Genre Based Writing: A Film Is A Film, A Play Is A Play And A Book Is A Book

“I watched that film but it bugged me all the way through, it wasn’t anything like the book.”

How many times have you heard this from people who are disappointed that their favourite read didn’t keep their favourite bits when it was adapted for screen or stage…

They followed its new incarnation but something about it wasn’t right.

New characters appeared, dialogue altered, the plot wasn’t the same or bits were cut out.  For them it made story a sort of Frankenstein of the original.

“Why did they do that,” they ask, deflated, “what’s that about?”

Genre based writing – the mantra

Writers often talk about writing for a specific genre. “Know your genre,” is a mantra.

Genre means the particular style of a particular work of art. Think about selecting a film to watch or a book to buy, they are often grouped, advertised and sold in genres.

Action movies aren’t the same as historical romance, well not usually

Horror isn’t the same as a musical. Even the Little Shop Of Horrors is a comedy rather than blood, guts and gore.

Genre works because it fits the style of the medium a book is being adapted into.

A writer thinks about the genre when they are looking at adapting a book to screen or stage.

The genre affects the adaptation

Holding a new book in your hands is a different experience than sitting down in front of a live or on-screen performance.

You are the only person in charge of turning the pages so there’s no time limit on how long you take to finish it, that isn’t the same with a play, film or TV show.

Aside from the editing the publishers or you did to make the content and the word length fit the book format, the length and everything else is in the hands of the writer: what they decides goes.

With a produced performance there’s a time limit to how long the story has before it’s told. Some characters and plot devices translate better from the page onto the screen as well and they may not survive the cut.

Book reading – you colour in the blanks

Then there’s the imaginative element. When you are reading a book it’s your imagination that colours in the blanks; that hears the voices of the characters, sees what they are wearing and visualises the settings.

In the world of performance, the art director, actors, costume designers and stage managers are doing that for you. There are even composers to add to your emotions and the setting too.

A play, a TV show or a film is a visual medium. A book isn’t.

Adaptation – the work of the team of writers

The work of a writer or team of writers is to approach the book as the basis of what is produced.

The word ‘basis’ is important here.

Telling the story in a linear, literal way as it is on page will not necessarily fit the visual genre and time limit on telling the story on screen or in a live performance.

A writer or team of writers have to view the book through a lens or as an audience member

And that changes how it’s told.

Breaking the rules

Adaptations can be done sympathetically and in some cases, they enhance the original.

The BBC TV series Wolf Hall took Hilary Mantel’s writing and turned it into a historical drama that authentically looked and felt like Tudor England.

“It’s such a long, long, book,” said someone, “it’s filled with minutae of detail that sometimes goes on for pages. I really liked the adaptation, it showed the best bits I felt.”

Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film 12 Angry Men was adapted for film from a teleplay. The film has 96 black and white minutes and only one set to tell a story and tell a story it does so very well.

The writer, Reginald Rose, adapted it for stage and it recently closed at London’s The Garrick Theatre, to rave reviews.

However the ‘genre’ rules still apply; there were differences between the original TV screenplay, the film screenplay and the stage performance.

A book is a book….

Reading a book is an imaginative experience and the 3D experience on screen or in a play is created in the mind of the reader.

The book is them and they are the book.

In the visual and performance mediums of TV, stage or film, the writers do that job for you.

This can change the original but sometimes it’s done so well, it becomes a classic in it’s own right.

Copyright Surbiton Writers Group 2016.

What’s your favourite adaptation?

Do you think the writers did a good job?

What book do you think is ripe to be turned into a play, TV show or film?

 

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Surbiton Writers Group Talks: Pearls Of Wisdom About Writing Success From Author Peter Wells

“Through fiction you can talk about your observations in life in a way that resonates with other people,” said Peter Wells  in yesterday’s talk on publishing success to the members of the Surbiton Writers Group. 

Although he has always been passionate about literature and writing, Peter’s publishing success started one morning in 2011 when he had an inspiration for a new story.

The inspiration itself was not unusual: since the early days when he took a degree in English Literature at Manchester University his imagination was full, but this story was different – it made him start a blog.

His blog Counting Ducks was born from a desire to write in a way that others can find and read.

