**Reminder: Every comment this week counts as an entry in the drawing to win a hard cover copy of Heather Terrell’s forthcomingThe Map Thief from Ballantine Books.
Today, I’m talking to Michael Murphy, an established novelist and teacher. He has some excellent insight on a bunch of things I know nothing about: producing book trailers, teaching writing, creating screenplays, and more! So, enjoy!!
Hi, Michael. Thanks for joining us! So, one of the things I really want to know about is book trailers. Tell us a little bit about producing them. What is your goal when producing a trailer? What is the process like?
I try to capture the mood of the novel with the trailer. My goal is for a reader to view the trailer and get a flavor of what reading the novel might be like. In Class of ’68, for example, the trailer has terrific sixties music and images and doesn’t tell what the story is about at all. In Try and Catch the Wind, the trailer, lays out the story. That book is the first in a series and I wanted to introduce to the reader, Casey Bannister, a fun hero. My most recent trailer is for my romantic comedy novel, Ramblin’ Man. I gathered images and music that I hoped would reveal the humor and romance of the novel. I think it works.
I have to admit when I started, I had no idea how to produce a book trailer. Try and Catch the Wind has had over 3000 views of the trailer, Class of ’68, more than 1500 and Ramblin’ Man is well on its way to 1,000, so I think they’ve been well received. The process I use, is to begin by gathering images into a folder. Then I write gather text I want to show, such as reviews and how to order the book. Once I have these items saved, I search for music that will enhance the images. Then I open up my movie maker software and load the music and add the images.
It’s essential to make sure the images are on the screen long enough for the reader to appreciate them. This is especially crucial with text. Perhaps the most important challenge is to make sure the images and the music work together, enhance suspense, humor, or whatever desired emotion you’re hoping to convey.
Thanks for sharing. I understand you also teach a few workshops on writing novels. What are the most common challenges your students face when writing a novel?
I love helping others who are where I was ten years ago, with a desire to write, but not sure how to go about writing a novel. The theme of my You Too Can Write a Novel workshop is to give students the confidence that they can produce a novel-length manuscript. Some really good writers don’t think they can write 75,000 words. Many also believe they have to master each paragraph, each scene with brilliance the first time. They delay starting a novel until they’ve taken classes on dialogue, scene structure, characterization, etc.
What advice do you give your students?
To get over the intimidation factor of crafting a novel-length manuscript, I explain that the basic component of fiction is the scene. When we were in high school, we could handle an assignment to write a 500 word essay. I tell the students, if you can write a 500 word essay, you can write a 500 word scene. If you can write a scene, you can write three, and what do you know, you have a chapter. If you can write one chapter, you can write 25.
I also encourage students to not focus on starting a novel until they’ve perfected their craft. I encourage them to plow ahead and finish a first draft then take time to polish. When I complete a novel, my final draft is probably my 50th. I emphasize that one of the most important elements of writing is rewriting. I also encourage them to join a critique group and during the rewriting phase, present the novel, or portions of the novel to the group.
Do you think teaching has helped your own writing?
Preparing for and teaching my You Too Can Write a Novel and my You Too Can Write a Mystery has definitely helped my writing. I get questions all the time on scene structure, dialogue and characterization; how to add tension and drama to a scene. When I encounter a problem in my own work in progress, I’ll often reflect on what advice I might give my students. That really helps.
But even if it doesn’t, I love meeting other writers. During a break, I had one students tell me she didn’t want to write a novel, she wanted to write a non-fiction story about her survival from cancer and the role that spirituality played in her recovery. I suggested that she could convey the same information in a compelling novel and it would be much more emotional. Nearly instantly, her face lit up. She realized she could do so much more by fictionalizing her experiences than she could in non-fiction. She couldn’t thank me enough.
I think it’s great when writers take the time to reflect on their craft like that. You’ve also written a couple screenplays. Did those skills translate into novel writing? How so?
Even if I never see my screenplays translated to film, writing screenplays has helped in a number of unanticipated ways.
In a screenplay, a writer must be constantly aware of length of scenes and the overall length of the screenplay. Most producers prefer screenplays less than 100 pages. A rule of thumb is one page equals one minute in film, so a 90 page screenplay should result in an hour and a half movie. A 120 page screenplay would produce a two hour movie. The financial reality is, theaters can show a 90 minute film more times in a day than they can a two hour film.
Therefore, a screenplay writer must concisely develop the story, and write each scene with intense conciseness. This is good advice for any type of writing whether it’s a novel or a short story. Scenes should start late and end early. For example, avoid starting scenes where a character gets out of his car, walks to the front door of a house and knocks. Start the scene when the door opens.
Each line of dialogue must be purposeful. The same should hold true in a novel, but in a screenplay dialogue must be purposeful and starting a scene late and ending it early can enhance drama.
In a film, the story must be told visually and can’t rely on dialogue, so I look for ways to convey the story through action and setting rather than characters talking.
Now when I’m writing a novel I am much more aware of how I start a scene and end one. I also make sure I’m telling the story visually, and each line of dialogue is purposeful.
As writers, we all must deal with rejection to some extent. How do you deal with rejection and what advice can you give to others?
I began to deal with rejection about the time I reached puberty. The longest walk in my life was back to a group of my 7th grade friends after a girl turned me down when I asked her to dance.
As a writer, I’ve built up emotional scar tissue from the hundreds of rejections I’ve received from agents and publishers over the years. A salesman friend told me he expected ten rejections for every sale he makes, so he uses rejection as a way of saying, “I’m one step closer to a sale.” I try to take that philosophy when I send out query letters. I might have to send out twenty query letters to get one agent to request to read the manuscript, and I might need four or five agents who’ve read the manuscript to want to sign me.
Finally, if you could have written one book that was already published by another author, which book would it be?
The DaVinci Code. How long was that on top of the best seller list?
Seriously, I write the types of novels I enjoy reading, which is suspense novels with a twist of humor and touch of romance. When I first read Nelson DeMilee’s novel, Plum Island, I thought to myself that I wished I could write like that. Now I do.
For another author interview check out my chat with Samhain author Allie Boniface!
Status: Working on SCOUT some today. I just moved out of my apartment in Philadelphia last night and didn’t get into DC until after 1 am. I have an audition to write for a video game company, so I’ll do some research, then get started on that as well.
Lots going on in my writing life, but I love keeping it busy!