Few days ago I wrote about me picking and joining an online critique group – among the many available I chose Critique Circle.
Right after joining up and getting through the confirmation email process I started their “Welcome to CC” routine which left me with enough credits to submit my first piece of writing. It was up for its one week critique timeframe starting 6th of January. After submitting it all I had to do was wait and browse the forum. And of course – critique other writer’s work.
What can I say? This is fun and help at the same time. I like reading those bits and pieces of other writers. We are all just trying to hone our skills, advance our word-smithing and learn to put onto paper what we think someone else might enjoy reading. After a few days of critiquing several stories in different categories I have noticed that I do learn a lot – from the mistakes of others. Usually, when you buy a book there has been done some polishing going on with the original manuscript. Whatever writer, agent, editor, and publisher possible could do they did to make it as good as it gets. You don’t really get to see writings fresh from the author, let alone examples of the first rough draft.
So sometimes it is (at least for me) a little intimidating because as reader I don’t get to see all the work that went into the manuscript to make it smooth like it is when finally printed. But now I could (can!) see exactly that. And be part of it.
Whenever I notice something off in my fellow writer buddies texts, I learn. May it be a switch in POV, seemingly endless overuse of adverbs, weird dialogue tags, warped sentence structure … If I can spot it in their work, I might stand a chance to spot it in my own one day. I have since realised that spotting these things in the writings of others is a lot easier than spotting it in my own. But I figure writing is a craft like any other. The more you learn, the better you get.
During the week following Jan 6th I got seven critiques for my first submission. These helped me to come to a decision regarding my WIP. Apparently my English skills are good enough to justify me proceeding in English language. This was one of my major concerns.
So, a few days ago I was in Munich visiting with Mel, Sara and Laura. Mel and Sara are not only writers like me – they are authors not less, both having a book due in Feb 2016.
We talked about my issues of finding someone who might review my writings regarding style and language skill. I am still wondering if it will be feasible to proceed writing in English. Maybe it would be better for my progress and my chances of ever getting published if I were to write in German.
Long story short, I got some advise how I might achieve finding a critique partner. Gonna set that on my bucket list for 2016.
Last night I tackled the third part of How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published. The authors discuss all kinds of style-related topics. Some made me laugh, some made me nod, some concerned me.
What made me laugh was the part about overly chatoyant choice of words and highfaluting terminology. What made me nod was the part about using vocabulary your expected reader will be able to understand. And it concerned me when the authors pointed out that one has to take special care when using not-so-common words. As the writer I need to make sure I have fully grasp the concept of the word myself before I use it.
If your read my About Me page you may know that I am German. Yet I write in english. Not exclusively, but chiefly. Writing is hard enough in your native tongue. When you write in a foreign language it is even more difficult. Concerned I reached out to Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark via Twitter (@sannewman and @HMittelmark) and almost instantly got some words of encouragement. “Native speakers get them wrong too. You might have the advantage of being forced to think before you write.” Howard wrote back. Thank you again! That actually is true. I spend a lot of time choosing words – especially when at first it sounds a little off. Now I am more resolved then ever to include an editor into the process _before_ I will show anything to a potential agent.
And here are some more points I took to heart from Part III – Style:
- Exclamation marks are like speed bumps and almost exclusively reserved for dialogue. Use with utmost care.
- While describing something or someone: no “bullet” lists, no explaining the obvious.
- avoid time-jumps/gaps in the timeline
- Using “said” is divine (I think I read that one in Stephen Kings On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft, too) – “asked” and “shouted” when the character does so.
- Dialect and different speech mannerisms can help the reader recognise certain characters.
Here we go – I finished Part II of How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published – which concentrates on character development and character representation within your novel.
The authors, Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark, raise some very interesting points and include a Pop Quiz at the end of this part. I took the quiz – and apparently I suck. Way to much stereotyping and it seems my characters would behave to predictable, too. Dang! But hey, first step to solve a problem is knowing there is one. Now I know I will have to look into this and become better.
What did I learn? Here are some points I think are most important:
- Don’t over-describe, don’t stereotype, no perfect people with perfect manners, thoughts and traits – they would be boring.
- Ideas and mindset of the character has to fit into the time-setting of the story.
- The villain needs a reason for his actions. The reader should be able to at least understand, but not necessarily relate to it – e.g. opportunity, money, revenge… . And the foe can’t be other-worldly smart nor a low-key opponent.
Additionally I learned new things about the roles of lovers/friends of my character and how to weave them into the social web of my story. I especially loved the box with the bulleted list naming traits and items that might make the reader dislike my character instantly.
If you read, you learn something new every day.
Currently I am reading How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. Today I finished Part 1 where they describe plot related common mistakes new writers often do. Some of the points they bring up I knew already. Some issues were new to me – or at least I never thought about them in the way they are described and explained. Of course it all makes perfect sense as soon as you read it in the book.
The best points for me – either as new or as a good reminder of something I already knew – were
- everything I include is my own conscious choice so I better make it count. If I do mention something, it should have some meaning to the story. Otherwise the reader will be disappointed. This includes characters, items, obstacles or other issues I mention
- if characters got some special traits or abilities which will be important in the plot I can’t wait to the point those become relevant and just dump it on the reader. I will need to weave it in beforehand so it does not come as a “oh – I just save the day with my special skill I never mentioned before now”- moment.
- I already knew never to repeat information I already gave to the reader. What was new was that I should avoid “scenes with similar settings for a specific issue” too. No déjà vu, please.
- Don’t dispose of evil adversaries to easily. If they bother my protagonist, they can’t disappear conveniently.
- Don’t cheat at the end. There are no miracle solutions coming pulled out of thin air. If the lead does not solve the issues in a satisfying way, then the ending is rubbish.
And now – Part two of the book!