A few weeks ago, I wrote about a task I had set my writing group, to review a piece of their own work. Today is the meeting when we are going to share our reviews,. I went back to what I had written here, and rewrote it because I am going to be reading it aloud to my group, they are not going to be reading it in their heads… and it made a difference. I had to cut out a lot I had written because I will be able to make things clear by my tone of voice and expression, gesture, face etc. Also, as with all writing, on reading it there were parts I didn’t like or didn’t feel were clear, errors I’d made in word choice…
So here is the new revised copy!
The topic I suggested was ‘review’, preferable to write a review of one of our own pieces of work, but if not, to review something else – a book, a film, a TV programme, for example.
I hoped this would help in thinking critically about what we write. Whether we write for just ourselves or for another audience, it’s important to be objective and to try to refine what’s written to make it the best it can be, I spend hours editing, rewriting, reworking, and try lots of different ways to be objective about what I’ve written – but I don’t expect everyone should do the same, that’s just me! It is useful though to do a rough draft first and then ‘write it out again’ like we did at school!
However, although I set the topic of ‘review’ and have reviewed lots of things in my writing, I’ve never actually done the task I’ve set… I’ve never actually written critically about my own work. I’ve written about it a lot on my blog, to promote it, but I’ve never written extensively about it objectively in that way!
At the moment I’m working on my next novel, ‘Lucky Portbraddon’ which is complete but needs serious, serious editing, and massive pruning; it’s nearly 300,000 words long which is way too many words! So, I will put my mind to writing objectively about it; there are lots and lots of things I can criticise in it, and a few things I can praise!
Considering criticisms first:
- It’s over written – a hundred words are used where ten would do
- There’s too much detail – every little action/thought/word of the characters is included; less is much, much more, and a more refined choice of what to include makes it more readable, powerful and interesting
- There’s too much emotion – yes emotional things happen to the characters, death of a beloved grandma, loss of a partner to another, difficult relations between parents and children/husbands and wives, betrayal, new love, lost love… but I need to eliminate many tears and much weeping! The reader needs to understand the difficulties, not have everything written in minute detail… show not tell!
- There needs to be more description of settings; it’s not a drama where the audience can see the scenery, I need to tell them what they are seeing!
- There are some surprises in the story – surprises for the characters and for the readers; however, in order for the reader to believe the unexpected could have happened and is not just a random whim on my part, there needs to be some back story. The reader has to understand how these unexpected things came about, but has to be told later, otherwise it wouldn’t be a surprise! Some of these back stories are complicated, and are told in detail; they are the ‘memories’ of a particular character. This is important, but sometimes I haven’t made it clear it’s a past event and not something happening in the present time line
- … and language… I fell into a trap I often warn about. When I wrote the story, several years ago, I used current idiom and jargon for the younger characters… But language has changed, gone out of fashion! I’ve always warned about using slang, it dates so quickly! Also… I fall into a trap of repeating words… even writing this I had to eliminate some ‘lots of’, ‘however’s’ and ‘also’s. However, I also use lots of clichés and truisms… you may have noticed!
- There’s plenty of action and movement – it isn’t just people in endless conversations, and the family falling out with each other over an inheritance… There’s a holiday-home scam, gangsters, murder, people-trafficking, bands and gigs, OCD… There are many plot lines not connected with the characters as family but as individuals
- There are a lot of related characters, but the way they are introduced reduces the muddle. If a confusion of names had been thrust at the reader all at once in the first few pages it would be a big disincentive to continue reading. The main character is an outside who meets them for the first time when they are together for Christmas, staying in ‘grandma’s’ large house. The visitor identifies them by associating their names with something else – Ruby has red hair, Alice blond hair like Alice in Wonderland, Carla is boyish so remembered as Carla/Carl and the twins are usually together so they’re always Nick and Tyrone
- The characters are ordinary people, a dentist, a teacher, someone who works in a book shop, another who has a music shop
- the different story-lines interweave, but the ‘outsider’ is always there to give perspective and allow for an objective view and explanation
- once the characters have been established, later in the novel their own particular stories are drawn out and narrated
- there’s an ending, a final scene, but their story continues… there’s no happy ending for them, although some of them are happy… others, like all of us, have ordinary lives which carry on with ups and downs
If you haven’t read any of my other novels, here is a link: