What I learned through Critiquing

When I started writing this blog back in June, one of my early posts was titled When Do You Let Someone Read Your Writing? I mentioned at the time that I was almost obsessed with ensuring no one read my words, even hubby had the laptop closed on him any time he entered the room (if the poor guy was any less trusting, he might have thought I was surfing for porn.) I’d barely mentioned to anyone, including family, that I was trying to write.

The problem was, I had to get my writing to a level where I felt a modicum of confidence in showing another living soul. I knew that for a long time what I was doing was dreadful. And it was gut-wrenching to go through revision after revision and then find every time I opened a page or a chapter in the light of a new day, what I’d thought was great the previous night, was now crap once again. I’m sure Gremlins were in my system!

Two people through the RWA Critique Partners Program have now had a look at my book, His Brand Of Beautiful.

These are the major things I’ve taken from the process:

Not enough narrative

I had been so obsessed with the concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ that I had excluded narrative to the detriment of the book. I launched into scenes and chapters without slowing down long enough to give my reader the most basic concepts: where are we, when is it? Both my CPs picked up on this in different ways, but what brought it home for me was when in one of my chapters I say:

Christina Clay walked into his architecture-award-winning four-walled mausoleum for the second time about three-thirty on Saturday afternoon. Actually, stumbled into it was closer to the mark, mannequin crossways in her arms like a sculpted sack of potatoes.

And my CP wrote: “phew – call me lazy but it’s nice just to know where they are. Tate’s house. Saturday afternoon.”

The other CP said the same thing, but in different words:

It is very enjoyable to be dumped mis-en-scène and then discover what is happening.  It can be tiring to have this happen a lot.

The good thing was: both of them felt the same thing, and it forced me to sit up and take notice and change it, and hopefully this is for the better. I am sure that if I take that time to ground my reader with a sentence or two in the beginning, they can then better concentrate on the plot developments and dialogue and where I want to take them next.

Double description

I never realised I use similies like I use my tissue box in hayfever season ( 🙂 ), until my CPs began commenting. Neither were negative about my use of similies, both CPs liked my descriptions and felt it was a strength in my writing, but a comment that resonated with me was:

Sometimes you use two strong and sometimes disparate images and the reader flounders, just having absorbed and enjoyed one, and forced to picture another.  I have put “1 or the other” to show what I mean.

Here’s an example (I’m describing a taser shot):

And a high-pitched ticking, like the fastest clock in the world. Like a bike wheel with a leaf trapped in the spokes.

Once you’re told you do it, and told to look for it, well – now I see them everywhere. In my last round of revisions after the two CPs had looked at His Brand Of Beautiful with fresh, ‘reader’ eyes, I tried to be lethal with the delete key on my similes. Less is more, Less is more. And perhaps on that philosophy, if I’m only keeping the best of them, they’ll be more cut-through because of it.

And finally, for Kathy (just in case she’s listening!) 🙂

Commas in dialogue!

“Use them, Lily!”

There were many more points each CP raised, including plot points and inconsistencies – all of which were useful – but one of the sentiments I see in just about everything I’ve read on critiquing is: only take out of it the things you want to.
So these were the big three for me!

Jennifer Crusie recently posted a piece about critiquing. If you’re considering going through this Critiquing process (and I now strongly recommend it) it’s an excellent post covering the whys and wherefores. http://www.arghink.com/2012/10/09/critiques-some-questions/

 

And I’ve finished… again

Okay, so at risk of sounding like a broken record, I have now finished His Brand Of Beautiful for the fourth time.

The first time was in May 2011. When the story was complete crap only I hadn’t yet worked that out.

Then I finished it again in August 2012, after a year of learning everything I could about craft. In time to enter the Choc Lit, Search For An Australian Star competition.

Then I finished it again in September 2012. In time to enter RWA’s STALI, and Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Dance. (I really wrote Dance… of course I meant So You Think You Can Write!!!)

Today. I am declaring it finished. Again. I finish this book as regularly at the moon comes up…

The difference between now and ‘the end’ in August and September, is my two critique partners. First Kathy, now Kylie. I think I will stop at two (if they’re happy to stick with me) because if I do so happen to get another ‘K’… in the fold, things might get a bit scary!

Kathy picked up big things. Big holes in plot. Big motivation problems.

Kylie is the second person I’m trialling with through RWA’s critique partners program. She is the first to review the latest ‘reviews’. And she’s liking it. But she too has picked up a few more, what I like to call: WTF?? How did that happen… moments.

For eighteen months, every time I’ve typed The End, I’ve felt more excited about the book. It is a far better book than in May 2011. For that matter, it’s a far better book than August 2012. I think all it shares with the May 2011 original, is the title.

Next week… no, who am I kidding? I will be terribly hard-pressed not to hit ‘send’ on it again tomorrow, as I have a request for a full that I’ve been holding, pending this last fortnight of revision and soul-searching, and I am absolutely busting to get it whirling through cyberspace and on its way.

Patience. Patience. Nah. I don’t have it. Will I ever learn?

Last days of SYTYCW

Voting closes (GMT) in about an hour on Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write competition. The top 25 stories as voted by the public over the last week or so go through to the next round, plus a Wildcard 3 entries as selected by the Harlequin editors.

It has been an eye-opener watching the promotion of writers involved in the competition. Twitter on the Harlequin site was ballistic. I only just graduated into Facebook, so I’m not as yet ready to join the Twittersphere, but there were a heap of writers who’re obviously very familiar with using Twitter for promotion, and using it to connect.

Personally, I didn’t see any bad blood. But I did read a blog post of one entrant that when reading between the lines would seem she’d copped some flack about all the self-promotion. http://fortheloveofwritingwords.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/for-love-of-putting-it-all-out-there.html

She wasn’t the only one doing it by any means and there were tweets from husbands saying vote for their wives’ entries and friends and colleagues and you name it. I think if you’re out there and you’re doing it, well good on you. In some respects the use of social networks is part of what Harlequin would look for (and other publishers) to see that you are prepared to take on some self-marketing for your work.

What some people got up to was eye-opening. I read about one writer who printed business cards with the competition address and her entry link details and left them all through her office building with a ‘please vote’.

I’m very relaxed about the next phase. I don’t expect to get through, given I’m really battling for a wildcard as I’m sure I won’t have the votes, but I’ll look forward to seeing what does get chosen by the editors. (That’s if the wildcards are separated from the Top 25 somehow, so you know which ones the editors picked).

Meanwhile, I’ve been working through my critique partner’s 56,000 word story, and enjoying the process (and I enjoyed the story). We swapped very quick emails with initial responses. I really like her heroine in the book which surprised my CP, she said so far, “no one has”.

This is what she said about my book:

So far my impression of His Brand of Beautiful is one of clever writing, really strong concrete description and fun innovative situations.  I am finding it hard to follow the character’s motivations but I will explain that in my notes.  This looks like it’s going to be a fun, emotional read.

Critiquing has been very much on my mind and once again my favorite author blogger, Jennifer Crusie, has a timely post for me! (Okay so I’m sure it’s not just for me, but it’s still timely). A lot of the comments were interesting. She asked what people fear about having their work critiqued and the pros and cons. http://www.arghink.com/2012/10/09/critiques-some-questions/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ArghInk+%28Argh+Ink%29

Meanwhile, it’s off to wait for the Harlequin tally-keepers and editors to score their votes. I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve chosen to go through. I can only imagine the next round of Twittering once they’ve narrowed down a short list. I think the Twittersphere might melt down!

What’s the best bit of social network self promotion you’ve seen? Share a tip in the comments!

