Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Something borrowed, something blue....

I'll start with the blue. That's the air around me right now. I thought my competition short story was pretty much done. At 4,000 words it was well within the 2,500 - 5,000 required range. All that was left was one more edit after letting it sit for a few days. So you can imagine my reaction when a quick double check of the rules revealed that the word count is actually 1,000 - 2,500. D'oh! I don't know how I managed to make that mistake, all I know is that my every-word-counts story has got to be butchered.

While I'm working on that I leave you with something borrowed from another site. Although this particular letter is aimed at bureaucrats rather than writers, I think there are reminders there to all of us who have anything to do with writing.

I love this site. If you click on the archives tab you can find letters listed by the writer's name or type - including authors - as well as other categories. Each letter is transcribed below its original copy so remember to scroll down if you can't read the original.

Spare a thought for me murdering my darlings today, at least 1,500 of 'em!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hiding the joins

When I was younger I liked colouring in. Sometimes I didn't have time to finish so I would have to come back to a picture. Even if I used the exact same felt tipped pen you could still see the place where I'd started again. That's how I feel about my writing at the moment, so much so that I'm seriously considering a complete rewrite. I've added in a lot of description and I'm convinced that the 'joins' are showing, so I was pleased to read today's post at The Other Side of the Story. I need all the help I can get in this area at the moment and this is seriously good help. I've taken a few days off from the WiP to see if I can view it objectively, but it's not looking good right now.

While I'm letting 'The Bad Mother' rest I'm trying something different. I should add here that 'The Bad Mother' is a working title and not an insulting description of my WiP ( in which case, I'm sure it would be 'Mutha' but that could just be me). Yes I know that's a terrible title but I had to call it something for the file names and at the moment that's all I've got. Anyway, the 'something different' is a short story for a competition. I know winning is unlikely but the discipline is good. I'm having to write to a deadline, and within someone else's parameters. What really attracted me to this particular competition is that one of the requirements is that the story is set in a specific area and that it evokes a strong sense of place. Now if that's not a good exercise in descriptive writing I don't know what is! It's also tougher than it sounds. My first few attempts ended up sounding like a travelogue but I think I'm getting there.

This is a link to the competition in case you're interested. There are some nice prizes including one hundred books. One hundred books people! In one go! How awesome would that be? Oh yeah, and also two days in Sweden.

I found out about the competition here. This is a lovely site and I know Sally does her very best to make sure there are no vanity competitions listed (or as I like to call them, 'cons') although, as ever, it's down to us to check it all out.

Has anyone ever won a competition? Do you enter them regularly? I never have before but I must admit it's tempting. After all, writing is awesome. Being paid for it would be even more awesome. Even if it's in books. Especially if it's in books.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Everyone's a Critique

One of the blogs I follow is Miss Snark's First Victim. This is an excellent site that fosters a great community between published and non-published writers alike. Authoress runs a monthly (apart from June and December) contest, 'Are You Hooked?', where 50 first pages – 250 words – are not only critted by fellow blog followers but also a different 'secret agent' each month. Yep you read that right. A real, living, breathing agent who crits every entry. The secret agent is revealed at the end of the contest . Prizes vary and are at the discretion of the agent, but typically involve requested pages. I advise anyone interested in writing to check out this blog. There is plenty to participate in and lots of ways to get feedback, as well as a lovely 'atmosphere'.

The purpose of today's post is not just to big Authoress' blog up (because, hello, no readers here yet!) but to talk about my first ever experience of critiquing for the entries in this month's 'secret agent' contest. I didn't intend to crit all fifty entries but that's exactly what I ended up doing. It took some time but time is something I have plenty of at the moment. The good thing is that one of the rules of the contest is that the MS must be completed, polished and in agent-sending state before the first page can be submitted. I know that the definition of 'polished' can vary but all the entries were of a reasonable standard which definitely helps.

It was quite a lot tougher than I expected. My plan was to say whether the page 'hooked' me or not and to give my reasons. At this stage of my writing 'career' (stop laughing at the back!) I wasn't expecting to be able to offer much more than that. To my surprise there were actually several instances where I was able to suggest a change or two. Of course it's all subjective but at least I had what I considered to be valid reasons for suggesting the changes.

The most difficult entries to critique were the ones that didn't grab me and I couldn't say why. I didn't want to resort to 'This didn't hook me. The end', so I spent a lot of times on those ones trying to work out exactly what it was that I wasn't keen on. I hope that in the end I managed a balanced judgement on all fifty entries and that something I said somewhere helped at least one of those writers.

I learnt a lot by reading other people's critiques too. To start with, I tried not to read any other comments as I didn't want to be influenced, but near the end it became necessary so I didn't just end up repeating what five other people had said. There were a few comments about people's pages that I know I'm guilty of in my own writing too. It's funny how it's easier to spot when it's someone else's work.

This was definitely a constructive exercise for me, and well worth the time it took. If you aren't already a critiquer (I think I just made that word up) then I strongly encourage you to give it a go, either on Authoress' blog or one of the many others that offer similar opportunities. Not only will you be giving a little something back to this great community of ours but you just might pick up some useful pointers along the way.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sometimes there are no words

96 people went to a football match on 15 April 1989 and never came home again.

It's been 22 years since that fateful FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough.

We will never forget.

You'll Never Walk Alone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Invisible people in an empty white room

I've sort of finished the first draft of my current WiP. I say sort of because it's about half the length it needs to be. This surprised me as I'm normally an over-writer, but I'm not worried. Yet. Ask me again in a couple of weeks and it might be a different story but there's no sense fretting until I have to, right?

