Advice to New Authors.


Introduction

Below follows a checklist of advice for new authors who are thinking about approaching an editor before publication. In writing this I hope to help authors avoid some of the potential pitfalls and later disappointment when their edited work comes back to them.

Do not submit a first-draft to an editor.

Just don’t. Do not do it. You may feel hugely relieved to have ‘finished’ your manuscript but unless you have undergone a process of honest and critical self-editing and revision, it is not really ‘finished’. It can take several months for an editor to work through your novel and you will be very disappointed if after going through that often costly process, your story is not ready for publishing. Editing is a necessity within the creative writing process, but there is only so much it can do. An editor cannot rewrite huge chunks of your work, and most of them won’t. An editor will not do the work for you, only so you can publish in your own name. If you want a research assistant or a ghost-writer to help, you will have to recruit and pay one. The developmental and stylistic editors’ role is to look at the work you have produced and suggest (not make) the changes they feel will improve the work. Copyediting and proofreading will only look at the clarity and clear-up typographical errors. An editor will not rewrite large chunks of your work but a good one will tell you what they like and how to improve what they don’t. Listen to their advice.

That said, there is nothing to stop you from joining a writer’s group to get feedback. Bear in mind, though, many members of these groups are in the same boat as you: unpublished new authors and they are human. I wouldn’t say to simply ‘ignore the negative comments’ or dismiss constructive critique as merely ‘negativity’ from competing authors. This feedback can be very valuable. It can point you in a direction you had not originally thought of taking your narrative or give you other ideas which help drive your story. If you take this advice, do remember who offered it in the acknowledgements. It’s only polite.

Write what you know, research what you don’t.

If you are in any doubt about certain details look them up, take copious notes, and use them. Do not guess and do not attempt to fudge through the manuscript, making details up as you go along. In long pieces, fudging details will result in plot inconsistencies which will be obvious to a reader and put off reading any more of your work. This is important when dealing with any genre but do not panic.

Use your first draft to guide your second by going through it and making a note of where you guessed details. It will require a great deal of time and honesty on your part but the end result will be worth the effort. There are a huge number of writing guides available on the market to help guide you in your research. I will provide a list of suggestions for sources and guides at the end of this post.

Use an outline

This will help you to avoid plot inconsistencies. If you don’t have one, make one. This will provide a frame upon which you hang your story. For instance, if your main character is a PI and was last seen tailing their mark through the back alleys of Shanghai, you cannot have them, in the next chapter, and only two hours later, sunning themselves on a beach in California, having forgotten key details about their job. An outline will help you organise your story into general points. Get yourself a massive block of drawing paper (A1 or A2 if you can), some felt tips, and some big and brightly coloured post-it notes to write your ideas on and mind map it. Once you are happy with it, drag out the blue tac to fix those notes down (you don’t them falling off) and pin that outline where you can see it. Then if you have an idea later on in the writing process consult your outline before just writing it in. Does it really fit the narrative? If it doesn’t, you will have saved yourself a great deal of work. If it does, you will be able to see how to weave in your ends and not have them trailing from your finished piece (forgive the textiles analogy).

Make sure your story line is clear and all action is relevant, driving your story.

Quantity is not the same as quality. The minutiae of opening doors and sitting to tables is not needed. If it has nothing to do with the plot such as a character slamming a door to demonstrate a bad temper or obstruct an attacker or searching a room for an object, leave it out.

Make sure your main characters are prominent and well fleshed out.

Don’t be tempted to introduce too many main protagonists, or add them as you go along. Use your outline to help you consider which characters you will need and keep it to a minimum. If there are too many, you risk upstaging your protagonist. Again, this can be fixed if you have already started, or completed your first draft. Go through it chapter by chapter and consider whether their action is in character. Can it be

To be believable, characters must be multi-faceted and nuanced. Make their wants and needs clear. Even in fantasy, nobody is either all good, or all bad. ‘Good’ characters are not flawless. What makes them interesting is how they overcome those flaws. Nor are ‘bad’ character’s all bad. Everyone has reasons for acting the way they do and these must be made clear to your audience. However, these do not have to be revealed all in one go. For instance, the Evil Queen in the TV series ‘Once Upon a Time’, acted out of revenge against Snow White whom she felt was the party responsible for the death of the young man she actually loved. She was then manipulated, by her power-hungry mother, into a loveless marriage to a man three times her age just because he was a king. The Evil Queen became consumed by her grief and went on a murderous and devastating campaign to revenge herself against the cause of that pain. The series opened with the promise ‘to destroy the happiness’ of everyone in attendance of the wedding of Snow and Prince Charming, and worked back, revealing Regina’s path to that moment.