Reading ‘Ghost Of A Love Affair’ and ‘A New Bard Strides Forth’ from Counting Ducks prompted some to sit back and shut their eyes to fully enjoy his prose and from both pieces Peter’s signature style was clear.

Whether bitter-sweet, he prefers the word ‘melancholy’, or laugh-out-loud funny, his writing style is wordsmithery and imagination mixed with universal truths.

Peter divides up his writing into 2 types; humorous and not-humorous, but his advice about writing both is clear: “always be real, tell the truth, read, read, read, write every day and be serious about your writing.”

“People want to read things that are real because it connects them to your writing,” he advised.

The work and objective of writing a blog was not to be underestimated to the world of publishing.

Garnering over 5000 followers in the years since that first post in 2011, it was this following coupled with the quality of his writing that attracted the attention of his publisher.

Now writing his 3rd book, he’s learned a lot along the way. He says he is “fanatically interested”  in developing characters and for him it is one of the most important aspects of getting his writing right.

But writing is a business and without a following and a market, a term called ‘audience’, publishers may think twice about investing in your work no matter how original and good it is.

“How do you build your audience?” asked one SWG member.

“Get to know people who read your writing,” he said, “look at your website stats, your blog will tell you what is working.”

“Be polite, treat social media as you would if you were saying ‘hello’ in real life and like and comment on other writers blogs,” he added.

His final words come down to attitude and polish.

“For every finished piece of writing there are hours of editing and honing it until it’s complete,” he said. “Never ever ever publish something until it’s perfect,” he added.

He tells himself: “nobody is interested, you have to get them interested.”

Success has come quickly for Peter and is well deserved.  You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter and like Counting Ducks here.

Follow our blog to keep up to date with our news and events and join us by emailing surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

© Carrie Henderson 2015

How The Surbiton Writers Group Gives Constructive Feedback To Writers

You’ve done it – the piece of writing you’ve honed and worked on has got to the point where you want some feedback. Woo hoo. Well done. Snoopy dance!

This piece of writing is your baby, you’ve crafted it and you’ve imagined it.

You’ve enjoyed it enough to think about sharing it with the Surbiton Writers Group in one of our writers circles.

Reticent about receiving feedback on your writing

But you are stalling with the next bit – thinking about what that feedback is going to be like.

Something says: “I’m not sure if I want to”, “what if they don’t like it,” or even “Nooooo. I’m not ready yet. “

So – should you be nervous of hearing about what we think and should you take our advice on board anyway..?

Evaluating writing subjectively and objectively

Writing is an art and as such, is evaluated subjectively and objectively.

The subjective experience of people’s writing is what’s personal and unique to each reader, what you think and feel while you are reading it and afterwards.

Often private and not shared, it stays in your thoughts and memory, with snippets coming back to you over time. It’s the: “I really enjoyed that book,” feeling, without necessarily explaining to yourself and others why.

The objective experience of someone’s writing is like a critique – what we do in the Surbiton Writers Group. It involves standing back from the piece of writing. This says: “I really enjoyed that book,” but you do explain why.

Here, you focus on, for instance, the way the writing was constructed throughout the entire piece, the way the dialogue was written, how it felt on an emotional level or the way the grammar and punctuation read throughout.

As we also look at writing for online publication, we talk about constructing blog posts properly, for instance.

We are also interested in author marketing, by the use of social media and sharing work, so that’s included too.

Both the subjective and objective experience of the piece of writing is used in the SWG.

What’s included in a writing critique – constructive feedback is key

People critique in different ways, but, in the Surbiton Writers Group, we focus on giving constructive feedback.

As we say on our website’s front page, constructive feedback pinpoints elements of the piece of writing in a way that is in itself positive.

It is positive because it explains if, why and where elements of the piece of writing needs more work and also where the writing was successful.

We discuss and suggest and explain this with the writer in our circle sessions.

It’s not a cold process, it’s intended to be interactive, discursive and helpful.

The objective is to give the writer feedback that they can utilise and work on. It is never, ever to make the writer feel bad, or say their work is worthless.

We critique and give feedback about the writing, not the writer.

Why critique writing anyway?

You are right – no pun intended – writers can skip this step. However the Surbiton Writers Group is interested in helping develop people’s writing to achieve their aims.

