Television script writer turned author, Paul Crehan has a highly interesting take on writing books that he shows in his debut novel The Secret of Alpine Valley currently out and our review will be coming shortly.
PaulCrehan.com is the place to learn more about the author and to buy the amazing book!
How has writing television scripts affected writing a novel?
I started off as a playwright and transitioned into television. For dramatists of any stripe, there’s an 11th Commandment: Thou shalt show, not tell. Don’t tell your audience that “Penny is a spunky girl.” Show them that she is by how she relates to people who come into her life (i.e., into her scenes), and how she handles the obstacles put in her way. Because of this training, I always want to reveal my characters’ natures, longings, and fears far more through dramatic action than through any other narrative device. I will use interior monologue and exposition to help my readers understand my people, but these are never the first tools I pick up from the novelist’s toolbox. So that’s one big way TV writing has affected my novel writing: showing through dramatic action is the standard against which I judge all my other storytelling options.
TV also taught me how necessary it is to do what Homer teaches, i.e., to start your story in medias res. In other words, plunge your viewer into the action. Quicken his interest from the git-go. Or he might turn the channel. Or pick up another book. It’s called the ‘hook,’ in TV, and it most often occurs in ‘the cold open.’ TV’s ‘cold open’ is Homer’s in medias res.
There’s a corollary to Homer’s law: Get into your scene as late as it’s possible to do so without sacrificing the clarity of what it’s about. This rule is all about helping you propel your story forward with as much speed and efficiency as are possible. One more rule: Get out of your scene as quickly as possible, but make sure you give it ‘a button.’ Button it up. Smartly. Though I don’t find myself actually thinking the terms ‘hook,’ ‘cold open,’ or ‘button,’ when I’m writing a novel, the principles that give rise to these words animate my writing self–and I absorbed these principles thanks very much to TV.
The third thing I’ve learned from TV writing is that no matter what your aspirations are, job number one is to entertain. If you don’t tell a captivating story, it does not matter how lofty your thoughts are, how noble your aims. Trust that an entertaining story by its very nature will shed a lot of light. Another way to put it: An entertaining story is a lily. Gild it, and it disappears.
Are you satisfied with your novel?
In the main, yes. But of course, if I’m to look at it from the vantage point of five years on, say, when I will have acquired more skills and knowledge, I might find myself cringing here and there. Tolstoy never read his work once published. He feared the disappointment he’d feel at seeing where he could have written something so much better than he had. But of course future Tolstoy is always going to be a better critic of his work (if not necessarily a better writer) than present Tolstoy, simply because he’ll have learned so many more tricks and will see how he might have used them. Part of me wants to follow Tolstoy’s advice and never look back. Part of me, however, can’t wait to look back, so that I can measure progress.
Do you have any prior experience with first,second, and third person usage? Because the novel sometimes interchanges them but surprisingly it works.
I have three other novels I’ve been working on for many years. All of them are first person. The Secret of Alpine Valley is my first third person book and my first for YA/crossover readers. The choice to occasionally stray from third to first person results from the fact that I want the narrator to forget him/herself when he/she is caught up in the emotion of what he/she is describing. This person would like to be a dispassionate observer, but isn’t wired to be so. The mask slips. And when it slips, you catch sight of the ‘real’ person at work here, and therefore of a reality behind what looks like a tale. As you might guess, enticing the reader with the idea of a greater reality behind things is very helpful when you delve into the subject matter I delve into.
How has writing a novel affected your outlook on the publishing industry?
There is more right with the publishing industry than wrong, and that’s because it attracts and will always attract the people who love literature. They are the true industry. And they are expanding the publishing world now in ways unheard of even five years ago. Sure, there are challenges brought on by the expansion, and diversification, of publishing, but the ‘industry,’ if you will, will always end up right because of the people drawn to it. Yes, there might be more crap published than ever before, because there are fewer gatekeepers, but there will also be more literature published than ever before. And that literature–the cream–will always find a way to the top, because the industry will always find a way to make that happen. The industry will always find the energy and enthusiasm to shout, “Hey, everyone! There’s cream over here!”
Do you like writing books?
I love writing books. I love writing books more than anything else you can name. (Yes, even that.)
What happened with the ending? Great book but the ending was slightly disappointing.
I’m sorry you found the ending slightly disappointing! No author ever wants to disappoint his reader at any one time throughout his narrative–and especially not at the end! For me, however, it was necessary to end the book the way I have. Because one thing absolutely essential to the story is the ‘what if’ of it. Preston is the one who gives voice to the theme very early in the book, and Sam Cabot confirms and expands on it later. We need the ‘what if’ more than we need proof. I wanted that ‘what if’ to linger, to resonate, to stay aloft at the end. I don’t want things closed-ended, neatly wrapped up, ‘proved.’ I want them open-ended. With the ending I’ve chosen, the ‘what if’ calls (quite literally on the very last page), just as the mystery of the wild calls. We need the wilderness and the things in it to be–and to be left alone–for our own good. Man has a nasty habit of exploiting things, delimiting them, putting them on exhibition, making money off them–and killing them. And in the grand scheme of things, what he does to the other is what he does to himself. If I had ended my Secret with exposure, with ‘proof,’ then, given how men are, the sequel to the story would be tragedy, unless I were to write a fairy tale. But as I say on the first page of Secret, I’m not writing a fairy tale. I may be using fantastic elements, but only in an effort to say something real.
What are your plans for future novels or if you will have any future novels?
I have three other novels I will be bringing out. None is a YA/crossover, however. The next you’ll see will be coming out the end of this year, or early in 2015. I don’t like talking about the stories I’m working on. To do so (and I’m sure that one day scientists will discover that it’s a physical fact) robs the already completed pages of their energy.