Why some movies CAPTURE or IMPROVE the author’s work
While others turn a night at the theater into an expensive nap zzzzz…
“What Book to Movie translation is your favorite?”
Lord of the Rings. The three Lord of the Rings books were very descriptive and well defined (honestly, sometimes to the point of tedium). This level of description gave Director Peter Jackson ample material for his creative team at Wingnut Films. The acting, special effects, and the musical accompaniment combined to capture the feel of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Hobbits, Kings, and Wizards. The classic trilogy translated well to the screen.
The Godfather. The Godfather was Mario Puzo’s pulp novel about gangsters. However, in the loving hands of Director Francis Ford Coppola, this dime-store story became a classic film trilogy equal to the great Shakespearean dramas about family and betrayal. The story of Don Vito Corleone and his corrupt children became a twentieth century King Lear.
With both the Lord of the Rings and The Godfather, the movies increased the fan base and boosted book sales.
But this isn’t always the case….
“What Book to Movie translation DIDN’T work?”
The Book Thief. The movie had the major plot points but didn’t capture the emotion of the book. Even worse, it didn’t capture the unique voice of the author. So much of The Book Thief is about the author’s writing style, but the movie had none of that. The take home is that words do matter, not just the plot.
The Book Thief. No novel since To Kill A Mockingbirdhas captured the lives of young people caught in a tragic world of prejudice and death like Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Set in Nazi Germany during World War Two, the narrator is Death, and he’s busier than he’s ever been. But Death takes a liking to a young German girl and her adoptive family. A riveting plot, yet there is much more to love about the novel. The author’s unique point of view character allows the reader to experience tragedy and hope on the same page, sometimes, in the same sentence. The movie version of The Book Thief only hinted at the depth of the emotional impact of the book. It never ventured into the stories within the story that provided much of the character development. Hitler and the Holocaust are barely mentioned in the movie, yet they are in every chapter of the book, as if the movie version thought that telling this side of the story would be too much for viewers.
The Firm. John Grisham gave readers an exciting tale of moral ambiguity, even among the heroes. The movie sanitized the hero and changed the last third of the story, leaving viewers with a hero that didn’t change from the beginning of the movie to the end. Isn’t that one of the primary caveats of a good story? That characters change?
The Watchmen. Once again, the movie version sanitized the source material, this time a Hugo Award-winning graphic novel. The novel was weirder and more political, and had a stronger ethic than the movie.
These opinions belong solely to the O’Neal family. Read the books, watch the movies, and decide for yourselves. Add more titles in the comments!
Lisa is the author of the WAKE Trilogy, the VISIONS series, the UNWANTEDS series, and other books with tween and teen characters. She talked about her road to publishing success. She spoke of the joys of balancing a writing career with her life as a wife and mother.
She also spoke of the abuse she faced after becoming an author, such as bad reviews and hateful “fan” mail.
The First Ten Lines Critique Session
Conference participants (including me) could submit the first ten lines of their manuscript (anonymously, thank goodness) for professional – and public – critique. The critiquing panel consisted of the three visiting agents – Ethan Vaughan, Jeff Ourvan, and Dawn Dowdle, as well as author Lisa McMann.
Here are a few pointers about submitting to agents:
Number one rule for all agents is FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Agents are looking for reasons to say “NO,” and incorrect formatting, misspelling the agent’s name, sending attachment when explicitly told not to send attachments are all reason to instantly reject a query letter and sample.
Grammar is important. Hire a proofreader, especially if grammar is your weak point.
Make sure your verbs carry the emotional weight of the story. Stay away from adjectives and adverbs.
Avoid lengthy italics. An overuse of italics in a manuscript looks amateurish and is a symptom of unpreparedness.
Vary short and long sentences to create tension for the reader.
Don’t quote unknown or obscure books. This pulls the reader out of story.
Getting Ready for My Very First Pitch to a Literary Agent (Yippee!)
