Editing & Rewrites, Style & Voice, Writing Course, Writing:

Writing Course: Self-Editing Your Work

You have written a story – short story or novel, it doesn’t matter. Now it is time to self-edit it. It is easy to find flaws in other people’s work, but quite difficult to recognise them in your own.

There are three components of self-editing:

1. line/copy-editing,
2. sentence editing,
3. content editing.

Line/Copy-editing

A point to remember, whilst the spell check in word processors will identify some misspelt words, you should never rely on it when self-editing as they do not pick up words that are correctly spelled but used in the wrong context (such as to, too, two, their, there, would, wood).

However, you should use the ‘find and replace’ function to check the following:

What to Look For What to Do
Words ending with ‘ly’ Adverbs tell rather than show. A lot of the time if you strengthen the verb, you can eliminate the adverb.
and, so, but, however, because Avoid connectives where possible. Try a full stop and make two sentences, or rearrange and shorten the sentence.
that If the sentence reads well without it, delete it.
thing, stuff Don’t be lazy! Be specific.
he, she, him, her, his, hers If you have two or more characters, don’t rely on pronouns as the reader can become confused as to who is doing/saying what.

Sentence Editing

Once you’ve completed the basic line/copy-edit to correct spelling and grammar, you will need to examine your sentences and the words used. Ask yourself these questions:

Is the language specific, strong?
Do your words allow visualisation?
Is the main character well developed, convincing?
Will the reader sympathise with the main character?
Is there jargon or cliches that should be removed?
Are you too wordy or concise?
Is the word choice supportive of the setting?
Is the tone consistent?
Are there shifts in tone, tense, style or voice?
Is the dialogue convincing?
Does the dialogue move the story along?
Does the dialogue reveal character, conflict or emotion?

Content Editing

The course tackles this last but I feel this should be the first thing you do as major changes could result which may mean the work you’ve already completed in the line/copy-edit and sentence edit has been wasted.

Some more questions you should ask yourself:

What is your story about?
Can you sum up, in one sentence, what you story is about?
Are you saying what you want to say?
What does the main character want? Is this clear from the start?
Where is the story set? Is it important?
Will the reader relate to the main character?
Does the story have direction?
Is there a catchy beginning?
Is the conflict clear from the beginning?
Do the characters face interesting obstacles and make difficult decisions?
Does every action have cause and effect?
Is the main character well developed and interesting?
What is the character’s ruling passion or fatal flaw?
Does the character struggle, grow, change, make a stand?
Is the right character telling the story?
Does the setting create the right mood, have a strong sense of time and place, further the theme and plot?
Is there continuance, consistency and credibility?
Has the point of view or tense changed?
Are the characters believable?
Is the narrative voice right for the story?

Professional Presentation

Once the story has been written, rewritten and edited until it is the best it can be, it is time to take steps to ‘present’ your work in a professional manner.

I would recommend you using William Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format Website as a guide, but here’s a quick checklist:

  • Use A4 good quality white paper
  • Use no less than 12 point black font
  • Never use colour ink
  • Use double spacing for manuscript content
  • Use a title page, or more often these days, insert the following onto the first page of the manuscript:
      story title
      author’s name
      approximate word count
      full name, address and contact details
  • Insert into top header, except first page, right aligned, in the following format:
      story title/ author’s surname / page number
  • Left justify content.
  • Make sure there is no extra white space between paragraphs and the first line of each paragraph is indented up to five spaces (3 is a good number).
  • Never bind pages.
  • Always keep a backup copy on disk (or, do what I do, email yourself a copy for safe keeping).
  • Most important, always read the publisher guidelines and do as directed. Always!

 

Writing Course

Writing Course: Fact to Fiction

Before I get started with the course notes, I have to say that this unit is proving to be extremely difficult. Today, I spent two hours attempting to answer vocabulary questions that left me feeling … well, ‘stupid’ is the word that comes to mind. My score left little to be desired and an ‘oh dear’ taste in my mouth. Not good. My notes, however, do not reflect this part of the unit. Really, if you’re having difficulty writing short stories you should consider doing a course as it’s not the same as reading someone else’s notes, it’s far better!

Fact to Fiction

Fiction is fact and imagination put together. You’ll be amazed by how many ideas for your stories come from what you’ve experienced and what you observe happening to other people.

There are two types of short fiction – literary and genre. Genre fiction has its own conventions and rules so we’ll look at literary fiction first. When you know the basics, then you can move on to genre fiction.

Ideas

Ideas come from everywhere, everyone and every situation. Yet still people have trouble coming up with ideas. Perhaps the simplest way to start fiction is to start with an anecdote.

Example: One day, after work, you are running late and have to run to the station, but it’s raining and slippery so you fall over, flat on your face, but get up and just manage to get to the station on time.

An anecdote is straightforward, often uninteresting and nothing much happens. Next you must insert something interesting.

