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Writing

Things I hate about my writing and other people’s

Red Pen BluesOK, hate is too strong a word, but even blogposts need a good title…

I’ve been in hypercritical mode lately and I’m hoping this will get it out of my system.   It’s happened before.  At university I spent four years overanalysing and pulling to pieces the greats of French and German literature.  Parts of this I loved, parts I didn’t (a lot of German writers were deeply depressed and had a real knack for passing that on).  At the time it often felt a bit pointless, but with hindsight it’s probably the reason I enjoy doing what I do today.  The downside was that for a year or two after graduating I barely read at all.  I couldn’t turn off that critical voice.  (I can trace my rehabilitation to the publication of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History).

I’m within sight of finishing an epic restructuring and rewriting of my first novel, as many of you know.  (Fantastic response to last week’s post, thank you!)  It’s been a frustrating and fascinating process.  Writers have a natural tendency to be self-critical but not always in a particularly constructive way; editors are paid to be critical but constructive.  Mine showed me what wasn’t working and suggested how to fix it and there began my current preoccupation.

Once you’ve completed a novel of any kind, the way you read is never quite the same again.  It’s been strange tackling the re-write alongside all the preparation for Top 10 Summer Reads (16 May).  I read a lot of books, and a lot of them are very good, but something I’ve noticed since being edited and having to confront my writing faults is just how much published authors get away with (including some things I’ve been told I shouldn’t do.)  I almost can’t bring myself to do this, but you tell me you like honesty, so here goes:

THINGS WHICH FRUSTRATE ME ABOUT MY OWN WRITING

This is not the blogpost equivalent of going to a job interview and saying your greatest weakness is being a perfectionist.  These are genuine problems which I am having to work very hard to overcome.

1 Being too cryptic

My fear of overwriting – especially of spelling everything out as if the reader’s an idiot – frequently leads me to the other extreme:  it’s not clear what’s driving the characters or what the hell is going on.  Over the years, the comment I’ve had the most is GIVE US MORE.  I’m trying!

2 You’ve got the look..

…but I haven’t.  If I could conquer the problem I have describing body language and facial expressions it would really help with #1.  I can visualise it so clearly, but words fail me or I fail them, especially as it’s considered poor style to use adverbs.  As I mentioned in my post on Sexy Literary Heroes, there are many ways you can raise your eyebrows.  This problem has me sitting at my desk pulling faces and making gestures into thin air.  ‘Tearing my hair out’?  It’s not quite that bad.

3 Jumping around all over the place

Good novels involve back story, and there are many ways to handle it.  I love flashbacks and they’re a key part of my book, but it took a pro to point out my habit of starting a flashback at a given point then immediately jumping further back in time, and back again,  and working my way forward to where I began.  It’s every bit as disorienting as it sounds for the reader.   My clever friend Isabel Rogers told me Virginia Woolf did this (apparently it’s called ‘tunnelling).  It probably only works if you are Virginia Woolf.

4  The wrong reasons

Sometimes I do write a sentence or passage I’m really pleased with.  Unfortunately there’s a strong chance I’ve chosen the words because of the way they look or sound, or work together, rather than what they mean.  They don’t belong in the scene, or they take it in the wrong direction.  This is self-indulgence and if you’re lucky, someone else will point it out.  It’s one of the hardest things to see for yourself.

THINGS WHICH ANNOY ME WHEN READING

What would be the point of a sneerfest about books I think are rubbish? That’s not the Literary Sofa way.  These are subjective observations about novels which are otherwise very good, the kind of books I feature and issues I’d mention in an in-depth review. I’ve picked things I’ve seen repeatedly so I’m not mentioning individual titles, and in any case I am far too polite to do that.

5  In the Beginning

I’m relatively patient when I start a new book (I give it half an hour) but many people aren’t, so when picking Summer Reads I’m extra tough.  Considering that new writers are constantly being told the first chapter/paragraph/sentence must make the reader want to keep reading, I am amazed how many novels take an age to get going (more than half an hour).  The opposite – and to me, even worse – problem is when a novel opens with a contrived hook which doesn’t suit the tone of the book.  We get it that there’s going to be a story, no need to make it feel like a thriller.

