Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Judging and Critiquing

Today, I discuss judging and critiquing.  Why 'judging' and 'critiquing?  For me, doing either of these provided me with an excellent learning opportunity.

Though, I did not think so when I first started judging.  My judging (or critiquing) of others' manuscripts enriched my writing, and I believe can enrich any writer who chooses to judge or critique.

Granted, at times, I wondered if I truly qualified to judge someone else's work.  Due to the complex nature of the English language, I worried that I may not be giving the correct advice at times.  It seems that for every rule I use that there is a contradiction to it.

The two manuscripts I judged in the Suzannah Contest (Nola Stars*) did not help. They both grabbed my attention and kept me wanting more by the time I finished.  On one, I could not find any errors: neither in punctuation nor grammatical.  The second contained a few punctuation errors.

To get through this dilemma, I just followed my gut. Since I enjoyed reading the manuscripts and could not find fault with their synopses, they received the score that I thought they deserved.  One got a perfect score and the second got a near perfect score. 

Now, I still would be questioning my ability if all six came out the same way.  But the third one showed me what not to do when I write.  The flaws that I found glared out at me.  Yet, some of these missteps are the same ones that I would find in my own work.

Judging (or critiquing) a manuscript shows me how others do it wrong. Yet, this is important, I also see how others do it right.  Seeing both makes me a better writer.

I've judged from six to eight manuscripts every year for the last five or six years.  I learn something every time I step up and judge.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished judging six entries.  All of them are potential winners in my eyes.  All need a little work, but like before, some need much more work than others.

Two entries in this year's group of entries surprised me in that the authors wrote them in first person.  I love first person, but judging it came to be a bit of quandary for me.  I've never judged (or critiqued) a first person manuscript. (Another post subject. BG) Again, I relied on my gut.  One flowed well yet the other did not; thus, I scored one near perfect and the other did not.

Part of judging or critiquing that is important is being able to tell the person who wrote the work what they could do to improve their writing.  I don't mean to change their story.  It is their voice and not yours.  Yes, I would have written some of the material a little differently.  That would make it my story and not the person who submitted it.

So, my job is to help find the flaws that could cause a reader to stop reading. While working on a manuscript, I try to denote material and techniques that I like along with my suggestions for improvement.

My problem with critiquing and judging is that it takes me so long to work on the manuscript.  These entries are limited to 7500 words.  Yet, I can still spend up to three hours working on them.  I am not a fast reader.

So, I built a cheat sheet that contained the most common mistakes crossed my path while judging or critiquing.  (A future blog post) This cut down the time I used trying to explain why something should be changed.  Especially when I came across the same problem over and over.

In short though, I recommend that everyone try to critique or judge anothers' work.  It can make one a better writer.  I believe I've improved due to my participation in these activities. 

Has 'judging' or 'critiquing' a manuscript helped you?  If so, in what way?

*North Louisiana StoryTellers and Authors of Romance, Bossier City, Louisiana

Monday, November 25, 2013

Assignment-20131122 - Example Two

As promised, here is my second example to Friday's post.  I will be using some of the same emails mentioned Friday to show a second story scenario. 

This example is targeted for the Sci-Fi market.  I did not know if I would ever use the first example, but I do intend on using part of this in one of my short stories.

  • Rholi Brede, Security Chief, Heywah Space Station
  • Checks his electronic communications. Finds his usual missives as well as spurious ones.
  • Receives his intelligence reports through the so-call trash messages (Spam to us in the Earth realm.).
  • The three messages containing the trustees hunting for potential heirs are actually reports from three operatives working in three different hostile governments.  They report possible problems that the regimes are to incur.
  • The two messages on meeting girls gave him the names of two space transports that managed to evade patrols and suspected of carrying human contraband.
  • Again, the video message is coupled with the separate 13-digit code to provide video intelligence on the two ships and the ships' markings.
Now, what can you do with this additional information?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Assignment-20131122 - Example One

Hello, I promised to provide one of my examples today. So, here it is.

Like I said yesterday, inspiration comes from almost anywhere.  From the 11 emails I referred to, there are six that I wish to use for this example.
  1. the two on meeting women
  2. the one on the video
  3. the 13 digit code number (3134231835667)
  4. one of the trustee emails
  5. the transfer of funds with no amount mentioned
How do I use these emails?  Good question.  First, I am increasing the number of the 'meeting women' emails to five.

