Viz Comic and The Critics – Forget That, Writing Feedback Is Useful

Since Viz comic launched in 1979 it has become a staple of British life, harnessing smutty innuendo loved by the Carry On watching public, reinvented for the punk generation.

Regular readers will know The Critics, a couple who in this cartoon are delivering an excruciating and hilarious meta-commentary about Christmas.

Viz’s parody is an hommage to critique overall.

It reminds us of what we’ve heard about art, read in column inches about the latest album or film release and identify in those who ‘spout forth’ about every creative thing around them.

The Critics can deconstruct any art form including the written word.

Are there are times when critique can be positive?

When giving feedback about writing, yes there is.

In a talk hosted by Kingston University with Baroness Gail Rebuck of Penguin Random House, students of the MA in Creative Writing asked what was important to ‘get published,’ the holy grail of many.

The discussion centred on the art form of writing and ‘being good’ but it was also mentioned that in the MA programme, students are expected to do their part in promoting themselves and their work.

Author marketing, in other words

One of the early members of the Surbiton Writers Group who also holds a MA in Creative Writing said: “I’m not so good at all the promotion stuff that they expect you to do these days, I like the writing but, well, I know what I’m good at.”

They took part in our first writers circle in 2015 and at the moment all SWG members are thinking about critiquing afresh as our next feedback group is coming up.

How is feedback part of knowing the strengths of your work?

Like it or not, publishing is a business and a competitive one at that.  Even with MA’s in creative writing, those who are producing work are competing inside an industry that many thousands of writers populate.

Authors work, in the main, alone. It is just you, your imagination and your words. That makes for an isolating experience that is remote from the eye of potential readers.

Writing is a solo task 

Writers will have done a lot of thinking, creating, drafting and committing to their written ideas long before it gets to the point of deciding what they want to do with it.

Some ideas are left at the draft stage or the ‘in my head’ stage for weeks, months or years before they are ready for someone else to read them.

Some pop out more quickly and almost fully formed.

However it happens, in order to compete within the writing field it can be useful for others to read your ideas and give feedback to you.

Blind spots exist in everyone. Writers can be so wrapped up with ideas that often stumbling blocks are missed until it’s too late and they’ve run the risk of someone in the industry rejecting them.

Beta-reading for established and new authors 

Established writers seek out feedback as much as newbies.

Beta-readers are people who read drafts of work that are complete from the perspective of the writer and ready to be sent off for a competition or publication.

Beta readers are often professional writers themselves, they can command an income from their work and they know the writing business and the industry inside out.

The Surbiton Writers Group runs quarterly writers circles

We don’t offer beta-reading services but we do have a writers circle.

The writers circle, so called because we sit around a table together and discuss work, is a closed session.

In it we give detailed feedback to our members who are ready to take the next steps with their work.

Format of work 

There is a maximum word limit for any writing that is submitted for feedback. This helps people drill down and focus on having a meaningful discussion of work.

We take at least 2 hours to give verbal feedback and it’s supported by a summary written on paper for the writer to take away also.

The circle is open to members who have a skill, interest or commitment to developing others’ writing and interested in giving feedback both verbally and in writing.

Join us to find out more…

What critique isn’t

The Critics show the worst of what giving feedback can be like; pretentious, over-subjective and useless to anyone but themselves.

The SWG writers circle doesn’t do that. We focus on constructive feedback; that means feedback that the writer can really take away and use.

We pinpoint what areas work and what areas weren’t so successful for us as readers. We listen to the writer talking about their work too.

Our discussion intends to help the writer solve issues they themselves identify but also ones that a blind spot may have prevented them from seeing too.

At the end of our writers circle we hope that the writer has a clear road map as to what to do next, if one is needed.

We aren’t high falootin’ about it and don’t give feedback like The Critics.

At our writers circle people will know what their writing was like from the point of view of friendly readers – readerships are wide and varied and our group members are too!

We are like market research!

Writers circles for 2016 /2017

Our next writers circle on October 29th is already full, however we will be running more in 2017.

If you’d like to attend, contact surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com and we’ll tell you what happens next.

There are always spaces around the table for new people who like reading and giving verbal and written feedback.

All we ask is that you devote the time to considering another person’s writing and like developing written work.

Want to join? contact surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com.

