Friday, 25 January 2013

Why you have no idea what you're doing

By Candy Gourlay

First, let us all take a moment to gaze upon Harrison Ford in his prime.



I've been watching a lot of Making Of videos recently and was struck by director Steven Spielberg's negativity when discussing MY favourite Indiana Jones film, The Temple of Doom.



I loved that film, but googling around I discovered long discourses about how it was too dark and interviews with both Spielberg and producer George Lucas sounding apologetic about it.

In fact the movie was so dark that the Motion Pictures ratings board had to invent the PG-13 certificate so that hardier young people could go and see it.

But didn't they set out to write a family friendly adventure, like the first wildly successful Indy, Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Apparently they did.

But, Spielberg explains, the process of creating the film was so long and so detailed that they just went with it - doing whatever was best at every step of the process.

It was only when the whole thing was assembled that they realized how far into the darkness they'd tipped (Indiana Jones slugs a kid, someone's heart gets ripped out, children get whipped - some critics called it cinematic child abuse!).

Everyone asks me, is your new book going to be like Tall Story? Well no. It's older. Darker. More intense. A friend read it and actually called it gothic. Gothic? What's that?

The short of the long is that I wrote the story that came. But I didn't really know what I was going to end up with.

(Short pause to pray that my publisher doesn't hate whatever it is I've come up with)

This must be why publishers like packagers. In case you haven't been attending any SCBWI conferences lately, a packager pre-plots a book and employs authors to write it to a strict template. That way, publishers know what they're getting from the word go.

Having said that - they know what they're getting but they DONT know if what they're getting is going to become a hit.

50 Shades of Grey. Twilight. Harry P.

Nobody knew these books were heading for the big time, least of all the authors who created them.

Until our work is properly out,  we don't know what sort of relationship it's going to have with the wider world.

We only know a small part of the equation. The part about hard work, creativity, invention, story.

The part that means sales, riches, fame, opportunity, immortality - that's the part we don't know about.

We have no idea and neither do the publishers.

We should try not to care.

25 comments :

  1. I am looking forward to reading Shine one day - I hope you get news soon. It has been very interesting to read about the process you went through with this. Gothic is good :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looked up the meaning of Gothic. I'm sure it isn't! But thank you!

      Delete
  2. 'doing whatever was best at every step of the process.' that's it isn't it? You may plot and plan but until you actually get there - to those places where the story turns - you don't really know what's best.
    Yep, me too, I want to read it. I know the packagers achieve LOTS of sales but, and this is a genuine question (quick check on google didn't throw anything up), do they win prizes?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think they do win prizes, Jan, but they fill a need. Post coming about that! The first one was scary too but in a different way, with the spirits around the Arc. I don't think children would have seen it as abuse, they'd have seen it as the bad guys getting their comeuppance, which they should always get in this sort of film. I loved it and my kids weren't traumatised by it.

      Delete
    2. I don't know if any packaged books have actually won an award, but they do occasionally get shortlisted. I shouldn't think that most publishers bother to submit packaged books for awards though, so that might be skewing the sample.

      Delete
    3. I am of the opinion that there SHOULD be an award for books created by packagers. If Enid Blyton were alive today she would probably be involved in some packaged series. Even if packaged series are the result of groupthink I cannot deny that such series have a power and influence. I know a boy who, after devouring Beast Quest, decided that he was an author. Now doesn't that deserve recognition?

      Delete
    4. Yeah, I'd agree with that, there are some very skilled writers and editors whose efforts are often ignored. But who would run the award? It couldn't be the packagers themselves - is there a trade body who could judge it? And should it be for single books or whole series?

      Delete
  3. I just gave up a short story to a publisher that ended up being a ton darker than I intended it to be. I'm cringing too that I'll see an email saying 'What is this?!' But sometimes a story has to be that way. Congrats on having the guts to do it anyway. Plus, they may like it more than you think ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps you ought to finish that short story! There will be a place for it somewhere even if it's not with the original publisher!

      Delete
  4. I loved that film too. I even had the souvenir book. But I find it almost impossible to watch now I'm a grown-up! Children are more resilient than we believe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have the souvenir book?

      I must have been a hardbitten child, I saw nothing wrong with it. But when my own sensitive offspring were watching it we had to stop because it was too scary.

      Delete
  5. We pray (and would like to expect) that an authentic voice outweighs packaged expectations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think people take against the fact that packaged books are created by a gang of people for commercial reasons. Is it art? Well - there's good stuff out there!

      Delete
  6. Can I just say that I bristled a bit at that title, Candy? William Goldman's "Nobody Knows Anything" feels rather less like a personal insult!

    I get what you're saying, though - so much of this game is out of our hands, and the best books evolve as they go along. Perhaps the key thing is to approach everything with a spirit of experimentation and to embrace the chaos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry you bristled, Nick, I didn't mean you personally ;)

      Delete
  7. A story is a journey as much for the author as the reader!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow Sally, that would make a good blog post!

      Delete
  8. 'We should try hard not to care' YES! I've realized that - more heart, less head, that way!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ... but sometimes we can't help caring!

      Delete
  9. Great stuff, Candy. Really sits well with Gillian Phillip's post this week about writing from the heart and how heard that is once you start listening to other people's reviews/opinions. Sounds like you've really gone from the heart here: All best luck to you. x

    In case it's of interest:
    http://qwillery.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/guest-blog-by-gillian-philip-that.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a brilliant piece! Off to comment!

      Delete
  10. Comforting to know that even Spielberg's had times where he doesn't quite know where he's going. I agree, you have to write the story that comes. I don't think I'd be much good at the 'packager' writing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Writing to someone else's plan must take creative discipline.

      Delete
  11. Thanks for answering my packaging question.
    I was thinking specifically about flexibility in planning, which authors writing for packagers don't have as much as others. Flexibility though can result in stories that are too complicated and over-populated - I have one, maybe more, of those. But flexibility i.e. doing 'whatever's best at every step of the process' can also, possibly, deepen motivations, increase credibility and so make a more gripping, and therefore better, story.
    Sally, definitely, a story is as much a journey for the author as the reader - some authors like a guidebook, others like to follow their nose, and some, on the way, tuck the guidebook in their rucksack/lose it/throw it away/see something interesting down a side alley - I could go on for ages with that analogy.
    Candy, I agree, there should be an award for stories that get children reading let alone for deciding to become an author! The series books (sometimes from packagers) do that, don't they.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Imagine I am, shaking you firmly by the shoulders as I say these words: 'I wanna read it now!'
    I think my point is made.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are the heart and soul of the Slushpile community, thank you! We may periodically turn on comments approval when trolls appear.

Share buttons bottom

POPULAR!