PD Martin's Blog

October 25, 2012

Lost in translation

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Writing — Tags: — PD Martin @ 10:10 pm

Question Mark Key on Computer KeyboardAbout a year ago I came up with an idea for a new novel. It was the kind of idea that kept eating at me, kept calling to me “Write me”. I knew it was an idea I’d get to sooner rather than later, that it would ‘jump the queue’ in terms of the projects I had planned. This is the order I’m supposed to be doing things in:

  1. Books 2 & 3 in my Guardian and Wanderer series (Pippa Dee)
  2. Book 2 in my new “RB and The Committee series” (as a follow-on to Hell’s Fury)
  3. Another mainstream drama project (I was hoping to have an agent and a sale by now for my first mainstream drama novel, but alas it hasn’t happened yet).

Then, and only then, would I move onto this ‘new’ idea, something that’s completely different again to what I’ve been writing. It’s a post-apocalyptic YA thriller/action adventure.  I know…I’m all over the shop.

However, when I was in bed at night, I’d literally think about scenes from this book. I’d see and hear them in my head, compose the sentences and dialogue. I had the character down — a tough 18 year old who’d been imprisoned since she was 10 because she was a ‘danger to society’. But I didn’t write any of these scenes down. I trusted my subconscious and conscious to let the idea brew, to fully form. But now, I’m not so sure…

I’ve finally answered the call of this book and put all of my 1-3 points above on hold. After a little bit of initial but essential research, I started writing last Thursday. In fact, it’s the first thing I’ve written since we collected Liam in Korea a few weeks ago. And I am also aware that my writing stints are going to be an hour here, an hour there, and then one full day (Thursdays).

Now here’s the problem. The book isn’t coming out at all like it’s been in my head for the past year or so. The main character, instead of being a kick-ass bad-ass chick with a major attitude problem, is turning out to be a young woman who wants redemption for ‘her kind’, who wants to prove she can do more than only destroy society. But I just don’t know. Is the book lost in translation or is this how it is meant to be, how it always would have turned out even if I’d answered its call twelve months ago, or even six months ago? It’s not that I’m not happy with what I’ve written so far and I am only 5,000 words in so it’s hard to tell. But still, why is it so different to what I’d envisaged?

So, now I have to decide…should I go with the flow, what’s coming out on the page, or ditch my 5,000 words and start again trying to be true to the original vision?

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October 16, 2012

Boroondara Literary Awards

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Writing — Tags: — PD Martin @ 2:00 am

Back in February I was asked to judge the Short Story Competition of the Boroondara Literary Awards. I knew that in September I’d get a delivery of about 300 stories (1500-3000 words long) and that I’d have a month to read them and pick the winners. No problem. I estimated it would be about 40 hours work over four weeks. Piece of cake.

However, plans changed and during the first week of my four-week judging allocation, we were in Korea picking up our 17-month-old son. Then in the second week I was reading during his naps and at night, but didn’t seem like I was getting very far. That’s when I found out that this year the competition had a staggering 611 entries. Ahhh!

So, what makes a short story good? What separates the winners from those who don’t place?

My first pass of the 611 stories gave me a shortlist of 82 stories. Even this initial shortlist was hard to come up with, because there were many powerful stories that demonstrated the entrants’ strong grasp of the writing craft. From there, I got it down to 36, then 26 and finally I was down to my top 12 stories, from which I chose the winners. Funnily enough, I actually culled the winning story at one point  (yes, the one that got first prize), but then brought it back in because I kept thinking about it. You know those kind of stories? It stayed with me.

So, what does make a short story good? It’s difficult to describe the magic formula that makes a short story sing; however for me there are some essential elements. For a start, an opening sentence, paragraph and first page that grabs me. A short story doesn’t have much set-up time and a good short story, like any novel, will constantly drive the reader forward and take you on a journey. Sometimes the driving force is the plot. Sometimes it’s the characters. And sometimes it’s the pure beauty of the written word, the author’s grasp of the writing craft. Of course, ideally these three things come together on the page — a strong plot, intriguing characters and beautiful writing.

There’s still more to a short story than that…there’s the ending. Whether it’s resolution or a shocking twist, the story must feel complete. It was actually the endings of the stories that helped me narrow down the 611 entries to my first shortlist of 82. I found many stories started strong and kept me reading, only to disappoint me in those last few sentences.

One of the difficulties in judging a competition like this is that you’re not always comparing apples with apples. How do you compare a story that’s funny, to a story that’s tragic? Or a story that’s more literary and atmospheric to a murder mystery?

At first, I also found myself drawn to the more shocking, tragic and dramatic stories and I realised that while these stories did pack a punch, I shouldn’t automatically elevate them because they addressed horrific subject matter. These stories were often difficult to read because of their emotionally charged content, namely child abuse, domestic violence, rape and child abduction. In the end, I was mindful of giving these stories equal weighting with the other entries — not elevating them, but not dismissing them either.

Finally, to narrow down my final 12, I gave each story marks out of ten for:

  • Artistry
  • Voice and characterisation
  • Narrative structure
  • Show don’t tell
  • Impact

It ended up being a tight race. Unfortunately I can’t talk about the winners yet, because the official announcement isn’t until next month. But I will mention them in November.

It was great to be able to judge this year stories, and I’m looking forward to the awards night and meeting the winning authors.

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