Example: One day, after work, you are running late and have to run to the station, but it’s raining and slippery so you fall over, flat on your face, knocking yourself out for a few seconds but when you stand up again you can’t remember who you are.

Now you have a situation, a problem. Now the character has to make a decision and the reader will wonder what the person will do. Now you have the beginning of a story.

Vocabulary

Words are the writer’s only tool. It is essential to learn to use words effectively as you cannot be there to explain what you mean to the reader.

Writers should be avid readers too. It’s also important to refer to a dictionary whenever you encounter a word that is unfamiliar to you.

Story Length

Stories can vary in length, but often the length will determine where it might be published.

Length What it Means
500 words a short, short story or flash fiction
1000 words a length specified by magazines or some competitions
2000 – 3000 words the average length for literary or mainstream markets
3000 – 5000 words a popular length for anthologies, some of the best short stories fall into this category
5000+ stories over 5,000 words can be difficult to place

Problem Solving

If you experience problems in your writing then read below as there may be a simple solution.

Starting a story – If you cannot seem to start a story, then start wherever you feel comfortable, even if it means writing the final scene first. It doesn’t matter where you start as long as you start.

Showing not telling – This comes with experience. You will find scenes that can be better illustrated with dialogue or more descriptive words. Find beta readers to help flush out these pesky areas.

Continuing beyond the first paragraph – If you can’t seem to write beyond the first paragraph/page then you must learn to let go and simply keep writing. Don’t stop to fix errors, including typos, just write and write for a full 15 minutes. You’ll be surprised how much can be written in a short space of time.

Knowing when to let go – Striving to continue on with an idea that isn’t working for you is not recommended. Let it go and move on to the next idea, preferably one you feel passionate about.

Dialogue – If you feel you cannot write convincing dialogue, try writing a short story without it. It will mean you’ve finished a short story. It will also eliminate the problem area. Of course, you will have to master it eventually, so sit and observe groups of people as they talk. Write down their actions, facial expressions and other movements as you listen to their conversation. This will help you integrate all these things into your short stories.

Writing Course

Writing Course: Elements of Short Story Writing (Part 2)

You might want to read Part 1 first.

Setting

A setting doesn’t need to specify a country, it can be confined to a town, house, room, car, park, tunnel or anywhere else. The setting needs to be there but doesn’t need to take on a role. However, some authors manage to make the setting as alive as their characters.

Setting, if used artistically, can help build your characters and strengthen the plot. Think about it, an untidy bedroom tells the reader a lot about your character.

Structure

An author must make decisions on how to structure a story. Where does the story start? Where does it end? How will the story be told?

Traditional story telling follows this pattern:

  • introduce a situation
  • the situation becomes complicated, there’s a confrontation
  • the complication/confrontation is resolved

 

Time Structure

Traditional stories move chronologically through the story from beginning to end. It is often necessary to remind the reader of facts that have already been revealed, or give them other information to help them understand what is happening. There are ways of arranging your story to help you do this.

Foreshadowing helps build suspense and prepare the reader for things that will happen later in the story. For example, if the loss of a pet is going to become an issue in the story it is better to show the relationship with the pet early in the story rather than when the loss occurs.

Flashback is when the character remembers something from their past that is important to the present. It is recommended that flashbacks be used sparingly in short stories under 3000 words in length.

Sequence of Events is a story told from beginning to end but this is not always affective. However, it’s the best way to ensure the reader does not become confused.

Details and Summary

When we tell stories in real life, we gloss over the uninteresting bits and dramatise the exciting bits. This is story manipulation and it’s something writers do when writing a story.

Pace is essential. Some parts of the story might race along while others are slower and more thoughtful. Pace is controlled by word choice, length of sentences and passage content. Pace helps make the story exciting.

Plot is easily recognised in some stories but quite obscure in others. Genre stories aim to keep the reader entertained, thrilled or terrified. The traditional plot is a series of events involving conflict, which lead to a climax and then a resolution. The best planned plot is built around a well developed character.

Some questions you might ask yourself once you have written the first draft are:

Whose story is it? Whom do you most care about? Why?
Is the character’s goal specific enough for the reader to care?
Are there obstacles stopping the character reaching the goal?
What is at stake? If nothing much then the reader will be bored.
Are the events linked? Is it clear the character is in the grip of fate or is the victim of someone or something?
Is the resolution obvious, predictable or inevitable? If so, have you got to this stage in a fresh way? Does the story encourage the reader to think?
Once you get to the climax, is the story quick to end?
Has every scene contributed to the whole and to the development of the character?

Narrative

Narrative is the section of the story that is not dialogue as well as the whole of the story’s text in terms of elemental construction.

A skilful writer will inject pace into the narrative and will not include unessential details.

Never try to ‘draw the story out’ in the mistaken notion that it creates suspense. It has the opposite effect on the reader who wants the story to ‘move on’. It is also important not to rely too heavily on ‘telling’ a story as the reader will feel important facts are being glossed over and the story becomes shallow.

