Tag Archives: first novel

Critique Time

15 Oct


What a long hiatus from Blogsville! Three months later, my manuscript has finally made it into the hands of an esteemed critiquer for an evaluation. My heart is in my mouth, finally.

When I finished my first draft manuscript in April, I was sure that 2 months away from it – away from the pages & pages and chapters of words that had poured from me relentlessly over 3 months – would give me adequate time to switch off from the story itself.  It had been all-consuming. My thinking was that a  good break would allow me to stand back from the project, allow the manuscript to breath and then, hopefully I would be able to  read it objectively.

Read-through 1 & 2 still evoked the same raw, intense emotions within me that I felt when I was writing it. Reading it still evoked deep emotional responses, almost like I was still living through what I had written. I cried at some parts and became emotionally distressed after reading other parts. I wasn’t ready yet, that was for sure.

By mid summer, I was ready to throw the entire thing out the window, and my laptop along with it. Then my laptop died. I was sure this was a sign to leave the manuscript to rest longer. I hated most of what I wrote and cringed when I read most of the early chapters while the rest was in disarray.

On the third reading of the manuscript, I abandoned the task mid-way through in exasperation. Who was I kidding, I thought, I can’t write.  The 350 printed-out pages that represented my blood, sweat and tears where then stuffed into a box and forcefully shoved into the dark under the bed. I wasn’t anyway close to being ready.

Another month later, I tried again. By chapter 19, I wanted to cut half of what I wrote out of sheer frustration. Back into the box. It was then I decided to switch off completely – I didn’t read, I didn’t watch movies, I didn’t write, I just lived. I forgot about the manuscript under my bed and just enjoyed the late summer months of festivals, BBQ’s and long summer evenings.

‘One day’ my friend said around late August, ‘it will all just become words on a page.’ Would it I thought? Would I ever get to a point where I could read my manuscript past all the emotional connection – read it without reliving everything?

Five months after I finished the first draft manuscript and when eventually all the fear had finally passed, I pulled the box out from under the bed. I got myself a glass of red wine. took a deep breath and began to read. What I found was a story that was real, a story that was from the heart and a story that moved me. Some parts were awful, some parts surprised me but some parts struck me so forcefully that I know I would not be able to write them now. Had I reached that place where I could read it outside myself?

The break had worked it seemed, as I was finally was able to see the story for what it was – a work in progress. And I was excited again and that can only be a good thing. After a few weeks work on rewriting and editing, my first draft was finally ready to be torn apart.

Now I just have to wait for my editors letter….and start all over again!




Main Image via here


Finding your story’s controlling idea, and a whole lot more.

6 Jun

(Image via here)

What is my first novel really about or as Robert McKee puts it, how do you find your story’s controlling idea? This is the question I have been mulling over for the past three weeks. Now, I do know the story, as I wrote the whole thing in virtual solitude over 3 months of constant writing – not quite Jack Torrance from The Shining, but solitude nonetheless. When I stood back from it (via the failed editing attempt of May/June), I was unable to put my finger on what the story was fundamentally about.My head reeled with the messages that filled the pages and I knew that all these messages had to sum up to something of importance. But what? What exactly was I trying to say and what did I want to tell the world??

When I found myself in my local book store in a last ditched attempt to salvage the remaining shreds of my writing confidence, I needed something that would spell out to me in layman’s terms the fundamentals of telling a story that readers like to read. My fear was that my manuscript was a jumbled up brain-dump of unstructured narrative that failed miserably to understand what it was really about or what it was trying to say?

I left my local book shop with Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ – the only book in the entire store about how to tell a story, albeit in the guise of screen-writing, but I figured the principles would transfer to novel-writing. The book was like a god-send, mapping out the elements of story-telling as if I had wished for the book to be presented as such. And then there is was, on page 117 – How do you find your story’s controlling idea? In other words, what have you been writing about for the past 80K words?

McKee advised to look at the ending, the climax of you work and ask two things:

1. ‘As a result of this climatic action, what value, positive or negative charged is brought into the world of my protagonist?’

2. ‘Tracing back from this climax, digging into the bedrock, ask: What is the chief cause, force, or means by which this value is brought into his world?

The sentence you compose from the answers of the two questions becomes your controlling idea.

After I finished this exercise I left my writing desk and went out to sit in the garden, reading the sentence I had written over and over again. I don’t think I was prepared for what I had written down. Fifteen minutes later, when I re-opened McKee’s book and read the remaining paragraph, McKee talks about how this exercise works as a form of ‘Self-Recognition’ and that you can be shocked by what you see reflected of yourself in your storys climax. I was floored.

This tiny exercise was both incredibly insightful yet also quiet unnerving but it has given me a whole new outlook and perspective on what I have written. It has opened my eyes to strong elements of my story that I was unaware of, I guess mostly because the book is about me. Thanks Mr. McKee, finally I think I understand something about myself that I could never quite put my finger on!


Editing + Delete = Nightmare

14 May

This is where I am today – I have almost thrown my laptop out the window twice, had a freak-out over at least 6 chapters, felt like packing up and going home and am close to losing faith in what I have written. I have deleted and re-written so much that I am frightened I am losing the essence of what I  wrote originally. I am trying to work scene by scene through the chapters, but maybe I have deleted too much, maybe I have misinterpreted what is my good writing and what is my bad writing…my gut instinct seems to have abandoned me. My structure is now all over the place, I think I have diluted some of my themes…..aghhhhhhh

Crisis of Confidence is officially in full swing 😦

I think I should leave things for today…..


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