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Tuesday 25 March 2008

How do you go about writing a book/screenplay? [Brit]

For the last few years, I've found myself constantly coming back to a semi fictional story idea I had some ten or so years ago, and whilst I've never done anything about it, in the last few months it has resurfaced repeatedly to the point that I'm exploring the idea of Doing Something About It(TM).

I have, mentally and across various notes, an overarching plot, and three fairly well established characters (the principal 'cast' if you like will be double if not triple that, so I've got some way to go); and the idea lends itself as well to a book as it does a screen.

My stumbling point - aside from the usual, time - is now that I don't know how to proceed. I've been looking around and there seems to be a long list of things to do and things to avoid, from early doors writing classes to ways in which to plot the thing out visually, to tools that help you actually structure and flesh out an idea.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this? I'm not a writer by trade (another obstacle I must overcome if this is to be a goer) but I am very used to turning rambling streams of often apparently unconnected conciousness into concisely edited biz docs & presentations...

I know Lurks has dabbled in the writing game before, but more generally, does anyone have any thoughts on where to kick off in a slightly more formal way?


  1. Any similarities between characters and EED members (alive or dead) is purely coincidental?


  2. Apart from a character called The Skive (a mysterious individual who hangs around Gatwick departure lounges, touting wireless messaging devices) there is no similarity at all :)


  3. Well, if by dabbled you mean... writing three full length novel works, actually completing a draft manuscript for the last one, shopping it around agents and then working with an editor for 18 months. Yeah. So, err, I'm not sure what you mean by more formal. I've not been very successful since my last agent helpfully died on me, 100% down to slackness on my behalf. The grand enemy of anyone who wants to get around to writing that book they've always wanted to write. Sound familiar?

    Depends what your goal is. If you've got an idea for a story and you fancy a crack and you've not done it before. I'd say, get stuck in. There's a pretty wide gulf to getting something near publishing standard though, but that doesn't need to be the only reason to bother right? Vast bulk of stuff I've written hasn't been read by anyone other than me and a few other amateur writers. The fact is you're vanishingly unlikely to have anything published anyway, so you shouldn't worry about it too much.

    If you are talking about professional level writing thenI would say that if you haven't done a lot of writing before it's virtually impossible to write a book from scratch. People naturally tend to think that they can write English and they can read a good book so how hard can it be? Quite goddamn tricky infact, depending on how complex you want to be. Novels generally have a far more complex structure than a linear short story.

    If you want to do it I'd say kick off just writing for starters. Try take a simple scene from the story with characters and set the scene, write the dialog etc. Practice getting into the heads of the characters. Then I highly recommend some of Sol Stein's instructional books such as Solutions for Novelists. There's a fuck load of others of course but this guy is direct and practical, I keep going back to his stuff.

    There's a whole bunch of basic writing techniques which really you just need to practice such as characterisation. Then there's one of the most difficult and least understood mechanisms, plotting. That's what tends to be the spanner in the works for a fiction novel. That's where you need a bit of formal theory really, or at least have been reading for a good while as a writer. By that I mean reading and actually looking at the structure of novels and trying to work out how the author came up with it.

    I've got a bookshelf full of books with dog ears and pen marks through them and colour coded post its stuck in them based on certain things I like, or a technique I thought was worth noting. Course not everyone gets as analytical as that, I guess the approach to some degree is dictated by how you get your head around new skills.

    Co-incidentally I've a week off work and I've been getting back into this by going through some writing excersizes and trying to push out a couple of short stories without re-writing parargraphs 50 times. I'm hoping I can get into the all important routine. I think that's hugely important. I always used to use train journeys but now I work from home that just got killed stone dead, so I'm trying to define a part of the day to do it. I think that's key for any budding writer.

    There's a great section in the Sol Stein book I read, where he talks about finding time. And how many excuses he's heard from people about finding time to write. So he cites some female author who was basically a disadvantaged single mum and managed to write a published novel snatched in between all the things she had to do. That was a bit of a smack in the face, and it's quite right too. If you want to do it, you'll find the time.

    Which leads on to how you write full stop. Some sort of laptop that has Word on it. Turn off all the bullshit that whines about spelling and grammar. Whack the font size right up. Then take the laptop into a room that doesn't have anyone else in it and most importantly of all doesn't the Internet. Then just get stuck in. If possible I'd try write out the entire scene section as I mentioned above, and only then go back to read it.

    Using an amateur author forum is great too. You can get lots of people to check out what you've written and give you honest opinions. I found that something of a revelation. People you know are often the worst people to show rough fiction to. It helps if they're at least receptive of the genre you're writing in too of course.


  4. The important thing, as Lurks stresses, is the quiet room away from the internet. Try and find a winter job as a caretaker of a large hotel on a bleak, snow-swept mountainside. The ideas will literally jump out at you!


  5. Doesn't need to be quiet. A few big authors liked writing in coffee shops. I gave that a bash and it was pretty cool. The big thing for me, at the time, was lack of Internet.

    I actually think it's good for you to have people around. I think writing benefits from being immersed in experience, other people. Lest your characters all end up being based on people you know and being unintentionally similar.


  6. Cheers for the pointers! I shan't be delving into any remote winter hotels however, but everything else is easily doable if as you say, you unplug from the matrix. I think I shall take myself down to the local cafe over the weekend (nice big windows) and see what happens... and probably overdose on caffeine :)