Feedback For Writers

When’s The Right Time To Get Feedback On Your Writing?

Something that can be hard to remember, especially when we are busy comparing ourselves with others, competing, wondering why we are not Hemingway or whoever, is that NOT EVERY WRITER IS THE SAME. 

We don’t all work in the same ways. We don’t all write the same things. We don’t all use an identical writing process in order to get our best work out. Not every trick or method that works for us will work for everyone else, and vice versa. Nor does it have to.

Not a revelation, huh? Well, you’d think  (and btw, if you don’t believe me, check out the Paris Review for hundreds of interviews with famous authors where you can see the vast array of approaches to the writing life and getting work done. Or not).

I’ve been quite surprised at times, to find a certain rigidity in approach, especially on advanced writing courses or in online advice, which can give the impression that there is only One True Way of Working for writers serious about their craft . This in turn leads to unrealistic expectations, can sometimes seem artificial, and can push writers into methodologies that simply aren’t the right fit for them. Planners get forced into pantsing and end up staring at blank pages. Pantsers feel constrained and frustrated by the rigidities of planning. Deadline-lovers find time-based targets keep them going; task-focused writers hate that and prefer to go for next-step-completion in their project as a goal.

And the question of when in our writing process we find it best to show our work to others and get feedback is one of the differences I see between the many writers I know.

A Look At The Different Approaches

Some people find it most helpful  to get feedback during the drafting of the work, particularly when working on big projects like novels. This, they feel, ensures they are taking their work in the right direction and are not sending themselves off on wild goose chases that they’ll have to clear up later.

Others – myself included – prefer to share their work only after they have got as far as they can possibly get with drafting by themselves. I personally hate sharing very early drafts, and not without reason – but a lot of this has to do with how I work and what does and doesn’t get the best results for me.

So here are some of the pointers about both approaches. Neither is right or wrong as such but are just different ways of working.

Early-Stage Feedback

 It helps to be confident and fairly thick-skinned for this – after all, the looser your draft is, the more is likely to be wrong with it, so the more “development areas” you are likely to hear about. You may be happy with that, you may be a bit more sensitive to criticism. If that’s the case, you need to think if this would be the right approach for you.

It can also depend on your reader or group. Some readers are very open to both approaches, with an awareness that feedback style might need to be tailored to the situation; others – college workshops, for example – can be more absolute, feeding back on everything in the same way, regardless of where the draft or writer is at.

The rougher the work, the more the focus is  likely to be on the potential, rather than perfection of execution; although it does depend on how solid the writer’s early drafting is. Some writers, as I say, produce great-quality drafts on the first or second pass, so it probably isn’t going to be a problem for them.

I’d suggest being VERY clear with your reader or readers before you let them read about where you are at, and what in particular you’d like them to look at if you’re sharing in the early stages. Someone nit-picking your punctuation when you really need to know if your overall story or a particular character is working is not especially useful . For some writers, this sort of thing too early can kill a draft completely

Early Stage/Mid-Draft Feedback can be useful for:
  • Writers who produce solid drafts very quickly
  • A stage you’ve reached where you’re more interested in understanding the story potential of an overall idea than the nitty gritty of your execution
  • Times when there’s a particular feature of the work you are experimenting with. For instance, you might be trying out different narrative points of view, or structures in which to tell the story, and you might be unsure what the ‘live’ effects of those decisions may be. Before devoting months of your time going down one route or the other, it can be worth testing out with some readers
  • The point where have got up to a certain stage in a large project  like a novel, and are not sure how best to continue. Or, are at a crossroads where there are multiple directions in which you could take the work
  • Writers who carefully craft and edit each individual chapter before moving on.
  • Thick-skinned writers who are happy to share rougher drafts and  more interested in their story’s potential

NB one thing to bear in mind about “potential”  though. It is never your readers’ (or tutor’s or group’s or friend’s) job to decide on or write your final story for you! If the key story elements aren’t in there, it’s going to be hard for people to work it out.

If the bare bones are really all you have, it might be worth waiting until the work is a little more developed.. Even so, the views of others and an understanding of overall impact if you’re completely stuck  in the woods can give perspective that is incredibly helpful.

Later-Draft/Late Stage Feedback

 I know several writers who rarely show their work at all, or at least do only with one or two very select people. Often just before the point of submission. Personally, I get that. I find it more helpful to get feedback only AFTER I know I’ve done everything I can possibly do with the draft. I rarely share initial drafts, given mine tend to be a) rough as hell and b) when I am still working out or vague about the story.

