Thursday, 29 April 2010

Learning Edge

I find I get to the edge of what I'm competent at doing and then fear freezes me up. This stops me taking chances, learning new things, because I fear that while I am doing this, I will be crap until I practice and master it. Editing is this edge for me. I know I can do the small editing, better language, better punctuation etc. but doing the big story/plot/pacing edit is hard and I've never found an easy way to do it (yet). So I'm going to have a go anyway today, trying one of the suggested methods of analysing the book in the whole and then chapter by chapter, scene by scene until I have the structure clear in my mind. Tricky stuff.

I find talking to people about what I am doing, about the book in the round, helps me pick out bits that don't make sense or aren't very interesting. Yesterday I was talking to my friend Jo and she's a real enthusiast of good women's stories so another person I can bounce ideas off. The problem is, I think (without slipping into melodrama) the book needs enough drama to keep the reader interested. the problem for me is, I've already read it, I don't know if it's interesting or not any more.

Putting it away for a month is a good idea, at least in theory, so I can perhaps enjoy reading through it and find 'big' changes like point of view (POV) narration and get that consistent and working. I have to have two POV's for this book to work, but I can probably cut it down to chapter by chapter rather than swapping mid chapter. The second novel I'm just playing with, having fun, and I'm trying to avoid the big stereotype 'vampire/werewolf stuff' that's going on in young adult literature at the moment. While still having a bit of fun with the supernatural, which is at least an area where I'm well researched!

This is a snippet of the supernatural book. Hopefully it arouses enough interest! It's the first scene, I wanted to establish Jack as a figure who may be evil or may be good, but is a bit of an action hero!


Tuesday, 27 April 2010

OCA course finished

Having so enjoyed the OCA course that taught me to deal with criticism - and showed me that I have some natural talent for writing and plenty of room for improvement too. I'm waiting for the last comments from my tutor, the feedback is impressive. It was a relief though, it will be a relief to finish A215 too. I'm rather tempted to chuck the last assignment and ECA in as they are with a commentary each and move on! I'm tired of it - I've been doing courses flat out for a year and I would like a break before I get ahead on A363. On the plus side, I have loads of drafts of short stories to work on now. With family stuff going on I think I will relax a bit now until the summer when A363 and the book will need a bit of love and time.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Looking at pace

My biggest problem in fiction (that I am aware of, anyway) is pacing. It isn't something you can go through a book with a red pen and recognise 'a bit of pace' and cut it out. I tend to start strong, wander about in the middle, and finish strong and way too fast (this is writing a book I'm talking about). I've just written life writing piece no. 2 and realise (thanks to my home grown critics) that the first part is strong but the second part is moody and emotional but nowhere matches the first part. Back to the life writing drawing board.

So, I'm going to run up a checklist and analyse what I have already written. If I can give each scene a good pace and match them up a bit more. You can really tell the days I was tired or bored, and compare them with the days when I was carried away.

I'm working through Revision and Self-editing by James Scott Bell. I loved his book on plot, and so far this is as good. Back to my words!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

TMA04 back and the end of the course looming...

Well, after all that I said about life writing I'm writing another bit. I got 90% for the life writing TMA (hooray, hooray!) so I'm on a bit of a roll. I sketched out a few lines for my husband to look at and he suggested I carry on. Now I've got 1200 words and find myself in the odd position of having the ECA (the end of course assignment for those of you not Open University students) being two short pieces not one long piece. I reckon it might get me better marks. This way, if the marker (who isn't known to me) doesn't like one piece he might like the other one! Yes, I realise that means If he doesn't like one piece it will drag my score down, but think positive for me anyway.

Quote removed because I don't want to plagiarise myself! This course is strict...

The piece is about telling a child really bad news, which I had to do when Steve died 19 years ago. My daughter was only 4, and she was the first one I had to tell. It's been triggered by her doing revision, I'm not sure why, except that she is such a perfectionist, beating herself up she gets a few percent less than one of her friends who a) might have worked a lot harder b) doesn't have time for a boyfriend, socialising, a family and c) might just be cleverer at the subject anyway. Trying to get my daughter to understand that a degree - any honours degree - is an achievement and she should be prepared to celebrate it whether she gets a 1st or a 3rd. She's on course for a 2:1, by the way. And who will care after she gets her degree certificate. I have a 2:2 and am proud of it. The hardest 4 years of my life, academically, and a great pass. I might add that she is an amazing person and I love her, while I'm here!

The short story for TMA05 is one I wrote two years ago and it has been through major revisions. I think it's fine for the last assignment, especially as I have already tidied it up and prepared it for publication, which is what the assignment is really about. You have to find a magazine that would suit your work and prepare the fiction or whatever to match it. I'm amazed at the stress this is causing people, as it is just pretend.

