Thursday, July 10, 2008

Romantic Novelists' Association Conference Day Three

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:
-be enthusiastic
-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
-character development
-create emotion
-create atmosphere
-create conflict
-impart information

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:
-dramatic events
-important points
-emotional high points
-sudden happenings

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
-coffee scenes
-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)
-embrace 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:
Kate Hardy
Imogen Howson
Ray-Anne's next installments


Jessica Raymond said...

Thank you SO MUCH for posting this, Liz. I've been reading reports about the conference and snippets of the various talks and Julie's was the one I was most miserable at having missed!

JJ said...

Liz, I am so envious of you attending these, but your write-ups are wonderful. They are worth cutting and pasting for future reference.

Thank you.

liz fenwick said...

Pleased to have been useful Jess!

Please do JJ- by writing them I try and cement the info in my brain....well I hope it does :-)

Cat Marsters/Kate Johnson said...

The delicious Richard Armitage was my vote, too. He's been at least two of my heroes so far, and I'm sure after I watch the next Spooks he'll be online for a third!

liz fenwick said...

Kate, I haven't yet caught up with the latest season of Spooks but can't wait. I think I may be safe in betting that is top of the pole or close :-)

NoviceNovelist said...

Thank you so much Liz for your fantastic and detailed postings on the confrence - I'm really enjoying reading them and finding them very useful. That's a very glammy pic of you at the bar!!!!!

liz fenwick said...

NoviceN I wouldn't say glam so much as p*ssed :-)

Phillipa said...

Thanks for the brilliant in depth reports Liz. Wish I could have been there. P x

Debs said...

Thanks for the brilliantly informative post.

I also voted for Richard Armitage and admit that he has also been at least one of my heros.

Love the pics too.

Lucy Diamond said...

Wow....oh, I so wish I had been there. It sounds fantastic - and you write it up so brilliantly. Thank you!

KAREN said...

This is fantastically interesting, thank you for posting :o) 'Tougher to place books' is a little disheartening though!

ChrisH said...

Thanks, Liz. Caroline Sheldon's thoughts were particularly useful - if chilling. Sigh!

liz fenwick said...

Philippa - you were missed!

Yes, Debs it will interesting to see you tops the pole......

Lucy you must try and come next year - I know Penrith is far but it is great. Maybe you could give one of the sessions????

Yes, Karen and Chrish, her comments were at bit worrying but she was upbeat too - key thing is have the best manuscript possible. So back to work!

Steve Malley said...

Solid advice we could all do well to heed!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

These reports and links are sooooo useful. Really sorry I won't get to meet you tomorrow :-(

liz fenwick said...

As I am in deep revision at the moment Julie's words are very useful......

Yes, Zinnia not going to the meet stinks but I am stuck- being six hours drive away and three kids who would mutiny if I insited we go and they then had 12 hours in the car on one day! So enjoy for me :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting such brilliant notes - I had to leave Sunday lunch and was miserable at having to miss the terrific afternoon sessions.
More please.
And you did not look any more worse for wear than the rest of us LOL.
Thank again, Ray-Anne

Flowerpot said...

Amazing notes Liz - and done with a hangover - I'm most impressed! Very useful indeed.