Partly, it’s because I prefer the discipline of stepping back and self-editing, which for me is an intrinsic part of the process. I don’t like feeling I’ve wasted people’s time and efforts telling me the stuff I could have already worked out by myself given a bit more time

Also I am a pretty slow writer – not in terms of getting words down, but I tend to do at least two Zero drafts to get to one that I consider readable by the outside world – my “proper” first draft. Whereas some writers can knock out a decent, readable first draft in a matter of days or even hours.

Probably most crucially, I prefer later-stage feedback because it seems to show me any real blind spots I have. And we do all have them – we tend to pick up on different things. Sometimes this can be scales-from-the-eyes stuff that I’d never spot, no matter how adept I was at self-editing.

Late-Stage Feedback Can Be Useful For:
  • Writers who like to multi-draft before they share their “public” version
  • Pantsers who write terrible or extremely rough draft zeros in order to work out the story
  • Zero-drafters in general – particularly if you like to get the whole thing out in a rough form BEFORE you even think about editing or redrafting
  • Those who are good at self-editing and prefer to step back and do that in depth before sharing work with readers
  • Thin-skinned writers who are over-sensitive to criticism or have any kind of writing performance anxiety or block. Let yourself write and create freely first without worrying anyone else is going to see it.
  • Those who need work to be brilliant before they share, or whose readers are very critical. I’d wait until it’s in as good a state as you can get it to build confidence. Just don’t leave it for ever. It is never going to be totally perfect, and that way, never-ending tinkering can lie.
  • Writers who’ve reached the point of feeling they cannot do anything more with this story. You’ve probably spent so long with it now that you cannot be objective with it at all.
  • A time you are about to submit it but no-one yet has seen it. Other people can pick up much more easily on things that a person closest to it simply cannot. At least let someone you trust give it the once-over, especially if you’re subbing to an agent. You really do only get one shot at these.

It’s worth experimenting, of course, to see which approach works best for you and for which types of project. 

So – which methods and processes work the best for you?

 

If you are thinking about getting feedback on your work, check out my 5 Ways To Get Feedback On Your Writing post  on the different sources of feedback and where you might find them.

Happy writing!

 

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Genre And Why It Matters

Genre is a key element I look at when I am feeding back on a story.

“Huh,” you may say. “Well, I am a Literary Writer. I do not “do” Genre.”

Uhhh, well, yes and no. Genre matters. Your work may well not fit into any of the main genre categories. It may be a more literary version of one of them – and there are plenty of big-name literary writers who lean towards certain genres. Or it might be a “pure” literary story. If that’s the case, the story will still have enough hallmarks of being literary for your readers to know that this is the type of story they are reading . From that, we can surmise some of the expectations both for and from the reader, and from that,  if anything in your story feels “off”.

Genre Is About More Than Marketing

Why do human beings tell stories? We’ve done so now for thousands and thousands of years.

When I talk about genre and kinds  of story, I don’t necessarily mean “templated” or “formulaic” or even highly commercial. Genre in practice is far more than a matter of the marketing categories that are used by commercial publishers or film producers.

That said, the lasting commercial categories – Romance, Horror, Action-Adventure, Comedy, Thriller, Mystery, Fantasy, Sci Fi, Crime, and all their subcategories –  have lasted because people like them. And people like them because they have strong emotions at their core.

Some readers want a story that reminds them true love exists, and to invest in the will-they won’t-they of a couple. Or to have their deepest terrors presented to them, where they can safely experience the adrenaline of fear. Perhaps they like to accompany a protagonist on some wild adventure, or explore the wonder of alternate worlds. To experience where our current world may take us in future, or to imagine what our own lives in a past one might have been. Readers might enjoy working alongside a detective in solving a murder. Relating to a family saga, or laughing at familiar absurdities in life.

Other readers enjoy “difficult” books which make them think. Complex stories that that involve challenging assumptions, thinking deeply about philosophical questions, or exploring universal human truths. They might want a story told in a way that’s as structurally satisfying as the words are beautiful; they may experience what they read as a form of art.

Genre Tells Us How You Want The Reader To Feel

It’s worth asking yourself the following questions:

  • What kind of story am I telling?
  • Why have I decided to tell it this way?
  • What impact do I want this to have on my reader?
  • How would I like them to respond?

