Thursday, 4 October 2012

To submit or not to submit?

Another writing rejection.  What’s wrong with me?

I expected it – the story didn’t feel right – but the deadline was there and I made it as good as I could without a dramatic rewrite.  What should you do at this point?  Should you put the story away for a rainy day, or submit and hope?  I chose the latter, and yet was crestfallen when the expected rejection came in.

I suspect I made it difficult for them to like the story – there was a theme for the story – and whilst I embraced the theme technically, I probably avoided the intention of the theme.  I tend to do that – rebel against the intent of the theme – and look for a different slant.  My theory is the story should stand out, but if it misses what the editor is looking for, wasted.

The positive side – I finished another story – about 5,000 words.  I have a strong sense of what is wrong with it, so it can be fixed another day, another time.

Onwards and upwards.  Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild has an anthology coming out – submissions due by 15th October.  I’m in Broome with a couple of children and a wife scared of the deep blue sea (more specifically, the unseen critters swimming around your legs).  I think it’s been done before – there’s a story about a shark, perhaps a story about a giant squid, but I’m here, I know the fear, so let’s write it.  It may not match the intent of their theme, but it has provided inspiration and a starting point.

If anyone is interested – details are here:

Back to my earlier question.  What should you do with the story that doesn’t quite cut it?  Does submitting the story do damage?  Is it wasted if you don't submit?  Does the universe care?

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Rejections - Great news!

I’m not a real writer yet.  I can tell, because I have less than ten rejections to my name.  Go here to read about famous authors and the number of rejections they received before being published.  (I was going to do some research and publish it here – but this article says everything I could want to say.)

Two rejections this week.

So what do I do?  I’m going to trust the story is OK, and send it to someone else.  It can’t hurt.  In the process I will see if I can get some feedback that might help (or determine the story is rubbish).

Most importantly, I’ve started another short story.

And I’m reading.  The current edition of Midnight Echo (Australian Horror Writers Association magazine) landed on my doorstep, so I’m reading the short stories to see how they differ from mine.

I’m reading the various entries to the Australian Shadows Awards (I'm the Director), again looking for the secrets of success.

The Australian Horror Writers Association offers a mentor program with published authors as mentors.  I’ve applied.  Let’s see what else I can learn to improve the quality of my stories.

And never give up.  Some authors received hundreds of rejections before success.  I’ve got lots to receive yet.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Your cast of characters

Try googling ‘Character Development in Writing a Novel’.  More advice than you can throw a stick at.  So don’t expect anything ground breaking from me, just my recent experience.

My first novel is a constant learning process.  During the editing, it became clear that my characters were modeled on people I knew, and whilst in my outline there were physical descriptions along with a few salient points, the ‘core’ or ‘heart’ of the characters was not revealed.  Ray Mooney, Creative Writing teacher, would be delighted with my recognition of this.  He regularly talked about identifying the ‘core’ of the character and then testing that ‘core’ to create drama.

Modeling your characters on people you know might be a fine starting point, but unless you know that person better than they know themselves, you could be limited in your vision.  I needed to understand my characters so that I could flesh them out in the novel.

Then I remembered an exercise suggested by another Creative Writing teacher, Gary Smith.  (Doing some name dropping today).  The class exercise went something like this:

Imagine a significant other (friend, family, whatever) is tied to a chair and gagged.  They can’t speak and they can’t move.  (Sorry – I’m not going anywhere kinky with this - or plagiarising Fifty Shades of Grey.)  And then speak to them about how you feel.  (Of course, write it down.)

So that's my technique.  My villain seemed one dimensional.  His history and role in the plot were clear, but his motivation was not.  So I tied the hero to a chair, gagged him, and had the villain explain his motivations and desires.

Everything became clearer.  I now have a character that might choose to react differently in some of my scenes, perhaps with greater passion, and with greater drama should someone seek to stop him realizing his desires.

I might even get to use that speech as dialogue somewhere.

Ray and Gary both agreed to be referenced in this blog - thank you for the teaching!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Editing - aarrgghh...

100,000 words. 10,000 sentences. 30 chapters.

