Wednesday 30 November 2011

My Word Sins

I noticed a 'word cloud', a graphic illustration of your most frequently used words, on my very talented writer friend’s blog, thanks Sandie,  and couldn’t resist having a play around myself. First, I looked at my blog and the result was interesting. I loved the layout and was pleased that writing related words achieved greatest prominence - or should I say, I was relieved that writing achieved any prominence at all; I do aim to talk about writing related subjects here, even if I have been known to get a little distracted. 

But I winced when I saw an entry which would have had my English teacher racing for her red pen. ‘Get,’ had crept in at the sidelines. I quickly deleted it but then decided that this wasn’t really in the spirit of things so put my scissors away before I got to ‘however’.

This took me to my ‘completed’ novel, Glass Houses. Did I dare to do the word cloud for that? I have already edited it so many times and checked for recurrences of the words on Jackie’s Danger List, pinned to my pc. These are words I know would offend the eye in their quantity if left unchecked, such as, ‘just’, ‘finally’, ‘now’ and ‘look’, plus my very worst offender,  ‘really’. But I wondered if the word cloud would suggest some others, such as ‘but’ (already causing me a little uneasiness in this post.) From a twenty page snapshot, the result was that, ‘get’ was a little too large for comfort, ‘really’ was still hanging around and I couldn’t understand why ‘back’ was as frequently used as some character names. ‘Like’ also still taunted me, even though I’ve spent hours analysing each and every occurrence of ‘like’ in the book and feel I’ve deleted or changed them wherever humanly possible.

I wasn’t surprised that the main characters were large but it took me to a question I ask myself constantly: do I use the character names too often when they could be substituted for a pronoun? Getting the balance right on this is tricky, particularly with two characters of the same sex in one scene – too many ‘she’ and you’re left with a character with four hands able to perform fascinating contortion, together with instant variations in hair length with two interchanging colours. You see my difficulty?

I looked at my current work-in-process, Misguidance. Would the characters’ names be as large and would there be a higher incidence of ‘bad’ words as I haven’t even thought about editing this yet?

Again, the main characters are unsurprisingly large but ‘Sarah’ is huge so I need to keep a check on my over-naming tendencies. ‘like’ has slipped itself in again and we have ‘back’ rearing its ugly head. ‘Back’ troubles me the most, it wasn’t a word I was aware I used plentifully at all.

So, thanks to Sandie, and a five minute diversion, I’m trawling through Glass Houses again and writing a check-list for Misguidance. Thankfully, I enjoy editing and love finding something new to look at because that nugget might just be the element which changes a potential publisher’s ‘no’ to a ‘yes’.

What are your most oft used words and phrases? If you write, have a go yourself at: Just copy and paste your text and then share the results with us, simple. Thanks for reading!

Friday 18 November 2011

Touching with my Fingertips

T’is a cruel world, sometimes. This dropped into my in-box yesterday.

Dear Ms Buxton

Thank you for the opportunity to read 'Glass Houses'. It is a beautifully written novel and an absolute pleasure to read. Your characters are alive - exquisitely so - and the story driving the novel pulses. Tori's situation is touching and current; it evokes empathy and concern in the reader yet somehow shies away from dominating the emotional appeal of other characters.

I have discussed this work at length with my colleagues and although we are undisputedly impressed with the strength of the writing, and though we do believe there is a market for the work, we do not feel it will sit comfortably on our lists going forward. In recent years we have been forced to reduce our lists and as a result we are becoming increasingly selective – and sometimes harsh – about the acquisition of new titles. 

I’m sorry this isn’t the response you were hoping for, but thank you for thinking of [Publisher].  We wish you luck in finding a home for your work elsewhere and may I offer my congratulations for your literary successes thus far.

Kind regards,[Publisher]

Generally, I’d sooner eat strawberry jelly with pips in than post my failings but I do realise that when my first submission passed over the post office counter, with its heavy dose of longing and anticipation and a sprinkling of fairy dust, I’d have been ecstatic to have got this response. I am buoyed by the fact that a publisher sees a market for it and that the characters had the desired effect. I've had some great feedback in response to a reading of the full manuscript before but none where I was quite so close to touching a 'yes' with my fingertips.  I will submit Glass Houses again today. I have the small matter of approximately 30,000 words of the first draft of my second novel to write before my self-imposed deadline of February 2012 so have absolutely no time for wallowing. This publishing lark may oscillate between cruel and uplifting but at least it’s never, ever dull. 

Tuesday 8 November 2011

That Synopsis Thing

I’m a bit of a fan of the decidedly non-crabby Crabbit Old Bat, AKA, Nicola Morgan, and her brilliant blog full of tips for wannabe writers. I first came across Nicola’s writing when I read, ‘Blame My Brain,’ a book about that fascinating, sometimes unfathomable phenomenon that is a teenager’s mind. If you have anything like a, ‘normal’ adolescent in your house and ever feel that you should scrap everything you learnt in the first twelve years of parenting, I urge you to take a read – then hand it to your child.

Nicola has written over 90 other fiction and non-fiction books and her next is to be on the dreaded art of synopsis writing. When I saw that she was looking for guinea pigs to offer up their fledgling synopsis for the scrutiny of her and fellow blog readers, I was tempted. Why would I wish to expose the inadequacies of my synopsis to the red pen of an expert and hundreds of eagle-eyed writers? Because of its importance. Get the synopsis wrong and agents and publishers don’t read your manuscript. That’s it.

And so for that reason, wincing, my finger hovering, I eventually pressed ‘send’.

The fairy story writer inside me would love to say that Nicola responded with an apology that she would not be able to use my synopsis as an example as it was far too perfect already. Unsurprisingly, this was not the case but no matter, the feedback opened my eyes to the fact that my synopsis committed an obvious sin: it did not tell the story of my book. Simple.

I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to redress this issue and have just sent it back to Nicola for ‘marking’. Of course my fear is that she reads the new version with her head in her hands, swaying from side to side, pausing only to sigh with disappointment. But in my more rational moments, I will admit to this version being better. I shall wait to hear back from Nicola before deciding if I’ve achieved my objective of writing a synopsis which reflects the plot and style of Glass Houses as I’d like it to read - but I already feel confident that I know what I need to do, even if it takes a few more attempts.

I won’t include either version here, you’ll have to buy Nicola’s book, Write a Great Synopsis (working title) for yourself, but I thought it might be useful to share with you what I’ve learnt:

1.      Tell the story
This is at the crux of the mission. By all means write your synopsis well, showing that you have the tools for the job, but make sure your story joins up.  It doesn’t matter how nicely the synopsis is written, your submission will be rejected if your novel doesn’t sound like it would sell. Fact first, then style.

2.      Be accurate; don’t be ambiguous
I realised that my previous synopsis had lead readers to believe that x, y and z would happen when really it was a, b and c. This was quite terrifying! I needed to go right back to the beginning and think about everything along the route to the end of the novel, choosing more carefully what events I included and more crucially, what I chose to leave out.

3.      Cut to the chase
When I took out the superfluous words and detail as suggested, I realised how short on content the synopsis really was and exactly why the plot would come across as ‘thin’ for a 100,000 word novel. I’d included too many examples to show the same point and needed to show more events, writing less detail about each one.

4.      Show a stranger
I’ve asked long-suffering friends and fellow writers to look over my synopsis in the past but these people have all read some, or all, of Glass Houses. They would be able to fill in the blanks as I can, meaning that they, too, wouldn’t be in a position to fairly judge how accurately the synopsis tells the story.  Next time I will show my synopsis to a total stranger (of course hoping that they are compelled to jot down the title for future purchase, so intrigued are they by the plot).

I’m indebted to Nicola and all the fellow writers who took the time to feedback their thoughts and suggestions. I’m not claiming my synopsis is perfect but it’s certainly closer to selling my book than it was. Thank you.

Happy scribbling!


BTW…not wishing to depress anyone with my list, I should add that I have submitted Glass Houses to 18 agents and publishers and been asked to send the full manuscript to five of them. (It’s currently with a publisher, donations of fairy dust very gratefully received.) So, I don’t think an inadequate synopsis is an absolute show stopper. But it could be so why take that chance?