I’ve received quite a few critiques now for the opening chapters of ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, and they’ve generally been positive. At the low level (line editing), there isn’t much comment; a few word changes, the odd punctuation error, and a few places where a whole or part of a sentence is seen as extraneous. At a slightly higher level, there are some scenes or even sentences which are seen as having no purpose beyond world-building (and for some that’s true, but others are necessary foreshadowing). The main issue is in knowing what exactly is going on. Some people like everything spelled out for them, and some can go with the flow. Knowing just how much to explain is a complicated business, which I will discuss in detail in another post.Follow PaulineMRoss
Everyone agrees that the opening to a book is critical. Some say it’s the first five pages, some the first 18 lines (the first page on a typical print book), and some will tell you that you have to grab the reader by the throat within the first sentence, or All is Lost.
Well, to be honest, if a reader is so flighty that they’re going to toss a book based solely on the first line, I’m not sure I want them anyway. The first page is trickier. I can see the case for putting something there that’s so compelling that a reader absolutely has to turn the page. It’s all very well for George R R Martin to stick a forty page prologue up front, full of characters who promptly die, dialogue that is deeply portentous but unintelligable, and events that will possibly be understandable three books later, if you’re lucky. Most of us won’t be given that much leeway by the reader.Follow PaulineMRoss
‘The Plains of Kallanash’ is the first book I ever actually completed (in first draft), so now that it’s had several months to brew while I finished another book, it’s time to begin the process of editing. I’ve always imagined that my writing is pretty clean. I don’t make many errors of grammar, spelling or punctuation, and I edit to some extent as I go along, cleaning up yesterday’s writing before starting a new section, adding in elements needed to the early chapters as the plot develops and occasionally revising whole chunks of text when I reached a lull. So it was shock to reread the opening chapters after a spell away from it.
Who wrote this crap? That was my first thought. It was long-winded and dull. I’d tinkered a bit with the opening paragraph, but it still didn’t work. Then there was a long section that was basically exposition, more telling than showing, just atmospheric backstory, before other characters appeared and things started to happen.Follow PaulineMRoss
The first draft of ‘The Fire Mages is now complete. It weighed in at 44 chapters, 151,000 words in the end, and took four and a half months to write, although only 90 days were actual writing days. Average amount written was almost 1,700 words per writing day. This is a big improvement on ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, where I managed only 1,000 words per writing day, and elapsed time was almost a year. Not sure whether I’m getting more productive, or this was an easier book to write. It’s certainly smaller (‘The Plains of Kallanash’ is 220,000 words).Follow PaulineMRoss
Most stories have a villain of some sort to generate conflict (also known as an antagonist). Beginning writers are advised to give their hero or heroine (protagonist) a goal, and to have an antagonist who works against the protagonist, preventing him or her from reaching their goal. The tension rises as the protagonist struggles to achieve the goal and is knocked back more and more decisively; eventually a point of despair is reached, then a solution is envisaged and there is a final confrontation, during which the antagonist is defeated.Follow PaulineMRoss
Most fantasy worlds include some sort of religious belief. It’s such an ingrained part of real-world culture that it can be very hard to conceive of a world without some kind of spiritual element. Some authors use the opportunity to explore aspects of belief that are difficult to address in contemporary fiction, since real religions carry so much historical baggage. Some throw in as many different forms of worship as they can, for depth or to create conflict between groups. Occasionally a fantasy world has no religion at all (like Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series).Follow PaulineMRoss
[Edited on 17th November 2013] So a few days after posting the first chapter of The Fire Mages, I’ve had five critiques. They’ve ranged from quite negative to extremely positive, full of glowing praise. But from the five crits together, I’ve got a great deal of feedback, both large and small. Some of it I feel safe in ignoring. The critters who wanted the main character named and setting described within the first few lines – it’s a common principle, but it’s hard to do in a first person point of view, and really, fantasy readers in particular are quite happy to wait a while longer to find out about the world (in fact, they enjoy having it revealed in tiny snippets along the way).Follow PaulineMRoss
[Edited 17th November 2013] As I inch closer towards editing The Plains of Kallanash (Work #2), I realise I’m going to need other eyes to look over it, both at a low level (for typos and other errors) and at the structural level. That’s part of the reason for putting it out on this blog in the first place, but that’s rather a scattershot approach; maybe no one will read it? If they do, they may not provide any constructive criticism.Follow PaulineMRoss
Wattpad is a website where authors can post their writing and readers can read it, free of charge. It’s been touted as a great way to bring your writing to readers’ attention, especially if you have a series of books out and are prepared to essentially give away the first in the series to draw in readers to the rest of the series. It can also work if you have novellas or short stories set in the same world.Follow PaulineMRoss
When I finished the first draft of ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ (Work #2) back in May, I followed my standard policy of letting work simmer for a while before doing anything with it. For a blog post or book review, that might be a day or two. For an essay, maybe a week or two. For a book, I decided that three months was the minimum allowable. Ideally, a year would be better, but I wasn’t sure I could wait that long! So I created a new page in Scrivener, and typed in giant letters: ‘EDITING SCHEDULE: DO NOT OPEN UNTIL AUGUST 2013!’. Then I got on with ‘The Fire Mages’ (Work #3).Follow PaulineMRoss