Monday, 30 July 2018

'Honor the talent, drive and desire that not many people get': Laurie S Campbell

In my journey as a writer, I have had the privilege of meeting many mentors from whom I’ve learnt many things about structure, plotting, how to develop characters and other nuances of writing. Laurie Schnebly Campbell is one such mentor.

Laurie is a romance author and has a background as a counselling therapist. A perfect combination that helps her in what she loves to do—give online (as well as offline) writer workshops to students from London and Los Angeles, New Zealand and India.

She is also an advertising professional and works for a Phoenix ad agency. For several years, she would turn off her computer every day at five o’ clock, wait thirty seconds, turn it on again and start writing romance. Her first novel was nominated by Romantic Times as the year’s “Best First Series Romance” and her second beat out Nora Roberts for “Best Special Edition of the Year”.

She has also written non-fiction and her book Creating Believable Characters with Enneagrams is a must-read for fiction writers.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Laurie to my blog and find out more about her and her writing workshops.

I first came across your book Creating Believable Characters with Enneagrams and was totally blown away by the concept of using personality types to create compelling characters with realistic flaws. Can you tell us a bit about how that book happened and what made you write the book?

I was blown away, too, when I first came across the concept of enneagrams. My mother had gone back to school to study counseling — she now works as a marriage counselor — and found a great book called “The Enneagram Made Easy” by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele. I loved how each of the nine personality types has its own unique strengths while at the same time, any strength taken too far can become a flaw.

It seemed like a great topic for a one-hour speech, and the response to “Creating Your Hero’s Fatal Flaw” showed me other writers liked the idea of good and bad traits being two sides of the same coin. So I turned the speech into a month-long class, but people often had to wait 12-18 months before taking it. For everyone who didn’t want to wait, the solution was a book. (Although it doesn’t come with the individual responses to homework assignments!)

Plot Via Motivation is one of the best classes I have taken. Can you tell us in brief about the class and how it helps writers to think about the issues of plot and motivation. Do you think the model that you teach applies for romance books (by and large) or can it be used for other genres as well?

We all hear about how characters need a goal, a conflict on the way to that goal, and a motivation that drives them toward it. But often we don’t use the character’s motivation as fully as we could in order to create someone readers can identify with, even if they don’t want to BE that person.

Drilling down into what people need to feel Okay is what makes a character fascinating, and I’ve discovered that once a writer can identify THAT the book takes on a whole new dimension of credibility. While that definitely works for romances, in which readers care deeply about the characters’ internal feelings, it works equally well for action-adventure or fantasy or mystery books in which readers want to feel like each character makes perfect sense.

Many people feel that writing cannot be taught? Your thoughts?

I think good storytelling is instinctive. We’re all born with the capability to see stories unfolding before us, and to describe them to other people. “I was late because the dog ate my homework.” “I’d love to date your nephew but I have to wash my hair.”

The ability to tell those stories on paper, to strangers, is just putting a different spin on our own innate ability. Techniques that make writing easier can absolutely be taught, and good writers are always looking for the most effective tools they can use, but the natural instinct for storytelling doesn’t have to be taught. It’s already there.

What kind of books do you enjoy reading? Any titles that you found 'unputdownable'? Any genres that you don't read?

About 95% of my reading is fiction. Lately my favorite genre has been women’s fiction — stories about relationships, whether or not there’s any romance involved. But I also enjoy thrillers, mysteries, romances, young adult and even some children’s books. I don’t read as much SFF, although there’ve been some I loved, and I never read horror because I just don’t like to be scared.

The one book I read cover to cover, then turned back to page 1 and read the whole thing straight through again, is a coming-of-age-story called Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. I always have three books on my nightstand, 2-15 on my from-the-library shelf, and another one in my car.

You have yourself been a very successful romance author. What are some of the issues that you feel have changed since the time you wrote books? And have these changes been for the better or have things gotten worse?

When I started publishing with Harlequin Romance’s American subsidiary, Silhouette Special Edition, the only way to get published was through a well-known house. That was in the 1990s, a few years before e-books and indie publishing changed the landscape dramatically. Now, anyone who wants to publish a book can do so, which makes life easier for people who love having lots of titles available and harder for people who want to read only the best ones.

I’ve been hearing for years that electronic publishing will mean the death of print books, and recently was delighted to learn that people who previously didn’t read (because they couldn’t make time for it) have now discovered the joy of stories they can read on their phone. They not only buy books for their phone, they’re also buying print because they love getting lost in a good story. Which is great news for all of us writers.

What would your advice be to a writer who is starting out?

If you’ve always been good at writing papers and reports for school and work, you might feel like there’s something wrong when you don’t achieve instant success in writing fiction as well. That’s a normal response. There’s a learning curve to writing stories, same as for writing non-fiction, and it applies just as much to experienced writers as to absolute beginners.

