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The Dreaded Coverage (or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Feedback)

Today’s topic is about one of the most dreaded things a write can encounter: professional feedback, otherwise known as coverage. How to use and deal with feedback is one of the most important skills for a writer. As a screenwriter, that goes double.

WHAT IS COVERAGE?

Coverage is obtained when a writer submits his or her screenplay to an industry professional for written feedback. The professional does not undertake to produce the script, but instead provides a written report listing its strengths and weaknesses.

The difference between professional coverage and feedback from other people, such as the writers in your writers’ group (you do have a writer’s group, right?) is that you pay for the former. But the principles about how to deal with feedback are the same whether you pay or not.

HOW TO GET COVERAGE

There are many ways to get coverage. Websites and screenwriting gurus abound offering consultancy services ranging from around $50 upwards. The sky is the limit. I have seen consultants ask for thousands of dollars. The pros and cons of these services may depend on where you are as a writer, and I won’t go into whether they are worth the fee here.

You can also approach your peers – other writers. I would not suggest using friends and family unless they are also writers.  Your mother will always say your latest torture horror opus is “lovely, dear”. Likewise, friends may not wish to offend you. Those who are not writers may simply lack the skills needed to analyse a script or to tell you whether it is marketable or not. So always go with someone with experience of writing, editing or script reading.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into what coverage means to a writer:

 

Signs of when it's time to move on. (via Bluecat)

Signs that it’s time to move on.

STANDARD COVERAGE FORMAT FOR SCREENPLAYS

In the film industry, coverage consists of 2-3 pages of synopsis, followed by (usually) 2-3 pages of actual analysis, sometimes followed by a score card. The “meat” of coverage is the 2-3 page analysis. The score card illustrates at a glance the strengths and weaknesses of your work according to that script reader.

What is the purpose of the synopsis, you ask? I submitted my script to get an analysis, not to have my own story told back to me! I’ve been swindled!

Well, it’s tempting to consider the fist 2-3 pages as filler and ignore it. But another way to look at it is to consider that your story may not have translated itself into someone else’s head the way you imagined it in your own.

Writing is the art and craft of transferring thoughts from your own head into someone else’s. It is a kind of telepathy. Whether the other person “gets” your scene or not, or has a different impression of what just happened in your story, can be a sign that you were not successful in getting them to imagine everything as you did.

 

HOW TO DEAL WITH COVERAGE

Whenever a writer receives feedback, whether verbal or written, the initial reaction may well be to clench your teeth, dig your nails into the arms of your chair, then launch into a tirade about “idiots not getting it” or accusing the reader of skipping important parts that explained everything.

But remember, as a writer your job is to communicate. Just as the customer is king in the restaurant industry, in the writing world the reader is king. If the reader doesn’t get  what you want them to get, you have only yourself to blame.

Another reaction is panic. Panic at the amount of work that needs doing. Despair at the insurmountable cliff one faces. Did you spend enough time on your script to begin with? Most writers write around ten drafts of a script and at least two drafts of a novel before even showing it to anyone.  Now another rewrite looms. How will you ever get the work done?

Trust me, it’s something everyone dreads.

The way I deal with this is as follows:

Read the feedback all the way through, from start to finish.

Do nothing.

Let it percolate. Don’t be temped to dash off a hasty e-mail cursing the reader for his or her stupidity. If you’re in a writer’s group or face-to-face situation, take the comments with good grace and make a note of them. You will be glad you did. Giving feedback is an art in itself (that’s for another time). Some people are better at it than others. The other person may only wish to help as much as possible. They may think that by being ultra-critical they are only strengthening the material.

Let the dust settle.

After about a week of nursing your feelings by overindulging on cappuccino or another beverage of your choice go back to the feedback. Read it again.

Now that your feelings are out of the way, doesn’t it make more sense? You may even be inspired as you read and gain ideas about how to improve the script. How did you miss that plot point? And of course that character wouldn’t do that!

