Thursday, 25 July 2013

How writing groups can help to improve your writing.

Yesterday I was welcomed back to my local writing group and it was good to get back among a group of friends with like minded goals. Wordsmiths of Melton is a critiquing group, and each member is given the opportunity to put forward a short story, poem, or a chapter from a longer work for comment and advice.
It was great to see how their novels had developed while I was away. I was pleased to be able to catch up with the adventures of the settlers in Les's novel: Redemption. this is science fantasy about Earth's colonisation of  the planet Arena. Caitlin has progressed well with her novel: The Adventures of Incredible Man. Her writing takes me back to the numerous comics I had as a kid. Back then I loved reading about Superman and the many other heroes that spawned in the pre television era.

Writing groups are usually small, about six to ten participants and everyone is at different stages of writing and have various skill strengths. That variation propels us forward.
To demonstrate how our group works, I thought that I would post the first draft of the story I put up for critique this week. Bearing in mind this was the very first hastily written draft I threw it into the mix to attract as many comments as I could.

Over the next few weeks you will be able to watch the story develop as I will re-draft the piece. Guided by my colleagues comments I hope to demonstrate how their critiques have helped to improve the piece:
Here is the first rough draft of the story I offered for critique.

Work boots and feral utes                

The wheel wrenched in her hands and Sarah felt the front of the Falcon dip. Metal screeched against the road and she caught a glimpse of the front wheel spearing off into the grass. A battle for control began as Jake’s old work ute slewed onto the verge. A tap of the brakes and then a desperate pump of the pedal did nothing it went to the floor. The handbrake didn’t work but she tugged on it anyway, nothing. Jake had tormented her from the time they married and finally today hope of a new start without him, and yet it seemed he controlled her again. Would she never be free?

A new beginning, all she had to do was get to the interview on time. Well that’s what the lady on reception said anyway. It wasn’t her first choice to drive to the other side of the city to work but other job applications had failed. Now with a rusted bombed out old ute collapsed on the side of the road she had missed this opportunity as well. Did he have to take everything? Her car, her phone, her money, her dignity. She couldn’t ask her parents, they told her he was no good when she ran off with him three years ago.

Cars swept past, no one stopping to help. A carload of louts jeered as they flew past at speed. She was late and without a phone she had no method of letting them know she’d broken down. The highway roared with traffic and as trucks flashed by their wind nearly blew her over. Waving them down had no effect and now it started to rain. Sarah would sit in the car and wait it out before trying to hail someone down again.

The drizzle subsided and she tried again. Two B-double semi trailers buzzed past, nose to tail their wheels whipping slush into a fine mist, drenching her. Catching a glimpse of her image in the window Sarah broke down. Her lovely suit looked ruined, shoes covered in mud and her hair a mess. She yanked the door open breaking a nail and slumped into the seat, slamming the door in anger. What could she do? She rested her head and arms on the steering wheel, her energy drained away.

‘Hello Miss.’ a male voice said. ‘Are you okay?’

Sarah had drifted off. Turning to see where the voice was coming from she noticed his eyes. ‘Not really, I’ve got a bit of car trouble.’

‘Yeah, I can see that.’ The wheel landed with a thump on the ute’s tray. ‘I was working the other end of the paddock when I saw you parked here. I reckoned you couldn’t have a phone when you were out in the rain. Name’s Matt by the way.’

‘My first day at work, but I reckon that’s gone now.’ She said. ‘Sorry, hello Matt, I’m Sarah.’

‘Look I’ve given my mate Robbo a call and one of his blokes will come out in the truck and get this off the road. Ally, my wife and I live in the house over there. Come on, I called her on the CB and she said you should come up and dry off in the kitchen. Then she’ll drive you to where you want to go when she does the school run.’

Bummer, a wife and kids too, the thought rumbled around in Sarah’s mind, but she was glad of his offer. ‘Thanks’. She said.

‘What type of job were you going to?’ Ally asked as they drove to the workshop where the ute was waiting.

‘Oh a only bookkeeping job in Richmond, but it will be well gone by now.’

Ally didn’t say anything more about the job, and they nattered about nothing and everything as the car wound through the Industrial area to where the workshop was.

‘I’ll go in and bring him out. His place is full of leery calendars and blokes with one track minds, and I reckon you could do without any more of that today?’

It seemed like an age then from the darkness Sarah saw Ally walk out accompanied by a man in his thirties, jeans, white muscle tee shirt and steel capped boots. His hair neatly cropped and a bit like Hugh Jackman in the face she thought. Nothing like any of the mechanics she’d met before.

‘I’m Robbo Ally’s brother, I can’t do much with your car today, in fact it’s probably better off going to the wreckers for what you’d spend on fixing it.’

‘That good eh?’

‘Sorry, Ally tells me you’ve missed your first day at work and you’re a book keeper.’

‘Yeah but I don’t understand.’

‘You could help me out. I’m up to my ears in it. Bookkeeping I mean, and I’ve been looking for someone to keep it up for a while now. I just haven’t advertised. Anyway, would you be interested?
Robbo waited on her answer.

