Let's just say that day three began with a head that reminded me that I am not young any more. Breakfast was a fairly subdued affair and as I sat opposite Julie Cohen we were both grateful that we both knew each other well enough that words were not required.
The first session of the morning was a PR round up by chairwoman Catherine Jones. The RNA is all about raising the profile of Romantic Fiction in all its many forms. This includes the two main prizes - The Romantic Novel of Year (this year Freya North's Pillow Talk) and the Romance Prize for category romance (this year Kate Hardy's Breakfast at Giovani's). Liz Bailey who has been doing a sterling job with the PR asked us all to vote on who we thought was the sexist thing on two legs. Well in my hungover state there was only one name that came to mind - Richard Armitage - later I thought of a few more. We then had an update on the preparations for the RNA 50th Anniversary in 2010.
Then just what every writer needs on those feeling less than wonderful mornings - laughter in the form of Jane Wenham-Jones. I began to take notes but I was laughing too hard to keep going. So will apologize that I can not even sum up her talk but if you haven't picked up a copy of her book Wanna Be A Writer then do..........
The next session of the morning for me was on the RNA's New Writers Scheme led by Melanie Hilton aka Louise Allen. She reminded us that agents and editors give you two minutes as they 'speed buy' so make it easy for them with polished work. I realized this year will be my fourth year in the NWS but as Giselle Green whose debut novel Pandora's Box came out in June was in NWS for nine years so it's worth it to keep at it.
Next Up was agent Caroline Sheldonwho began with the not so good news about the publishing world:-
-publishers are focusing on best sellers
-shelf life is shorter than yogurt but longer than milk
-the full effects of the Net Book Agreement are now fully visible
- numbers of publishers is condensing (now 9 major houses here) so it is tougher to place books
-they want to publish fewer titles
-minimum sales are 4000/5000 hardback and 15,000 paperback
-250,000 is a big seller
-mid lid have been cut from 12 to 6
However they still say the are:
- looking for fresh, new, different voices
- new directions in romantic comedy, chick lit, mum lit, Gothic (think The Thirteenth Tale), weepy (think Bridges of Madison County), sagas, sweeping stories (think Maeve Binchy or Rosamunde Pilcher), and quality historicals (think Philippa Gregory)
For submission her tips were:
-material needs to be tip top
-title must evoke what the book is about
-great first line
-research agents carefully - there are more of them now which is good for the writer
An agent should:
-share your vision
-have drive, professionalism and flare
-be in it for the long term
The most important thing she can do for you is find you a powerful editor who will fight for your book.
So with a break for lunch and a nap I was ready for Julie Cohen's workshop on Pacing (which isn't just what you do in your Jimmy Choos while waiting for the of your dreams to ring).
Julie began with the fact that pacing works on two levels:
-the whole book
-sentence and paragraph
She said that as a writer we are a time lord (here we all glazed over thinking of David Tennant) as you manipulate time for your reader. You control the novel time, the reader's time, her experience of time (that she spends reading the book and how quickly or slowly this feels). This leads to an intimate relationship with your reader.
She then moved onto length of book and how this effects pacing. A shorter books is fast (obvious) and a bigger one has more time for subplots, introspection, world building, history and reader digestion. The two example she threw up on the screen were Green Eggs and Ham vs. War and Peace.
She suggested doing a calendar after the first draft to visually see how the story is moving through time. A periodic event can help pace book. The example she used was Carole Matthewsbook the Chocolate Lovers' Club. The four main characters meet on a regular basis.
Golden Rule Number One: reading time is subjective (real time has gone quickly yet they have spend a longer time with the character)
Golden Rule Number Two: a book with a lot of well handled conflict will seem to go more quickly no matter how many pages (here she noted Penny Vincenzi's books and Phillipa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl - big issues but reads so fast)
-a pacy book is efficient in it's story telling (no wasted time or repetitions)
-each scene should whenever possible have two or more purposes
Some General Functions:
-more the plot forward
-move the subplot forward
Julie prints out the manuscript and then goes through it to make sure each scene serves more than one function and to be sure that she doesn't have scene that do the same thing in the same way.
-start each scene with a hook to grab your reader
-end each scene with a hook to keep your reader from putting the book down
-use the biggest hooks for chapter endings
Julie then had us analyse a short scene for The Other Boleyn Girl. In a small space P. Gregory had packed in conflict, dialogue, atmosphere and irony.
Give your reader variety in:
Julie sited Marian Keyes' This Charming Man as a good example.
Keeping a Secret:
Readers are nosey - keep your secrets back.. Ask yourself how long can I keep it back from the reader or the other characters. Delay as long as possible. Here she sited Giselle Green's Pandora's Box (not a spoiler as it is on the back cover - the daughter has a terminal disease and plans to kill herself but her mother doesn't know - as reader you keep turning the pages to find out what happens when the mother finds out).
Slowing Down and Speeding Up:
You need to slow down for:
-emotional high points
Short scenes can speed up but can also slow down by distraction and the white space around it can make it feel like more time.
Speed Up or Skip
-description for the sake of it
-things that are necessary in real life but not in fiction (going to the loo, washing hands....)
-naturalistic but unneeded dialogue
-the bits at the beginning and ends of scenes that are not hooks
Resist the Urge to Explain
Getting Out the Chainsaw (and loving it)
-revise for pace
-do a chapter list with title and what happens or function after first draft to make sure the novel is balanced
Her final thoughts were that pacing is as important in Romance as in any other genre and it must be invisible to the reader. With that in mind she said to remember that:
Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did only backwards and in high heals.
I think that is enough of a post for today.......tomorrow I will fill you in on Kate Harrison's Botox for Writers. However check out the following blogs for more reports on the conference:
Ray-Anne's next installments