PD Martin's Blog

February 24, 2016

Anatomy of a PhD – analysing novels (Big Little Lies)

Filed under: Book reviews,PhD — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 12:18 pm

Is there any ‘literary’ in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies?

Of course, one of the big requirements of a PhD in creative writing is to analyse sample texts in line with your exegesis topic. The texts I’ll be examining for ‘literary’ features are Peter Temple’s Truth, Martin Amis’s Night Train, Benjamin Black’s Christine Falls and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. However, I’m also expected to read widely in my genre (crime fiction), looking at both ‘popular’ crime novels and the more literary-styled crime novels. Which brings me to Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies.

While on the surface this book is ‘popular’ fiction – it’s written by a best-selling author, after all — when we break down some of the elements that are classed as “literary” Big Little Lies actually ticks some boxes.

While there are many characteristics that are considered ‘literary’ for the purpose of this blog I’ll be focusing on three of the elements I’m looking at for my PhD exegesis.

But first I’ll look at the big question…is Big Little Lies a crime novel? Of course, like many things it depends on your definition. It’s certainly not a police procedural (there is a police officer, but he’s only mentioned in passing), yet the mystery element is at the fore. Interestingly, however, the focus isn’t on whodunit, rather it’s on who’s dead? In the opening scenes we know someone has been murdered, then Moriarty takes us back six months. We get to know the characters, we connect with them, and with tiny excerpts from the ‘current’ time zone (in the form of ‘quotes’ from some of the secondary characters) we’re left wondering who is dead right up to the final pages of the book.

During her 2009 doctorate dissertation, Kelly Connelly looked at some of the different definitions of detective novels. Melling identifies three elements, “a criminal, a crime, and a detective” (Melling in Connelly v), Paul describes it as “a rational solution of a puzzle originating in a crime” (Paul in Connelly vi) and Sweeney’s broader definition describes it as “a ravelling and an unravelling”. Under both the second and third definitions, Big Little Lies is classed as a ‘detective’ novel and given Big Little Lies won the 2015 Davitt (Sisters in Crime) for Best Adult Novel, it’s clearly being ‘judged’ as a crime novel.

But back to the literary elements…

The role of characterisation compared to narrative form

One of the broader differentiations often attributed to a division between literary texts and popular fiction is that literary fiction is character-driven and genre fiction is plot-driven. This belief argues that literary fiction contains deeper characterisation and often a protagonist with a stronger sense of interiority, whereas popular fiction focuses more on the narrative structure and genre conventions with the plot more important to keep readers turning the page.

Big Little Lies drives the reader forward through both characterisation and plot. The characterisation is more in-depth than an ‘average’ popular fiction novel. We get to know the three main female characters — Jane, Celeste and Madeline — through their own point of view chapters. The writing style is alternating limited third (i.e. we change character perspectives (alternating) but it’s limited in that when we’re with each character we only have an insight into their thoughts). However, the narrative distance is extremely close, intimate, so the reader bonds with the characters. And with larger chunks of internal monologue (characters’ thoughts) it certainly delivers character interiority.

However, like many mystery novels the plot is also driving the reader forward. The twist of Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is that it’s not our burning desire to discover the killer that makes us turn the page, rather it’s our need to find out who’s dead. Because of this ‘need’ Big Little Lies is certainly plot-driven. However, the role of characterisation is also imperative.

Socio-political critique

Like many popular fiction genres, crime fiction is usually seen as pure entertainment or escapist reading, a genre that doesn’t challenge the reader or make any kind of societal commentary. Literary fiction, on the other hand, is often charged with not only raising deeper social issues, but bringing about change — or at least seeking to. When it comes to novels, there is a sense that the socio-political critique is the realm of “literature” and the “literary”.  However, it has been argued that popular fiction can, and often does, provide social commentary.

In addition to tackling a big issue in our society, Big Little Lies also comments on society, albeit a sub-set of society — school mums. As a school mum myself, I found the commentary in this regard fascinating. We see the clicks of the school mums, the helicopter parents in action, and a sense of competition bubbles under the surface and explodes on the pages.

