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!