Busybird Publishing is holding Open Mic Nights the third Wednesday of every month. That means you can read your stuff for a live audience, whether that’s an excerpt from a novel, a short story, a poem, or even a song. Readings are a great way to test your material, as well as a...Read More
Unlock the writer in you! We all have a story to tell. For some, that story demands to be told. What is the key to transforming your ideas and experiences into compelling and engaging stories? Whether your vision is to write a novel, your memoir, a Hollywood blockbuster, a...Read More
The Easy Publishing Series is a range of handbooks designed to look into the different aspects of publishing, writing, design, illustration, and photography. These books are easy guides, written by people with years of experience in the industry, to offer you all the...Read More
An annual anthology, page seventeen has been a bastion in promoting new and emerging writers from all across the country for almost ten years. Page Seventeen was born because there are not enough opportunities for new writers to see their work published, and hence we encourage...Read More
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But I wouldn’t be a head editor of a collection without airing some gripe from the process, would I? As blasé as it is, there is something that occurred to me while reading some of the page seventeen submissions – something that I’d like to highlight here.
For all the writers reading this – whether you’re short story writers or poets – it might even be an exercise of sorts. Look back on the most recent additions to your folio of work – say, the last year or two worth. Have a quick read-through, and consider what each piece is about. Look at the plot, the characters used, the settings, the consistent style and the use of wordplay.
How many of those qualities are near-identical across the majority of your pieces? And, moreover, did you know those patterns existed in your work?
A writer’s comfort zone is a sacred place. It’s the type of content that comes most naturally, and resonates with the writer’s own emotions and state of mind most clearly.
When reviewing the short stories and poems submitted to page seventeen, I noticed the work of writers I have read before, as well as multiple submissions by a single author, that stuck a note of familiarity in its content. I obviously can’t be too specific, but in these cases where I could compare several works from the same author, I often noticed that they would:
It should be stressed that none of these works are bad. Some of them are great. And if it’s the approach or style that got you published in the past, of course it makes sense to stick to a winning formula. But unfortunately, the diminishing returns are inevitable. And if I noticed the patterns, then other readers (and editors) will notice them as well – if they haven’t already.
Does this sound like you? Then remember that, technically, you’re not doing anything wrong. But your growth as a writer will be stymied if you don’t take some risks in your work. If it seems like your last batch of work was all about domestic turmoil, or featured essentially the same lead character with cosmetic changes, then make an effort to break that rut. If it seems that your current work is being modelled off a previous success, you can still work with a winning formula but don’t allow your work to regress into a folio full of echoes.
If you’re not sure how to start edging out of your comfort zone, one straightforward way is the game of ‘Wikipedia Roulette’. Set a limit – maybe 5 article jumps – and use the ‘random article’ function on Wikipedia. Then you have to use one of the articles within that set limit as a basis for character, theme or setting in a new story or poem. Alternatively, you might seek out magazines or competitions with set themes outside your normal modus operandi, and use that as a challenge as well as a unique publishing opportunity.
Everyone has patterns and habits that they fall into, often without realising it. It may not be damaging the quality of your work, but unchecked these patterns may drag your new work down until it is a shade of the freshness and originality that made your earlier work engaging in the first place.
Whether you’ve identified these patterns in your work or not, the sentiment is the same: your strongest pattern should be the tendency to broaden your horizons with genres, settings and characters that fall outside your comfort zone. (And workshop all of it – even the hokey attempt at romance. There’s no point pushing your boundaries if you don’t learn anything from the experience.) Not every resulting work will be a success, but they will all contribute to your learning process as a writer.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeenRead More
Lots of authors have misconceptions about the role of an editor. This can lead to issues when an author thinks an editor hasn’t fulfilled one (or more) of their duties or, conversely, when they might’ve overstepped their bounds. It’s important to be clear on an editor’s responsibilities, and their boundaries.
This week, we look at what an editor does not do for you.
An editor is not out to harm your work
Seriously, why would we? Your writing is a reflection of our employer or our services, which are then a reflection of our business. Sabotaging you would be sabotaging ourselves. Our goal is to make your work the best it can be, which in turn makes us look the best we can be. So why would we harm your work? We would harm ourselves.