However, it’s much deeper social commentary is around domestic violence. One of the characters has the ‘perfect’ life…however the reader finds out quite early on that her husband is physically abusive. Interestingly, Moriarty chooses to highlight violence within the higher socioeconomic group, a couple who are the school’s ‘IT’ couple. This perhaps talks to her readership, but it also opens up the issue of domestic violence within relationships we don’t necessarily expect, or that aren’t as widely publicised in the press.

Voice, language and style

While an exact description of the “literary” is difficult to come by and difficult to formulate, literary novels often also share a different approach to language compared to popular fiction, with literary novels often being described as unique in their language or written in a more poetic form. Other stylistics elements that are more likely to appear in ‘literary ’works are more internal monologue, dialogue that’s not obviously attributed to the speaker, and unreliable narrators.

While Big Little Lies does feature some pretty intensive internal monologue, none of the other literary characteristics are present. Certainly the language, while well-written, does not have any of the poetic or unique flair that’s usually associated with true literary novels.

The ending – narrative form and resolution

Finally one last note, which I’ve left to the end because it’s about the end…

Spoiler alert…

Literary novels are often marked by a lack of resolution, a lack of the happy ever after. If Moriarty’s novel followed a true literary narrative structure, one of her three main characters would have turned out to be the victim. Instead, the victim would probably win the most reader votes for “the person I’d like to see dead” and so in this way Big Little Lies conforms to the narrative structure of popular fiction.

So is it literary?

For the reasons noted above, Big Little Lies is not a literary crime novel. However, it does contain many features of a literary novel, and so if we consider the literary as more of a continuum Big Little Lies would perhaps be a few places further toward the literary than the ‘average’ crime novel.

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August 5, 2015

Anatomy of a PhD – the research proposal, part 2

Filed under: Doctorate,PhD,Writing — Tags: , , , , , , — PD Martin @ 1:48 pm

ImFineNow onto the third instalment of my PhD series…also in retrospect! This blog finishes off my look at the research proposal.

In my last blog I compared this first research component to ‘drowning in language’, ‘time for yet another research topic/focus change’ or more simply ‘OMG’. When we left off I was faced with the reality of probably ditching my current research topic completely and starting from scratch. And that’s what I did.

“Literary” crime did seem to represent a good area for further research. What makes a novel “literary” anyway and who decides? You might think a novel either is or isn’t literary (with a capital L), but it’s not that simple. I waded in, and this is where I got to the language issues.  Why does academic language have to be so…academic?!!! At this stage, I started to doubt my ability to get my head around some of the issues. Was I just dumber than I realised?

I read Mikhail Bakhtin’s The Dialogical Imagination and for chunks of it was left with not much more than WTF?  But I kept going, wading deeper and deeper into the abyss of literary theory, the history of literature, aesthetic pleasure, the Frankfurt School and mass culture.  The history of crime fiction, including detailed analysis of more literary-styled crime novels like The Maltese Falcon, Chandler’s novels, Umberto Eco, Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. I crammed a lot of research into those few months (like most PhD students!).  In the end, I had a non-exhaustive and historically defined ‘list’ of some of the elements that make up “the literary”. I won’t go into detail here, but I think it’s useful and hopefully interesting to at least mention them:

  1. Readership/audience – popular fiction is read by the masses whereas literary fiction is read by a smaller group of educated people (completely snobby!). Furthermore, readers of popular fiction are passive readers whereas readers of literary fiction are active. Don’t get me started! This topic alone would be enough for an exegesis.
  2. The role of character and narrative form – literary novels are more character-driven and popular fiction is more plot-driven.
  3. Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia and double-voiced discourse – is there a “literary” language and a crime fiction language? How do novels use multiple narrators and dialogue to produce multiple voices?
  4. Uniqueness versus generic conformity – literary novels are unique, whereas popular fiction follows formulas.
  5. Aesthetic pleasure – something that’s often identified as being part of a response to art, and therefore to the more artistic forms of literature.
  6. Socio-political critique/commentary – literary novels try to change society by highlighting society’s shortcomings.
  7. Sales – some people believe if a novel sells well, it’s not literary…but how can a novel’s sales figures change what it is?
  8. Literary novels are harder to read – they’re denser textually, have multi-layered meanings and require deconstruction. They may also require multiple readings.
  9. Voice, language and style differences – literary fiction tends to feature more poetic prose, often treats dialogue differently and uses more interior monologues.
  10. External evaluation – if a novel is reviewed in certain prestigious publications or wins literary awards (e.g. the Man Booker, Miles Franklin, Nobel Prize) it’s definitely literary.