Elemental Construction refers to the narrative elements within a story that structure it in a particular way. This includes the choice and balanced arrangement of the following:

Location: Why here and not there?
Time: When did or will it happen?
Narrator: Who should tell the story?
Characters: How many, who are they, and how do they interact?
Length: How long should the story be?
Style: What word arrangement will be most effective?
Type of Narrative: Plot or character driven? Present or past tense? Circular or linear in its telling?

Style

Writing is generally about two things — what you write and how you write.

Style is the name given to the manner in which a piece of writing is expressed and the quality of that expression.

Style is a complex topic but here are a few basic styles and their characteristics:

Clear, lucid – simplicity of word and sentence, orderly, coherent.

Strong, virile, vigorous, forceful – exotic or exalted nature, choice of less common words, elaborate sentences.

Graceful, elegant – careful selection of words, mastery of the meanings or words, felicitous expressions, artistic structure of sentences.

Vivacious, animated, racy – concrete and picturesque expressions, spirited flow of sentences, rapid progress in narration, judicious use of dialogue.

The classifications above are not rigid. There are many ways to describe style. For example, simple, curt, crisp, vivid, urbane, lofty, serious, conversational, rambling, strained, illogical, harmonious, consistent, bombastic, quaint, absurd, delicate, light, quirky, ornate, whimsical, sensory.

Poetic concepts are also used by some short story writers. They are devices to enhance style and include things like using words commencing with the same letter, which is called alliteration, or the resemblance of sound between two words, which is called assonance.

A Writer’s Style

Style is your literary fingerprint. It allows you to sound different to other writers. It can, if you manage to develop an individual style, become so well known that readers will not need you to include you name to know something has been written by you.

Writing Course

Writing Course: Elements of Short Story Writing (Part 1)

The elements of short story include:

  • characterisation
  • dialogue
  • point of view
  • setting
  • structure
  • narrative
  • style

 

Creating Believable Characters

Most mainstream short stories are ‘character driven’ rather than ‘plot driven’. For this reason, it is important for fiction writers to develop their characterisation skills.

The best place to start is by reading short stories written by other writers to see how they bring their characters alive on the page. Creating characters who feel ‘real’ to the reader takes skill. The time frame is brief in short stories and there is not enough space for lengthy physical and physiological descriptions. You must learn to develop a technique that builds the character without spending unnecessary time and words in doing so.

Exercise: Write two short pieces, about 100 words each, using first person. Offer different ‘points of view’ of the same person. For example, husband and wife, brother and sister, two friends. This exercise will show you how we perceive ourselves and how another might see us in a completely different light. This is a way of also showing the reader different aspects of your characters and will give your characters more depth.

Knowing Your Characters

You, the writer, need to know your characters extremely well. You need to know everything about them, even if you don’t use everything you know in your stories.

It is best to know what makes your characters do what they do and why they are motivated to act and react the way they do. This knowledge will reflect in your writing. Most serious writers tackle this in the planning stage, prior to writing a single word.

It is useful to complete a character profile for each major character. The information on the sheet may include the following, but feel free to add what you think is important and remove those that are not.

Character’s name
Age
Sex
Physical appearance
Education
Occupation
Marital status
Family
Diction, accent
Relationships
Hobbies
Obsessions
Religious beliefs
Political beliefs
Ambitions
Superstitions
Fears
Prejudices
Strengths
Weaknesses
Pets
Taste in books, music, film
Food likes/dislikes
Allergies
Talents

Remember: If you are writing a real person into your story, you would be wise to disguise the character to avoid libel action being taken against you.

Use of Dialogue

Dialogue is important. It must sound like ‘real’ speech but must not imitate everyday speech at all. The reason for this is that real conversations contains lots of pointless chatter and short stories cannot accommodate anything that does not move the story forward and strengthen the character.

In real life, everything is said. In fiction, everything is condensed.

During dialogue, characters confront each other. This confrontation is a sharing, it is a scene, an event. It is never ideal chatter!

Point of View

Who is telling the story? Whose eyes are we seeing through? This is the point of view. Then we need to decide if the story is best suited to first or third person, although there is also second person (what I tend to write in these posts), but second person is rarely used in short stories.

First Person Subjective Narration is when ‘I’ tells the story.

The advantages of first person is that the telling can be very intimate and brings the reader close to the character. The reader is usually drawn into the story immediately and can often see the irony of situations. They also get to explore the thoughts and feelings of the character, even when the character is wrong in their thinking. First person point of view suits a quirky style of writing.

The disadvantage are that the story can only ‘see’ and ‘hear’ what the character sees and hears. The author cannot show other pieces of information that the reader may need and the reader cannot know what’s in other characters minds except by use of observation and dialogue. For this reason, first person can be limiting. There is also the danger of the story turning into a long complaint, one of self-pity, which may lose the reader’s empathy.

Third Person Limited or Subjective is when ‘he’ or ‘she’ tells the story.