The Hampton Roads Writers Conference offered the opportunity to meet with one of the three visiting literary agents and present a ten-minute pitch. I jumped at the chance. This would be the first time I’d ever met with a real-live literary agent, and obviously, the first time I’d pitched my manuscript. Yes, I’d written query letters and attended agent roundtables at the Virginia Festival of the Book, but this was my first sit-down, face to face meeting. I was meeting with Ethan Vaughan of Kimberley Cameron & Associates. I had only ten minutes with Mr. Vaughan, beginning at 11:15 am., but I was ready.
. . . Or, at least I thought I was ready before I’d attended Chantelle Osman’s Perfecting Your Pitch session (See day one.). According to Ms. Osman, I’d done several things wrong. I’d written my pitch (and even made a copy for the agent. Talk about being overwritten!) I’d practiced my pitch until I could recite it in my sleep, and I’d even timed it perfectly. If I didn’t pause, it would take eight of my ten minutes, leaving me two minutes for questions and answers.
Ms. Osman explicitly said that pitches shouldn’t sound rehearsed. Oh well, too late to change it now.
I arrived at the small conference room on the second floor of the Westin Hotel early. One table, two chairs. Mr. Vaughan wasn’t there yet. No one was there. I was his first pitch of the conference. Was that a good omen or bad? The timekeeper – the man who’d tell me when my ten minutes were up – arrived. He told me I could take a seat but I declined. I wanted Mr. Vaughan to choose which seat he wanted first, and then I’d take the other. I didn’t want to do anything to make him feel uncomfortable. (I felt uncomfortable enough for the both of us. )
I watched the clock. 11:00… 11:05… 11:10. I paced the hallway outside the conference room, practicing my new Tai Chi moves. Part the wild horse mane, white crane spreads its wings, needle at sea bottom. 11:12. . . . 11:13. I could hear people coming down the hallway, talking. 11:14 . . . 11:15. I hurried back to the room, notebook with the copies of my pitch in hand, big smile on my face.
I eagerly shook Mr. Vaughan’s hand and told him how impressed I was with his literary agency, Kimberley Cameron & Associates, their book list, and their well-known dedication to their authors. Mr. Vaughan enthused about Ms. Cameron’s devotion to her agents and her clients, which I found both heartwarming and endearing.
I glanced at the clock. Eight minutes left! No time for small talk. I plunged in. I read my pitch as fast as I could. Head down, monotone, my mind blank. AND I MEAN BLANK!
If you’d asked me at that moment what my book was about – the book that I’ve worked on for years, the book I’ve dedicated my life to, the book I’ve dreamed about, the book I’ve given up being with family for — if you’d asked me at that moment, I couldn’t have told you who the main characters were, let alone the plot. I was as stiff as a robot.
I looked up to take a breath and knew I’d made a mistake. My pitch was too long and too detailed. I’d given him more of a synopsis than a pitch. Mr. Vaughan was very kind. He asked questions and I tried to answer. I told him this was my first pitch ever and I was very nervous. He says I did a good job (proof that literary agents do indeed tell lies) and gave me a few suggestion for the “next time” I pitched to an agent.
I left knowing I wouldn’t get a contract but proud of myself for giving it a shot. I’d met many writers who were too shy to pitch their stories, or too afraid. I was shy and afraid, too, but I learned something very valuable in the process. Mr. Vaughan was polite, considerate and helpful. He gave me suggestions for the next time I pitch my story, which was a very generous gift, indeed.
It’s a three-hour drive from Charlottesville to Virginia Beach, unless you hit Navy traffic. Then it could take weeks. I was careful. I left C’Ville at noon on Thursday, Sept 19th so I wouldn’t get caught in the 5:00 rush. I wasn’t heading to Virginia Beach for a late summer tan or a fishing trip in the Atlantic. I was going to Virginia Beach to attend the Hampton Roads Writers 5th Annual Conference. It ran Thursday, Sept. 19th through Saturday, Sept. 21st. The organization describes itself like this:
Hampton Roads Writers (HRW) is a nonprofit, Virginia Beach, Virginia-based group of professional and aspiring writers, friends, and supporters of the arts who have joined together to promote the craft and passion of writing and the love of reading and literature in Virginia. We aim to encourage readers and writers of all ages and talents, as well as acknowledge and celebrate awareness of local and contemporary authors and their work. We serve as a resource to our community by creating and supporting literary events throughout the Hampton Roads area.
