"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: November 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

TV or Not TV, That Is The Question...

Rob Parnell

In a few of my articles recently I have suggested that the path of the modern writer may not always lead down the traditional walkways of novel writing, journalism or indeed any of the more familiar routes a writer might want to take.

There are new opportunities of all kinds. The Net, for one, with its need for constant content and marketing material.

Offline too there are a myriad of writing jobs - many of which I explore in Easy Cash Writing. For the committed writer there are always new and varied avenues to pursue.

In the spirit of which, we ventured into the world of TV yesterday, when we visited an executive from a certain funding body to pitch some ideas we'd had for TV shows.

I won't mention our contact's name, not because it's a secret or because we're being coy, but because these people don't like it when you bandy their names around (especially not in a public forum like a blog). The last thing a TV exec wants is to be seen to be endorsing an unfunded program idea - or favoring a particular writer for instance (Heaven forbid).

Reality Bites

The meeting took place in the South Australian Film studios and we were taken to meet (Blank) by an old friend there called Quentin.

He's a great guy, very supportive of us. He's paraplegic, diminutive and wheelchair bound, but no less of a creative force at SA Film for that. We only wish that his enthusiasm for our projects caught on to the other members of the Funding Boards he sits on.

We're at a disadvantage you see - because we're writers. said as much to us. Apparently we need to align ourselves with more working production companies - as though this was in any way easy.

The problem we have is that in order to interest TV production companies, we need to have TV shows made or in production. And of course, how can you do that, without working with a TV production company? The old Catch 22. (Thank you, Mr Heller.)

Undeterred, as is our wont, we plowed into our pitches.

We've Got This Idea...

We'd heard that the new ABC 3 channel wanted ideas for interactive 'reality' types shows for kids. We'd come up with three and proceeded to pitch each of them in turn.

(Blank) quickly let us know that either we'd (a) missed the boat, (b) would need external funding or (c) had come up with ideas that were already in development.

Okay. So we let the conversation move on to other, more practical issues. Like the movie we were making with Hollywood - and how we had plans for forming our own production company as a springboard for future projects...

Did I detect faint amusement in (Blank's) eyes?

Or - in retrospect - was it alarm?

In a way I hope it was a kind of shock at the audacity of our plans. Robyn and I have always been ambitious. That's how we get things done. Aim high - and don't take no for an answer.

It serves us well in the long run - and proves to us that there are always alternatives for writers.

Rejection comes with the territory - and you can't be phased or put off by it. You just have to keep on trying, pushing, improving, until the industry is forced to sit up and take notice of you.

Fiction Rules

We went on to pitch two ideas for drama shows next. Well, you have to be ready for the old 'what else have you got' line, don't you?

Robyn told (Blank) about an idea we'd originally visualized as a movie but we'd since touted as an concept for a kid's TV series.

(Blank) was dismissive of the idea, said it was impractical and unappealing to a world audience. Curiously, (Blank) was also dismissive of the producer we'd involved at one point - even though (Blank) had worked with this person on an award winning TV show...

I started to wish I'd left my camera rolling.

Next, our final idea, admittedly not fully developed yet.

Robyn explained the premise, saying that it was already a book manuscript that we thought might work as an animation series - a kind of medieval soap opera.

"What form would it take on the screen?' (Blank) asked.

"Anything you like," Robyn said, amused.

"No," (Blank) said. "You have to know."

Soon after, Quentin arrived at the door - which had never been closed - and our meeting was over.

The Verdict

Believe it or not, the meeting went about as well as we thought it would.

An outsider might conclude we'd achieved nothing - and embarrassed ourselves in the process. But, as you'll no doubt know about us by now, we don't see things that way.

So our ideas were shot down.

So we were basically told we weren't well connected enough for TV yet.

So, okay, we'd need to be better prepared next time.

But what else can we do? We keep pushing. We're just writers. We want to entertain and create successful projects. We get our ideas out there. Some of them raise of flicker of interest, others get people excited. Some, inevitably, fall flat.

At the meeting we'd achieved a few things in our own minds.

We'd touched base with (Blank), shown our faces. And admittedly she was nice - and had always been helpful to us on the phone in the past.

Plus, we'd been able to let her know that despite our naivety and lack of experience, we have stratospheric self belief.

We'd also learned that there seems to be a clique of working TV producers in Australia who jealously guard their alignments and their contacts, and more importantly, their 'slate'.

We'd at least come away knowing what we were up against.

And that one day soon, we knew we'd be back.

