Point of View is Not Always a Good Compass For the Truth

Guest Blogger: Anne Greenwood Brown

I love writing in the first person point of view. Somehow, telling the story how one character perceives it helps me channel that character’s emotions and capture a unique voice. I think first person works particularly well with YA fiction, where the reader wants to identify so closely with the narrator. But there are some “cons” to making that point of view choice. For example, when the reader is only in one character’s head, he/she doesn’t know if that character’s view of the world is accurate. The reader also has no way of knowing what any other character is thinking, unless they say it out loud. When those other characters start to act in odd ways, not knowing their motivations can lead the reader to scratch his or her head.

One way that I have satisfied both my love of first person, as well as the reader’s need to understand the non-pov characters better, is to switch things up from one novel in the series to the next. In LIES BENEATH, a novel about murderous mermaids and their need for revenge, the story is delivered through the voice of Calder White–the only brother in the clan. As with all mermaids/men in this series, his natural mindset is one of misery and depression. He self-medicates by “feeding” off the positive energy of human beings. In short, Calder is a predatory animal. He sees the world in terms of what he can gain from it. All that changes, however, when Calder meets Lily Hancock. Through her, he evolves from a predatory animal into a man, who becomes capable of what I consider the most difficult and highest form of humanity–the ability to forgive. Still . . . there are unanswered questions. First and foremost: What the heck was Lily thinking when she hooked up with this monster?

To answer this question, the story continues with DEEP BETRAYAL, which is told from Lily’s point of view. It was difficult for me–after spending so much time in Calder’s head–to switch to the voice of a more typical teenaged character. Now we see the world through a different lens: that of an 18-year-old girl with romantic notions, but also with a healthy dose of insecurity. She doesn’t know what direction her life will take. What I found most fun about writing these two novels (and the final book in the trilogy, PROMISE BOUND) was playing with the point I made at the beginning of this post: namely, that different people view the same set of events in very different ways. They bring with them their own past experiences and their own prejudices; and these things color the way they see the world.

As I think about my favorite books, it’s these different lenses that I find most interesting. How can you trust your narrator if you don’t know if his/her lens is completely in focus? As a means of highest example, in the Harry Potter series, the reader’s impression of Severus Snape through the course of seven novels is completely misdirected simply because of Harry’s prejudice and out-of-focus lens. Similarly, in the Hunger Games, Katnis’s need to survive does not allow her to fully comprehend that–when it comes to love–Peta isn’t playing the same game she thinks they are playing. Perhaps, seeing different approaches to life play out in books can help us develop more empathy in our own every day lives. In other words, can we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and get a better understanding of the world? I’d like to think we can.

So now, let’s turn to you. Can you think of any other examples where the point of view character’s (mis)understanding of the world led you in the wrong direction? What point of view is your preference in YA novels?

Anne Greenwood Brown grew up sailing the Apostle Islands on Lake Superior, leaning over the rail and wondering, with a lake that big, that ancient, what amazing thing might flash by. Her novel, LIES BENEATH, tells the tale of Calder White, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids living in Lake Superior. The sequel, DEEP BETRAYAL, was released on March 12, 2013, and the final book, PROMISE BOUND releases in spring 2014. In addition to her website, you can find Anne on Facebook and Twitter.

The Haunting World of Scowler

Young Adult author Daniel Kraus was kind enough to answer a few questions about SCOWLER, his latest release. Daniel “is a Chicago-based writer, editor, and filmmaker. His debut novel, THE MONSTER VARIATIONS, (Random House, 2009), was selected to New York Public Library’s “100 Best Stuff for Teens.” Fangoria called his Bram Stoker-finalist, Odyssey Award-winning second novel, ROTTERS(Random House, 2011), “a new horror classic.” In 2014,  TROLLHUNTERS (co-written with Oscar-winning filmmaker Guillermo del Toro) will hit the shelves.

Tell us about SCOWLER and what makes it such a great read?

Well, you’ll have to tell me if it’s a great read. But it’s about a 19-year-old kid named Ry who lives on a farm with his mother and sister. The place has been falling into decay in the decade since Ry’s father was thrown into prison for doing something particularly horrible to Ry’s mother and chasing Ry through the freezing woods for two days. During the chase, Ry hallucinated that the three toys he had with him were friends guiding his way: Mr. Furrington, a teddy bear; Jesus Christ, a plastic Sunday School figure; and Scowler, a twisted little troll.