I signed up the minute I discovered I could pitch my novel to a real, live literary agent who represented my genre. Ten-minutes, one-on-one pitch session. I was excited to get on the road. I grew up in Norfolk so driving through Norfolk to Virginia Beach packed an emotional punch: The tunnel, the Chesapeake Bay, the condos thrown up as soon as Norfolk tore down the old Ocean View Amusement Park.
I drove by my old elementary school and my parents’ house. I noted the new front porch and a beat up pickup truck parked in the driveway. Mom and Dad never would have let their car look like that. I considered visiting their gravesites but this wasn’t the time to wallow in the past. This was the time to get ready for the future.
The Westin Hotel in Virginia Beach was a great choice for the Conference.
Clean and friendly, plus the Hampton Roads Writers (HRW) Conference attendees received a reduced rate. As I checked in, I was greeted by a familiar face, Cliff Garstang from SWAG. Cliff was preparing for his first presentation that evening. I don’t remember when or how I heard about the HRW Conference. Probably from Cliff.
Since I was going to the conference mostly to pitch my story, I had e-mailed HRW earlier asking about their refund policy. Lauran Strait, the President of HRW, was great. Her responses were timely and polite. She told me the formal refund policy:
Registration fully refundable until July 26, 2013; from July 27 to Aug 23, 2013 all refunds will result in a forfeiture of $25.00; from Aug 24 to Sept 11, all refunds will result in a forfeiture of $50.00; after September 11, no refunds will be issued.
I let her know that I was driving three hours to Virginia Beach from Charlottesville and had to book a hotel room for two nights. Lauran understood the effort and expense so she added a special caveat. If the agent I was going to see canceled at the last minute, I would still receive a full refund. Not only that, she also made sure I was on schedule with my submissions. I’d signed up for a couple of events that required submissions, including a “First Ten Lines Critique Session” and an optional (fee-based) 10-page manuscript evaluation by agent Dawn Dowdle. Lauran even sent e-mail reminders of when the submissions were due.
After settling into my hotel room, I went to register for the conference. I was given an impressive agenda:
I attended my first breakout session Thursday evening, 6:30 – 8:00 PM on the topic of PERFECTING YOUR PITCH, presented by Chantelle Aimée Osman, owner of Twist of Karma Entertainment..
Chantelle was exhausted. She’d just arrived in Virginia after a murderous flight from Arizona. After a couple sips of coffee, she began.
Start with your Teaser Pitch.
Give the genre and 2-3 sentences that provide the agent with the basic idea of your novel. Avoid generic statements. Chantelle used the Wizard of Oz to illustrate a Teaser Pitch:
After a cyclone transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home.
Next, give the agent your Expanded Pitch.
Tell the story in an organized fashion. Add details, avoid backstory. Highlight heroes, goals, conflict, risk, pivotal elements, turning points, and the end.
Our farm girl, Dorothy, dreams of going over the rainbow. Through a freak cyclone, she and her farmhouse are transported to Munchkinland. There, she learns the only way back to Kansas is to meet the Wizard of Oz, who has the power to get her home. So she sets off on a dangerous journey. Along the way, she meets a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodsman, and a Lion. And they travel with her. However, Dorothy has made an enemy of a Wicked Witch, and she and her three friends … (Oz pitches courtesy of Christopher Lockhart.)
Chantelle leaned in close and looked us in the eyes.
“Pitches sell you, not just your writing.”
If you don’t appear passionate and excited about your own work, no one else will be. You’re starting a business relationship, so be professionals. Dress appropriately (generally just slightly more casual than the person you’re pitching). Be respectful, appear open to ideas and suggestions. Be flexible. The person you’re pitching to has more experience in the industry, and can help.