The editor/author relationship is a symbiotic process. An editor’s suggestions are made with the intent of improving your work. If they have misunderstood something, or don’t get something, explain it to them. A good editor is not arbitrary. They will always explain why they’ve made the suggestion they have, and their suggestions will be in the vein of what you’re attempting to do.
And that, in itself, is the most important thing to remember – a good editor suggests, not demands, and they definitely don’t simply overwrite you.
An editor will not rewrite you or write for you
Our editors are instructed that under no circumstances are they to go into the author’s work, and rewrite them (unless it’s to correct spelling or a typo or something of that nature). We will cite (and highlight) passages that might have issues and suggest examples of how to repair them.
This is an important point. If your work contains a clunky sentence, or an overwritten paragraph that could be diluted to a sentence, don’t send it to us in the belief that we’ll fix it by doing the actual writing for you. Whilst subeditors at newspapers might have this role, fiction and nonfiction editors at publishers and journals do not.
It is neither our job to rewrite you, nor to write for you, and if you have an editor performing this duty for you, then they’re actually ghostwriting.
An editor will not solve all your issues
If you’ve written something and you think it could do with some work, as well as a spellcheck but, hey, it’s pretty okay as it is so maybe, just maybe, it’ll win over the reader at the other end, and they’ll address any and all issues, well, you’re kidding yourself and deserve a punch in the nose.
Regular readers to this blog will know how often we advocate revision. Don’t send your work out until you have gotten the very best out of it. It’s not an editor’s job to fix everything for you because you’re too lazy or disinterested to address it yourself, or because you think it’s brilliant enough as it is, so it’ll win your reader over.
Believe me, one of an editor’s greatest frustrations is recognising an author’s been haphazard about their work because of the misguided belief we’ll correct everything on our end. In all likelihood (likelierhood), you’ll just piss us off.
An editor will not check your permissions
If you’ve written a novel and quoted song lyrics, or written a nonfiction book and quoted extracts from other books, you need to get permission to use that material. Permissions are a minefield. Generally, when you quote a small amount, you should be okay (as long as it’s properly accredited). Should. But the copyright holder of that material (the author or the publisher of the material) may take issue, particularly if the material is intellectual property synonymous with them (or their branding).
An editor might flag such material or point out that you should seek permission to use it, but it’s up to you to get permission to use that material (approaching the author or the publisher – many publishers have permissions departments, or permissions forms downloadable from their websites).
This is not us abrogating responsibility either. Even if you submitted to a multinational publisher, they are going to request that you get all the permissions for any material you’ve quoted. They won’t do it for you. And there’s a chance if you’ve unwittingly quoted something without accrediting it, your editor or publisher won’t even recognise it as foreign material.
An editor will not always recognise plagiarism within your work
If you’re writing a book on important historical figures and for the chapter on, say, Paul Revere, you simply copy and paste the entry from Wikipedia, changing a word here and there, then are later sued for breach of copyright, don’t blame the editor for not warning you about your plagiarism. You should know you’re plagiarising without needing to have it pointed out to you.
For example, there is a sentence in the Wikipedia entry on Paul Revere that reads:
Don’t think doing this
satisfies the demands of legal propriety. You’re not in Year 7 English, writing a report where you can juggle a word or two and nobody is the wiser. Your work is (in this digital age) intended for a global audience, so there’s a good chance somebody’s going to pick up the plagiarism. Plagiarism like this is blatant and illegal, and (as with the case of the permissions above) an editor will not always recognise that the writing has simply been copied from an external source.
Don’t plagiarise. It’s never acceptable, and juggling a word or two in a passage doesn’t constitute originality.
An editor is not at your beck and call
Believe it or not, editors will usually not be working exclusively on your piece. They might be juggling an assortment of jobs. Show some understanding for your editor. Don’t think you’re their only client, you’re their reason for existing, and that when you need something, they have nothing else on so they can attend your needs immediately and exclusively.
That is a basic checklist. If you have any queries, feel free to leave a comment or shoot us an email.
Next week, we look at what an editor does do for you.
In an earlier post, ‘No Offence?’ I touched on the idea of certain modes of storytelling, and how important the ‘profile’ of certain content can be to determining its effectiveness as a piece of prose.
