The Good Teacher by Rachel Sargeant

Writing Tip Number Four

Here is my Writing Tip Number Four. Also my writing news, reviews of my recent reads, and details of current competitions and literary festivals.

Writing Tip Number Four is a hard one:

EDIT YOUR WORK

I believe writers have a natural inability to self-correct. Objectivity goes out of the window when it comes to improving our writing. We are our own least useful critic.

But editing is a skill we can develop and improve. This is the systematic approach I use for editing my work:

Step One: Look at the work overall

  1. Is there a clear narrative arc to the whole work?
  2. Is the right information in the right place or revealed too late/too soon?
  3. Does the opening page hook the reader?
  4. Do some sections go on too long and unbalance the work?
  5. Are all the characters necessary or could one character do the job currently done by two?
  6. Is there continuity of character development? (Have you laid the groundwork to make it believable for your characters to grow in the way that they do? Do they have the same colour eyes in chapter twelve as they started with in chapter one?)

Step Two: Chapter by chapter

  1. Is there sufficient pace? Variations in pace?
  2. Is there a clear narrative arc to each chapter? Would cliff-hangers add appropriate pace?
  3. Is all dialogue necessary? (To develop plot, conflict or character)
  4. Cut all expositional dialogue: “I’m so lonely since my friend Tracey fell out with me last October after a row at the paragliders’ convention in Sussex. We’d been friends since we started at St Peter’s Infants in September 1984.” Reveal plot and backstory slowly in the narrative, not as a chunk of unnatural dialogue.
  5. Is information repeated or unnecessary?

Step Three: Sentence by sentence

  1. Are sentences varied in length and structure to hold interest and to set pace?
  2. Have you chosen the best word to create the most vivid image for the reader?
  3. Have you chosen words that your character would really say or think? (Don’t use elaborate words to show off your literary skill unless they are the words your POV character would use.)
  4. Avoid clichés. Create fresh metaphors and similes – but only use them if they are appropriate for your characters to say and think.
  5. Cut excess adverbs and adjectives
  6. If you find three good ways to describe something, only pick one of them; it will have more impact in the sentence.

Step Four: The basics

  1. Edit for spelling, punctuation and grammar
  2. Get someone else to proofread it.

Step Five – the crux of Writing Tip Number Four

  1. Cut, cut, cut (Superfluous words, repetitions, unnecessary dialogue, unnecessary scenes, unnecessary characters)
  2. Cut again. (If you can’t bear to press delete, save the cut sections in a separate file that you might be able to use on another writing project.)

There are lots of books available on how to edit. The two I use are:

Browne, Renni & King, Dave, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Burroway, Janet, Imaginative Writing: the Elements of Craft

My Recent Reads

Death Comes to Call by Clare Chase

Settling down with the third Tara Thorpe mystery was like having coffee with an old friend. Tara was her usual feisty, determined, disruptive self and I loved her for it. This story revolves around the disappearance of a young artist who has a penchant for depicting violence in his paintings. Police find strong evidence to suggest he’s gone to ground after allowing his ferocity to spill over from art into real life.

As Tara delves into the artist’s work and family background, she discovers an assortment of siblings, half-siblings, associates and colleagues who might have reason to do him harm. But is he a victim or a killer?

Tara’s boss, DI Garstin Blake, is again along for the ride, anguishing over his attraction to Tara while playing happy families with his mendacious wife. But page space is also given to Tara’s other colleagues – newly promoted DS Megan Maloney and likeable DC Max Dimity. And bad cop Patrick Wilkins still stirs the pot even though he’s suspended.

A well plotted story. I guessed what but not why. The denouement is a belter, particularly because of what happens afterwards. Roll on 24th June and the release of Book Four.

55 by James Delargy

Chandler is the police sergeant for a small town in the Australian Outback. He doesn’t get home in time to read his children a bedtime story as often as he would like, but the worst he usually has to deal with is demented locals chasing off trespassers with a shotgun. That’s until the day Gabriel runs into the police station. Bedraggled and bleeding, he gasps out a story of escaping from a serial killer called Heath who intended to make Gabriel his 55th victim.

Later that morning one of the demented shotgun-toting locals brings in a man called Heath. Case closed you’d think. But Heath has an almost identical story to Gabriel. He’s fleeing a serial killer who wants to make him number 55. The serial killer’s name is Gabriel.

Well you wait around for one serial killer, then two turn up at once. Who is 55 and who is his would-be killer?

But Chandler doesn’t get to make that decision alone. His inspector, Mitch, turns up with his mob of officers to take over the investigation. Chandler and Mitch joined the Force together as teenage best friends but an early case caused a falling out.

The book is about battles of wills: Gabriel against Heath to be believed; Chandler against Gabriel, and Chandler against Heath as he tries to work who’s telling the truth; and the biggest battle of all is Chandler versus Mitch. The case that caused their dispute is told in flashback throughout the story.

After a literary first chapter told from the viewpoint of the unnamed victim, the narrative lightens in style and is told from likeable Chandler’s point of view. The fast-paced plot is simple to follow, as is the flashback story. The author presents clues so that the reader works them out ahead of Chandler and spends the next few chapters joyously shouting at him to make the connections.

An entertaining page-turner with plenty of puzzles, turns and action to appeal to a wide audience, not only traditional crime fiction readers.

My Writing News

I’m deep into a first draft right now. I’ve come up for air to blog on Writing Tip Number Four.

Writer Audrina Lane interviewed me for the “Music in My Writing” feature on her Facebook page. I talked about my favourite music and my writing day.

Canadian blogger Stephanie at Book Frolic made my week with a knockout review of The Good Teacher: “I generally take about 2-3 days to finish a book. Not this one! I read this one in one sitting (although I did stay up until 3am to do so!). I just couldn’t put it down.” Read the whole review here.

Competitions

If you live, work or study in Gloucestershire, the Gloucestershire Writers Network 2019 Competition might be the one for you.

The Belfast Book Festival invites entries for the Mairtín Crawford Awards for Poetry and for Short Story. Aimed at writers working towards their first full collection of poetry, short stories, or a novel, the top prize includes a three-day writing retreat.

Festivals

In its sixth year, the Newcastle Noir crime fiction festival will take place in Newcastle City Library from 3rd to 5th May. 

I’m counting down the days until I attend my first two literary festivals as described in previous blogs here and here.

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