The Joy of Critique, Part 2

Wednesday, June 20, 2007, 10:40 PM

I've had the first comments through from SSatS on my latest novel. I couldn't be happier with the critique I'm getting from both her and McKoala. What's even better is they've approached it from two entirely different levels - one working at the micro level while the other works at the macro, if you see what I mean - which results in my work getting a really thorough going over. They've picked up on a few common issues, and I've already been given some good pointers to improving the manuscript. My heartfelt thanks to both of them.

I've resisted the temptation to go near the novel since handing it over to my beta readers, but I've been plagued by the itch to write over the last week or so. I'm still nagged by the novel's protagonist, as if he has more to say and do - though, for now, I can't for the life of me think what. So, this evening I dug out a piece I started way back at the beginning of the year. It's a story aimed at the younger reader (our American friends call it YA) though it's quite dark. I'd written about 3000 words, so I picked up where I left off. It's an idea that came to me in a dream (as they often do, just like the last novel) and I'd like to see it to completion. I doubt it'll get there before the second draft of the last novel gets underway, but at least it'll provide some distraction. I may submit the prologue and opening pages to the Crapometer.

Besides everything else, work is incredibly busy at the minute, and I think that's been increasing my need to write - it's such a good way to relax.

The Joy of Critique

Friday, June 15, 2007, 12:13 PM

The very kind McKoala, a fellow regular over at the Crapometer, is currently beta reading my latest novel, and has been sending me updates. Plus, a first run at a hook for it just got critiqued at the Crapometer, too.

Getting critique is good.

Getting good critique is even better.

There will always, I suppose, be that defensive moment when you think "What?! You're saying my baby isn't perfect?" But, when you set your ego aside, the value of someone with a skilled eye finding the weaknesses in your work is immeasurable. As I've been going through McKoala's comments (she has taken the time to give a detailed commentary, for which I am incredibly grateful) I have had many "D'oh!" moments where stupid mistakes are pointed out, or gaps in logic, or lapses in believability. Would I have spotted these myself? I should have, probably, but when you've written a work of novel length, and re-read it yourself, your eyes can't be trusted. Perhaps if I let it sit untouched for six months then went back to it, I might spot these flaws, but having someone else find them saves so much time. And there's no guarantee I'd ever spot them at all.

What's even more useful, and something you could never do for yourself, is objectively measuring the value of a scene or character to the overall story. Only a dispassionate critiquer can do that. Also, the overall arc of the story and its cast can only be effectively judged by someone who hasn't had these things in their head for months. Good critique is the most important resource an aspiring writer can have, and I'm glad I have a couple of people who can do this for me. Another kind soul will be beta reading over the next week or so, and I'm looking forward to her opinions, too. When it comes time to start serious revisions, I'll have a great head start thanks to these good folks.

Hooks, Book Trailers and Chapter Thirty-Six

Sunday, June 10, 2007, 2:51 PM

I've finished the first revision of the new novel. It's not so much a second draft, as draft 1.1. I tweaked a few early points to tie in with what happens later in the novel, but I'm probably still too close to it to make a substantial rewrite. It therefore needs a dispassionate eye to find the weaknesses I'm blind to at the moment. Two kindly beta readers will shortly be receiving their copies to scrutinise.

There is one thing I know I have to rewrite, though. Specifically, chapter thirty-six. This should be a frightening, exciting chapter, but somehow it falls flat. If it stood alone, it would be fine, and it works as part of the overall plot, but in the context of events before and after on the time line, what should be heart-thumping stuff is just kind of ... meh.

I need to find a new angle on it, but nothing is coming to mind, so I may let the beta readers have at it to see how they feel about it.

While nursing a mystery foot injury (I don't know how I did it, but it hurt like hell) I took some time to rustle up a query hook for the novel. As I suspected, it was much easier this time around than it was for the last novel, simply because the premise is so much stronger, and the story has a real spine. At some point over the next day or two I'll post it over at the Crapometer, where it'll probably get trashed! :)

Also, just for the sake of experimentation, I've been messing about with making a book trailer for it. So far, it looks pretty cool. I'm not sure what purpose it serves, seeing as the book isn't published, but I thought it would make an interesting exercise.

