Posted in A to Z challenge, beta, challenge, Courting Danger, deadlines, editing, The End?

X is for … X-roads

Dilemma, dilemma, dilemma – when will my book be done?

I’m at the crossroads, trying to get my book in shape and ready for release, but there always seems to be ‘one more edit’ or ‘one last glitch to check’ or ‘one final proofread needed.’

I’ve got to the point where I know more about the plot and story line of my fictional characters than real life family and colleagues.

It’s a sure sign that it’s time to move on.

Just looking at the last few edits I made begs the question: Did I improve it, or did I just change it? If I’m not adding value at this point, or making it more interesting or richer or even more readable, then surely it’s time to stop. Am I simply delaying the inevitable? Quite possibly.

It’s time to put Courting Danger to the test, let the betas to have their say. I can put it aside for a while and come back to it in a couple of weeks. Armed with their feedback – good and bad – I can read it again with fresh(er) eyes.

The last thing I’ll do is to read it backwards. Yeah, that’s right – not word for word, but a chapter at a time.

Then I can do no more: Time’s up. There’s a deadline to be met.

Courting Danger will be ready in time. It will be. I made that promise to myself.

Farewell crossroads – I have a real path to follow.

Posted in editing, reading, review, writing

Writing Fiction – the value of reading

7The value of reading novels and short stories

A writer has permanent access to the best teaching: in novels and short stories. In terms of technique, nothing is or can be hidden: it’s all there on the page. It’s up to the person reading as a writer to ‘unpack’ how a novel has been made.

Starting out, and throughout a writer’s career, seeing how other people do things is invaluable. Writing without reading is to write in the dark: it might work, but it’s an unnecessary handicap. Being well-read isn’t just about quantity but more a question of immersion, and familiarising yourself with how books feel. Reading is another way of developing the ‘habit’ of writing.

Books are a great comfort to any writer: you can see how others have faced the same problems you face. When you’re reading as a writer, even people’s ‘mistakes’ are invaluable. If you think a book doesn’t work, just articulating why will be useful.

Editing

Editing your writing is very important – some would say the most important aspect of writing. It’s often said that anyone can write but only writers can edit. Once that you have written your first draft and left it to settle for a while, you will need to go back and reflect on what you have written, and make changes accordingly.

  • Don’t be afraid to cut large parts of it if necessary.

  • You might find that when you have got into the story you can go back and cut out the opening sentences. Some openings may well have been used as a way to get into writing the story, or a particular passage, but the story might be more vibrant and enticing without them.

  • Remember that you are aiming to develop a character who is complex and not too predictable.

  • Remember that you are aiming to make the story as interesting and intriguing for the reader as you can.

  • Reflect on all your reading and any tricks or techniques that you see in the novels and stories that might help you.

Also reflect on the reading you’ve done that displays techniques and approaches that don’t seem, to you, to be working.

Writing book reviews

Noticing details about the construction of language, plot and story in what you read will help form your own writing taste and style. Note why you like or dislike about the books you’ve read; what you think works or doesn’t work. This ongoing engagement with your reading will feed into your writing practice. Even the simplest observations might be valuable. For example:

  • How long is the short story or novel?

  • Are there chapters? Sections? Parts?

  • If it’s a short story, how is it structured?

  • When and where is it set, do/how do these things appear to matter, and how are they conveyed?

  • From whose point of view is the story being told? Is it the story of one, or more than one of the characters?

  • Is there dialogue? If so, what does it contribute to the story? What does it tell you of the characters?

  • Is the language modern, plain, elaborate, colloquial?

  • Are there short or long sentences?

  • Are the sentences ‘properly formed’, or broken down? For example, ‘Get this. Bravery. That wasn’t even in it. Heroism? Maybe that was nearer the mark.’

  • Would you say that the story was a ‘page-turner’?

  • Is it full of ‘researched facts’?