6 Confusion reigns

This is my greatest bugbear as a reader and it happens surprisingly often even in excellent novels.  Multiple points of view?  Great.  Different timeframes?  Absolutely.  Both add to the complexity that makes a piece of fiction intelligent and satisfying, but few things are more distracting than constantly having to backtrack to work out when the events being related took place or whose head you’re in.  I recently read a novel which switched between two male first-person voices and it drove me mad trying to work out who was who.  It’s also unnecessary, as there are simple ways to avoid this problem.

7 So many People

The skill of writers who can successfully manage a large cast of characters is one I really admire.  Most of the novels I read seem to have one or two narrative voices/protagonists and no more than a handful of secondary characters; a manageable number for the reader to keep track of and get to know.  But some novels introduce six characters in the first chapter and they just keep coming.  You can’t keep up with who they are and stop caring.  Maybe it’s me – I find most crime novels hard to follow for this reason – but I’ve read plenty of books with characters I don’t think anyone would miss if they’d been killed off.

8 Calling it a Day

Ah, endings.  Very tricky, and perhaps the area where the greatest differences between genres play out.  Readers want different things: a happy ending, a ‘satisfying’ ending, an open ending (but not a cop-out), a partial resolution which allows for some ambiguity (my favourite kind).  My point about endings isn’t about the denouement, it’s about knowing when to stop.   Another novel I read recently was divided into several parts and on reaching the end of the penultimate part, which consisted of a beautiful sentence, I thought to myself, That’s where this book should end.  I still felt the same way 100 pages later when it did end.  I’ve almost never read a final chapter set years after the rest of the story that didn’t weaken the ending.

In my opinion, that is – but please don’t make me do this by myself. Tell me yours! 

 

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About Isabel Costello

Novelist and short story writer based in London. Debut novel PARIS MON AMOUR now out in digital and audio, paperback on 22 May 2017. Host of the Literary Sofa blog.

Discussion

45 thoughts on “Things I hate about my writing and other people’s

  1. What an excellent post! Such perceptive self-analysis will surely stand you in good stead. I intend to go off and think very carefully about my own writing now to see if I can do the same, but the thing that immediately springs to mind is my habit of being wishy-washy rather than definite – my work is peppered with words such as ‘slightly’, ‘almost’, and ‘seemed’.

    Posted by Susan Elliot Wright | April 26, 2013, 14:37
    • It’s good when people tell me they’ve got something from reading my posts (helps to justify the time I spend writing them!) so I hope that’s a helpful process for you. I think the modifiers are a common problem. I’ve managed to almost eliminate similes having gone through a phase of over-using them. In the book I’m reading now – which is generally excellent – I counted FIVE on one page!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 26, 2013, 17:07
  2. I know exactly what you mean about being hypercritical. After a year of analysing set texts writing during my MLitt course I found it hard to switch off during my personal reading and was relieved to read just for pleasure at the end of uni.

    Posted by helenmackinven | April 26, 2013, 16:12
    • I’m hoping I’ll move on from being super picky like I did before. The edit’s nearly finished and Summer Reads is practically there, so I’m also looking forward to reading whatever I like without any pressure and trying a few more commercial titles like Gone Girl to see what the fuss is about.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 26, 2013, 17:09
  3. Another extremely thoughtful post, Isabel. I do share some of your gripes, especially about novels that refuse to end. One of my real difficulties with too many people is multigenerational novels where I get mixed up between whether we’re talking now about X’s childhood or her daughter’s childhood. In my own writing, I also do that thing of producing some quite beautiful sentences that unfortunately say nothing, but I have mixed feelings about your first point. I also get feedback that I haven’t explained enough but, having come somewhat belatedly to Ali Smith’s There But For The (well, I finished it yesterday), I’m still thinking that I go too far in trying to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. I guess everybody agrees that less is more until they come to the bit that they can’t understand. A difficult one.

