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When I walk into a bookstore, the first place I go is to the crime aisle. I love crime. I love the pace of it, I love the urgency of it, and I love the mystery of it.

So, as an avid crime reader, I thought I’d review ‘Behind You!’ by Linda Regan.

Behind You! was Linda’s 2006 debut novel. She has since written three more novels; her fourth book, Brotherhood of Blades, has just been released by Severn House.

So, what’s this book about?

Well, it revolves around a murder at a local theatre and D.I. Paul Banham is called in to solve it. Simple. What? You want more? No way! If I tell you anymore, I may as well tell you who done it.

I read this book with great interest. Not only was it a good story with an engaging plot but, because the author herself is an established actress, I got an insightful ‘behind the scenes’ look at what goes on in the world of acting.

I am a slow reader and, combine this with the fact that I only manage to read an hour or so a day (if I’m lucky), there are not many books I can confess to finishing in under two weeks. However, because Linda’s writing is so neat and effortless, Behind You! kept me hooked from the start and I finished it within six days. Not a record for me, but well below my average reading time.

So, what kept me interested?

Well , for one, it’s a good little story. It’s completely set inside a theatre and I found the further in I read, the more I began to know my own way around the back stage corridors and dressing rooms. Secondly, I loved the characters. D.I. Banham is a great protagonist with lots of baggage. And, fellow officer, Alison Grainger makes for the perfect love interest.

This book is sharp, sassy and humorous. A very good read from a very talented writer.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Would you like to read it?

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There is no way to sugar coat this so I’ll give it to you straight. I like to talk. Anyone who knows me will agree. Sometimes, I just don’t shut up.

But, to us novelists and scriptwriters, dialogue is an extremely important factor of our work. Dialogue is good. Dialogue is a major player in forming our personality and creating our character. Just ask my husband. He will tell you that my dialogue sums me up as a nag 🙂

So, writing dialogue should be a walk in the park, right? After all, we all talk on a daily basis, some of us even in our sleep. We are knowledgeable experts in the field of speech. We’ve been using words to argue and laugh our way through life for twenty, thirty (or us old ones) forty plus years. We know what we’re doing. We don’t need help in this area. Right?

Wrong.

Elmore Leonard and Quentin Tarrantino are arguably two of the best dialogue writers around. If you’ve read any of Leonard’s novel’s (and I do advise you to, if only for the dialogue), or watched any of Tarrantino’s movies, you will understand what I mean. They give their characters a ‘voice’.

By a voice, I mean your characters need their OWN voice. New writers often make the mistake of giving their characters THEIR voice, meaning all their characters sound the same as their author.

But how do I know when you’ve done this? What are the tell tale signs?

In his book ‘Save the Cat’, Blake Snyder talks about a simple test you can do to check whether you have bad and flat dialogue. Take a page of your script and cover your character names. Then, by reading the dialogue, see if you can tell which of you characters are speaking. It’s simple, but extremely effective.

So, just how do we go about distinguishing Bob the Postman from Betty the Accountant? Doesn’t all the dialogue look same, and it’s the movie actors who breathe life into them?

Hell, no! Novelists don’t have the luxury of actors. The dialogue we give our characters to speak can be the difference between novelists and screenwriters getting published or ending up on the slush pile.

Take these examples:

“If Mr Johnson catches you with that, you’re certain to be suspended, maybe even expelled.”

“Yo, dude. If Jonno sees ya, you’ll be outta here. No messing.”

See how both lines are saying the same thing, only in different ways?

Dialogue is conversation. Make it real. However, don’t forget the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. You don’t need three pages of a husband and wife discussing their marriage problems, when a husband eyeing up the sexy waitress is enough.

Now, I thought I’d have some fun and set you a little quiz. Below, I have listed fifteen lines of dialogue from various films. All you have to do is guess the movie and the character saying it. It’s so easy, I don’t really know why I’m bothering 🙂

I’ll post the answers in the comment box on Monday.

OH, and no cheating on Google.

  1. “You can’t handle the truth!”
  2. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
  3. “You had me at ‘hello’.”
  4. “What do they think I am? Dumb or something? Why, I make more money than – than, than Calvin Coolidge! Put together!”
  5. “I know what you’re thinkin’. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?”
  6. “They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God.”
  7. “Get away from her, you BITCH!”
  8. “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  9. “I am not an animal! I am a human being.”
  10. “…I’m NOT gonna be ignored.”
  11. “Wendy…darling. Light of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya… I’m just gonna bash your brains in. I’m gonna bash ’em right the f–k in.”
  12. “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
  13. “They’re here!”
  14. “Fellas, last year I made three million dollars. But your fifty thousand was the most fun. Are you ready? Then, let’s go get ’em.”
  15. “I was a better man with you, as a woman, than I ever was with a woman, as a man. Know what I mean? I just gotta learn to do it without the dress.”

You can find me on Facebook or twitter

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Like most of you, I like to read. Unfortunately, and probably unlike most of you, I am a very slow reader. With this in mind, I thought reviewing books would fit nicely into my two blog’s a month schedule 😀

My debut book has to be Kristen Lamb’s ‘We Are Not Alone’: The Writers Guide to Social Media. Why this book? Well, for one, I know Kristen and if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be blogging now. As for the other reasons? Take your pick. Kristen is fast becoming the Queen of Social Media. She has been an invaluable mentor to me, and heck, she’s just an awesome gal. And if that isn’t reason enough, ‘We Are Not Alone’ is a best seller.

A year ago, if anyone other than Kristen had told me to read a social media book, I would have told them to get on their bike and keep pedalling until they reached the Sahara Dessert. I was a Facebooker. I Facebooked with friends. What did I need social media for? I’d tried Twitter and, although I’d met a few great tweeps, I didn’t really ‘get’ it. Then I read Kristen’s book and it transformed the way I look a social media.

So, what is this book about?

Well, for starters, it will teach you the importance of branding yourself. I’m not talking about taking a branding iron and burning your initials into your butt. I’m talking about the ‘YOU’ brand. Your name, as a writer, is your greatest weapon. I didn’t understand that at first. I can’t even remember what my first twitter name was. Something stupid for sure, unlike the DonnaNewtonUK I have now.

Secondly, Kristen goes on to explain what Social Media is, and how we can use it to our advantage. Take Twitter and Facebook. I have transformed both of these so they are working for me now. I still have my personal Facebook page. But now, I also have a writer’s page (www.facebook.com/donnanewtonuk). Who would have thought a year ago I would have built platforms?

And, further still, you will become a blogger like me. I know, how clever do I feel. 😀

Kristen will walk you, step by step, through the WordPress set up. She’ll show you the importance of Bio’s, what a # (hashtag) is, the advantages and disadvantages of having a pen name. Everything you never thought you’d ever need to know is in this book.

Kristen injects such a style and sense of humour that you’ll read it totally unaware you are actually learning something. What’s more important, you can read it without the aid of a dictionary.

Kristen also has a fantastic blog in which she further strives to help people like me understand the world of social medial.

My advice? Whether you are published or unpublished, you should definitely read this book.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought of it? Did it, like me, help you tackle the world of social media?

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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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