What struck me though as I read through the story yesterday was the distinct lack of description. One character's hair colour was mentioned, and a door was stated as being made of 'varnished wood'. That's it. It's not such a big deal of course, after all it's not like I don't have any spare words to use to add some in, but what's making me think about it so much is the fact that I don't actually want to put any in. I can't decide if this makes me a bad writer, or just someone who hates wading through pages and pages of description so much that I've deliberately gone the other way and favoured the 'minimalist' approach. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle. I may not be a very good writer (it depends what day you ask me as to what answer you'd get to that question) but the fact is I've noticed it and I will, of course, layer in some description; and it's not like I'd ever show an editor this scruffy, raw first draft so it's not really a major problem.

But how much description is too much? Are you a reader who likes to be told exactly what a character, a house, a street looks like so you can see what the author saw when s/he wrote the novel? Or do you like to decide for yourself what people and places look like? And when is the right time to describe your main character? Too early and you could lose a reader who wants to jump straight into the action but too late and you risk annoying the person who's already formed a mental picture of the character – and it doesn't match anything you wrote.

I suspect that getting the balance of description right is just one of the things that separates a good/okay writer from a great one. Now, if you'll excuse me I've got to go and describe all my characters in 10,000 words or more!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

That would never happen

Last night started innocently enough. Techno asked me what I was working on and I explained I was rethinking the opening of a YA SF novel I'm going to be starting in May. (There's a reason I'm not starting it until May, but more about that in another post). Originally I had planned to open with my MC waking up, but I have learned that this is a BAD THING. Techno agreed that I could do better and we idly kicked around a few thoughts. Although he's supportive of me, he doesn't really get involved in plotting unless I ask him a specific question. On the rare occasions that we have in-depth plot talks I usually end up getting no help for the thing that I'm working on but enough ideas to generate half a dozen more novels. Ideas are something I don't need at the moment. I have a bumblebee mentality, always looking for the shiniest, tastiest morsel, and right now I just want to get something finished; but it was nice to be chatting away so when he asked me where the story would be going I was caught off guard, and told him. To give the guy his due, he actually said "no, don't tell me any more or you know what will happen." "No, it's fine " said I. "I like hearing your ideas."

Yeah, okay. An hour later, all the SF parts of my novel have been thrown out and I'm back to the drawing board. Apparently, I messed with the laws of physics. Even for fiction this isn't good – unless of course messing with the laws of physics is part of the story. Which, obviously it isn't. Seriously though, who knew the laws of physics were relevant in a story about a parallel universe?

As annoying as this is for me, Techno has reminded me of something. It doesn't matter if something isn't possible in the real world; if you're going to pretend it is, you damn well better make it sound like it could be. How many times have you read a book or watched a film and been happy to accept invisible men, flying cars, alien invasion or any variation thereof, but that one little detail – such as how they travel – seems to jar, and you find yourself saying 'that would never happen like that'. We're prepared to suspend any amount of disbelief for a good story but the writer needs to make it seem as though it could be possible or we're just not going to buy what's being sold.

I love my YA SF story. I'm still going to tell it, but it needs a lot more research than I originally thought. When Techno tells me 'I don't think your 17 year old girl would say that', I'll listen to what he has to say but make up my own mind. When he tells me 'If your 17 year old girl does that, according to what we know right now this is going to be the unintended consequence' then I'll take his advice.

If I want to tell an unbelievable story I have to make it believable. That's the bit I'm working on, so you'll never put my book down and say 'that would never happen like that.'

And in case you were wondering, yep, he gave me ideas for two more totally different stories!

Monday, April 4, 2011


Although this blog will be mostly (I hope) about my writing, I don't live in a vacuum, although sometimes I wish I did. There used to be an advert on television (I have no idea what for, maybe some kind of beverage) where the glamorous mum sat in blissful peace enjoying her drink; whilst around her the family got on with their day, moving at super speed. I'd love to sit in the calm little bubble. In reality it's usually the other three in my household chilling out in blissful ignorance whilst I run around at my own super speed doing stuff that they could do perfectly well for themselves. I just do it for them because...hell, who knows why?

That's my roundabout way of telling you that there are another three names that might show up now and then in my posts. I'm going to give them pseudonyms, just because I can. My first thought was to call them Wynken, Blynken and Nod because, after all, who wouldn't want to be called any one of those names? The problem is that I know I'd always have to be reminding myself who was supposed to be who. So instead I'm calling them names that bear a vague resemblance to their real-life persona's.

Blue and Diva are my fourteen year old daughters. Blue because it's her favourite colour, and Diva because she's going to be an actress. They are nothing alike physically but share a love of reading and creative arts, Blue writes and Diva draws. They both take it for granted that their Mother writes novels and will one day have something published.

Techno is my partner. I hate that word but I'm a bit old for a boyfriend and we're not married (Oh, the shame!). As for 'significant other', just, no. As his nickname suggests, Techno loves science and technology and I love him for it. Especially when he rebuilds my computer out of balsa wood and bits of string . He also takes it for granted that I write, although he's not as confident as the girls about me being published. Not because he doesn't think I can but because he's listened to enough speeches from me about the state of the publishing industry today. These speeches usually end with him asking me 'so are you gonna try anyway?' and me saying 'Hell yeah!'

So that's my cast list, small but perfectly formed; and now, as they say, let's get on with the show!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Because the Internet really needs another writing blog...

Well no actually, it probably doesn't, but I do. I love to write but I'm not great at getting things finished. The idea of this blog is to set myself some new goals, challenge myself and try some new things. Oh yeah, and to finish something. Hopefully I'll learn plenty on the way. I plan to blog about my current work-in-progress, link to other people's posts that I've found helpful and anything else that interests me along the way.