There’s a link between your work as it appears on the page and the reader you are hoping to engage. Your story is is a two-way interaction between you and them

Clear intent here is crucial. What do we want our story to do? Do we want to delight our readers with our cleverness and artistry? Skewer them with our insight and the beauty of our prose? Fool them with our dastardly red herrings? Make them cry or fill them with terror? Double them up with laughter? What?

Genre Sets Up Reader Expectations

It’s important to understand the expectations our readers might have when they read our work and if there is anything that will jar or spoil the experience we want them to have. All types of stories have expectations attached and certain conventions. We live in a world where we are surrounded by stories – we all know a lot about them, even if we don’t write them ourselves. We tend to know if something doesn’t quite work.

It can be good to subvert expectations where you can to avoid making your story boring or predictable. But some reader expectations based on our genre must be fulfilled for the story to work fully. Also our genres should be internally consistent. Vampire Horror Romance is fine. A vampire horror romance that turns into a crime caper halfway through, not so much.

A lot of the expectations are about how the reader should be feeling – a horror story should be scary, a thriller thrilling, and so on – but there are other elements at play.

Such As?

There has to be a point in a crime mystery where the villain is revealed, or all our guessing as readers will be in vain. We need to know if our adventure’s fighter wins or loses in the end, or returns home triumphant with their treasure. The lovers need obstacles between them and we want to know if they get together at the end. We must build up our glimpses of the monster in our horror and reveal it somehow in the end.  With regard to endings,  I would expect the more commercial stories to be tied up clearly in their closing scenes. With literary stories, that’s not the case. The key here is often to raise the right questions with the reader, not necessarily to give them answers. You want people to be thinking long after they’ve reached the end.

It’s worth studying the wider examples of the genre of stories you most like writing. Which conventions appear in your favourites time and time again?

Genre Affects Key Writing Decisions 

The genre we choose, including hybrids and sub-genres, impacts every story decision. The story’s style, its narrative point of view. The characters – right down to character names. (Did you ever notice how many lead male protagonists in films are called Jack? Nigel doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? Why is that?)  The dialogue, the settings, the way the story is structured. The conventional plot points that your reader will expect – or that you might  purposely subvert to lead your reader astray.

Take a ghost story, for example:

  • It is often most effective to tell the story from the point of view of the haunting’s victim. It quite often connects with something about their character psychology or something in their past. However, there’s also another entire story running in the background – that of the ghost themselves and how they came to be. You may only give brief glimpses of that second story – but to make the story effective, as the writer, you need to know it. That way, you can drop those glimpses or clues in for the scares and to make sure they lead to the reveal at the end.
  • A ghost story should be scary, or at the very least unsettling for the reader, as otherwise it will fail. You might use suspense techniques when you structure it in order to achieve this.
  • It’s best not to make it gory –  because grossing out your reader in a story like this is probably not your intended effect.
  • You may well focus on a universal fear likely to be familiar to your reader, and will probably try to make your setting somehow off-kilter.
  • Some of your characters might be odd, so we can’t be sure if our protagonist can trust them.
  • You’ll probably build up the clues and tension until your reader finds out towards the end in the most dreadful way possible, what the ghost was all about.
  • The protagonist might win or lose the battle. There needs to be a sense of peril and for the stakes to be high. You want these readers’ hearts to be thumping. You want to leave them lying awake at night.

 

Know Your Genre, Know Where Your Work Will Fit

No, it’s not all about the market – but some of it certainly is. Once you’re done, it’s good to know just where your work might fit in terms of getting it published.

Genres and particularly sub-genres and hybrids get added to and adapt all the time, depending on what’s going on in wider culture. Remember the crazes for YA Vampire Romances? BDSM erotica? Psychological domestic noirs with female protagonists and “Girl” in the title? Suspenseful mysteries with memory-addled protagonists? Trends change of course, and I wouldn’t advocate writing to a trend, but it helps to be aware of the work that is or isn’t similar to your own. That way you’ll know where to target your submissions and queries.

Over at writer subbing tracker Duotrope, for instance, there’s a huge range of genres you can filter by when you’re choosing where to send your work. I may not agree with all of the categories – I personally find a category of “Women’s Fiction” patronising – but it gives you a good idea of possibilities. For example, under the category of General Fiction, we have sub-genres like Bizarro, Gothic, Urban and Magical Realism. The Horror genre includes a huge list of sub-genres, like Vampire, Shapeshifter, Serial Killer and Supernatural, among many many others.

