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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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So you’ve written your book. You’ve gone through a million and one edits and now it’s finished. What do you do next?

Answer: Jump up and down with relief? Phone everyone I know and brag that I’m now a writer? Ah, I know. I find an agent or publisher, of course.

Question. What another one? Okay, what is it? ………..How do I find the right agent or publisher?

I was recently asked this very question and, if I am honest, it shocked me. I just assumed people, especially writers, would know. I mean the information is absolutely everywhere.

It’s like when you watch a quiz show on television. You assume that, because you know the answer to some questions, everyone will, too. They are the easy questions, right? Well it was the same with this question.

I had to sit and think back to the days when I first wanted to submit to a publisher. I was very young and stupid, and all the memories of bad mistakes came flooding back. No wonder I’d blocked them from my mind, along with the images of that awful, back-combed hair do I insisted on during the ’80’s. So, today’s post is going back to basics – just for you new writers out there.

Okay, your book is written, the grammar has been checked, and you’re so happy with the rewrites and edits, you fill like bursting with excitement. What do you do, now? That’s easy, I hear you say. I send it to lots and lots of people who…… Whoa, hang on there, Speedy Gonzales. It’s a little more involved than that.

Mills and Boon have reportedly claimed that, from the massive tens of thousands submissions they receive each year, if they find 10 or 12 new authors, they have had a bumper year.

The days of writing a great novel just isn’t enough to cut it these days. As with everything, the more choice available, the more picky people get – and in our case, it’s publishers and agents.

Would you believe me if I told you there is a high probability your novel will never be read? No? Most publishers and agents have what’s called a ‘slush’ pile, and your novel, yes, the one you’ve slaved over day and night for the past year, can end up sitting on it, like a cherry on top of an ice-cream sundae. Well it can, and most probably will if you don’t adhere to the following rules:

Rule One: Get yourself a copy of the ‘Writers and Artists Yearbook’, and make sure it is an up to date copy. They are printed every year, and also have a website so there is no excuse to use information that is three years old.

Rule Two: The all important research. I cannot stress enough that, just because you’ve typed ‘THE END’ on your novel, it is the end of you research too. Research never ends. It must be reapplied to the next job in hand – in this case, finding the correct agent/publisher. Sending to every contact listed in the W&AY (Writers & Artists Yearbook) is nothing more than a waste of time and money. This book tells you who is best to contact and lists everything you will need to start: The agents/publishers contact details, their required genres, submission details, etc. Everything is in this book.

Rule Three: Over to the internet. Just because the W&AY lists the details, doesn’t mean they are completely up to date. An agent or editor may have left or be closed to submissions. It happens. Think how many times you have changed your email address. Can you honestly say, with hand on heart, you’ve remembered to update every social network site you joined in the past year? So, log on to the contacts company website. Check the editor is still the editor. Check their email address remains the same, check they are still accepting submissions. Check, check, check. These are the things that make sure your novel will reach the right person.

Rule Four: Presentation. Most manuscripts are required in a certain format: Typed, double-spaced, 12pt Times New Roman, inch wide margins and un-justified. Please stick to this. Don’t use fonts so fancy they are hard to read, or make your writing so small the agent will need a magnify glass, otherwise the only thing seeing it will be the ‘slush pile’.

Rule Five: Following the Rules. Just because agent Joanne wants the first three chapters of your book submitted, doesn’t mean agent Tim will too. Tim may just want a synopsis first, and agent Barry may be so busy, he only has time to scan a query letter. It is imperative you only send what the agent/publisher requires. Anything more or less and you will end up on that mountain of slush, and we do not want to end up there, do we?

Rule Six: The small print. The small print is a bunch of extra submission rules. Some are, hopefully, obvious and the main one that springs to mind is not to staple work – always bind it with an elastic band. But some are not so obvious. I read in one set of submission rules that sending your work in the wrong envelope will mean instant ‘slush’ pile. It’s true. The company’s post room were under strict orders not to deliver those fibre padded envelopes to one agent, as she hated the mess it made to her clothes when opening them. Bubble wrap padded envelopes, however, were acceptable. Fair enough. I don’t like opening one of those fibre envelopes either, let alone opening 25+.

Rule Seven:­ Respect. This is so important. The person you are sending your beloved story to is a professional. They are busy, under pressure and can be the gatekeeper to your new career. For God’s sake, respect them. Do not bombard them with gimmicks, such a fancy coloured envelopes, glitter, perfumed pages, photos of yourself or your pets, cakes or sweets….oh I could go on and on and on. Remember, you are trying to sell your story, not your soul. All they want is an easy opening envelope, to remove clean pages and read.

Rule Eight: Last but not least, pestering. If an agent says it will take 3-4 months to reply, don’t start contacting them after two. If you require confirmation of receipt, add a self addressed envelope with the correct return postage. If, after the four months is up, you have not heard back, then it is acceptable to follow up with a polite enquiry as to the status of your work. But, beware. Bother them too much and the slush pile will just get that little bit taller.

I hope this helps, and I would love to hear any mistakes you’ve made in the past, no matter how bad (come on, spill the beans :D), and if there is any advice you can add, please do.

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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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How would you kill someone?

For the last month or so I have been plotting my second novel and I have struggled a little in one particular area. Let me explain. My antagonist is a professional killer hired to kill an amnesic victim. I reached his first kill and suddenly it hit me. Just how would he kill? Now, I unashamedly admit to having an over zealous imagination in the killing department. Because of this, I needed to strip bare my ideas, go back to the beginning, and list the basic ways one could kill a person.

So my list began.

Shooting
Stabbing
Strangulation
Poisoning
Torture
Asphyxiation
Explosives/Bombing
Snapping Necks
Bludgeon to the head
A Wand – well it worked for Harry Potter.

All of these are killing techniques we have seen a thousand times in various movies such as Die Hard, Scream, Basic Instinct, Friday the 13th ……I could go on and on. However, each of the above, when applied to a certain character, would be executed in a different way. For example, Die Hard’s John McClain would perform a magnificent display of acrobatics while catapulting his vest top covered torso through the air to shoot his enemies. Whereas in Fatal Attraction it takes Anne Archer just one determined shot to kill Glenn Close. Another example is stabbings. In Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone seduced her victim before unleashing a frenzied attack by way of an ice pick. However, Romancing the Stone (can you see a Michael Douglas pattern forming here?), sees Kathleen Turner merely flicking the knife at her antagonist who, unfortunately, blocks it with a plank of wood.

So, which would my professional killer use? And how would he carry it out?

Well, firstly, what kind of professional killer was he? I did not want a character like Richard Kuklinski, who froze his victims to disguise their time of death and even filmed victims being eaten alive. So, after watching timothy Olyphant in HITMAN once or twice (oh alright, maybe it was a lot more), I decided my hitman would be military trained and disciplined in planning his attacks. Explosives, sniper shootings and the odd hand to hand combat would suffice nicely. The places he choose to kill, however, are another blog.

Now it’s your turn. Can you think of a similar outcome where two characters use the same tools but apply different methods?

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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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