badges · critique · editing · write daily · writing

365 days of writing – Feb update

At the end of January, I crowed (let’s be honest, I was smug!) about achieving my goal to write daily. I posted a few badges to show my progress, and then vowed to keep going through February.

Here are the stats for FEB

  1. My daily target is to write 250 words a day – my daily average was 341.25 (earning THE CLASSIFIEDS badge)
  2. 86 hours of editing (badges are set at specific milestones, so this month I get the 50 hours badge)
  3. 27.5 hours of critiquing (badges are set at specific milestones, so this month I get the 25 hours badge)
  4. Quarterly goal passed (based on writing 90k in 2018 and earning INTERN REPORTER badge)
  5. 9555 words written (making at YTD total of 29,474 words) – No badge, just a few numbers 😉

So, you know what this means …

Not so smug this time, as I missed out on the CONSISTENCY badge. But, overall, I’m happy with the progress.

Yes, I do realise I’m like a little kid who needs a sticker after going to the dentist … 🙂

So far, March is looking better still … (whoops, reining in the smugness 😉 – for now!)

Thanks for reading 🙂

critique · reading · writing · writing group

Does being a writer ruin you as a reader?

Don’t get me wrong, I still love reading. It’s just different now.

Before I ventured down this path of no return, I don’t remember being bothered whether the author ‘told’ the story, rather than ‘showed’ it. I didn’t even consider ‘whose POV is this from?’ or if the author was too descriptive/not descriptive enough. And I can honestly say – hand on heart – I didn’t notice ‘repetitive sentence starts’ or ‘crutch words’ and since when did ‘filter words’ become the big no-no?

Back in the day, I read voraciously (I still do), enjoying historical fiction or mysteries more than anything. The joy of reading then was pure escapism – not to dissect the story structure, interrogate the character’s mindset and prove beyond any doubt it was the butler “what dun’ it”. (It’ll come as no surprise that I hated English Lit with all my heart and grammar was something I had nightmares about).

So, what changed? Writing, that’s what.

I fell into the NaNo swamp and thought, ‘hey, I can get out, with a brilliant story to boot.’ But, truth was, I couldn’t. I wrote the necessary 50,000 words and could bore you rigid with the details of my story – the one that lies in a forlorn state on my external hard drive – but I won’t. (It’ll make a comeback one day – just you wait and see!)
When I realised how bad – nay, dire – my efforts were, then I took the only option available and sought out a critique group.

I would nail this writing lark if it killed me.

Until the dreaded feedback returned with comments like ‘this is a POV glitch’, ‘you’re head-hopping’, ‘what does the character want?’, ‘where’s the conflict?’ – I’ll not go on because the memories make me want to bang my head on the table (and I already got stunned by a falling ladder yesterday, but that’s another story!)

Can you switch this inner editor off when you read? I know I can’t … hell, I can’t even switch it off when I’m writing – if  that red, squiggly line shows up then I just have to fix it. But when I’m reading, this annoying new-found knowledge can spoil a good book (not that good you might say if I can find fault with it now). I sometimes think I’m too critical these days, fussing over a typo or a sentence in need of some punctuation. But it matters. Now. It didn’t before – when ignorance was bliss. But now it does.

What’s a person to do? Stop reading? That’s a “NO” from me. Maybe audiobooks are the way forward – if I can’t see them, maybe I won’t notice those pesky filter words. I might try that …

Watch this space.

Oh, and thanks for reading 🙂

beta · critique · feedback · Lacey's Law

Shout out to all my beta readers!

My novella, Lacey’s Law, is with my beta readers right now and I just want to thank them all for their time and constructive comments.

A Champagne Cheers!
A Champagne Cheers!

Cheers!

I couldn’t do this without you!

critique · story · The Nasrid Charm · writing

Writing Fiction – the final story

8After eight wonderful weeks, the time has finally come to submit my own short story using the techniques learned along the way. I’ve included the feedback too – warts and all!

My story: Extraordinary Circumstances

Calling an extraordinary meeting of the residents’ association demanded attention and I’d made sure of their attendance with some minor untruths.
Now I watched them. Their eyes glanced up to the clock; left to the window; down to their wristwatches and ended with a unified shake of the head like some bizarre dance routine. Suppressing a snort, I buried my nose in the paperwork on the table before me, enjoying the tension the delay had created amongst them. If tutting and clock-watching were Olympic sports, then this group hunkering towards the back of the room had serious medal potential. But there’d be no podium for them tonight.
Their customary table overflowed with glasses as they refuelled on Rioja and San Miguel in the upstairs room of our local bar. Outside, lamplights flickered into action, coating their corner of the room in a fitting, but eerie glow.