Using third person limited allows the writer to leave the sight of the character to report what’s happening elsewhere. Having said that, the writer is still constrained to the inner thoughts of one character.

The advantages are that the writer can step back a little, which can give more scope. And it is acceptable to do other scenes from the point of view of another character so that the reader understands how the plot is unfolding, even if the characters do not.

The disadvantages is that the reader is not as connected with the characters as with first person. It is also easier for the writer to go off track, and ramble on a bit, and the pace can be a little slower, which means the urgency can be lacking.

Sustained Point of View

It is important for a writer to sustain the point of view they select when they start writing. If not, you will only confuse or distract the reader and that will cause a real danger of losing them. And that may damage your reputation as they may never read your work again.

Go straight to Part 2.

Writing Course

Writing Course: History of the Short Story

A short story is fiction. It should not be confused with true events, which is written as non-fiction. A short story is an account of what if? What might have happened.

It is difficult to determine when the first short story was written. Narratives from The Golden Age of Greece and the New Testament contain principles that are applicable to its present form. However, it is usually conceded that the short story had its beginnings with Washington Irving in the early 19th Century, when he published Rip Van Wrinkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. These stories had their limitations, they progressed slowly and lacked the movement associated with a French school of writers headed by Balzac and Gautier, but they were popular.

During the last 150 years the short story has developed as a type of prose fiction. It is now distinguished from a novel only in its construction and, of course, length. The short story is constructed according to definite artistic principles. A novel permits greater character development and complex plot construction, whereas a short story does not.

Types of Short Story

There are two basic divisions for a short story — realistic and escapist. Both of these are forms of literary fiction. Then there is the “type” of fiction, known as genre. These include children’s stories, fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, adventure, thriller and detective.

Realistic: These are stories where the subject matter is closely related to events and incidents that occur in real life. The author writes details as they see them and does not gloss over events, no matter how gruesome or affronting. The characters may be based on real people, real conversations and real situations.

Escapist: Many readers don’t want to read about every day situations set in the world they live in. They want worlds of fantasy and melodramatic excitement, where they can identify with the characters but experience colourful romances, alternate words and life how we don’t know it. They want to escape their life and project themselves into these other worlds.

Four Early Short Story Writers

Four writers paved the way to what is now expected in short stories. They wrote with conviction, technical brilliance and power of expression. They are:

Edgar Allan Poe: Poe was the first person to set down specific rules relating to the construction of a short story. These rules have been adopted almost universally.

  • It must create one impression.
  • It must be capable of being read in one session.
  • Every word must contribute to the total effect, which has been pre-determined by the author.
  • This effect must be created immediately, and then gradually developed throughout the story.
  • When the effect reaches a climax, the story must end.
  • Only essential characters should be used to gain effect.

The Russian School (Gogol and Turgenev): In the 19th Century two Russian writers, Gogol and Turgenev, emphasised character rather than actions. Between them, they created realistic portrayals of human sufferings, passions and grief of everyday people. Gogol insisted that the short story must attempt to do one thing only, and must allow the plot to develop naturally without being forced into a conventional pattern.

Robert Louis Stevenson: Stevenson claimed a short story could be written in three different ways.

  • You may take a plot and fit characters to it.
  • You may have a character and choose incidents to develop it.
  • You may take a certain atmophere and get actions and persons to realise and express it.

Stevenson set out with the intentions of writing about atmosphere. He would choose a situation or setting, then select a character and start writing.

Other authors have also made big changes to the way we approach writing short stories. O. Henry introduced the surprise ending at the turn of the century. H. G. Wells looked to science and the future in his stories. Hemingway turned to stories of adventure and social conventions.

Your Own Writing

It is important to know the above as it will help you write short stories, but it is important to remember also that you must feel free to always develop your own methods. Rules are helpful, they will get you started, but they are not rigid.

Other skills an aspiring writer will need are:

  • read short stories written by other authors
  • have a good command of the English language and how to construct a sentence
  • strive to broaden your vocabulary
  • be aware of publishing opportunites
  • learn to be professional in presenting yourself and your work
  • attend writers’ workshops and readings
  • accept construction criticism
  • be prepared to rewrite until your story is right
  • persevere despite numerous rejections from publishers
  • study the market carefully

Your Writer’s Journal

It is a good idea to keep a journal of your writing activites. Use a notepad, if you like, or buy a student diary. However you decide to do it, make a pen and paper account of the writing you do including planning, research, networking, submission and anything else you do that is writing related. By doing this, you will see how much time you spend doing each activity and you will also find out how much time you actually dedicate to the craft of writing itself.

Example:
25/5/11
Writing – 1 hour
Planning – 2 hours
Submissions – 1/2 hour
Networking – 4 hours

26/5/11
Writing – 1.5 hours
Research – 3 hours
Networking – 6 hours

Most aspiring writers discover they spend more time doing everything else other than actually writing.

