Critical Commentary: Chapter One.

Bloody first chapters, such tricky things… Oh! Hello there! I see you’ve found your way to my blog, are you lost? No matter, while your here, allow me to talk your ear off, I mean, entertain you for a moment! Alright tomfoolery aside, welcome to the first Critical commentary, focused on my novel Second Draft, I’m not sure how much we will end up talking about specifics of the Novel but I thought that we would talk about first chapters, the trouble that I’ve encountered writing this one and some of things I’ve attempted to do, to address them.

The first thing to consider, is perhaps the most important part of any novel, the ‘hook’ or more broadly put, how do you get people to keep reading, rather than put your book back on the shelf. While a clumsy attempt at humour, the opening sentence of this blog post, is kinda how it feels to construct the first paragraph or if you’re lucky chapter of a novel. There are many different ways to grab peoples attention, and being blunt, people like different things, there is no guarantee even if you construct a compelling opening, that it will be compelling to everyone who picks it up. In fact the only guarantee you have, is that this will not be true. Genre, while not always applicable, or as one dimensional as book shops would have you believe, is a sales tool. Used to guide people towards your book and those deemed similar to it. But being grouped with other novels people may have enjoyed is not enough in and of itself, if you’re lucky, people will take a look at a blurb or first paragraph or so and decided based on this. At least that’s what every author or lesson I’ve ever had on the subject has told me and that’s a lot of pressure.

Knowing that you have so little time to invest people in something that you have spent countless hours on is daunting and finding the right way to start can be considered starting a race without stumbling. This presented me with a problem, I wanted to do a lot in my opening, introduce major characters, grab a readers interest and set up for a progression in plot and characters. Not to mention introduce the world in which my Novel is set in a way that attracts interest without falling into the infamous ‘info dump’. As such the first question I had to answer when restructuring the Novel, was how do I improve the opening. Well that involved working out the problems I had with the previous draft, which were as follows.

Firstly that although the opening had impact it forced my two Main characters into the role of a reluctant hero very quickly. Leaving little to no space to build up connections and relationships or indeed explore their place in the world before drastically shifting it. Although I am not writing a tragedy, something that has always stuck with me is that in Greek Tragedy (classical) or Tragedy in general it is much more effective if you build a character to great heights before sending them hurtling down to earth.
The second was that the plot seemed to progress far too quickly. It was almost like the novel itself had been influenced by my own desire to see the end. To be honest most first drafts are like that which is why I tend to refer to them as brain vomit. I wanted to make things seem believable. Their needed to be more resistance or motivation for characters to go through the story as I wanted them too and as such I needed them to build a more concrete prior relationship.

With these two primary objectives in mind, the obvious conclusion was to spend more time building the world and relationships. But, having a slow build up to a novel isn’t likely to grab a readers attention, there are some memorable first lines in fantasy such as ‘in a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit’ or something to that effect. But times and audiences have changed and the slow pace of The Lord of the Rings is the reason I most commonly hear cited for not wanted to read them. In many ways I believe cinema and the birth of films has changed a lot about how people like to process literature but that’s a speculation of mine and would be worth a post in and of itself. How then did I decide to reconcile these two aims. To solve this problem I went into the background world of my novel.

Given the criminal nature of the main character Kite, on whom the opening chapter was focused, the secondary protagonist to be introduced later. I figured that a run in with law enforcement on her way to conduct business, would not only give me the tension and ability to grab a readers attention out of the gate. but to slow the chapter down afterwards as I introduce some other characters and begin to flesh out the world and characters that readers will see more of. Then they were off, as I often find the case, writing action and introducing the characters as they move straight into an action sequence, was a lot easier than what followed. Small details and bits of lore worked in throughout the chase are one thing. Lots of body movement, limited time for talk. But entering the final part of the chapter which is essentially a long conversation was more challenging.

I talked earlier about wanting to avoid info dumps, easy enough to do during an action scene, but when writing a conversation, fraught with tension. It becomes necessary to consider what information, is, well, necessary. For a start the characters have limited time and are not each privy to all the information the others may have. A history lesson wouldn’t fit well into a business conversation. Oh and one more thing, how not to make a conversation dull. I know that the information contained is needed to make the story make sense and I don’t think I’ve spent too long laboriously explaining unimportant things. Perhaps it is just a part of taking time to try and craft dialogue, that makes it feel like it drags. Struggling to write it probably had that effect.