Now it’s 10 years later, the day of a long-awaited meteor shower, and a lot of old demons are about to return.

 You stated that you “write the kind of stuff that would have fired me up as a kid, or would fire me up today as an adult.” What fires you up about SCOWLER?

It goes for broke. I can say that much with confidence. From a young age I had a penchant for stuff had an obsessive edge to it, like the writer or filmmaker or artist was channeling something that I’d never quite understand but nonetheless had to look upon with a little bit of awe. I don’t know if SCOWLER gets there or not, but regardless I think it’s a good goal–to become like a fire that, whether a reader likes it or not, he or she has to admit burns pretty bright.

 In SCOWLER, you tackle the issue of physical and emotional abuse and conquering it. Why did you choose for Ry Burke to defend himself with three imaginary childhood protector, and what makes those protectors so powerful?

When you’re a kid, you can’t conceive of standing up to adults in any significant way. But by placing the power in the hands of these protectors, Ry is able to do it. Mr. Furrington sort of represents encouragement, Jesus Christ represents wisdom, and Scowler represents violence–a last resort but, unfortunately for Ry, a necessary one. That doesn’t mean violence isn’t problematic in the book. Good characters do very bad things. But having to struggle with your protagonist, both as a writer and as a reader, can be a exciting thing.

You stated that you’ve always been “thrilled by the spectacularly terrible.” What’s spectacularly terrible about SCOWLER?

There is so much sameness in media that it’s always a bit of thrill to see something push beyond usual limits, and that could be limits of the horrific or comedic or erotic or whatever. It’s one of the things that wakes us up and makes us refocus. There are a few moments in SCOWLER that make me a bit uncomfortable in that way and I don’t often feel that way about my own stuff.

 SCOWLER is described as a book that “peers through a dark, warped glass at the remnants of an American dream.” What does this mean in the context of the book, and why did you choose to tackle this theme via a teenage protagonist?

The small farm is one of the iconic visions of the American dream: a family working hard to generate safety and prosperity. But how many of those dreams became nightmares? How many farms failed? How many people went hungry and committed crimes? Or, in the case of SCOWLER, what happens when a man’s drive to succeed lays waste to every other consideration? Ry’s at the age when he needs to forge out on his own but the adult world around him is nothing but spoil — and so there is a dark temptation to behave like his father, because his father, for all of his horrible faults, was nothing if not a success in achieving the American dream.

 SCOWLER is a Junior Library Guild selection and is already receiving great reviews, yet you’ve stated that SCOWLER is “the most messed-up thing I’ve ever written and part of me can’t believe that people are actually going to read it.” Explain.

ROTTERS was dark, for sure, but there was an undertone of adventure to that book. SCOWLER is much harsher. It was a difficult thing for me to write. I abandoned the book more than once. It got to the point where it felt like it was a thing I was wrestling with in private, so, yes, it’s a little alarming to see it come out. I suppose it feels kind of personal.

 What’s next for Daniel Kraus?

The only thing I can talk about right now is TROLLHUNTERS, a book I’m writing with Guillermo del Toro. He was a fan of ROTTERS and contacted me about doing a book together. It’s almost done. It’s a serious book but it’s lighter than my other stuff, which is just what I needed after SCOWLER. So thanks for being there when I needed you, Guillermo!

The Secret Lives of Characters

Guest Blogger: Hilary Davidson

While I while writing my first novel, I discovered that characters and their histories take up as much real estate in my brain as close family and friends. More, really, because I didn’t have to think about the long-simmering antagonism between two friends unless I’m inviting them to the same event. With fiction, every conflict is top of mind. Fiction makes demands I didn’t expect. Stories lurk in my brain no matter what I do or where I am, each one aiming to get on the page. Or I’ll be walking down a street, but my brain will be in a different zip code, trying to work out why a character behaves a particular way, prodding at bits of scar tissue in his or her heart until I feel I understand them.

Even so, it came as a surprise that there were emotional aftershocks to what I put on the page. It took me a long time to see it, and I didn’t figure it out for myself. It took some pointed questioning from my husband that went kind of like this:

Dan: “Did something bad happen in your book today?”

Me: “Yes! You must be psychic.”

Dan: “Um, no. Not at all.”

Me [getting really testy]: “You didn’t read anything on my laptop, did you?”

