Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Sue Dawes' self-editing checklist for prose fiction


Based on my experience as a writer and my experience working as a part-time editor for 'The Writers' Company', I have put together a self-editing checklist for beginners. This is based on the things I look for when I edit a manuscript and from reading widely around the subject.

Characters      

 

  • ·      Is it clear to the reader what your characters look like? E.g. height, weight, clothing, hair colour, monster qualities (if applicable).
  • ·      Do we know what motivates them to act - what drives them?
  • ·      Do we know what they fear and love?
  • ·      Do they have a tic or habit when nervous? E.g. pushing their hair behind an ear.
  • ·      Can each character be easily distinguished, or will the reader be muddled?
  • ·      Perhaps they are a bit flat? What could you add to fully realise them? 
  • ·      Have you avoided stereotypes and other, over-used descriptions (golden hair, twinkling blue eyes etc)?
  • ·      Is there consistency? Does Fred suddenly start wearing glasses halfway through the story?

 

Dialogue

 

  • ·      Is your dialogue authentic in terms of the diction and dialect of your character? Is it age appropriate?
  • ·      Does it say what it needs to without over-explaining?
  • ·      Have you remembered to remove anything the character already knows? E.g. a child talking to their parent would not say ‘I am your son’ - find a different way to show this information.
  • ·      If you strip the dialogue from the text, is your character’s voice recognisable without relying on speech tags? 
  • ·      Have you used contractions within speech (‘they’ve’ rather than ‘they have’)?
  • ·      Is there a good balance of dialogue and description?

 

Point of View 

 

  • ·      Have you chosen the best way to tell your story? E.g. might switching ‘I’ to ‘he/she/they’ give you more distance from your character?
  • ·      Is the right (or most interesting) character telling the story? 
  • ·      Is your point of view consistent throughout the story?
  • ·      Have you checked (if you have chosen close third or first person) that you are not jumping into other character’s head and explaining how they feel?

 

Setting

 

  • ·      Is the setting recognisable to someone who is unfamiliar with it?
  • ·      Have you used metaphor and other imagery to describe it?
  • ·      Have you focused in on the detail?
  • ·      Does the sense of place add to the conflict/ atmosphere of the story? Might a different setting work harder?
  • ·      Does your character interact with the setting? How?
  • ·      If your character moves around, is it clear to the reader that the setting has changed?

 

Language

 

  • ·      Watch out for cliché!
  • ·      Have you used all the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch?
  • ·      Have you checked that you’ve used appropriate imagery without overusing or mixing your metaphors? E.g. her coat was as green as the Kale smoothies she liked but it smelt like the inside of a shoe and rotting seaweed that pops like blisters. 
  • ·      Have you overwritten any passages that might be simplified?
  • ·      Are there sections that might benefit from more detail?
  • ·      Have you checked for duplications in your descriptions? E.g. the narrow road was thin (where narrow and thin mean the same thing)
  • ·      Have you checked your spelling and grammar?

 

Structure

 

  • ·      Do you need your first paragraph or is it backstory? Could it be cut?
  • ·      Is there an inciting incident near the beginning that triggers the character to act?
  • ·      Is there a good balance of conflict and action (emotional or otherwise) to draw the reader in and keep their attention?
  • ·      Have you thought about the different types of conflict you might include within your story (with the self, with others, environmental etc)?
  • ·      Does your story slow down too much in the middle – do you need to add something to lift it (an incident or a chance meeting with another character perhaps)?
  • ·      Do you have an ‘all is lost’ moment?
  • ·      Have you used the best narrative style to tell your story?  E.g. chronological or non-linear.
  • ·      Is the plot convincing?
  • ·      Is there a resolution? Has your character or their circumstance changed by the end?
  • ·      Does your title work hard enough?


Here is an example of a simple character arc using the story of Cinderella.
  You might find using a table like this useful for your characters.

 

Name

What do they want?

What stops them

Who helps them

All is lost when …

But is it?

Do they succeed?

Cinderella

To escape from servitude

Their sisters, stepmother & their circumstance

Fairy godmother

They meet the handsome prince, but the clock strikes 12

They have tiny feet which works in their favour

They wed the prince and escape their family.

Ugly sister

To find a husband/ marry royalty

Their looks and personality

Their mother

A beautiful stranger rocks up at the ball and the prince is besotted.

Yes. Feet are too lumpy to fit in the magic shoe

No. Karma!

 

Layout

 

  • ·      Is your layout as per the requirements for submission? Always check the guidance. 
  • ·      Have you used a standard font for ease of reading?
  • ·      Have you checked your word count?

