Thursday, February 18, 2010

Breaking News! and breaking news


I'm so happy to report AIR TIME has been nominated for the AGATHA for Best Novel of 2009.

And my short story "On The House" (in QUARRY from Level Best Books) is nominated for the AGATHA for best short story!
How do I feel about that?

Thank you, everyone..I'm thrilled and honored and delighted. (The other nominees are beyond stellar--look for them here--and congratulations to all.
We now return you to our regular programming.

If it's Friday, it must be Shane!

SHANE: Television writing demands brevity, because so much information has to be conveyed in just a few minutes of air time. A novel, on the other hand, can go on forever. Was it difficult to make the transition?

HANK: One of my very first news directors—he’s the same one who told me “videotape will never last” but that’s another story—actually had some wonderful advice, which he gave me my first day on the job as a TV reporter in 1975. (Here's my official photo from back then....)

He said—the hardest thing about this job is knowing what to leave out.

And you know, whether it’s for TV writing or novel writing, that’s exactly right.

You’re sent out on a news story, and you’re madly writing everything down in your reporter’s notebook, all the stats, all the history, all the description, all the names and relationships and background and quotes and thoughts and the weather and how many firefighters there were and how often the same thing has happened in the past and ..pant pant pant.

You get back to the station and bang—your story is on the air in an hour. If you’re lucky.

How are you going to do that? You can’t just—empty your notebook into your script. (And you’ve heard news stories where the reporter does that. They start telling everything they know about whatever it is—and what’s our reaction? You’re thinking—all right, already, we GET this. Just GO ON.)

So the key in writing a good and successful TV story is to ask yourself—what does this mean? Of course, you need who what when where, etc…but what does it mean? Is why the story matters.

A bedroom can have a thermostat reading 40 degrees. And that could be true, and correct reporting. But what it means is—a little boy will sleep in his coat, and in his mother’s coat. And maybe it means someone didn’t pay a heating bill? Or someone—who?—didn’t fix the furnace? And maybe it also means the city’s health codes are not being followed. And maybe that means health inspectors are being—bought off by landlords? Who knows.

Sue Grafton talks about “because.” That in a good mystery, everything happens because of something else. And that’s what makes it realistic and interesting. And the same with TV reporting.

But the key is: in TV, you may have one minute and thirty seconds to tell it.

And I always tell interns—pretend you and I were having lunch. And you say to me: You’ll never believe what happened across the street! There was a fire! And then I say—now. Just tell me what you would say, what you would REALLY say, if you were just telling the story to a pal. Because you’d tell the friend why it’s important, and why you care, and what’s going to happen as a result. And then? Write that. Don’t try to be clever, or innovative or reporter-y. Just—tell a good story. And only the parts that are the story.

Now. In answer to your question. (Finally!)

Transition, for me, to writing novel length? I must say, no, I had no trouble with it. ( I was more worried, I must admit, about being able to make things up. After 30 years of reporting exactly what really happened and only that, I wondered how my brain would do if given the opportunity to say whatever I wanted! And my brain loved it. )

When I’ve got a big groundbreaking investigation, I might be allotted five minutes for it. I can write it that way. If my news director said yikes, we’ve got an news emergency ,we can only take a minute-thirty for your story—first I argue, then I argue some more, then I cut. You write the best story you can for the amount of time you have. And there’s a skill for writing five minutes, and a different skill for writing 90 seconds.

And a skill for writing 90,000 words.

What's more, of course a novel can’t actually go on forever. It can only be as long as it’s supposed to be. We’ve all read novels that you know you could just cut huge chunks out of, right? It’s just like a reporter emptying their notebook into a story—when fiction writers do that, it’s also a big mistake. But I’m still just trying to tell the story, the best way I can, in the amount of time that I’m given. Whether it’s a-minute-thirty, or 300 pages.

SHANE: Also, how do you keep your fabulous looks--what is your SECRET, so I may adopt it for my own?

