Having spent most of her life in London, our guest blogger Sarah Alderson quit her job in the non-profit sector in 2009 and took off on a round-the-world trip with her husband and princess-obsessed daughter on a mission to find a new place to call home. After several months in India, Singapore, Australia, and the US, they settled in Bali where Sarah now spends her days writing by the pool and drinking lots of coconuts. She finished her first novel Hunting Lila (now in the early stages of film development) just before they left the UK, wrote the sequel on the beach in India, and had signed a two book deal with Simon & Schuster by the time they reached Bali. A third book, Fated, about a teenage demon slayer, which was written during their stay in California, was published in January 2012 by Simon Pulse (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Sarah is currently working on several screenplays as well as two further young adult novels – both thrillers – which are scheduled for release by Simon & Schuster in 2013.
For more information on Sarah visit her website.
Before I had a brainwave and decided to become a writer (yeah, really) I had never written a thing creatively. OK, I wrote a lot of fundraising applications for work and those were mainly fictional but I digress… I never took a writing course, never read a book on how to write a novel, didn’t take a PHD in creative writing. My English teacher at school looked at me pityingly when I told her I was thinking of reading English at uni (I’m British – that’s how we say it).
But then, aged 30, having quit my job and on the cusp of travelling the world, I decided I needed a new job, because there was no way I was going to live off my husband (I am a feminist after all).
I decided (while swimming laps pondering my options) that I’d be a writer. I had no qualifications, other than the fact I had read a lot of books and watched a lot of TV, but I didn’t let that stop me. Three years on and I have three books published with Simon & Schuster, another two contracted (and written), a further two adult novels going out on submission next month and several screenplays under my belt.
My first novel has been optioned and is in the early stages of development. I’m on board as a screenwriter (though someone who’s been Oscar-nominated is actually doing the real draft).
So yeah, anyone tells you that you can’t be a writer – just ignore them. I’m proof that a load of naivete, a whole load of work ethic, and a belief in yourself can get you places.
When I had written six books I decided I wanted to write a screenplay so I asked around and was told to read Save the Cat! – the definitive guide to screenplay writing, according to one actress friend. I bought it and devoured it in a few hours. I used it to write my first screenplay, which I then submitted to agents. That was enough to get me signed on as a screenwriter on the adaptation of my first novel.
I then had to start working on my next novel and decided that I would use some of Blake’s techniques to see if they could be transferred to writing novels. I did some shaky calculations for page counts and then I drew a big beat sheet on my blackboard wall and started filling it in. And hey presto, it worked beautifully.
There are hundreds of ideas in the book but the key ones for me are:
Save the Cat!
Snyder talks about the importance of having a save-the-cat moment in a film. What he means is that your hero HAS to do something that immediately makes you like him or her – and he or she has to do it in the first chapter. Otherwise you end up with a book/film that fails to engage the reader/viewer and leaves them indifferent to the fate of your characters… disaster!
I’ve read plenty of books which fail, precisely because I don’t care about the central character – because he or she never saved the cat. Think about all the books you’ve hated and now think about whether you liked the main character. There’s usually a link.
State the Theme
Like every film, every book needs to have a theme, and that theme doesn’t need to be obviously stated but it should be there nonetheless. The theme of Fated is whether or not we have choice in life. You don’t need to provide an obvious answer but you should be clear what your theme is and invite your reader to contemplate it.
It’s really important that an event occurs in your book early on that turns everything on its head – that forces your hero to reassess everything and take action. That might sound really obvious, but lots of writers spend an age on fluffy description and developing characters and forget the plot part entirely. Bring in that catalyst and let it be the perfect catalyst for your particular character; it must challenge them and help them grow.
All Is Lost moment
Like every film, I think every book needs a moment where it looks like everything is lost, and so does Snyder. All great movies include this moment, where the hero is about to give up, is at his or her lowest ebb. I write thrillers so it’s a no brainer that my books also include this all is lost moment. It’s the point in Hunting Lila where (SPOILER) they get captured by Demos and his crew. It’s the point in Fated where Evie discovers who Lucas really is. The all is lost moment allows for a big finale come back scene and gives your readers an emotional roller coaster ride.
My final bit of advice to writers would be to never ever say “I can’t –”
It never crossed my mind once to say “I can’t.”
When faced with the seemingly impossible I have always asked, ‘How can I…?’
How can I get an agent?
How can I get this book optioned?
How can I get the best agent in LA to rep me?
I’ve always found my answer.