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Starting writing for the first time in years, mind giving a sample a quick look over?

(30 Posts)
Yagababa Fri 18-Nov-16 22:34:05

I have recently started writing again. Disability has landed me out of work and with not much else to do.

The last time I wrote anything creative was school but I've had an idea so I'm just running with it. I'm about 20000 word in to my first rough draft.

It's intended to be a series of fiction/fantasy books for children.

For some reason tonight I'm filled with a lot of self doubt and have convinced myself that it's all rubbish.

If you could read a short extract and give me a few pointers that would be extremely helpful, thanks.

(I'll post it under the op)

Yagababa Fri 18-Nov-16 22:34:21

‘There might be someone that can help, but I really don’t know if it’s such a good idea. She’s not the type of creature you just pop round for tea with.’

Gwen looked up.

‘Please Sable I need to find them,’ she stared pleadingly.

‘Well…ok but we are going to have to wait until it gets dark, if someone spots us attempting to visit Auntie they will try to stop us’

‘Auntie?’ Gwen smiled, that doesn’t sound so scary’

Sable sighed.

‘We are going to get into so much trouble for this.’

When they got back to the Great Library Sable quietly filled in the others on the plan. Albia looked a bit paler than usual when Sable mentioned Auntie. She thought it was a terrible idea but agreed to come anyway.

They found Strom lazily flicking through some books he’d just found on Wulvan philosophy. He seemed to be on the verge of saying no to joining in with ‘some silly little trip’. That was, until Sable mentioned he’d heard a rumour that Auntie ate the weak.

Strom was impressed by this and agreed to come. Gwen was not as impressed and was starting to wish she hadn’t pushed the idea.

It seemed to take forever to get dark. Gwen tried to distract herself by wandering the dusty rows of books. She was so agitated even the most interesting looking ones couldn’t hold her interest for long. She would have to read 'Twenty new ways to ride a Goblin' another day.

She settled for pacing by the fire and listening to Albia and Strom debating. They were arguing over the finer points of cannibalism and about how likely it was that ‘Auntie’ really partook in it.

It didn’t make Gwen feel much better, but she did learn that a 150 pound man would feed about 75 medium sized creatures, so there was that.

Finally, when night came Sable led them out of the Great Library and through the dark and winding side streets. By the time they had reached the outskirts Gwen was desperately lost and glad she hadn’t had to come on her own.

The further out they got, the more overgrown the streets became. Brambles and thorns caught at Gwen’s jeans as they eventually pushed through in to a clearing.

The trees and plants weren’t crowding in here. In fact the ancient gnarled trees seemed to be leaning outwards and stretching away from the shadowed building lurking in the centre of the clearing.

‘There it is.’

Sable gestured towards the middle of the clearing.

Gwen peered in to the gloom. The house was circled by a tall fence and seemed to be curiously perched on some long poles.

No. Wait. Was that…

‘Uh, I think that house has chicken legs. It's standing on chicken legs’

Sable nodded, looking grim.

‘Yeah, trust me, that’s the least creepy bit.’

Gwen steeled herself and walked towards the gap in the circle of fencing surrounding the house. As her foot crossed the entrance the loud sound of a gong rang out into the still night. At the same time fires burst out in a circle along the top of the fence.

In the glow of the new red light Gwen could now see that the fence was actually topped with old cracked skulls of all shapes and sizes and the fence itself made out of bleached bones. The fires were bursting from inside the skulls mouths.

Gwen gulped and turned to look at her companions. She didn't find it reassuring that even Strom looked nervous.

‘Look let’s try to be logical here. She’s on our side, right? They would have banished her if she wasn’t, they certainly wouldn’t have let her live here if she was…you know eating people and stuff. Those bones are probably fake, like a throwback to the olden days or something,’ Albia chattered, actually managing to sound braver than she looked.

Strom was staring unblinkingly at a skull that looked suspiciously wolfish,’ I read that she has a big cooking pot she puts lost pups in.’ it was impossible to tell now if he was scared or excited.

Gwen felt like turning and running back to the relative safety of the library would be a very good idea. But this ‘Auntie’ could help her find her parents. Mum or Dad wouldn’t turn back now, neither would she.

‘Well, I’m going in. Stay here if you want to,’ she started to walk resolutely towards the shack.

Strom shrugged and clapped Sable on the back, ‘ Well I don’t know about you little weedling, but I am not being out braved by a human runt,’ he bared his teeth in a grin and loped after Gwen.

potatomama Fri 18-Nov-16 22:41:25

I really recommend reading the book 'How Not to Write a Novel', as you've fallen into a few common traps here, like avoiding the word 'said'.
It's not a bad start, just could do with a fair bit of editing.