Practice, but don’t sound rehearsed. Comedy pitches should be funny, thriller pitches should have suspense. Switch up words each time to be spontaneous. Be specific, avoid abstract themes and generalizations. Watch your audience; if they appear bored, change tactic. Be prepared to start and stop for questions or other interruptions. If you fumble, recover. Provide verbal milestones to orient the listener (“at the midpoint” or “in the final scene”.)
Avoid overselling, comparisons, describing every side plot and each character’s backstory, disagreeing.
Make sure you have a professional synopsis and other information to leave behind ask ab out how to follow up.
When e-mailing the agent, be sure to put where you met in the subject line. For example, ‘Hampton Roads Writers Conference, 2013.’”
Rules of Synopsis:
A literary synopsis is a condensed statement that conveys the narrative arc of your manuscript. A synopsis shows major characters and events, from beginning to end.
Begin at the beginning, end at the end.
Break it down into 12 beats. Act 1 (3 segments), Act 2 (6 segments), Act 3 (3 segments)
Highlight on main characters
Use attention getting/action words. This is not just a recitation of facts.
Use 3rd person, present tense
Tell entire story, avoid cliffhangers.
Have synopsis read by people who haven’t read book and don’t know story. Can they understand plot and main characters?
Use normal font, e.g. Times New Roman. Nothing unusual.
I’ve wanted to be part of the Virginia Festival of the Book since I moved to Charlottesville in 1998. Just being in the same room as these creative authors, illustrators, and publishing professionals expands my world. I’ve volunteered for the Festival for many years at several venues. The Omni, Northside Library, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports. I was the smiling woman at the door handing out evaluation forms to audience members. I’d never been on stage or at the podium. Never been a moderator or a speaker. But I wanted to be. Every year I’d stand at the back with the other volunteer and envision telling an audience about my writing. I don’t know which member of BACCA proposed the idea that we present at the 2013 Virginia Festival of the Book but I am grateful she did. Maybe it was me or maybe it was Bethany, Anne, or Claire channeling my dreams.
BACCA (Bethany, Anne, Carolyn and Claire) came together as a writing group in the spring of 2011. Since then, BACCA has slowly uncovered the formula for creating, leading, and sustaining a great writing group. Now we were ready to share our discovery with the world. Our proposal was submitted, along with our application, to the Virginia Festival of the Book in September, 2012. By October, 2012, we were in! BACCA was going to the 2013 Virginia Festival of the Book, and not just going, we were presenting.
By the end of winter, BACCA was almost ready. We had informative handouts on How to Create a Writing Group, How to Lead a Writing Group, How to Find People, andBACCA 101, andAnne launched our beautiful website. We had the date and location of our presentation – Saturday, March 23rd at the Omni in Downtown Charlottesville. Special thanks to Bethany Joy Carlson for securing the Omni on Saturday, the best venue and the best day for maximum exposure. But we still needed just one more ingredient … practice. We scheduled a Writers’ Retreat in early March. (See Claire Cameron’s excellent account of our retreat.)
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Saturday, March 23, 2013. We agreed to meet at the Omni Hotel, downtown Charlottesville, at 9:15 for our 10:00 am presentation. We didn’t know what to expect. Would we have one attendee or one hundred? We’d made fifty copies of our handouts.
Our presentation was located in the Preston Room. Where? To get to the Preston Room we had to walk through the Omni’s in-house restaurant. We waved off the confused maître d’. “No, we’re not here for breakfast.” Diners stared at us as we bypassed the breakfast buffet and found a short hallway that lead to an open door. The Preston Room was almost perfect. Good sound system, plenty of chairs, well lit, but we had one concern. Location, location, location.
I was worried. I’d volunteered at the Omni quite a few times and I’d never even heard of the Preston Room. All the other presentations were along the main corridor, on the other side of the hotel. Not in the middle of a busy restaurant just beyond the confused maître d’. How would our audience find us? Fortunately Anne had brought extra flyers with directions to the Preston Room. We taped her flyers on the hallway outside the restaurant and kept our fingers crossed.