I’m not saying I agree with all of these (far from it), but they are areas for research. Lots of options…too many options. With only 20,000 words for my exegesis (research component) I had to narrow it down. So, I decided to focus on five elements — the role of characterisation compared to narrative form; Bakhtin’s concept of heteroglossia and double-voiced discourse; socio-political critique; voice, language and style; and external evaluation (e.g. literary prizes).  And to support my analysis of these characteristics, I will be examining four crime novels that have some literary elements Peter Temple’s Truth, Martin Amis’s Night Train, Benjamin Black’s Christine Falls and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.   Still a lot to wrestle into 20,000 words so I may end up cutting it even more down the track.

I presented all this at my school’s postgraduate conference in June and submitted my final proposal (and the other accompanying documentation) two weeks before my 1 August deadline. Yay! And it’s been accepted! Double yay.

So what now? Well, now it’s onto the creative component for the next twelve months. I can sit back and relax…well, it will be relaxed for me because I’m back in the zone I know, writing a novel (novella). However, the writing style will be very different to what I’ve done in the past, so it will be more challenging than my ‘normal’ time-to-write-a-book phase.

I know I’m only six months in, but so far this PhD is the best thing I’ve done in my career. I love it!

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July 17, 2015

Anatomy of a PhD – the research proposal, part 1

Filed under: Doctorate — Tags: , , , , , , — PD Martin @ 1:48 pm

OMGNow onto part two of my anatomy of a PhD series…also in retrospect! This one’s about the research proposal, but could equally be called ‘drowning in language’, ‘time for yet another research topic/focus change’ or more simply ‘OMG’.

So, casting my mind back to November…the excitement. I was giddy with it. I got in! Three years to write a novel (a novella really, at around only 60,000 words) and a 20,000 word exegesis. Piece of cake! For a start, pre-kids I was on a book-a-year schedule, and those books ranged from 80,000 words to 125,000 words. My fear of the word count is not that it’s a lot of work…it’s writing a ‘novel’ in only 60,000 words. How am I going to contain it? But that’s for another blog.

My official start date was 1 February, and I have to confess, I did wonder exactly what I’d be doing in the first six months. I mean, I had six months to submit my research proposal and associated documents as part of the first key milestone, the Core Component of the Structured Program. The largest part of that is the research proposal, but I’d already written a slightly shorter version for my application so I’d have six months to expand and refine, right?

I launched into my research on method acting, thinking about how it could be applied to character development in novels. Lucky for me (you’ll find out why it was lucky in a second) I wasn’t really putting in my full four days that first six weeks before I had my school induction, faculty induction and first in-person meeting with my supervisor. In retrospect I probably should have contacted my supervisor sooner, but because the university year didn’t officially start until March (and as far as I was concerned I had plenty to go on with) I kept ploughing through. Constantin Stanislavski, Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler were my key focal points.

Then the first meeting came along and my whole research topic was thrown into doubt. I can boil the hour-long conversation down to this:

Method acting for authors…great concept but is there any academic research on it?

Um, not really, no. But isn’t it good to be groundbreaking in research?

Well, ideally you’re looking for a gap that CAN be informed by previous research.  What literary theory would you draw on?

Um, none. Can I interview authors to investigate the crossover between character development and method acting?

Possibly, sure. But then you’re going to need ethics approval – a potentially lengthy and mine-field ridden path. And how would it all relate to theory?

Mmm…

The suggestion: How about tying it to the creative component of your PhD, the fact you’re moving into a different style of writing, one with perhaps more ‘literary’ leanings than the popular crime fiction of your Sophie Anderson series?