Lastly, try writing a diary, by hand. Write about your life, your moods, yours loves and hates, your family, your hobbies and whatever else you feel you want to write about. Don’t be afraid to write about your writing journey also. Write about your aspirations, your disappointments, the methods you employ and disregard. Write your diary whenever the mood takes you and you will find a new perspective open up to you.

Writing Course

Writing Course: Defined Work Roles

Ideas are everywhere. For a writer this means the capability to write is plentiful. Finding paid employment, on the other hand, is another matter.

Work opportunities are often not advertised and are not confined to a 9am to 5pm work day. They are nearly always governed by deadlines.

Journalist

A journalist writes articles for newspapers, magazines and other publications. They can be feature articles, news stories or reviews. The journalist must be well informed and have contacts. Journalism involves:

  • locating news stories
  • researching
  • attending meetings
  • establishing reliable contacts
  • writing to a deadline
  • accepting direction from others
  • working in a team
  • having effective interview skills

Freelance Writer

Freelance writers work for numerous publications, rather than being employed by one company. Most work for newspapers and magazines. They need to be proactive in creating work opportunities otherwise they will not make money. Their job involves:

  • attracting commissions
  • developing contacts for potential work
  • establishing a wide network of contacts
  • liaising with editors and business management
  • researching material
  • writing material suitable for the business they work for
  • undertaking interviews
  • setting up a small office/business
  • keeping abreast of technical changes and industry changes
  • marketing their work

Public Relations Consultant

A PR Consultant profiles and promotes an organisation, an event, a person or a product. The tasks include:

  • solicit client work
  • accept client brief
  • research publicity material
  • undertake interviews
  • prepare and write material such as letters, brochures, media releases, reports, submissions and media kits
  • respond to media, public and client requests
  • attend meetings
  • organise distribution of material
  • identify marketing strategies
  • organise conferences, exhibitions and events
  • organise book tours, interviews and other appearances

Corporate and Technical Writers

Corporate writers undertake all writing within the business sector. Tasks include:

  • liaise with staff and management
  • research material
  • establish contacts
  • prepare letters and memos
  • prepare publicity material, reports, submissions, speeches, newsletters and any other publications request by the employer

Researchers

Apart from research, this job entails:

  • accepting client brief
  • locating suitable material
  • writing synopsis of researched material
  • attending and organising meetings
  • writing articles
  • record keeping
  • providing material to publishers and editors

Editor

The tasks of an editor can vary considerably depending on the size of the organisation they work for. They could do all or only some of the following:

  • liaise with publisher to establish/build/alter publisher’s list
  • solicit and commission work from writers
  • provide advice to writers
  • read and select manuscripts
  • reject unsuitable manuscripts
  • liaise with writers about their work
  • prepare contracts
  • publicise books/authors
  • co-ordinate author tours
  • write publicity material
  • write text for book jackets
  • engage book designer/illustrator
  • liaise with printers
  • apply for ISBN numbers
  • register books and authors for public lending rights payments
  • obtain permissions from appropriate copyright holders
  • proof read copy
  • seek advertising/sponsorship
  • develop a network of contacts

Generating Your Own Work

To generate your own work, you must prepare a portfolio of your writing. Make sure it is attractive, well presented and professional looking. Here are some things you can do:

  • Present yourself to potential employers, in person or in writing. This can include advertising agencies, publishing houses, local papers, theatres, magazines, film production houses and large organisations with a public affairs section.
  • Volunteer to work for clubs and/or societies, theatre groups, community groups, student magazines and charities. Write for their newsletters. Write, design and layout their publicity material. Make sure you get your by-line on all your published work. Keep copies in your portfolio. This will help create paid work later.
  • Accept work placements through courses. This is an excellent way to position yourself in the writing world. It helps you become known, to gain experience and skills and may lead to paid work.
  • Start your own magazine. You can do this around a particular interest or for an organisation you may be a part of.
  • Write and produce your own play.
  • Be alert for writing opportunities. Be willing to step up to the challenge. Help out for free when necessary as it might lead to something paid.
  • Develop a network of contacts and let them know you are looking for work.
  • Enter writing competitions. You may be noticed. You may win!
  • Make sure you are accessible. If necessary get a phone, fax and answering machine to ensure people can reach you.
  • Make sure you are multi-skilled. The more you can do, the more likely it is that you will get paid work.

 

Writing Course

Writing Course: Styles/Categories of Writing

This is the second part of the previous post. The topic was too long to do in one sitting.

3b: Styles/Categories of Writing

Indigenous Writing: In recent years there has been an increase in Aboriginal writing. The literary voices of Aboriginal people are still being discovered and as this happens Australian literature evolves in authenticity and integrity and the prospects of understanding between cultures is enriched.

Women’s Writing: A new wave of writing came about in the 1960s and 1970s which is broadly described as feminist or women’s writing. This type of writing explores the lives of women and their role in society, and how these things have been documented in history.