Happy writing!

Copyright Surbiton Writers Group 2016. 

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Genre Based Writing: A Film Is A Film, A Play Is A Play And A Book Is A Book

“I watched that film but it bugged me all the way through, it wasn’t anything like the book.”

How many times have you heard this from people who are disappointed that their favourite read didn’t keep their favourite bits when it was adapted for screen or stage…

They followed its new incarnation but something about it wasn’t right.

New characters appeared, dialogue altered, the plot wasn’t the same or bits were cut out.  For them it made story a sort of Frankenstein of the original.

“Why did they do that,” they ask, deflated, “what’s that about?”

Genre based writing – the mantra

Writers often talk about writing for a specific genre. “Know your genre,” is a mantra.

Genre means the particular style of a particular work of art. Think about selecting a film to watch or a book to buy, they are often grouped, advertised and sold in genres.

Action movies aren’t the same as historical romance, well not usually

Horror isn’t the same as a musical. Even the Little Shop Of Horrors is a comedy rather than blood, guts and gore.

Genre works because it fits the style of the medium a book is being adapted into.

A writer thinks about the genre when they are looking at adapting a book to screen or stage.

The genre affects the adaptation

Holding a new book in your hands is a different experience than sitting down in front of a live or on-screen performance.

You are the only person in charge of turning the pages so there’s no time limit on how long you take to finish it, that isn’t the same with a play, film or TV show.

Aside from the editing the publishers or you did to make the content and the word length fit the book format, the length and everything else is in the hands of the writer: what they decides goes.

With a produced performance there’s a time limit to how long the story has before it’s told. Some characters and plot devices translate better from the page onto the screen as well and they may not survive the cut.

Book reading – you colour in the blanks

Then there’s the imaginative element. When you are reading a book it’s your imagination that colours in the blanks; that hears the voices of the characters, sees what they are wearing and visualises the settings.

In the world of performance, the art director, actors, costume designers and stage managers are doing that for you. There are even composers to add to your emotions and the setting too.

A play, a TV show or a film is a visual medium. A book isn’t.

Adaptation – the work of the team of writers

The work of a writer or team of writers is to approach the book as the basis of what is produced.

The word ‘basis’ is important here.

Telling the story in a linear, literal way as it is on page will not necessarily fit the visual genre and time limit on telling the story on screen or in a live performance.

A writer or team of writers have to view the book through a lens or as an audience member

And that changes how it’s told.

Breaking the rules

Adaptations can be done sympathetically and in some cases, they enhance the original.

The BBC TV series Wolf Hall took Hilary Mantel’s writing and turned it into a historical drama that authentically looked and felt like Tudor England.

“It’s such a long, long, book,” said someone, “it’s filled with minutae of detail that sometimes goes on for pages. I really liked the adaptation, it showed the best bits I felt.”

Sidney Lumet’s 1957 film 12 Angry Men was adapted for film from a teleplay. The film has 96 black and white minutes and only one set to tell a story and tell a story it does so very well.

The writer, Reginald Rose, adapted it for stage and it recently closed at London’s The Garrick Theatre, to rave reviews.

However the ‘genre’ rules still apply; there were differences between the original TV screenplay, the film screenplay and the stage performance.

A book is a book….

Reading a book is an imaginative experience and the 3D experience on screen or in a play is created in the mind of the reader.

The book is them and they are the book.

In the visual and performance mediums of TV, stage or film, the writers do that job for you.

This can change the original but sometimes it’s done so well, it becomes a classic in it’s own right.

Copyright Surbiton Writers Group 2016.

What’s your favourite adaptation?

Do you think the writers did a good job?

What book do you think is ripe to be turned into a play, TV show or film?

 

Surbiton Writers Group Blog: Writing: What Gets You In The Mood?

The impulse to write can strike at all hours and often when you least expect it.

Inconvenient and random, writers find the muse tapping them on the shoulder when they are turning right on a busy junction, in the middle of an important conversation or are trying to concentrate on what their boss is saying at work.

The muse can be slippery and elusive.Is it possible to control the impulse and write when we tell ourselves to?

What gets you in the writing-mood?

Many writers have tricks up their sleeves to get into the zone and the Surbiton Writers are no exception.

SWG members say that they carry notebooks around with them to scribble down words, impressions and ideas while day to day life is circulating around them.