I’ve mentioned trying to avoid unnecessary dialogue and avoid dumping information that wasn’t needed on the reader. The other thing I tried to make the passage which was heavy on dialogue interesting, was to give details about characters and their expressions or movements. A fairly standard thing to do in any novel, but something I have in the past overlooked or ignored. Here I wanted to sow the seeds for a consistent personality for all the characters involved and hope as I go through the novel and write further chapters that I can use these tells to create convincing protagonists and side characters alike.

Well, that’s all for this one, struggling to give an opening a good hook and difficulty writing dialogue and creating lifelike characters. I hope that what I have done in the first chapter to tackle these issues, such as placing action at the start and making sure to avoid unnecessary info while attempting to add depth to my characters will pay off in the long run but I guess only time will tell.

Shieldbroski Out!

A long overdue Critical Commentary:

Hello again… Yes… It has been a while, I hope that this piece finds any and all who read it, in good health and fine spirits. Devoid of the unhappy thoughts that have been my constant nighttime companions of late. To those that know me, it will be no surprise, that the pains in my stomach that have prevented me working and the prolonged and so far uninformative period of medical investigation that has followed. Exacerbated pre-existing discontent with the progress I was making on projects I had begun at university and hoped to finish, within a year or two. This discontent, in partnership with the near constant discomfort and pain combined with isolation both due to health and coronavirus, has led to a rise in my depressive moods. I bring this up not out of any desire to seek pity, but to stay true to the exercise I have begun here. It occurs to me that now might be a good time to explain the purpose of this piece.

Somewhat selfishly dear reader, though you may, and indeed I hope you do find the contents to be of interest to you. That is not the primary purpose of this piece, and will not be the primary purpose of any subsequent entries in this series of Critical Commentaries. So what am I defining a critical commentary as, well for the majority of people I suppose a Journal of Self Reflection might be a more familiar term. Why not use that term then? I hear your hypothetical voices quick to query! And fret not for there is, I hope a satisfactory explanation to that question, I shall be quick to type. There are two main reasons for straying away from this form.
The first is a minor technicality. The term self reflection itself. When I think of self reflection although I feel a degree of objectivity is required, I’ve always felt the outcome to have been influenced by excuses. Clouding potential progress with disappointment in what has not been achieved. Perhaps I’ve always been doing it wrong but there we are.
The second is that the form of the critical commentary was a part of University Assessments when I did my MA and BA in creative writing. With every piece of work, we would submit a critical self commentary. The objective of this was to assess the process, discuss decisions and evaluate what we may have done differently. It wasn’t, however tempting an excuse to say well this didn’t work and sell your work short, in fact the opposite was true. It was there to show recognition of successes and things that didn’t work out so well and then discuss a better way forward for future attempts at the project. In short, I have always found it to be a constructive exercise. One focused on moving forward, learning from and taking mistakes as fuel towards future successes. (Cliched I know, but forgive me, it is 5:41 am and I’ve always been prone to romantic sentiment.)

So with that out of the way I want to begin to lay out the projects which I will likely use these blog posts to evaluate. The first and perhaps most core to my life is that of my writing. The second and important in its own right, is that of my Twitch channel. Any other projects such as a game I seek to improve in, or smaller projects will likely find themselves in this category as well. But in order to evaluate results one must first set a goal and so I will use the remainder of this largely introductory post to lay out my intent or set goals.

So why my novel? Cause I want to finish it, duh. For a long time I have lacked the structure created by a university environment without deadlines, fellow writers and tutors on hand to bounce ideas off of. I hope that by implementing these weekly commentaries on my progress I can hold myself accountable and in doing so make more significant progress than I have seen in many months. As such I will be setting, what I hope to be achievable targets every week and striving to meet them. The purpose of this commentary will then be to ascertain whether or not these goals have been met. As well as to look at what worked, what hurdles I encountered and how I dealt with them, as well as any problems I feel were unresolved. This will not only serve hopefully as a stimuli to productivity but as as a record that I can go back and review when planning future edits or redrafts of the novel.

As for Twitch I find this one a little bit more difficult to define, set word counts or easily quantifiable chapters to use as goals don’t exist in this domain. Follower counts and subscribers are an indicator of performance but an unreliable one, a raid could lead to several follows in a day and then a drought for a few weeks. No, for this the criteria for success will have to be somewhat more nebulous. I believe these will more likely be focused on ideas around stream content, do I feel that I provided good commentary this week, if not, why not, what stopped me, how do I address that. Do I feel that a new game is lending itself to my strengths? That sort of thing. However beyond that I plan to try and create more for my channel: community nights, collaborations with other streamers, using social media to promote my stream more effectively etc, so expect to see these things discussed as well.