    Posted by Annecdotist | April 26, 2013, 16:46
    • Thanks for your comment Anne, it’s interesting that you can relate to several of my points. I totally share your ambivalence re: the explaining/not explaining issue and when I say I’m addressing that in my manuscript I only mean to the extent that I’m comfortable doing so. There’s one place, for example, where one of the main characters expresses surprise about something the other did. I was asked if her reaction was down to snobbery, envy or being impressed, but actually I don’t want to explain that – I’d rather let the reader speculate or decide themselves. In my book group some of our most stimulating discussions have been about why the characters behaved as they did – that couldn’t happen if the author told us what to think.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 26, 2013, 17:17
  4. If I’d known you were going to quote me, I’d have made sure I’d remembered the Virginia Woolf term correctly: just looked it up. She called it ‘tunnelling’ through her characters’ caves, not ‘hollowing’. Sorry! Same meaning we discussed, though.

    This is a great post (apart from your dodgy source). My biggie is endings. Not knowing when to stop, or how mean to be to my characters.

    Posted by isabelrogers | April 26, 2013, 17:25
  5. Excellent post. I’m glad it’s not just me who reads novels, even well-reviewed and prize-winning modern novels, and wonders why the publisher and reviewers have been happy to print/praise the novel yet it contains many examples of the practices that I’ve been told at conferences and on courses are absolute no-nos that would immediately terminate any consideration by an agent were the MS to be found on the slush pile. I’ve just finished a book where the third-person POV roams around capriciously at times — even diving into minor characters’ heads. And the same book is at least half ‘telling’. Personally, I don’t think it’s the book that’s at fault — more the sort of advice like ’10 Ways to Make Your Novel Stand Out in the Slush Pile’ bullet points that might be taken too literally. I still remember Claire King’s brilliant 15 rules for writing novels as a wry riposte, http://www.claire-king.com/2011/02/23/15-rules-for-writing-novels/

    I agree with you on openings too. As you say, the advice to aggressively open a novel with its most brilliant piece of writing and an irresistible, mind-blowing hook is so ingrained into writers that there are examples of novels into which a completely inappropriate Hollywood trailer-style hook has been reverse engineered. And who are the readers who only give a novel the chance to impress in the first paragraph or page. Like you, I’ll persist with a book for at least a couple of chapters. That might be because my buying decision (and I’d suggest almost any other reader) isn’t made by a speed read of the opening. Before anyone can read the start of a published book, its cover will have made an impression and will be an unusual reader who ignores the blurb and endorsements on the back. And I’ll probably have an idea from word-of-mouth, reviews, TV/radio, other marketing and media activity as to whether this might be a book I want to pick up and start reading — why else would publishers spend money on artwork, promotion, etc? Once all that’s been working away subliminally, I’m not going to buy a book and then stop reading it because the first few pages seem a bit slow.

    Of course, first impressions matter and a reader’s patience may wear thin but the advice to grab the reader by the collar at the start reminds me of those annoying reality shows or even documentaries in which the first five minutes are devoted to a frantic compilation of the ‘best bits’ from the rest of the programme to stop the viewer changing channels. The trouble is when you reach the best bits in context (after all the many recaps and previews within the programme) they’re a disappointment because you’ve already seen them.

    Posted by Mike Clarke | April 26, 2013, 18:58
    • Mike, your comments are always so informed and interesting! I’ve heard a lot of people say – and I’m sure it’s true – that once an author achieves a certain level of success and sales, they barely get edited at all. That might account for a few things. Like you, I’ve been to a million events aimed at emerging writers and I am bored of hearing all the little gimmicks and ruses you are supposed to employ to get noticed. For example, when an agent says they automatically stop reading if the weather is mentioned (or even in one case, the SKY) in the opening chapters. Fair enough if it’s done badly, but to dismiss something out of hand for that reason? I just don’t get it.