Maybe the reader knows something after all.

Read it again.

This time, break it down into the things that don’t work. Also make a note of the things the reader liked. Don’t change these. These are your story’s strengths.

I always copy the feedback into another document, then edit it down so that I just have the reader’s criticisms  bullet-pointed in a list.

Still looks like an awful lot of wok, doesn’t it?

Here’s a secret tip.

Do the easy stuff first!

Did you use the wrong word somewhere? Commit a typo? Attribute dialogue to the wrong character. Go and change that sucker now. Each time you do, remove that point from your document.

Feels good, right?

You’re making progress!

NOW FOR THE REAL WORK

At this point, go back over your shortened document. Now separate the points out into things like “STORY”, “CHARACTER”,  and “DIALOGUE”.

I now go through the script one time for each of these things. Take another pass for story problems, then another for character and dialogue etc. I recommend Paul Chitlik’s excellent book “Rewrite” for a structured approach. If you already did this, now’s the time to do it again.

By taking a structured, methodical approach to addressing feedback, you can make the process of rewriting much less painful.

If you find yourself unwilling to throw out a cherished scene or piece of dialogue, simply save another version of your novel or screenplay file. You can always go back to it. And you may find that without the psychological crutch of having it there you’ll find a much better way to write that scene or show that character’s journey.

Feedback is painful. It’s painful because we writers like to believe that what’s on the page is a little bit of our soul. And rejection hurts. But that’s not how it is. Rare is the script that cannot be improved, even Oscar-winning screenplays. Henry James, the great American novelist, used to return to his stories and tinker with them ad infinitum.

By taking time to let your wounded pride recover, you can approach feedback with a clear head. By breaking it down into small tasks, you can make rewriting seem less daunting. If you do these things, receiving feedback may become less like a chore.

As always, if you think I’ve missed anything, or disagree with me, let me know. I welcome the feedback!

Happy (re)writing!

 

POSTSCRIPT:

There will come a time when you cannot rewrite any more. Recognising this is just as important as knowing the script needs improvement. When you reach this stage, don’t delay. Get it out there! Form a marketing plan and execute it. Don’t let someone else beat you to the punch. This has happened to me several times. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone sell your idea to a studio when your script is sitting on a shelf waiting to be marketed!

 

 

My top 20 horror novels of the past 70 years!

As it’s almost Christmas, here is a list of my own favourite horror books. These are books that either inspired, terrified me, or made my jaw drop at the sheer beauty of the writing. These are all personal choices, so feel free to disagree. But without further ado, here is the list, in no particular order…

 

rats

The Rats James Herbert

British writer James Herbert was strangely underrated during his lifetime, which is a shame, as he is one of the most frightening horror writers of the 20th century. “The Rats” burst on to the scene in the 1970s, and it still packs a punch today. The huge list of characters, the violence, and the incredible imagery make this a must-read!

Cabal Clive Barker

In the 1980s Clive Barker appeared as a breath of fresh air with his promise to show what other writers only hinted at. Not satisfying with having the monster carry off the maiden, Barker wanted to reveal what happened afterwards. Cabal is his most solid novel, a tale of a man who believes he is a psychopath and takes refuge in a hidden underground city of monsters. The result is a Grand Guignol of the surreal and unnerving. Filmed as the uneven but imaginative “Nightbreed” with David Cronenberg as the bad(der) guy!

 

king

The Stand Stephen King

My first Stephen King entry is the author’s dark take on the apocalypse. It begins with a whimper and ends with a bang.  Filmed twice with varying success, this is some of King’s finest writing. So depressingly realistic that at first I had to give up on it and came back when I was in a lighter mood!

IT Stephen King

The second Stephen King entry on my list is, I think, undeservedly ignored, thanks to a forgettable TV movie. But make no mistake, the novel is King at the peak of his powers. The characters are rich but archetypal, the town of Derry both nostalgic and terrible. And the monster, ah, the monster..!