Mmm… ‘literary’ crime fiction. I could do that. Not actually my normal cup of tea (I sway to the more popular end as a writer and reader) but I AM moving in a different direction and I want to take my writing to another level, a deeper level.  And I’m definitely moving to character-driven work (which is how the whole method acting thing came up), not police procedurals or forensic crime. But what about character and method acting?  Was I really ready to let it go? And it was March…I had three months until I had to present my research proposal at the school’s postgrad conference.  The first OMG came in right about here.

So, step 1: put down Stanislavski and co and check out ACADEMIC studies that may cover method acting and storytelling.

Step 2: Start investigating literary crime and “the literary” in general.

Deep breaths. The piece of cake was suddenly a hell of a lot bigger. Like, huge. Lucky for me I love cake, huh?

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June 10, 2015

Anatomy of a PhD – application process

Filed under: Doctorate,Writing — PD Martin @ 11:48 am

I decided to apply for a PhD back in September 2014, and since I received the fantastic news that I got in (!) I’ve been meaning to blog about the process, especially the key milestones. So, this is a retrospective blog on the application process and I’ll write other blogs to catch up with the process over the coming months.

The application process itself is fairly time-consuming, but the effort is well worth it. The first thing to do is look a universities that fit the bill. Things to consider include the university’s creative writing reputation, the course structure, the supervisors and the location (although not as important with a research PhD in this day and age).

While researching some of my top picks (the universities I knew had strong creative writing departments), I discovered that the creative writing PhD in Australia is either via a Doctorate of Philosophy or a Doctorate of Creative Arts. However, regardless of which PhD you enrol in, the structures can be very different across universities. A research PhD in creative writing consists of:

  1. A creative writing piece (e.g. a collection of short stories or poems, or a novel/novella).
  2. An exegesis (a researched, academic paper that ideally addresses a gap in the current research).

Now, the balance (and word counts) assigned to these elements vary. Some universities require a 50,000 word novel (novella) and a 50,000 word exegesis. I didn’t feel this break up was conducive to producing a viable, publishable novel — plus, to be honest, it wouldn’t play to my strengths. I’ve got a lot more experience as an author/novelist than writing academic papers and theses. So for me, my first point of difference was to look at the structure and investigate universities where the creative-to-exegesis ratio was more like 70:30.

The next (and arguably most important element) to research was each university’s supervisors. Basically, you need to match your writing and potential research field with the academic staff at each university. Some universities have a central application system (you send in your proposal and the co-ordinator discusses it with the staff to see if anyone’s interested) but at most of the universities I investigated the onus was on the applicant to research the academic staff and approach them directly to gauge interest. This probably takes as much time (maybe more) as actually writing the proposal!

Finally, I considered the university’s location, but it wasn’t a deciding factor for me. Again, because for much of the time you’re working autonomously the university doesn’t have to be nearby or even in the same state, Once you’re up and running, you do ‘meet’ with your supervisor fortnightly, but these meetings can be done with a combination of emails, phone calls and in-person meetings.

I was lucky enough to get a couple of offers in the end, but I chose Adelaide University. The things I love the most about Adelaide University are its creative writing reputation and my supervisor Brian Castro (who recently won the Patrick White Literary Award and has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin four times). As I shift my writing focus, I believe Brian will be an invaluable guide along the way.

So here’s to the next three years!

 

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November 1, 2014

NaNoWriMo…here I come again!

Filed under: Uncategorized — PD Martin @ 6:02 pm

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonThis will be my third year doing NaNoWriMo. In the past (I confess) I haven’t been able to make the 50,000 word goal. However, this year I’m much more confident that it’s possible. You see, I have a secret weapon…five write-ins on the five Sundays of November. Yup, 9am-5pm, every Sunday. I will have short breaks because it’s part of my NaNoWriMo Success course, so I need to run out and get the catering and coffee/tea. It’s important that my students and fellow NaNoWriMo writers are feeling well-fed and well-caffeinated J  But other than that, it’s bum on seat, full stop.