Others say that shutting themselves away in week-long writers retreats are very effective.

Some have dedicated time during the day when “it’s writing-time,” and nothing, but nothing, interrupts them.

For others, seeing an impending deadline on the horizon can force the most stubborn writer’s block to crumble into a million pieces.

Others go with the flow and hang on to their ideas until they get near a computer screen or a piece of paper and then they let them run free..!

What did each of the Surbiton Writers say about what gets them in the writing-mood

Carrie said: “For me it’s reading something that jogs and fires up my imagination and it’s really important while I’m writing that I’ve got some music on in the background too.”

Peter Wells said: “The urge to write comes to me during a walk in the morning, through observing a character in a film or transposing a mood conjured by a piece of music into a story and transporting it to a situation of my own making.

“Once that idea is generated it seems to fill out on its own: that is my experience with blog posts anyway. Writing a book is a very different story but I’ll leave to another time.”

Anu said: “Being close to nature really inspires me…. Or finding a connecting thought or piece of writing close to my subject inspires me to get on with it.”

Darren Yallop said: “I get in the mood for writing when I read or hear something juicy to write about.  Most of the time it will be something that I have alot of interest in. Especially if it is something to do with history.”

Janine Fortune said: “Sometimes, I feel the urge to write on my Iphone quickly and rapidly, rendering me unsociable and in a deep trance for fifteen to twenty minutes. A bit of dinner jazz can sometimes help the words along, but then again I have been known to knock out a story with a mindless action film being played in the background. Anything with Bruce Willis or Jason Statham has worked remarkably well.

Janine adds something all writers can identify with: “I wish I  could say there was a formula to gear up for writing, but often it’s just the product of much gnashing of teeth and glum despair as your wrangle with a blank word document and sometimes the blank document wins.”

We all recognise that situation, Janine!

Whatever tricks work for you, the muse is something we don’t want to go away.

Whether you struggle with it, have fun with it, welcome it with open arms or tell it to wait until tomorrow, it’s an essential part of the writer’s life and means we never walk alone.

Happy writing!

Copyright The Surbiton Writers Group 2016

Our next open writers circle is on Saturday 19th March.

Email: surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com for details.

Surbiton Writers Group Talks: Pearls Of Wisdom About Writing Success From Author Peter Wells

“Through fiction you can talk about your observations in life in a way that resonates with other people,” said Peter Wells  in yesterday’s talk on publishing success to the members of the Surbiton Writers Group. 

Although he has always been passionate about literature and writing, Peter’s publishing success started one morning in 2011 when he had an inspiration for a new story.

The inspiration itself was not unusual: since the early days when he took a degree in English Literature at Manchester University his imagination was full, but this story was different – it made him start a blog.

His blog Counting Ducks was born from a desire to write in a way that others can find and read.

Reading ‘Ghost Of A Love Affair’ and ‘A New Bard Strides Forth’ from Counting Ducks prompted some to sit back and shut their eyes to fully enjoy his prose and from both pieces Peter’s signature style was clear.

Whether bitter-sweet, he prefers the word ‘melancholy’, or laugh-out-loud funny, his writing style is wordsmithery and imagination mixed with universal truths.

Peter divides up his writing into 2 types; humorous and not-humorous, but his advice about writing both is clear: “always be real, tell the truth, read, read, read, write every day and be serious about your writing.”

“People want to read things that are real because it connects them to your writing,” he advised.

The work and objective of writing a blog was not to be underestimated to the world of publishing.

Garnering over 5000 followers in the years since that first post in 2011, it was this following coupled with the quality of his writing that attracted the attention of his publisher.

Now writing his 3rd book, he’s learned a lot along the way. He says he is “fanatically interested”  in developing characters and for him it is one of the most important aspects of getting his writing right.

But writing is a business and without a following and a market, a term called ‘audience’, publishers may think twice about investing in your work no matter how original and good it is.

“How do you build your audience?” asked one SWG member.

“Get to know people who read your writing,” he said, “look at your website stats, your blog will tell you what is working.”

“Be polite, treat social media as you would if you were saying ‘hello’ in real life and like and comment on other writers blogs,” he added.

His final words come down to attitude and polish.

