the magic of a good story
The magic of a good story – In conversation with author and communication professional James Schofield
Memories: English & me
The magic of a good story: I remember really well when we had to write a renarration for school. I was in year six with my second year of English. Writing something myself!? In English?? Honestly? NEVER EVER! I felt so nervous that I told my mother that I was ill. I never wrote that test and later, in sixth form, I was glad when I had left middle school with all those grammar exercises behind and I could focus on writing my way. No, English and I, we weren’t the best of friends in middle school. In the meantime things have changed. English and I have become good friends and I like grammar:-)
Well, while I’m already at it: We once had to write a short story for German. I had absolutely no idea what I could write about, so I cheated a bit and borrowed from other stories; I just couldn’t come up with any ideas of my own. Another thing that has changed; today I really enjoy writing short stories and I just love reading, always have. Do you know the feeling: Immersing yourself in other worlds, meeting people you don’t want to leave and leaving reality behind? What a treat!
The magic of a good story – In conversation with author and communication professional James Schofield
This also applies to the Spotlight magazine and the Business Spotlight. I’m always happy to learn new things from different areas but I also really enjoy their short stories. In the June issue of the Business Spotlight I particularly liked the short story by author and communication professional James Schofield: Pitch perfect – the perfect dating software but how can you pitch it successfully to an IT-company? I’ve been reading his stories for years and I find them clever, versatile and entertaining. And, I like the idea that he integrates business vocabulary in often very amusing and also absurd stories which is a treat for our brain which loves it absurd: It’s easier to establish a connection. James Schofield writes the successful Ms Winslow series for the Spotlight magazine which you can get from Amazon. I got into contact with him and he told me about the podcast version of his stories.
But you know what? I thought it’s a lot more interesting when he speaks to you himself:-)
In conversation with James Schoffied
The magic of a good story
Bettina: James, your stories are always something I look forward to when I read the Spotlight & the Business Spotlight magazine. Something light in between, yet often full of insight: interesting characters, varied stories, food for thought. For a short time, it’s a bit like losing myself in another world, meeting new people, sometimes learning something new and being able to leave reality behind. When I contacted you, you told me about your website ‘Behind the Bottom Line‘ which offers a beautiful way of doing the things above while listening. Being honest, I will always prefer reading but I know from many people, my son among them (we gave our best when he was a child and read endless stories to him, no chance to make him a reader. Well, at least he’s a good listener, well most of the time;-), who prefer listening to reading. And sure enough, it’s often better feasible. I am happy to recommend your stories and podcasts to my readers & students as they offer them a great way, and a fun way, of improving their (Business) English.
But I would like to ask you for your help: How can you make my readers & students get interested in your stories? When I read, I am always interested in the person behind the stories. Nothing too detailed, that would take away the magic, just a bit to spark my imagination. Writing is a very creative process and your stories are highly creative. Do you sometimes find it hard to come up with ideas, or even face writer’s block? If so, what helps you out? Your stories certainly spark my creativity and they make me wonder where you get your ideas from. Would you like to share with us? Last but not least, I’m sure, my readers would like to catch up with your latest podcast. Could you tell us more about it?
James: First of all, I’m thrilled that you enjoy my stories, Bettina, and thank you for writing to tell me. It’s a bit lonely being a writer. You create something in this strange communion between, brain, fingers and computer screen or paper, then you send your baby out into the world and have no idea what happens to it, or what people think about it. So, I’m glad you liked ‘Pitch Perfect’.
To answer your questions, let me stick with ‘Pitch Perfect’ because it’s a good example of how I work and how a story develops in my head. Here’s a précis:
Dr Nelly Brown wants to pitch her idea for a computer game based on building relationships to a big Singapore-based computer game company. She receives conflicting and confusing advice from her girlfriends on a girl’s night-out and goes to the pitching event next day with a huge hangover. Nelly doesn’t think she has a chance of winning but – without realising she’s doing so – she pitches her idea to the potential buyer, while chatting in the lady’s loo. The buyer is impressed, and Nelly wins the contract.