I’ve also got another secret weapon. It’s something I put together for my NaNoWriMo students and I’m loving it as much as they are! It’s my NaNoWriMo workbook, but really it’s a booklet/form I’ll be using for every single book I write from now on.

The first two pages cover title, POV, setting, relevant themes, the premise, the controlling idea and relevant research. And then I’ve got 25 pages on character development work (questionnaires, back stories, exercises to tap into characters’ emotions, pictures of what I envisage my main characters look like, etc.). And then I’ve got my plot pages, where I’ve worked out the plot of my novel.

So, that will be sitting right beside me while I write. I thought of the idea purely in the context of my NaNoWriMo course, but now I’m completely in love with my novel workbook and can see this is the way forward for me as well as my students .It doesn’t matter how much writing experience you have, a little bit of preparation can make a huge difference to the finished product.

So here I go…time to write!

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September 11, 2014

Creative immersion

Filed under: Getting published,Writing — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 9:58 am

This past week has been about creative immersion—not for me, for a group of students!

Covent1[1]I created my new novel writing intensive course so I could have complete ‘control’ over my creative writing course in terms of the length and content. And I’m loving it! Don’t get me wrong, I also love teaching at Writers Victoria and the other state centres around Australia (like my two-day stint in Adelaide at the end of July). However, nothing beats designing the course yourself. In the case of my novel writing intensive, it’s five days in a row, 10am-4pm at the Abbotsford Covent (on the left). By the end of the week, participants really do have everything they need to write a novel or take their current draft to that next level.

And while I’m not actively taking part in the creative immersion, as such, it’s also pretty intense for me. I’m on the journey with my students, and I’ve got to say, nothing beats seeing a writer’s eyes light up when they see/hear something that clicks and their whole novel falls into place. Something that changes their whole world view—of their fictional world, that is.

As I expected, it was the character and plot days that provided the most lightning bolt moments for my students—who ranged in writing backgrounds from writers about to embark on their first novel to a student who’d had two books traditionally published ten years ago and wanted to up her professional development and to ignite her love of writing again. And I’m happy to say, by the end of the week she was raring to go.

While the course only involves me reading the students’ first 10-15 pages and so I’m by no means intimate with their stories and characters, it’s still incredibly satisfying to see students work out new beginnings, identify their problem areas, work out some more plot twists and turns, and head off after day 5 ready to attack their novels. There aren’t many things that beat the passion for a story and your characters. It burns you, consumes you, until all you can do is write.

That’s my job done, I guess. Mission accomplished. Now it’s back to MY work in progress. Man, am I behind.

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August 8, 2014

First draft, first 25,000 words

Filed under: Getting published,Writing — Tags: , , , — PD Martin @ 2:20 pm

I last blogged about writing my new novel in April. That blogged focused on some of the preparation work – plot development and character exercises.

I’ve spent the last four months refining a first draft of the first 60 pages for my agent to submit to publishers. It’s been a long and arduous process, but it also proves something I always tell my students…good writing is about editing, editing and re-editing. This is the twelfth book I’ve written (that figure includes early ones that didn’t get published) and the process is still hard and time-consuming. And, of course, incredibly fun and engaging.

So, what sorts of edits have I been up to:

  1. Character, character, character. It can be a hard thing to edit for, but it’s important to get it right.
  2. Internal monologue. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to internal monologue (cut, cut, cut) but with this new genre there is space for a little more of the main characters’ thoughts. Problem was I took this ‘freedom’ and went too far. So I’ve been editing those internal monologues down.
  3. Beats. I’m a beat fanatic, but I often have to change my beats. During the first draft I often put place-marker beats in and during editing I work on improving them. Beats and character development go hand-in-hand, so I often use my beats to SHOW character traits.
  4. Tension. I’ve also been upping the ante when it comes to tension, and while I wanted my first pages to show my characters happy (before the bad xxx goes down), my agent still wanted conflict.

And that’s about it for this draft. The four elements above make up part of my Writing Rules to Live By, yet they’re still things I often have to edit for, things that tend to creep into my first draft.

So the motto is: edit, edit, edit!