Our Festival of the Book volunteer, Susie, showed up and it began to feel real. We’d already decided on the order of our introductions. Bethany, as moderator, would go first. Anne would be second. I (Carolyn) was third. Claire was forth. As Claire illustrated in the previous post,The Writing Group Weekend, we were well prepared.
We placed handouts on the first few rows as our audience began to trickle in. Three women saved seats in the front row then scurried away. Saved seats! We took that as a good omen. Familiar faces arrived next. My husband, Claire’s boyfriend, Anne’s husband, and Bethany’s friend. Strangers walked in. They filled the first few rows. More friends arrived. Our confidence grew with each new attendee.
We chatted with the audience as we waited for 10:00 am. One woman told of her bad experience forming a writing group with friends. Hurt feelings and friendships threatened. Another chimed in. She’d formed a writing group with friends as well. Some took the writing seriously, others didn’t. They had to disband. We assured these women that they came to the right presentation because BACCA had the formula for success. The middle rows filled. We glanced at each other, our excitement building. Amazing!
Ten o’clock. Bethany welcomed audience members. She thanked both the Virginia Festival of the Book and our volunteer, Susie, and introduced herself:
“I’m Bethany Joy Carlson, and I’m a storyteller. I write fables, screenplays, and YA fiction. I’ve always loved a good story – in books, at the movies, told around a campfire. Story contains, for me, something essential about what it is to be human.”
She shared a share a quote from a favorite author, Haruki Murakami:
When you listen to somebody’s story and then try to reproduce it in writing, the tone’s the main thing. Get the tone right and you have a true story on your hands. Maybe some of the facts aren’t quite correct, but that doesn’t matter – it actually might elevate the truth factor of the story. Turn this around, and you could say there’re stories that are factually accurate yet aren’t true at all.
“Since writing is a solitary enterprise,” Bethany said, “being part of a thoughtful, fun, engaged group of kind critics has not only been a boost to my craft but a boon to my soul.” BACCA has given each of its four members much-needed feedback, but more than that, the women of BACCA also become cherished friends as we share the intimate act of putting the words on our hearts to paper.
Anne was second. She talked about the benefits of BACCA to her writing process, comparing our writing group to a farm cooperative. She contrasted her creative writing with the nonfiction essays and opinion pieces she had written previously. The audience laughed when she added, “Can I just say, the term ‘submission’ is unfortunate? I prefer to say I’m ‘sending my work out’.”
Bethany called my name, and I suddenly I realized I hadn’t heard a word Bethany or Anne had said during their introductions. (I had to ask them, “What did you say?” for this blog!) My mind was blank, my vision tunneled. I felt like I was inside a thick balloon floating underwater. I began by telling the audience what I write. “Fiction, mostly,” I said. My voice was shaky. “But I’m starting to write non-fiction. I’ll tell you more about in a moment.”
Since I write speculative fiction, I wanted my introduction to take an unusual turn. I looked at my notes and told the audience about one of my my favorite animals, the cuttlefish: a wondrous aquatic invertebrate that seems more like a creature from an alien planet than inspiration for my Festival of the Book introduction. Someone in the audience laughed, which is what I had hoped would happen, and I began to relax.
“The cuttlefish quality I admire is its ability to change color to match its emotion.” I compared this ability to my online presence. My Facebook, twitter, and blog pages change colors to match my emotions. From blue to red to black, depending on what’s happening. I returned to the previously mentioned non-fiction, a very personal blog I began with my diagnosis with endometrial cancer last December. “We share our souls when we write. And no one can share their soul if they fear gossip or ridicule. Trust is the foundation of a great writing group.”
Claire gave the final introduction. She discussed BACCA’s process. How and when BACCA meets, what we talk about, how we each comment on another writer’s work, and how we observe boundaries. She shared a few key principles of learning based on her research as an educational psychologist.
