The Curious Evolution of Jennifer K. Oliver
A stroll through the mindfields
entries 
2nd-Jan-2015 07:51 am - Happy New Year!
jenniferkoliver: (South Park)
Happy New Year, everyone! I wish you all the good times, progress, and best wishes in the world for 2015. Let's hope it's a grand and spiffy year!

I plan to post more regularly here again, and share writing-related content as I was last year before Life got all distracting and I fell out of the LJ way. I hope everyone is doing great and had a good end to 2014.

I'll start off by mentioning The Write Day, a one day boost-camp retreat for writers in the South-West of England. It offers a light, airy space, time to focus on nothing but writing, and support from other writers. I'm booked on for Feb 15th and will be there with a few friends from my writing group. It should be fun and extremely productive!
jenniferkoliver: (Stock | Typewriter)
Usually, when a writer has finished a story or taken a story as far as they can, they send them out to critique groups or beta readers for feedback. As the author, it’s difficult disconnecting from a story’s headspace, and that makes it tricky to judge if everything is working. This is where critique groups and betas are invaluable: the fresh eye, the new perspective, the telling reactions. These all help author see where a story might still need work.

But there’s a big difference between a critique and an edit, and sometimes authors get back one when they really need the other. I’m going to talk about why, break down each one, and suggest things writers should do when approaching someone for feedback.

Critique:
A critique is an evaluation. It’s a review where you look at the bigger picture and consider things like pacing, clarity, character motivation, character arcs, plot and plot holes, weak dialogue, unnecessary exposition, theme and motif. This is where you think about whether or not every chapter, every scene, every paragraph advances the plot. You ask if all the characters are pulling their weight. You ask what the writer is trying to get across. Think: bigger picture, overall story.

Edit:
An edit focuses more on grammar, style, and punctuation. It picks apart paragraphs and sentences and looks for inconsistencies, repetitions, misused words, typos and spelling errors, awkward sentence structure, etc. It can expand to include suggestions on characters, dialogue, pace and plot, but these are generally smaller observations, on a paragraph by paragraph (or line by line) level. Think: details, fine tuning.

When you send stories out for feedback, be clear about the following:

1) How ‘finished’ is your story. It’s no good getting line edits on a first draft–it wastes everyone’s time. Ideally, you don’t want line edits until you’ve fixed the plot and characters. Plot and characters come first, and they should be analysed in a critique. Often revision is required, which can lead to whole chunks of a story being rewritten. How awkward when you have to explain to a beta reader who just spent two hours line editing your work that you’ve had to rewrite the entire story from scratch.

2) Be clear about what type of feedback you need. Specify the elements of a critique if your reader doesn’t know the difference. Ask questions (put them at the end of the story so as not to influence the reader before they start), and get them to write down their reactions as they read. Did their attention wander at any point, and if so, when? Were the character motivations clear and believable? Did the ending satisfy and tie in, at least a little, with the start? Was anything confusing? If the reader has never critiqued before, these questions will help guide them through it.

Writers become better writers much quicker through writing, reading, and critiquing. Editing will help teach you when to use commas instead of semi-colons, but it won’t teach you how to develop an engaging character with clear, compelling motivations, or sharpen your use of metaphor or motif, or just tell a damn good story. Semi-colons generally don’t sell fiction. Good stories do.

(Not, I want to add, that there’s anything wrong with a semi-colon! I ♥ them.)

If you’re a fiction writer, start critiquing. Do it every week. If you can’t find a fellow author to crit, then pull an anthology off a shelf and practise with that.

Here are some other excellent resources on writing critiques:

How to Critique Fiction, by Victory Crayne.

Nuts and Bolts of Critiquing, by Tina Morgan, posted at Fiction Factor.

15 Questions for Your Beta Readers, by editor and author Jodie Renner, posted at Kill Zone.

(Note: This post was originally written for Storyslingers. Cross-posted here in case anyone finds it helpful.)
jenniferkoliver: (Wolves | Girl with Wolf Hat)
I can't remember if I mentioned my writing group was putting on an event at our local Arts Festival this year, on June 1st. Usually we just do a hand-made book stall and desperately try to peddle our short stories and bookmarks to people who haven't heard of us and aren't really interested, but this year we went elaborate and did a workshop, followed by an open mic reading, and then a creative people meet-and-greet. I lead the workshop which was to the theme of "Other Worlds", and recycled some of the material I used at the Year 10 workshop from January. We came up with intriguing ideas and I hope some of them will be developed into stories.