 

I hope I’ve convinced you that I consider a story’s genre for good reason. It tells me a heap of things when I’m thinking about how well a story’s working and what the cause of some problems may be. That said, I don’t believe in writers shoe-horning what they do naturally into overly rigid frameworks or writing in ways that are over formulaic. Balance is always needed. And make sure any genre you choose is the one that showcases your strengths as a writer. Any genre you write in should be mixed with your own personal quirks and ways of writing so you make sure you produce something truly unique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 5 Key Components of a Strong Story Premise

5 Key Components of Story Premise Header

Will your idea make a good story?

What do we mean by a good story? And what factors make up the story premise?

A premise is ideally a one-sentence summary of your entire story. Would you be able to distill your idea into one or two sentences?

Be aware that nearly all unsuccessful stories fail at the premise. Premise is the foundation of your story, on which all the decisions you make during the writing should be based. Within your story premise are a number of key elements you need to be able to “hit” so your story is strong enough to be able to fly. Having a weak premise at the outset will lead to an even weaker story in execution, so it’s worth taking the time to ensure all the following are present.

The 5 Key Components of a Strong Story Premise

1. Protagonist

Who is your main character? What can you tell us about them? It’s important to make sure that you actually have the right “main protagonist” – it’s the one who the themes and conflicts of the story are really about. You’d be surprised how often final stories turn out to really about someone other than whom you might think at first.  NB even at the premise level, make sure you are specific about who your main protagonist is and their role in the story – just a name on its own won’t be enough or tell you what you need to know.

Do we have to like our protagonists? No, I don’t think we do, although some other writers would disagree with me. I do think we need to be able to relate to them in some way, though. And we need to make life hard for them. Think about the worst possible thing that can happen to this character – and then make sure you throw it at them!

2. Conflict  – with stakes that a reader can identify with, and that your main protagonist is living out throughout the course of the story.

Story is conflict – without conflict, you simply have a list of events. What are the internal conflicts your character is battling with? The environmental ones? The situational ones? What are the choices that your protagonist is torn between? Are they choices that are universal in some way, that would be relatable to your readers? Make sure that the conflict matters, that your reader has a reason to care, regardless of genre.  What is it that your protagonist stands to gain or lose once a choice is made? What exactly is it that they are fighting about at core – and who are they fighting?

 3. Desire/goal that the protagonist has

What does your protagonist want to achieve at the outset? How does that relate to what they need? Will they achieve it or not by the end of the story?

Often, what protagonists want is directly in conflict with what they need to make life better by the end of the story. It’s always worth thinking about, not only their desires, but the things that are preventing them understanding or realising what they actually need if you want to deepen your story.

4. Antagonist or Force of Antagonism

Remember, sometimes what can seem to be an antagonist for the protagonist at the outset of the story, turns out not to be “the real enemy’” at all. Think about all the things that are stopping your characters get what they need as well as what they want – or what they think they do. Who or what is the real enemy? How does that relate to the overall themes and message of your story?

5. A set up that will illustrate the conflict

You need a place, a time, a scenario that makes sense. Where are you going to place your characters to best illustrate the premise you have? What about that set up will accentuate the conflicts and themes you have identified?

 

 EXAMPLE PREMISE BREAKDOWN:

 Story: Don’t Look Now (Daphne Du Maurier)

Premise:

In Venice with his wife hoping to help her get over the death of their young daughter, a father ignores the pleas of two apparently psychic elderly sisters who claim the spirit of their dead child is warning him to leave.

Set up: A married couple away in Venice, who happen to meet two strange sisters at dinner

Protagonist: John, loving husband, rationalist, and recently bereaved father of a dead girl

Conflict: Wanting things to be normal again versus the reality of grief, reality vs false hope, life versus death, ignore the warning or be taken in by it?

Desire: John wants his wife to be her old self again, he wants things to be ‘back to normal’ and the Venice trip is supposed to be part of that

Antagonist: Grief, death, the fact life can never be the same again, seemingly the sisters, their idea of the ghost and John’s wife’s reaction, but in reality, something much darker entirely. John wants to stay in Venice, but he needs to leave.

 

How To Isolate Your Story Premise

 Personally, I’ve always found the following specific questions the most useful when really trying to get to the bottom of my premise:

  • Who is my protagonist and where/when are they?
  • What do they want?
  • What is stopping them getting that?
  • What do they need to realise or understand?
  • Why aren’t they able to realise or understand that thing?
  • Is there a main event that changes everything? What?
  • Where will we find them at the end of the story compared with the beginning?
  • What does that ending imply about life in general?