Here are my ideas based on those emails selected.  Note, most of this material never showed up in the emails.  That is where not limiting yourself to just the information from the emails.  Expand on them.

First set of basic ideas:
  • Hero: Henry Moses
  • Heroine: Joan Davis
  • One is an agent for a secret society that searches for missing people.
  • The five emails on sexual partners gave the agent the names of five people who are missing: four women, one man.
  • They are suspected to be sold into slavery of various types.
  • The so-called video on how to make women fall for even the ugliest man has a hidden video showing the last known video of the five missing people being loaded into a van.
  • The thirteen digit code is the secret password to access the video.  It is also contains the code to access other bits of information.
  • The email on transferring of funds with no amount or location tells the agent that the five are to be auctioned off but no minimums.
  • The trustee email contains the name of a contact the agent needed meet for more intelligence on the five's location and condition.

As you can see, I did not use too much material from the emails. (The parts used are underlined, bold and the color blue.)  All the rest are what popped to mind when I worked on these items.

Now, the "What If" questions:
  • What if Joan was one of the four women taken?
  • What if Henry was the lone male taken?
  • How does this affect the heroine or hero to find their love in this position? 
  • What are the first things that the heroine/hero do to find the five? 
  • What kind of information can s/he pull off of the video recording?
  • What other bits of data are available to rescue the five?
  • What if the 'ugly man' pictured in the video email looked like the hero?
  • How would he feel about it?  How would she feel about it?  (Big Grin)
One can pull out an unending number of questions.  And depending on the answers, you can ask more questions based on those answers.

Does this give you ideas on a story to write? 

Assignment: Take the basics provided and expand on them.  Answer the questions and create new questions based on the answers.

Don't limit yourself to these email subjects when building your story. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday's Fancy - 20131122

Hello, today, I wish to introduce a feature of my blog that I hope to put up every Friday.  I call it Friday's Fancy (Thought to call it Friday's Story Starters but like the other one better.).  When I looked up the synonym for 'idea,' one of the words that my word processor popped up was 'fancy.'  Thus, welcome to Friday's Fancy. (This is a word I may use in a future blog.) 

The purpose of this fancy of mine is to introduce ideas to help those interested in writing to develop a story.  It does not matter that everyone has access to this particular idea, because when it comes down to it, we all have our own take, so that we will write different stories using these basic ideas.  Now, the first "Fancy."

Inspiration for my stories comes from unusual as well as common sources.  That is when one starts playing the 'What If' game to see where the story goes.

An example of one of my usual sources would come from newspapers and magazines that I come across.  Take four or five headlines from unrelated stories and put them together to see what comes out.  One note: I also use some of the material contained in some of the stories to add some guidance for the story building.

An example of an unusual source for my story ideas came from a visit to my online Spam filter on Gmail. You see, I check my Spam filter to all of my major email accounts twice a week so that I do not miss any important emails that may have ended up there.  (This week, I found two emails that were not Spam).

But all the rest were Spam.  I consider this Spam fair game for ridicule or anything else I can think of.  Today, my thoughts found that these emails can be used as the basis of a story.

As for the emails, I've selected the basic information from them. There were 11 total. They are
  • An offer for a "free energy generator." A process which violates the laws of physics.
  • Three emails hawking luxury watches/replica watches.   From 3 different people-used the same web address.
  • Do you wish to meet women? 2 emails.  There are hundreds of women in my area who want to meet me. (Yea, right.  Big Grin)
  • A video that shows mind control tricks that would allow a person to make any girl swoon in their presence.  Guarantees that 'the women will never reject you no matter how ugly you are.' 
  • An email that offers a thirteen digit 'code number' and an email address to contact.  By the way, the code number is 3134231835667
  • A barrister (lawyer) from Ghana wants a trusted beneficiary to transfer money to from a $68 million trust he controlled.
  • A 3 percent business loan, respond to the email.
  • Three other emails on transfer funds.
  1. The first – no amount mentioned, no destination or origin. Just respond.
  2. The second – A secretary of the Oil and Gas Trust Fund Committee in Nigeria.  This trustee controls $140 million and wants a business proposition.
  3. The third – a regional auditor in the Philippines and a trustee of $30.2 million that belonged to an American who died back in 2003.