The editing process of a novel, particularly mine because it's so bad, is painful. Page after page of text, each needing careful review. Sentences need deleting, combining and constructing. Paragraphs need the same. You tackle each to the best of your ability, trying not to get frustrated with your own ineptitude. There are long pauses as you realise you've got a fatal flaw that needs a page of rewriting - I thought I finished the writing :-)

And then you get advice from one of the great modern writers - Kurt Vonnegut Junior. Have you read Slaughterhouse Five? Read it if you haven't.

Eight writing rules he provides. Number 4 reads: Every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action.

Useful advice for the editing author. But bloody-hell, there are a lot of characters in my novel, including Melbourne. Who's to say that a paragraph of description isn't revealing it's character? The advice points out the two most important elements of the book - the characters, and what they do.

10,000 sentences provide a lot of opportunity to reveal character, and more than ample space to move the plot forward.

So, fellow writers, take the test. Do each of your sentences follow the rule?

Meanwhile, I'm going back to editing...

Friday, 6 July 2012

Think Global, Read Local

We all know about the phrase Think Globally, Act Locally.  It’s obvious for food.  The reasons are straightforward – reduce transportation costs and hence greenhouse emissions; keep jobs in this country and hence wages and taxes; and the food should taste better too.  There’s probably more, but I’m no expert.

Last month I put my hand up to run the Australian Shadows Awards, the annual literary awards presented by the Australian Horror Writers Association and judged on the overall effect - the skill, delivery, and lasting resonance - of horror fiction written or edited by an Australian.  My first job was to put in place the judging panel.  I sought advice from the outgoing Director of the awards, and was hugely embarrassed by the question,

‘How familiar are you with the local Australian horror writers?’

It finally hit me, the truth of the requirement to read extensively within your chosen genre.  How can I expect to gain publication if I am not in touch with the local (and international) forms of the genre?

I’m so glad I put my hand up.  I now know several published Australian Horror authors.  There is a great panel of judges in place.  I’m looking forward to reading their works.  There won’t be any greenhouse emission reductions because I use an eReader.  But the money I pay for their works will stay in Australia.  

I’m also becoming more aware of the markets for my chosen genre.  Another benefit for me.

Free advice, because your Creative Writing teacher already provided it to you and you didn’t listen, is ‘read locally in your genre’, and if you’ve got the time, get involved in the communities associated with the genre.   

It’s given me a quick blast of hard work (I’m over the hump now) but the rewards are significant.
And yes, think about the ethical component of all your purchasing decisions!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The first chapter

The Latrobe Reading room at the Victorian State Library is a great place for reflection.  When you look up from your reading, your vision extends to the almost 35 metre dome several stories above.  The acoustics multiply every sound to every point, thus causing everyone to keep very quiet.  It was the perfect place for me to contemplate the beginning of my novel, the first chapter.

Disappointingly, although not unexpected, the first chapter, written over two years ago, does not match the heights of architectural excellence reached by the dome above me.  Truth be told, it’s woeful.  It's the proof point that ‘doing’ generates ‘learning’.  At the time of writing I already had the benefit of four years of Creative Writing education.  Now, when I look at the chapter I see much that is wrong.

For those of you interested, the two major flaws are:

1. Information is presented rather than encountered.  One of my lecturers described this as an information dump and suggested several more interesting ways to share the necessary information with the reader; via conversation or interspersed with action would be my two preferred methods.

2. There is little tension despite a traumatic event, a meeting with conflict, and a substantial internal dilemma for the main character.  The solution to this is clearer now the first draft is written and I can use more ‘foreshadowing’ of the coming events with subtle hints.

It’s not all bad.  The main protagonists are introduced through the above mentioned trauma, meetings and internal conflict.  The ingredients are there.  Fine tuning (read: major rewriting) is what the second draft is all about and should whip this into shape.

The best news is that I recognize the issues.  I can thank my Creative Writing education for developing an improved ability to see the flaws.

Who knows what I will think of the first chapter when I get to the third draft.

Meanwhile, instead of waiting for my novel, get to the Latrobe Reading Room to see an example of outstanding architecture.  Even  my girls were impressed.