 

 It’s worth referring back to your basic premise often, while you are in the process of writing. Finding you need to tweak it is fine, but remember if you do, to you rework any key elements so they are all tying in together. You could even keep the premise visible to you as you write; I recently was given the tip of putting it in the header of your piece, so it comes up on every page, and you always have it as reference.

Taking the time at the start of a project to hone a strong premise is time well spent. It will make sure that the story you are writing stays on track and says what you want and need it to say.

 

Looking for feedback on your story? Check out my reader’s reports here!

 

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The Ten Most Common Story Problems To Look Out For

I read a lot of draft stories as part of what I do, as well as from being a member of writing groups. What are the most common story problems I see again and again? And when you’re assessing your own work, what should you be looking out for?

So, so, often, in classes and writing groups, I have found that in the very early drafts of a piece, feedback to other writers still gets focused much too heavily on the minutiae – close, line-by-line editing of the writing – rather than the key elements of the whole reason for doing this in the first place: THE STORY YOU WANT TO TELL.

There is a time and place for close editorial work and red-penning – and it’s way after the first draft.

Close editorial work is about perfecting and polishing a piece of work until it shines. So, it’s  a very good thing – when you are about to submit the piece of work for publication. But close editorial work is not about the big structures and is not what you should be doing the first time you assess a draft. Trust me, if the big structures aren’t there to begin with, no swathes of beautiful description or exquisite phrase-turning or line-editing is going to make the piece stand up or resonate with its readers.  Or at least, not by itself. It risks the work being pretty, but hollow; a bit of nice handwriting, that actually says very little.

Of course, it’s worth noting any glaring grammatical errors or spelling mistakes or awkward phrasing if they jump out at you at this stage, but there WAY more important things to be looking at before that in the early development stages And by “early development,” I mean, for our purposes, the first full draft at least.

The story summary, or synopsis, we talked about in the previous post is a hugely useful at-a-glance look at your entire story from beginning to end. As a synopsis, it should include the most salient features of this piece of work – which means it should start to become obvious where there are gaps or something major is awry.

Questions to ask yourself based on your story summary

  • Does the story have a clear beginning, middle and end?
  • Are the key structural elements in place; the inciting incident, the midpoint, the major plot/turning points at the ends of Acts I and II?
  • Is it clear what genre – if any – the story is or is trying to be?
  • Do we know where and when the story is set?
  • Can we see who the main protagonist is and their basic story arc? Do things change for them by the end of the story?
  • And the antagonist (or other form of opposition)? Is there one? Is it strong? What is the main conflict?
  • Can we see what the basic premise of the story is? Does it seem muddled or vague?
  • What about the theme or themes? What ‘message’ might the current ending convey?
  • Are there any details of the story you thought were in there but that now you look at it, you don’t actually seem to have written?
  • Are there vital questions arising that you seem to have left unanswered?

Go through the list above and make a note of any areas that you think you need to address. As a reminder; you should use the summary to force yourself to look at what you have actually written, rather than what you intended to write. You are giving yourself the information to be able to plug the gaps and what you’ll need to focus on in the next draft.

 The Ten Most Common Story Problems

  1. No clear beginning, middle, end. Most usually,  a LOT of beginning, a flat middle, a rushed, weak or unsatisfying ending
  2. Unclear or confused genre.  I don’t mean hybrids, like literary-sci fi, or romantic-horror. I mean your heartfelt domestic drama randomly turning into an action-adventure halfway through. Intentional? Hmm…
  3. Unclear or split premise. Story meanders or is confusing
  4. Missing theme or point to the story. Who will care about this story and why?
  5. Major  plot points missing
  6. Crucial details missing. (“I want to create a mystery” is not an excuse for not knowing a key part of your own story! And yeah, I’ve used that one too.)
  7. Unsympathetic, unrealistic or un-engaging characters.
  8. Story perhaps told from wrong point of view (obviously, multiples are fine – if intentional.) Or – too many points of view
  9. No real force of opposition
  10. Protagonist doesn’t change (unless that is intentional and a point in itself)

  And of course, you may spot others, depending on your story and your writing practice and style.  Naturally, we all have strengths and weaknesses as writers; that is totally normal. As you may have gathered, I’m a big picture girl at heart. So I can be a little “detail schmetail”, especially in first drafts.

