Tag Archives: novels

When You’re Not a Writer – Yet

I believe all writing is good practice for a writer.

While my kids were growing up, I put aside “being a writer” for day jobs. However, many of those day jobs involved writing. For example, I’ve written stacks of court reports. Did that build any skills for my fiction writing? Absolutely.

  • I had to interview people and present their position accurately – to do that I listened carefully and checked for understanding. Even the few villains I encountered had what they believed were good reasons for their actions. So I avoid cardboard characters in my fiction. I know each of my characters from the inside out. Each has a distinct voice.
  • I had to pay attention to details. Small details, buried amidst non-essential information, often clarified an issue or sequence of events. The same holds true in fiction – the details often decide the course of events.
  • I had to take the facts I’d gathered and present them in a logical order that helped the judge make sense of the situation – which was often quite complicated. The same skill is necessary in fiction. If you confuse the reader by putting a conclusion before the facts that lead to it, you will probably lose them altogether.
  • I couldn’t include every single piece of information I collected. I had to decide which facts were necessary and which were superfluous. When writing fiction, I always know more backstory than my readers – they’d be bored if I included all of it. I have to choose what they need to know when. It’s the same skill, repurposed.
  • I also had to decide when to quote an interviewed person directly and when to paraphrase. When writing fiction, I need to decide where to describe interactions and where to use dialogue. The elements that make each effective are remarkably similar whether a court report or a novel.

What about jobs that don’t involve much writing? It’s all experience. Most writers have had a series of jobs before they start making a living (or at least part of one) writing.

If you find a complete job history of an author and then read all of that author’s work, you will probably find characters and settings that use non-writing jobs.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

Press release:

Sheri McGuinn at Gold Country Writers Six-Author Event! Official release.

Event date: Sunday, March 25, 2018 – 1:00pm to 4:00pm Event address: FACE IN A BOOK, 4359 Town Center Blvd #113, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762

http://www.getyourfaceinabook.com/event/gold-country-writers-six-author-event

 

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Reviews

20130324AliceFrontCoverWebSizeI don’t enter my work in many contests because those fees add up quickly. However, I realized my very short novel Alice had never been entered anywhere, so I put it into two categories in Writer’s Digest 25th Annual Self-Published Novel Awards. I think of it as a fun story, so I put it into mainstream fiction, but one of the customer reviews on Amazon calls it a “modern day ethics story,” so I also entered it in the inspirational category.

It did not win in either category, but I requested feedback from the judges involved and it arrived today. They each give a numerical score of 0-5 in five areas: Structure, Organization, and Pacing; Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar; Production Quality and Cover Design; Plot and Story Appeal; Character Appeal and Development; and Voice and Writing Style. They also provided a brief written commentary.

I opened the email with the mainstream category judge’s commentary first. My best numerical score was for Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar, and that was a four. Plot and Story Appeal got a two. The rest were twos and threes. The commentary was negative all the way – I definitely will not be sharing any part of it.

Then I opened the email with the inspirational category judge’s commentary. Everything got five’s – a perfect score – and the commentary ended with “one of the most interesting and useful novels I’ve seen.” I immediately posted the full commentary in the author comments on the book at Amazon.

Now both of these judges were presumably working with the same instructions for scoring – probably a rubric of some kind. I think the key is in the Plot and Story Appeal. The first judge gave that a two, the second a five. The first probably did not enjoy any of the process and got it done as quickly as possible; the second obviously enjoyed the book thoroughly and may not have looked at the technical aspects as critically as a neutral party. While I like the perfect score, I need to keep that in mind when my head starts swelling.

The bottom line is, no book appeals to every reader, including judges and reviewers, and most contests will have a single person doing the first screening read.

So what should you do when you get a negative review or commentary? Munch on a piece of chocolate and look at the details and decide if any criticism is justified. If you can’t make changes to this book, use the criticism to improve the next. When I entered Michael Dolan McCarthy in the Amazon Breakout Novel Awards, I got a full reading of the manuscript by Publisher’s Weekly and that reviewer pointed out my strengths as a writer and places the novel was weak. I hadn’t published yet, so after the initial cringe, I went back and fixed the problem areas. I quote the positives. Alice is already published, but if I write something similar, I’ll revisit both of these commentaries.

There’s sometimes a delay updating info at Amazon, so here’s the full positive review:

Judge’s Commentary 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

“ALICE by Sheri McGuinn is a wonderful short novel that’s an easy read. Yet it contains deep threads along with an important mission. Using the power of fiction, the novelist encourages readers to do something for the community — that is, using abandoned buildings to house the homeless. This is a worthy idea that I hope many will be inspired to adopt. Although it’s been awhile since I had major contact with teenagers, I believe the author captures the voice of a thirteen-year-old very well. The narrator has a sense of wisdom, awe, and inexperience that marks many in that age bracket. Baby Girl is a storyteller I enjoyed spending time with, and I think others will, too. The bright yellow book cover captures the attention right away. The flowers are whimsical, and remind me of the hippie era, which is of course ideal for this book. The back cover design is also whimsical, and lets the reader know what to expect. I would have liked to see an author bio here. The resources listed inside, along with promos for the next book and the self-publishing guide are all practical and helpful. Overall, one of the most interesting and useful novels I’ve seen.”

2012SheriWaimuPicchuForProfessionalwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Transition

A few weeks ago I completed my new novel and started pitching it to agents.

Logically, I should have gone straight to my non-fiction project that will tie into workshops. Or I could have focused on getting the marketing of my short stories and screenplays set up to run smoothly. Both of these projects are in process and could lead to more immediate income than a novel. But neither of them provides the same satisfaction as working on long fiction: creating characters and watching them evolve in unexpected ways, braiding together plot lines, and those “Yes!” moments when a phrase or scene is just right or critique illuminates a way to tell the story better.

Instead of being logical, I became depressed.

My files are full of ideas, but none of them was calling my name. I took different short stories and novel starts to different critique groups, to see which made people want to read more. Several did, so I still had to make a decision. I dithered, knowing it would be more practical to focus on the other projects before starting another novel, but missing the process unique to writing long fiction. Then I took ten pages to a drop-in critique. They only work on five pages there, but I intended to take the second five to another group later in the day. The faster readers read all ten pages and there was consensus that they wanted to keep reading.

I took it home, where I had the first twenty pages on the computer, and made revisions based on their critique, changing the starting point and several other minor corrections. I sent off pages to a critique group that pre-reads. I’m stoked! It’s YA speculative fiction, a contemporary setting with some parapsychological elements and that group not only gave me excellent feedback to improve the beginning, we discussed writing goals as well.

The next week and a half is going to be devoted to family. We’re doing Thankmas because one group’s moving across the country in December. (Thanksgiving Thursday, Christmas Friday.) But ideas will be simmering and once everyone’s gone home, I’ll be ready to crank out that first draft quickly.

I’ll still need to set aside time to focus on getting those practical projects set up and working, as well as pitching or publishing the just-finished novel and planning promotion and marketing for it. However, having a new work simmering energizes me and improves my focus, so that time spent on the practical will be more effective.

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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