Thursday, January 14, 2010

What We Talk About When We Talk About Writing

By Mary Kennedy Eastham (Guest Blogger)

I've had three Big Loves in my life: my husband, my Golden Retrievers and my writing. When the writing took over, the hubby split. Or at least, that's the story I'm willing to share here with all of you. Thankfully, retrievers stick around NO MATTER WHAT and I've mastered the art of typing on my laptop while throwing a mean frisbee! But I digress. The writing biz has gotten as short-attention-span obsessed as the rest of the IM, texting, Facebook (look at me...look at me) crowd, so we need to do that thing we love while also giving our fan base as well as new readers a reason to buy our books. I'll even take this one step further by saying we need to develop a new genre called Cellphone Storytelling so the tweens, teens and 20-somethings can have a renewed respect for the art of great storytelling. Now on to the promise of this post.

TRAILERS: I LOVE them so I look at a lot of them, both for movies and for books. I am so envious of those of you who have done them and have done them well. Hell, even my friend's six year always asks if we can post something on YouTube! The one mistake I see writers making is putting too much text and not enough music and movement in their book trailers At a Script Writing course I took at UCLA, the instructor said we cannot forget that the whole purpose of writing a script or putting together a trailer is to make it MOVE (hence the word MOVIE, duh!). In the case of a script, you can't stay inside the character's head too long or you will bore the audience and in the case of a book trailer, you can't just throw in the text from your script or book. The shorter the better for me with your trailers. Cut to the chase. Give me that brilliant zinger that came into your head one sleepy morning while you were making coffee. And pick an intriguing song or melody that haunts me, making me long to see the story you're about to tell me unfold.

Here's a quick excerpt from the movie trailer for The Stoning of Soroya M. Picture an anorexic dog chasing after dust in some back alley of a Third World Country. A man and a woman appear. This is the text that follows:

'Do you speak English?' (Woman)

'Yes, I speak English.' (Man)

'I must talk fast,' she says lighting a cigarette. 'Did anybody see you? Start you machine.'

'Why should I listen to you?' (Man)

'Here my story first. You will know why you should listen.' (Pause)'There are men in this town who are vile dogs. Voices of women do not matter in here.

I want you to take my voice (she grabs her throat) with you. They cannot get away with this. The world must know.'

I don't need any more than that. I'm hooked. Now if I were to try to do a trailer for Night Surfing, the novel I'm working on, it would go something like this:

Picture my character Sosie Bend on a very crowded flight (I just saw Up In The Air so I'm stealing their backdrop).Mothers are frantically trying to stow their firstborns in the overhead bins so they won't have to pay for a ticket. Sosie is politely trying to crawl over a rather large man who seems intent on having her fall into his lap. She makes it into her seat but her sunglasses do indeed fall from her hair into his lap. Here's the quick exchange between the two of them:

'Kids?' he says, twirling her sunglasses in front of her, like they're his.

'No', Sosie says taking her sunglasses back. A steward offers her champagne. She's been upgraded to First Class.

She grabs the whole bottle.

'Why not?' the man persists.

'I don't know,' she says uncorking the champagne with her teeth.

'You know,' he says holding up a cherry colored plastic cup. 'Now pour.'

The making of a good trailer can be expensive. I've been involved in the making of small independent films. We posted a call on Craigslist and at a few local colleges that offer film classes and it was amazing the amount of great talent out there if you're nice, feed them and have a great trailer idea.

BLURBS: I worked as a Creative Director in a New York City advertising agency, so I'm not without my PR writing skills, but it took me six months to write my blurb for my novel. I'd go to Borders, sit in a nice, comfy leather chair, then read blurbs from books by my favorite authors, hoping to get into a kind of piano scales blurb mode. Then I'd think about elevator pitches, that thing movie people talk about when they ask you what your screenplay or book is about, two or three sentences you would pitch to someone. Here's an example from Face of Betrayal:

Katie, a 17 year old page disappears. The prime suspect: the Senator who may have been more than just a mentor. Three women - an FBI agent, a federal prosecutor, and a TV crime reporter team up to find out what really happened.

Now here's mine:

'I don't know how this happened but I don't have anyone.'

And so begins Night Surfing, the odyssey of Sosie Bend, a woman obsessed with love and surfing, only she's not very good at either one. Brokenhearted after her fiance of five years leaves her to have a baby with a Mormon make-up artist, Sosie downloads a playlist of love songs and sets off across the country to Malibu to reconnect with the family that helped raise her when her parents Tripp and Kitty Bend, out for a night of fun, took a wrong turn down a twisty road ending up dead in a ravine. Calling herself a Love Amnesiac, Sosie starts a blog called "Love, Sosie" promising to spend the rest of her life trying to find this one thing she really wants. Her first blog post: Can you be so determined to find the love of your life that you have to dream him up walking straight out of the surf into your arms?...Love, Sosie"

BEGINNINGS: The actor George Clooney says what he likes most about meeting someone new is that he gets to be a nice guy all over again.

Ah, those sweet beginnings, whether in love or in our books, it's a heady time of sweet expectation and seduction. But the phrase 'You have only one shot at making a great first impression', also comes to mind. In our Tweeter, text-obsessed world, ya gotta knock 'em dead in a sentence or two. I recently responded to a Six Word Story challenge. They wanted conflict and resolution in those six words. Apply that exercise to your opening paragraph any time you're looking for the economy of words.

Raymond Carver, a brilliant short-story writer taught me how to do this in his book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. His sentences pack a one-two punch that leave you stunned. Sentences like, 'I didn't come over here to hear that.' or 'I had made up my mind to go. I was thinking today about the calm I felt when I closed my eyes and let the barber's fingers move through my hair, the sweetness of those fingers, the hair already starting to grow.'

ENDINGS: Endings are always tough for me in life, in love and in my stories, poems and books. I am very selective about those people I let in and I choose every word in my stories so very carefully,so I don't like watching people I love or characters I love vanish. But as my first writing teacher at UC Berkeley said: 'There are no right or wrong endings, just inevitable ones.' The last line in the last story in Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is: 'I just want to say one more thing.' But then he could not think what it could possibly be.

The last line in Night Surfing is: 'I miss you Jagger. I miss you...I miss you...I miss you...'

And that about says it all.

MARY KENNEDY EASTHAM, M.A. MFA (almost an MBA) has a messy life filled with confusion, chaos, fun and love. She grew up in New England, has lived in New York City, San Francisco and Malibu and now lives in San Jose, California with her four Golden Retrievers: Sabrina, JoJo, Oliver and Flynn. Her first book, The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget is now in its 4th Printing, she is finishing up "Channeling Ava Gardner", the last story in her short story collection The Possibilities of Love. She is excited to be close to finishing her first novel Night Surfing Check out more about her at:


Lisabet Sarai said...

Hi, Mary,

Welcome to Beyond Romance! I was really concerned when I didn't hear from you.

I can't wait to read "Night Surfing".


Word Actress said...

Lisabet - I love the tags: Mary Kennedy Eastham, George Clooney and Raymond Carver. How did I get in such wonderful company??? XO MKE

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