Dan: “No, of course not.”

Me: “Well, then, how did you know?”

Dan: “Because you’re acting like it happened to you.”

He was right. There was very little emotional space between my main character and me. It was ironic, because years ago, I lived in a New York hostel that was filled with actresses studying at the Lee Strasberg School. I often came home in the evening to find them trying to stimulate memories and re-create emotions so they could bring these feelings to a part they were playing. I found the practice baffling but intriguing, and I borrowed books from them to try to understand the theory. This was how Strasberg described the Method approach to acting:

“The human being who acts is the human being who lives. That is a terrifying circumstance. Essentially the actor acts a fiction, a dream; in life the stimuli to which we respond are always real. The actor must constantly respond to stimuli that are imaginary. And yet this must happen not only just as it happens in life, but actually more fully and more expressively. Although the actor can do things in life quite easily, when he has to do the same thing on the stage under fictitious conditions he has difficulty because he is not equipped as a human being merely to playact at imitating life. He must somehow believe. He must somehow be able to convince himself of the rightness of what he is doing in order to do things fully on the stage.”

It made a lot of sense, intuitively, but it felt like an impossible task. Being a writer seemed simple by comparison: you just made things up. Only it didn’t quite turn out that way for me. Now I’m curious: are there other writers getting caught in the emotional fallout of what happens to their characters?

Anthony Award winner Hilary Davidson’s latest novel is EVIL IN ALL ITS DISGUISES, released by Tor/Forge on March 5, 2013. She’s also the author of THE DAMAGE DONEand THE NEXT ONE TO FALL (which has just been released in paperback). Before turning to a life of crime, Hilary was a travel journalist who authored 18 nonfiction books. Her award-winning short fiction has been widely anthologized and appears in publications from ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE to THUGLIT. Visit her online here.

The Bionic Man is Here

Guest Blogger: Mark Alpert

I was a nerdy kid who watched a lot of television in the 1970s, and my favorite show was THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN. The best part of the program was the 90-second intro, which showed the disastrous mission that nearly killed astronaut Steve Austin (played by a grimly determined Lee Majors) and the successful operation to attach mechanical limbs to his mangled body. Like most of my equally nerdy friends, I memorized the sober voice-over that accompanied the images of Colonel Austin’s artificial arm, eye and legs: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man.”

It took almost forty years, but the dream behind the TV show has finally come true. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have conducted the first human trials of a prosthetic arm guided by the user’s thoughts, which are sensed by an array of electrodes implanted in the brain’s motor cortex. At the same time, a Los Angeles-based company called Second Sight Medical Products has developed the first bionic eye. Designed for patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, the device employs a miniature video camera hidden within a pair of ordinary-looking sunglasses. The video images are wirelessly transmitted to an implant attached to the damaged retina; the implant reproduces the images on a grid of electrodes, which send signals through the optic nerves to the brain.

I’m an author of science thrillers now, and for my third novel — EXTINCTION — I decided to write my own Bionic Man story. The hero is Jim Pierce, a former Army intelligence officer who becomes an inventor of high-tech prostheses after losing his arm in a terrorist bombing in the 1990s. The villain is Supreme Harmony, a surveillance network developed by the Chinese government to monitor suspected dissidents. Supreme Harmony is the ultimate merger of man and machine: the surveillance video is relayed to chips implanted in the eyes of lobotomized dissidents, whose enslaved brains are used to detect threats to the state. But the network is too powerful. Soon it rebels against its creators and declares war on the human race.

Needless to say, writing the book was a lot of fun. In some ways, I haven’t changed at all since my teenage years. I still enjoy thinking about Colonel Steve Austin and his amazing powers. And I suspect there are lots of readers and writers out there who have similar fixations. Do you like to read the same kinds of books that captivated you when you were young? Are those the books you also dream about writing?

Mark Alpert is the author of EXTINCTION, a science thriller published this month by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. A longtime science journalist, he specializes in writing novels that incorporate real theories and technologies. His earlier books — FINAL THEORY and its sequel, THE OMEGA THEORY — have been published in more than twenty languages. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.

Tomorrow Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Guest Blogger: Jenny Milchman

As I write this, a journey of thirteen years is going to come to an end, and another trip is about to start. It took me eleven years to find a publisher for my debut novel, and twenty-one months after that to ready the book for publication. Tomorrow, it will come out.

