Saturday, 9 June 2012

Notes From A Story Editor - Background

When I started to write novels I was encouraged to do so by a close friend. And not just any friend: Hannah Kodicek was one of the best story editors in the business. Hannah had had a varied and successful career as an actress, director, writer and latterly story editor in the film industry. She was story editor on the Oscar-winning Counterfeiters and occasionally advised friends with their novels – including Danny Scheinmann (Random Acts of Heroic Love) and of course me. 

Hannah was considered such an expert that she lectured on story structure and other aspects of story-making to people in the business on the EU funded ARISTA and MAIA programmes. Many writers will know of The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler – a book which is film industry required reading – which sets out in easily accessible form the mythic form of stories. Fewer will have read the works of Carl Jung and his followers, specifically The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell on which Vogler based his book. Hannah had gone direct to the source, studying myths and fairytales and Jung, Campbell, Von Franz and other Jungian writers. Her lectures therefore had an authority that few others in the business could muster. They also had a practicality and realism, that were important features of my friend.

She was moreover a wonderful educator, which made her work as a story editor all the more powerful. I never sat in one of her lectures, but I had my own private tutorials. We had wonderful sessions talking about story structure and what is more I asked her to read and feedback about my novels. I could tell that at first she was nervous, worrying that I might be sensitive about my babies and that it might impact on our friendship. She needn’t have worried, I loved out sessions. She had a way of not telling me what to do, but rather, like all great teachers, asking questions that made me think. She would send me off spinning unforeseen possibilities. She in turn enjoyed seeing what I then came up with. I was, she told me, the best of all her clients. 

Sadly Hannah died of cancer last year. I was writing Girl In The Shadows at the time and although we discussed it, Hannah never got to read the novel. “Don’t worry,” she said, “You don’t need me anymore, you’ve learned everything.” I’m not sure about that, but I have her notes and my memories of our conversations. Once it became apparent that she was dying, we talked about whether her notes could be made into the book she had always wanted to produce or maybe a website, so that future writers could learn as I did from what she had to say. Again she ran out of time. So I have decided to share with you some of what I learned as a tribute to a great story editor in this series of posts Notes From A Story Editor.  

A few weeks ago I agreed to do a guest post on The Indie Exchange – advice to other indie writers was the brief – the content was obvious, Hannah’s advice on the basics of storytelling.

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