There are certain parameters which I need to keep in mind at the beginning of the creative process, because they have a huge influence on the end result.
Firstly, the length – I have a word limit of roughly 950 words. This is difficult because I need to get a beginning, middle and a satisfactory end into a small space. I waste a lot of energy hating my editors for this constraint, particularly when it gets to the end of a perfect story and I’m about fifty words over. Then I have to go through trying to cut those fifty words because if I don’t the editors will, and they are MONSTERS who don’t understand ANYTHING about what I’m trying to say and will destroy my precious baby. So, it’s better if I get the word count right myself.
The second constraint is deadline: I have to deliver a short story every month or else my editors will be angry; they’ll cancel my contract, and I won’t have a platform for my babies to be appreciated by anyone else. This means I can’t afford the indulgence of being blocked for too long because if I don’t deliver, I don’t get published. I’m not a very disciplined person, so I need that external pressure to help me create. Otherwise, I’d delay doing anything and just read something written by somebody else.
The third constraint is business relevance. The story should have some loose connection with business to justify its inclusion in Business Spotlight. On this point however, the magazine has been very relaxed, and I’ve had topics ranging from people changing places with their dogs, to ghosts appearing in investment banks and everything in between.
Those are the constraints, but what was the spark for ‘Pitch Perfect’?
The story was inspired by a woman computer-game developer I met a while ago. I asked her something about the clichés around game developers – whether they really were mostly men in hoodies eating pizzas, living in the basement of their parents’ house, and creating games with lots of explosions in them and she said, yes, they were. However, she told me, this was changing. Particularly in south-east Asia where there are many more women developers and game players, new kinds of games are starting to appear. Apparently, this market segment is growing very fast.
This got me thinking about what kind of games women might be more interested in playing and it seemed to me that rather than blowing things up, a game that focused on building relationships could be fun and entertaining. Once I got that far, I started searching my mental collection of references to see what I could match to this topic and ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ from 1996 instantly popped up. Some of the scenes that I particularly like in the novel are when Bridget goes out with her girlfriends and they try and prep her for her dates. So, the scene in ‘Pitch Perfect’ where Julie, Paula and Holly coach Nelly on how to pitch her computer game to the potential buyer was inspired by ‘Bridget Jones’.
Then I needed to find a catch. It couldn’t be too easy for her to pitch her idea. Which was when a short video I saw on LinkedIn about different presentation approaches appeared on my timeline. This also gave me a solid business connection to satisfy Business Spotlight and would allow them to ignore my more frivolous elements, such as when Nelly gets drunk with her girlfriends and ends up confused about what and how she should be pitching to the potential buyer.
Finally, I wanted the pitching itself to take place in an unusual setting and also where Nelly is no longer paralysed by nerves. I know from my daughters, that some of the most significant conversations between women take place in lady’s loos, where no men are around. So, I thought Nelly could pitch her idea for a computer game to the potential buyer there, without even knowing that that is what she’s doing. I also wanted to play with the reader’s assumption that the potential buyer was a man and for it to turn out to be a woman.
So, that’s my creative process. My stories are just a ragbag of bits and pieces that I’ve collected over time. It consists of half-remembered events, things somebody told me, chapters I’ve read, films I’ve seen and sometimes just words or sentences that I like. I’m not original, everything has been lifted and stitched together from elsewhere, but I’m okay with that. I don’t write great literature, I write short stories which I hope amuse and entertain people and if they manage that, then that makes me happy.
If you want to listen to more of my stories and their background, you can follow my podcast ‘Behind the Bottom Line’ on Spotify or Apple and Google podcasts and also on www.behindthebottomline.com.
Bettina: James, thank you so much for sharing with us. I’m sure, in the future I will enjoy your stories even more. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
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