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Posts tagged ‘Writing Australia’

First Monday Mentoring – 5 editing tips to strengthen your writing

It’s that time again, the first Monday of the month when I answer your writing questions here. Suggestions from other writers are welcome too, so we can share experiences and solutions. This week I’m on tour for Writing Australia, visiting the writers’ centres in Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide with my Power Editing Masterclass, making this a good time to consider how editing can strengthen your work.

With so many writers publishing their own work online, we need editors more than ever. The most common complaint I hear about indie published books is the number of mistakes readers spot, often in the first few paragraphs. This not only turns readers off that book, but very likely anything else the writer has out there.

Every writer, however well established, is too close to the work to be objective about it. We can’t help seeing what we expect to see, reading things like motivation into the writing when it’s still in our heads.  Everything your reader needs to understand your characters and their story must be written in to the manuscript. Which brings me to the first, most crucial editing tip:

1. Step away from the book.

Put the work aside for as long as possible, days or weeks if you can manage it, to restore your objectivity. Missing motivation, repetition, inconsistensies will all jump out at you when you come back to your book with a fresh eye.

2. Say what you mean

In workshops, I’ve had writers bring along a preamble they want to share before reading their work. Your readers won’t have this luxury. Whatever they need to know must be in the book. An editor can soon tell you what’s missing.

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3. Find yourself an editor

If you’re accepted by an established publisher, they will appoint an editor who’ll look at content and structure. Your work will also be copy and line edited to suit the publisher’s style. If you indie publish or are polishing work to submit, you can hire a qualified editor. Start by giving them a sample and obtaining a quote to do more, to be sure you’re on the same wavelength. Find freelance editors via the Australian Publishers’ Association website or the Institute of Professional Editors.

4. Know what to change…and what  not to

Theodore Sturgeon called it “matter vs manner”. Matter is your message, what you want to say with the work. No one should try to change your message, be it ‘love conquers all’ or ‘life’s a bitch and then you die’ or whatever. A good editor will look at “manner” (how you say it) to be sure the reader gets your message as clearly as possible. As an editor told me, “If I’ve missed something, millions of readers will, too.” If your message isn’t clear to your editor, make the changes, no arguments.

5. Read like a reader

This is hard to do and requires all the previous steps. Will the reader understand why your characters act as they do? Will they spot “who dun it?” chapters before they should? An editor can tell you whether you’ve given the reader enough information to understand your story.

Don’t be like the hall of learning which recently produced several thousand student book bags emblazoned with the name, “Missouri Univeristy.”

Do you have questions about editing? Or experiences you’d like to share? Post your comment or question here.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

http://www.valerieparv.com

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on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

“You’re still not fired” – more ways to hook a writing contest judge

Last week Warwick Capper looked stunned to hear the words, “You’re fired” from Mark Bouris on Nine Network’s “Celebrity Apprentice”.  As much as his lack of fund-raising results in the car wash challenge, I think Warwick’s ego trip was a bigger flaw. Who wouldn’t be turned off by his conviction that he was such a big celebrity,  rules didn’t apply to him?

In writing contests and even in submissions to editors, there are always “Warwick Capper” type writers who think rules are for everybody else. I’ve now read nearly eighty entries in the Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award. Still a long way to go before we have a short list but patterns are emerging. As few as one in ten entrants either knows or researched what a synopsis involves. My friend and fellow writer, Julie Cohen, says a synopsis should “show the editor/agent/scout/reader/marketing department that the story is structurally sound, that it has conflict and events and a suitable ending.” Does telling a contest judge that this is the greatest work since (fill in famous author) or is an allegory about (fill in the gap) meet any of these requirements? To avoid hearing “you’re fired” after this, the work needs to be extraordinary. Sadly, if the synopsis starts off so…I have to say it…arrogantly, the work all too often follows. Some entries rise above a poor synopsis. They just have a harder time doing it.

In Apprentice’s art challenge, the women’s team described their “hands” photo as “beautifully simple and all about connecting.” This also sums up the best writing. A clever idea that’s simply told and connects with readers is more likely to stay in the game than a showy piece full of big words, footnotes and obscure concepts.

I don’t mean you can’t tackle big issues. Would War and Peace be considered such an important work of literature if Tolstoy had taken a bird’s eye view of the French-Russian conflict instead of focusing on the lives of five aristocratic families? And entries in the WA Award do explore some important issues. But the most effective are shown through the characters’ eyes, rather than being told from the writer’s godlike viewpoint. Show, don’t tell, is a vital writing skill to master. As with Celebrity Apprentice, you need to paint word pictures that bring your story to life, letting readers feel as if they’re experiencing the events first-hand rather than being told about them by the author.

As I pointed out last time, we need to feel we “know” your characters before we’re involved in their dramas. On Apprentice we’re shown what really matters to the celebrities through the charities they’re working for.

Give us a sense of time and place before plunging into dramatic action.

Who's the boss? Mark Bouris, centre, with the celebs. Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

It’s no coincidence that the boardroom set of Apprentice is a replica of “Mr. Bouris’s” actual boardroom, down to the Sydney Harbour views. Being in his familiar high-powered environment adds to Mark Bouris’s air of seriousness and authority. We know who’s boss even before he utters the fatal words.

