A Bridge to Nowhere

April is eight days away. Have I planned a project yet? No.

My vague plan was I’d have the outline of a serial for The People’s Friend ready to go. Or my next pocket novel. The truth is I’ve got several ideas but nothing concrete. One of these ideas – adapting my Mills & Boon runner up romance – is underway, but I’m not sure where it’s going. The plot will need to change substantially, and I’m not sure how to work the required elements into it.

When I walked into the next village to go food shopping yesterday, my route took me past a decrepit mill that has been up for sale forever. It’s a building I’ve been dreaming about as the setting for a serial where a long lost Canadian relative buys it, befriends a local interior designer who’s been desperate to get her hands on it, and the two uncover a mysterious family past.

But what past? That’s my sticking point. As always, plot let’s me down.

But I digress. As I was passing the mill yesterday, I noticed a bridge over the river that flows past it, the track over which now disappears into the modern road bridge. This was not easy to take as it was a very bright day and this part of the garden was in shade.

The light area towards the left is sun shining on the path over the old bridge. As you can see, the garden is now horribly overgrown, though I can remember flowers when the last owner, an elderly man, was still living there.

I read somewhere about the complicated structure of this area which gives rise to frequent subsidence and sewer problems. There’s a bridge over a bridge over a bridge or something. There’s certainly a river and a canal running through there.

What a fabulous ‘what, when, why…’ situation. I am unable to find where this old track led. Into the village where I was going, perhaps. (turn right over the new bridge, these days). Why didn’t they just knock the old bridge down when they built the new road?

This is definitely a story starter, but can I finish it?

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Research the Market

This post was triggered by a People’s Friend blog by Abbie, one of the editors. It states the obvious, really, that before you submit a story to a magazine such as The People’s Friend, check that it’s suitable for them.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen posts on social media along the lines of ‘I’ve written a short story, I might send it to People’s Friend as they take women’s stories, don’t they?”

Yes, they do. But if you are unfamiliar with the type of story they publish, I would bet good money that your story will be sent straight back with a ‘thanks but no thanks’.

Abbie suggests checking the market after you’ve written your story. I would go a step further and say you should do this before you put finger to keyboard. Write the sort of story the market wants, not vice versa, at least if you want to make money.

I sent several stories to The People’s Friend without success before I sat down and read several issues of the magazine cover to cover. The next story I sent to them sold. Why? Because I wrote it in a different way, one which I figured would appeal to the readers, using the editors as proxy.

Obviously, there’s still an element of lottery as so many good writers submit stories to magazines. Yours might be a perfect fit, but if they’ve just bought one like it, if it doesn’t quite fit with the mix of stories they have planned, or one of many more very good reasons, it might not sell this time.

But if you haven’t checked it’s a People’s Friend/Woman’s Weekly/Albedo One (or whatever) story before you submit, I can guarantee it won’t sell.

Today I’m working on a story they rejected a year or two ago. In retrospect, I can see why – it’s far too negative. The tone is downbeat, especially in the second half. Yes, your character needs to overcome obstacles, but not with a sense of despair or tone of overwhelming gloom.

For womag stories, you need a strong character with a can-do attitude. And you need to be able to describe your story with a positive adjective – uplifting, humourous, poignant, moving.

Even innocuous negative phrases can affect the whole tone. I was surprised when I did a search for “n’t” in my story: in one part there seemed almost one per line and all those can’ts, won’ts and don’ts add up to a lack of optimism! Womag readers don’t want that require more positivity.

Look at all those red negatives

Generally, these “–n’t” phrases can be rewritten as a positive. For example, “I don’t know what to do,” can be rewritten as “What can I do?” and “Can’t your mum go?” could become “I’m sure your mum would love to go.”

These might seem like insignificant changes and, on their own, probably won’t turn a rejection into a sale. But many small parts make the whole, and womag stories are no less crafted than literary stories, they’re just crafted in a different way.

So, go on. Look at your latest work in progress and see how many negatives you find. You might be surprised.

Money Money Money

I’m sticking with cash, and here’s why.

moneybag money
Graphic from Pixabay

I am sick of companies gathering information about me for their own purposes. Each time I use my card, they know what I bought, what else I bought and where I bought it. Hell, they probably know what mood I was in.

Then they will target me for other purchases/services/support.

If I hand over a tenner, the transaction stays between me and the person on the counter. And last week, the shop in the village lost internet for 3 days. This meant their card reader did not work. Not a problem for me, but I wonder how many customers didn’t have any cash? That’s a disaster waiting to happen on a big scale.

Meanwhile, things reached an all-time low. I wanted to print out a return label to recycle an HP ink cartridge. You used to be able to do this online very simply. Now you can’t without registering so ‘you’, that is me, can track what ‘you’ve recycled.

Look, HP, I can track what I’ve recycled in my head or, if I get desperate, with a pencil and paper. This is shamefacedly gathering my email, because rather than allowing you to simply print out the label from their site, they now email it to you.

Actually, they emailed the label to an E Figg. Won’t Mr Figg be surprised when he gets all those lovely ‘is it time to upgrade your printer?’ emails?