You can make your job easier by identifying which you’re better at: coming up with characters, or coming up with plots. Neither is more important, but almost everyone is better at one or the other. Whichever is your weak point, START there. Because if you’re great at plots but not so great at characters, you can use your natural talent to come up with a plot that’ll suit whatever characters you’ve struggled to create. And if you’re strong on characters but less strong on plots, do the hard part first because you can always create vivid characters to match the plot you’ve just managed to put together.

Finally, if you spend much time with other writers, you might tend to forget what a rare gift you have because you see it in everyone around you. But if you go into a convenience store and ask “how many people here are writing a book?” it’s not likely anyone will speak up. Don’t take your unusual status for granted. Appreciate the fact that you’ve been given a talent and drive and desire that not many people get, and honor it.

Are you developing any new course that you're excited about? And could you share some details.

I try to come up with a new course every year, because I teach one via email every month except July and December, but students often like to repeat classes like “Plotting Via Motivation” or “The Heroine’s Journey” or “Your Plot-Character-Story Braid” year after year. So, since I didn’t add any new ones in 2018, I’m adding three in 2019.

February’s is “The Whole Point of Point Of View.” In theory, POV is simple: whose head is the reader in? In practice, it can be a more tricky. Whose head is best for this scene, this section, this story, this series? How do you know when it’s time to switch? What if the reader gets bored? What if the POV character doesn’t know something you want the reader to know? We'll cover the 11 techniques that make Point of View easier to work with, no matter who your readers will be.

June’s is “Boffo Beginnings and Fab Finales.” How can you make sure your book will draw readers in from the very first paragraph, through the next several pages, continuing into further chapters until they realize they’ve been reading so fast and so deep they can’t put this story down? How can you leave them so wonderfully satisfied when they reach The End that they’re already vowing to read whatever else you’ve written and are going to write next? That’s what this class is about.

And August’s is “More Than Setting: World Building.” Of course your book needs a setting that contributes to the story, but your characters’ story world goes far beyond just the time and place they occupy. It’s also the people who surround them, the expectations they take for granted, the rules that infuriate them, the attitudes they share with their society whether or not they realize it. All those elements (and more) belong in your story world…and here’s how to build a world that works.

Thanks, Adite, for some great questions — it’s been a treat watching you grow as a writer, and I love that you’re sharing your gift with blog readers as well as those who enjoy your books and screenplays!

Thank YOU Laurie for those great tips. And, people, do check out Laurie’s online classes if you want to hone your skills as a writer. Her classes are also a lot of fun! Imagine, I even enjoy doing the homework she doles out!

Thursday, 26 July 2018

The 'Guru' of Screenwriting - Salaam Salim Saab Episode #4

Guru Bramha, Guru Vishnu, Guru Devo Maheshwara,
Guru Sakshat Parabramha, Tasmai Shri Guruve Namaha

On the auspicious occasion of Guru Purnima (27 July, 2018)  it’s extremely apt that as students of cinema we doff our hats to the “Guru” of Screenplay Writing, Mr. Salim Khan.

How worthy Salim Saab is of this respect is endorsed by his erstwhile writing partner, Javed Saab who at an event in Bhopal a few years back on stage very graciously mentioned that the one man he’s learnt the Art of Screenplay Writing from is Salim Saab and few people have an understanding of the craft that Salim Saab does. 

It is ironical that even though writing is the most important cog in the wheel of a film’s success, few people in the film industry have an understanding of screenplay writing. 

The Jai-Radha Storyline in Sholay
Well the answer lies in the word itself – how a story is put into play with sequences, occurrences and happenings for an average duration of approximately two and a half hours on Screen. This forms the backbone of a film that keeps the audience engaged. It is the bridge between the story that you want to tell and the dialogues that are spoken by the performers.  The strength of a screenplay is such that it can offset even an ordinary performance and make it look extraordinary. The power of the screenplay is such that without the support of dialogue it can create timeless and memorable content. The Radha-Jai love story of Sholay is perhaps the most blazing example (pun intended).  

Very recently I saw the original Don for the umpteenth time and felt the same glee of an excited child when Don tells Sonia that they know the revolver is empty but not the cops, thus engineering his getaway. When I asked Salim Saab how they had come up with the gag, he credited it to his love for reading, and the vast reservoir of information he has gained from his habit.

Salim Saab is a voracious reader who says that if he happens to be carrying something wrapped in a newspaper, he would first read it thoroughly before relegating it to the waste paper basket. For, he firmly believes that reading enriches him not just as a writer but also as a human being. 

It is this dedication and discipline for his art that enables Salim Saab to create a scene from a vacuum, says acclaimed filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. A vacuum of his invisible magic box of memories and experiences gathered from his interactions with life and books. And in the process, the “Guru” of Screenplay Writing has spread so much magic in our lives with his magical creations.

Jaideep Sen is a filmmaker and a connoisseur of the art of storytelling.

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Bombay Heights - Sleepless in the City of Dreams

Releasing a new book is always a thrill. You're excited to show off your work to the world and also nervous about it. Will readers like it? Or God forbid, will they hate it?