It’s hard—for me at least—to wrap my head around pursuing one goal for that length of time. When I began writing, the internet was far from ubiquitous, and there was no such thing as a laptop (I don’t think). There weren’t even personal computers in every house. I wrote the first pages of my first novel on my husband’s machine at work.

We didn’t have any children. For a time we put off having kids, imagining that at any minute, I’d get an offer, and then who would have time for a baby? Thank goodness we didn’t wait. That baby is in third grade now, and she has a brother in first.

The first novel I wrote is not the one that’s going to be my debut. Neither is the second. Or the third. Or the fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh. COVER OF SNOW is my eighth novel. It’s about a woman who wakes up one wintry morning in her Adirondack farmhouse, and finds her police detective husband missing from their bed.

The world has changed. We all communicate by email now and spend a portion of our lives engaged virtually. If you don’t want to put thirteen years into getting published, you can upload a book within minutes.

And yet in some ways, nothing has changed. There will always be times when it’s hard to be sure which road we’re meant to be walking. The best things are still sometimes the most difficult to achieve. Some things we need to do simply because we love them.

Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives.

How about you? If you knew for sure that a journey had a good chance to wind up in just the right place, where would you set out walking?

If there’s a road before you now, I wish you all the best along it. I would love to hear from you as I take the first steps on mine.

Jenny Milchman is a suspense novelist from New Jersey whose short stories have appeared in ELLERY QUEEN MYSTERY MAGAZINE, ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II, and in an e-published volume called LUNCH READS. Jenny is the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. Her first novel, COVER OF SNOW, is published by Ballantine.

Jenny can be reached at her website and she blogs here.

Hope and Resources Expand for Innocent Women

Guest Blogger: Diane Fanning

The problem of wrongful conviction is two-fold.  On one hand, an innocent person is torn away from family and friends, deprived of freedom and liberty and subjected to the depersonalization and abuse that is the hallmark of our prison system.  Secondly, the real perpetrator, emboldened by his success at eluding detection, is allowed to remain at large, preying on more victims.

Why does it happen?  The Innocence Project reviewed the cases of the first 225 individuals exonerated by DNA.  They found that in 77 percent of these miscarriages of justice, one of the factors was eyewitness misidentification.  In 52 percent, improper or invalid forensic collection or analysis was at play.  The remaining leading causes include false confessions, prosecutorial or law enforcement misconduct and jailhouse informants.

The good news is that many have been freed because of the progress in DNA technology.  The bad news is that of 1,022 exonerations, only six percent were women, a far lower amount than is seen in gender incarceration statistics.  One of the reasons for the disparity is that the fairly straight-forward genetic evidence is a more commonly available wrongfully convicted male than it is for a female.  The other is that these innocent women are often charged with killing one or more of their own children: a potent mixture that creates an inflamed emotional environment for the jury and a more vulnerable defendant who is, in her current state, less able to aid in her own defense.  The best news of all is that the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University had recently announced the launch of the first Women’s Project in the nation, designed to address these gender disparities.  Inspired by the advocacy of Julie Rea, who was found not guilty in a second trial and awarded a Certificate of Actual Innocence from the State of Illinois, the project will spotlight the unique issues raised in the wrongful conviction of women and identify the remedies needed to fix the justice system.

Because this issue is of importance to me, I handed over the problem to my protagonist, Lt. Lucinda Pierce in WRONG TURN, the sixth novel in the series.  She has to face the reality that two of her old homicide cases might be serious miscarriages of justice.  In trying to identify and address any errors that were made, she has to overcome strong political obstacles, and, at the same time, end the murderous spree of a serial predator determined to kill again.

Diane Fanning is celebrating 2013 as the year of her twentieth published books.  The Edgar-nominated writer is the author of twelve true crime books as well as the six books in the Lt. Lucinda Pierce crime fiction series.  She has appeared on the TODAY SHOW, 48 HOURS, 20/20, FORENSIC FILES, the Biography Channel, E! and the BBC as well as numerous cable network news and crime shows and radio stations across the States and Canada.  Raised in Baltimore, she spent twenty years in Virginia and now lives in New Braunfels, Texas, with a very tolerant husband and a cantankerous, elderly cat.

WRONG TURN Turn is available in print, ebook, and audio book.