“For every finished piece of writing there are hours of editing and honing it until it’s complete,” he said. “Never ever ever publish something until it’s perfect,” he added.

He tells himself: “nobody is interested, you have to get them interested.”

Success has come quickly for Peter and is well deserved.  You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter and like Counting Ducks here.

Follow our blog to keep up to date with our news and events and join us by emailing surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com

© Carrie Henderson 2015

How The Surbiton Writers Group Gives Constructive Feedback To Writers

You’ve done it – the piece of writing you’ve honed and worked on has got to the point where you want some feedback. Woo hoo. Well done. Snoopy dance!

This piece of writing is your baby, you’ve crafted it and you’ve imagined it.

You’ve enjoyed it enough to think about sharing it with the Surbiton Writers Group in one of our writers circles.

Reticent about receiving feedback on your writing

But you are stalling with the next bit – thinking about what that feedback is going to be like.

Something says: “I’m not sure if I want to”, “what if they don’t like it,” or even “Nooooo. I’m not ready yet. “

So – should you be nervous of hearing about what we think and should you take our advice on board anyway..?

Evaluating writing subjectively and objectively

Writing is an art and as such, is evaluated subjectively and objectively.

The subjective experience of people’s writing is what’s personal and unique to each reader, what you think and feel while you are reading it and afterwards.

Often private and not shared, it stays in your thoughts and memory, with snippets coming back to you over time. It’s the: “I really enjoyed that book,” feeling, without necessarily explaining to yourself and others why.

The objective experience of someone’s writing is like a critique – what we do in the Surbiton Writers Group. It involves standing back from the piece of writing. This says: “I really enjoyed that book,” but you do explain why.

Here, you focus on, for instance, the way the writing was constructed throughout the entire piece, the way the dialogue was written, how it felt on an emotional level or the way the grammar and punctuation read throughout.

As we also look at writing for online publication, we talk about constructing blog posts properly, for instance.

We are also interested in author marketing, by the use of social media and sharing work, so that’s included too.

Both the subjective and objective experience of the piece of writing is used in the SWG.

What’s included in a writing critique – constructive feedback is key

People critique in different ways, but, in the Surbiton Writers Group, we focus on giving constructive feedback.

As we say on our website’s front page, constructive feedback pinpoints elements of the piece of writing in a way that is in itself positive.

It is positive because it explains if, why and where elements of the piece of writing needs more work and also where the writing was successful.

We discuss and suggest and explain this with the writer in our circle sessions.

It’s not a cold process, it’s intended to be interactive, discursive and helpful.

The objective is to give the writer feedback that they can utilise and work on. It is never, ever to make the writer feel bad, or say their work is worthless.

We critique and give feedback about the writing, not the writer.

Why critique writing anyway?

You are right – no pun intended – writers can skip this step. However the Surbiton Writers Group is interested in helping develop people’s writing to achieve their aims.

Some SWG members simply want immediate and quick feedback, full stop. However other SWG members also intend to publish their writing at a later stage by approaching publishers, submitting to competitions or pitching for writing online.

It’s best to know the strengths and weaknesses in your writing before you get to that stage.

Publishers and editors are inundated by manuscripts and submissions. Yours has to be the best it can be, before it’s seen by others.

Audience, author branding and marketing is part of that too.

Consider us your market research!

Constructive criticism guidelines – the ‘how to’ of giving feedback

That’s why we are doing it, but what do we do?

One of our members has an MA in Creative Writing, where there were weekly peer critiques about the students’ work.

She developed a useful set of criteria which is very helpful when thinking through what you want to say.

Here’s her list of what to consider. Our thanks to Alex for these:

Form, voice, theme, plot and structure and pacing, details, language and tone, style, characterisation, dialogue, setting and place.

We also consider:

Sub-editing like spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Form and format – like writing format for online or book manuscripts.

Ways of developing your audience – maximising your marketing potential to build an audience for your writing

How do you know what advice to take on board?

Although there are many different viewpoints in the writers circle we advise that if you find a piece of feedback is being repeated by group members or resonates strongly with the group members, that’s the feedback to focus on and pay attention to.

Think of it like market research. If a lot of people say the same thing, that’s something that shouldn’t be ignored.

Diversity of writers within the Surbiton Writers Group

The diversity of writing interests in the SWG is crucial to giving a breadth of feedback.