“Many of us have an ability bias,” Claire said, “where we think we can’t get better at something if we’re not already good at it.” (See link to Carol Dweck’s Mindset website, http://mindsetonline.com/). Claire cited research contradicting this bias and emphasized that expertise evolves through putting in the time. “We’re talking thousands of hours,” she said. Expertise also comes from supportive, effective feedback, which a great writing group can provide.
After introductions, Bethany asked the audience to take a minute and travel back in time. Remember when they received positive critique on their writing from another person. Maybe it was a teacher, a friend, or a family member. Maybe a commenter online. She reminded the audience that “critique is a loaded word. It sounds pretty close to criticism.” The room quieted as we all thought of our writing experiences.
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Our panel discussion came next. Bethany asked the questions and Anne, Claire and I took turns answering. Our answers were sincere, humorous, and instructive.
Where do you meet? What have been the highlights and lowlights?
Anne’s house because it’s private. The Mudhouse in Crozet unless it’s hosting a violin recital.
Have you become friends? How does that impact your critiques?
After two years together, friendship was inevitable. We keep our critiques strictly about the writing and try not to let personal feelings influence our feedback.
Is there a difference between how you critique fiction and memoir? Why?
Memoir, by its nature, is more personal than fiction so critiquing can be difficult. Plus, readers know the ending.
What has enabled the trust to be vulnerable as a writer in a critique group? As a reader?
This question reiterates the importance of selecting the right people for your group.
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After the panel discussion, Bethany launched our second planned activity: Writing GroupTest Drive. This activity allowed the audience an opportunity to practice giving and receiving feedback. Bethany referred the audience to our two-page handouts. On the first page was a short excerpt from a famous (unnamed) fiction author. On the second was Luke Whisnant’s critiquing guidelines, Responding to Other People’s Fiction.
We asked audience members to silently read the paragraph, and then form small groups of three or four people. We asked them to focus on “what’s working” and “what needs work” in the excerpt. We gave the audience ten minutes to complete the task. Extra points for guessing the name of the famous author.
After the exercise, Claire asked the audience how focusing on “what’s working / what needs work” rather than “I like / I dislike” changed how they read the piece. One person said, “it made me see the details of the construction, rather than my emotional response to the piece as a whole.” Another noted, “The run-on sentences reflect the endless roads.” Three teachers in the front row chimed in: “Never begin a sentence with a number!”
Even the extra points question was answered. “When you’re John Steinbeck you can make your own rules!”
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The audience participation exercise was the perfect segue for Bethany to widen the discussion. She asked for questions from the audience. A woman in the second row raised her hand. She asked about forming writing groups with friends. I suggested she carefully consider each member of her group. Members need to be serious writers who respect the feelings, privacy and integrity of the other members. “It’s easier to invite someone to your group than to un-invite them.”
Another hand went up and a man asked what makes a group work. Anne was emphatic with her answer: “Being present. Showing up. It’s noteworthy that BACCA has met every month for two years.”
Another woman asked the benefits of e-mailing our Works in Progress (WIPs) a week in advance versus reading them on the spot, as we did in the exercise. I talked about needing the time to read each piece fully and non-critically before going back with the red pen. Anne countered, noting the benefits of a spontaneous reaction without falling into over-analysis.
Bethany brought the session to a close, once again thanking the Virginia Festival of the Book, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Writer House, and Susie, our volunteer. “Feel free to pick up more materials at the back, at the Writer House booth here at the festival, or at BACCALiterary.com,” she said.
Bethany told the audience we would be available to answer questions after the presentation and reminded them to fill out the feedback form. Quite a few people came up with additional questions. Everyone left in high spirits, both BACCA and the audience.
Memory is a tricky thing. I committed to write this blog entry for our Festival of the Book experience during our writers’ retreat, but actually being in front of an audience is very different from sitting around with friends, practicing our questions and enjoying our answers. I thank Bethany Joy Carlson, Anne Carley, and Claire Cameron for helping me fill in the details.