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It's Beer O'Clock and I'm Buying! First draft complete! Word Count 75,348 (wp) 95,500 (pr)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007, 10:00 PM

About ten minutes ago I typed the last three words of the first draft of my new novel. I know a couple of you at least will be familiar with that strange mixture of sadness and elation that comes with this act. It feels wonderful, but there's that sweet tang of loss once you've hit that last full stop.

I've experienced this once before, about six months ago, when I finished the first draft of my previous novel. It feels different this time, and not just because it's my second time around. With this book, ever since I made the decision to turn the short story it began as into a novel, I've known what the last sentence was going to be. It's three words long, and I've had those three words in my head since the end of February this year. So, when I was typing them, it felt like coming home after a three-and-a-half month journey.

Of course, now the work begins. I'm going to start the first rewrite pretty much straight away, because I know specifically what needs doing. I imagine it happens with every novel - things take different turns as the book progresses, new ideas and themes arise, so you have to go back and adjust accordingly. In my case, there are three or four themes, subplots and character arcs I want to reinforce, plus a whole new aspect to the early part that needs writing in. So, I reckon the word count will grow slightly over the first revision. This will also be because when I write (and I write fast) I tend not to dwell much on setting, often at the expense of the overall feel of the story, so I'll need to address that as I go.

And then I'll turn it over to a couple of very kind souls who have agreed to beta read for me. That will be very scary, but I know their feedback will be invaluable in coming up with a more polished draft.

Finally, I want to take a second and, with your indulgence, pat myself on the back. And any of you who have taken this extraordinary step in life, and not just sat down to begin a novel, or sketched out ideas, or daydreamed about it - but actually sat for weeks and months and typed and typed and typed until you had a real, honest-to-God book written - you pat yourself on the back, too. It takes immeasurable personal sacrifice, guts and sheer force of will to write a novel from beginning to end. Okay, it might not be the same as running headlong into enemy fire, or raising a child, or any number of amazing things that human beings do every day, but still ... it's a hell of a thing.

Incidentally, I just realised I've written about 8,000 words in three days, including almost 5,000 in one sitting. Like I said, when it's rolling, I write fast!


Blimey! Almost done, but I'm stuck! Word Count 73,183 (wp) 92,000 (pr)

Monday, June 04, 2007, 10:40 PM

After yesterday's self-admonishment for procrastinating, I sat down last night and churned out a decent lump of wordage, and this evening I've churned out another pile. I'm at the penultimate scene of the entire novel. This is the big showdown between protagonist and antagonist. It's been building up over a lot of pages, and tension has been mounting.

Problem is, the good guy (of sorts) and the bad guy (no ambiguity, he's just bad) are face-to-face in a stand off with no way out. There's an innocent party in peril (and that's also a point of concern, as it's edging close to one of those lines we're not supposed to cross) and as it stands, I can't see how my protagonist can prevail, or indeed the antagonist for that matter. All right, this makes for a wonderfully tense climax, but that's no good if I can't resolve it.

And there'll be no Deus Ex Machina to swoop in and save the day. Robert McKee's warnings on that are very clear (Google 'Robert McKee' and 'Ten Commandments' if you don't get that reference!).


After this there'll be the denouement, which packs as big a punch, if not bigger, than the climax to story proper. And then it'll be done.

I just need to figure out how to get there.


Blog Update Complete (and novel only slightly nearer the finish line)

Sunday, June 03, 2007, 6:35 PM

So, my blog has been given a facelift to transform it from Blogger's butt ugly template to my slightly more snazzy website layout. There are some variations between this and my site purely out of necessity, but it's pretty close.


I am also kicking myself firmly in the arse because this has been at the expense of valuable writing time. It's that old procrastination-because-it's-nearly-finished thing again. It's down to the last two sequences, which themselves are made up of about four or five scenes. About 5,000 words or so will see it done. I've just got to get on with it, and I've no excuses now...

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Why my blog looks messed up...

I'm doing some tinkering with my blog's style settings to get it looking more like my website (instead of finishing my novel, which is what I really should be doing...). It should kind of straighten itself out while I work on it, but if it looks kind of strange, that's why. :)

My Website and Electric Spec Online!

Friday, June 01, 2007, 12:07 AM

My short story, Me and the Devil Blues, has just been published in the Summer 2007 edition of Electric Spec, the online short fiction magazine. Check it out at!

And just in case that wasn't enough excitement for one lifetime, I've just uploaded my new website to - have a look and let me know what you think. Expect more content over the coming weeks as and when I find the time. :)

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