 

The Doll Who Ate His Mother, Ramsey Campbell

 

A peculiarly British atmosphere pervades this book, set in the poor end of Liverpool. There is a particularly nasty antagonist, but what makes it so memorable is Campbell’s description of urban neglect. Wherever the characters go you feel the empty eyes of forgotten tenements glaring at them. A unique little tale.

bradbury

The October County Ray Bradbury

Few can deny that Ray Bradbury is the American master of the short story. But did you know that this anthology contains an early possible prototype of the Addams Family? These American Gothic fables contain such memorable tales as “The Jar” and “The Emissary”. Packed with gorgeous prose, this is both horror and literary… and funny to boot!

Domain James Herbert

The last entry in the “Rats” series sees survivors of a nuclear holocaust eking out an existence in London’s rubble. Until they find an army of mutated rats waiting for them! Superlative suspense fiction. Every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger. Surely a Hollywood blockbuster waiting to be made!

The Vampire Tapestry Suzy McKee Charnas

A unique take on the vampire genre sees Suzy Charnas’s ancient and wily vampire take on the challenges of the modern world. Never has a vampire been presented in such a detailed psychological light.

The Books of Blood Clive Barker

Yes, all of them! It’s hard to imagine how revolutionary Barker’s fiction was when it first surfaced. These short stories run the gamut from the epic (In the Hills, The Cities) to the eerie (Skins of the Fathers), the surreal  (The Body Politic), the funny (The Yatttring and Jack) and the downright weird (Son of Celluloid). Some have become movie fodder, such as the unforgettably bizarre video nasty “Rawhead Rex”. Others are allegedly in the pipeline. But nothing can prepare you for Barker’s very personal vision of a contemporary world that’s as dark and corrupted as Dante’s inferno!

Interview with The Vampire Anne Rice

The book that launched a publishing legend. I still remember getting lost in the luxuriant Gothic prose. Anne Rice creates a vivid fantasy fever dream that is both like and unlike the movie version. A true masterpiece of fiction.

triffid

Day of the Triffids John Wyndham

British writer John Wyndham’s most well-known book is an example of the “cosy catastrophe”. But that’s why I like it! It’s interesting to see stiff upper lips drop as British society falls apart under attack from some walking plants with the aid of a meteor shower!

Kiss Kiss Roald Dahl

Not just the writer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl’s short stories were laced with an acerbic wit and grisly imagination. A bit like fairy tales for adults, with added poisoning, brain surgery and insect/baby hybrids!

Ghost Story Peter Straub

Possibly THE great American ghost story. Peter Straub writes far too little horror these days. But this fantastic novel – described by Stephen King as “a tiger tank of a book” – contains virtually every twist on the ghost tale that you can imagine. Oozes atmosphere and quiet menace!

legend

I Am Legend Richard Matheson

With episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and numerous TV movies such as the unforgettable “Duel” and “The Night Stalker”, Richard Matheson inspired a generation of writers.  This is his probably his most famous work – filmed as the languid Vincent Price chiller “The Last Man On Earth”,  the action-packed and very Seventies “The Omega Man” with Charlton Heston, and lately as the CGI-heavy Will Smith popcorn flick, this tale of a man alone in a  world of vampires  has still never been done right. Which is a shame. It’s a fine novel.

The Haunting Shirley Jackson

One of the great ghost stories ever written, it’s amazing how the writer delivers so many effective scares without ever resorting to gore or shocks. Shirley Jackson’s story is a snowball rolling downhill, gathering chills as it goes. Also one very good and one very bad movie.

Teatro Grottesco Thomas Ligotti

Ligotti is one of the writers of the “new weird” – modern authors in the cosmic horror tradition of HP Lovecraft. This collection showcases his unique prose style – a style of flatness and repetition – that lends his words a peculiarly terrifying banality. “The Red Tower” was a particularly fine story. Have fun unpacking the symbolism!

