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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Critiquing for beginners

Over the years I’ve come to look on critiquing others work as an integral part of my own learning. I think it’s important to critique a range of different writing genres and style, as well as attempting to help people at all skill levels where I can. I believe this has helped my own writing immeasurably, and I’m always grateful for and critiques I get ether from those I’ve commented on or from people with similar goals and motives to my own.

I always seem to find it easiest to critique people at a similar level to myself. I can see the mistakes I make in others work, and hopefully help both of us in the process.
I also attempt to critique the work of people whom I see as better writers than me whenever possible. Reading this critically is akin to reading a ‘good’ novel critically and if I do see something odd or wrong I think this is the proper forum to express it in and not in a review.
I also try to critique beginning authors, many of whom are teens. And this is where I have the most difficulty.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Exploring the difference between technical and mainstream reviews…

… and their affects on the budding writer.

I’ve been reading book reviews and comments left on Amazon and various other sites lately, and have begun to realise that these seem to polarise into two distinct camps. On one hand there are the relatively serious and well informed reviews and comments left by people who seem to have a more than average grasp of literature, in the proper sense of the word. I suppose these are the people who are generally referred to as ‘well read.’
The ‘other half,’ which isn’t really a half as it makes up by far the majority or readers, are the people who generally read the mainstream blockbusters. They tend to read things they know, and their comments also tend to reflect this. In general they write less comments and reviews than the first group, but their bulk almost evens this out.
Believe me when I say I mean no disrespect to ether group. Reading isn’t a race to see who can do it better, especially fiction reading, which is supposed to be a pleasurable pass-time. I personally think some people should do well to remember this.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Re-writing the classics

 I started reading ‘Frankenstein: Lost Souls’ by Dean Koontz recently. I picked this up on impulse, more through curiosity than anything, in the cheep section of the local supermarket and ended up skimming through it. It initially piqued my interest as I’d relatively recently finished re-reading ‘Automated Alice’ by Jeff Noon, perhaps not his best book, but interesting nonetheless. It was more the idea of reworking classic characters that piqued my attention rather than the specific subject matter of the book. I’ve always been interested in new takes on older well-known and well-established characters: although not necessarily in a fan-fiction type of way.
I decided to take a new look at some of these books, and tried to decide whether this is generally a good, bad, or indifferent thing.

 I have liked some of Mr Koontz’s older work so I decided to have a look at this new take on a classic character. At the time I wasn’t aware that this book built on an earlier trilogy of Frankenstein-based books by Mr Koontz. And it did seem like I was thrown in at the deep-end a little. It opened with a (to me) somewhat rushed re-cap of the older series, then the remainder of the book read very much like a long introduction. For me it sounded all too obviously like the first-part of a new series. A personal irk of mine is the series-book that doesn’t have a self-contained story ark, and although what is there is well written and quite entertaining, this book definitely doesn’t stand up as a complete story on its own, and I’m pretty sure it was never intended to.
It all reads like the opening couple of chapters to a much longer story, and to be honest I'm not sure I want to stick through it all because this ended up being too long and drawn-out for me…
But as I said, this isn't a review of ‘Frankenstein: Lost Souls’ it's a look at reworking of older books. But this does go to show one of the main problems I’ve found with authors redoing the classics. Where do you stop?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Free Crazies...

I’ve made my first OtherWhare novelette ‘The Crazies’ free on Smashwords. It should hopefully price-match on Amazon soon. I’d appreciate any quick reviews or rating you could give ether to this or to ‘The Vagrant’s Tail’ short story.
This is all part of my ‘absolutely no plan/clue marketing strategy’ and it’s going as well as I expected so far… err, as in I’ve sold very little and nobody seems interested… maybe I should try and do something about that?

I did get a few sales on The Crazies, but I’m not sure what word-length people feel comfortable paying for. Hopefully if I get some downloads, good star ratings, good comments/reviews or a decent amount of likes etc for the two OtherWhare titles I have up there already it may persuade people to buy something in the future.

I’m going to have to concentrate on getting the visibility of this stuff up above zero!
Wouldn’t it be nice if I had at least one fan before I released the last book in the series?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Do you refer to yourself as a Writer?

…And if not why not?

OK, it’s hardly a new question, and if you do refer to yourself as a writer, what stage were you at before you did, and what were other people’s reactions?I’ve recently decided to think of myself as a trainee-writer instead of a wannabe-writer. Why? Well I suppose it’s just a slight change of mind-set. I have had some limited success in getting paid for short stories. I’ve also had very encouraging feedback (but no deals) from publishers, and pretty much all reviews I’ve ever had seem to think I’m doing more things right than I am wrong, with most people liking the stories. I still know that what I have achieved commercially so far is nothing to write home about and I certainly still wouldn’t dare refer to myself publicly as a ‘writer’ brackets and all!
Now you may think this is all just me contemplating my own navel. But I do have a wider point, and that is about our perceptions of ourselves and of how others view us.
It somehow seems to be thought ‘silly’ or at best a waste of time to want to be a writer by most people. Then there are those who say "who will buy it" and "you will never be as good as…" and then name someone who isn’t necessarily all that brilliant technically, but very successful. People will say this even if they haven’t read a single book by the person they name!

So all this led me to reconsider how I see myself. I’m under no illusions that I am ever going to be a ‘great’ writer. But I have technically improved significantly over the years. And this is the crux of my internal change in status. At this stage I really just want people to read what I’ve written and hopefully like it. I feel much more confident in submitting my work to the world in general, and that is a big hurdle for anyone who wants to write.

My question is, why do people generally assume the ‘big names’ are the standard and are by default ‘very good’ writers, without reading a word. Whilst at the same time practically dismissing anyone starting out as ‘rubbish’ again without reading a single word?
These perceptions do seem to be fairly ingrained with some people when it comes to books, especially fiction novels.

You just don’t get the same prejudice in other fields. I’m a programmer by profession, and you don’t get clients coming up and saying, "I only want the older experienced people who worked on the biggest systems in the past to do my work for me, because all the new ones will be crap." It just doesn’t happen, and would sound ludicrous if someone did. But in the fiction book world it seems to be the ‘normal’ or at least mainstream readers default perception. Of course the marketing machines churning out the same old spin for the same old people and books don’t help it.
Now if I’m sounding bitter, I’m not, and I don’t intend to. I have no illusions about the industry, and if I never make it past this stage, then that’s ok. Maybe I’m just not good enough to go any further. What does get me is the often snobbish attitudes people have to books, combined with a sneering attitude to wannabe writers, even (or sometimes especially) those people who don’t even read!
So where has this attitude come from?

Book 2 of the OtherWhere series is almost ready!

I’ve been a bit bogged down with work and things lately. So it hasn’t left much time for blogging or writing.
I have managed to finish off the draft for my second OtherWhere book though.
This one is called ‘Still Life’ and will be around 16 to 17K. It follows one of the ancillary characters, briefly, introduced in the first Novelette.

I’ll hopefully be gathering some critiques over the next few weeks and then it's on to the second round of re-writes and edits.

If anybody is interested in having a look at the current version, or if you are on CC feel free to let me know what you think. It doesn’t have to be a full critique, I’m always interested in general opinions as well. Still isn’t anyone buying them much though. I’ll have to work on that after this one… or maybe after the next short-story…