Wednesday, 27 January 2010

When to Stop

Editing that is, not writing in general

But when do you decide to stop tweaking and changing things as sit back and say to yourself ‘enough’s enough, time for this baby to venture out into the big bad world.’?

I seem to have done nothing but edit, and rewrite, and edit and rewrite for the past few months, and I’ve reached the stage where every time I look at it I see a word I want to tweak, or replace with a stronger one, or change the emphasis in some small way.

I could go on like this for ages.

I’ve set it aside, come back to it with fresh eyes and set it aside again.

Have I addressed all the issues the agent raised? Have I done a good enough job? Is this something he can sell? I could stare at it and ask myself these questions for months to come.

No. The time has come. Time to stop tweaking and putting things off. Time to get it back out there.

Maybe this version will be good enough to attract the attention of an agent, maybe not. But there’s only one way to find out.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Rules are to be Broken

One of my regular blog readers e-mailed me a few days ago to point out that he could name a number of short stories that actually made the ‘mistakes’ that I listed in my last post but managed to pull it off. (Thanks Ken – a very valid observation)

Here are the examples he cites:

3) The bad joke – similar to 2 – the only point of the story is the delivery of a [bad] punchline at the end.

“Normally yes, but it can be an effective device occasionally; see "Shah Guido G" by Issac Asimov for a rare example where it is.”

I have to agree that I have also seen this done well. It’s a version of the twist in the tale story and I have a friend who is particularly good at those. However, I think my point is that it has to be skilfully executed. And the joke has to be pretty good too.

1) It’s not a story (beginning, middle and end) – just a scene or setting & 5) No Proper ending.

“As in pretty much anything by the American writer Lorrie Moore IMO.”

I’m not familiar with this writer so I can’t comment. But again, it wouldn’t surprise me.

You see, this was never meant to be a definitive list. All rules can be broken, you just need the skill to do it and an experienced writer could probably pull off pretty much anything. But for the newer writer, still developing their skills, some of these are pitfalls best avoided.

So who else can think of an example where someone has broken one of these ‘rules’ and got away with it? I bet there are loads!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Common Short story Mistakes

I have both written a read a fair number of short stories in my time, and I thought it might be timely – (what with the ongoing flash fiction contests over at Litopia getting more and more people to try their hand at this form) – to summarise some of the more common mistakes people make when writing short stories.

1. It’s not a story – often just a scene or setting
2. The bolt from the blue – the twist ending that comes from nowhere – a twist in the tale can be good, but not if it’s just been tagged on for effect
3. The bad joke – similar to 2 – the only point of the story is the delivery of a [bad] punchline at the end.
4. The summary of a story – almost like a mini novel or a synopsis
5. No proper ending – endings are hard – they need to resonate and have strength and purpose. So often stories seem to just fizzle out. Sometimes this can be something as simple as not ending in the right place.
6. And then he woke up – I really hate these – it’s a case of ‘drat, how do I get my characters out of this situation – oh I know…’
7. It’s a cliché – I won’t list cliché’s here – it’s been done elsewhere and so much better – here’s one such link.

Of course, just getting these things right doesn’t automatically mean that you’ve written a good story – there’s far more to it than that. The short story has so much to squeeze into a small space; believable characters, a satisfying plot with a good resolution, but also, more subtly, the really good ones manage to work on many different levels.

And that, of course, is where the real skill lies.

Anyway Sally Zigmund is running a series of excellent articles on short stories over at The elephant in the writing room – I suggest you go and check them out!

Saturday, 9 January 2010


There’s a bit of an easterly swell coming in today. Fresh and ever so cold. A good day for walking along the beach and trying to untangle all the conflicting advice I’m getting at the moment about the novel I’ve been rewriting.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Something New

The rest of the coutry is blanketed in snow - I think everywhere except here - but we never get much down by the sea. Even the hills that I look out on have a light dusting!

Still, the cold weather is a good excuse to stay in and get on with some writing. But I also wanted to share with you a new project of mine. This year I'm going to attempt to grow my own veg. And to catalogue my successes/disasters I've started another blog. So do pop over and give me some moral support - or - if you already grow your own - share your wisdom with a newbie!

A Patch of Dirt

Monday, 4 January 2010

A Good Start

It’s gorgeous here at the moment – freezing cold with clear blue skies. It’s lovely out in the hills – hardly another soul to be seen and only the deer and buzzards for company. Normally the sea and the ridgeway keep the frost away, but not this year. This is the way winter should be.

2010 has got off to a good start – with my first sale of the year!! I’ve just heard that Sorcerous Signals will be publishing ‘Return to Athelnay’ in their May issue. I’ll post the link to it once it comes online and I hope as many of you as possible will pop over and have a read.

So, refreshed and enthused, it’s back to the novel edit. The end is in sight, and the MC in the WIP is nagging at me to get on with it. I’ve neglected her for long enough, but not for much longer.

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Years Resolutions

Happy New Year everyone.

A new year and a new decade. I hope everyone has been letting it in with style. I wonder what 2010 will hold as far as my writing is concerned?

At the start of 2009 I set myself a number of writing targets. So I thought I would revisit them and see how I got on.

Here they are:

1. Find an Agent to represent Myth Making
Nope, although I’ve come close twice with this one, and it’s not over yet!
2. Sell a short story to a SWFA pro market
Nope, no joy with this one
3. Sell more short stories than in 2008 (more than 3)
Nope, only two sales this year
4. Complete first draft of current WIP.
Nope, only half written, due to the amount of time I’ve spent on the rewrites of novel 1.
5. Enter the Yeovil Prize again.
Well yes – I managed this one – didn’t come anywhere though!
6. Start putting reviews on my blog.
And at last a proper yes, a couple of reviews and also some guests.

Well that wasn’t particularly successful was it? :-(

But just a moment – if you a reader of Nicola Morgan’s blog you’ll have seen this post about writing resolutions.

Looking at these targets again perhaps they weren’t the smartest. The first three are clearly aspirations – they’re my ambitions, not fully in my control. The last three are the only true targets. So, 2 out of three. Not so bad.

Bearing that in mind here are my new writing targets for 2010.

1. Complete the final rewrite of novel 1 and get it back to that agent!
2. Get novel 1 back out in circulation should Mr Agent pass.
3. Complete first draft of WIP
4. Complete 6 new SF short stories
5. Maintain my blog with guest and reviews and interesting writing articles.

On that note it just remains for me to wish everyone a Happy New Year – may all our writing dreams come true in 2010!