Hour of the Oxrun Dead Charles L Grant

Overlooked by many, Charlie Grant’s Oxrun Station stories all take place in the same sleepy Connecticut town – that just happens to attract all manner of evil! Perhaps it was because these are classic supernatural stories that came out just as writers like King were modernizing old horror tropes. But these are creepy tales, laced with luscious prose. The old TOR versions had the best covers – each one a gorgeous Halloween-themed scene. Ideal for a creepy night in!

grant

Last Call of Mourning Charles L Grant

My favourite Charlie Grant story keeps you guessing all the way through. The plot sounds simple enough – the heroine returns to Oxrun Station to find her family ‘changed’. They don’t bleed, keep out of the sunlight, and have strange nocturnal habits. But the truth is something you’ll never guess. A masterful book that drips atmosphere and charm.

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All Laird Barron

Barron has erupted onto the horror scene in recent years. This volume represents many of his Lovecraft-meets-Raymond-Chandler style of stories. But that is to do him an injustice. True, “Hand of Glory” is an effective pulp/horror mashup. But other stories show a genuine ability to expose our innermost fears. His eye-catching imagery cannot be easily forgotten.

The Vampire Lestat Anne Rice

Anne Rice second entry in my list is, I think, the most rich of her vampire stories. While I loved the epic scale and sheer ambition of “The Witching Hour”, “The Vampire Lestat” beats it because of the wonderful ironies the author employs. Here we learn who Lestat is, where he came from, his complicated (to say the least) relationship with his mother and his first meeting with Armand. We also learn more about Rice’s vampire mythology. This is both epic and deeply personal. Lestat feels like a living, breathing person. In all of horror, I can’t recall a more well-rounded, charismatic character!

Afterword

What’s missing from this list? Plenty. This is not my “Top 20”. Nor is it meant to be any kind of definitive list. These are just books I’ve loved. Pure examples of the horror genre that are original stories. I’ve not included anything by any “classic” author such as HP Lovecraft, Mary Shelley or Edgar Allen Poe, because everybody knows all about them anyway. Hopefully you feel the same or similar about some of these titles, or if not, I hope you seek them out and find them to your liking!

Enjoy!

How to get your short story published!

By way of an update about the Revolutions Anthology I am editing (along with my fellow members of the Manchester Speculative Fiction Group), I thought I would share some insights about how to submit a story to an editor.

The reason I’m doing this is that I have been surprised by how many people don’t know the best way to do this. So here are some tips about sending out your short stories if you’re a fledgling writer (or even if you’re not).

Submissions are closed now for the anthology, and myself and my fellow editors are busy reading through a small mountain of stories. But I have noticed some simple errors that will stop you from being published. 

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Except for a word limit of 6,000 words we only had two rules for the Revolutions Anthology. One, stories had to be speculative (science-fiction, fantasy, horror or slipstream). Two, they had to be connected in some way to Greater Manchester, England.

That was it.

First of all, here’s what NOT to do.

– Send things the publisher doesn’t publish. We would love to have published a novel, but that wasn’t what we set out to do. We wanted short stories. Period. So sending us anything else is just a waste of your (and our) time.

– Send us a long list of stories we might like and ask us to pick one. Sorry, but it’s up to you to decide which story to submit.

Here’s what you should really do:

– Be professional.

That’s it.

The general public often see writing as a strange profession, part shaman, part celebrity. You sit down and magically produce a novel or short story which a publisher then falls in love with. And lo, a legend is born!

Alas, not so.

Writers are just like anyone else. They have to work.

If you want to submit a short story you have already written to a publisher (for instance, an anthology or magazine editor) check first to see if it’s the kind of thing they would want. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES!

This is so important, I’ll say it again: FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES!

Editors are busy. They set guidelines because it helps them save time. We all want to save time. So save yours and theirs by FOLLOWING THE GUIDELINES (there, I said it again).