For the open mic segment, I read out a new flash fiction I wrote in May. I struggle with flash fiction the most, so it was nice to actually complete a piece and share it. I'm still not sure if it's submission worthy, but I like it and might post it here at some point. Mostly I wanted to read something live again, to get used to standing up in front of people and talking into a microphone. This reading felt far steadier than my first (at the Story Slam last summer), but that might be because there was a much smaller audience this time. ;)

The festival also marked our gallery of fictional maps that were submitted as part of our Map Making Competition (now closed). We had some stunningly imaginative maps come in from all over the globe; the competition got a lot bigger than we expected. I took a few pics of the shortlisted entries, which you can see under the cut )

Some links of interest:

Your Age on Other Worlds - just fill in your birth date and this website will calculate your age on all the planets in our solar system. On Earth I am 33.2 years old, but on Mercury I am 137.8 years old. Mars says I am only 17.6 years (which actually feels more accurate a lot of the time).

Iain M. Banks Update - posted on May 20th.

Generator, by Foo Fighters.
jenniferkoliver: (Scrubs | JD & Cox)
My writing group is holding a map making competition that will tie in with our summer Arts Festival this year. We have maps coming in from all over the world—even from members of the Cartographer's Guild (which totally sounds like it belongs in Skyrim) who make some of the most stunning fictional maps you'll ever see. Check out their website here. We're announcing the winners on June 1st and holding a writers and artists party, where I'll be leading a workshop on writing Other Worlds (adapted from my workshop with the year 10 students from January), followed by an open mic flash fic reading event, and ending with a general meet-and-greet (and drink-and-eat, hopefully!). We'll post the results of the competition on the blog after June 1st.

In the same vein, there's a cool website called Urban Geofiction where people create maps of fictional cities and countries, but maps that could easily exist here. From their site: But they all have in common that they do not strive to create fantastic worlds with its own physical and natural laws like Tolkien did, for example. Their aim is to imagine new combinations of all variables that affect our daily (urban) life on this planet in a spatial way. There are many possibilities for stories here.

The Map Room - a blog about maps by Jonathan Crowe. "It covers everything from collecting to the latest in geospatial technology from a generalist’s perspective."

I've also bought my ticket to the Historical Writing Seminar that I mentioned before. Alas, I really can't afford to go to all of the talks, even though I still want to. The history one sounds like it'll be most useful.

I've whittled my novel synopsis from three pages down to one and a quarter, so I'm nearly there on the length. I'm not sure about how it sounds yet, but I still have a couple of weeks left to polish it. It's kind of like writing flash fiction; you have to be so concise while giving enough detail to be intriguing and create atmosphere, plus maintain a decent pace. Nyugh.

Be A Man, by Hole.
9th-Feb-2013 04:42 pm - Y10 writing workshop, and randomness
jenniferkoliver: (Wolves | Wolfwomen)
I can't believe it's been nearly a month since I did the Year 10 writing workshop. I wanted to blog about it way sooner, but lifestuff got in the way (as it often does). The workshop was great. There were about 25 students in attendance, which made me nervous to start with, but I had a teacher and teaching assistant there for support and to help keep things focused. I think the girls enjoyed it—at least, a few of them definitely did. There were a couple who weren't so into it, but that's to be expected; they didn't have any choice but to be there. A couple of students came to speak to me at the end, which was lovely. The very first thing I did was read out one of my short stories that works with their prompt "Other Worlds" and it seemed to go down well. Here are the topics and exercises from the workshop. Could be helpful if you're planning something similar )

I've also managed to write a solid few thousand words recently, passing the 50k mark on draft #2 of my steampunk novel. Thrilled! The last ten thousand or so words have been such a slog, but now I know I'm just over halfway with this rewrite, and it feels sweet.

Random: playing Oblivion last Saturday, questing my way across Tamriel, and at one point I turned around to see that my follower (who's sticking with me because his quest is currently active, plus I like the company) was missing his cuirass. So far, he hasn't found it, because he's still running around with me half-naked. Not that I'm complaining or anything. :)

And a couple of links for fun or interest:

Confident Writing - A blog that features articles, tips and suggestions to help you write with confidence.

Sci-Fi Weekender - Taking place in North Wales, March 1st – 3rd 2013. I'm linking to this because me and a friend are going. There are some awesome guests of honour—I will blog my squee about this in a few days!

We Apologise For Nothing, by Fightstar.
jenniferkoliver: (Stock | Typewriter)
I was listening to the Dubstep station on Last.fm radio (on my desktop, which you can do with the Scrobbler, which is awesome) and heard the title track Graduation from Gemini's 2011 EP. Oh man, I wish I'd checked out their newer stuff sooner. I think I prefer Graduation to their older EP Blue—you can hear some echoes of Blue in the melodies and style and structures of the songs, and there are nuances that seem to be characteristic of Gemini, but at the same time it feels expanded and stronger and deeper. I really love it. Here is the title track on YouTube:

Graduation - official video. It's very pretty.

You can download the EP on iTunes here.

