Have you ever submitted your work to a detailed critique or edit?
If not, why not?
I believe that getting detailed, line-by-line feedback, whether from other writers or from paid professionals, is a vital part of the writing process. A necessary step along the way to polishing work for publication, and for self-improvement as a writer.
But, it can be a brutal and dispiriting process.
Next week, I'm giving a talk at my local library on how to receive and handle critiques.
The aim of the posts was to give tips on how to handle the pain of critiques and become objective and receptive to things you may not want to hear, how to look for points worth taking note of, pitfalls to avoid, and exercising judgment. As well as fleshing these themes out more thoroughly, I've book-ended them with the need to get onto the critiquing road, and some practical pointers on working with online critique groups.
Now I've expanded my notes into a ninety-minute talk, and I wonder if they could be developed further into a short e-book. If I did something like that, the aim would be to make it a freebie.
Do you think there would be interest in such a book? And how do you handle blunt critiques?
This post is part of the First Page Review bloghop. The idea is simple. On your own blog, post the first 1,000 words of something you're writing or have written, then sign up on this page linking your 1,000 word post. Visit other people on the list and read theirs, then leave a comment to let them know if you liked it, what worked, what didn't, and if you'd keep reading.
Just for fun, here is the opening from The Ashes of Home, sequel to Ghosts of Innocence, which will likely be my next project once I've polished and published Tiamat's Nest.
'Hope springs eternal' the ancient saying goes, but hope is a poor foundation to stake your life on. Shayla Carver, master assassin (retired) and first governor of the Freeworld of Eloon, was shielded by more security than any normal paranoid could hope for.
Any normal paranoid would have died years ago.
Shayla did not believe in hope. The official security measures were there to keep out the bounty hunters and the merely competent. The serious threats she relied on her own senses and training to deal with.
Her airways had clamped shut instinctively at the first salt-sweet taste on her tongue. Years of assassin training identified the airborne drug immediately. Peritax. A small dose would render her senseless in seconds.
Ambushed! In my own fucking bedchamber! Shayla pushed aside the annoyance. Questions of who and how could wait. All that mattered now was survival.
Time slowed as Shayla's mind went into overdrive. Long seconds marked by the thump of her heartbeat in her ears. She knew she had only moments to assess her situation and deal with it.
Peritax was not a poison, it would just leave her helpless. And it dispersed and broke down quickly, which meant there had to be someone nearby to release it and to finish the job. Whatever that might be.
Shayla's eyes scanned the bedchamber while she stumbled forwards a couple of steps, feigning the effects of the drug.
Two figures stood to one side in servants' robes. Barras and Gingallia? No! These could not be her servants. They were still standing for one thing. Any innocent party in this room would be comatose by now. And these two moved with stealth and menacing purpose. One behind Shayla, cutting off her escape, and one between her and the doors leading out to the balcony to her right. The only other way out of her suite.
Shayla's lungs screamed for release. To draw a breath. A breath would mean death. Hah! I'm a poet! The irrational thought flitted through her mind on butterfly wings of madness. Focus! Shayla realised that she was losing her fight against the drug just from that small taste.
Her hand crept towards the hilt of the knife under her robes. She stilled it and instead stumbled another step towards the bed. I can't fight these two. If the drug didn't take her, anoxia would.
The figures closed in.
Shayla let herself flop towards the bed, buying herself a few precious moments. As she pitched forwards her legs folded under her, then she launched herself across the bed. She rolled, outstretched hand reaching for a concealed button under the edge of the headboard. As she rolled, she glimpsed a face in the shadows of a hood. It looked like Barras, but Shayla noted nose plugs, a tiny breathing unit clamped between thin stretched lips, and eyes filled with hate.
A razor line of blue fire bisected the space she'd just vacated. A rapier shimmerblade!
Her groping fingers found the hidden button as she completed the roll. The bed collapsed behind Shayla, halved effortlessly by the shimmerblade. Tall windows ahead of her flew open and she continued her motion, hurdling the waist-high sill out into a hundred foot drop.
Gravity took Shayla as she forced the last dregs of tainted air from her mouth and drew in a deep, clean draught from the night rushing past her face. A second later, her feet connected with the broad eaves overhanging her bedroom windows. She hung upside down in the grip of an artificial grav field and drew her own blade, watching the lit window for signs of movement.
Every bedchamber should have its secret emergency exits.
Shayla hoped that her disappearance might have confused her attackers. If at least one of them leaned out of the window to see where she'd gone, she'd quickly have one less to deal with.
No such luck.
First one, then the other, appeared through the opening in a tuck roll, too fast and just out of Shayla's reach. Damn, they're good! They must have figured out what had happened. But she'd really expected no less. Only the very best assassins ever got this close.
They both landed in front of Shayla, back to back, in fighting crouches. The nearer one saw Shayla and signalled to his companion, who also turned to face her.
The first one, the Barras lookalike (traitor or impostor?) swung his rapier. Shayla's own blade flashed blue and met it with a jarring wrench.
A shimmerblade was a rare and fearsome weapon, highly prized by undercover agents as a weapon of stealth. When activated, the vibrating crystalline edge could shear through anything less than military grade vehicle armour -- or another shimmerblade. But when two such blades met in hand-to-hand combat, the results were random and potentially catastrophic for one or both combatants.