      As to the question about giving a novel time to get off the blocks – you make some good points there too. People often think I get all my books for free, but of course I also buy books too. You’re absolutely right that a lot of reflection goes into the purchase decision. I can think of several titles I have stubbornly persisted with precisely because I’d paid good money for them! With me, it’s almost always word of mouth recommendations or the author’s previous form because I find I need to avoid reviews and even blurbs, if possible, in advance in case I decide I want to review the book myself. (I admit that is a bit weird.) My guess is that a lot of abandoned books are borrowed/library, second-hand or cheap downloads.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 28, 2013, 10:36
      • I wrote an assignment for my Creative Writing MA second year Reading Novels module about this subject (the course module was one where we read a varied selection of novels picked by the lecturer and discuss what we learn from them) . I tried to apply the ‘Rules of Creative Writing’ that seem to be regarded as universal truths to the 10 or 11 novels we’d studied, mostly modern and with a few Booker and similar winners.

        I contrasted Nabokov’s observations (he was one of the authors) with the toolkit supplied by Stephen King in ‘On Writing’. It was quite a fun exercise to do from the perspective of testing out these rules. I got a reasonable mark for the essay anyway. I think it may even be on my blog somewhere if you’re interested in reading it.

        Posted by Mike Clarke | April 29, 2013, 11:56
  6. I’m looking forward to a time of not being so critical, as it makes reading for pleasure so difficult at the moment. Wandering POV is the thing that has been aggravating me the most recently, and of course that means I’ve been seeing it everywhere.

    The calibration of how much to explain and how much to leave out is a very tricky one and has always led to lots of discussion around my work as well, so I know exactly what you mean.

    Posted by rowena | April 26, 2013, 20:11
    • Do you really think that you’d notice wandering POV if it hadn’t been turned into Creative Writing’s Room 101? I can think of many critically well-regarded (and popular) novels that employ it. I wonder if it’s a corollary of the popularity of first-person narration (i.e. try to make third person as close to first as possible). I think it all depends on the author’s intentions — the extent to which they want to withhold information from a reader for the purposes of plot or characterisation.

      Posted by Mike Clarke | April 26, 2013, 20:18
    • My previous reading and studies had never highlighted the POV issue in the way I’m now conscious of it as a writer. The distinction between narrator, POV and voice is one that a lot of people struggle with and it is very complex. Wandering POV is something you’d expect to be edited out – it doesn’t survive long in writing groups – in fact that’s one of the things they’re good for. With my own writing I’m sometimes pulled up on an apparent POV lapse where actually it was an observation in the head of the prevailing POV character about someone else but I didn’t want to say ‘she noticed’ or ‘she guessed’. I haven’t worked out a solution.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 28, 2013, 10:42
      • Very good point about people misinterpreting the implication that a character had made an assumption about another character’s thoughts or motives as wandering POV — does something like (from Y’s POV) ‘X sighed with relief’ really have to be spelt out as ‘Y guessed that X sighed with relief’?

        Unintentionally wandering POV is certainly something that a writer should be challenged on but ‘wandering POV’ can also be intentional. Until very recently omniscient POV was accepted as being a perfectly valid narratorial approach. I like Emma Darwin’s posts on psychic distance that explain the range of subtleties to POV: http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/psychic-distance-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html

        I suspect it’s picked up a lot in writing groups as it’s easy to spot. John Lanchester’s ‘Capital’ sometimes zooms in and out of different characters’ heads in the space of a few paragraphs. That would have caused consternation in your typical writing group.

        Posted by Mike Clarke | April 28, 2013, 11:46
      • I can cope with intentional wandering point of view as a reader but I don’t enjoy it. A big yes to both Isabel and Mike (sorry Mike my comment should go underneath yours logically but I think it’s going to appear above) about the POV character assuming another’s motivations. There must be loads of examples of it working well but all that comes to mind at the moment is being told I’ve got it wrong in my own work!