  • Is there much ‘internal’ psychological or emotional detail, or is most of the novel or story taken up with ‘external’ events or description?

  • How do you learn of the main characters?

  • Are the minor characters sufficiently clear or too flat?

  • In your opinion, is it clearly aimed at a certain type of reader

Posted in editing, learning, MOOC, writing

Start Writing Fiction – Editing

3More tips from the OU Start Writing Fiction – this week we’re looking at …. editing! (You can come out from behind the sofa now because ‘Editing is your friend’  – apparently!)

A writer is simply a word for a person who writes. That’s all it takes to ‘qualify’ as a ‘writer’. But  published stories and novels very seldom emerge fully formed, or perfect, as if by magic. They undergo many transformations before they reach the shelves. They are rarely, if ever, the raw expression of a writer’s output.

A great part of writing fiction is knowing how, why and when you should edit your own work. This is just one of the points at which honesty enters the equation of writing. The more ruthless you can be about your own work, the better it will be.

So, what counts as editing and when should you do it?

It’s important to balance ‘editing’ against ‘self-censorship’. To write in perfect freedom – to express yourself without self-censorship – is one of the most important aspects of writing fiction. Your aim is to tell a story as you think it should be told, to the best of your ability. Editing, once that piece of work is done, is simply a way of clarifying that intention, of saying more clearly what you mean to say.

For example, you write what you think, at first, is a wonderful opening paragraph. You are very proud of it, understandably so: it is a fine piece of writing. But by the time you’ve finished the piece, something doesn’t ‘ring true’ about those opening lines. ‘But they’re so good!’ You can’t bear to part with them.

Ask:

  • Do they belong in that story, for sure?
  • Are they really what you meant to say, or do you just like the way they sound?

Be ruthlessly self-critical and scrupulously honest at moments such as this. You will develop the ability to say what you mean (and not just like what you say: ‘showy’ writing is much easier to achieve than good writing).

Remember to ask:

  • What really matters about this scene?
  • What ‘adds’ something to the scene?
  • What merely adds confusion, detracting from the main point?

After you have written a first draft, interrogate your writing using this editing checklist. Remember that the aim in editing is in many ways the aim in writing: clarity of expression.

  • Is it what you meant to say, really?
  • Have you found the best way to convey it?
  • Would a particular event really have happened that way?
  • Would a particular character definitely use that expression or turn of phrase?
  • Does an idea or scene really belong where you’ve put it, or would the piece be better if that element was cut?
  • Could it be used elsewhere, or on another occasion?
  • What’s missing from your story? Details or background information?
  • Is there enough to engage your reader?
  • Do events occur in the best order and are significant events given enough weight, or are they lost beneath less important things? If so, is that what you intended?
  • Does it read too slow, or too fast?
  • Overall, does the writing convey the right tone – does it create the mood you hoped for?

Look at your writing through the eyes of a reader:

  • Opening sentence. Does it hook the reader?
  • Are there any unnecessary/redundant words or phrases?
  • Is there an over-reliance on adverbs and adjectives?
  • Does the excerpt rely on tired, stock phrases. Does it make use of cliché?
  • Does the writing provide easily pictured images/characters?
  • If there is dialogue is it convincing and natural?
  • Does the writing transport the reader into the writer’s world?
  • Does the writing seem crafted and well-considered?
  • Is the writing free of poor syntax and typographical error?
  • Would you as reader genuinely like to read beyond the submitted extract?

Remember, editing is your friend! An average piece of writing can become a good piece, with good editing.

Posted in A to Z challenge, editing, fantasy, imagination, writing

X is for … X-ray vision

XIf you could have any  magical superpower, what would you choose?

As an avid people-watcher,  it would have to be the Invisibility Cloak, as the ability to pass through any place unnoticed would be  just too tempting to refuse.

However, you may have noticed that this post is (supposedly) about x-ray vision and not about being invisible. And you would be perfectly correct in thinking so and in which case, I applaud your observation skills and will now  explain myself.