So what should you send?

1) Your story, either attached or emebedded in the e-mail as per their GUIDELINES (!).

2) A short covering letter (short being the operative word). This should tell them the following:

– Who you are

– What you are submitting (How long it is. What genre it is. It’s title)

– If necessary, a short one paragraph biography detailing any relevant publishing credits you have, or any relevant experience you have. Note the word RELEVANT. If you’re a palaeontologist and your story is about fossils, that MIGHT be relevant. If you’re a divorce lawyer and your story is about a wertiger, it probably is going to be less relevant. Use common sense.

 

DO try to address the letter to the editor by name. It’s not always possible. Some are shy about putting their names on their wesbites. But “Dear Bob” always sounds better than “Dear editors” or “Dear Sir/Madam”.

DO NOT spell the editors names incorrectly.

DO NOT assume that anyone who uses their initials only is a man (or woman). A good tip for this is to address them by their initials, e.g. “Dear T.J.”

A good letter should also include a good-bye. Something simple like “I hope you enjoy the story and look forward to hearing from you in due course, Yours sincerely, Eric.” is enough.

That’s it.

After that, send your shiny e-mail off into the ether and wait. Wait again. Then wait a bit more.

DO NOT pester the editor with e-mails every few weeks asking if they’ve read your story. I  myself only ever chase up a submission if it’s something I’ve personally been asked to submit. It’s a sad fact that some publishers never reply to you. Take that as a rejection.

Once you’ve done all that, either:

a) REJOICE! Your submission was successful. You are now a published author!

or

b) REPEAT the above.

Nobody ever said being a writer would be easy! Writing requires persistence, patience, and above all, a thick skin. Not everyone will appreciate your genius right off the bat. Don’t let that deter you. Get back in their champ and keep swinging!

Following the above will not guarantee that your story will ever see the light of day. However, it will guarantee that the editor does not immediately burn your submission (hopefully). Doing these simple things will ensure that you come across as a professional rather than an amateur. And, sometimes, that makes all the difference.

 

 

The only guide to writing a logline you’ll ever need – Part Two

This is the second in three posts on how to write a logline.

In the first post, we looked at what a logline is and, more importantly, what it is not.

We learned that a logline is a basic selling tool for your screenplay or novel. It is  a one or two sentence pitch that aims to tell the reader about your story in a succinct manner in order to save the reader TIME.

We also talked about the difference between a logline and a tagline, a teaser, and a movie cross.

Now comes the meaty part. This where we break down what goes into a good logline.

The NUMBER ONE MISTAKE writers make when pitching their story is that they do not invest time in their marketing materials. Incredible as it seems, they spend months or even years honing their script, then hammer out a logline in minutes and wonder why nobody wants to read it. However, a good logline can open doors, create working relationships, and get your project sold or made.

Sound good, right?

Then read on!

 

ELEMENTS OF A GOOD LOGLINE

A good logline gets a producer, agent, manager, executive, publisher etc. to continue their relationship with you. Ideally, it gets them to read the script. To this end, you have to ask yourself “What is a producer etc. looking for?”

ANSWER: something they can sell.

Okay. Not very helpful. But you should already have done your research on them to check if this is their kind of project. More on that another time. For now, let’s look at things from their point of view. How do they know if this project is the right thing for them? Bear in mind that they have many, many submissions to go through every single day?

ANSWER: by ensuring it contains the following:

A great TITLE.

The GENRE.

A HOOK.

Who is the HERO?

What is the CATALYST?

What is the nature of the CHALLENGE they must face?

And for added points:

The Hero’s JOURNEY.

The ARENA.

Who thought loglines could be so complex? Actually, it’s simpler than you might think. Most of these are intuitive anyway.