Multicultural Writing: The influx of migrants to Australia has resulted in a new literature referred to as multicultural writing. It explores the migrant experience and can be seen as quite controversial.

Gay/Lesbian Writing: Another area of controversy. Some believe gay and lesbian writing is that specifically written by gays and lesbians. Other believe it includes writing which explores the experiences of gays and lesbians no matter what the preference of the writer. Whatever the opinions, this new category allows new voices into the literary world that were once muffled or restrained.

Travel Writing: This is about people and places. The writer must be able to give detailed information in a clear and concise manner.

Popular Writing: Generally, this category is defined as that fiction which acquires best seller status. According to Dean Koontz, the ingredients for popular fiction include plot, a hero/heroine, action, convincing characters and motivations, a setting and correct use of language.

Genre Writing: This is sometimes categorised under popular fiction. Genre writing usually refers to that realm of fiction concerned with romance, thriller, mystery, fantasy, science fiction. Each category has its own requirements. For example:

  • Science Fiction – some editors simply say that science fiction is set in the future. Other editors define science fiction as a futuristic setting but it can be set in the present, the past or in a time frame not connected to our world.
  • Crime Fiction – this involves mystery, police, justice, spy and thriller novels. The writer observes procedures to do with right and wrong doing, injustice, authority and fairness.
  • Romance Fiction – As always strong plots and characters and convincing settings are essential, however, romance is defined by the sensual and emotional interactions between the hero and heroine.
  • Horror and Fantasy Fiction – these were the fastest growing genres in the 1980s and 1990s. They provide an indictment of the modem age. These genres offer readers the chance of escape from reality, They have an emphasis on the mystical, supernatural and other-worldly. The two genres are closely linked yet are so different. Writers of horror and fantasy bring back timeless legends of werewolves, vampires, ghosts and demonic possession. They entwine our ordinary lives with beings of terror and lands or wonder. They also draw other genres into the equation for an exciting mix.

Writing for Children: Some believe writing for children must be easy, but in fact it is just as difficult as any other writing. Age groups must be considered and the reader’s level of understanding, development and experience. As a result, children’s publications are categorised into groups. These groups vary from publisher to publisher, but generally they are as follows:

First chapter books 6-8 year olds 4,000-6,000 words
Junior novels 8-10 year olds 8,000-15,000 words
Older children 10-13 year olds 20,000-40,000 words
Teenage 13-16 year olds 30,000-60,000 words
Young adult 17+ 40,000-70,000 words

Non-fiction for children is an expanding area. Books on topics such as school issues, home life, relationships (between family, friends and pets), transport, grief, science, countries, solar systems, culture, sport and much more can be explored. Often the most successful non-fiction include study kits.

A writer for children must:

  • have a deep understanding of children
  • appreciate a child’s development stages
  • understand children’s reactions in different stages of life
  • be able to write with sophisticated simplicity
  • appreciate the language of children
  • understand how writing can affect children morally and emotionally
  • feed the child’s imagination

 

Writing Course

Writing Course: Forms of Writing

There are many different types of writing in existence. The writing industry demands they are categorised. This can cause a rigidness but is also handy for organisation and assists in identifying publications.

Writing is generally categorised into two main areas – fiction and non-fiction.

Fiction

Fiction is created from the author’s imagination. Forms of writing in this area are novels, short stories and poetry.

Novels: A novel contains all or some of the following:

  • concept or issue, usually referred to as the theme around which the story is told. The theme often involves social, political or moral issues
  • plots and sub-plots, which layout the design of the novel
  • characters, developed by the author
  • passage of time, to suit the story
  • a setting, which may include a world developed by the author

Novelists draw on experience, history, imagination, social issues and research to write their stories. These things are combined with suspense, drama, intrigue and tension to keep the reader interested and guessing.

Another form is the novella, a short novel. However, these are more difficult to market.

Short Story: A short story is a work of fiction that concentrates on a particular event or character. Unlike a novel, which has multiple characters and plots, the short story homes in on only one character and event and confines its scope. It will usually have a brief time frame. Short stories are generally 1,000 to 10,000 words in length. Many short stories have been turned into a novel, a play, a film and even non-fiction over the years.

Poetry: Poetry defies definition. It is an imaginative use of language which may or may not take the form of a sentence. Poetry attempts to create atmosphere, perceptions and emotions. It uses words to stimulate the imagination. A poem can contain symbolism, metaphor or simile. It can be written for self truth, for publication, for expression and for performance.

Non-Fiction

Non-fiction is the construction of true stories. It documents actual events and facts. It can take the form of instructional manuals, recipes, history, facts on animals, the environment, politics, nature, outer space, science and much more.

Faction: A recently introduced term which refers to a combination of fiction and non-fiction. This style is used to bring immediacy to the writing and/or to protect the people referred to in the writing by using pseudonyms.