Bombay Heights is my first new release as an Indie author. And that makes it even more special.

The book is my tribute to a city that will always hold a special place for me. Bombay. The city I grew up in. Though the story does not have any autobiographical elements to it, the City of Dreams plays a very important part in the lives of my characters - Sanjana, the small town girl who is chasing her dreams and running away from some personal issues. Ashwin, the big city dude who's flirtatious and fun but he is not all eye-candy either. Then there is Mrs. Jeroobai Wadia, who is a bridge between the old Bombay and the modern Mumbai. And last but not the least, there's a tiny fur ball named Dumbass and he too has his own little backstory!

But more about the characters in a later post. Here's a look at the cover picture and the blurb. 

A feel-good romantic comedy

Small town girl Sanjana Kale wants a fresh start in Mumbai. A challenging job and some much needed distance from her ludicrously over protective family could get her life under control.

Forced to team up with video game designer Ashwin Deo, who is too attractive for his own good, she finds life becoming a whole lot more complicated when he turns out to be her new neighbour. How can she maintain a professional distance with this charming troublemaker who believes in getting up close and personal?

To make matters worse, her ex treis to manipulate her loved ones to work his way back into her life. Hysterical siblings, a cantankerous client, an ex who won't take no for an answer, and a blow hot blow cold neighbour...Sanjana is sleepless in the City of Dreams! Can she do what Ashwin dares her to--create a few ripples even if it upsets her family?

If you love romantic comedies with a lot of banter between the lead pair and humorous situations, you will enjoy Bombay Heights.

For now, I leave you with a classic song that is so quintessentially "Bombay"!

Have a Great Day!

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Cover Reveal of "Bombay Heights"

As the release day of my romantic comedy novel, Bombay Heights, draws closer, it's time to unveil the cover and reveal the blurb!

It's an exciting moment for me and I hope you all will love the cover. Many thanks to the TBC team for sharing this moment with me!

So, without further ado, here goes...

Bombay Heights -- Sleepless in the City of Dreams

Small town girl Sanjana Kale wants a fresh start in Mumbai. A challenging job and some much needed distance from her ludicrously over-protective family could get her life under control.

Forced to team up with video game designer Ashwin Deo, who is too attractive for his own good, she finds life becoming a whole lot more complicated when he turns out to be her new neighbour. How can she maintain a professional distance with this charming troublemaker who believes in getting up close and personal?

To make matters worse, her ex tries to manipulate her loved ones to work his way back into her life. Hysterical siblings, a cantankerous client, an ex who will not take no for an answer, and a blow hot blow cold neighbour... Sanjana is sleepless in the City of Dreams! Can she do what Ashwin dares her to--create a few ripples even if it upsets her family?

And now for the Cover....

Watch out for the Release of the Book on Amazon on 9th July, 2018

Sunday, 1 July 2018

The Invaluable Value of the Pen - Salaam Salim Saab (Episode #3)

“There will come a day when a writer will be paid as much money as the hero.” Those were the famous words uttered by Master Writer Salim Khan to a professional associate. His words were proved wrong—but in a good way—years later when he and his writing partner, Javed Akhtar Saab actually drew a fee not equal to but more than what the hero was paid for a film that they scripted.  
How did this miracle happen in an industry that is notorious for undervaluing the writer? According to Salim Saab, “consistency” was the secret to their success. The duo went on writing one hit after another and proved to the world that quality of content was the key to the success of their films. 

In my opinion, the only contemporary Indian film to have ever matched form to its content is the Masterpiece Sholay and there too, the content has been penned by Salim Saab and Javed Saab.

The hallmark of Salim Saab-Javed Saab’s writing is that all their films were not merely successful in terms of box-office earnings but were perceived to be socially relevant and that’s what earned them the respect of the film fraternity. Salim Saab always says, what’s a film if its content does not leave behind any emotional residue on its viewers?

And precisely because of the impact that their powerful writing had on the audience, the fearless warriors of the pen demanded their pound of flesh and made sure they were given the respect they were so worthy of.

Though Salim Saab is purely a devotee of knowledge and literature, it’s an undeniable fact that money is the measure of man’s achievement in this materialistic world. And the Duo’s unmatchable contribution to Indian cinema could be compensated with not only respect but the highest fee to be paid. What’s more, this deserved recognition ensured that writers and quality content began to be more appreciated within the industry. 

Salim Saab went a step further and even staked a claim in the profits of the films that they were part of and in a most rational manner proved his point when it was established without doubt that the films they wrote actually got picked up for a premium by buyers purely on the basis of one credit scroll:  Written by Salim-Javed.

The contribution of the Pen is actually priceless in spirit but in reality, we ought to doff our hats to Salim Saab who along with his partner has given priceless gems to the Indian film audience. Gems that can will forever retain their sparkle because of the Invaluable Value of the Pen.

 Jaideep Sen is a filmmaker and a connoisseur of the art of storytelling.

Links to earlier episodes in this series: