A couple of weeks ago my writing buddy, Helen Yendall, wrote a blog post about The Art of Giving Feedback. Today, I’m going to come at it from the other side and talk about the The Art of Receiving Criticism.
I am working on a novel, in fact I thought I’d done a reasonable job on it. But I know how hard it can be to look at one’s own writing objectively so I decided to seek the opinion of an expert. I chose published romantic novelist Patricia Fawcett. I have met her a couple of times at writing events and she is also a reader for the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Also, Patricia’s critiques are great value for money.
I received a comprehensive report on my novel suggesting several ways that it could be improved, starting with the first chapter where the pace is a ‘domestic crawl’. On the positive side, Patricia said that she liked my female main character who is ‘vulnerable and interesting’ but, on the negative side, my male main character comes across badly and I need to put in more of his back story so the reader gets to know him. Patricia also pointed out that part of the plot depends on a couple of unlikely coincidences that would ‘get up an editor’s nose’ – so they need taking out and/or re-working. She also suggested a different ending to the novel, which I think will probably be more plausible than the one I had in mind. There was much more in the report but I won’t bore you with it all.
So I’ve still got a lot more work ahead of me.
If I’d received this report a few years ago I would probably have stuffed it in a drawer and given up all hope of ever being able to write anything longer than a 1200 word short story. But as the years go by (and I get older and wiser) I realise that very few people get it right first time and there’s no reason why I should be any different. So it’s time to submerge myself in the plot again and learn from everything that Patricia has highlighted.
Patricia ended her report positively, she said, “If I have gauged you right, you will dust yourself down, shake this one up, and carry on to prove to me and to yourself that you can do it.”
Fingers crossed that I can!
Critiques, Helen Yendall, Patricia Fawcett, Patricia McAughey, RNA New Writers' Scheme
Firstly, I’ve had some extremely positive feedback from Dorinda Cass on her short story critique, which I supplied as a prize a week ago on this blog.
She told me, “Your critique was helpful and insightful. I have no qualms in recommending your critique service to others.”
Therefore I am pleased to announce that the First Impressions Critique Service is now open for business.
The cost is £10.00 for a critique of a story or piece of non-fiction up to 2,000 words in length. Full details of what’s included can be found on my First Impressions Critique Service page. Why not pop over and have a look?
Secondly, The Writer’s Coffee Shop is currently open for submissions. This is an independent publisher based in New South Wales in Australia and it is also the publisher that first released Fifty Shades of Grey as e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks. I thought that EL James had initially self-published the e-books but according to her website, this was not the case.
The Writer’s Coffee Shop is currently looking for stories between 20,000 and 30,000 words (a good stepping stone from short story to novel?). The stories must fall into the genres of either romance or erotica. Stories can be emailed and full details are here.
Finally, I’ve had a couple of nice surprises in the past week. I was shortlisted in the Writers’ News ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Short Story Competition – I was pleased about this since I’d gone to the trouble of reading the book (for the first time) especially so that I could enter the competition.
And today I heard that I’d won a £25 Tesco gift card for leaving a comment on Hire Bloggers Facebook page. Hire Bloggers is a new undertaking that aims to match bloggers to businesses for paid work. Wouldn’t it be nice to earn money from blogging?
Critiques, Dorinda Cass, EL James, Fifty Shades of Grey, Hire Bloggers, The Writer's Coffee Shop
If you’re looking for a page-turner of a book, can I recommend Sister by Rosamund Lupton?
It’s a psychological thriller with an unusual structure and an absolutely un-guessable ending – the sort of ending that made me want to go back to the beginning of the book and check that I hadn’t missed any obvious clues.
The story in a nutshell:
Beatrice’s younger sister, Tess, goes missing. The two of them have been incredibly close since childhood and Beatrice abandons her job in the U.S. to fly home to England to find out what has happened to her sister. The police make assumptions without proper investigation and close the case too quickly for Beatrice’s liking. But she carries on delving into her sister’s life, discovering things that she never knew and, finally, stumbling on something terrible.
There is one of those ‘Author Q and A’ sections at the end of the book and part of it deals with how Lupton developed her realistic characters. She says, “Before the last draft, I changed the central characters’ names and then read it again, as if meeting them for the first time to see if they seemed real.”
Sounds like a good tip for all of us!
And talking of tips, I hope I’m going to be able to give some to Dorinda Cass, the winner in my draw for a free critique. Dorinda lives in North Yorkshire and has a degree in Creative Writing. She is currently two-thirds of the way through a novel (well done, Dorinda!) and enjoys short story writing as well. Dorinda will be acting as a ‘guinea-pig’ for my planned critique service.
Critiques, Dorinda Cass, Rosamund Lupton, Sister by Rosamund Lupton
A pair of fresh eyes looking at your work is a wonderful thing and can be especially beneficial when those eyes don’t belong to your other half, best friend or anyone else who is very close to you.
