On The Premises Take Two

The online fiction magazine, On The Premises, has a contest every few months based on a specific premise that must somehow be incorporated into the story. As I discussed in a previous post , the first time I entered one of their contests (the premise was ‘Innerworkings’), I didn’t make the final round of judging and opted to pay ($15) to have my story critiqued.

I seek out critiques of my work and comments as much as possible because for all the research on ‘how to write effectively’ I could ever do, the only way to know if I’m succeeding is to hear what people think about my final product. Preferably people who aren’t too close to me to be honest, and who are better writers than I am (which I admit may be a lot of people, but not everybody). Getting feedback from editors who have seen a lot of good and bad writing come and go is very useful.

Unfortunately, most ezines I’ve encountered don’t provide feedback unless they accept your story and the expected editing process begins. OTP, however will critique any entry if asked, and the contests themselves are great writing prompts. If you’re looking for feedback on your writing, it’s worth considering OTP as a place to submit your work. The feedback I received the first time around was thorough and helpful, so I decided to give it another go.

This time the premise was ‘Instructions’. Stepping away from my usual sci-fi/speculative comfort zone, the story I submitted was a WWII, historical fiction narrative inspired by some letters my grandfather wrote from 1944/45. I kept the historical details as close to reality as I could, putting my protagonist in the times and places my grandfather would have been—give or take—but all the characters were fiction.

I didn’t win a prize this time either 😦 but I did make the top ten 🙂 and as a reward received my critique for free.

The thing about critiques is, well, they’re critical. In this case they did start by saying:  We consider “Letter From Your Girl” one of the ten best stories that we received for contest #21. You might be able to sell it to another market without changing a thing.

This statement should have made me feel wonderful and put me in a mind set to take the subsequent comments in stride, and it did—for about ten seconds. Then I went on to read about all the weak sentences and confusing points they found in my story, how they had trouble feeling the emotions of my protagonist, and so on. The knowledge that a) they liked my story better than most they received, and b) I asked for this feedback, became totally irrelevant while my guts were being gouged out by a carefully-sharpened pencil.

Was that a bit dramatic? I thought so too. So, I took a deep breath and realized, a) most of their observations were not that bad, certainly not impossible to fix before I send the story elsewhere, and b) they were right.

However, there was one thing in the critique I took issue with. You can make your own judgment about what it says about On The Premises staff (or about me). And feel free to comment and tell me I’m making an issue out of nothing…or that I’m not.

Here are some sentences taken directly from the story:

“…sharing the New Brunswick birth place had created an automatic bond between them.”

“The troop train rolled into the Moncton station…”

“…he was sure he could hitch a ride the rest of the way to Saint John.”

“Someone who’d been back in Canada for some time, no doubt.”

“…celebration at the sight of the Canadian troops and tanks.”

Here are some sentences taken directly from the critique of my story:

“Why this family decides to adopt an American soldier…”

“…when he gets back to the USA…”

Do we see a problem here?

I can understand how the mention of two Canadian cities might escape notice. I can’t claim to know the name of every American city. I could even let the misunderstanding of New Brunswick go. It is one of our smaller provinces, and there does happen to be a city called New Brunswick in New Jersey, as well as a Brunswick, Georgia. There were also multiple mentions of the Staghound armoured car used by commonwealth forces (not US forces) during WWII, but that is a reference I probably would have missed myself until recently.

However, I have some trouble reconciling that I could refer to Canada directly twice—and we’re talking about a short story here, not a novel—not to mention, the abbreviation ‘cdn’ appearing about half a dozen times in letter excerpts throughout the story, and yet the judges for On The Premises made the assumption that my protagonist was American. Maybe I’m just nitpicking, but it’s hard to believe my work was being given even a fraction of the reader’s full attention.

Actually, on first noticing this oversight, images of my story being read at two in the morning while working on bottle of wine number two ran through my head. My impulse was to be incensed. Why should I listen to what they have to say about my writing when clearly they weren’t even awake when they read it? Do they even know there were countries other than the USA in WWII? I wonder if they’d be shocked to learn the war started before December 1941.