        Posted by Annecdotist | April 28, 2013, 12:15
  7. What a great post Isabel. I’d say, don’t be too shy of adverbs. I use them quite a lot, I stick one in if I think it’s needed. I’ve got away with it so far. I hear you regarding the bits of our writing that we consider our best… a lot of those were banished by my editor, I think I tweeted about it, murder your darlings or your editor will do it for you! I felt a bit miffed at first, but she was absolutely right, the self-indulgent bits stick out like sore thumbs.
    PS, I read Gone Girl, and didn’t care much for it, will be interesting to see how you feel about it. If you need a copy you can have mine!

    Posted by louisewalters12 | April 27, 2013, 00:02
    • HA! Good for you Louise if you know how to rock those adverbs without driving people insane. I’m sure it can be done. Of course I use SOME, but one of the plus points of my ms was said to be not using them much. I’m also being really ruthless now because I have several new scenes to write but I don’t want the wordcount to go up overall.
      I’ll certainly let you know re Gone Girl (I have a copy, thanks) – I admit I’m wary when a book has had that much hype. You rated One Day a lot more than I did, so I wonder if we’ll have similar or different views on this one.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 28, 2013, 10:47
      • I enjoyed One Day, it could have been chopped quite a bit, but I loved the characters particularly Emma, and enjoyed spending time with them, which for me is the main thing with fiction. Knowing what I do of your taste in books, I’m confident we’ll be singing from the same hymn sheet re Gone Girl! But it’s all so subjective, that’s the interesting thing, so yes it will be fun to hear your thoughts.

        Posted by louisewalters12 | April 29, 2013, 10:02
  8. Really great, thoughtful post, Isabel. (Couldn’t help noticing you wrote it while reading MY ms. 😉 ) All of your points resonate, especially numbers one and two for my own writing. This is one post I’ll be coming back to multiple times.

    Posted by Kristin | April 27, 2013, 11:41
  9. I’m a dreadful self-editor. I absolutely insist with myself that passage or phrase simply *has* to stay, that the piece can’t live without it. I don’t review stuff enough. Two run-throughs is usually all I’ll give something before I submit it. What is that? Laziness? Overconfidence? Who knows?

    I take too long to get to the meat sometimes, also; I enjoy long, languid introductions so much that I often run out of words to describe the main event.

    The irony is that when editing other people’s writing I am a sadistic, ruthless bastard.

    Posted by Guyliner | April 27, 2013, 12:17
    • Thanks for the comment, which I found interesting because I’m the same when it comes to writing reviews and posts. I write a two para intro which invariably gets chopped right back when I realise I’ve used too much of my precious wordcount (nothing worse than a blogpost that goes on too long) saying nothing much at all. Maybe it’s just how I ease my brain into the subject – it seems to be the way I am, and we all know there’s not a lot you can do about that.

      Anyway, I love your writing, you know that. Not going to pretend to be surprised about that last bit. I bet you are!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 28, 2013, 10:52
  10. Great post (again!). As I read it I was going ‘yup’, ‘yup’. I know what you mean with the being cryptic versus not over-explaining. I find it a difficult balance as well. And often when I think I’ve done it, feedback says I haven’t. I agree about beginnings: too many characters too quickly really puts me off, especially if some of them are quite similar. I also did French & German at university, and ploughed through probably some similar books to you. But it gave me Wenders & Herzog! I still find it easier to spot ‘stuff’ in other people’s writing than in my own… but am finding that the more & write, learn and read, the more my ability to self-edit increases. Thanks for an interesting post. 🙂

    Posted by Vicky Newham | April 28, 2013, 08:55
    • We seem to have a lot in common! (And your degree course sounds considerably more interesting than mine.) Definitely agree that self-editing improves with experience. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned from getting the professional edit and re-writing my novel. There are SO many stupid mistakes I will know to avoid in the next one. So pleased you’re enjoying the blog, thanks.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 28, 2013, 10:55
      • If you don’t mind me asking, Isabel, what professional edit did you get done? Through a publisher or for yourself? I’ve been toying with getting a structural edit done on my novel.

