Sunday, 10 January 2010

I've been tagged

I've been tagged (who knew?) by two friends, Sonia Carriere and Anna Walls so I suppose I'd better answer the questions and then tag three more unfortunate bloggers :) Be sure to visit their blogs as well for a good read.

1. What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?
The most recent thing I've finished is a science-fiction novel called 'Distress Call', which I partly wrote for NaNoWriMo and completed at a much more leisurely pace afterwards. I wrote a bunch of stories and novels back in the early 80s and got rid of them all. I only started writing again about 18 months ago, so the oldest thing I have is a screenplay called 'Death Search'.

2. Write poetry?
No, except rhyming doggerel and the occasional haiku.

3. Angsty poetry?

What's angst?

4. Favourite genre of writing?

Science fiction, horror, fantasy, action thrillers. Both to read and write.

5. Most annoying character you've ever created?
'Under Secretary Whitehead, who always reminded me of a surprisingly clever caricature - the toad in human guise.' A direct quote, and partly based on some people I have worked for.

6. Best plot you've ever created?

I think so far, it has to be 'Revival' - a horror/fantasy novel I'm currently editing.

7. Coolest plot twist you've ever created?
In a short story called 'The Return of the Creature'. Love conquers all, even between different species.

8. How often do you get writer's block?
Never. I always stop in the middle of a sentence or a paragraph, so I know what I intended to write when I start again the next day. Once I've written a few words, I'm up and running again. For me, delaying starting anything isn't block, it's inertia.

9. Write fan fiction?
No, though I did create an outline for a two part Doctor Who season finale. It turned out to be amazingly close to the actual season finale, including some of the lines of dialogue. Pure coincidence, as I intended mine for the following season, and I hadn't even submitted it.

10.Do you type or write by hand?
Type. I can't read my own handwriting half the time.

11. Do you save everything you write?
Yes. In several places, just in case.

12. Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?
Sometimes I'll revive an idea that failed as e.g. a novella as a screenplay instead, or vice versa.

13. What's your favourite thing you've ever written?
I think that would have to be 'Halifa', but it's still waiting its turn to be edited.

14. What's everyone else's favourite story you've written?
Opinions vary, probably 'Revival'. So far.

15. Ever written romance or angsty teen?
No angsty teens - my characters are like me - old and past it! There are romantic elements in everything I write, 'cos it's a part of life.

16. What's your favourite setting for your characters?
Settings of extreme tension and fear. Where they're threatened by death and spattered with gore at frequent intervals.

17. How many writing projects are you working on now?
I'm editing one novel, and writing two short stories. Also developing ideas for the next bunch of stories/scripts/books.

18. Have you ever won an award for your writing?
Not yet.

19. What are your five favourite words?
"One ring to rule them." Oh, you mean in real life? "Your cheque's in the post."

20. What character have you created that is most like yourself?
Most of the male protagonists are like me to a certain extent. Or perhaps, like me as I'd like to be.

21. Where do you get your ideas for your characters?
Usually, people I know or have known. You know, mannerisms, habits of speaking, things like that. Physical appearance - sometimes, particularly in film scripts, I like to picture who would play the characters when Tarantino makes the film. So then, the character resembles the actor. The alien ones of course are just that - alien.

22. Do you ever write based on your dreams?
No. I do get a lot of ideas for stories when I'm in that happy state between waking and getting up, just quietly dozing, but usually what I dream about makes no sense, even if I wake myself up and write it down immediately.

23. Do you favour happy endings?
Only if they come naturally. Which is rare, since most of my stuff is quite dark and bleak.

24. Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
I will go back and check from time to time as I write,but a lot will be left untouched until the first sloppy proofread.

25. Does music help you write?
Once I start writing, I become oblivious to anything around me, so I wouldn't even know if music was playing.

26. Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head.
'Offbury was a typical English rural market town: pubs packed with young farm-worker types busy getting pissed; streets roamed by semi-feral, semi-naked packs of young girls emitting unbelievable decibel levels; corners and doorways littered with twelve year olds getting wrecked on white cider.'

From 'The Symbiont'.

My three victims tag choices are:

Jaimey Grant

Henry Lara

Gwen McIntyre


What to do with critiques - part three

Alright, the moment is finally here! We've amassed our panel of readers, sent off the manuscript, and it's come back, spattered with red comments and notes.

So what do we do with it now?

Simple. We make a spreadsheet.

"What?" you cry in horrified disbelief. "Make a spreadsheet? I'm a writer, not an IT technician!"

Nonetheless - make a spreadsheet.

