Diagnosis: Literature.

I’d never been a fan of diagnosing fictional characters with mental illnesses until I started on Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Septimus seems to have some combination of what we would now call schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and autism. As this was 1925, before treatments became available, his doctor merely recommends rest as remedy.

Mrs Dalloway
Mrs Dalloway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I mentioned this to a friend who also writes, and she told me that OCD runs in her family. Having thought about the stories I’ve written, I’ve realised I’ve created characters who probably have this particular condition.

For instance, one of my published pieces, Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, focuses on a man who is obsessed with acronyms. Every day, he scours the newspapers looking for acronyms. When he discovers one that he considers incorrect, he writes to the person or company concerned. Another features a woman who carries out set tasks at set times every week, and can’t cope with any change to it. Even the example piece I knocked up on 1 September to demonstrate editing techniques concerns a man who needs to repeat an action over and over again.

Tonight, I’m heading to an event in town where Life Sciences students from Dundee University will be performing factual and fictional pieces based on their studies. Their work has been edited and guided by students on the MLitt course.

My student is Greek, although she has an excellent grasp of English. Once we’d worked out the story structure, I only needed to change some of the grammar, particularly the tenses. I’ve realised that tenses in English are not always straightforward. For instance, If I was is sometimes correct, while If I were is sometimes required.

If I were able to, I’d tell you in this entry how it went, but I’ll come back to it next week.

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The Final Cut.

Further to the publication of the Alternate Hilarities anthology, I’ve been interviewed by Strange Musings Press. I’ve also received two paper copies of the book, but I’ll read the electronic version and keep the physical copies pristine and flat.

The story in that anthology is 1,160 words long, but in fiction, as in food, it’s sometimes necessary to cut down. I’m a great fan of reading work aloud. It’s a very good way of finding where one clause would be better than two, or where a semicolon could replace several words.

I only half-follow Elmore Leonard’s advice to Kill your darlings. In other words, to cross out any lines you particularly like. I think that’s fair game if the line in question has been squeezed in where it’s inappropriate, but if it’s the perfect means of expressing what you mean, I say jolly well leave it in.

But what if the problem is not just a line or two, but whole chunks of text? I encountered this problem with a 1,000-word story I wrote well over a year ago. I simply couldn’t make it work to my satisfaction. I shuffled round a few of the characters, who are all introduced as they enter a house, but I still couldn’t make the story flow.

In the end, I cut out the first 700 words, and I’m much happier. All the characters are still there, but it works by starting when they’re already in the house. The dialogue explains the immediate situation, and the twist makes the reader fill in the gaps.

But what to do with the cut part? Don’t delete or bin it, whatever you do. You’ve worked your hardest on it, and it deserves to be seen. I’ve recently started to maintain a list of story stems, those ideas that have thus far gone nowhere. Some are mere seeds, others are massive chunks, but they’re waiting with their jackets on in case the right alternative idea comes along.

Since constructing my list, I’ve used three of the stems. Once I use them all, I’ll need to start actually thinking again.

Alternate Hilarities Released by @Strange_Musings Press.

I’m pleased to report that my short story Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse has been released today by Strange Musings Press in its Alternate Hilarities anthology, along with a number of other comedy pieces.

It’s available in both paper and electronic formats. You can buy a copy from Amazon UK, from Amazon US, or from Smashwords. Find out more about the book, and enter their Rafflecopter gift card giveaway, at the official website.

I’d also like to give thanks to the editor, Giovanni Valentino. Book publishing takes months of work, and throughout it all, he has been in regular contact with the contributors, and kept us up-to-date with its progress.