Wordsmith's general comments:

Things to work on:
  • Improve the grammar with sentence structure
  • Title is great but requires capitals
  • Was she going for an interview or a job? Requires an explanation in the writing.
  • What was it she couldn't ask her parents for?
  • The CB why wouldn't he use a phone?
  • Ally needs to be somewhere, the reader can get confused here.
  • It would be unlikely for some one in this situation to 'drop off' , suggest a rework of the sentence.
  • Sarah says 'Yeah but I don't understand?' what is it she doesn't understand. needs expanding.
  • How does she now they are steel capped boots.
  • The ending is unresolved.
Things that worked:
  • Realistic dialogue, I liked it a lot
  • This has all of the elemnts of a romance except there is not enough of it.
  • Overall I liked the story, I think you are a bit of a romantic at heart.
  • I really enjoyed the fell of the story, the pain,despair hopelessness, making wrong life choices. The way it kicks you when you're down, then gives you a second chance.
  • I liked the concept of the story, the thought f everything going wrong and then hope revealing itself. The opening paragraph got me in.
  • You could feel her frustration in the opening, being controlled and hemmed in. The characters portrayed good country people who are friendly and helpful so they came across as real. The story moved welladding variety to each setting and person.
  • Great opening paragraph. You introduce character and internal conflict against a background of external conflict. Lots of great verbs and a real sense of actiongoing on here.
Overall our members liked the context of the story but felt it required some fleshing out in some areas and more clarification in others.
During the next couple of weeks I will rewrite the piece and put it before the group again to see how they view it a second time. I will keep you posted with the developments.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Toby Farrier helps Harry Potter celebrate his birthday

A new initiative by Caitlin Henderson of the Wordsmiths of Melton is campaigning to hold a write-in at the new Melton Library on Wednesday 31st of July.  As this coincides with Harry Potter's birthday it should encourage all aspiring novelists and story tellers to attend. Caitlin has posted the event on Facebook and the numbers of interested writers are growing.

These sessions will be open to everyone and are not part of the formalised Wordsmith meetings, more a coming together of like minded people to share a space to let their creative energies flow. At present we are planning to meet at the library at 9.00 am laptops in hand and write solidly through until 5.00 pm. It is important you bring everything you will need for the day. Breaks will be scheduled for morning tea and lunch.

It is hoped this will create a motivational atmosphere and everyone is encouraged to discuss and share the things that are troubling them about their writing. (Ending everyone's writing block.)

This may be the push I need to finish the re-writes of Toby Farrier.

We anticipate that everyone who participants should derive a sense of fellowship and achievement by the end of the day.

Heres the link to the event:!/events/1397559150460544/1397644353785357/?notif_t=plan_mall_activity

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The knife, the ear, and the bar

The barman’s finger traced invisible circles around Thursday’s date printed on the front of today’s paper. He stared at the back of the tourist studying the notice board. A man of average height, in his mid to late sixties, he walked with limp and a ragged scar ran down his cheek. Sam had seen many tourists in his bar, but this one had an air of mystery about him and it gave Sam the shivers.

‘What’s with the ear?’ the drawl sounded American but Sam couldn’t be sure.

‘It’s from one of Joe Gillespie’s heifers, somebody shot and clay-panned it out near Pauper’s Corner about six months ago.’

‘Where?’ the stranger asked, tapping the section map.

Sam left the bar and stood in front of the yellowing chart, he swept his hand along the Hammond road. ‘This is all Joe’s country here.’ He studied the roads for a while and jabbed his finger at the intersection of two tracks. ‘And this is Pauper’s Corner.’

‘Clay-panned eh?’ The tourist said taking a long look at the map. He drained his glass, and paid Sam for cigarettes. He turned on his heel, led his shadow into the street, and disappeared into the early afternoon.

Sam, on his own again leaned on his elbow and flipped the paper over to the sports pages, but his mind was elsewhere. He gazed at the pocketknife pinning the cow’s ear to the frame of the notice board and his mind drifted to the night months ago when Joe stabbed it there.

It was about six o’clock on a Friday, he remembered because it was happy hour and all of the regulars had made it in for their free drinks. The place was full, old Wally’s shearing team had been in since three and were becoming rowdy.

He’d just put a schooner in front of Spider when he heard a bull bar crash into the high kerb in front of the Hotel. Through the open door, he saw the driver’s door flick open. Joe Gillespie he was out of his seat before the Toyota stopped shuddering. His face glowed red with anger, the eyes wide and piercing. It only took Joe two steps to lunge from the four-wheel drive and breast the bar.

Holding the heifer’s lifeless head by the ear, he slapped it onto the bar in front of Sam. Gunk splattered those closest and the bar hushed with amazement, Joe had their attention.

‘This is the third cow I’ve lost in twelve months and someone in here probably knows the thieving pricks who’ve been taking them. Well get the message out people, I have had a gut full and if anybody takes another one it will be their head I put on the bar.’

He drew a pocketknife from the pouch on his belt and sliced off the ear. The identity tag stayed with it. Showing the room, he said. ‘This is a reminder to your mates to leave my stock alone.’

He held the ear against the white frame and slammed the blade through the ear splitting soft timber. Joe studied the crowd, holding eye contact with everyone in the room when a lone voice broke the silence.

‘Ease up Grandad. It’s just a bloody cow for Christ sakes.’ The ginger headed young roustabout giggled. A gutful booze to fuelled his courage.

Joe’s grabbed him by the throat, his right hand lifting the smartarse from his stool. Joe dropped him backside first on top of the wet bar. The crowd had stepped further away when Joe pressed his nose on that of the offender and whispered. ‘But you see fella, this was no ordinary cow...It was my cow.’

Sam smiled at the theatre of his memory and returned to the paper.