The Wrap Up

Writing is not everyone's idea of a great job.

It can be slow and frustrating, even when things are going well.

We know everything starts with writing - and that all the agents, publishers, producers, directors, actors and TV executives in the world would have nothing to do without writers writing.

Elia Kazan said that writers are the only people who feel like they're gatecrashing their own party when they turn up to events that celebrate what they create.

Sometimes it seems as though the media, the publishing industry, indeed the whole world regards writers as some kind of irritant - a freak show - and a slightly seedy part of the creative equation.

But, alas, dear reader, we know better, don't we?

Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Singapore Slings in Raffles Long Bar

Rob Parnell

The best part about getting away to foreign climes is the way it can help adjust our perspectives. When we see through different eyes, we grow - and this can only help our writing.

Once in a while we all need to get away from the everyday routines we fill our time with. We need to experience new things, taste new foods and walk in new locations.

The aspect of Singapore that struck me most was the sheer volume of people - and the fact that they all seem to be out shopping in the middle of the night!

Robyn will tell you that I spent the evening after the Art of Story workshop rhapsodizing over the crowds - and admittedly, the potential market for any new business, including my own.

There again, as a writer, I don't get out much. We spend our time locked away in our little house in Morphett Vale, flexing our mental muscles, rather than interacting with a lot of 'real' people. We work hard basically - but much of our lives happen in our imaginations!

It was nice to be tourists for a while. And yes, we drank a Singapore Sling in Raffles Long Bar, because when you go to Singapore, you're supposed to. But at $27 each, we probably wisely only stayed for one!

The Art of Story Workshop

The workshop started at 9.30am with 40 of us ensconced in the 5th floor Imagination Room in the high-tech tower of the National Library building in Victoria Street.

We began with an examination of mindset and how having a healthy objective viewpoint can help when you're looking for ideas. Indeed the whole process of writing consistently - i.e. every day - can be greatly enhanced by improving our mental outlook.

We need to feel confident about our abilities - and suppress our more critical self - to write without fear and allow inspiration to come through.

One of the issues we explored was that inspiration can be in some ways 'forced' by cultivating the writing habit. The more you write, basically, the more inspired you become.

After the Break

Next we looked at what to do with ideas when you get them.

It's fairly well accepted that without good characters you probably don't have a story worth telling. And that to try and force a plot on to characters is to get things in the wrong order.

You need characters first. You need to know them well - in your own mind - and be able to examine their agendas. Because it's usually the clash of character's agendas that defines and determines your story's plot.

The beauty of working this way is that you don't necessarily have to have a story idea first. You can let your characters tell you their story - and it is then your job to merely transcribe the events your characters dictate through your writing.

I showed some slides at this point that graphically show how this method of story creation works - and explained how many bestselling novels had used the same principles to create apparent 'masterpieces' like Harry Potter, Twilight and The Da Vinci Code.

Answering some of the more literary minded in the audience, I also showed that the same principles applied to the 'classical' writers like Jane Austen, Charles Dickins and Tolstoy.

At which point, we broke for lunch.

Monsoon Season

The rain came down hot and heavy on our way back from lunch at a cosmopolitan Chinese cafe, where the food was delicious and the tea divine.

We got right back in to the meat of the Art of Story: structure.

I explained how story is structure - and that how a writer goes about building a plot is what defines his or her ability and eventual success in the marketplace.

Plotting is important, as is conflict and drama. Your writing style too has a part to play but it is story structure that shows agents, publishers and producers that you know what you're doing.

Through a series of ever more (seemingly) complex diagrams I showed how good story structure is achieved. I revealed that there really is such a thing as a literary 'template' on which to hang every great story.

This is in no way formulaic - far from it - but, once you understand the principles of good story structure, it is possible to take an average idea and transform it into something that is universally recognizable as effective and satisfying, often even profound.

By way of example, I took various novels suggested by the audience and broke them down to their structural basics and showed how the principles of good story structure were alive and well in all great writing and commercially successful literature.

Tea Time

The rest of the day was taken up with an examination of how the modern writer has a responsibility toward his or her reader - with the accent on the marketplace, which has certain mores and conventions that writers need to be aware of, and write within.

There's a difference between writing for the market and writing for oneself - and the focus of my teaching is generally on writing to achieve success. There seems little point in writing to offend or confront your audience if the end result is a failure to connect.

In our media driven culture, our effectiveness as writers is judged by our ability to sell books - this is the ultimate test of our talent - and really the only thing that is of interest to our publishers.