This isn’t just some jargon I made up to feel self-important. This is a direct reference to a method that I often use in my own fiction to help in identifying what kind of story I’m telling. It’s one of the first questions I ask myself when I’m determining the focus of the story and its content: Which one of the three profiles of fiction am I using?
My perspective on profiles doesn’t have anything to do with the oft-cited ‘seven kinds of stories’ or any other element of writing directly related to plot and methodology. By ‘profile’ I’m referring to a specific focus that any piece of fiction has. Of the three basic profiles below, all fiction wears the garb of one of these profiles – or mixes and matches accordingly. I believe that any fiction can be strengthened or shattered based on how it incorporates these three profiles. (As a side note, poetry can potentially be modelled off the same principles, but this is more of a general fiction practice.)
To freshen up the lecture a little, let’s give these profiles some identity. Let’s build their archetypes in a way based on some classic characters that would make closet role-playing fans proud. Without further adieu, I introduce you to the warrior, the thief and the mage.
This is the plot profile. Hack, slash, save the princess and kill the dragon – oh and carve through some of that weighty exposition while you’re at it. There’s no time for scrolling through text-blocks of conversation! The quest must be completed!
In their purest form, these stories are the swashbuckling adventures that are most commonly found in airport newsagencies and on top of bedside tables. Warrior stories often shy away from meaningful character or theme development because what matters most is the plot, and the sheer momentum of stuff happening. Any character arcs or themes are in direct service to the progression of the story’s events.
This is the most common way to write a story, and often the most effective when it comes to captivating an audience quickly and effectively right from the opening sentence. It also suffers the most from the incessant ‘popular v literary’ debate, usually being firmly entrenched in the popular end of the divide.
With such a position on the divided line, warrior stories can often be labelled as dumb or shallow – sometimes justifiably, but sometimes unfairly.
The character profile. The thief lives for rewarding interactions and the quieter moments – while that muscle-brained warrior is storming on ahead and getting himself into constant trouble with dragons, the thief lingers and learns a little more about what’s going on. A good thief cases the surrounding world and lives in an environment where people are assessed – their importance, threat or benefit is carefully logged.
Thief stories are very much in vogue these days – these stories don’t necessarily lack plot, but they have made a conscious decision to focus more on relationships and character development. They are often cerebral, slower-paced and rely on the numerous interactions between characters to further the story. The modern tag of ‘contemporary fiction’ is often used for novels that seek to blend deep character interaction with a serviceable but non-sensationalist plot.
This can be a rich and engaging profile, but also a risky one. A common tag in Melbourne is ‘the Carlton café novel’. This refers to the notion of a book that self-important authors might write as a thinly-veiled way of placing themselves in stories that favour style over substance. It’s a narrow assessment, but it summarises the inherent risks of writing in this profile. A good thief won’t get caught in ‘navel-gazing’ or redundant conversations.
The theme profile. This is all about the esoteric – the mind over matter, and the application of higher principles. That dragon doesn’t need to be ‘slain’ – maybe it doesn’t even need to be encountered at all. Or even more, maybe it’s a metaphor for greed or perhaps anti-feminism (has anyone ever considered whether the princess wants or needs saving?). Reality itself is a construct, and there’s something greater lying behind the materialism that the mage uses to full effect.
In other words, the mage profile doesn’t care about events or people as much as it cares about the ideas and non-material aspects of the surrounding world.
It goes without saying that this is the most difficult form of fiction to make both engaging and entertaining. Mage stories are often considered the most socially relevant or the most intellectually rewarding, but it’s also the profile most likely to blow up in the writer’s face – like when a wizard in a movie botches a spell and turns some poor kid into a field mouse.
This is the realm of allegory and commentary. It’s fine in a controlled dose to add cultural relevance or nuance, but unchecked it can slide into rampant soapboxing – or worse, a story that has lost all sense of storytelling.
Often a single book will slide in and out of different profiles depending on its immediate requirements. A plot-based book will find time to slow down and analyse its characters. A book focused on characters will connect those characterisations to a unifying statement. The best books, of course, know how to cherry-pick from all three profiles to fulfil its purposes. But any individual writer will always have a profile they’re most comfortable with.
So what profile does your writing defer to the most, and why?