I have need for a secondary superpower, this being a specialised form of x-ray vision. I don’t want to be able to see through objects to see what lies behind or beneath (that could have some nasty consequences!) Instead, my version would be able to identify when something is not in the right place, or  is out-of-place completely.

This power would be used to scan through my writing and seek out possible plot holes, messy syntax, stumbling story lines, dodgy dialogue and inconsistent character traits – at the very least!

It would convert my multiple drafts into a more coherent manuscript that would be fit for an editor in much less time, thus making me more productive and ‘publishable’. I don’t expect it to simply correct my scribbles, merely to make them more obvious to me – so that I actually learn from my mistakes. I’m not asking a lot, really. All I want to do is to cut down on the painful task of self-editing, which then frees me up to concentrate on writing.

I know this could all be achieved by just finding a great editor, who understands my thought patterns and my weaknesses – but I’m not sure such a person exists (and if they do – would anyone who can get inside my head really be a reliable source to critique anything!! – I’m sure that says more about me than any potential editors out there!!)

 In the meantime, I suppose I should just bite the bullet and get on with the job of finding an editor (you see, I am overly fond of clichés – you can tell, can’t you?)

But, if you hear of anything that fulfils my requirements, you will let me know, won’t you? I’ll be the one hiding behind the invisibility cloak, no doubt with my foot (or some other extremity) sticking out and giving away my presence!

Posted in A to Z challenge, editing, grammar, reading

G is for … Grammar

GI disliked English lessons at school with a passion.

It wasn’t until I began learning a foreign language that grammar actually made sense.

It seemed to me that in my English class we were being taught things that were blatantly obvious. I mean we already knew the language, so it felt completely unnecessary and excessive. Why did everything have a label? Did we really need to know all those rules?

Oh, how wrong I was. I blame it on the innocence of youth (or the ‘I know better than my teacher’ attitude)

Now, spelling was a different thing – I loved that and understood why you had to learn to spell properly, but the rest of it repulsed me.

As a result, I didn’t perform well in those classes. Maybe that’s the real reason I detested English so much. The possibility of failing something didn’t spur me on to try harder, instead it turned me against the subject and I gave it up at the first opportunity.

Whenever I saw mention of “composition, comprehension, punctuation or sentence structure” on my daily schedule, my mood changed instantly. Argh – I can still recall the sweaty palms as I awaited the grade for one of my essays. Oh, the embarrassment at getting a ‘C’, it demoralised me to the core.

Yet, when the same topics cropped up in my French or German classes, they suddenly made sense. Perhaps the message had got through to me subliminally and thus made the foreign languages easier to learn. Or maybe the teaching methods for English really were not very good at all.

Now I began to understand these terms, probably because I didn’t think I already knew it!

These days, whilst I am by no means an expert, I have learned to accept the rules and to check out those areas of language where I am still unsure. A more mature attitude combined with a love of reading has left me with a greater appreciation for grammar and a willingness to get it right in my own writing.

However, whilst that is all very positive, there is a downside. I am now more critical, not just with my own efforts, but with each and every book, leaflet, letter, poster etc  that I read. I’ve become the grammar monster that haunted me at school. My pet peeves are relatively few, but they are TOO commonplace. It grieves me to see these mistakes crop up time and again, particularly in works that have supposedly been edited professionally. These are my top ten peeves – can you relate to them? Are you an offender?

1) their / there / they’re

2) your / you’re

3) were / where

4) apostrophes used to make a word plural

5) could of / could’ve (also should & would)

6) to / too / two

7) fewer / less

8) its / it’s

9) good / well

10) double negatives (unless it’s a NO – NO  to all of the above)

Well now I am totally frazzled, the very thought of these can do that to me.

I will probably have to end this post with an excessive use of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

Posted in caveat emptor, editing, sales

Buyer Beware! Yes, it applies to you too!