Now, the fun parts begins.  Select the email that subjects interest you.  After picking several, then see how you can connect them to build a story.  You do not need to limit yourself to these particular subject for your story.  But try to integrate at least three of them in your assignment. 

Alternate Assignment: Go through your own Spam filters to see if anything in them jump out at you.  Let me know what you came up with. 

Note: I will post examples of what I came up with tomorrow and Monday.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NaNoWriMo Update - 20131120

Well, it's time for another NaNoWriMo update.  This week I wish to discuss what is called a "write-in" – a group of NaNoWriMo's get together to inspire each other to write.

In the past, I traveled to Shreveport to attend these write-ins.  (About 3 to 4 years ago since my last visit.)  Of the times I participated, I pumped out enough words to meet or beat my 1667 word daily requirement. 

This year, I did not know if they still gathered for them.  The reason I stopped is that the interest in them died. On my last trip, I found that I was the only one to show up.

At the time, there were only three regions in Louisiana.  I found out this year that several more have started and one of them encompassed the Shreveport area.

So, I joined that region on the NaNoWriMo site as well as the Shreveport Region's Facebook page.  I found out that they restarted the Saturday write-in.

Three people showed this past Saturday and we worked on our projects. I brought a tablet and external USB keyboard.  (How that worked out will be the subject of a different blog.  Big Grin)

We held three sets of sprints along with some free time to write without being timed.  As I gained familiarity with that new keyboard, I increased my word count.  My first sprint produced 249 words.  The second (360 words) and third (460 words) faired better.

My companions did so much better.  They reported entering anywhere from 600 to 800 words during each of those 20-minute sprints.

In total, I wrote over 1600 words during the 3 hours I sat in the Barnes and Nobles cookbook section.  I would have gotten more if I would have stopped talking during the breaks and wrote. BG.

If you have a chance to attend a write-in, take it.  You might find that 'push' one needs to write those extra words you might need for your manuscript.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NaNoWriMo - Update 20131113

Hello everyone.  It seems that I am still behind but not by as big of margin I had last week. Last week, I was over 3,000 words behind.  This week, I am only 837 words behind.

On Monday, I made my biggest strides in writing 3948 words.  I hope to have many more days like that on my calendar.

As for this blog thing, I missed last Friday's blog and was a day late on Sunday's by posting it on Monday.  I know, I said I shall post every Wednesday and all other days are optional.  I had something in mind for both last Friday and this past Sunday but did not get to them in time. 

Thoughts are floating about in my mind on something I can do this Friday and every Friday but don't take me to task on it.  I hope to provide story ideas or where I get my story ideas so that others could build on them if they so chose. 

Now, I need to look in entering the 2504 words today that would get me to my Day 13 goal of 21671 words (13x1667).

So, for now, I will say "See ya later." 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Words - A Word A Day

Words are a part of everyone's life.  To me, there are those words that I use everyday and those that I may use occasionally.  Sometime, a word strikes me as being unusual.

For instance, the words 'debacle' and 'sortie' are not used everyday.  Actually, I never heard them until after I had turned 32 (or somewhere around that time. ;-p).

At the time, I remember thinking that they were such unusual words that I wondered when they came into use.  I thought they may be new words to describe what was going on during the first Iraqi war.

Then I started hearing the words in movies that I've seen years ago.  Yet, when I saw these movies years earlier, the words never registered with me while I watched them.

To expand my word knowledge, I started looking for information on the Internet that would help me.

In 2006, I signed up to an email service that sends out a word a day. It is called A Word A Day.  Go to to subscribe to the list.  Many of the words are new to me but may have been around for centuries. Then again, there are a few words that I knew but have not used in a while.

Purpose for the services for me is that it introduces new words with their definitions as well as some real world examples of the use of the word. I find most of the words they send out interesting even though they may never find their way into my vocabulary. 

Yet, there are a few that have caught my attention. These I intend to showcase in my work in one form or another.

An example of a word I knew that the service showcased was 'nincompoop.' (The first time I came across this word was back in my youth while watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon.)