We are not only fiction-writers, we have non-fiction writers, playwrights, journalists, children’s authors, bloggers and people that like writing but aren’t currently producing anything too.

All of us have different tastes, perspectives and professional or educational backgrounds.

There are different ages and stages in life in our group also.

All of this brilliant diversity makes for really interesting, creative, well rounded constructive feedback to take away and help you successfully polish and finish your piece of work.

Happy writing!

Copyright The Surbiton Writers Group 2016

We are open to new members from all types of writing backgrounds. If you are interested in joining the Surbiton Writers Group, email us on surbitonwritersgroup@gmail.com and we’ll get back to you.

Journalism And Creative Writing – Difference, Much?

The Surbiton Writer’s Group is a group for people who write in any genre; journalism, creative writing, blogging, rapping – anything that involves wanting to put words down on paper or a screen, whether it’s writing for a job, with an intention to be published or for fun.

While I’ve been chatting with people about the Group we’ve discussed the differences between creative writing and Journalism.

“Surely,” said one person, “Journalism is creative? I really like Polly Toynbee’s writing in The Guardian. That’s very creative!”

Listening to 3 writers of Fantasy Fiction talk so eloquently and expressively about creative fiction writing at an author talk at Waterstone’s book shop in Kingston caused me to think about it again.

Isn’t everything that is newly created and written down creative, whether it’s online, for a newspaper, a business or a blog?

Isn’t it all the same process, the same ideas – including the books Baroness Rebuck publishes at Penguin Random House?

What exactly are the differences?

Journalism

The most obvious difference is that in Journalism, you are collecting together facts and then writing about those facts. You choose words that are easy to understand for the target audience you are writing for.

Most importantly, you don’t make things up.

The facts must be well researched and well supported. You also need quotes to support your story. You stay in the background and remain objective.

When I am writing a factual piece the facts lead the words, not the other way around. 

Journalism is non-fiction, not fiction.

When I am doing creative writing the ideas lead the words

In creative writing, ideas do not have to be factual. Unless the veracity and detail of the facts are important to the story I’m writing, I don’t necessarily have to research them as deeply as I would do when writing a journalistic piece.

I can take liberties and chances. I am in control of what I write. I can choose which words to use from the ground up.

But does that mean journalism isn’t as creative as creative writing…

Here’s a ‘for instance.’

Amy McCulloch at the writer’s talk at Waterstones book shop, said she chose to research the history of China in depth because she felt it was important to setting the scene in a way that was authentic to her as a writer. But she didn’t need to – it was her choice.

At the same talk, Tom Pollack said that his London locations are real, but they don’t have to be 100% factually correct. That’s all part of the creativity of writing the setting in fiction.

A Writer Writing

Journalism expects factual accuracy. It also expects that a pattern of writing is adhered to.

The first paragraph of an article needs to sum up for the reader what the rest of the article is about. Ideally if a reader reads nothing more before they put their IPAD down or throw the paper onto the seat on the train, they should have the salient facts of the entire article.

But if you are reading a column by Polly Toynbee it seems to be more creative because it allows her freedom to write in a way she chooses, a point the member of the Surbiton Writer’s Group made.

Is that sort of journalism Creative Non-Fiction? 

“Well no,” I said in reply, “that’s a feature, or an opinion piece,” I added, confusing things further. “What isn’t seen is the editor at their desk deciding which of those words make it into the published edition.”

“That’s the same as fiction writing!” they said.

Word counts are crucial to journalism. There is an art in being given 250 or 500 words in which to sum up and explain what the article is about, including quotes.

It focuses my mind on what words are important, which words are superfluous. Flowery language is a luxury, not a necessity. Your word budget has to do the job and your first para’ has to sum that up exactly.

So is journalism as creative as creative writing?

I’ll finish by saying something that I read in a blog recently. It was in a post about different types of writing that journalists do.

The journalist was asked what type of writing was most ‘them’; writing for online articles in a popular daily online magazine, writing long feature pieces in a broadsheet newspaper or writing a book.

“All of them,” was their reply. “Each voice is my writing and I have to be able to do each equally well.”

The jury may be out for people reading between the two genres but there’s still plenty of creativity in journalism – they are simply different sides to the writing coin.

© Carrie Henderson 2015