I forgot to mention that I've been invited to do a writing workshop with some high school students next Thursday, as part of a visiting author event. They have a couple of published authors in to talk about their books, and while one of them is available to workshop with some of the boys afterwards, the other author isn't, so they've drafted me instead. I'm a bit nervous about it; I've never worked with young adults. The only times I've led workshops or given talks have been at adult events, where everyone present has signed up to be there. These pupils aren't getting any choice. :) I've been mulling a few topics for discussion and a couple of small exercises to (hopefully) inspire and motivate. They'll be writing for a short story competition with the prompt 'Other Worlds', which is right up my alley and which I'll also be judging. I'm looking forwards to seeing what they come up with. Will post about it here, when all is said and done.

Still on the writing theme, last night I was chatting to a friend about how my writing stamina seems tangled with my physical stamina, and how everything flows better when I'm regularly exercising. The holiday period is always a difficult time to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but I'm getting back into it now, and I'm noticing the effect it's having with writing projects—things are picking up again, gathering strength and momentum. The best part is, when I'm feeling good about writing I'm generally more energised to exercise, and it ends up a self-perpetuating cycle. Just got to make sure nothing comes along to break it, like, y'know, the holidays. :)
4th-Jan-2013 03:05 pm - My first blog post of 2013
jenniferkoliver: (Wolves | Blah Blah Blah)
I hope everyone had a most excellent New Year! Can you believe it's 2013? Gosh. Last year was pretty good, though there were a few family trials towards the end that caused a fair amount of stress, particularly for my parents (nothing dire, more of a "black sheep" issue with my half-brother). I find it hard not to absorb the stress of those around me, and there were many days of frustration in Nov and Dec.

To balance out the negativity, my good friend (and regular beta reader) Dabs came to stay for four days after Christmas, which took care of any post-Xmas lethargy. It was so great having her here and I really miss my houseguest. Roll on 2014 when she might return to the UK!

Positive writing-related news: The zombie story I mentioned a few weeks ago was just picked as Editor's Choice at the Online Writing Workshop for February's newsletter. As before, this both thrills and terrifies me. The story is currently out on submission and I know I won't be able to adjust anything for the market that has it right now, which is a shame as they're a really good market. But it's OK—getting feedback from a pro writer on a story at any stage is wonderful, and if this market rejects it, I'll have another critique to help weed out the weaknesses.

There's also a shoe-centric blog post coming soon (can you guess where my Xmas money went?). It's been ages since I've mooned over footwear here on LJ and I miss the shoesquee.

And I know I mentioned this already, but since it was on a busy holiday day I figure another link won't hurt. I sold one of my micro fictions to Nanoism: The Clockmaker's Heart. A tiny and bittersweet steampunky piece.

Be My Animal, by The Good Natured.
jenniferkoliver: (Stock | Kitty Love)
This past week's been exhausting but in a positive and productive way. I'm still behind on all things LJ and I'm sorry if I've missed anything important. I hope everyone is well!

The Dorset Writers' Network publishing day went swimmingly. Me and Jennifer Bell gave a talk on e-zines and online publishing, and amazingly I wasn't all that nervous, even though it was my first time addressing a (small, but big to me) crowd on a Topic of Interest. At one or two points we thought we were losing them, but the feedback was good and a few people asked if they could send follow-up emails if they had any problems. We also got to see a real, live Agent—in the flesh!—which helped demystify them a great deal. She was extremely nice, and after finding out she represents the genres I write in, I took her business card.

Then yesterday I skipped over to Bath with Becky Bye, Beth Stewart, and Jennifer Bell for a speculative fiction workshop held at Roscoff Deli and lead by a lovely group of post-grad creative writing students. It was so nice to connect with more local writers, and we've since swapped Twitter handles so we can stay in touch.

On Sunday I finally got to type "The End" in my steampunk novel document! It's a first draft that's sparse in places, and a draft that's full of plot holes big and small, but I am aware of those plot holes and I know they can be fixed. I'm letting it settle for a few days before I begin any editing, and in the meantime I'm going to write the outline (yeah, backwards!) and shuffle things around for maximum impact. My little first draft is woefully broken right now, but I do love it. ♥

And at last, I'm slowly cobbling together my very own custom layout for www.jenniferkoliver.com. It'll run on Wordpress, using the Thematic Framework (which is brilliant, btw) , and I'm really excited about it, but man it's a slog figuring out some of the code. The design hints at the Victorian era and is light and fun and whimsical, which will work nicely alongside my current projects (and a few on the distant horizon). I've also been itching to change my LJ shoe layout for a while, so I think I might adapt the new layout for this blog, too. Anyway, once I'm down with the WP theming, I should be able to switch it up now and then to keep everything feeling fresh. On top of that, I've got a couple of small web design commissions on the go. All in all, good times!

Deathcar, by Fightstar.
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