The word is a noun.  Their meaning for nincompoop is "A silly or stupid person."

Now, as for some words that caught my attention from this past week (Nov. 3-9) in which I've hear before and may use in my writing are bupkis, schnozzle (which I've always heard the word 'schnoz'), and schmo.

I plan to go through these definitions and see what other words I may wish to discuss in the future.

Do you have any favorite words?  Has any word caught you off guard or strike you as funny and why?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

NaNoWriMo Time

It's that time again.  Time to BIKHOC – Butt in Chair, Hands On Keyboard.

That's right, this is the time of the year in which one needs to enter at least 1667 words a day for 30 days in order to reach the goal of 50,000+ words for the month of November.  The NaNo is upon us. 

Granted, my start did not get off too well.  As of this morning, I have 5246 words which puts me over 3000 words behind.  That is just over the day three goal. I've got to make up the 3000 plus words.

This is my eleventh year to participate in NaNoWriMo and I hope it will be the tenth year of winning. So, today, I've tied up the internal editor, place the cable music channel on 70's rock, opened several relevant files, and poured my coffee. 

Now, it's time to toss that editor in the closet, work with the contents of those files, drink my coffee and produce several thousand words.  I intend to catch up to my goal of 15003+ words by the end of the week. Fly fingers fly.

In order for me to reach my goal (and shut down my internal editor), I shall use a style of writing called 'freestyle writing.'  This is where one begins putting down one's ideas either on paper or on the computer without worrying about mistakes, punctuation, capitalization, etc.  The purpose is to write with abandon. Get the story down on the paper.

This is hard for me at times because that doggoned internal editor steps in and demands that I either correct something a few lines above where I am working or tells me that I need to foreshadow a scene.  To get around this, I put a note at the spot that I currently sit and then continue on. 

Another goal is to write in multiple 45-minute sprints everyday.  If I can find some friends to sprint with, then I might have some additional encouragement thus a larger word count.  It does help to know that other authors are working as well.

The purpose of these friendly sprints is that each person attempts to write as many words in a 45-minute stretch. Yes, there will be those who can manipulate the keyboard faster than others.  Yet, everyone is a winner because we all get words down on the paper or entered into the computer.  We can always edit the material later.  The main thing is to get one's ideas written in a tangible form.

As for editing, it is something I dread.  Yet, I plan to edit what I build now sometime in either December or January.

What am I working on?  It is a project that involves a series of short stories.  This particular project I intend to write at least 72 to 84 short stories from start to finish.  Each will start and end with a single story but there will be an overlying arc to the whole story as well.  The story will occur around a distant space station and the characters that occupy or appear on the station.

Tip Of The Day – placating one's internal editor in order to write freestyle.
  • When a change is needed, make a note detailing the changes one needs to make.
  • Use all capital letters and highlight the note using the highlight tool in your word-processor.
  • That way those notes will stick out from one's regular writing. 
  • It would not hurt to place two line breaks before and after the note.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I'm Baaacck!!! Everybody Run.

Clump, Clump, Clump, Clump.  Eeeeeeiiirrrrcc.  Slam!

Hello, Clark Stone is back on the air.

I've been mulling over restarting my blog for the last six to eight months.  In fact, I planned on re-starting this blog back in July but time conspired against me and just passed me by. 

Now, my goal for this blog is to post something every Wednesday morning with the possibility of posting on other days when the opportunity presented itself. 

What brought me to bring my blog back online? I do not know for sure but I wanted to put something up that shows my observations and experiences.  My emphasis will be toward writing with a few forays into other topics on occasion.  I also wish to include writing tips, hints and ideas.

Another reason I've restarted this blog is that I wanted to build something that could be a companion to another blog I intend on building starting at the first of the year.  This blog will, I hope, showcase the multiple definitions that words may have.  I will tell more at a later blog post.

Now, I know you have a question.  Why am I rolling this out on a Tuesday instead of Wednesday?  That is because I came up with a time sensitive blog entry that I can put out on Wednesday. 

Next question: What is the subject of that blog?  It's on writing and occurs every November.  It's not about Thanksgiving unless you are writing a turkey story. (Big Grin)  It's NaNoWriMo.