A Writer On Writing: Out of My Depth!
Sally Jenkins receives sound advice on writing a novel.
I’ve mentioned before my intention to enter the Good Housekeeping Novel Writing Competition http://www.allaboutyou.com/goodhousekeeping/goodhousekeeping-events/get-your-novel-published-competition and I’ve been beavering away at my entry since January. I wrote 20,000 words and then paused to take stock and prepare my entry which had to consist of the first 5,000 words plus a full synopsis. The synopsis was a challenge because until then I’d been writing without a detailed plan but after some thought I managed it.
Then I decided to send the 5,000 words and synopsis to novelist Patricia McAughey (who writes as Patricia Fawcett) http://www.patriciafawcett.co.uk/index.html for a critique. Patricia reads for the RNA New Writers’ Scheme http://www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org/index.php/join/new_writers_scheme and also runs a reasonably priced private critique service for all types of fiction except fantasy, sci-fi or children’s. She can be contacted through her website for a quote. http://www.patriciafawcett.co.uk/critiqueservice.html
Patricia sent me a detailed report which very tactfully told me that my story didn’t work because I was still in ‘short story’ mode. She said, “Slow down. You are rushing things. I know it is tempting to try to get all the ideas down but you are writing a longer piece and there is no rush. Relax.”
She went on to explain that I was giving the reader no idea about the setting. One of the scenes was in a Derbyshire cafe but I didn’t describe the interior, the waitress, the view or even indicate whether the place was full or empty. Patricia suggested painting a broad picture of the scene and then honing in on small details such as a woman trying to get a pushchair through the gap in the chairs.
There was a similar problem with my characters. Patricia said, “… I don’t have any great affection as yet for either of the two central characters simply because I don’t know enough about them…”. I had omitted rather obvious details like what the heroine did for a living or what she looked like!
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. I did get words of praise for my dialogue (which I love writing) and my synopsis.
So if you’re trying to move from short stories to longer fiction, take a moment to check that you’ve added depth to your writing. Make sure you haven’t skimmed over the setting or the characters’ backgrounds. Have you described what it smells like in the kitchen? Have you mentioned what your hero is wearing as he meets the heroine for the first time?