Some SWG members simply want immediate and quick feedback, full stop. However other SWG members also intend to publish their writing at a later stage by approaching publishers, submitting to competitions or pitching for writing online.

It’s best to know the strengths and weaknesses in your writing before you get to that stage.

Publishers and editors are inundated by manuscripts and submissions. Yours has to be the best it can be, before it’s seen by others.

Audience, author branding and marketing is part of that too.

Consider us your market research!

Constructive criticism guidelines – the ‘how to’ of giving feedback

That’s why we are doing it, but what do we do?

One of our members has an MA in Creative Writing, where there were weekly peer critiques about the students’ work.

She developed a useful set of criteria which is very helpful when thinking through what you want to say.

Here’s her list of what to consider. Our thanks to Alex for these:

Form, voice, theme, plot and structure and pacing, details, language and tone, style, characterisation, dialogue, setting and place.

We also consider:

Sub-editing like spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Form and format – like writing format for online or book manuscripts.

Ways of developing your audience – maximising your marketing potential to build an audience for your writing

How do you know what advice to take on board?

Although there are many different viewpoints in the writers circle we advise that if you find a piece of feedback is being repeated by group members or resonates strongly with the group members, that’s the feedback to focus on and pay attention to.

Think of it like market research. If a lot of people say the same thing, that’s something that shouldn’t be ignored.

Diversity of writers within the Surbiton Writers Group

The diversity of writing interests in the SWG is crucial to giving a breadth of feedback.

We are not only fiction-writers, we have non-fiction writers, playwrights, journalists, children’s authors, bloggers and people that like writing but aren’t currently producing anything too.

All of us have different tastes, perspectives and professional or educational backgrounds.

There are different ages and stages in life in our group also.

All of this brilliant diversity makes for really interesting, creative, well rounded constructive feedback to take away and help you successfully polish and finish your piece of work.

Happy writing!

Copyright The Surbiton Writers Group 2016

We are open to new members from all types of writing backgrounds. If you are interested in joining the Surbiton Writers Group, email us on surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com and we’ll get back to you.

The Value In Listening To Writers Talking About Writing

The point about writing is that other people read your end product –  right?

Right.

But there’s also value in listening to writers talk about the writing process itself.

This is not only because writers like words – and that makes for easy listening – but because hearing about their writing process opens up insight into the world of writing from A to Z.

Writing is a hidden, personal place. It’s the place writers go to when they are shut in their sheds like Roald Dahl, or tapping at their laptops in offices consumed by noise, fear and deadlines like journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein in the film All The President’s Men. 

Roald-Dahl-in-writing-hut

When writers wind backwards from the end result you gain insight into how you go about “this thing called writing” in the first place.

First up. What is writing anyway?

Looking at the gallery of quotes about writing at goodreads.com, one thing becomes apparent.

Every writer thinks about writing differently or at least they say different things about the same process.

Stephen King, the author with a knack of telling us how the backwaters of the US make minds twist to horror, wrote a book called “On Writing, A Memoir Of The Craft.”

In it he’s given perhaps the most universally applicable quote of all:

“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” 

One online dictionary defines the craft of writing as either “the activity or skill of writing” or “the activity or occupation of composing text for publication.”

Ah ha! So writing is an activity, a skill or an occupation and can also be for publication. It all becomes clear now.

Or does it? 

Listening to writers talking about their writing process is as fascinating as the work they produce.

This is because the words on the page are the visible peak of a large iceberg submerged beneath.

We all know that icebergs are dangerous don’t we – we’ve seen Titanic struggle and sink in TV dramasdocumentaries and blockbusting movies.

The writing process: what lies beneath!
The writing process: what lies beneath!

Listening to writers talking about their craft helps us navigate through 

Hearing about what happens after inspiration strikes, how the worlds are crafted and created, what frustrations get in the way of the plot or the perfect sentence and how editing finishes the result, are all nuggets of information that help us other writers on our voyage towards publication.

We might find an iceberg glancing across the bows but with understanding of how the writing process works for other people, we can swerve out of the way before disaster strikes.

Sometimes journalism and creative writing meets as you find in this You Tube clip from the BBC series “5 Minutes With” Philip Pullman.

Pullman democratises writing, saying that we all tell stories but writers know ‘what to do’ with a story to make it into a book. Then it’s the journalist who knows how to research and ask the right questions and how to open up the interview that makes it a success.