 

And lastly, the very best thing you can do before you submit is to find a reader to give you honest feedback. If you decide to give feedback to a friend, remember - be positive!

 

  • ·      Let them know what works well
  • ·      Let them know if there is anything that confuses you
  • ·      Discuss a solution or creative idea.


 

 Further reading


  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Writing fiction by Linda Anderson & Derek Neale
  • Story by Robert McKee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 8 October 2021

Speedwriting by Helen Chambers



Do you scribble new pieces at high speed, or take a leisurely stroll through them?

I’m a slow writer. I favour letting an idea simmer at the back of my mind (weeks, sometimes months) before even putting pen to paper. When an idea is half-formed, I write - often still working out what it’s about. Once I have some sort of structure, I transfer it to the computer and begin the fun stuff: editing, pruning, tweaking, counting words, reading aloud (so long as no one is listening) and then resting it (drawer time) so I can revisit with a fresh eye. 


Usually.


But speeding is fun. Recently, I attempted the ‘Furious Fiction’ competition, run by the Australian Writer’s Centre. We had a setting, four words (earth, wind, water and fire) an item (insect) to include, and a 500 word limit, submission in two days (give or take, depending on time zones).


High on adrenaline, I wrote a story in one evening, edited on and off throughout the next day, and submitted. Sadly, the story wasn’t placed, but I’ve got another story to work with. What an exhilarating way to write! 


The following month, despite reading the prompt, inspiration didn’t strike, so it clearly isn’t a regular occurrence for me.


Over the years, some of us at Wivenhoe Writers have entered the NYC Midnight competitions (micro, flash and short story, at different times). You’re allocated a genre and specific prompts - and have to submit within 24 hours. 


Retreat West’s monthly micro (100 word) competition allows 10 days from prompt to submission, which I find a pretty tight deadline!


We all know how a submission deadline focuses our minds. Writing and submitting a story almost overnight pushed me right out of my comfort zone with a surprising result, and I’ll definitely try it again.

Sunday, 8 August 2021

FlashFlood: 'Fresh Air' by Philippa Hawley

It was great to take part in this annual event. 'Fresh Air' was first published on National Flash Fiction Day's website as part of Flash Flood on 26th June 2021 when a story of fewer than 300 words was posted every 10 minutes FlashFlood: 'Fresh Air' by Philippa Hawley: Our together home has long forgotten us Norman but I’ve not lost the memory of the haunted air it held within, redolent of kitchen sink and ...





Another member of Wivenhoe writers, Sue Dawes, also had an entry in flash flood that day. 'Keeping the Wolf from the door'.



Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Microfiction by Sue Whytock


Here at Wivenhoe Writers we have been writing micro fiction during lockdown. Before joining the group, I had never written anything shorter than 1,000 words. I had never considered writing micro-fiction, had always seen myself as a short story writer and memoirist. Now, though, I am converted.

My conversion to the micro or fast fiction form came via The Scottish Book Trust and a monthly competition they run called ‘50 Word Fiction’. The competition is free to enter and has four categories to submit to: Adults, Gaelic, Young Writers aged 12 – 18 and Young Writers aged 5 – 11. Every month there is a theme and the theme must feature in your story of no more than 50 words. I have entered many times, with themes as diverse as Wildflowers, A Mountain Walk, Sewing and Hello, From the Future. These prompts are fantastic writing exercises in themselves and they have changed my attitude towards fast fiction. I have now written for competitions where the word limits range from 100 to 360 to 500 and 1000 words.

These micro fiction pieces have value in themselves but can also be extended and incorporated into ideas for a longer piece of fiction. Various members of Wivenhoe Writers have entered the competition; Helen Chambers has been successful and won it and I have just won the latest competition – the theme was exercise and each of submitted a story as a writing group…exercise.

What is striking is the variety of responses to the same theme and we have shared our work in the group and made suggestions for edits and improvements to one another, so it has really been a collaborative creative process. If you are feeling ‘blocked’ or if a more substantial piece of work feels overwhelming at the moment, I can recommend diving into micro-fiction and The Scottish Book Trust is a great place to start.

The current theme is ‘seal’ and the deadline is March 30th. Find my winning entry here on the Scottish Book Trust website.

Examples from Wivenhoe Writers on the theme Exercise are below:

*****

Kenneth worshipped physical fitness. He prostrated himself on its altar daily via exercise bike and abs-cruncher, and spent squillions on a personal trainer, but still the flab remained around his middle. A mystery.

Passing the baker’s window he considered which delicious pie he would take home and enjoy tonight.

*****

Sprint on the spot; squat, lunge, stretch, repeat.

Sprint after dustcart with bin bags.