Yagababa Fri 18-Nov-16 22:42:51

Thanks potatomama I will add that book to my wish list! grin

BratFarrarsPony Fri 18-Nov-16 22:43:58

too many adverbs and unrealistic dialogue

Yagababa Fri 18-Nov-16 22:52:23

Thank you BratFarrarsPony hopefully with time, practice and editing that will improve.

starsorwater Fri 18-Nov-16 23:07:05

You need to develop your characterisation, the reader must care about them to make any scene like the above worth reading. Nothing wrong with 'said' it's a good invisible word.

Read it aloud, you'll soon find the stumbling points. Don't repeat the any dominant/strong/ interesting word in a such a short piece of text.

Take out the adverbs and adjectives and see if you're still telling the story with the same strength. Less is nearly always more in writing (have made my living writing for a long time now. A sparse living though!)

BratFarrarsPony Fri 18-Nov-16 23:13:33

sorry to sound negative - take out all the adverbs to start with.

BratFarrarsPony Fri 18-Nov-16 23:14:39

the thing is we have no idea what 'Gwen' and 'Sable' are like , who they are , how they are feeling, what they look like, nothing.

Yagababa Fri 18-Nov-16 23:17:43

No that is absolutely fine!

Really, thank you for taking the time, this is all very helpful to me.

I've downloaded that book and will start removing adverbs soon.

Sorry I just copied and pasted the latest bit I'd added so it doesn't make much sense on it's own.

Yagababa Fri 18-Nov-16 23:19:21

Brilliant point about avoiding 'said'.

My English teacher used to hate 'said' and ask us to 'put something interesting in for gods sake!'

So I'll be mindful to stop doing that grin

WinnieTheWilt Sat 19-Nov-16 10:16:14

I really like the idea of the Baba Yaga Auntie figure. I think this could be exciting with the edits mentioned. Don't rush through it - eg you 'tell' they were arguing about cannibalism rather than 'showing' it. Could be a good tense read!

Yagababa Sat 19-Nov-16 11:18:12

Thank you WinnieTheWilt smile

Yagababa Sat 19-Nov-16 11:19:56

I agree, I was quite lazy halfway through there. I will go back and find where I've 'skipped' bits that could be interesting.

WinnieTheWilt Sat 19-Nov-16 12:46:31

It takes many many drafts to get a good one! what I do is write a rough first draft to get the ideas down and then edit, edit, edit. I'm still a writer in progress though...

ItShouldHaveBeenJingleJess Sat 19-Nov-16 13:04:38

This is fascinating. You seem to enjoy writing dialogue more than prose, as do I. Have you considered writing in play format (I'm thinking about it and was advised by a theatre director that you don't necessarily have to know all the 'rulesrotini as it's edited for you anyway).

ItShouldHaveBeenJingleJess Sat 19-Nov-16 13:06:24

'Rulesrotoni'?! Feck. Rules to it! (It figures why I've not been published)!

Yagababa Sat 19-Nov-16 13:34:24

ItShouldHaveBeenJingleJess I hadn't no, I wouldn't have thought of it (extreme novice grin)

I'm really enjoying writing so will give that a go too, thank you.

kungfupannda Sat 19-Nov-16 17:24:19

It's an interesting idea, and the dialogue is believable - and dialogue is something a lot of people struggle with.

I agree with PP about 'said.' It's so much the default that it becomes almost invisible, whereas contrived dialogue tags tend to snag the reader.

In terms of the overall style, it does read a bit like summary at the moment, rather than fully developed text. Some interactions that you would expect to be full scenes are covered in a short paragraph of 'tell.' If you actually develop these into scenes, you will probably find that the characterisation comes more easily, because the reader will have more of a chance to get to know the characters before being launched into the adventure.

It would also be sensible to give some indication about who/what the characters are at an early stage, and to establish the viewpoint character. At the moment, the MC could be either Gwen or Sable until they set off on the adventure, when we start to get some of Gwen's feelings, which places the focus on her.

I would agree that How Not to Write a Novel is great, but I'm not sure I'd recommend it as a starting point- it's very funny, but I think you get more out of it once you can recognise a lot of the mistakes, if that makes sense. There are several start-to-finish type guides like A Novel in a Year or The Creative Writing Coursebook.

You could also try and find a free online course - there are some about.

Yagababa Sat 19-Nov-16 18:37:05

That is very helpful kungfupannda thank you.

I downloaded 'Hiw not to write a novel last night and finished it this afternoon. My DH thought I'd gone mad, he could hear me laughing from outside.