We might still hold to some romantic notion that we write for ourselves - huddled in a freezing garret, pumping out words that are wrenched from our souls. But the fact is, to achieve any measure of paid success, this is probably not something we should aspire to.

Modern successful writers live in nice big houses and cultivate a responsibility towards their art and craft - they have to - because without respect for their audience and a morally sound and objective mindset, their writing will most often fail to impress.

Quite apart from the obvious: if you don't sell books, your publisher is not going to be very happy!

Game Over

At the end of the workshop I was amazed by the positive feedback and the desire by everyone to stop and chat. The students were all very sweet and enthusiastic.

Then again, I found out later that the day of the workshop was actually "International Kindness Day" in Singapore. It occured to me that maybe people were just being nice!

Whatever, Robyn and I had a wonderfully stimulating time.

And we'd love to do workshops more often. (Heavy hint to anyone out there with a spare classroom!)

Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Whatever Happened to the Short Story?

Rob Parnell

Many people email me to ask about short story markets.

Where are they? And where have they all gone?

The market for magazine length (2000 to 5000 words) short stories has dwindled almost to vanishing point in the last fifty years.

Nowadays, unless you're already famous, you can't get short stories published at all it seems.

There's the New Yorker, a few SciFi monthlies - and the odd woman's magazine - where the competition is savagely fierce, and that's about it.

Basically, the short story market has crashed. The advent of our high speed, high tech world has left the short story on the platform, waving at the departing train of progress.

The short story has been replaced by newer markets like TV, movies, computer games and true life (ie reality) based magazine 'confessions.' All very sad. But is it?

Instead of bemoaning the death of the short story, writers need to adjust their worldview and move with the times.

Many writers are reluctant to attack the new markets. They regard TV, film and computer games as somehow beyond, or perhaps beneath them. Consequently, contrary to popular belief, these markets are remarkably, still crying out for writers.

Robyn and I are constantly amazed by TV, movie producers and computer game developers who are always complaining at seminars that they can't find enough writers!

It seems absurd when Robyn and I know literally thousands who are desperate for paid work - and yet won't move outside of their comfort zones of novels and their (unpublishable) short stories.

Yes, there is still much demand for novels, if only because a good one can make millions. But the competition is ruthless. Your manuscripts have to brilliant AND flawless before you can get a look in to the novel market. It's a demanding genre because many writers have little inkling of just how good their novels need to be before they even think of sending them out...

Yes, writing for the screen is hard work too. Work being the active word. Writing you can expect to get paid for, alas, is work - and should be approached with that ethic. Even fiction.

Especially fiction.

Many new writers have this romantic idea that you can write fiction in your own space and time, send it out and it will be picked up as is.

Uh-uh. Those days are over.

Fiction is a business. Collaboration is the order of the day.

Rewriting, reworking and brutal editing are the norm - not just in TV and film, but also in novel writing - where the average bestseller is RE-written up to twenty or thirty times before it is deemed worthy of release to the public.

Fiction is no longer the author's sole domain. It is now often a committee led process. It has to be - to appeal to the broadest audience. 'Little things' like logic, structure, character motivation and believability have become so much more important.

One of the main reasons I put together "The Art of Story" is because, working in this industry, I'd noticed this trend coming.

That there is a right way to construct a story. It is no longer just an art. It is a science too. And the principles of creating suitable story beats, achieving adequate emotional involvement and exploiting the reader's willing suspension of disbelief can not only be quantified but also repeated and most importantly, can be taught.

As you progress through your writing career, you'll find that people in the fiction business - whether concerned with novel writing, screenplays or even short stories - actually know instinctively what works and what doesn't. They have to - it's how they stay ahead of the game. It's also, unfortunately, why so many wannabe writers end up in the slush pile.

They simply don't understand that there are age old conventions and new, highly sophisticated techniques that can elevate a story from average to outstanding, simply by understanding and using the various elements of story.

You can literally design good fiction that almost writes itself, once you understand specifics like empathy, logical scene structure and the classic templates for story beats.

I could go on explaining the specifics for hours. Indeed I will be - for over eight hours, next Friday. If you can't make that event, why not consider getting the course at: http://easywaytowrite.com/The_Art_of_Story.html

"The Art of Story". It could be the best investment you ever make in your story writing career.

And don't forget that, in essence, the short story market has not really disappeared, it has merely changed its clothes.

Hiding, as they say, in plain sight.

Keep Writing!

Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write

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