News Reporting: The factual account of events, usually found in newspapers, radio and television, and also in some magazines. Good news reporting involves good and accurate observation, verification of facts, economy of words and the ability to write and edit quickly and to a deadline.

Features: A feature is the major article found in a publication. They can be a detailed profile of a person, an investigation of an issue, an exploration of a place or a bit of all these things. Most feature articles rarely go over 2,000 words. A good feature writer draws on many sources and is able to write using different techniques and styles but always remains true to the facts.

Reviews: Reviews are found in newspapers, magazines and on many websites. They give a critique, description and opinion on books, movies, events or locations. A good review will inform and educate the reader.

History: Writing about history involves much more than excellent research skills. The writer must interpret findings in such a way as to produce a reliable and authentic account of the past.

Biography: This is when you write about the life of someone else. It involves a profound insight into this other person and an understanding of their life. It’s important to report the information with utmost accuracy.

Autobiography: This is when you write about yourself. The writer must be objective, accurate, truthful, ethical and have the ability to understand and make fair judgements when relating information about themselves and others.

Screen Writing: This is very much visual story telling. This is different to a story being read, it is all about image, being seen and heard. A screen writer must understand the significance of combining music, action and light to create atmosphere.

Stage Writing: Theatre is an ancient craft. Before stories were written, they were performed so a stage writer must understand the dynamics of the theatre, for stage is the be seen and heard.

Corporate Writing: This is primarily writing for business. It is often seen as dry and uncreative. A corporate writer must understand business dynamics, have the ability to understand and work to a brief, be able to work quickly and to a deadline and appreciate relationships within and outside the business.

Technical Writing: This is writing which usually is published in specialist publications. For such writing the writer needs to be well informed, accurate, concise and up-to-date. This type of writing is mostly formal and authoritative.

Education Writing: This involves writing instructions and must be clear and concise. This type of writing requires logical expression in giving step-by-step instructions, a knowledge of the readers and their expectations and an understanding of how people learn.

Text Books: These can cover all sorts of topics and vary in complexity depending on the target audience. The writers of these books are usually specialists in their topic. Thorough research in required and they must always be clear and concise.

Essay Writing: Essays set forth an idea then proceeds to explore it through analysis and argument supported by evidence. Logic, clarity and organisation are important aspects for an essay writer.

Writing Course

Writing Course: The Writing Industry and You

Today’s topic was quite long, as will be tomorrow’s. I thought about splitting the topic into two parts but decided against it.

2: The Writing Industry and You

Writing is a solitary process. Even those sitting in an office surrounded by people, work alone when writing. Some writers love this isolation, others feel it keenly. However isolated you may feel it is good to remember that you are part of a much bigger picture.

Your role as a writer

To say “I am a writer” takes confidence because the statement is usually followed by the question, “Yes, but what do you really do?”

Writers are largely undervalued and most people (non-writers) think the life of a writer is an easy one. Any writer will tell you it is hard work. It takes discipline, energy, is mentally draining and takes commitment and focus. For these reasons, it is important for writers to create an environment which nurtures the writing process.

Your role as an editor

To say “I am an editor” does not get the same reaction as a writer even though an editor is also undervalued. Most people see editing as a real job.

As an editor it is important to establish yourself within the industry and build a name for yourself. This is particularly so if you intend to work freelance.

Environment

Writers and editors need an environment to work in which will encourage their creativity. The environment should include:

1. Resources – Ideas, research, quotes and networking form part of a writer’s day so you need access to the following:

  • dictionary
  • book of quotes
  • thesaurus
  • atlas
  • internet
  • encyclopedia
  • style manual
  • writing and media guides

You can build up your resources over time. And it’s good to have access to your local library as well.

2. Space – Obviously, it is ideal to set aside a room where you can go and write/edit undisturbed. But not everyone has a spare room available to them, so it is necessary to create a space which needs to be respected by you and everyone else.

3. Equipment – You computer and printer are most important and must be accessible whenever you feel the urge to write. It is also important to have access to notebooks or a mini-cassette recorder for recording ideas, thoughts, characters, scenes and observations. And, of course, you’ll require a desk to sit at and a chair to sit on and maybe some filing cabinets, stationery, phone, fax and connection to the internet.

Successful writers are keen listeners and observers. They are also avid readers, great researchers and skillful organisers.

Observation

When observing, a writer does more than see. A writer looks with purpose, using all senses and is alert for details. These mental notes are often drawn on when writing.

Research

Every time a writer sits down to write, they will nearly always have to do some form of research. The better the research, the more satisfying their written piece will be. Yet a writer must learn to conduct their research in a fast, accurate and thorough way to be effective. One important thing to remember is to fully note the sources you are using.

Reading

Reading is crucial to writing. Through reading you gain experience and knowledge and that is passed on in your writing. Read within your topic of interest, but read other genres to stay informed too. Reading allows you to view the writings of other people. It will allow you to see what works and what doesn’t. It will allow you to see what other readers find entertaining and acceptable. This knowledge is essential. You will also be able to gauge the reaction of the readers of your own work. This information will influence what and how you will write in the future.