A weekend for firsts

FIRST first: I opened my emails this morning to a request for a FULL of His Brand Of Beautiful, which makes it the first request for a full I’ve ever had. Which means someone read three chapters of my writing and WANTS TO READ MORE… (breathe, remember to breathe). But I’m trying to keep a lid on this, and so I’ll just plough on through to the next first.

SECOND first: I took the plunge last week and joined the RWA Critique Partners member service and I had some lovely back and forth email exchanges with my trial partner on Saturday that resulted in us deciding to share complete manuscripts. Hers is a YA of about 56,000 words… I wonder how she feels at having my 80,000 word contemporary romance thump into the inbox… I hope she’s enjoying it. Above everything I hope that reading it isn’t a chore for her. I’d hate that.

Anyway, I just finished (over lunch) reading the book by my trial partner and have been thinking about my comments and what and how to provide these. I wanted to read the book right through first as a ‘reader’ to make sure I wasn’t tempted to pull out the red pen, because I don’t think red pens are the point of critiquing… And I went back to re-read an old post I wrote about a conversation/comment on Jennifer Crusie’s blog that dealt with critiquing. I subscribe to JC’s theories (err Crusie that is, not Christ). https://lilymalone.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/httpwww-arghink-com20120607the-12-days-of-liz-day-nine-the-words-and-me/

THIRD first: Today was my son’s first day of pre-school. He looked so cute in his uniform, and he seems so very grown up!

FOURTH first: Home Opens… looks like this Sunday is the first one for us; we have the house looking so spic and span, I don’t think I want to sell it. 🙂

You know you’ve been on holiday when…

… You can’t remember the password to log into your blog. I’m taking it as a good sign!

I’ve come to a few decisions in the last week. First, I am going to enter the Choc-Lit Search For An Australian star competition. http://www.choc-lit.co.uk/html/search_for_an_australian_star.html

I’ve been dithering on this because when I read the entry, I thought a condition of entry was that you couldn’t have your work out with any other agent or publisher. But I’ve had a few further communications with them in the interim and they’ve been very helpful about pointing out that you can put your book out to others, you just have to tell them if it gets accepted anywhere. (Note to self, read conditions more thoroughly!) The competition closes at the end of August and I should make it after this last re-read. I figure I have absolutely nothing to lose in entering.

Second, I’m going to enter RWA’s STALI later this year.

And third, I’m going to declare His Brand Of Beautiful finished (or at least finished for now), when I hit send on the email to Choc-Lit. I’ll be out of action for September as I have been seconded into doing Jury Duty… which feels like such a novel excuse for not writing much, pardon the pun, but it will give me a good block of head-space and something else to think about for a month.

I could muck about with HBOB forever at this point but I don’t think I’m achieving much. It’s time to grit my teeth, brush up on that thick skin and look for some feedback. I have read, read and re-read it so much I need to wave it goodbye. Or I need a critique partner perhaps, but I keep dithering on that too.

I have another project ready to go. The first book I wrote was called Fringe Benefits. I queried this way back in early 2011 to Harlequin Desire directly (before it crossed my mind to think about agents). They asked to see 3 chapters off the query before ultimately rejecting it (with a very nice letter that said “they found parts of it compelling” but I had too much focus on point of view of secondary characters that detracted from the main characters, and they also highlighted pacing as something I had to work on.) All of which led me to a heap of articles on line about POV, pacing and flashbacks, ie. Don’t Do Them!

Given what I’ve seen of rejection letters (mine and the others online), as far as that one went I came out of it feeling positive. Kudos to Harlequin for that.

Lately it’s Fringe Benefits that has been on my mind more and more and with what I feel I’ve learned as far as craft, especially in the last year, I’m excited about re-writes on this and where it might end up. It’s another contemporary romance loosely based in the Australian wine industry; this one a reunion romance with a broke and stubborn viticulturist heroine; a tycoon winery-owner with a meddling mother, and a jealous love interest trying to ruin our heroine’s career. I remember it as being good fun when I started it. I know without looking that it needs a heap of work.