MOOC Ow!

Note that the “Ow!” is intended in the style of Michael Jackson rather than an indication of pain.

So what is a MOOC you may well ask. Well, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. The reason I mention it on this blog is that a new course called Start Writing Fiction commences on 12th October. This free course is run by the Open University and lasts for eight weeks. Various authors have been conscripted to provide guidance and advice including Alex Garland, author of The Beach.

Even though I have completed my first book, I still have a huge amount to learn about writing so free advice is always welcome. If some of the input from the successful authors involved in the course rubs off, it will be well worth while. The details page suggests that course work will take up approximately three hours a week so it doesn’t require a huge investment in time.

I took part in a MOOC on a programming language last year (I work for a high technology start-up company during the day) and to be honest it was a bit of a mixed bag. The course started well but then lost pace after the first few weeks. I am hoping that this course will maintain my interest until the end. I intend to go into it with an open mind. If nothing else, it will make good material for a future blog!

Another good source of advice about writing is Marg McAlister’s Writing4Success site. There are literally hundreds of articles about all aspects of writing, many of them thought provoking.

Publishing – the synopsis

When you want a publisher or agent to accept your book, generally you need to submit a synopsis. The synopsis should be a basic summary of the plot and is written in the present tense. That should be easy, you might think, after all you have just written a hundred thousand words or more. Different publishers and agents have different constraints on the length of this document but for most of them it needs to be no more than 600 words long.

Now try and cram your well crafted novel into that number of words. I have to say that it’s not easy. My first attempt came to about 2500 words – only four times too large. After some fairly vicious cutting I was down to about 1200 words – still twice what it needs to be.

Time for a different approach. I found a good guide at publishingcrawl.com that uses the plot of Star Wars as an example. One of the main pieces of advice is to only name three characters. When you think about it, it’s kind of obvious. If you’ve only got 600 words you can’t describe all your characters, their motivations and their actions throughout the book.

Another recommendation is to stick to the main plot and omit sub-plots. In the context of The Rage, this meant omitting all the stuff that explained the cause of the outbreak.

The final major guidance was to ensure that you reveal the ending. Well I was going to do that anyway but the temptation is there to embellish the finale.

So, after taking this advice, I was left with 620 words. After rewording some parts and culling a few unnecessary details I came in at 598 words.

Maybe next time I’ll write the synopsis before I write the book!

The Reviewing Stage

So, that perfect work of fiction that I have created, it contains … wait for it … errors. Yes, you read that right, errors. There are the typos, the missing words, the missing punctuation, the inconsistencies, the implausible behaviour and several other mistakes of one form or another. The question is how to weed them out.

You may have read in an earlier post (Lulu – you make me want to shout!) that I bought four copies of the first draft for review purposes. Well those books are now covered in pencil, red pen and various other almost illegible scribbles. Many thanks to my early readers including Judith, Emily, Tony, Tim, Chris and Ted for taking the time to help me resolve many of the problems.

The second draft of the book is certainly not perfect by any means, but most of the obvious issues have been ironed out and the reviews so far have been very complimentary. So if friends and family like it, a publisher is sure to want to take it. The only problem is finding one who thinks the same way that I do!

More about that in a future post.