So that, as they say is that, I’ve done it, typed the blog post, signed myself up for the long haul. Two reflective blog posts a week minimum + the twitch streams and work on my novel. But I have to admit that work on the novel will be slow probably a chapter and a discussion of a chapter per week. To be frank, my health is not good, I struggle to move around too much and even sitting upright for long periods of time can be exhausting. However, I hope that by doing this, and taking these steps I can do more to help myself in my current situation than just take medication and wait… and perhaps in doing so regain some of the parts of myself that have slipped away over the past year.

So to recap my goals are as follows:

One 1000-1500 word critical self commentary on my twitch channel.
One chapter of my Novel draft.
One 1000-1500 word critical commentary on my progress.

Expect to hear from me soon.
Shieldbroski out.

Writing Update: Re-structuring

Progress:

In my last post I talked about the editing process and what I would be doing to improve my first draft.  Having done a good chunk of reading, collating feedback and re-writing over the last couple of days I thought I’d update you all on my progress. So far I’ve learned a few important things. Continue reading “Writing Update: Re-structuring”

Writing Update:First drafts

I’ve just completed my first draft for my dissertation with a little over a month to go to the deadline. I’ll be honest, I’m more excited about the project now than when I sat down to write it. Usually I don’t have this problem with my creative projects; I sit down hammer out whatever it is that is in my head and then when the novel or short story is finished I run away from it until it’s time to edit. Continue reading “Writing Update:First drafts”

Writing Update:

So those of you that follow what I post regularly will have noticed that I fell off the grid for a week or so. That’s because I’m in the process of moving house, managing a university assessment and working. I should build some more time in to create content but honestly haven’t felt able to. So given that I can’t sleep at 4am with a full day of moving furniture tomorrow I thought I’d give you all a quick update. Continue reading “Writing Update:”

Writing Journal: Dissertation

To be honest although I’ve had two months to get on with my dissertation I must somewhat unhappily admit that I haven’t done nearly as much work on it as I wanted to. Life got in the way. Continue reading “Writing Journal: Dissertation”

Writing Journal: Module Assessment

For a module entitled Contemporary Writing, I wanted to do something a little different. Play with some of the themes the ‘Contemporary’ texts I was reading for my course had highlighted

In the last update I gave you a brief overview of what I was working on and my plans for a module assessment. My plan for the module being to write something focused on experiences of the Trojan war. This is no longer the case. Continue reading “Writing Journal: Module Assessment”

Writing Update:

Hullo!

Hugh here with a quick update as to the projects I am currently working on. I’ve got two major projects on the boil at the moment, both of them assessments for my MA one of which I am a little less certain of than the other.

My dissertation project, which I’ll talk about first is fairly simple in premise; take the High Fantasy genre that I love and adore, and update it using allegory. To do this I am taking recent events, tragedies and disasters, studying them and the effects that they had and implementing a version of this in my novel.  (Sadly the world is throwing me a number options but more on that later.) For example Grenfell tower will become a slum wide fire reflecting the poverty of the area and the responses to this will be based on arguments made by politicians, landlords and survivors of the Grenfell tower fire. Obviously it wont be word for word but a general gist or sentiment will hopefully be distilled should I be successful. For this I am completely revamping an old universe to the point of non recognition, the only thing it has in common is names at this point, will likely post some draft work when I have something I would consider half way decent to show.

The second project is for a module assessment and for this I was hoping to do a false biography focusing on different experiences of Troy or the Trojan war growing up. Taking the reader through from cartoon books to studying the Iliad for an A Level in classical civilisation. I’m still not 100% sure how I’m going to approach this, or whether or not this will be the final idea. Right now I’m leaning towards having a narrator introduce the different experiences interspersed with bits of prose and biographical style writing, but we shall see how that goes.

Outside of these two project the main form of writing I am doing is the blog, I’m trying to get at least two posts up a week at present, maybe more depending on how much of a backlog I’ve built up at any one given time.

So that’s me, what about you? Are you writing anything? Let me know in the comments section below.

Take it easy guys!
Over and out.