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July 22, 2014

The ideal creative writing course format

Filed under: Getting published,Uncategorized,Writing — Tags: , , , — PD Martin @ 7:43 pm

What is the ideal creative writing course format? Is there even such a thing? Writing courses come in all shapes and sizes—from a three-hour workshop to a full-time course. What’s best? What course will help you improve your writing the most?

I’ve taught quite a few different course formats –the shortest would be a six-hour workshop and I’d class my longest as being my mentorship role in the tertiary system. What works best?

The truth is, there are advantages and disadvantages of different course formats. One of my favourite courses was the Year of the Novel course I taught at Writers Victoria in 2012. I loved the fact that I could help people improve their writing over time, and I could see their projects taking shape. This course was one Sunday a month for eight months. However, while the eight-month time frame held many advantages, there were also disadvantages. Part of my teaching ethos is to drive my students to write more and finish their novels. Which meant that in my eight-month course I set word counts that I wanted them to achieve before our next session. Problem? I couldn’t possibly fit all the writing craft, character development work and plot development work into the first day of the course. Of course, I’d structured the course to feed the relevant craft info into key points, but still, there are definitely advantages of doing a more intensive course upfront before you start writing the next novel (or while you’re writing it).

I’m now also running intensive, week-long novel writing sessions at the Abbotsford Convent. Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm. These are designed to set up writers with the knowledge and tools to start and finish their novels. Again, there are advantages and disadvantages of this format. On the plus side, after only one week I’m confident that these students will know everything they need to know to make their novel the best it can be. To increase their chances of getting a publishable novel at the end of the day. It’s also handy for my interstate students, who can take the week off work and fly in once and know they have improved their craft exponentially. But it is pretty intensive and there’s no room for workshopping a novel, chapter-by-chapter.

The ideal format? I think a short course of 4-8 days over a shorter time frame (e.g. all the days in a row or weekly) followed by a longer course/program to ensure you’re putting all the craft knowledge into action is the ideal combination. The longer program could be in the form of a detailed manuscript assessment, workshopping group, or a course. Or even giving your manuscript to a good editor. I’ve learnt a lot from seeing the skilful edits of my Aussie, UK and US editors.

It’s also important you choose a ‘good’ course. Of course, choose a teacher who’s a published author, and someone who’s an experienced teacher. One of my students who did one of my Writers Victoria courses (five-day course over five months) said she learnt more in those five days than she did in her one-year, full-time creative writing course. And while that’s incredibly flattering, it also appals me that a full-time course can’t deliver the goods. So choose wisely and research the teachers!!

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June 4, 2014

Matthew Luhn’s story structure workshop

Filed under: Getting published,Writing — Tags: , , — PD Martin @ 9:33 pm

Last week I went to Matthew Luhn’s one-day story workshop in Melbourne. It was part of a three-day event on animation, set up by Pixar. Yup, the big guns!

I was pretty excited. It’s not very often that an author gets to do ‘professional development’ after a certain stage in their career (usually publication). You see, most courses are aimed at emerging writers—fair enough, that’s the students I usually get in my classes too. In fact, it was partly because I’m teaching so much these days that I thought I’d rock up to the event and see what one of Pixar’s Story Supervisors had to say about story structure. It’s always interesting to hear how other story pros approach their work. Matthew’s resume includes all three Toy Story movies, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, Cars, Ratatouille, UP, Monsters University and Toy Story of Terror. That’s a pretty good rap sheet :)

The morning focused solely on story, so it was this part that was most relevant to me, and that I thought I’d blog about. I find that often with story and character, it’s not that the content itself is new or provides some revelation, but it’s how it’s expressed.

As an example, I really liked the way he expressed the story structure:
• Exposition
• Inciting incident
• Progressive complications
• Crisis
• Climax
• Resolution

Of course, we often/usually see the words ‘climax’ and ‘resolution’ in story structure theory and the ‘inciting incident’ is part of a couple of plot breakdowns including Blake Snyder’s 15 beat sheet (mentioned in the Catalyst ‘beat’) and film’s eight sequence structure. But still, I like the simplicity of the expression above.