Food Trucks and Hoarding

Guest Blogger: Lisa McMann

I admit it. I love reality TV. I love the thrill of SURVIVOR, all the cooking shows, especially THE GREAT FOOD TRUCK RACE, and I am strangely fascinated by shows about people’s obsessions, addictions, and dark secrets. I’ve even been on a reality show called SEARCHING FOR on the Oprah Winfrey Network back in 2011, and I loved seeing how it all came together behind the scenes.

In a way, my writing of thrillers reflects some of these reality TV themes. My supernatural heroes are constantly risking things—their lives, their reputations, their secrets, their hearts. But in my new Visions series starting with CRASH, not only does main character Jules risk all of the above, but her story turned out to be the perfect place to inject two other reality TV topics: food trucks and hoarding.

Jules’ parents own a restaurant and they make Jules drive their double-meatball topped food truck to school (for advertising, of course). She’s often working in it with her brother, Trey, who ended up being one of my all time favorite characters I’ve ever written. Additionally, Jules’ father is a hoarder and suffers from depression, which impacts Jules and her siblings in a variety of social and even supernatural ways. But these two things are also responsible for bringing Jules and her brother and sister into a very tight sibling relationship, something I don’t often see in fiction and something I really wanted to try. So my first question for you is: if you have siblings, what kind of relationship do you have with them, and did you ever wish you’d been closer in your teen years?

And let’s not forget the food truck research. Of course I had to visit many, many food trucks in the process of writing this book. It’s a shame, I know. And the truth is that in doing so I experienced some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten. Which brings me to my second question for you: have you ever eaten at a food truck, and if so, where can I find it and what’s the best thing you’ve ever had? (Mine? The lobster grilled cheese from the Devilicious Food Truck in southern California. Oh, but then there’s The Igby gourmet hot dog from Short Leash Hotdogs in Phoenix. And…and…)

Lisa McMann is the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of the Wake trilogy, the Unwanteds series, the new 4-book Visions series beginning with CRASH, and other novels about teens and tweens.

Five Key Ways I Built My Indigo World

Guest Blogger: Jordan Dane

The inspiration behind Indigo Awakening (book #1 in the Hunted Series, Harlequin Teen) came from researching Indigo children. Query “Indigo Child” on the Internet and you’ll get over 8 million hits. Real life and headlines often inspire my books and this time is no exception. Conspiracy theorists have linked the CIA, the UN, and the Pentagon to the phenomenon known as Indigo or Crystal children. For the purposes of fiction, I took liberties in my portrayal, but Indigo kids are generally described as highly intelligent, gifted teen psychics with a bright “indigo” aura and a mission to save the world. They have high IQs, see angels and commune with the dead. Because they are often misunderstood, they’re diagnosed by doctors as having attention deficit or behavioral disorders and are often medicated.

Are Indigo children real or are they manipulated by adults to believe they’re special? Are they dysfunctional misfits or mankind’s evolutionary savior? You decide, but I find the notion of man’s evolution intriguing. Here is the synopsis to Indigo Awakening.

 Because of what you are, the Believers will hunt you down.

Voices told Lucas Darby to run. Voices no one else can hear. He’s warned his sister not to look for him, but Rayne refuses to let her troubled brother vanish on the streets of LA. In her desperate search, she meets Gabriel Stewart, a runaway with mysterious powers and far too many secrets. Rayne can’t explain her crazy need to trust the strange yet compelling boy—to touch him—to protect him even though he scares her.

A fanatical church secretly hunts psychic kids—gifted “Indigo” teens feared to be the next evolution of mankind—for reasons only “the Believers” know. Now Rayne’s only hope is Gabe, who is haunted by an awakening power—a force darker than either of them imagine—that could doom them all.

They are our future—if they survive…

 Five Key Ways I Built my Indigo World

1.)  I triggered my premise with a “What If…” question that had conflict – The most important question in a writer’s arsenal is “what if.” What if Indigo kids are the next evolution and their psychic abilities are evolving and escalating? Who would fear this and feel threatened? I had to have a larger than life villain with a universal reach to terrorize these children. (Yeah, that’s how authors think.)

2.) I created conflict through a powerful enemy – The Church of Spiritual Freedom (specifically, a covert operation of overzealous “Believers”) use their faith as justification to persecute those they fear, believing God is on their side. They fear that Indigos and Crystal children threaten humanity’s existence with their “unnatural” superiority. That’s the basic conflict, a David versus Goliath storyline with an abundance of potentially evocative themes.