But let’s go through them one at a time, just to make sure you have them:

 

TITLE

It sounds obvious, but a movie should have a great title, something that sets it apart from everything else. Ideally, it should also inform the audience aboout the subject matter. I’ve noticed that many well-made but obscure movies don’t do as well as they could have because they have a generic title that says nothing about the subject or the plot.

For a recent example, how about “Edge of Tomorrow”? A title so generic they had to rename it for the DVD release. It doesn’t say anything about the plot or the characters.

Or how about: “John Carter”. This assumes that you already know who John Carter is. For my money they should have gone with: “John Carter: Warlord of Mars”. Now that would have piqued my interest.

One of the best movie titles is “Ghostbusters”. It’s funny and tells you the entire premise. It gives away not just the concept, but also the fact that this is an action-comedy movie.

 

GENRE

You can sometimes even give this away in the title, as with “Ghostbusters”. Otherwise, you want to indicate it in the logline.

To use my the example of my own script “Demophobia”, can you tell what genre this is:

A man with a phobia of people must search a crime-infested city for his missing girlfriend, only to come into conflict with a mysterious entity controlling the homeless population.

Clearly something speculative is going on. But is it a sci-fi? A fantasy? A horror? I would say the logline implies that this is a straight story, not a comedy. But to make it clearer what kind of genre we’re talking about, I added:

When his girlfriend goes missing following a clinical drugs trial, a man with a phobia of people must search a crime-infested city for his missing girlfriend, only to come into conflict with a mysterious entity controlling the homeless population.

There. That hints that this is a sci-fi thriller, which indeed it is. Maybe there’s a little horror thrown in there too. It’s okay to have more than one genre in your logline, BTW.

Okay, so  my own logline isn’t perfect yet. But there’s a way to go before we’re done. In any case, giving the GENRE away in the logline will allow your producer to see at once whether your script is right for him or her.

 

THE HOOK

This is one of the main stumbling blocks, and something that’s talked about  a lot when discussing a “high concept”.

QUESTION: What is a “hook”?

ANSWER: A hook is the kind of thing you use to catch a fish. It’s a shimmering, bright, dancing object that teases your target into wanting to know more, until they request the script and… ulp! They”re hooked!

So much for metaphors. Now let’s get more serious:

Sometimes the hook is a fantastic concept that’s never been done before. For instance, “An ocean liner capsizes in a storm. The survivors must fight their way out through the sinking, upside-down ship to survive.” (The Poseidon Adventure)

Sometimes it’s just a catchy idea. Something that’s both new and familiar at the same time: “A father loses the right to see his children, so he dresses up as a woman to become the ideal nanny.” (Mrs. Doubtfire)

One of the easiest ways to ensure you have a hook is to use IRONY.

Irony is defined in the dictionary as: “A situation that seems funny or strange because things happen in a way that seems the opposite if what was expected”.

In a logline, it could appear because the hero has a specific occupation, and get to see the opposite of what we expected to see happen to her unfold in the story.

Or, if the hero has a particular character FLAW, you can play on this by making the worst thing possible happen to them.

Some “high-concept” movies do both.

For instance: in “Liar Liar” an attorney is forced to tell the truth after his kid makes a wish that comes true.

This logline tells us a lot about the movie. It’s funny. So it’s probably a comedy with a hit of satire. It’s not necessarily going to cost a fortune to shoot, unless we get someone like Jim Carrey in the lead. And it’s IRONIC. An attorney (who, it is implied, lies for a living – it is a comedy, after all) is forced to tell the truth! It’s irony based on occupation and character flaw (he lies a lot). Classic high concept!

 

HERO

Movies are often mythic stories. Especially high -grossing ones. As a result, producers like to see a central hero.

Most of the above examples make it pretty clear who is the hero of this movie. However, what do you do if you have an ensemble cast? For instance, The Poseidon Adventure doesn’t have a central hero.

ANSWER: The easiest fix for this is to pick out one character and make them the hero.