It’s that time of year when we are bombarded with sales adverts. Those gadgets you bought as Christmas presents are now massively reduced; discounts abound and most of us will head for the High Street or Shopping Centre in a bid to get a bargain. We might not need any new napkin holders or jelly molds in the shape of a star, but they’re reduced – so we have to have them – don’t we?

caveat-emptor

How many times have you used  those miniature coffee cups that you bought last year? (Surely we all prefer our coffee in super-sized mugs, not tiny little thimbles with impossibly small handles!) But I bet they take pride of place in your glass-fronted cabinet, don’t they? What’s that you say? They’re not on display? They are still in the box, in the loft with all of the other junk acquired over many years at the annual sales.

You’re not alone! Most of the time, we make silly, impulsive purchases that don’t really amount to much, but when it comes to those larger, more expensive items, we really should take much more care. Now you might think that the sofa you’ve had your eye on in the local furniture store is virtually ‘free’ now, but do you seriously believe that it has been discounted that much? Or is it rather that the stores bring out all of the stuff they haven’t been able to shift (I mean sell!) and price it at some extortionately high price for one week, before reducing it to get your attention? They assume that as nobody was interested in it before, the general public won’t even notice the price hike. But you did, didn’t  you? Now you are under the misguided impression that this monstrosity of a sofa is really worth much more than you can afford. So, when they reduce it in the sales, you jump at the chance to grab such a bargain. Does that sound familiar? Am I being overly cynical?

As in all cases, the devil is in the detail. Check out the claims made by these big stores, are they really offering you a great deal, or just disposing of excess stock at your expense? Don’t be fooled into believing the hype, read the small print, ask questions and look around. There will be great deals to be had, but these are not always the most obvious ones. Ask yourself if you really need the item concerned (need, not want) and be certain that it will meet your requirements (the blue leather sofa might be a bargain, but will it match the burgundy and cream decor in your home? – I think not, but that’s just my opinion!)

Anyway, now you’re wondering what on earth does all this have to do with books, writing and the other associated nonsense that I usually write about on this page? There is a connection – honestly! I’ve been looking at using an editor for my book and have come to discover that these services can be quite expensive. First of all, you have to decide what type of editor you need – proofreading, grammatical or developmental to name but a few. Then, once you have resolved that, how do you choose the best editor for your book and budget? I’ve seen many such services promoted on social media sites, some are recommended by fellow writers and other just seem to advertise their own ‘impeccable’ skills at every opportunity.

I’ve decided to take a two-pronged approach. I’m only going to look at those editors recommended by friends and I also intend to look at the work they have done to date. I began using this method this week and by golly, am I glad that I didn’t just go on recommendation alone. The first editor under consideration makes frequent posts about the services she offers and claims to be inundated with editing work. Fortunately for me, she added a link to one of her recent projects – a now published book available on Amazon. I downloaded the book – free for a limited period – and immediately set about reading the story and checking out the quality of the editing. (I might add that the book seemed to have quite a decent plot, interesting characters and I thought it might be a fun read for me – a double whammy!)

The first sentence or paragraph is supposed to grab the attention of the reader, draw him in and demand his utmost consideration until the end. Well, this certainly got my attention – for all the wrong reasons. A grammatical error in the first line! ARGH!! I continued, a little more reticent than before, but still hopeful of better things to come. After reading for no more than ten minutes, I found two more grammatical errors, one spelling mistake and the most carefree approach to punctuation that I have ever encountered. This is the final, polished, edited version? Someone actually paid to for an editor to read their book and make it the best that it could be – and this is the result! So, editor choice number one has been eliminated  from my list and will never be allowed anywhere near to my story – unless she wants to read a really good book!

Now you see the connection with impulsive purchases at the sales? Check, check and double-check the small print and your own needs before you squander your hard-earned money on trivial frivolities which may cost you much more in the long run (either redecorating your lounge or your reputation as a writer!)

“Caveat emptor” is not just for Christmas!