Both are fascinating insights into the writing process itself.

To quote Mr King:

“So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”

Thank you for your words, writers. To know a little bit of your iceberg, helps us with ours.

© Carrie Henderson 2015

Writing Tips: Using Visual Prompts For Writing Practice

Writing is about forming ideas into words. 

But where do the ideas come from?

Writers often say they are about writing from experience, from the things that inspire them.

Publishers, readers, teachers and advisors say that this is essential as it gives an authentic tone to the writing.

Practicing writing in many different ways is also important to developing skills. It’s akin to an artist using a sketch book.

Can art and writing combine?

Whether you are doing a big piece of writing or practicing, visual prompts can help words flow.

You can use visual prompts to flex your imagination and run wild and free with new ideas.

What you write doesn’t have to originate from personal experience. Because of this, you can explore imaginary situations, characters and realms that your day-to-day writing or your big writing project doesn’t accommodate.

Here’s an image to practice writing from:

Writing Prompt Surbiton Writers Group 1

..and some questions to ask yourself: 

  • Where is the setting
  • How does this scene fit into a plot
  • What characters are present
  • Who is absent from the scene
  • What happened just before this picture was taken
  • What happened just after this picture was taken

Get your notepad ready…

Write as much as you can about this picture. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, all you have to do is write until you want to stop.

All done

Great! You’ve exercised your creative brain by giving it new inspiration to work with.

Does what you read surprise you?

Writing from a new visual prompt cuts through the inner critic, the voice inside us that acts as our writing editor.

It also combats our fear of choosing the wrong words.

By trying something fun and new, it can turn your writing on it’s head.

You can produce work that is original and breaks through your writing patterns – a trap that all writers fall into.

Try it and see

We’d love to see what you’ve written. Go ahead and post it in a comment below..

© The Surbiton Writers Group 2015.

Contact: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

Mary Lawson Author : Writing Is A Gift : At Waterstone’s Kingston

Author Mary Lawson lives in Kingston Upon Thames with her husband and children but it was her early life in Canada that inspired the characters and settings in her books; Crow Lake, The Other Side Of The Bridge and Road Ends.

“Is that the one with the snow?” A person once said when they asked where her accent comes from, a story that makes her laugh and the audience along with her.

Reading from Road Ends at Waterstone’s book store in Kingston, her voice has an unmistakable Canadian burr which makes the plot, dialogue and humor come alive.

She talked of the inspiration behind her characters:

“I relate to Kate in Crow Lake,” she said. “I feel I know Kate.”

“Arthur Dunn in The Other Side Of The Bridge is  a big solid serious man. I’ve never met someone like him  but I can imagine him there.”

A member of the audience points out that her writing centres on dysfunctional isolated families. She pauses to consider the situations she places her characters in:

“There are no ‘authorities’ in the community that  I grew up in,” she said, “to save the Pye family in Crow Lake.”

The character of Edward in Road Ends was, “very hard to write, he is not a sympathetic character but I wanted people to understand and forgive,” she said.

“Characters evolve. I don’t necessarily know they are going to be like that.”

Of the difficulty imaginging an unsympathetic character like Edward.

“The character is not me and it’s not making decisions that I would necessarily make.”

She published Crow Lake when she was in her 50s. What does she say of the journey to becoming a published writer.

“It was pure chance,” she said. “There is a ridiculous amount of luck in this business.”

“I’d worked all the way through the Artists and Writer’s Yearbook, there are a lot of pages. I started at the top – I knew I was going to get rejections – I worked my way down.”

“Top agencies expect exclusivity. They will only read if you can guarantee you have not sent it to other agencies. They’ll keep you holding on for 9 months. There’s no cultural shift in this industry.

“I went to an agents office and it was this deep in manuscripts,” she gestures to eye height, “then you think they’ve lost it at the bottom of a pile. “

“Be patient, think no news is good news. I was on a creative writing course and there were other writers that were good, really good, but they just didn’t get published.”

“Do you have the persistence and do you have the luck,” she added.

“To do this is a gift,” she said, talking of how writing her books enriches her life and we’d agree.

Mary Lawson was personable, postive and engaging, an inspiration for both writer and reader alike.

© Carrie Henderson 2015

Contact: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com