“Ocean’s Eleven” is about a group of con artists who rob casinos. All of the eleven are part of the group. But who changes the most? Either that, or who is the central focus of attention? It’s got to be Danny Ocean himself. So a logline for this might read:

“An ambitious ex-con gathers together a team of experts to rob three Las Vegas casinos at the same time.”

 

So there you are. We’ve covered TITLES, GENRES, the HOOK, and the importance of a central HERO. But we’re not done yet…

There’s a lot to digest in this post. So next time we’ll take a look at the rest of our logline ingredients: the CATALYST, the CHALLENGE , the Hero’s JOURNEY, and the ARENA.

See you there!

The Best-Selling Authors of All Time!

Here’s an interesting collection of facts that might help you decide what kind of writer you want to be.

Today I found a breakdown of the best-selling authors of all time. The results are not what you might expect. Here are the top ten. Figures are estimations.

1. William Shakespeare  2-4 billion copies sold worldwide.

2. Agatha Christie  2-4 billion

3. Barbara Cartland  500 million – 1 billion

4. Danielle Steel (no relation, sadly) 500 million – 800 million

5. Harold Robbins  750 million

6. Georges Simenon 500-700 million

7. Corin Tellado  400 million

8. Sidney Sheldon  370-600 million

9. Dr. Seuss  100-500 million

10. Gilbert Patten 125-500 million

Now, if these figures are to be believed (and you can view the source here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_fiction_authors) you may be surprised at some of the names. Where is J K Rowling, the darling of YA fantasy lovers? And what about Stephen King, Anne Rice, Dan Brown or Tom Clancy? All best-selling authors.

So what connects these writers?

Agatha Christie wrote whodunnits. Cartland, Steel and Tellado are all romance writers. Harold Robbins  wrote steamy pulp novels (one of them being the blueprint for the Elvis Presley movie King Creole). Georges Simenon created the detective Maigret. Dr. Seuss writes for pre-schoolers, and Gilbert Patten wrote Boys’-Own style adventure stories.

They were all also prolific (including Shakespeare, who wrote 38 plays, 142 Sonnets and two long poems). Corin Tellado, for example, wrote over 4000 novels.

And, with the exception of Shakespeare, none of them are renowned for producing “high art”.

The moral of this tale might be to produce as much as possible. “Never mind the quality, feel the width”, as the saying goes. Quantity certainly seems to earn more money than quality in publishing terms.

However, if we look just below these names, the figures tell a different story. Shakespeare was living in the 16th century. The others are all 20th century writers. They have the advantage of a modern publishing industry, media and advertising.

How surprising, then, to find that Leo Tolstoy is the 12th name on the list. The writer of two famously long “heavy” novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, has also sold hundreds of millions of copies. CS Lewis, author of the Narnia stories, has also sold between 1-200 million books. And Russian playwright and poet Alexander Pushkin may have sold up to 357 million copies of his works.

So what does this tell us? Certainly, in a mass-market media, churning out books helps. However, the public also seem to appreciate quality writing. Foreign markets are also a huge source of sales. So before you pick up your pen, decide whether you’d rather write romance or sci-fi, crank out thousands of books or perhaps write only one, as Presidential Medal of Freedom-winning writer Harper Lee did (until recently).

And then forget about ALL of this and just try to write something good.

The best movies of the 2010s so far!

TheMaster_Aceshowbiz-300x199

So for some reason it’s time to take stock of the movies made in the 2010s so far. Well, it would be remiss of me not to have my own Top 10 movies of the decade. Here’s a big disclaimer, though: these are just the movies I’ve seen. Some very recent movies (including a couple of Academy Award winners) are not among them. Anyway, here goes…

10. Thor

Why: Because it made the surfer look cool again. And it also gave us Tom Hiddleston. Kenneth Branagh’s rip-roaring take on the thunder god was just what Marvel needed. A genuinely fun romp, brilliantly executed.