        Posted by Vicky Newham | April 29, 2013, 12:54
      • You’ll find the answer in my post Why Am I Doing This Again? filed under About Me/My Novel.

        Posted by Isabel Costello | April 29, 2013, 13:07
  11. I can’t read much when I’m writing. I ‘catch’ other writer’s voices. I’m safe with Daphne du Maurier and Dorothy Parker as they’re so of their era and I’d know straight away if I started using their sentences.
    I recently finished Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding. It’s practically all ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’, there’s hardly any dialogue and I loved it. The author has deliberately chosen this structure to tell the story of a MC who is deaf and does not speak. He learns to communicate through his drawings. What better way to tell this story than by keeping the reader at a distance from the action? Harding ‘draws’ the novel for us much as her character draws his life.
    I like to break rules, too. I just have to learn when’s the right time to do it!
    Best wishes and see you on Twitter,
    Celia

    Posted by Celia | April 28, 2013, 09:16
    • Hi Celia I must say I’m really glad I don’t have that problem as I read and write just about every day (this blog wouldn’t exist for one thing!) You must be very sensitive to language, and I’m sure that’s a good thing in many ways. I read Painter of Silence last year and I absolutely loved it – superb writing and incredibly moving. I hope quiet, reflective books like that continue to reach the market, when they don’t do all the things we’re told a book should.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 28, 2013, 10:59
      • What I like about reading why I’m writing is that I catch a wider vocabulary than is generally in my head. Nothing terribly fancy – rather to my shame the most recent result was that I was able to substitute the word reedy for thin to describe the character’s voice in a short story

        Posted by Annecdotist | April 28, 2013, 12:22
  12. Insightful post. As someone who writes mostly short fiction, I’m often guilty of ‘completely inappropriate Hollywood trailer-style hooks’. However, my biggest wahala, as we say out here, are endings. Editors regularly come back with the verdict “Too abrupt.” I keep working on that, but my thing is, once the action is over, why in heaven’s name would the reader want to linger around with the characters?

    Posted by Davina | April 28, 2013, 09:31
    • Hi Davina. Interesting to have a short story writer’s perspective on all this, thanks. I’ve been getting really into short fiction recently (doing a big post on it end of this week in fact) and just as with novels, I see the ‘rules’ being broken all the time, sometimes to great effect. A lot of shorts do end in a really abrupt and to my mind unsatisfying way – meaning that they don’t actually ‘end’ at all, they just stop leaving me thinking WHAT?! Conversely, the power of a short with a brilliant (which often means surprising) ending, can be every bit as arresting as a novel which does the same.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 28, 2013, 11:04
  13. People really should warn you that if you start to write, you’ll never be able to read with an uncritical eye again.

    As a short fiction writer, I’ve always considered exposition in any form to be the devil’s work. Telling, adverbs, passages of back story, they have no place in my stories. With the result that my readers are often left perplexed, not realising that the subtle placement of a comma totally reveals all they need to know about how a character is feeling. I’ve learned over the years that there is a difference between leaving things open to interpretation and leaving my reader floundering. There’s a sweet spot between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ that is hard to find. I need to remind myself of this as I embark on writing a novel myself. Like you, I’m always being asked to give a little more, to ‘unpack’ the ideas I cram into my limited word count.

    I agree with you on all the points you raised about other people’s writing. I get quite cross sometimes, wondering what the editor was doing when they read this manuscript, and suspect that established writers get away with so much more than the newbies. I can think of at least one hugely successful book that should have ended a good twenty pages before it did. I was reading it on my Kindle and didn’t have the progress bar displayed so when I reached what I thought was the natural ending, I was bemused to find there was more. And then some more. And yet more. I’m pretty sure if that book had been by a newly published writer, an editor would have cut those superfluous chapters.