Last year they’d pounced on me like hungry wolves attacking an intruder and I was voted in as president without even knowing their names, let alone their terms. One chap joked, ‘Hey, this one’s still got his own teeth,’ which resulted in uneasy laughter from the pack. Awkward compliments were not their only tactics. A welcoming party three weeks earlier masqueraded as a slick, fact-finding mission. Days later, white-haired ladies presented me with cakes and biscuits. ‘Gluten-free,’ they chimed in unison.
Such a sweet gesture.
Then, old Arthur (I’d been introduced to him as such) knocked at my door, bearing a brass bicycle bell. Another fact gleaned from the party.
My suspicions multiplied together with the gifts, ranging from veggie casseroles to yet more sugary offerings. Well, there’s friendly, and friendly. My ex-wife had befriended the guy next-door. Now they have two kids, a mortgage and a gas-guzzling Lexus.
The woman never understood me.

Days into my term of office, Ralf, a neighbour not of their clan, delighted in informing me that I was not the first to be seduced by their generosity. He implied these random acts of kindness came at a price. My subservience.
Perhaps he was resentful of their camaraderie.
Soon after, a portly man, grey hair fringing his bald head that brought to mind my auntie’s lace doilies, introduced himself as Ron, the book-keeper.
‘I’ve got the accounts sorted. If you’d just sign these cheques…’ he said, thrusting several blank cheques and a silver-nibbed fountain pen at my right hand.
‘Sundries,’ he said, in answer to my unasked question. ‘Won’t have to bother you over trivial stuff then.’ It was a remark delivered by a sergeant-major on drill, communicating orders not to be refused.
Purposely, I took the pen from him with my left hand and signed the cheques with a flourish. The hairs feathered on my arms as I caught sight of his icy glare.
I doubted we’d be friends.

Getting into the inner sanctum of this group proved impossible. Every time I called for a meeting, they’d find some excuse. ‘Not this weekend, we’re parachuting,’ or ‘Can you make it after our jet-ski challenge?’ These pensioners were living life to the full, ticking off goals from their bucket lists. Who was I to interrupt their “joie de vivre”?
But months passed and still I had no idea of how the community accounts operated. I contacted Monica, the community’s Lilliputian legal advisor.
‘Yay!’ she squealed, pulling me into a vice-like hug. ‘At last, a Gulliver to stand up to those silver-haired bullies.’
I towered her by a mere five inches, but as she explained how the community showed clear signs of neglect in spite of vast overspending, I felt empowered to act.
But, what could I do? Their constant excuses to avoid a meeting left me floundering in the deep end of our empty-and-waiting-to-be-re-grouted swimming pool.
Cue Ralf!
Their repeated rejection of his ideas and exclusion tactics saw him labelled a trouble-maker. But he agreed to be my fall guy.
Whilst I appeared to maintain a neutral stance as he pushed for an investigation, together with Monica, we forced Ron to reveal the true accounts. After much finger-pointing and name-calling – mainly at Ralf’s expense – I finally got my hands on that precious information, and the contents only validated my earlier doubts.
A throbbing headache exploded like fireworks across my temples when I read how the community bank account had been plundered: from a healthy high of twelve thousand euros to a miserly eight hundred now.
Where had the money gone? The same question was soon asked of Ron.

With no receipts to explain the outgoing payments, we were forced to scrutinise the figures further and a disturbing pattern soon surfaced. The dates matched those of certain spectacular activities that Ron and his merry posse had bragged about. I recalled having been impressed by their antics, that was until I realised where the money had come from.
With Monica’s help, I cancelled the outstanding unused cheques and called an extraordinary meeting. Following Ron’s subsequent disappearance, I convinced the rest of the group to attend, assuring them there were no allegations directed at them. Indignant huffs and cries of, ‘It was all Ron’s doing anyway,’ came as no surprise.

The other residents took their seats and the air in the room grew thick with voices. The committee shrank into their well-worn seats as the newcomers drowned out their mutterings with good-humoured banter. It promised to be a lively affair.
A strange blue light invaded the room and below us a commotion could be heard before heavy footsteps pounded the stairs. These late arrivals formed a blockade across the single exit, only allowing the diminutive Monica to squeeze through.
‘ Over there, Officers.’ She waved her manicured hand at the corner table where my inebriated neighbours glowered, open-mouthed. The policemen slapped the cuffs on and guided them outside to the waiting black van. Inside I recognised Ron’s bald dome.
Monica winked at me, acknowledging her own personal triumph.
‘Now, Mr. President,’ she said, ‘We have a community to rebuild.’

REVIEW ONE

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals?

I loved the descriptions, and admire you for writing like this. e.g. ‘Their eyes glanced up to the clock; left to the window; down to their wristwatches and ended with a unified shake of the head like some bizarre dance routine.’ That’s great and amuses me enough to want to read on. ‘If tutting and clock-watching were Olympic sports, then this group hunkering towards the back of the room had serious medal potential.’ is in the same vein, and really good description. There’s no problem with this, but there isn’t one character that stands out. In fact I don’t really get to know a lot about individual characters. It is more of a group thing – the character of all of them that I am getting, which is quite clever. For instance, they’d never got time for a meeting because they were too busy off jet-setting pensioners. I get a good impression of the group.

Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction?

This is an amusingly written short story. I had to read twice to see who exactly had been taken off by the police, and now I see why they are jet-setting pensioners. I get the feeling that Lynne is an established writer (and a quick check on Google confirms this). I think you might have written like this before the course anyway as your style is excellent and individual.

Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you?

It engaged me because of the style of writing. Plot was fine, but simple. But with writing like this you definitely want to carry on. Getting a feel for the characters involved and the amusing way in which the story is told means that the plot doesn’t even have to be that strong. You can enjoy the pleasure of reading this kind of writing style for its own sake.

REVIEW TWO 

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals?

This was a great read with humour and a lively cast of characters. The main character was the narrator trying to put order into the chaotic accounts of a community of fun-loving retirees. The narrator has an ex-wife and this is one of the very few details we learn of his (I presume) background. He must be as old as the others judging by the joke about his teeth. It didn’t strike me as important to give him more portrayal. His character comes across through his thoughts and actions: honest, organised, determined and thorough. It is unclear why he was elected by such a reluctant bunch who seem happier living life to the full. The character portrayals mainly focus on the cast around him as he perceives them and they are brought to life with great humour and attention to small details.

Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction?

The story is rich in detail and creates a very vivid picture of the scenes described. I see evidence of summary (e.g. the beginning); appearance (e.g. reference to white-headed ladies) and successive scenes so a combination of approaches mentioned during the course. The story is clear and had a great pace.

Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you?

The story had a clear plot (trying to sort out the neglected and misspent finances of a bunch of pensioners), causality (some underhand dealings had been going on) and conflict (getting the attention of the community and not giving in to their attempts to pressurise him). All in all a humorous account that I thoroughly enjoyed and was engrossed in. It was visual and justice was done in the end with the culprit taken away.

REVIEW THREE

What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals?

I think this is really clever, entertaining writing. The characters were neatly portrayed. Even though a lot of the characters are a group- you get a sense of who they are and what they are about. The main character, i feel is known by his actions or inactions.

Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction?

I did have to read carefully to get the set up by I feel it was well explained and was entertaining. as the audience you were brought into the action and could see it unfolding from the main characters point of view.

Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you?

Yes. There was a plot and conflict. It was humorous and developed around the main character, even though the plot was in action before he arrived. I wanted to find out what happened and I was waiting for something sinister to happen. I enjoyed your story – it was engaging. Thanks

So, here it ends. I’m a chuffed with the feedback and can’t wait to get stuck into The Nasrid Charm again – there is so much still to do, but I have more tools available to me now.

See you soon 🙂

Merry Christmas 

books · criticism · critique · learning · review

Being critiqued is not for the faint-hearted.

Ever had that dream where your teeth fall out?

criticism

Where you open your mouth to talk only for all of your teeth to tumble out, leaving you spluttering  in shock and hiding your face in your hands in disbelief.

It’s said to be a sign of anxiety or stress, generally during a time of transition and radical change in a person’s life.

Could it be a sign that changes are afoot? Who knows?

My most recent bout of anxiety came about this weekend, as I finally uploaded a few chapters of my book for critique.  Being the first time that anyone – and I mean anyone – has seen my written efforts, you can imagine the extent of my anguish.  (well, I can talk the talk, but now it was time to walk the walk!)

Thoughts of self-doubt rose to the fore as soon as I hit the ‘go live’ button. What if no-one sees it? Or worse still, what if they really slate it?

I am using the authonomyTM site –  “a brand new writing community site for writers, readers and publishers, conceived and developed by book editors at HarperCollins.”  I’ve read a few of the books on the site already and am really impressed at the standards. Some even get picked up by traditional publishers and many others are Indie authors using the self-publishing route.

My intention was to just upload a couple of chapters and see how they fared. Depending on the feedback, I then had two options:

Plan A – assuming the worst, I would simply disappear off the face of this virtual world. Change my name by deed poll and abandon all thoughts of writing. Maybe take up painting or pottery! Get dentures!

Plan B – looking on the positive side, accept all criticism with grace, work on improving  my writing and persevere.

A few hours later, I got a message telling me that someone had left a comment for me. Now it was time to face the truth. So, what did I do? I went to bed and buried my head under the duvet! (In all fairness it was 11.30pm!) I totally bottled it, and spent the next few hours tossing and turning, convinced that my writing career (!!!) was over before it had even begun.

I am a skilled procrastinator, although I see it as preparing myself for any eventuality. Even when I got up this morning, did I check my messages? Oh, no, not me! I went for a walk with the dogs, a longer one than usual (after checking all of my teeth were still intact, of course). I don’t like bad news, I don’t handle criticism well, but it is a necessary evil and something I need to accept and manage better.

I eventually plucked up the courage to read the comments left.

“A most unusual story which has shades of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in terms of the Spanish War hook, and a general sense of time travel excitement when the main character, Suzy Kendall becomes transported back to medieval Spain via the Nasrid Charm. The plot flows smoothly and with ease and it is easy to become empathetic to both Suzy and a menagerie of her friends and relations. Should do well on Authonomy. High stars and Watch-Listed. Possible bookshelf candidate when complete.”

Why oh why didn’t I read that before I went to bed? I could have saved myself from that darn dream and a restless night!

Looks like the dentures are on hold for the time being. Plan B wins the day (for now!)