Tag Archives: critic

Time limits

Phil: To those who’ve taken the time to read our short story, Lot 38, thank you.  Today’s post was supposed to show the feedback we received from Writers-Forum but about 10 minutes ago I read this comic on the Oatmeal and changed my mind.

One of the panels explains that “I sometimes solicit ideas from other people, but I rarely use their suggestions. Instead, hearing their idea allows me to see another one more clearly.”

This is true and it’s how Lot 38 came about.

Candice and I were lunching in the pub one day, discussing writing short stories. We decided that if you want to carry the reader, your tale needs a bit of pace and that possibly the best plan was to look for ideas with a timescale or deadline. A classic plot involves is a bomb, which in the movies is always fitted with a great big red countdown timer. There’s no need for this but it helps build tension as the audience know that something is going to happen. We don’t know what but even if the hero just sits around drinking coffee, events will carry on around him. Should he wish to affect the outcome, it’s time to step away from the latte and get a move on.

Bombs are a bit old hat but there are lots of other situations that can be employed – the arrival of a train was good for 3:10 to Yuma. High noon and 24 both stuck the timescale in the title.

I don’t know how, but as we chatted, the idea of an auction popped into my head. Maybe it’s because Bigwoods auctioneer’s operate from opposite our lunch venue, or maybe it’s just that I love the atmosphere of a good auction and have sat in quite a few over the years. Candice has never been to an auction, probably a good thing as I fear that she would be fantastically competitive leading to paying well over the odds to win, or hunting down her opponent later. (Can you tell she’s on holiday so I can say this without fear?)

Anyway, I had the scene, all I needed was the story. We rattled some ideas around a bit, by which time I was fired up to go and make some words. Writing the piece didn’t actually take very long and the subsequent edits were minimal. Sometimes, an idea is so strong that it just works.

Anyway, you probably want to know the official critique:

Title: Apt for the story, but not intriguing.

Opening: This introduces the main character and contains a hook to grab the reader’s attention, giving us a reason to read on.

Dialogue: Very good – the dialogue helps to drive the story onwards and also aids characterisation.

 Characterisation: Good – the characters come to life on the page.

Overall: The ending is a bit too predictable. I feel you need to mislead the reader more. Throw in a couple of subplots to take the reader’s mind off the main storyline. You have an easy to read writing style, but in a short story one of the characters (usually the main one) is changed or grows as a result of what happens to him or her. This depends too heavily on the twist (which, as I have pointed out, is easy spot almost from the outset) and needs a few more layers to give the plot depth.

One to learn from – use this experience to help with your next story

So, not bad but not great. I’m not sure how to cram more subplots into the story but not add more than about 1000 words. Suggestions for the sort of sub-plot that we could wedge in would be appreciated too. Part of the joy of using an auction is the intensity of the moment. When you are bidding, it’s a battle of nerves between two people. Perhaps the other bidder should have been more aggressive but then I wanted to contrast his attitude with the main character who so desperately wanted the painting. Maybe the idea of it being of great value and a potential financial saviour should be turned up to 11, the daughter could take a larger role, perhaps with her own internal dialogue.

Maybe there will be Lot 38 (MKII) here soon!

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Facing criticism

Phil stared down into his beer. The delicious Old Speckled Hen coursed through his system and started to dull the pain of what he feared was to come. This was high noon for the writers. The day when all the chickens would be coming home to roost. It was the day he had arranged to meet V and find out what she thought  of The Book.

He had met V three jobs ago. She was a PA who ruled her boss and his department with an iron fist. She wasn’t so much the power behind the throne as the ventriloquist behind the dummy. Grown men cowed in her presence and Phil remembered more than once receiving a verbal slap down over the telephone when he dared to step over a previously invisible line

But this made V the ideal person to read The Book. She wouldn’t pull her punches. If there were problems, they would be exposed. If the plot was rubbish, blushes would not be spared. At the end of the day, if The Book had satisfied its reader then a good job could be said to be done.

OK, I’m hamming things up a bit, but this week I’ve received a couple of feedbacks from our second batch of test readers. I won’t be telling you the results until they have been discussed with Candice but the one thing I can be sure of is that they are fair assessments. Some friends are too close to be honest, they might fear causing offense by criticising a project that you’ve been rambling on about in the pub. Others though, aren’t so close so you don’t feel too bad about asking them to devote time to reading your great work whilst being confident that they will tell you the unvarnished truth.

I made it clear to all my test readers that what we needed was honesty. If it’s rubbish, tell me. OK, so this might be ignored but it’s your opinion. It’s possibly an opinion likely to be shared by someone who we approach to publish the thing. On the other hand, if it’s good then there’s the chance of some word-of-mouth that might just reach the ears of someone useful.

The other thing is that opinions vary. I’ve bounced early feedback off later readers and they have disagreed. OK, it’s not a focus group, but I’m doing my best on a limited budget most of which is spent on beer.

For the writer, it’s important to be open to criticism and make this very obvious. We are conditioned (mostly) not to be confrontational and so sitting down to tell some hard truths about a manuscript someone has spent ages slaving over is very difficult. A pint of beer or cake helps but it’s still a big ask to get someone to give up time to read and then comment on your book. It has to be done though. I mean, I think it’s great and so does my friend Candice. But then we aren’t really the most impartial of witnesses.

Whether V liked it, you’ll have to wait to find out. I need to discuss the results with my colleague first. Watch this space.

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