    Posted by Rachael Dunlop | April 28, 2013, 10:21
    • Hi Rachael and thanks for your comment, which came in while I was responding to previous ones. You made the exact same point I did in my reply to Mike about big authors being allowed to do whatever they want even if it’s to the detriment of the novel. That’s a shame as anyone, no matter how exalted, can learn from input. It also surprises me because having been to a lot of big author events, I’m almost invariably struck by how humble and self-effacing they seem to be.
      I was wondering just the other day if you had a novel in the works, so all the best as you embark on that. Your experience and success as a short story writer will help tremendously.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 28, 2013, 11:16
  14. I’ve really enjoyed all the comments that have cropped up in the last couple of days. This was such a good post and then the discussion is turning out to be like a writer’s conference, I keep wanting to excitedly put up my hand and say yeah me too. In a lot of ways I don’t mind at all that I read more critically nowadays than I used to, but I do mind in relation to the point that Mike and others have made that it seems that something that is interpreted as an interesting quirk when a big author does it, or even, dare I say it, just a published author, is picked up as The Reason This Novel Can’t Be Published when you’re on the other side of the fence. And I’m wondering (just wondering, mind you) if that might be part of the reason why our X thinking about what Y might be thinking is dismissed as wandering point of view when what we were trying to do was get right inside our character’s head.

    Posted by Annecdotist | April 28, 2013, 12:32
    • I’ve really enjoyed it too – and been slightly astonished! This is now one of my top posts in the space of 3 days. Thanks to you and everyone for your interest and for joining in. You’re right, it does feel like a writing conference. Are you going to the York Festival in Sept. because a lot of my blogreaders will be there. Also, I can’t find you on Twitter and we have conversations like this all the time. I think you’d enjoy it.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 28, 2013, 22:40
      • Glad you enjoyed the response, Isabel, and thanks, a real-life get-together of your blog at York sounds appealing, although I’m still undecided for this September as I’m not sure the timing is right for where my novel will be. But really enjoyed it last year – were you there? Mmm, still have reservations about Twitter as I do need quite a lot of downtime, or it might just be that I’m such a dinosaur that I don’t really catch on to the technology until everyone else is moving onto the next thing, and am only just getting my head round blogging.

        Posted by Annecdotist | May 3, 2013, 17:08
  15. Great post! I enjoyed the fact that you wrote from those two perspectives. As for number two, I suggest you get a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus. It’s a real gold mine! http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.ca/p/the-emotion-thesaurus.html (I’m not affiliated with it in any way.)

    Posted by Stephanie Noel | April 30, 2013, 14:12
    • Thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I am off to check out your recommendation right now! It would be such a huge relief to me not to have to keep struggling with that kind of description.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 30, 2013, 16:16
  16. Another really excellent, insightful post Isabel (which also made me laugh ‘warmly’ (!) *pulls appropriate facial expression in the mirror* I agree that many successful novels seem to include plenty of those pitfalls we aspiring authors are warned against and I enjoy pointing them out to anyone who will listen to my rantings. As a writer, I am now a terribly critical reader, but I am equally blown away when I discover a book which gets everything so completely right (Rose Tremain’s ‘Restoration’ just one example which springs to mind).

    Posted by Hazel Gaynor | April 30, 2013, 18:46
    • Your comment made me laugh too, thanks! It’s good fun having a rant about all the things in this business we can do nothing about – very cathartic! A really impressive book I read this year is Absolution by Patrick Flanery which has just been shortlisted for the Authors’ Club First Novel Prize. Serious stuff but truly compelling and very well written.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | April 30, 2013, 22:52
  17. I’m working my way through my first novel at the moment, and the issues you raise in this post couldn’t have come at a better time. Thankyou!

    Posted by Clare Taylor | April 30, 2013, 19:09
  18. Ringing so many bells my head is positively clanging! I struggle a lot with 1, 2 and 4 and love flashbacks way more than I probably should… Great post, and it’s really put me in the mood for some writing… Thanks!

    Posted by lynseywhite | December 30, 2013, 11:13

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