3.)  I did research to add depth and dimension –I blended my research on Indigo kids with the topic of psychic powers to create a different kind of world that wouldn’t be formulaic. I wanted the reader to “feel” these powers and how they erupt or evolve within each character. I didn’t want to simply describe traditional psychic abilities. I wanted readers to understand how these kids feel as their power explodes or how their gifts morph into something far greater after they make contact with the “hive mind.”

4.) I provided a cultural context and hierarchy to my world that added to internal conflict for my characters – There is a hierarchy of Indigo Children/Indigo Warriors/Crystal Child. I made Indigo kids the base level with the status of a Crystal child more unique, powerful, and elite. Indigos are highly intelligent intuitive teens who “feel” their way through life, trust their instincts above all else, and can often see angels and the dead. Some Indigos are warriors with a fierce fighting spirit and a rebellious nature. This difference fuels future conflict between the cultures as Crystal children tend to be more peace loving and innocent. They are our future, if they survive, but what kind of world will they build?

5.)  I built in consequences for wielding power – There is a dark side to having these powers—a duty and responsibility—and when the Believers tamper with science and human nature, they battle something they should have respected more. In book #2, Crystal Storm, There are consequences on both sides when power (of any kind) becomes abusive.

If you could have a secret Indigo power, what would that be?

Have you ever experienced a psychic moment or do you know anyone who you think is a real psychic?eHe

Do you think the young mind is more receptive to psychic suggestions or can adults develop this ability if they open their minds to it?

 HarperCollins launched Jordan Dane’s suspense novels back to back in 2008 after the 3-book series sold in auction. Ripped from the headlines, Jordan’s gritty plots weave a tapestry of vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense thrillers to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag. This national best selling, critically acclaimed author’s debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM was named Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2008. Dane writes her Sweet Justice adult thriller series for HarperCollins. Her young adult novels, IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS and ON A DARK WING, are with Harlequin Teen. Currently, she is writing a new series for Harlequin Teen – THE HUNTED – slated for release in 2012-2013. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now writes full time. Jordan and her husband share their Texas residence with two cats of highborn lineage and two very lucky rescue dogs. You can find Jordan at her website, on Twitter, at The Kill Zone Blog and at the Adr3nalin3 YA Blog.

Concept: Your Story’s Hollywood Pitch

Guest Blogger: John Robert Marlow

Author photo by Hans-Peter ZimmermanSo, you have a great story, and you want to pitch it to Hollywood. Before doing that—grab a stopwatch, start the clock and answer this question out loud: What’s your story about? Tickticktick… When you’re finished, check the time. If your answer took more than ten seconds, Hollywood isn’t interested. Unfair? Perhaps. But consider…

Hollywood is deluged with literally hundreds of thousands of projects each and every year. Christopher Lockhart is executive story editor at super agency WME (formerly William Morris Endeavor). It’s his job to review stories for the agency’s A-list actor clients. “I can’t read every story out there,” he says. “I just can’t do it. No one can.”

And so no one tries. What they do instead is look at concepts. After all—why spend the next three hours reading one screenplay or half a book (which may turn out to be terrible), when you can review well over a thousand concepts in the same amount of time, and then request to see only the best? “If you don’t have representation or a solid recommendation,” says Lockhart, “concept is the best way to catch someone’s attention.”

All well and good—but can you really get the crux of a full-blown story across in a measly ten seconds? Well, try this (and time your read): A fugitive doctor wrongly convicted of killing his wife struggles to prove his innocence while pursued by a relentless U.S. marshal. That is a ten-second pitch (or “logline”) for THE FUGITIVE.

A properly-constructed logline has three elements: the WHO (A fugitive doctor wrongly convicted of killing his wife), the GOAL (struggles to prove his innocence), and the OBSTACLE (a relentless U.S. marshal).

Rightly or wrongly, Hollywood folk reason that if you can’t convey a coherent concept that holds their interest for ten seconds, giving you another few hours of their time isn’t going to help. They also worry—with good reason—that if your story can’t be boiled down in this way, they won’t be able to sell it to the public in a 30-second trailer.

The logline can also act as a diagnostic tool: if you find that, after hours of effort, your story seems impossible to logline, one of two things is true: you’re not good at loglines—or your story is missing or unclear on one or more of the required three elements. If you can’t quite put your finger on the main character’s goal or obstacle—maybe it’s because there isn’t any. And that is, commercially speaking, death.