HANK: Shane, you’re hilarious. Thank you. Clearly, looking at the photo from 1975 above, and the newer one here, the key is to go blonde. So? You gonna do it??


Prize of the day? Why, the newly Agatha-nominated AIR TIME, of course! And also the newly Agatha-nominated On The House, in QUARRY! Just leave a comment to be entered in the random drawing!


Meredith Cole said...

Good morning, Hank! I love the advice you're giving out this week--good writing is knowing what to leave out. I'm going to steal that and use it in my class sometime...

Congrats on your Agatha nominations! I'm so thrilled for you.

Jennifer Gates said...

Two nominations! That's amazing! I'm so happy for you!
I agree with Meredith. Love the advice: "Just tell a good story. And only the parts that are the story."

PS Congrats to Meredith too!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yes! Congratulations to Meredith, nominated for BEST FIRRST NOVEL!Hurray!!

Sophie Littlefield said...

Hank, giant congratulations on your dual nominations!! That's so impressive, has that even been done ever before? Wish I was going to be there to cheer you on! And Meredith, giant congratulations to you too! Hope you are celebrating today!

Mary Cunningham said...

Congrats on your TWO nominations, Hank. Very exciting news.

Congrats to Meredith, too!


Meredith Cole said...

Thanks Hank! And thanks everyone! It's a huge thrill for me to be nominated, and I've been floating a few inches off the ground ever since I heard...

Kelli Stanley said...

Huge Congratulations to HANK, our GM for the week, and Meredith, our CM on Saturdays, for AGATHA NOMS!!!

You guys rock!! :)

It's Friday--get your party on!! :)



Janice Gable Bashman said...

Congrats on the well-deserved nominations Hank - I'm so happy for you.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Congratulations on your nominations! Champagne tonight, for sure. And Good Luck with your big story!

Shane Gericke said...

Dual Aggie noms. Now that's cool. Especially when it happens on my day, cause, you know, it's all about me :-) Seriously, congratulations on this magnificent accomplishment. You're great and deserve all the accolades.

Leaving Out Stuff is one of the easiest thing to conceptualize but the hardest to master. I tend to overwrite, then edit and edit till the bones are there with just enough meat and fat to fill you up without bursting your belly. The new book went from 108,000k in first draft to 85,000 in final, for instance. But that's good; I can always use the leftover scenes for soup. Or a fine short story ...

Do you take your edits and use them elsewhere, Hank--perhaps in a scene or two in a new book, since Charlotte is a continuing character? Or just toss them out and start fresh each time?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, thanks, you all. It's very very exciting. Very. Sigh. Still working on believing it! (whoo hoo...)

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Ah, Shane. Thank you so much. And it IS all about you, for which we are endlessly delighted!

Nope. What I take usually gone. I save it, oh, yes. Then I look at it, and then I think: stupid. Redundant. Silly. Derivative. Boring. Overwritten. And I don't miss it. Happy to say goodbye.

Wait--I did save ONE scene. Moved it from Prime Time to Air Time.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Ah, Shane. Thank you so much. And it IS all about you, for which we are endlessly delighted!

Nope. What I take usually gone. I save it, oh, yes. Then I look at it, and then I think: stupid. Redundant. Silly. Derivative. Boring. Overwritten. And I don't miss it. Happy to say goodbye.

Wait--I did save ONE scene. Moved it from Prime Time to Air Time.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Janice! Thank you so much... And Mary and Jennifer, ah....thank you all so much for the wonderuflly kind words. SO nice to see you all!

I think I'm rushing around too much today. Taking a deep breath.

Terry--what a GREAT idea. First a deep breath--then champagne.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Wish you were going to be there, too, Sophie--but you'll be glowing from the Edgars and probably on cloud nine somewhere..

Kelli Stanley said...

BTW, Hank--Shane's right! How you manage to do it all and look gorgeous at the same time must be magic!! ;)

You and J. should go celebrate tonight!!!