Shayla's knife hand went numb. She barely managed to keep her grip on the hilt as she stumbled back against the wall towering over her head to meet the ground hanging impossibly above.
But at least she had been prepared. She'd activated her shimmerblade at the last moment and knew what to expect.
Her opponent staggered back in the other direction. One foot found the edge of the eaves, and he stepped, without thinking, to keep his balance. But he was now half out of the edge of the grav field, and conflicting forces led his reflexes astray. He lost his balance. The planet's natural gravity reclaimed him and he fell, shrieking, into the night.
The remaining assassin reached into her robes. Her hood had slipped, revealing a good likeness of Gingallia, one of Shayla's senior personal servants. It also revealed eyes filled with fear and shock at her companion's sudden demise. This looked like the junior of the two, but she was still a force to be treated with respect.
The first faltering signs of Autumn are starting to show. The unseasonable mild spell is giving way to grey skies and an evening chill. We switched on the heating and started lighting wood fires for the first time last week.
Writing goals for October/November:
Still plodding through critique feedback and revising Tiamat's Nest. This is a long haul. I'm about half way through since starting in earnest back in July.
I'm also beta-reading a novel for a friend, making good progress there.
Finally, I'm preparing a talk on critiquing to give next month at the local library.
Even amongst friends a detailed critique can be hard to take, but blunt and honest critiques are a necessary growth pain for any writer. Venturing into the anonymous jungle of online critique groups in search of tough love is both terrifying and exponentially rewarding. I will be sharing practical tips for surviving - and thriving on - the harshest of critiquing experiences.
Details here if you happen to be in the vicinity and want to say "Hi."
All this adds up to a load of things competing for my time this month, but variety is good.
Today is the release day for Crystal Collier's Book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy.
Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she's forced to unleash her true power.
Crystal has lined up a blog tour to celebrate, with games, interviews and prizes. Hop over to Crystal's blog for details...and don't forget to bring some cheese!
Like the vast majority of writers, I'll consider myself lucky if I ever earn enough from writing to take my family out for a decent meal, let alone fund that cozy retirement to a log cabin with ocean views.
So, every once in a while it's nice to get reminders that my work has a tangible, if small, presence in the world outside my head.
First, the people who have read Ghosts seem to like it. Another five-star review popped up on Goodreads this week. I've had some wonderful reviews from long-time and supportive blogging friends - you know who you are, and I thank you with all my heart - but also a couple from people I don't know. It means a lot to me to find my words enjoyed by a complete stranger.
Also this week, I got a reminder from Library & Archives Canada to send copies of my book in to Legal Deposit. Yes, I, my publishing imprint, and my title, are firmly in the grip of officialdom and now preserved for posterity.
Finally, I visited my local library today, to see this...
I started writing about sci-fi worldbuilding back in August. Haven't posted properly in a while because it takes me time to get my thoughts in order, and I am trying to focus on revising Tiamat's Nest while also beta reading for a friend.
However, one of the comments last time gave me pause for thought. I was talking about the possible diversity of life in a universe where life has arisen independently on many worlds, and Alex pointed out that you'd need a lot of scientific knowledge to invent convincing alternatives, and the worldbuilding would be impossibly detailed.
I felt this was worth a bit of exploration.
Building alternative life forms
My last post, Diversity Rules, was meant to show where certain assumptions about the origins of life would logically lead - at one end of a very broad spectrum.
If you decide to invent a novel form of life and go deep into its biology, psychology, ecology etc. then I think Alex is right. It would be a gargantuan task.
But if you want to keep life forms and biology close enough to known forms for comfort, there are many ways to do so by choosing a different starting point or invoking suitable organizing principles.
And even if you want diversity and novelty, you don't need to go overboard on the details. For example, E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman universe is peopled with hugely varied species with an inventive array of body plans that are not simply derivatives of earthly forms. Sure, he makes some simplifying choices. Warm-blooded oxygen-breathing humanoids predominate, for example, but he pays suitable lip service to the common Arisian seed for life in the two galaxies and moves on. The biological details are not overly important.
In other words, you can choose to go as detailed as you want, but it really needn't be too onerous - just enough to paint the scene in terms your reader will accept. I think this last bit is vital. Do what is appropriate both for your story and your audience. Some are more demanding than others.
The importance of research
Having said that, I think you do need a certain amount of scientific literacy to write convincing science fiction. This doesn't mean you have to come from a scientific background, but you owe it to yourself to do the appropriate research.
In this, sci-fi is no different from any other writing!
If you were to set a spy thriller in London, and have your counter-espionage heroine stepping across the road from Westminster Abbey to the Tower of London, many readers who don't know London would likely not blink an eye - but many would point out the geographical absurdity. And if a character in London decides to take the tube, you'd better have at least a working knowledge of the underground network and what it's like to ride it.
That is called research. Authors do it all the time when they need to paint a convincing setting for their real-world stories.
Just because your story is set in another space and another time, don't expect a free pass. Remember, it's called science fiction for a reason.
I'm an expat Brit making a new life in British Columbia - both the best and the most terrifying thing I've ever done in my life.
I share this with my wife Ali, children Megan and Matthew, six cats, a dog, four guinea-pigs, a rabbit, a hedgehog, and a variable number of fish.
I am an IT manager by day, and a sci-fi writer by night.