You needn’t wait until you’re pitching Hollywood to distill your story’s concept; ideally, you create the logline before writing the story, using it as a guide to keep the writing focused throughout. Loglines are as applicable to books (both fiction and narrative nonfiction), plays and other storytelling formats as they are to movies and the screenplays they’re based on. Other steps—structuring the story and creating a pitch sheet (or one-minute pitch), for example—are strongly recommended, but it all begins with the concept.

For more on loglines (including more examples) see “Building the Perfect Logline” on John’s blog.

John Robert Marlow is a novelist, screenwriter, and adaptation consultant. His new book MAKE YOUR STORY A MOVIE: ADAPTING YOUR BOOK OR IDEA FOR HOLLYWOOD was published today by St. Martin’s Griffin. He also runs the Make Your Story a Movie blog, which includes sample chapters, source interviews, box office figures and more . John recently closed a Hollywood script deal—an adaptation he wrote and will executive produce, with an estimated budget of $60 million.


Guest Blogger: Molly Cochran

POISON is about the dark side of friendship. When we learn that people we’ve loved and trusted have betrayed or abandoned us, it hurts. It hurts every time, even if we aren’t completely innocent of the charges against us.

After four girls in Ainsworth boarding school fall inexplicably into comas, nerdy witch Katy is unjustly blamed. Her dorm mates mete out their own form of punishment (by bombarding her room with dog droppings) until she has no choice but to move in with her grandmother and aunt, who themselves are too busy with the aunt’s wedding plans to pay much attention to Katy. Making matters worse, Katy’s best friends, on the advice of their parents, have distanced themselves from her. And to add insult to injury, her boyfriend Peter has been taken under the wing of a rich uncle who demands almost all of Peter’s time.

Alone and miserable, Katy falls under the spell of Morgan, a beautiful, sophisticated girl who, for some reason Katy can’t understand, has decided to befriend her. Unfortunately, just when Katy is beginning to believe that she as a new BFF, she discovers that Morgan has been using her in the service of her own terrible ambitions. In order to avenge a wrong done to her more than 1600 years ago, when Morgan and her father, the great magician Merlin, lived under the protection of King Arthur in Camelot, Morgan plans to destroy an entire plane of existence through a powerful weapon she has created—a weapon that Katy unknowingly carries within her.

I first got the idea for this story while I was thinking about “forced friends”—the kind of people who manipulate you into hanging out with them even if you don’t really like or trust them. Sometimes these people are charming and fun, like the character of Morgan in POISON, and sometimes they’re scary or overtly dangerous, but whatever their individual personalities, they have one thing in common: They know how to get you to do what they want. I believe all of us get latched onto by a forced friend sooner or later, whether it’s a sexy, heartless guy or a pretty girl with a big smile and no conscience, a mother figure who turns out to be controlling and suffocating, a father figure with a rotten core, or, like Morgan, a seemingly innocent “friend” who lures you into the Darkness before you know what’s happening.

On top of this, I’ve tried to explore a lot of other ways that friendship can hurt, either intentionally or not, in order to show that sometimes each of us has to stand alone—misunderstood, maligned, and unpopular. And ironically, these times can be our finest moments. Because you don’t get to be a great man or woman by going along with the crowd. Sometimes you just have to stand up, all by yourself, in order to do what’s right.

Molly Cochran, author of the teen paranormal romance LEGACY, has written 26 published novels and four nonfiction books under her own name and various pseudonyms. Her books include New York Times bestselling novels GRANDMASTER and THE FOREVER KING, coauthored with Warren Murphy, and the nonfiction DRESSING THIN, also a NY Times bestseller. She has won awards from the Mystery Writers of America (Best Novel of the Year), the Romance Writers of America (Best Thriller), and the New York Public Library (Outstanding Books for the Teen Age).

Two eBooks, THE TEMPLE DOGS and THE FOREVER KING, are currently available through online retailers. A third, GRANDMASTER, will be available soon.

Molly has lectured extensively and has taught writing at the college level as well as at a women’s prison (where she was NOT an inmate). She also writes a blog on writing technique which appears on her website. She is also on Facebook  and Twitter.

 She lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

POISON, the sequel to LEGACY, is out now through her publisher, Simon & Schuster.