My husband never reads anything I write and it’s probably just as well. If he told me it was excellent, I’d accuse of him of just saying that to keep me in a good mood. If he told me it was rubbish, I’d accuse him of not knowing a thing about writing short stories and then I’d probably storm off.
It’s much better to ask someone who’s ‘at a distance’. That’s why I value my fortnightly ‘swaps’ with Helen. We both know that we can trust what the other says and we don’t take any criticism personally. After all it’s just this one story that is being pulled apart not our total writing ability. Other people often comment to me that they could do with a ‘Helen’ of their own.
So, I’ve decided to put my experience, gained over the last few years, to good use and offer a critiquing service. It’s still in the planning stages at the moment. Sharon from A Quick Read bravely put herself forward as my first guinea pig and she’s given me some very useful feedback on the critique that I sent her and the sort of price that I should charge (we also had a mild disagreement on the number of words required in stories for The Weekly News – can any of you confirm whether it’s 1200 or 750/800?)
Before I open for business, I’d like to make sure that I’m offering what people want (and are willing to pay for). So I’d like to critique a story of up to 2,000 words (for free) for a reader of this blog.
So if you would like me to look at your work and, in exchange, you are willing to give me feedback on the service that I’ve provided – please leave a comment below. Any comment will do and I’ll pick one at random. The competition closes at midnight (UK time) on Saturday June 1st 2013. (By the way I’m going to be tied up with other things for the next day or so – so don’t worry if your comment doesn’t appear. I’ll moderate them all as soon as I get a minute).
And finally, many thanks to those of you that took the time to review Old Friends during its recent free offer; Anne, Parlance, Julie and Pip.
A Quick Read, Critiques, Old Friends - 13 Coffee Break Stories, The Weekly News
I’ve mentioned before my intention to enter the Good Housekeeping Novel Writing Competition and I’ve been beavering away at my entry since January. I wrote 20,000 words and then paused to take stock and prepare my entry which had to consist of the first 5,000 words plus a full synopsis. The synopsis was a challenge because until then I’d been writing without a detailed plan but after some thought I managed it.
Then I decided to send the 5,000 words and synopsis to novelist Patricia McAughey (who writes as Patricia Fawcett) for a critique. Patricia reads for the RNA New Writers’ Scheme and also runs a reasonably priced private critique service for all types of fiction except fantasy, sci-fi or children’s. She can be contacted through her website for a quote.
Patricia sent me a detailed report which very tactfully told me that my story didn’t work because I was still in ‘short story’ mode. She said, “Slow down. You are rushing things. I know it is tempting to try to get all the ideas down but you are writing a longer piece and there is no rush. Relax.”
She went on to explain that I was giving the reader no idea about the setting. One of the scenes was in a Derbyshire cafe but I didn’t describe the interior, the waitress, the view or even indicate whether the place was full or empty. Patricia suggested painting a broad picture of the scene and then honing in on small details such as a woman trying to get a pushchair through the gap in the chairs.
There was a similar problem with my characters. Patricia said, “… I don’t have any great affection as yet for either of the two central characters simply because I don’t know enough about them…”. I had omitted rather obvious details like what the heroine did for a living or what she looked like!
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. I did get words of praise for my dialogue (which I love writing) and my synopsis.
So if you’re trying to move from short stories to longer fiction, take a moment to check that you’ve added depth to your writing. Make sure you haven’t skimmed over the setting or the characters’ backgrounds. Have you described what it smells like in the kitchen? Have you mentioned what your hero is wearing as he meets the heroine for the first time?
Later this week Patsy Collins, a successful short story writer and debut novelist, will be guesting on this blog and attempting to explain how she made the leap from short stories to seeing her first novel published.
Critiques, Moving On From Short Story to Novel, Patricia McAughey, Patsy Collins
A couple of months ago I entered the National Association of Writers’ Groups short story competition and I paid £3 extra for a critique by Linda Lewis. The story I sent had already been in 2 competitions (without success!) but I am fond of it and decided it deserved one more chance.
Again, it came nowhere but this time I found out why. Linda was very gentle but constructive in her comments. She explained that the story didn’t include enough information about the heroine to enable the reader to care what happened to her. Essentially I was writing about a lonely old lady in hospital but I didn’t explain why she had no visitors or what she’d done with her life (all rather obvious stuff when I look at it now). Linda also said that this kind of story had been written many times before (and I thought my idea was original!).
So now I know where I went wrong. I still like the story so I’m going to add some background information and try to think of a twist to make it a bit more unique. Then I’ll look for somewhere else to send it.
Linda writes a regular column in Writers’ Forum magazine and is offering a critique service through her website (don’t be scared – she knows how to phrase things kindly!).
Critiques, Linda Lewis, National Association of Writers' Groups, NAWG