I’ve recently returned from the Romance Writers of New Zealand annual conference, and this is the first post covering some of what I heard and learned over three busy days .
One-word summary: lots.
First up was a session from screenwriter and coach Kathryn Burnett on what makes a “cinematic idea”—meaning, what features of a novel make it a good prospect for adapting to film or television. She had two main points: first, that cinema is audio and visual, which means it has to show emotion through sound and images. We can’t rely on interior monologue to tell us what the character is thinking or feeling.
She also pointed out that film is expensive, so producers aren’t going to spend time or money on any idea that doesn’t have all the essential elements of good cinema: a compelling character facing a difficult problem with something significant at stake for the person … but solvable in 90-110 minutes of screen time (which is broadly equivalent to 90-110 pages of script), in only a couple of settings, and something that can be seen to have been solved.
The best ideas are external and rely on action.
I often see book reviews where the review says “this book would make a great movie!” I now know that isn’t always true. Sure, some books make great movies, but many stories are best told as a TV series, a play … or as a novel. The talent comes in knowing why one story might work best as a novel and another might work as a film. I don’t know anything about screenwriting, but this workshop showed me enough to judge whether a story has what it takes to be cinematic.
Friday was an all-day session from Hollywood script consultant Michael Hauge.
While many of his ideas (and all his examples) were from film, he pointed out how novels and films have a lot in common. His main point was that the most important thing we do as novelists or screenwriters is elicit emotion. As novelists, we do this by “showing” the movie in the reader’s mind.
Many of Michael Hauge’s concepts were familiar. For example, he utilises the traditional three-act structure of film and fiction as taught by writers such James Scott Bell and KM Weiland. He talks about Character, Desire and Conflict, and the Outer and Inner Journeys, which are similar to Debra Dixon’s Goal Motivation Conflict.
But he also covered a lot of ideas which were new to me, and which I found helpful in considering my own manuscript … and which my manuscript assessment clients are going to find extraordinarily annoying when I start asking questions about the character’s inner journey or false belief or why the reader should like them or empathise with them.
I read a lot of books on writing craft, but there is something special about hearing the same content as part of a large group, especially when question time started.
We soon found out that asking Michael Hauge a question is about him turning the question back on us. I thought I asked a simple question about the difference between longing and need, but before I knew it he was challenging me on my main character’s outer conflict and inner wound (oops. She didn’t have either—well, not that I could articulate to Michael Hauge and 100 romance writers when put on the spot). Watching him grill other members of the audience was just as fascinating—for me, if not for them.
He then applied his principles of plot and structure to the movie Hitch, which was an excellent way of reinforcing the principles (and now I want to see the full movie!). His final session was on being the hero (or heroine) of our own story. Challenging, to say the least.
There were also excellent sessions from Australian author Rachel Bailey (the Black Moment, and Sexual Tension … which I’ll cover in another post), and a great session from agent Sarah Younger on identifying the high concept in your novel. She made it sound so easy …
I know some of you will have been to the Romance Writers of Australia this past weekend. Did anyone attend Michael Hauge’s session? Or Rachel Bailey’s? What did you think?
About Iola Goulton
www.christianediting.co.nz to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction.
I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more atwww.iolagoulton.com.
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