Lunge, struggle with children’s maths, stretch for answers. Feed squabbling children, burpees after lunch.

Sit up for video call.

Squat to clean kitchen floor.

Plunge arms in washing up.

Plank onto the sofa, stretch.

Repeat tomorrow.

*****

Priya recalls her instructor’s voice. ‘Bring yourself into the room.’ Concentrating on the now, Priya breathes in and blows out, remembers to drop her shoulders and engage. Prone to backache, she adjusts her posture accordingly. ‘Exercise your writing muscles daily,’ the voice repeats. Priya taps the keyboard and types.

***** 

She leaned on the pedal and they were off, slowly, a rusty creak with each turn of the wheel. Sluggish tyres crunched and complained on the path as she clutched the age-spotted handlebars.

‘Aye you and me both,’ she murmured, ‘but it’s a fine day for a birl.’

If you would like to learn more about the craft, Helen Chambers runs a micro-fiction course for The Writers’ Company and several of our own Wivenhoe Writers’ have attended the course and found it inspiring and stimulating. Her winning Scottish Book Trust microfiction can be found here on her blog and is entitled: 'A Day at the Seaside'
.



Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Motivation in lockdown



Writing can be a solitary process and even more so in a lockdown. As a writing group, we needed motivation, so in our monthly Zoom meeting we chose a local competition to enter, with just a week until the deadline. The rules of the competition were simple, to use the sentence ‘the drum was lying in a slowly-spreading puddle’ within a story and limit it to 500 words.

It is not the easiest sentence to include without it standing out, but the resulting stories were diverse, from comedy to myth, and all hid the words within the text in creative ways. While none of us won the competition, it was the push we needed to put pen to paper (or fingers on keyboards). Below are paragraphs from each story from the group, which contained the obligatory sentence:

Extract 1
We tug and yank and it crashes onto the tarmac. We watch the drum, lying in a slowly spreading puddle of precious gin which trickles away. As if by magic, several creditors appear, and once I’ve paid them off, there’s nothing but air. No sign of the old bat. Worse still, here’s Daddy, hands on hips, glowering at me.

Extract 2
Robbie thwacks with his drumstick again. The wool strap snaps and the ruptured thing flies from him. The drum lies in a slowly spreading puddle, sinking. Robbie squeals and I feel the tears stinging my eyes. I wait for his howls and want to howl with him too, but instead he looks up at me.

Extract 3
Bin day, two weeks ago and the youths were kicking balls at my rubbish again. Last time I complained at a committee meeting but Linda says they’ve nothing to do, the young people. She’s got three; likes to shove it down my throat. Anyway, I’d had enough and I went after them. Result: I got a load of abuse, lid got chucked into next door and the drum was lying in a slowly-spreading puddle…of ‘bin juice’ Mr Number 3 called it - or Rob - when he came over to help. 

Extract 4
A blushing Margot giggled, ‘I could use the twelve drummers.’ 
 ‘There’s a problem,’ Chomley chipped in. ‘The Drum Major slipped in the rain last week and fell into a huge pothole in the High Street. 
 ‘Oh no,’ said Margot with exaggerated shock, looking askance at Farmer John.
 ‘Yes, and it’s your wretched farm carts that cause all the potholes Councillor John,’ Chomley said. 
‘Poor man has concussion and his best bass drum was left lying in a slowly-spreading puddle. It was late at night, hours before a good Samaritan came to the rescue and the drum is ruined.’ 
 ‘It’s you who never gets the roads repaired,’ Farmer John barked at the clerk. ‘But surely they can manage with eleven drummers.’

Extract 5
The caravan was on its side, the water drum splintered in two, and the awning bleached and torn. It was stripped of possessions: the tapestry rugs her mother had woven their stories into, the thick blankets to protect against the cold nights and the food stores: strips of dried cane rat. All gone.        
It must have been bandits who took it, for the drum was lying in a slowly-spreading puddle of milk. Her family would have fought hard to conserve that resource - the difference between life and death.  She looked at the shape of the dunes. 
A set of damp footprints led west.

Extract 6
When Jose returned from his game of hopscotch to take a sip of his lemonade, yellow and flecked with tiny pieces of lemon already warm from the afternoon sunshine, he glanced down to make sure his drum was still where he left it. He noticed the drum was lying in a slowly spreading puddle.
 ‘What happened to my drum?’ Jose said in a sharp voice which made everyone stop talking and stare at his indignant face.

The most important part of the competition was the collaboration involved in the process – the writing together. The exercise produced six stories which were passed between the group for feedback. The competition gave us a sense of purpose and community, and in the end, new creative work to edit and improve. It broke the block.