In Orson Scott Card’s ‘Speaker for the Dead’, (if you have not read this, I recommend you do) the now adult Andrew Wiggin having discovered the enormity of what he had done as a child, had never returned to earth. His own fictional work ‘The Hive Queen’ and the ‘Hegemon’ had reduced the name ‘Ender’ from a symbol of heroism and saviour of humanity to an epithet ‘Ender the xenocide’. These books told the whole truth of the situations of the people about which they were written with nothing hidden. The Speakers were not there to give either vilifying post-mortem expose’s or shining accolades, but to give a true accounting of the life of the dead with all their flaws and virtues laid out. This is how to treat your characterisation.

Individual character bios could help you to get to know them and an even better perk is that they can be updated for use in sequels or series. Don’t go into too much depth with these, though, especially with characters’ physical appearance. You don’t want to end up bogged down in small details, but it will enable you to refer back to earlier books if you have crib-sheet to work from. Index cards are a very easy way to do this. If you are feeling especially adventurous, a character database would also be useful.

Is your setting well defined and clear to the reader?

Whether you are writing a Sci-fi novel or a work of Historical fiction, your world and setting must be clear to the reader (more so for the latter than the former). Your world needs physical rules which will in turn place limitations on action, you can’t have a crusading knight whipping out a smartphone to take a selfie with Edessa burning in the background (Okay, a time-travelling knight could possibly manage this, but why?). Be clear before you start. When does your story happen? Where does it take place? How does location affect the action of the story? Knowing these details, and working them into the narrative will help bring your world to life. If it is vague and non-specific you will struggle to maintain the interest of the reader AND you will run into the issue of inconsistency within your narrative.

For more posts about writing, please follow my other blog, AnnaProofing

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Hope everyone is enjoying their midwinter break.


Two more days left of 2016, and it has been quite an eventful year. In the latter half of this year, I not only finished my degree but have taken a somewhat, though not wholly, unexpected turn in my plans, career wise.  It’s also about this time of year where I give

Two more days left of 2016, and it has been quite an eventful year. In the latter half of this year, I not only finished my degree but have taken a somewhat, though not wholly, unexpected turn in my plans, career wise.  It’s also about this time of year where I give myself a self-audit regarding where I am, where I want to be and how I plan to get there. Don’t worry I am not going to drop everything and start backpacking around Asia or something. Travelling is simply not feasible…yet.  The other reason is that I would rather spend the money on my kit for Viking re-enactment.

I knew from the age of around 15 that I wanted to do something involving writing.  Sadly, I allowed my parents and teachers discourage me.  To cut a long boring story short, I am getting another crack at the whip. When I began my studies in February of 2011, I had my heart set on teaching History in a classroom setting. I got keener as I progressed but in the last year or so I have been considering my Plan B options: Open University grading policy has meant that my results were not what I needed them to be to get on to any of the training courses. I had certainly not seen myself as a self-employed Freelancer I cannot say that it wasn’t a disappointment because the same results from a ‘brick’ university would have got me a 2:1 or even a first, but what’s done is done.  I still managed it while looking after 3 kids, so yay me.  I am sure my sleep patterns will recover soon, and this (theoretically) lets me off taking my maths GCSE. Again (shudder). That said, I am thinking of taking it anyway just so I have that apparently necessary C that I have managed quite happily without for the last 16 years. I am yet to find a practical use, in my field, for knowing how to calculate the area of a circle.

