leave my bedroom.

This got me thinking. What was it about his character that scared me so much? I’ve watched all kinds of horror films and none of them have this effect on me, Vacancy, Wrong Turn, Friday 13th, The Crazies, and Tremors. Ok, I am kidding with the last one, although will admit to loving it. I thought it could be because there are many Michael Myers out there for real. No? How many stories do we read in newspapers of people being butchered in their own homes or knife wielding maniacs dragging women off to their death? Way too many to mention on my small and mere blog, I can tell you. Then I watched another film called ‘The Strangers’. For the entire film my heart beat so hard against my chest I actually questioned whether this is what it felt like before someone died of fright – I kid you not! But why had this film also scared me to such a point that I would think this?

I’ve pondered over this for a while now and this is what I’ve finally come up with. In both Halloween and The Strangers, all the killers are wearing masks. You cannot see their faces, only the blacks of their eyes. These masks stop me from seeing any emotion shown on their faces, hence I have absolutely no idea what they are thinking or planning to do next. This to me is utterly frightening.

My husband cannot watch paranormal/ghost films, heck he struggles to get through an episode of Supernatural, and yet these films do not scare me. Why is that? Why does one film scare me and another scare someone else?

So, as an experiment, I want to know who or what scares you and more specifically, why.

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