Creative Criticism

The editor’s report on my first novel will be available at the beginning of next week.  Apparently, it is common practice now in the UK for a writer to pay for an editor’s report before most agents will even consider taking on a new writer.   On a positive note, however, agents generally don’t tell writers to seek editorial help unless they think the story in question shows promise.

Meanwhile, I met with the local novelist group for my first feedback session on my current novel, a psychological thriller dealing with repressed memories and flashbacks.   The members of the group think my writing has improved substantially, especially in connection to scene setting, but feel there are fundamental problems with the plot, character interactions and overall structure.  Too many names of places and people too early on.  One member, in particular, thought I was concentrating too much on creating suspense.  

So it’s back to the basics of plot and structure.


Pounds, Pence & Words

There’s an old saying that goes something like “take care of the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves.”  

I think the same could be applied to creative writing, particularly novel writing.   In my last post, I described why I’ve chosen to revise my novel writing on a weeky basis  rather than concentrate on getting the draft completed.  Obviously, my writing method won’t necessarily work for everyone, but here’s one reason why I think it has merit.   It allows you to correct more noticeable problems as you go.    (I struggle with dialogue and plot, in particular.)    

Approaching  a piece of writing from a critical and analytical angle enables a writer to tackle the problems relatively early on.   Also, it helps with the overall word count.   By paying close attention to problematic or abrupt passages, you can actually increase the word count considerably – a bit like those pennies taking care of the pounds.  Obviously, if a writer is able to hurry events and dialogue along, my approach won’t help at all, but do consider it if you’re having problems.

An e-Book Review

e-Book review of Manhunt

Manhunt, written by Jack Holbrook, is the first of a series of novellas featuring Detective Constable Alexandra Bertolissio of the Queensland Police Service. Alexandra has a number of family issues and is undervalued in her job. In Manhunt, the detective is assigned to the murder of a young woman. After a second murder, Alexandra becomes suspicious of a young man seen close to the murder site and requests a search warrant of his premises, only for her employer to accuse her of being unreasonable…

My thoughts?


Having never read an e-book before, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. However, I thought the writing was mostly excellent. In particular, Robert’s character is well-placed from the start. The author convincingly shows the reader the two sides to Robert, painting a picture of a highly complicated, potentially dangerous individual. The tension builds up steadily, leading to a frightening showdown at the end.

I would certainly recommended this novella.


Please check out Jack’s website for further details.




Writing and Legal Matters

So far…I’ve written two novels, both psychological thrillers.  The first is with a professional editor, the second with a friend who apparently thinks the story is very exciting.

The fiction over for a while, I’ve been working on a sensitive writing project that I may eventually self-publish under a pseudonym – my memories of childhood written in dramatic narrative with careful consideration given to imagery and pace.   The project has brought to mind various legal points.   I’m based in the UK, but I would imagine that similar laws exist in the States:

  • Never quote lines of lyrics or poems without first getting permission from the publisher or copyright owner
  • Don’t write anything that harms a person’s reputation
  • If neccesary, disguise names and places
  • Do not reveal information about a minor
  • Don’t include material that incites others to commit crimes
  • Always exercise caution

RSI Nightmare

Discomfort and soreness in my arms and fingers coming from the neck area. I managed to get rid of RSI for a few days by avoiding using the mobile phone too much, but it came back when I started spending large amounts of time on the phone again. Activities like playing the piano and writing at the computer don’t seem to cause problems, thankfully.

Struggling with RSI again

It’s back. Discomfort in the elbows and arms coming from the neck area. I suppose I’ll have to dig out the exercises the physio gave me last year.

I’m a classical pianist, and I spend hours at the computer writing fiction most days. Yet, neither is causing the problem. At one point, my sleeping angle was doing it, but now I think it’s the mobile phone. I’m spending too much time in the wrong position.

Thriller Update

I’m now twelve thousand words into a new psychological thriller I began last week. The writing is going well, I think. I’m sticking to my own advice about making lists of story questions. I’m also having short brainstorming sessions before writing each day where I look at words from the list of story questions and write down the first word that comes to mind. This helps free the imagination.

Like before, I’m rotating the viewpoints with one viewpoint per chapter.  Like in the other stories,  the main character will start to have flashbacks at some point of an event they’ve blanked out.   Hence, I’ve been reading up on Dissociative Amnesia.

A New Novel

Not enough time has passed for me to make an objective decision on the novel draft I completed recently and I’m still waiting to hear back from an agent regarding my first novel, so I’ve begun a third, another psychological thriller.  I started last night and got about 2,600 words done in several hours. It’s a real challenge, but I feel the techniques I’ve described here are really helping.

Editing and Revision: The Importance of Story Questions

I’ve been using a new technique in my novel writing to keep the material from losing focus – something that tended to happen a lot in my earlier drafts.  Up to recently, I’d been reading through the manuscript with a pen and working with groups of fifty pages, jotting down ideas  and story questions as I read.

I’m experimenting with a new technique where I work backwards by writing down the story questions from the previous chapter or two until I have a small list of story questions.  I do this from memory before  attempting any  new chapters.  (In this particular novel, a psychological thriller, each chapter is told from a distinct viewpoint, so the recording of story questions helps keep me up to date with what each character is doing.)  The method also helps with pacing.  Pacing itself is a huge nightmare in writing – too little tension and the story gets boring, too much tension too much of the time and the tension is spent. 

I’ve also noticed that revising a story line by line doesn’t really work and can actually make the story worse.   In adding and improving sentences, the original immediacy can easily get lost.  Even inserting dialogue to bring something out in a character can upset the flow of the narrative.

The best editing, I believe, centres around relevant story questions and knowing your characters well, particularly their deepest conflicts and their most powerful desires.   These drive the story.   Two of the best questions to ask about a leading character are – 1) what do they fear most? and 2) what do they want most?  

During the revision process, I tend to cut a lot of material.  Yet, I always end up with more.   This is because getting rid of material that plays little or no function in a story frees you up to develop new ideas. 

Some ideas to try:

  1. Read through a synopsis, sample chapter or blurb like summary and circle in red any words that capture your attention.
  2. Ask your main characters some questions – e.g. what are they doing on Saturday evening? 
  3. Describe an incident through the eyes of three people.
  4. Problems narrating a section?   Write it in second person, then rewrite the new version in the original viewpoint. 

Further tips can be found in Creative Writing Headaches and Writers Bock

Backing up Writing

Someone mentioned backing up work in one of the comments, so I thought I would describe my own methods.

First, I save the material to the A drive every ten to fifteen minutes. Many computers no longer have A drives, but users can copy (“burn”) files to CDs in much the same way as with floppy disks. I also save everything to a USB memory stick and send the latest drafts of my work to each of my email accounts once or twice a week.

Since email accounts have plenty of storage, some even have unlimited, there is no need to delete back dated copies of work. I regret getting rid of vivid scene setting based around the coast two and a half years ago.

Additionally, I always keep more than one copy of the file in progress on the computer in case anything goes disasterously wrong.

However, even with the most carefully thought out schedule, things can go wrong. Files can become corrupted for any number of reasons, so I always test the file to check that it is working properly. I’m not sure how one does this on an Apple, but on the PC at home, I check by searching for text in the Find option and by pressing ctrl/End. If the file has become corrupted, usually a message will come up with something maddening like “This program has performed an illegal operation.”

Then there’s viruses and worms that can wipe out everything … I keep the computer I use for writing free from online communication. Safer that way.

Finally, ask one or two people if you can email them with copies of your work for back up purposes. They might say no (due to worries about computer viruses) but it’s worth asking.