Writers often find the way they read is changed forever as they cannot help watching how other authors shape their characters, build worlds, construct sentences and they cannot help thinking how these things can be improved.

Organisation

It is important to organise your workspace so that it is suitable to your needs and writing habits. You will need easy access to your resource and research material. The space needs to promote comfort and efficient output.

Time management is essential. Writing can be done at any time but if you do not organise yourself and your time, no writing will get done. However, you must also allocate time for other “writing” activities, such as networking, reading, research and administrative tasks.

It is advisable to divide each project into workable parts (such as research, planning, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc, completion of first draft, first edit, redraft) and establish a timeline. Then assign a certain amount of time to complete each section of the timeline. For this to work, it must be realistic. There is no use assigning an hour for research when in reality it will take a week to complete. By doing this you will be faced with small sections of work to complete rather than a whole novel to write, which may (in the long term) help you complete the entire manuscript.

Feedback

Writers write because they have something to say, they have something to share. They write to be read. And to be read means the reader will have an opinion on your writing, which you may or may not like.

This feedback should never be ignored, even if you do not agree with it. Learn from the opinions, grow from them. Use the feedback to advance and develop your work. Perhaps the reader did not read what you intended to write. In this case, use the feedback and learn to clarify your meaning. Perhaps the reader just did not like your story. It might be personal preference, in which case nothing can be learned from the comments. Never, however, comment on negative feedback. You will do yourself more harm than good.

When your mother tells you you’ve written a great story, that’s nice but is it really the truth? Would she be able to tell you what she thought was truly wrong with your story? Surround yourself with people who will give you constructive criticism. Writers who refuse to listen to honest criticism will not prosper.

Collaboration

As mentioned before, writing is a solitary process. However, in reality its associated activities are far from solitary. Editing, publishing, designing and marketing require collaboration. And for successful collaboration you need to be tactful, understanding and you need to show respect and insight.

Some of the qualities you’ll need are:

  • be clear about the purpose of your writing
  • be open to new skills and suggestions
  • be adaptable and flexible
  • be co-operative and reliable
  • be able to work within agreed time frames

 

Writing Course

Writing Course: Industry Overview

As I’m a glutton for punishment, I’ve decided to take on another project. Short term, I might be stretching myself a bit, but long term the decision will be beneficial.

I’ve enrolled in a second course — Certificate in Professional Writing (Short Story Writing).

There are only five units in this course, so I think I’ll complete this course in roughly six to eight months. My plan is to do an editing unit followed by a writing unit. I’ve just completed the third unit for the editing course (the assignment will be posted today). I have also almost completed the first topic of the first unit for the writing course. Here are my notes:

1: Industry Overview

Writing came from the need for money and the lack of memory. Some 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, in the Middle East, traders needed a way to record transactions, lists of goods and receipts. They devised a series of marks and symbols to document their negotiations. This is believed to be the first form of writing.

Writing is a way for our thoughts to endure. It allows us to discover who we are and what we have been. It confirms history. Writing allows us to make sense of ourselves and of others.

Writing gives meaning and significance. It is usually done in the form of a story and is profound, and gives integrity and wholeness. Loss of story can mean loss of culture, loss of experience and knowledge.

Writers are story tellers. The story they tell may be their own or may be someone else’s.

Writing may arouse the senses by moving us to tears, making us laugh, making us feel loved, or angry, or sad, and filling us with wonder. The words can flow sweetly, be open and honest or short and sharp. They can move with the beat of our heart or quicken it to a breathless pace.

At first, writing started as a method to catalogue quantities, costs and payments. Then, by writing his symbol on a stone, a man marked his territory. Later, leaders would instruct others to record great battles won, new lands conquered. Now, writing is used every day for communication, for knowledge, for recording history, for pleasure.

Through letters and words, the writer can preach, inform, educate, entertain, inspire and share. They can also persuade, seduce, anger, applaud, taunt, vilify and celebrate. Writing may have a powerful effect. It can change beliefs. It can change societies.

The Writer and the Writing Industry

The writing industry is huge, ever changing and indefinable. The industry, and the results of writing, include:

  • books
  • letters
  • performance writing
  • screenwriting
  • journalism
  • reports
  • short stories

The associated activities for writing are:

  • editing
  • publishing
  • printing
  • design
  • marketing and sales
  • distribution
  • theatre and screen production
  • legal processes

A writer can become:

  • an editor
  • a novel writer
  • a screenwriter
  • a business writer
  • work in publishing

No matter what your purpose is, to write you must have an understanding of the writing industry. The industry changes all the time. A writer must invest time and effort locating outlets for their work. Not to do so will lose them valuable opportunities.

Some common requisites for writers of all types are:

  • respect for language
  • knowlege of resources available
  • effective research skills
  • networking ability
  • familiarity of the law
  • an understanding of the roles in the industry