Oh dear, being dramatic again. I took another deep breath. This lapse does not mean their other comments on my writing do not deserve my full attention. For now I’m putting both the story and the critique aside. Sometime later, I will read them both again, fix my story as best I can, and submit it elsewhere. In the meantime, will I enter the next OTP contest? Probably not, but maybe the one after that.

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More Lessons Learned

This week in my writing world, I’ve had a good opportunity to examine how I write. I heard back from the latest On The Premises contest, which I entered a few weeks ago. I didn’t win—no shock there—but I did take them up on the offer to critique my story.

Of course a big (BIG) part of me didn’t want to look at what they had to say, but I mustered up the guts to open the file. It wasn’t as bad as I feared. It seemed they at least liked it and they said my creativity rated above average (compared to other entries). They did have some things to say about the structure of my story, however.

That’s actually good news. Better “this passage isn’t long enough” than “this idea is boring and unoriginal”. The former is much easier to work with.

There were some places where more detail was required. I was basically attempting to create an entire universe in a few thousand words and fell short in a few places, leaving the reader confused about the big picture. They were able to give me some specific examples as to where I made this mistake. Precisely the kind of feedback I needed.

Also, in this particular story, I alternated between the points of view of two different characters rather quickly. I’m not entirely sure why I did this. It’s something I have actually found annoying in stories I’ve read by others.

Not that changing POV is bad (except when it’s done mid paragraph or something) but doing it too rapidly, or at the wrong time, can keep the reader from getting drawn into the characters. I’ve read stories where I found that just as I was getting interested in someone I had to shift gears to someone else. Exactly the effect I unwittingly created here. I have no reason other than: it’s how the story came to me and I didn’t give it much thought after the fact. I should have.

Most embarrassingly, I interchanged the word I intended with a homonym. I do this often—my husband often catches them if I ask him to proofread. In this case I had written ‘allowed’ for ‘aloud’. Twice. Seriously.

Yes I know the difference between the two. So why did I screw it up… and miss it again while editing? Who knows? For one thing I’m noticing that I hear the rhythm of the sentences and paragraphs in my head more than I actually look at the words I’m typing. Funny what we learn about ourselves. This is not what I would have expected. I’m generally a more visual than auditory person. In school I was always horrible at learning from lectures, but show me an example and I’m good to go. I wouldn’t have thought my visual perception of the words could be so easily foiled by my impression of their sound. It appears the workings of the brain aren’t so easily defined one way or the other. Surprise, surprise.

This error also highlights the downside of doing most of my own editing. Someone once told me that, no matter how careful we are, we only catch about sixty percent of our own mistakes on average. I am convinced that this is true–and at this I am not ‘above average’.

To solve this problem, the site recommended reading aloud (there’s that word again). Would this work where homonym mistakes are concerned? I’ve actually tried it before and found it often does. Perhaps because doing so forces me to pay closer attention, to look at the words as I read them. I realised the when I read the critique that I hadn’t used this technique for this piece, despite knowing about it. So, not only do I have to learn these lessons, I have to stick to applying them.

Final lesson of the day: It’s easy to get lazy.

I fully intend to enter the next contest by On The Premises and go through this process again. Maybe it will keep me honest.

Another 3/5

Thanks for another review of Dosterra by The Book Nook. It only covers ch 1-3 but I’ll take whatever feedback I can get 😉

I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone that you can now read on JukePop Serials without creating an account if you sign in with facebook.  Either way it’s free and there’s lots of great reading to explore.

Learning to Write a Novel The Journey Continues.

Anyone who has been following me is aware that I recently sought out a few reviews of my serial novel, Dosterra, being published on JukePop Serials. My main motivation for doing this was feedback. Creative writing is still very new to me. It’s not something I even considered trying my hand at until a little over a year ago, so I need people to tell me where I’m getting it right and where I’m getting it wrong (My husband and my mother are great, but lack the objectivity I’m looking for).

As far as Dosterra goes, after x-number of reviews are in–there are a few more to come–the consensus seems to be that the first chapter is the roughest, and the story (and my writing) improves around chapter 3.