Meanwhile, I needed a replacement ink cartridge. I used an online supplier I’ve been happy with before. Naturally, I had to log in. My password programme didn’t have a password logged for this site so I figured I hadn’t previously registered but bought as a ‘guest’. But when I tried registering my email, it said I had an account already. My browser had a password stored. Except that didn’t work and I had to reset it…

Can you feel my blood pressure rising?

Is it any surprise I prefer online shops that allow you to checkout as a ‘guest’?

Anyway, for the first time ever I bought a non-HP brand cartridge. Why? Because HP has lost my goodwill and product loyalty. I’ve no idea if or how I will be able to recycle this cartridge, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. And when my printer dies, I’ll look for another brand.

Meanwhile, I’ve got bigger things to worry about like when I’ll next sell a story or if I’ll come up with a plot for a serial in time for camp nano which starts in less than 2 weeks.

#cash #cashless #campNaNoWriMo

Plain English

I’m cross.

Those who know me will say this is normal. My user name for one writing forum is ‘Imannoyednow’. Generally, my crossness is, well, generalised. Something somewhere will be not right, I just haven’t found it yet.

Today, I’m cross about something which will no doubt be labled as my fault as I failed to read the instructions properly.

I spent most of the weekend polishing a submission for a rare window of opportunity for a specific body of peeps. Having done so, a friend pointed out she had not taken advantage of said window because she didn’t have a suitably long book.

Really? Where did she see the length thing? Oh, right at the bottom of the page. After all the glowing quotes about why this was a great opportunity, the word length is only mentioned when they get round to saying, ‘if we want to see your manuscript,’ right at the end of the submission details in tiny letters.

Really tiny.

Sigh. Count to 10. Maybe carry on to 100.

I’m sorry, but I’d stopped reading by then. I was up against a deadline and part of the information was elsewhere which I needed to find. I was focused on getting all three required documents polished and amalgamating submission guff from both sites.

I get that people are surprised when they receive submissions which do not meet the criteria, but sometimes, really, they need to look inwardly.

Make your message clear, folks, so that the busy, the distracted and the permanently brain fogged can’t miss it. Put the important stuff at the top, in a font that doesn’t cause a headache and send the over-fifties reaching for a magnifying glass.

The importance of getting key points across succinctly is increasingly important in a world suffering from information overload. That’s why I signed up to Glittering Copy on Facebook – this lady is great at making her message clear and focused.


More Content, Less Glue

Tracey from The People’s Friend has asked me to submit the pocket novel I pitched in December. So I’m polishing the remaining thirteen chapters, tweaking characters, ironing out a crinkly plot and cutting 4000 words. This is a huge job that I’m streamlining with help from style editor ProWritingAid.

ProWritingAid’s many tools highlight weaker areas of writing. To target my tendency to waffle, I like ‘overused words’ and ‘sticky words’.

Part of Prowriting Aid’s toolbar.

‘Overused’ is pretty obvious. It highlights common words you rely on when scampering through your first draft: have, just, think, know, for example. I want to focus on stickiness.

It took ages to understand ‘sticky’, or glue, words. Sticky is ProWritingAid’s term for non-content words. This includes prepositions (in, on, over), articles (a, the) and some verbs. How can I leave these out? By being more creative, that’s how!

To understand non-content words, you must first understand content words. I found an accessible explanation here.

Essentially, content words convey meaning. Non-content words fill the gaps to make a sentence grammatical. Take these four words: Fox, Jumps, Over, Dog. It’s not a sentence, but you know what happens. They are the main content words of the typists’ favourite: The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog. Technically, quick, brown and lazy are also content words, but if you were constructing a newspaper headline to grab attention, you’d stick with Fox Jumps Over Dog! (Or even fox jumps dog.)

ProWritingAid suggests you aim for < 40% non-content words. On the few occasions I have managed this, I found the prose unengaging. I suspect that’s why the tool only highlights sentences that are > 50% ‘sticky’. My first draft is littered with these. Take this example from today’s chapter.

I hope I would have caught that purple sentence without an electronic editor — it definitely needs pruning. Reducing those non-content words made it shorter and clearer:

Although, she’d prefer her uncle to a stranger hell-bent on defiling Marshalls with a coal mine or ironworks, as had happened elsewhere in the Gower.

Now I’m focused on this section, I see another sentence ripe for improvement:

It wouldn’t surprise me if your uncle pressured an old fluky to bid and subsequently bought it off him on his behalf.

That example is obviously ‘sticky’ or too wordy. Here’s a less obvious example, which for some reason, I can’t capture properly with my snipping tool:

Mr Pomphrey looked grave. “Yes, his sister, I believe, has fallen on hard times. Still, if there is one man who can sort it out, Mr Cross would be at the top of my list.”

The underlined sentence is 62% sticky. I was tempted to leave it as it represents natural speech. At least, it represents casual speech now. But this is 1832, and Mr Pomphrey is an elderly attorney. Perhaps it does need attention:

“Still, if any man can retrive her perilous situation, it’s Mr Cross.”

Tada! I doubt I would have rewritten that sentence unless I was seriously over the word count and slashing everything! I hope this shows that although using a style editor does not suit everyone, it can be useful to target areas needing most work in a long manuscript.