Month: February 2013

Critical Reading

A lot of my posts here are about things I do or know, but this is about something I don’t do and don’t know about.

Before that, though, a short digression into Potter Land.

I’ve come across comments about how brilliant J K Rowling must be to have come up with the weird wizarding exam system in the Potter books. What does not seem to be widely appreciated outside of Britain is that Rowling basically took the structure of British secondary education and stuck on funny labels.

The education system that I went through in the 1980s made you specialise early. After less than a decade of general schooling, at the age of thirteen children chose their subjects for O levels (since restructured as GCSEs) – eight to ten of them, to be examined at sixteen. Then in the run up to the O level exams, you chose the three or four subjects which you would be examined on for your A levels at eighteen. The parallels with the OWLS and NEWTs should be obvious*.

In my school, we chose one of a number of broad tracks – language, science, or social science, for example – and then picked subjects mostly in the track but were required to take subjects of other types to retain some shred of generality. Everyone took maths and English language.

Given my interests, I chose three sciences, one language, one social science, one arts subject, along with the required English and maths for a total of eight. Since I was in the top stream, I was then also required to take English Literature.

Ah, yes. English Literature.

It was not my favourite subject.

My understanding is that A level English Literature is an interesting subject – my mother had taken a college class to gain an English Literature A level a few years before and she spoke enthusiastically about the critical reading skills she learned on the course**.

O level English Literature wasn’t like that. My abiding memory of the subject is of being told what to think about a book and being marked on my ability to regurgitate the opinions of others. If there were elements of critical reading in the syllabus they were completely lost on me.

Which is what I would like to learn to do now. What I would like to do is to read a book I know, but analysing it as I go for things like structure, narrative technique, characterisation, and thematic presentation.

Is this something that anyone else would be interested in? Call it a writer’s book club rather than a reader’s club.

I’m inclined to make the first book be Snow Crash.

[*] I assume that in the final year, the proto-wizards and witches chose their institution of higher learning and the subject area they would study there, but since Harry dropped out of school we don’t find out about that in canon.

[**] I understand from a friend whose children have since gone through GCSE Eng Lit that critical reading skills before A level. Hurray for progress.

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Bluehammer Plan

As promised on Friday, here is my plan for Bluehammer in a very similar form to the one for Song.

  1. typo/consistency edit– this is going through my notes on the manuscript, acting on them. It’s going to be a pain because it’s hard enough to work on one thing on the bus, let alone two. Three kinds of edits –
    • typos/text to be deleted – some notes need to be saved for whatever reason. These will go in a separate file.
    • consistency – name changes that shouldn’t, events that occur at different times of day from different POVs, etc
    • scene cutting/reordering – duplicate scenes need to be winnowed, good descriptions from dead scenes need to be harvested.

    Once this is done I can hand it on to my wife for a read through.

  2. improve outline – I already have a broad outline, but I need to sharpen it up a lot to make it the basis for a compelling novel. This will include fixing all the timing issues.
  3. make the text match the outline – since the outline is mostly of existing text, I won’t have that many new bits to write. I will have a lot of tweaks to make in the text to make it match the outline.
  4. hone the text – this is the line craft elements of writing, going over the text for infelicitous phrasing and the like.
  5. make submission materials – synopsis, pitch, hook, and all of that.

So that’s the Bluehammer plan I will be working against. The intent is to get the first two done before I go back to work on Song.

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2013 Goals Post: Imbolc Edition

This is the first post of the year where I check against my goals for the year. I am following the calendar for Wiccan sabbats for these updates, which means generally a six week interval. The first sabbat of the calendar year is Imbolc on 02-Feb-2013 so it’s only four weeks since I set my goals, and this time I am writing these a day early to keep to my posting schedule.

So, here are my goals for the year and how things have progressed so far.

1. Finish Bluehammer

Last action: read the manuscript after 17th January.

I finished the read through on Wednesday evening – it took me nearly two weeks to read. Given its length, that is consistent with other NaNovels I have worked on.

As I noted in my earlier reading notes, it’s a mixed bag – the newer stuff is generally better, but there are elements of previous scene versions which I want to salvage. It needs a certain amount of work before I can hand it off to my wife for a first look, but my sense is that this needs a proper outline as much as Song did, even though the actual story is more complete.

Next action: typo and basic consistency edits.

Next action: develop a plan, similar to the one I have for Song.

2. Execute the Song plan

Last action: develop outline.

I completed the outline for Song just before I broke Bluehammer out of its rest state.

The rest of the plan reads:

  1. To outline what I have
  2. To expand the outline of the first half into a complete story
  3. To work on that outline until the story is good.
  4. To plug in text I can use from Song 2011
  5. To write the new stuff needed to complete the outline
  6. (and the one I missed before) make submission materials – synopsis, pitch, hook, and all of that.

Next action: polish the outline.

3. Submit one novel.

Last action: finish a novel

I had been thinking that I would try to finish Bluehammer first, but Song is calling louder and I think stands a better chance of being finishable more quickly. Then I will need to work on submission materials.

Last action: to find some markets

No work on this.

4. Start looking for an agent.

Last action: research agents who represent science fiction.

No work on this.

5. Establish a daily writing practice.

Last action: write every day.

I have broadly achieved this – not every day has been making words, but I have been spending time with my stories and my characters most days for at least an hour.

Truth to tell, I have been a lot less successful at waking at five in the morning than I would like, but still spending the time to stay in touch with the books.

One bonus activity is that a friend who I used to have a writing circle with is back working down town, so we have reestablished the regular meetings to check in there. I’m very pleased about that and optimistic that it will help keep me on track.


Good progress on completing something, no progress on agency and submission. I will try to actually do something about those goals before the next update on Ostara (the spring equinox around 21-Mar-2013).

How are you doing against your goals?

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