A suggestion from a fellow editor made me give editing and proofreading a go and I am glad I took him up on his advice.  I love it and have since set myself up as a freelancer. This means I have the freedom to set my own hours.  It has also taught me that I not only need to learn when to stop working and think about something else for a while but actually do it. Looks like I have a New Year’s resolution to keep for next year. I am feeling extremely positive about this new direction.  It’s a teaching role (of sorts), just the one I was expecting and I will get to use all my skills.

NaNoWriMo was an eye-opener, to say the least.  I gave it a good shot, but I then ended up with a beta-read that I couldn’t turn down.  Next year I’m going to make sure I schedule enough time to do my own writing. I have an idea lined up but I have a strict ‘no spoilers’ rule.  It will give me plenty of time to finish the first draft of this month’s, edit and get it ready for publishing. I’m really excited about this too.  NaNoWriMo gave me the boot up the bum to make a real start on it. The Densewords ‘Readworthy Fiction’ course (available via Udemy) is also proving to be a massive help where printed writers’ guides were not. I would recommend it to any author.

Finally, 2017 will be the year I get my driving license.  I have procrastinated for long enough.  I will be 36 in April and have decided that now it’s time to stop being a massive wussy and do it.

To-do-List for 2017.

  • Finish first-draft of my first novel, (for publishing in December 2017)
  • Learn to drive
  • Retake maths (yuck)
  • Learn when to stop.

Call to action!

What are your top four priorities for 2017?

Graduation Day


Well, that’s it. After 5 years I have graduated from the Open University, and it has been one hell of a ride.  I began in earnest in 2011, after deciding that what I really wanted more than anything else was a career in teaching.  The enormous support and encouragement from my husband also helped me keep going, especially in those moments when I was disappointed over a grade, or the workload was battling with other responsibilities (3 kiddos, moving twice etc). I have made more than a few self discoveries about my own abilities. The most important realisation has been that I cannot let others set my horizons for me.  I will no longer allow others to tell me what I am, or am not, capable of before I have even had the chance to try.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t come up against some opposition to both my choice to take an OU degree and my desire to become a teacher. Reasons ranged from, “It’ll be hard” (as if that was ever a good reason not to do something), “but teaching doesn’t pay much” (teaching is a calling, not a money spinner,) and “But it’s not like a real degree from a proper university?” (I have really lost count of how many times I have explained that the OU is a ‘proper’ university, and it’s actually harder to get a passing grade.). Despite this, I think at least in part due to a healthy dose of belligerence and general bloody-minded determination to have my own way, I completed it.   Right, that’s the griping done: I studied, I learned, I gave up sleep and developed a caffeine addiction (okay, MORE of a caffeine addiction).

This morning I woke up with the jitters. I’m talking mutant butterflies here people! The stress of the lying google maps app, which fails to mention road works and sends you on a random route round the diversions, hadn’t helped but we arrived in one piece and on time. Managed to race through check in, explained that we had to bring our 3 year old because the nursery was closed that day due to training, for which they were highly sympathetic and gave us an extra refreshment voucher. Kudos to OU for being family friendly.

Next up was robes, pictures, and yes, more queuing. This is the point where it actually did begin to feel real.  I had done this. Despite kids, and despite life, I had worked my socks off and actually achieved something (big drum roll here), and I wasn’t beating myself up about it.  I deserved to be there. That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t cringing for the official photo. If my grandad and parents hadn’t wanted one, I wouldn’t have gone for it. I even managed a smile. (Those who know me, know my feelings about photos of me.  Lets just say I am happier at the other end of the lens).

Being around ‘people’ in large numbers has never been one of my happy places so the prospect of getting on stage in front of a large number of people that I did not know was not an idea I was relishing.  I just fixed my eye on Sean and Henry, and tried to ignore the rest of the audience.  That said, I managed to queue by the stage for my diploma, collect it, cross the stage and get back to my seat without falling on my face/off the stage/both without social anxiety kicking in and freaking out.

The speech form the now honorary doctor of the university, was highly informative and very moving and I encourage you to watch it here. It’s the Birmingham 2016 one but it’s not up just yet. If you follow the comments for this post, I can let you know when its up.