Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Secondary characters

Today saw  two entries in the post for the Clendon Award.
To the uninitiated that may not sound like a lot.
But writing a complete book takes a lot of time and a heck of a lot of energy. The actual writing doesn't take much time, it's the polishing and editing and the analysing that takes the time.

Analysing? I can hear the question mark from here.

But to me this is a critical component.  I am one of those writers who need to take time to analyse a characters motives, analyse what makes them tick and analyse how they interact with other characters.

I may start out with a basic plot idea but during the writing process this is added to and subtracted from until the finished article barely resembles what I started with.

And this is in no small part due to characters insisting that they be allowed to play their own part. In my most recent work, it's three minor characters who have put up their hands to say "notice me".
And when I did take notice I realized they were pivotal to making the main plot work, besides adding a litle flash and dash on the side.

In the beginning they were not even more than a line in the overall scheme of the plot. But when analysing the main characters I realised a lot of their motivations sprung from these two line players.
So I went back and gave these players a voice, albeit a minor one, the whole work came alive.

The result more than pleasing.  

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Real Value of competitions

As the writing competition season gathers momentum it's timely to pause and consider the value of these competitons.

Some writers insist feedback is a reason to enter.
Others insist competitions get your name out there, although as most entries are anonymous I haven't quite figured out how this works.
Yet still more insist having to work to a deadline is good practise.

So what do I think?

Personally I consider competitons a blend of all three. It's great to get feedback especially when you have a knowledgeable judge who can offer insightful and constructive criticism.

And this is the big if associated with all competitons.
Judging is very subjective.
And while some judges do give valuable feedback and constructive criticism I've found other judges can provoke a crisis of confidence.
A recent contest highlighted this for me. Two out of three judges were very negative in their comments.
One judge going as far as to say my heroine was scizophrenic and my hero a jerk. Ouch.
One judge was honest enough to say she didn't enjoy my type of book, making me wonder just why she was judging it, and honest enough to point out valid flaws and constructive ways overcome them. 

Over the years I've found the most helpful and constructive criticism has come from readers and not fellow writers. The most negative comments received have all come from published writers.
Something I find more than a little dismaying. Published writers should be able to recognise the rough and often rocky road to publication and temper their comments with a sound dose of reasoning.
I know when I've helped judge competitons I've always looked for the strengths in that writer's work and suggested ways for positive improvement.

So will I continue to enter competitons?
Of course.
Even negative comments have the upside of making a writer very critical in appraising their own work.

And as I prepare my entry for the upcoming Clendon competition also known as Finish The Damn Book I'm carefully going back over all the comments negative and positive and using them to hone my work to the highest professional standard.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Staying Focused

How does a writer stay focused?

This is a question I'm often asked and one that is difficult to answer. To me focus is not so much about how many words get on the page on any given day it's about how those words read on the page.

Let me clarify. It is very easy to fill a page with words. Far too easy to repeat the same message in half a dozen different ways. It is an annoying habit and a trap I can fall into with terrifying ease.

It takes great discipline and focus to weed out every unneccesary word so the writing is tight, clear and not verbose.

To be successful one must examine each phrase, each sentence, each paragraph and ensure nothing is repeated and that each sentence adds to the story in such a way that it keeps the reader excited and eager to turn the page.

This is where discpline and focus play such an important part in a writer's journey.

In the first frenzy of creativity words pour out and fill the page with a great adrenaline rush. This for me is the easy part. It's the editing, tightening every phrase, ruthlessly cutting every unessecary word creating a tight, polished peice of work that is the true test of a writer's focus and stamina.

It hurts to cut that perfect phrase, that perfect piece of prose but, to succeed, a writer needs to crop words for the greater benefit of the whole.

A tough and at times a tediously ardous endeavour.