Consider: you have umpteen scenes in your book - one or more per chapter. In the example I'm using, there are twenty-seven chapters, and a total of one hundred scenes. When I'm rewriting the book, I can either open up my copy of a scene, then refer to what Fred said, and what Bert said, and Mary, and Ethel, and ...; or I can open up the spreadsheet and refer to that instead.

In the left-hand column, I have the chapter and scene number - e.g. Chapter 21, scene 3 (21-3). In the next columns I have what my reviewers (or critiquers if you prefer) said about that scene, one column per reader. I simply go through their critiques, cutting and pasting their comments about various bits into the appropriate cell.

A couple of technical terms here:

  • Their comments won't fit easily into a cell on a spreadsheet, so format all the comment cells as 'Text' and turn Word wrap on.
  • You can record a macro to format each cell as you enter content - so font size, orientation, alignment and so on are consistent - if you feel comfortable doing that.
  • Or simply wait until you've finished with each reviewer and format that column when you've come to the end of their critique.
  • Have a few rows at the end for their general comments.
Now, I can see at a glance what each of my readers said about each scene. It's very easy to find out if they said the same sort of thing, or if they differed, or if they had no comment about the scene at all.

As you can see from my example, at least in the section I chose, there was no general agreement. So I read each comment and decide whether, on considered reflection, I agree with it. If I do, I rewrite that scene accordingly. If I don't agree, I leave things unchanged.

Obviously, if all, or most of, the readers say the same sort of thing about a scene, it would be wise to change it, even if you may not agree with their comments.

Using a spreadsheet like this is much easier than going through each critique, constantly referring back and forth to the others and to the original.

By the way, at this point, I'd like to thank the readers who helped me on this book - Gwen, Renee, Wendy and Tj. Most of the improvements in the work are down to your keen eyes and good judgement. Any clunky bits left are entirely of my own making.

The general comments are also massively helpful. There was unanimous agreement that the first ten chapters were too slow. A deeper exploration of character was needed. Less tell, more show. More action. Helpfully, there was also a consensus that the work was too short. So I can add bits into those chapters without having to struggle with over-large word counts.

OK, it does mean practically rewriting those chapters from scratch, but I happen to agree with the comments. You cannot afford, any longer, to start slow and build. You have to start with a bang and get louder.

In the few next posts, I'm going to be dealing with the actual editing process.

Until the next time - enjoy!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

What to do with critiques - part two

So, as promised, here I am again, doing the soon-to-be-regarded-as-regular weekend blog.

Two per cent of the way through the year. Only another 49 topics to think of!

Last time, I discussed the composition of the panel of readers/critiquers to whom we send our beloved manuscripts.

Then, while waiting for the replies, we got on doing something else.

Replies start trickling in during the allotted time. Do we read them straight away, see what they have to say about our baby?

No, first we reply to the emails, thanking the respondents for their efforts and promising to get back to them when we've had a chance to digest their comments.

Well, yes, of course we read them. It's only natural to want to know immediately what people think about our work, isn't it?

But really, there's no reason why we should. We have, at least temporarily, abandoned that work and are fully committed to whatever we're doing right now. So, being wise, we create a new folder on our hard drive and put the attachments (Word documents doubtless covered in metaphorical red ink) in the folder, along with the original.

The deadline for replies draws near. We scan the inbox with increasing frequency (and desperation.) We asked ten people to read the work and only two have replied so far. What's going on?

Human nature, that's what.

You'll get another five or six replies in the last couple of days.

OK, we have all the replies we're going to get, so what next?

Scan through each of the revised manuscripts first, just to get a flavour for what the reviewers are saying. It's traditional to put closing comments at the end, so if you want to end the suspense quickly, skip to the end of each document and read what their overall take on the book was.

Take a moment to bask in a warm, fuzzy feeling of adulation. Alternatively, storm out of your writing room, kick the cat, pour yourself a stiff drink and give vent to your feelings about the reader's dubious ancestry, under-performing neurons and myopic inability to recognise talent if it got up and bit them on the ass. Perhaps even do both. You'll likely get a mixture of good, lukewarm and critical comments.

Well, what did you expect? You knew from the start that not everyone was going to like your sacrilegious, splatterpunk rewrite of The Red Shoes.

Didn't you?

Think again. No matter how good your writing, not everyone is going to like it. People's minds don't work the same. What, to some, is an exquisite heightening of tension is, to others, tedious and drawn-out. Your sparse, elegant prose may seem to some to be under-descriptive.

Never mind. The real work starts next. This is where we collate the responses in the easiest way I've so far discovered.

Next week...

See? Heightening the tension even more.

Till then, enjoy!