Writing and Assessment

Assessing Your Writing

Quality assessment is now one of the most important strategies in education. Good assessment techniques are in play from the start of every course or project undertaken by students. And the intention behind this is to promote learning rather than to demoralise by testing before a student is ready.

To explore what benefits this could bring to writers, consider the methods of assessment commonly in use and see how some might help improve technique and time management.

Decide on the Criteria.

This may be self assessment but we need standards to aim for, standards to attain.

Goal setting for writers usually focuses on words per day. If the focus is moved to the standards you want your book to reach, you can create SMART targets (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound) to ensure improvement scene by scene, chapter by chapter, book by book.

The SMART target could be to cut down subject-verb sentences by two per chapter.

Try varying sentence structure till it becomes automatic not to start too many sentences with he did, she did subject-verb sentences. 

I'm a participle starter...love my -ings lol. Realising this is one of my many defects, I try not to do it too often. Let's hope that's the last example in this blog.

Yes, writing tricks and habits may be part of your author's voice, but repeated too often they bore the reader through familiarity.

How many authors did you once love but now don't follow? Ask yourself why.

Question and Answer

Fiction writers use question Q&A from the start when creating their characters' biographies, when asking "what if....?" to move their plot points forward.

In the main, the questions are closed--asking and expecting straightforward answers...Where was the hero born? What is the inciting incident?

But if you read through the day's work and ask more open-ended questions, then stronger solutions may appear.

What is the underlying theme of the scene? And make no mistake, each scene should be locking on to one of the themes of your book.

What other possible outcomes could there be? Take time. Ensure you have the best possible outcome.

How is this scene similar to the ones before? Vary the scenario,vary the emotional tempo, the pacing if you like. Vary the outcome to give an unexpected player the upper hand.

Key Principles

With so many e-books now outsourced to ghostwriters, your book will have the advantage of authenticity. If you've adhered to your self-imposed targets, it will be valid in assessment terms. But is it sufficient?

In education-speak, this means it covers all the assessment criteria. In reader-speak, this means it tells the story, the whole story and nothing but the story.

In today's fast-read world, there is no advantage to padding out books unnecessarily. Prune viciously. Harlequin and many other romance publishers look for novels around 55,000 words. They're still in business. They know what sells.

 Anne Duguid is a senior content editor with MuseItUp Publishing and   her New Year's Resolution was to blog with helpful writing,editing and publishing tips at Slow and Steady Writers far more regularly than she managed in 2011. Could do better--much better. :-(


Margaret Fieland said...

Love the article, but I have to use a different method. Asking and answering questions doesn't work for me? Why? Don't know, but I get the cold sweats trying to fill out my tax planner, too.

What does work is writing -- writing even a short scene -- or picturing it -- about my character. I see the scene unrolling in my head like a movie and then I can write it down -- or remember it some other way.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Wow Peggy, just finishing the article and here you are! Really interesting point you're making. And to be honest, Q&A is apt to bore me too (had a sympathetic giggle over the tax planner)--just want to get on with it and write.

But when I do that,I'm left with half-finished books and characters who can't dig themselves out of the holes they've fallen into. :-(

Envious and curious--how do your characters develop? Do they grow organically scene by scene? Do you have a theme from the start or do the characters' actions provide the theme?

Karen Cioffi said...

Annie, another great post. I know it can be a valuable tool, but I haven't actually used the character bio format yet. And, I write by both the seat-of-the-pants and and outline. Even with the outline, I tend to have the characters reveal themselves to me as I write.

I don't know if it's impatience or the thrilled of a character revealing himself, or a story revealing itself.

From nothing to something - it's like magic!

Margaret Fieland said...

I start with an idea of my characters, the setting, and the plot outline, but there's a lot I don't know -- or can't answer -- at the start, and the characters reveal themselves to me as I write. In one of the novels I'm editing now (I have two, !! help me), the father of one of the kids started in my mind as a bad guy -- I'd cast him as a member of the Neo-Con party, the party the antagonist in the second novel I'm working on belongs to -- and as a staunch liberal, I went in with the preconceived notion that he therefore had to be no good. Not so -- he turned out to be honorable, willing to stand by his commitments and to support my main character, even when his wife was opposing him.

I see my characters acting out the scenes -- they unroll themselves in my head -- and I write them down. Or I note a few words, or 300-500 words, and I write that. Not everything ends up in the novel.

There's a lot I don't know until I write it, but I do have the bare bones. In "Relocated," for example I started with (more than this, but hopefully you'll get the idea):
Family secrets Dad is holding back from main character, who arrives on planet with Dad. Main character becomes involved with terrorist plot (and with alien kids) and together with alien kids, saves the day. (warning, spoiler alert):

Main character remains on planet at end of novel. So I knew where I was going, but not all the details of how I would get there.

I do pretty much know the themes -- they recur throughout my writing --
Family secrets
Trying to reconcile different parts of oneself such as sexuality -- where do they fall, religion -- perhaps one tradition from each parent, etc

that I'm drawn to again and again. The balance of those things differs, and the statement may be different, but the core subjects/themes I'm drawn to -- both in my fiction and my poetry -- recur over and over.

This has gotten a bit long,and will probably end up as a blog post somewhere after I work on it a big.

Shirley Corder said...

Good post Annie, thank you. Although my published works are all non-fiction I have written 6 novels, 5 of them during NaNoWriMo. At the beginning of my first, I did a helpful exercise with an excel chart. I started to describe it here and then realised it would be very long and would actually make a good blog! So . . . watch this space! LOL! 20th of next month I'll tell you more.

Anonymous said...

I also develop the character as I go along and have never thought of Q&A.

Hmm. No wonder I have unfinished stories and my plots have not moved forward the way I would like.

Thanks for the advice - I'm going to use this!


Heidiwriter said...

Excellent post,Annie. Trying to cut one or two sentences from each paragraph is a great way to trim the fat, and I always recommend varying the rhythm of your sentences too.

Magdalena Ball said...

Some very useful ideas here for revising Annie. I'm a 'participle starter' too (sounds like an intro at a 12 step meeting!), and a run-on gal, so your technique of varying is valuable.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Wonderful post Annie. I find that trying Q & A midstream can be helpful, especially if you make it a direct conversation with the character. In my mind I place the character across from me at the table and let him/her answer the question.

Also, I think SMART goals help one feel more accomplished and move forward.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Thanks Karen and the awards your writing receives speak for its quality as well as the magic.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Thanks for sharing in such detail. This is such useful information. Do please let us know when the blog post is up.

Sorry I am so late replying. Read and thought about it when this comment went up, came back to it and here I am again.

So interesting about the character change of direction and that the themes are recurring.Think that may be a characteristic of all the best writers.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Can't wait Shirl.
So exciting to hear of another blog post inspired by sharing assessment ideas.

Hope you'll remind us at the time. This I want to know.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Hehe, you and me both, Kathy.

But I'm just hopeless at practicing what I preach--or is that a self-defeating prophecy?

Do let me know if you find it helps.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Always good advice Heidi. Trouble is being strong enough to cut some of those favorite sentences...

Anne Duguid Knol said...

You did make me laugh here Maggie. A run-on gal makes a great title too...she'll be a winner as a novel character.

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Thanks for that Mary Jo. Had never thought of mid-stream Q&A but of course that's probably where it would be most useful to revisit and consolidate after growing the character.

Glad you approved the SMART goals. They can be a bit of a pain to set up properly but once mastered they do seem to give good results.

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