Whether you’ve entered the WA Award or are submitting to an agent or publisher, you can dodge these words yourself by following some industry rules. As with the celebrities, luck plays a part, but a much smaller one than we often think.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

On Twitter @valerieparv

and Facebook

“You’re not fired” – how to keep on the good side of writing contest judges

The sleeper TV show of the season may well be Channel Nine’s “Celebrity Apprentice”.  It’s a train wreck but you can’t look away. And financial guru, Mark Bouris, is a lot easier on the eye than The Donald. The combination of ego and insecurity from the celebrities  is totally compelling, as long as you don’t call “Mr Bouris” honey! His seriousness in the board room is half the appeal as he corrals his celebrities and makes them take the deal seriously if they want to stay the distance with him.

What does this have to do with writing contests? I feel as if I’ve been cast in the Mark Bouris role with the judging of the first Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award now underway. With a $10,000 prize plus $2,000 for mentoring of the winner’s choice, there’s a lot at stake. So much that instead of the 100 entries expected, over 400 filled Writing Australia’s inbox. The entries cover all genres and everything from suspense to paranormal, and all stops in between. That’s a lot of reading and I thought it might help if I provide an idea of what I look for in a good contest entry, the equivalent of not calling me honey! My fellow judges might have completely different ideas, and I look forward to comparing notes when we have our short lists.  But until then, these are the criteria I use to decide which entries reach the short list, and which go on to the discard pile (“you’re fired”).

First is presentation. Email has changed this somewhat but I still need a good, basic font that’s easy to read. 12 point Times Roman is the most acceptable. Size is less critical with ereaders, but on an iPad, which is how we’re reading the entries, larger fonts mean more scrolling. Make your entry as user friendly for the judges as possible. Follow the contest conditions to the letter.

Get right to the meat of the story. I can’t imagine Mark Bouris sitting patiently behind his table while the celebrities ramble on with long background and intro. Cut to the chase. Get the story moving.

Mark Bouris, boardroom hunk (just don't call him that)

Identify your characters. In both the WA contest and the Valerie Parv Award, I see any number of novels where the protagonist is only introduced as The Man, The Woman, She, He, and this can go on for pages.  I assume the writer means to hook me by being mysterious, but a cornerstone of fiction is that we need to care about your characters before we can invest in what happens to them. Give us some idea of who “the man” is, particularly his name, so we feel we know him before we’re involved in his problems.

Polish the writing before submitting your entry. This sounds obvious, but many writers have the idea that errors of grammar, spelling or awkward style such as repetition will be overlooked, or can be fixed at a later stage. Particularly when judges reach the short list where there may be little to separate the entries, these small points can make or break your chances.

There’s more but like Celebrity Apprentice, I’ll  be back after the break.

Valerie

On Twitter @valerieparv

On Facebook

and on the web at http://www.valerieparv.com

 

 

 

Mentor as anything – how to get the right writing help for you

Critique partners and groups can be a great encouragement to your writing but by and large, the members share a similar level of knowledge and skill. Where do you look for help at a more professional level?

The answer is mentoring. At their best, a mentor will be your guide through the minefield of completing your first or subsequent books, provide answers to your questions, help you through the “stuck” periods when the screen stays stubbornly blank, and be there for you through the ups and downs of professional life. At worst, a mentor could try to shape your writing so it sounds more like theirs, or create a dependency that does neither of you any long term good.

When Romance Writers of Australia took over the Valerie Parv Award http://www.romanceaustralia.com/vpa.html from the Australian chapter of Romance Writers of America ten years ago, I was pleased to continue as final judge and mentor the winner for the year they hold the award. This involves a learning curve for both of us, as each winner has different needs and expectations from the process. Some want to work on their winning manuscript, others to explore issues such as working with agents and dealing with contracts, usually it’s a mix of the two.

Breakfast of champions, past Valerie Parv Award winners welcome 2011 winner Michelle de Rooy, far right, alongside Valerie.

One of the greatest compliments I received came from Kelly Hunter http://www.kellyhunter.net/About%20Kelly.html , a rising star among Harlequin authors, who said in the time we’d worked together, she appreciated that I’d never tried to change her voice. Given that her voice is unique and special, that would be a crime anyway. But it’s key that your mentor doesn’t expect you to write as they would.  H.G.Wells notoriously observed that the greatest drive in all the world isn’t love or sex, but the desire to change someone else’s copy. It takes a strong person to recognise when changes would make your work different, not necessarily better.

Nor do you want a mentor who nitpicks. Spelling or grammar can all be fixed later. The main focus should be on the writing. What story are you telling? Is it coming across as you intend? Are the characters consistent and likable? Do we share their emotional journeys?  How can you fix these elements if they’ve gone off track? I encourage my mentees to specify the areas they want to work on. Being a mentor is about giving a service. My satisfaction comes from seeing them blossom and grow, and sharing their joy when they finally get “the call” from an editor offering a publishing contract.

Apart from winning the VPA, how can you find the mentor for you? I work with a very few promising writers through my MentorXpress program via my website http://www.valerieparv.com You can check with your state writing centre, as many offer mentoring programs. Then there’s Writing Australia, a new umbrella organisation of writing centres. Their recently announced Unpublished Manuscript Award offers a $10,000 first prize and $2,000 toward a mentor of your choice. Together with distinguished literary figures, Mark Macleod and Peter Bishop,  I’ll be judging this award which closes on October 13, 2011. Enter at the Writing Australia website http://writingaustralia.org.au/events/event/unpublished-manuscript-award/

Who was or is your greatest writing influence? What tips on this do you have for other writers?

Valerie

@valerieparv on Twitter

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