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeenRead More
Really? Your heart literally broke? What does this mean exactly? Beyond our understanding of the cliché itself, how can we empathise with this response, outside of correlating an experience where this might’ve occurred to us ourselves? That’s not our duty as readers, though – the author is meant to infuse us into every aspect of the character, so we experience exactly what they’re experiencing. That’s good writing. Clichés are shallow.
Now there are several words that have devolved to exist in the same strata. They perform a duty expediently yet, when misused, no longer have any resonance.
For example …
It’s used to generate drama, but has now descended into the realms of melodrama, a word much more comfortable in a creative assignment for Year 7 English.
Look for it in whenever you’re reading. It’s become grossly overused, if not abused. If you’re going to use it, keep two things in mind:
Run a FIND in whatever you’re writing, and see how many times you’ve used ‘suddenly’ (or derivatives, e.g. ‘all of a sudden’). You’ll be surprised.
If you’re going to have a sudden action, see if you can communicate within the prose itself the suddenness of the action occurring, rather than relying on the use of ‘suddenly’. E.g.
Which is better? (And a combination of two is not the answer!)
Arguably, an even lazier word is this:
Excuse me? The only segue here is the ‘however’ allows us to jump from one subject to the other – that’s an important distinction in itself. It’s not from ‘one subject to the next’, as that implies there’s a logical progression in ideas. It’s two unconnected subjects. Yet the use of ‘however’ makes the crossover almost seem legitimate.
‘However’ can also be used to put forth an opposing idea.
Um, what? How did we get into the Himalayas from grammar? Lots of non fiction writers fall into this trap. They can explore one idea, then flip-flop onto another simply through the use of ‘however’, and most readers won’t question the narrative’s detour. They’ll accept the visual cue as a segue and just read on.
Again, as occurs with ‘suddenly’, it’s worth considering the way the prose itself progresses in expressing what it has to say. ‘However’ is a shortcut to get from one place to the next. It’s also another word that’s overused.
The final word:
This is something we encounter frequently – a character exclaims, whilst the dialogue is punctuated as if it were everyday speech. Surely if somebody’s exclaiming, it’s worthy of an exclamation mark!
That’s befitting, isn’t it? But even with that being the case, doesn’t the existence of the exclamation mark make the attributor of ‘exclaimed’ redundant?
Isn’t that an obvious exclamation? What exactly is the point of exclaiming?
When you’re writing, consider the words you’re using, the roles they’re filling, and whether they have a meaningful purpose, or whether they’re placeholders allowing you to shortcut your way through prose.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, the bird picture has no relevance to this blog. I just like the picture.Read More
As we speak, page seventeen is digesting the submissions that have come its way between April and June. Hundreds of meaty short stories. Scores of spicy poems.
The reading process for the general submissions is still ongoing, but in the coming weeks the content list will be drafted and a lucky few will hear from us to confirm that they will be included in Issue 11 of page seventeen.
This means that many more will not be included. This is the unfortunate truth – we can’t publish everybody. Page seventeen is fortunate in that it has developed as a versatile platform for publishing a wide variety of content, but every ongoing project has to define its limits and not everybody can be lucky all the time.
All I can propose at this moment is to not let the possibility of rejection weigh on your mind. I say this especially to the writers just starting out, and perhaps haven’t built up a veteran’s resistance to emails beginning with cursory politeness followed by the inevitable ‘Unfortunately …’. No one is immune to the feeling of disappointment – of the risk in turning on oneself to draw out a reason why it wasn’t accepted. Was the story not good enough? Was it shot down because I left too many typos in the text? Did I play it too safe/risky for the magazine’s tastes?
Rejections are inevitable. Refining your work to improve its quality will improve your chances of publication, and knowing the tastes of the institutions you’re sending your work to is a must when it comes to sending out the right content – but nothing will eliminate the prospect of rejection completely.
This is the part where scores of examples can be sent your way – about how many times J K Rowling was knocked back by publishers before Bloomsbury finally took a punt on her quaint little book about some kid with a funny-looking scar. About the scathing rejections for titles now considered as classics. About how those writers never gave up hope.