Personally, I have the most problems deciding on endings, which I’ve learned is because I often struggle to really isolate what the core of my story is really about (I often develop stories from individual scenes I’ve written, and end up on a journey of discovery – often with many wrong turns and ill-advised decisions) and therefore can get lost in indecision.

So – make a list of the problems you’ve identified in your piece that you think you’ll need to address. Oh, and pat yourself on the back for the things that you think are working well! It’s good to remember your strengths.

In the next post, we’ll start getting  into more detail about the specifics; and more importantly, what you can do to resolve, including the various resources that are available to get you learning more about them in depth.

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What’s Really On The Page? How To Assess Your Own Work


How do you know if what you think you’ve written is what you thought you had? Could your mystery masterpiece be devoid of mystery, your heartfelt drama be worthy of an oft-derided soap opera, your heroic characters be coming across as flat or pretentious, your clear riff on a classic myth missing any discernible links to the original for your readers to get their teeth into?

Happens to the best of us,of course.

So what’s the solution?

Summarising the story as is has been the single most useful way I’ve found of of forcing myself to distance from the work and see what is really there, rather than what I hope is there. It does take a bit of discipline, however.

STEP 1

When you’re ready, and preferably when some time has passed since you wrote it sit down and read your story or chapter through once. Do not start editing and fiddling. Do not pass Go. Just sit and read it through.

OK? Done?

How was it?

If there is anything that struck you about the piece there and then, a major flaw for example, make a note somewhere but put it aside for now. You can deal with it later.

Take a deep breath. What do you reckon? What did you think of it?

A. You’re horrified at what you just read and think it’s crap?

Doesn’t matter. That’s why you’re working on it now

B. So-So – you like some parts but can already see some areas that will need work?

Completely normal, and the work that needs to be done can range from the “extreme” to the “needs a few tweaks”. Either way, you need to give yourself a roadmap for how you’re going to move forward with it next.

C.  You’ve just surprised yourself with how good it is?

Great! Bask in that feeling for a bit. It’s a fantastic feeling of achievement and satisfaction that should be celebrated. It’s the Holy Grail. Enjoy.

And when you’re done enjoying, and assuming of course that you have not already decided that this piece is ready to go (it may be) carry on with that little extra bit of work to help make sure it is going to be as good as it can be.

 

STEP 2

From memory, write a short summary of what you saw written on the page of the story from start to finish. (NB if this doesn’t work and you start putting what you want the events to be in it, stop. Swap with another writer, get them to do the summary. Do not ‘pitch’ your story – this isn’t the time and this is a task for later anyway. Right now, we are all about pragmatism. This is about what IS , not what might be).

Imagine if you can that this is someone else’s story. Your summary should be about 500 words.

For example (first lines of a summary of one of my own stories):

A young woman called Eva is driving a hired car on a motorway. She is tense – the tightness of her coat and boots are mentioned – and she seems to be running away from something. On the road, she is passed by other cars that seem threatening – ‘lights like eyes, looming’ – and she is unnerved by a middle aged male driver seemingly yelling swear words at her as he drives past. A shaken Eva pulls into a lay-by and checks her directions on a piece of paper. She is on her way somewhere as yet unrevealed, but there is ‘a woman’ mentioned whom Eva seems to be late for…

 Carry on until you’ve reached the end of your story. Don’t peek at it again just yet, just try and remember.

How much of it did you get?

 

The purpose of this exercise

This is about picking up on the most salient features of what you have on the page.

Ask yourself this: How many times is a reader going to be reading your story? With a film, you really only have one chance; fiction readers, particular of short stories, may well read more than once just for the pleasure of it, but unless you’re one of their favourite writers, you can’t expect that they will go over it again and again. With novels – even less likely, and someone going through a slush pile will certainly not be bothering to read it more than once. So getting a feel for those salient features and the one chance you have to grab them are crucial.

Now, read the story again more slowly, and fill in any essential gaps.

Do NOT analyse – now is not the time for this. This is all about What Is There Now.

This kind of summarising is different from creating a logline, which is something we’ll look at separately. Creating a logline is a way of actively creating a spine for your story which you can then use as a guide while you are writing.

Doing a summary of what is already there is showing you what is already in the work. It gives you Big Clues as to the overall picture of the work , where it is currently succeeding, and the areas you might have to work on to improve it.

Now go and get a cup of tea.

In the next post, I’ll be looking at some of the most common problems to look out for at this stage – and what you can do about them.

How do you get distance from and assess your work? Feel free to leave comments below.

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