9. Inception

Why: It’s Chinese Puzzle of a plot proved that audiences are more intelligent than they are given credit for. Some jaw-dropping SFX helped too. But mainly it was Christopher Nolan’s refusal to spoon-feed the viewer with easy answers that won me over.

8. Tron Legacy 

Why: Because it made synthesizer music trendy again. A killer soundtrack and incredible SFX made this underrated blockbuster a must-see. As well as being faithful to the original movie, it included such breakthroughs as a 30-years-younger Jeff Bridges fighting with himself. Oh, and Olivia Wilde. A visually stunning and practically perfect action movie.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

Why: It made “I Am Groot” part of popular culture. A very funny old-school action/comedy that just happens to be set in the Marvel universe. It also has some of the most memorable characters I’ve seen on screen for a long time – especially one psychopathic raccoon and a very literal-minded alien. Writer/director James Gunn never allows the excellent SFX to dictate the story and doesn’t fall into the trap of logically impossible action scenes.

6. The Conjuring

Why: A terrifying movie-going experience, right from the opening titles. This is horror on steroids. The plot is old-fashioned, but the movie is executed in one bravura set piece to the next. Classic horror.

5. Seven Psychopaths

Why: Postmodern, irreverent, full of grindhouse-style violence. But for me, Chis Walken and Sam Rockwell’s acting steals the show. The violence is played for laughs, but there’s also a real heart to the story that makes us question all that movie bloodshed we see so much of nowadays.

4. The Way Way Back

Why: A movie that perfectly captures adolescence. This is the kind of family comedy they made in the Eighties, but with a modern sensibility. Steve Carell is truly loathsome as the passive–aggressive antagonist. While Sam Rockwell turns in another masterful performance. Thirty years ago, Bill Murray would have done the same thing.

3. The Master

Why: The terrific acting holds together this rather quirky “institutionalized” drama. Joaquin Pheonix is a smouldering presence, inviting us to figure out what’s bugging him. It’s a pleasure to try to unravel the characters’ psyches while we watch them onscreen.

2. The King’s Speech

Why: A masterful talking-heads picture with some terrific low-key drama. There are no explosions or spaceships here, just stuffy drawing rooms and restrained performances. But it’s a movie that knows what it’s about and does it superbly, hitting all the right emotional notes.

1. The Artist

Why: What’s not to like about this movie? It’s a silent, black and white film made over 80 years after the first talking picture. But it’s not just a spoof or an homage. It uses silent film as a genre, almost as a metaphor. When sound does intrude upon the action, it’s a truly memorable moment. Some great performances with no dialogue underline this masterpiece of cinematic art. And it features one of the greatest dogs in movie history!

So there you have it. My top movies of the decade so far. These are, of course, based on my own personal tastes, although I’ve tried to include something for everyone. Feel free to tell me I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about. But for me, these were the real standouts.

Music is Your Friend…

Do you listen to music while you write?

Sounds like a banal question. But many writers are heavily influenced by music, while others say it helps them to concentrate and focus.

Alan Grant, comics writer of “Batman”, “Judge Dredd”, and many more, says he listens to music for an hour or so each morning before he starts to write. Evidently it gets his creative juices flowing.

Personally, I prefer something instrumental. I won’t bore you with a list of my favourites. Suffice to say, it includes plenty of heavy 1970s electronica and Baroque classical. Anything I can get my hands on that provides ambient background music. Hypnotic white noise helps me to zone in on the page.

Other writers have used music to do more than focus, however. Take Alan Moore. Almost every chapter of “Watchmen” has a musical lyric as its title – a conceit used to brilliant effect in the movie soundtrack. In fact, several of Moore’s stories seem to have been directly inspired by lyrics.

Music can capture your mood. Or it can provide you with tangible inspiration from its lyrics. Just don’t play that Eminem record at full volume on your iPod in the library, or I may have to hit you. Hard. With a book.

So find your muse, find your mood music, and write away…