Well, that’s the point right there. In spite of all the for and against for being resilient, what matters more than the evidence is the simple fact that hope is at the crux of it. If you stop hoping – if you stop believing in the possibility that there’s a home for your writing somewhere out there – then it’s all over.
We live in an age of cynicism and discussing ‘hope’ is often downplayed. But it defines those in the creative field – because it is usually little more than hope, and a genuine love for the craft, that keeps them going. Work can be thin and hard to come by. Opportunities can be vaporous. A network of supportive and like-minded friends can be heartening and inspiring, but often well-meaning support can be practically ineffectual. It’s a tough gig and a highly emotional way to spend one’s time.
Established writers need to learn to develop a thick skin. But I also believe that a standard among established writers, more than hard-boiled resilience, is the ability to maintain hope. It is the hope that that there will always be opportunities and there will always be a way to reach out to an audience that will engage with their work.
That’s a lot harder than it sounds. And for emerging writers unprepared for rejection and disappointment, that hope can quickly evaporate.
I want to try something. Some of you reading this may have submitted to page seventeen in 2014. Which means that there is a likelihood that you will receive a rejection notice from page seventeen.
I’m not in page seventeen this year. But I’m a (writer/poet/etc) and my work will find its audience.
Making a simple statement like that can have a powerful effect.
And who knows? Maybe in a few months time, you can email us back with a sentiment such as ‘Ha! That piece you rejected is now going to be published in [insert reputable magazine/journal/website here], shows what you know!’
It would be our loss, but it would still be awesome.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeenRead More
Something a lot of us struggle with is writing dialogue, even though talking is a necessity of our everyday lives and we’re subjected to constant chatter from one person or another. When it comes to translating that onto the page, though, we struggle. A lot of us also do things in written dialogue that we don’t do when we speak. For example …
This is the most overused word in dialogue. People are always prefacing their dialogue with it. E.g.
You’d be amazed how often it’s used. I can only guess that writers feel it helps them segue into what’s going to be said. Nine out of ten times you can chop it without affecting the dialogue.
This goes for prose in general, but a common misconception is if we stuff big words into the mouths of our characters, it’ll make them sound intelligent. No, it makes them sound disingenuous (and does the same for prose).
Listen to people speak. Truly listen to them. We stutter, we ‘um’, we pause, we mispronounce words, sometimes we simply forget the word we’re going to use, and often we begin one sentence … then break-off mid-stream to start a new sentence. On the written page, this would be infuriating. Sure we might use it selectively as an affectation, but the reality is that written dialogue is a dilution of the way we speak.
And yet despite that, we need to be as real as possible. Use those contractions. Listen to the vernacular. If you’re writing teenagers, they’re likelier to say ‘gonna’ rather than ‘going to’. And represent the situation – we’d speak one way to a child, another to a friend, another to our boss, and another to the gas company when we ring them up to query the bill.
Dialogue has cadences. It’s has rhythms and nuances. The best way to test our dialogue is to not only read it aloud, but to act it. Emote it. Feel it. How does it sound? Something that looks scintillating on the page might sound clunky aloud, or might be tongue twisting.
Writing dialogue is a skill in itself. Hollywood brings in screenwriters specialised in dialogue to polish screenplays that are otherwise taut. Yet, as writers of prose, we often let (unconsciously or not) our attention to prose overshadow our dialogue.
A final note relating to dialogue: be simple in your use of attributors – the ‘he said/she said’ that comes after the dialogue. There’s a school of thought that you should only use ‘said’ and ‘asked’. Some writers introduce adverbs. E.g.
Others believe versatility is the key. E.g.
Keep it simple. If your dialogue is written well, people will get the tone. In fact, that’s a good practice for improving your dialogue – keep the attributors simple, and see if your dialogue still communicates the emotions you’re intending. If not, then it needs work.
Write until your characters are speaking for themselves in every way possible.
I’ve been connected into the latest blog hop by the always-awesome George Ivanoff, which means I have some questions to answer as a writer.
So without any more preamble, I’ll jump right in.
* * *
What are you working on at the moment?
I tend to have a couple of short stories in progress at once. At the moment the current projects include an awkward romance that begins in the abandoned Argus Building in Melbourne, and a longer piece that will start with a domestic break-in and go in a completely unexpected direction.