I also wanted to share some of Matthew Luhn’s character approaches and notes. I particularly liked the way he talked about showing your character’s passion and at least one major flaw during the exposition (story set up). The inciting incident is then usually about taking away that character’s passion or them committing to trying to achieve that passion. Nice, huh? I watched The Incredibles the other day with my kids and saw this story-character relationship. The hero’s passion was being a superhero and that was taken away from him when he was sued and the government relocated all superheroes under secret identities. He was no longer allowed to use his powers, in fact, he had to hide his abilities. Matthew’s example in the workshop was UP. Carl’s passion was his wife and their house was an extension of their relationship and all he had left of her. In UP, his house was going to be taken away.

It also got me thinking about my current work in progress. Interestingly, I went the other way around. I could easily identify my inciting incident but I hadn’t traced it back to her ‘passion’. Yes, I’d looked at how it (the inciting incident) would affect her, but not as a direct relationship to a ‘passion’ and therefore needing to set up that passion early on. I’ve just re-written the first chapter, brining her passion to the fore.

The second half of the day did focus more on animation stuff—composing story boards, cinematography in animation (camera angles), etc. Incredibly interesting but probably not that useful in the day-to-day life of an author.

Still, the day was definitely worthwhile and the timing was good, because it got me fired up again for my current work in progress! And Pixar does rock.

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April 3, 2014

Chapter 1

Filed under: Writing — Tags: , , , , — PD Martin @ 2:19 pm

I’m about to start a new novel and I thought it might be interesting (especially for aspiring writers!) for me to blog about the process.  For a start, while I’ve titled this post ‘Chapter 1′ that’s not the first thing I’ve done.  I very rarely start a book by sitting down and writing the first chapter without some preparation. And this new novel is no exception.  I’m moving into a new genre (again!) and so my first step was to read some of the books selling in this space. What do I like about these novels? What do I LOVE about these novels? And what were the things I didn’t like so much?

Next I came up with about five ideas that would work as novels and wrote a paragraph or two about each one. Then it was decision time – I selected one idea to be the first in this new direction.

For this novel, my next step was to plot the novel out. While I don’t want to reveal the specific genre/style (yet) I will say that the most important element in the genre is to have a multitude of layers.  So, in this case it made sense to look at plot first. I decided to keep it simple. Rather than using a plot tool like Blake Snyder’s beat sheet, or even the three-act structure I simply wrote out each chapter/scene in bullet points. This is different to the plot tools and techniques I’ve used before, but somehow it seemed right. There are two viewpoint characters that I’m alternating between, so it was literally the person’s name, then a few bullet points on what happened and/or how they felt in that scene.

Next (and this is where I’m at now) is character development. I’ve started with my female viewpoint character and I’m on istock.com looking at images that look like the girl I’ve got in my head. I’ve set up a lightbox called ‘Jodi’ (yes, that’s my main character’s name) and I’m filling it with photos. Soon I’ll narrow it down to 3-10 photos that capture the character or her mood. Maybe it will be the hair of this woman, with the sense of carefree attitude in this pic, but with the ability to stare into your soul in her calmer moments. We all have different faces, so no ONE photo will be the one. My character is going to experience highs and lows in the novel, so I like to have visual reminders of how she looks happy, thoughtful, sad, etc. These pics come together with the image I already have of her to form MY Jodi. It’s visual, but it’s also more than that.

This is my current lightbox (still working on it though!). It gives a good idea of the visual element of my character development process.

New Picture (1)

Next stop: My character questionnaire!

And here’s a summary for the cheats/time-poor writers out there :)

1. Research genre.

2. Come up with several ideas in that space and select the one that’s calling to you the most. (Note: 1 & 2 are often/usually done in the opposite order to my example…the  idea comes first, then you research genre).

3. Use a plot technique that works for you to plot your novel (if you want to do it before you start writing).

4. Work on your characters – I recommend choosing photos that look like your projected image of him/her and also completing a character questionnaire to drill deep into the character’s personality and psyche.

I’ll let you know how I’m going on 1 May.

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