Yesterday the lovely Tora Williams had a very marvellous blog post about the ridiculous way writers are depicted in films and on tv. That got me thinking. Tora is, of course, absolutely right. Actually being a writer involves hardly any old-fashioned typewriter work, very little moody staring into the middle distance wearing only outsized designer knitwear and your knickers, and hardly any fighting crime. I find that last part particularly disappointing – Jessica Fletcher lied to us all, and, I’m at least 85% sure, was also a serial killer. Doing writing in real-life involves zero crime-busting, and you’re only allowed to bump off the made-up people.
Anyway, as I said some time ago before I got distracted by serial killing, Tora’s post got me thinking. What would a movie depicting the realistic writers’ life look like? All the best movies (and most of the worst) follow a basic three act structure, so what would the key plot points in our writer’s life be?
THE SET-UP/STATUS QUO:
Hermione Scribbler is just a regular ‘girl next door.’ There’s nothing special about her. No indeed. She has limbs, and very often bothers to wash her hair rather than just tie it back and hope for the best. That’s just the sort of crazy chick she is. Go Hermione!
THE INCITING INCIDENT
Hermione is made redundant/goes on maternity leave/gets fired for inadvertantly instant messaging a picture of her boobs to the whole office. Whichever it is, the point is this Hermione has time on her hands. She is temporarily disheartened, but then it hits her. She will write a novel, and then she will be rich like JK Rowling and Dan Brown and Zoella.
Initially Hermione is a flurry of writerly activity. She makes a little home office space in the useless bit of dining room that’s half under the stairs. She reads A LOT of blogs and webpages about How To Write a Novel. She googles writing courses. She sets up Word to do first line indents and 1.5 spacing. She opens her new document and…
TURNING POINT 1
Hermione stops. What Hermione has omitted to come up with so far is an actual idea for a book. Hermione has a cake instead. During her cake Hermione has an awesome idea about a clan of cake-fetishist vampires. The plan to write a novel is Back On!
This is where our heroine’s situation becomes increasingly complicated and emotionally fraught. This is the sort of stuff we can expect to see:
- Hermione gradually stops wearing proper clothes. They are pinchy, and you have to think about which ones go together. This is hard. Pyjamas are much much easier.
- Hermione watches a lot of youtube videos. She tells herself this is research. It isn’t.
- One day, in a moment of high drama, Hermione finds an interesting brown stain on her pyjamas. She sniffs it. It smells like chocolate. Hermione resists the urge to lick the stain for at least 14 seconds.
- Hermione googles literary agents and makes a list.
- Hermione spends a whole day planning her outfit for when one of those literary agents takes her out for cocktails. It is, after all, only a matter of time.
THE MID POINT/POINT OF NO RETURN
Hermione has a brief golden period of writing. Everything falls into place. The cake-fetishist vampires behave exactly as she wants them to. The words flow out of her fingerless-gloved writing fingers. It is a window of perfect joy. It’s lasts 27 and a half minutes and produces 417 words, 250 of which are terrible, but it’s too late. Hermione is hooked.
ACT 2 CONTINUES
- Hermione joins a writing group and then makes plans to meet other members for coffee on a regular basis. This is important because spending time with other writers feeds the creative instinct. It is almost like actually spending time writing. Almost.
- It strikes Hermione that there are also writers on twitter, who she can chat to without ever leaving her writing desk. That is definitely almost like actually spending time writing. Almost.
- Hermione develops a tricky condition known as ‘writer’s bottom.’ She resolves that, in addition to definitely always writing 2000 words per day, she will also go jogging.
- Hermione searches for stylish jogging clothes on the internet.
Hermione realises that it is now quite a long time since she was made redundant/went on maternity leave/did the booby instant messenger thing. She also realises that at no point during this story has she had a baby, so it was almost certainly either redundancy or the booby thing. Whichever. The point is her money’s running out. The book isn’t written, and she needs to get a job. Or, thinks Hermione, she needs to get her head down and finish the novel which will then make her rich.
Hermione prints out pictures of JK Rowling, Dan Brown and Zoella and sticks them up next to her computer for inspiration. She is going to Finish the Book. Cue montage of frantic writing activity. This will mainly be marked by Hermione developing a wild eyed look and an increasingly lax approach to personal hygiene. Eventually she emerges from the writing pit with 93,000 words about her vampires.
Hermione prepares her agent submissions. This involves writing a synopsis. Hermione cries a lot. Hermione thinks bad thoughts about setting cake-festishist vampires on whoever invented the synopsis. Eventually her first submission is ready to send. Off it goes! Followed by another, and another, and another.
Hermione waits for a reply. And then she waits some more. Then she gets a flurry of rejections, including one that says that although the cake-fetishist vampires aren’t right for the agent’s list, she would love to read more of Hermione’s work. Hermione fails to realise that that is completely brilliant and has a long cry. Later she finds a cornflake in her bra. She has no idea how it got there.
And if you’d like some slightly more practical tips on writing a novel, there are still a few spaces left on my Developing Your Novel workshop in Birmingham on 28th March.