Behind all that I’ve been tinkering with the rough edges of my first complete and marketable manuscript draft. (This is a big deal for me – I’ve usually only pulled off one or the other.)
How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?
Aside from the fact that a writer’s voice is always going to be a one-of-a-kind fingerprint, I’m not sure if there’s anything specific I could point towards. I keep my writing as varied as possible – I’m terrified of falling into a rut or looking back over the past x stories to find they all sound the same or talk about the same things. I dip my toe into genre, but never long enough to settle into any one medium – which is both a positive and negative quality.
Why do you write what you write?
I bounce around topics with each new story – I move towards what I’m interested in. For the in-progress pieces above, my points of interest are clear for me; in the Argus-based story it’s an interest in modern ruins and abandoned buildings, and in the latter piece it’s going to be an exploration into identity in the modern age. Everything I write contains my own attempt to learn about or understand something – or maybe just explore it for kicks.
What’s your writing process, and how does it work?
My fetish is whiteboards. I have a big one set up above my computer, and an A4-size board I can carry around the house. I bounce the idea around in my head for a little while and then I attack one of the whiteboards to get the bits and pieces down.
After that I normally write the first draft out in fits and starts – surge through one section, let that simmer and then attack the next section.
That’s the process for each short story, at least. With my attempts at longer stories or novel-length pieces it’s a lot more trial and error – not so much a ‘process’ as an ‘oh-dear-god-I-hope-this-works’.
* * *
So how am I going to follow on from that exercise?
Well, what I follow on to might have something to do with what today is. It’s a special day, if a somewhat sombre one. If you’re reading this post on the day it’s gone live, then you are witness to the final hours of page seventeen’s 2014 window for submissions. General submissions, competitions, the whole caboodle – it ends as of midnight, 30 June.
If you have submitted, thank you for taking part in page seventeen‘s voyage this year. For those still on the sidelines but caught wondering about the time still left before the ship drifts past the horizon … there’s still a chance to submit, isn’t there? There’s still plenty of breath left in that last hurrah, if you decide to go for it. I’d encourage you to, if only because of how empowering the simple act of submitting can be.
But how do you know that the piece you’re considering submitting is going to make the grade?
Well, that’s just it. You don’t know. I don’t know. Not even Google knows – although it’ll try to give you an answer regardless.
What’s important is that, as a writer, you know yourself and your motivations.
There’s a balancing act here. Never considering the sorts of questions I answered above could lead to a directionless pursuit of consistency and growth. Considering them too much is the kind of paralytic naval-gazing that can get you into trouble as a normally-functioning human being. Neither extreme is fun.
But a writer that decides to share their work with others should know a little bit about themselves. If not the finer details of their own writing process, then at least about what excites them. What draws them in. What made them decide that writing is a worthy hobby, pastime or career. It’s always been the case that the better you know yourself, the more you can get out of your work.
You might feel rushed if you decide to make your latest work submission-ready for page seventeen within the few remaining hours. But if you know your own work inside-out, then it’s possible. You’ll know that it’s ready. You’ll know to take pride in it. You’ll know it’s ready for the voyage.
And if not? Well, there are other opportunities – and you might always look out for page seventeen re-opening its submissions in 2015. One voyage ends, but another is always ready to begin.
* * *
Part of the blog hop itinerary is that I connect this to three other blogs as a way of passing it on. But can I deviate from that slightly? Of course I can. Put those handcuffs away, it’s not a crime.
I want to ask every reader of this blog post that is a writer themselves to think about those questions. Do it immediately, so you don’t have too much time to consider the answer. Spend a moment, if you never have before, considering how your writing process works. What motivates you to write about certain subject matter. What sets you apart from other writers – or how you could nudge your style just a little further in a certain direction to give you a striking point of difference.
If you’re a writer and you have a blog, consider this one of those ‘why not?’ moments and have a go at the questions. You might learn something about yourself and your own nature as a writer – and anything that contributes to your own development will immediately flow on to your work.
Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen
P.S. A big thank you once again to all the contributors to this year’s general and competition opportunities from page seventeen. It’s great to see so much of a variety of work from so many enthusiastic authors, poets and photographers. It gives me more hope than ever for the future – and all the other voyages page seventeen has yet to take.Read More