As promised, I would like to share the feedback from my final assignment on the Writer’s Bureau Comprehensive Creative Writing Course. I have been made aware of some mistakes that may be of help to another like-minded dreamer thinking of writing a novel. The assignment was an open one, asking me to submit any work of fiction for appraisal, up to 3,000 words.
I feel lucky to have had the same tutor throughout the full ten years it has taken me to complete the course. Lorraine is a professional author of fiction, non-fiction and children’s fiction, as well as a tutor of creative writing and a judge of writing competitions. She has been both encouraging and critical of my work, when required, throughout, and I feel a little sad that I will not have someone knowledgeable of whom to ask important questions. I also feel apprehensive about continuing on my writing-a-novel journey alone - like I’ve lost my security blanket. However, in true me style, as one door closes, I look to open another. The end of this course has, for many good reasons, prompted a new venture, which I will reveal at the end.
Lorraine has known about the idea for my novel from its first spark of inspiration back in 2016. Then, I had decided it was going to be a non-fiction biography about my husband’s uncle, but over time, and with expert guidance from Lorraine, the idea has evolved, and is much more suited to becoming a novel. Lorraine is well aware of what I am hoping to achieve and has tracked my progress quite keenly. Since I last discussed my progress with her, I have extensively revised the structure of the book, and changed much of the plot development. So, for my final assignment, I decided to send in a breakdown of the new structure, a one paragraph summation of the prologue (which Lorraine has read before), and the first chapter in full.
The response from Lorraine was very welcome and encouraging. It has given me confidence to see this through to the end, and also prompted some interesting questions about my work so far. The response began as follows:
I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you. You have a great deal of talent and deserve to do well with your writing. [Yay!]
I have commented on the text where I felt there were a few issues and have also made some corrections, but these are very minor.
I hope you will stay in touch and let me know how the book is going.
Reading on to take note of Lorraine’s comments and corrections of my work - the following points have given me much to think about:
Changing the structure of how the story is being told has given me more scope to strengthen the plot. I think I have previously mentioned that, initially, I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of two characters, one male and one female, and that the story would be told by them, intermittently, throughout. Well, that has all changed, and now the story will be told in three consecutive parts; each part told with the voice of a different character. So there will be three voices telling the story now, one additional voice to the first two. They are three very different characters; each one imperative to the telling of their part, because they reveal developments in the plot that are unknown to the other two. It is a difficult thing to make a big and possibly disastrous change to my work so far, but Lorraine has said that the work is much improved and stronger as a result. Phew! I will sorely miss having regular feedback of my work. This is one of the reasons for my news at the end.
I have to be careful when structuring sentences. Sometimes, with poor punctuation or sentence structure, the whole meaning of a sentence can be misunderstood. I have had one such sentence pointed out to me: “That’s it, off you go!” Bronwyn shouted before carefully closing the door and returning to her tray. With curls flying in all directions, she carried it through to the sitting room. Well, obviously, I meant that Bronwyn’s curls were flying everywhere, but this reads like the tray has curls! It would read better like this: “That’s it, off you go!” Bronwyn shouted before carefully closing the door. With her curls flying in all directions, she retrieved the tray and carried it through to the sitting room. I am determined to avoid such mishaps in my writing, and this is another reason for the news I have to tell at the end of this post.
Point of view must not falter within a scene/chapter. It is perfectly fine for the point of view to change throughout a book, with more than one character telling the story, but it must not jump around within a scene. This will only confuse the reader. I have had a lot of experience getting this wrong in the past - it was something I never realised until I learnt about it. Now, I am very conscious of keeping in character when writing, but I can still mess it up without realising my mistakes. This is the sentence Lorraine pointed out to me: “No.” Both Dilys and Bronwyn replied at once, looking utterly disappointed. This chapter is written from Bronwyn’s point of view. I am writing in the third person, but everything I write is how Bronwyn would experience it. Therefore, as Lorraine pointed out to me, Bronwyn cannot see her own face. It would be more appropriate to say, sounding utterly disappointed. It’s little things like this that will continue to trip me up, I am sure, and yet another reason for my news!
Carrying on from my last point, part of the chapter describes a memory of Bronwyn’s - the story of how she managed to keep busy during the First World War. I don’t want to give anything away so won’t go into any detail, but Lorraine pointed out to me that some of it feels a little too much like the author telling the reader about Bronwyn, and that I must try to make it her memory. This is a very valid point and, again, something I must become more vigilant about in future. My voice in this story is irrelevant and should not be heard at all.
Lastly, it is imperative to check authenticity - especially when writing historical fiction. I wrote this: “Why? Is everything ok, Rowena?” Lorraine asked if the phrase ok was used in 1920. I have tried to be careful about authenticity but didn’t notice this little phrase worming its way into my text. I’ve done some research, and the phrase came into being in America in 1830 as a bit of a joke that didn’t go away, and gradually spread across the globe. So, Bronwyn could possibly have used it, but it doesn’t sit right with me and my story, so I will probably change it.
I will miss having the guidance of a tutor, especially one as supportive as Lorraine has been of me and my writing. So, to support me on my onward journey, I have chosen to study a course that will undoubtedly improve my knowledge and appropriate use of the English language, and also provide a living from my newly polished skills, seeing as my usual day job within the live music industry is on long-term hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
I have signed up for a Proofreading and Copy Editing qualification which I will study alongside, and in support of, my mission to finish writing The Road to Merville. I have already begun reading through the course material and it feels like I'm back in English classes at school. Thankfully, English was one of my favourite subjects, and learning the structure of our impossibly imperfect language is what I love most about writing, so I really think I’m going to enjoy this!
Time to get writing now - I am about to start part two - a different and most difficult character indeed!