I did recognise a lot of the traps I've been falling in to (especially the lack of 'said', switching viewpoints without realising and liberal use of adverbs grin)

I will take a look at your recommended reads too.

I'm having a lot of fun learning how to improve.

starsorwater Sat 19-Nov-16 20:06:20

Joan Aiken wrote an excellent little book called 'How to Write for Children.' You might want to look at that.

Post a first page or two, that will be easier to judge. You know your characters' hopes and fears and dreams, make sure your reader does too. To make a well rounded character do some background work. Write yourself a description of the place they sleep, how their last birthday went, the first person they loved outside of family, their favourite meal etc. Don't include it in the story, just know it inside yourself. It helps.
Reading your work aloud to yourself is the most fundamental thing an author can do to improve. I read every book aloud at least twice before it goes off.

Yagababa Sun 20-Nov-16 08:08:18

That is really useful, I will try that. Thank you starsorwater

RidingRossPoldark Sun 20-Nov-16 18:56:17

Yagababa, Just wanted to say IMHO, you're writing has definitely got legs if you're prepared to work on it. That is not bad at all for the novice you say you are. The characters and setting are showing promise but there are a few blanks ref both because you haven't started at the beginning with this particular extract. I thought the dialogue was good but needs a little stripping-this would happen naturally at the edit stage when you read it aloud and think-too many words. You know the best thing? You're enjoying it-there's no better reason to write! Good luck...

Yagababa Sun 20-Nov-16 19:32:41

Thank you RidingRossPoldark!

Before this the last thing I wrote was 'Penny pound' a comedy essay about a talking, well, pound blush when I was in school.

I am really enjoying it. In fact I'm finding it hard to switch my brain off iykwim.

I've made myself a little list of 'tips' and have stuck it next to my laptop now.

leonardthelemming Fri 25-Nov-16 23:03:39

Here’s my contribution, for what it’s worth. Firstly – and sorry about this – but there are some punctuation problems to be resolved. It’s important – it helps the text to flow.

Next, I do agree with some PPs that your dialogue shows promise, and also that said is a perfectly acceptable word. But so are a lot of others, and using, for example, whispered, mumbled, breathed, mouthed, etc. can make it a lot easier to reduce the number of adverbs, as others have suggested. Everything in moderation might be a good motto here. Read through to check that you haven’t used the same word twice in quick succession, and if you have then make a conscious decision as to whether that’s what you want.
Of course, where the dialogue is purely between two characters, it is often possible to dispense with such words altogether – up to a point. Consider this:

‘So,’ I ask her, ‘how’s school?’
‘That bad, huh?’
‘It depends.’ She picks up the end of her plait and starts playing with it, the way Cy was doing earlier. ‘I mean, the lessons are OK. I get on fine with my teachers…’
‘You’re doing really hard subjects,’ I say. ‘Maths, right?’

Obviously this is slightly different because it’s written in the first person (not unusual) and in the present tense (slightly less usual, perhaps, but still OK). Apart from the point I made earlier, one of the characters finishes her sentence with “right?” and this brings me to my third point, because Albia does exactly the same in your story.

In my experience, this sort of expression is used mainly by teenagers, and now to a certain extent by older people, but not by actual children. Indeed, in my example both characters are aged sixteen and are in Year 12 – but at different schools. I admit to having no recent experience of anyone younger than about thirteen though, so I may be wrong, but it does make me wonder how old your characters are. Possibly this is made clear earlier in the book. From what I’ve read both Albia and Gwen seem to be human whereas Strom and Sable are not. Wolves?

If, indeed, the human characters are older teenagers – certainly if they are sixteen or more – what age range is your book actually aimed at? If you are looking at 14+ then most publishers would consider this to be a Young Adult (YA) novel. On the other hand, if the characters are no more than, say, thirteen, then indeed you could describe it as a children’s book.

And so to my fourth and final point. I write YA contemporary fiction specifically so that my characters are old enough to do pretty much anything independently, without adult supervision, in the real world. Since your book is set in a fantasy world (based on Russian folklore?) you are spared the requirement to do extensive research to ensure the factual content of your fictional book is accurate. If I read a book which had a 15-year-old in Year 9, for example, the author would lose all credibility unless they could come up with a pretty convincing explanation. On the other hand you have the possibly greater challenge of ensuring your fantasy world is internally consistent, without any anomalies or contradictions. If there are any, you can be sure your readers will find them – I certainly would.

So there you have it. Hope this helps. Good luck. Keep posting bits. I’ll happily read a few snippets.

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