I've been working through a book called The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and I've been writing summaries of important points in my notebook. What a helpful book! He makes the point that an editor might look at the first five pages, and if there's any of a hundred possible faults, he'll be put off. He'll assume that teh same problems are reproduced throughout every five pages in the book. It's not about the first five pages, which are usually well polished, but about the who process of editing a novel for publication. Fantastic. I'm going to use it a s a checklist for my short stories and life writing too - it's already made me look at pacing and settings with completely new eyes.

I'm really going to miss this course. I've signed up for the next writing course, because I can only complete my qualification this year before they pull it. So I have to work hard over the summer writing enough material to edit for the TMA's from Octobver onwards. It's a good job I won't be working in Winchester, I don't know how I would fit it all in. I think I can complete all the assignments up to 4 and 6, that are related to the (HUGE) ECA, at least to good draft level.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The sun is shining and the prospect of doing an MA is becoming real.

What am I doing? This is a question I keep asking myself, I feel torn right down the middle. On the one hand, I'm about to cost my family a small fortune and split them down the middle to develop what has mostly been a hobby. On the other hand, I was making a career as a writer before Léonie was born and want to go develop my writing.

It feels like I'm breaking my family up, leaving the man I love more than anyone else in the world and setting up a second home as a single parent. Just for writing! It doesn't help that I've got two unconditional offers from universities but not from the one I wanted to study at for practical reasons. Actually, I think Portsmouth would suit me best as a course.

Anyway, while we agonise over how we split up the furniture, the kids and the finances, I still have assignments to do. TMA 4 is off being marked, life writing over. I have learned one very valuable lesson though, it's really really powerful. Using that intensity to bring fiction to the reader has to be good. Hate the experience though I did, I have a lot more respect for those who do life writing and I am starting to read bits of it.

I'm most of the way through a short story for a competition, about a Viking funeral. It's nice to be writing something less complicated again! I have one assignment left for the OCA so I must send that off. I am a bit lost about what to send, I have some short stories in the pipeline to edit (and could use the editing part of A215 to do it, I suppose!) but as always, I'm in love with what I am writing. I so enjoy writing first drafts, the subsequent edits are just painful! I expect I'll do the first chapter of the Chancel Hall book. I could do with a bit of a break really. I'm supposed to be planning a trip down to the Island (Wight) for a bit of relaxing camping but I'm not sure we can afford it. I need to sit down with a spreadsheet and work it out.

If there is another novelist out there, gently banging their head against the desk like me, can I recommend a book? The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman is an amazing exposition of all the major cock ups we make - that translate through the whole book. I'm lost in it at the moment, it's making me review everything I write in a different way. Fantastic little book for £8.99, looking at all the reasons your book is rejected within the first five pages - or paragraphs - or even sentences. It's a whole course in a book, fantastic.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Finding a balance for A215

Real life does get in the way of creative writing, it turns out! Looking after an old lady, even from a safe distance, is difficult. I speak to her, and all the concerns and all the problems of the past tend to creep in. Now she's phoning before dawn every morning to tell me she's all right, although I can't do anything about it if she's not...

I have written about her in a piece of life writing for TMA04 for A215 and it's helped me realise those feelings are legitimate. I don't think I'll be doing life writing again any time soon, though! Anyway, the TMA. My tutor has suggested that we a) attempt the present tense and b) that we be ruthless with adjectives and adverbs. I'm enjoying both, though writing about the past in the present tense seems weird to start with. It does make description very immediate though, and I like that. The description part is a challenge with a limited range of adjectives. I booted it over to a fellow student for a mutual critique, and she managed to find several adjectives that I could live without. Changing small sequences of words increases the power enormously. One other thing I wasn't sure about was her comments on where I was in the piece, as I sound very unemotional and if it's autobiographical, where am I? It made me work on me in the piece, putting my feelings in as well as my voice.

Then, to explain to the reader, I put three words in, that still crush me. Léonie is dead. It was Steve's birthday, my husband who died the year before Léonie, and then it hit me, that's what Hilda is in my life, she is a link to these people that I loved and whose deaths shattered me for years. So Hilda is dying, and I'm grieving for them, I'm loyal and helping for them, not for the embittered old bag who on several occasions has wished me dead.

I was looking back over this course, and how I have managed it, what I have learned over the last months. I have learned that it's OK to struggle, even fail; it's OK to take chances, experiment; it's important to read more widely and read good literature. I recently picked up a crime thriller and it's literally badly punctuated, the dialogue is sloppy, the pace is uneven. And all enjoyment, admittedly, is muted - but I am enjoying books and authors that I wouldn't have tried before. So, if you are planning to do A215, be aware, it may change your reading habits! I have also written 20k of book 2 so am still writing 500 words minimum every day (more like 1000 most days!) That has probably been my biggest gift from A215, getting a writing habit. If I can't think of anything to say, I work on a TMA or short story. If I can't face that either, I go and highlight a bit of the Big Red Book and do one or two of the exercises. Keeps the habit going.