Case in point, the latest review by hidingbehindbooks came to the same conclusion.

The upside of this feedback is that it tells me I’m improving. The downside is that given the medium in which I have chosen to publish Dosterra people are unlikely to go past chapter one if they don’t like it. The way JukePop Serials is laid out, readers can access chapter one of any story without signing up for the site, but to go farther creating an account or signing in via facebook is required. Plus with the number of stories available, even those with an account will probably move on to another story if they are not enthralled by the end of chapter one.

Now for the confession,

The roughness of chapter one does not come as a huge surprise to me–in retrospect at least. When I first got the idea for Dosterra I had only ever written short stories, but when I started writing I quickly realised that I couldn’t fit the story into an accepted short story length. I was considering making it a series of short stories—but still had not even considered attempting a novel—when I stumbled across JukePop Serials looking for the first 5000 words of potential novels to serialize. Lo and behold, I had about 5000 words. Figuring it was a long shot, but what the hell, I sent it in and, holy crap they liked it! Now I have to learn to write a novel. I had a feeling that what I had was not the best start to a novel, but lacked the skills at the time to fix it and figured that I would learn as I went along.

And learn I have. One big difference between a short story and a novel: the amount of time you have to fit in all the relevant information. In chapter one of Dosterra, I basically tried to fit a novel level of information into a short story slice of time.

Lesson learned: Give the reader some time to engage before confusing the crap out of them.

I must say I am very much enjoying this learning process and am thankful to JukePop for accepting my story, which gave me that little extra push to dive in. I am very appreciative to those of you who have had the patience to get past chapter one and on to the rest of what Dosterra has to offer. I hope you will continue, and I hope these reviews will encourage some others to follow suit knowing there is something to look forward to.

In case anyone is wondering, chapter seven is only a few days away 🙂

Dosterra Review by The Word Bookie

Another positive review of Dosterra comes to you via The Word Bookie. This review has some good things to say about my writing and characters ( 🙂 ) and has also given me some constructive things to think about. What more can a new writer ask of a review?

I’m glad to have gotten a review from The Word Bookie, an all-around book blog written by a freelance writer–getting another writer’s perspective is always beneficial. This blog gives perspective on everything from best sellers to newbies like me so I recommend book lovers check it out.

Dosterra Review by Sammi Cox

Check out this latest review of Dosterra by Sammi Cox.

Sammi has an eclectic blog that drew me in immediately. It’s fun and colourful, and along with some great book reviews it includes posts on, publishing, Sammi’s own writing, and a very interesting category of creative imaginings that some of you might find worth checking out.

Thank you Sammi for the kind words about Dosterra. For those visiting me for the first time, Dosterra is my dystopian sci fi novel that is being published by chapter on the genre fiction site JukePop Serials. Chapters 1-6 are currently available and chapter 7 will be I published in a week or so. Its free to read. All you need is an email address to sign up–or you can sign in with your facebook account if you prefer–and have access to a plentiful supply of serial fiction from a number of genres including (but not limited to) Mystery, Crime, Fantasy, Sci Fi, even Modern Romance.

Hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

Dosterra’s First Review

My serial novel Dosterra has received it’s first review from Fiona’s Book Blog. First, I would like to say that I think Fiona’s Book Blog is a great resource to readers and writers alike. It is all too common today for reviews to be dishonest, or simply not helpful. This blog is one that provides the honest opinion of it’s author, providing useful information to potential readers and real feedback to writers.

This is apparent in the review of Dosterra, which based on chapters 0ne-six was given 3.5/5 stars. Now my ego of course would prefer something more like 5/5. However, as I have discussed before, I am learning to write a novel. Key word learning. It’s not perfect, and I need people to tell me how it is not perfect if I’m going to improve. This review points out that it took me a couple of chapters to find my feet with Dosterra. I’d love to go back in time and fix it, but since the science in my story does not (yet) exist in real life, that is not an option.

The best I can do is learn and move forward. Reviewers like Fiona’s Book Blog can help me do that. 🙂