Forgivable filler?

I’ve recently read two fictional novels which had huge chunks of what I would call filler. Those chunks were clever (and in one case rather funny) but they didn’t really contribute to moving the story along at all. I’ve always been told that this is the stuff you need to cut out, kill your darlings and all that.

In one novel a whole third of the book was filler dressed up as a red herring, and after much fun and mayhem we ended up back at pretty much the same point in the story where we started following the red herring. While the mayhem was amusing, I was well aware that it had nothing to do with the story while I was reading it. Did that annoy me? Mostly not, but on reflection yes.

I understand the divide between filler and character/world building can be a bit fine sometimes, but I guess a good yard stick to use is only add your anecdote if it contributes to the reader’s understanding of the story, or of your character’s motivations. There is no point going into detail about a character’s former job of cleaning gutters unless they need to call on a skill or experience they picked up from that job later in the story.

Having said that, I did thoroughly enjoy some filler parts in one of the novels, and I would hate to see them cut out. So I guess like all rules in writing, breaking it can work, so long as you know what you are doing.

Horror has-been?

The Australian Horror Writers Association opened for entries to their short story competition in January. It doesn’t close until May. For the past 4 months I have been trying to write a horror story so I can enter, and despite a couple of enthusiastic starts, my stories have always descended into comedy. I’m wondering if my days as a horror writer are behind me?

In an effort to trigger my horror muse I read a book of horror short stories. While the stories were original and quite well written, none of them came close to scaring me (and I could see a few great comic angles they had missed). It was only later, when I was watching the news, that I realised what a tough task horror writers have today; how on earth can they compete with a real world that can be so terrifying?

When you see what a ‘normal’ person is capable of, then zombies, ghosts, vampires and werewolves seem almost childish. A more chilling story would be for a ‘normal’ person to believe they are one of these supernatural creatures, but again we only need to open the newspaper to see such a story.

Given I refuse to write psycho killer or splatter fiction, I think it may at last be time to hang up my horror writing pen. If I can’t scare myself with a story I won’t class it as horror, and I certainly won’t release it to the world.

So I’m going to have one last go at writing a horror story that came to me in the middle of the night (when apparently everything is scary). If that doesn’t work I think I’m going to have to settle for being a spec fic writer who focuses on sci-fi and fantasy. If only there were more markets for horror comedy 🙂

Adelaide writers group

This week was writers group meeting week for me. My group is only small, but we meet once a month and all of us submit a story or chapter to be critiqued. This week I was reminded (yet again) or why it is so important to be a part of a writers group.

I submitted the third chapter of a story, which I know had a big info dump in it. I needed the info dump; there was stuff the reader needed to learn that had to be revealed in a very short period of time. So despite all my internal alarms to the contrary, I resorted to an ‘as you know Bob’.

My group called me on it, as I knew (or at least hoped) they would. They also saw the bind I was in because I needed this info out fast. So we did something that will only ever happen in a writers group (or I assume for those published authors, maybe with an editor) we brainstormed how I could get around the issue, and someone came up with a fantastic solution.

This generous little piece of my fellow writers group member’s time might one day be the difference between my story getting picked up, or getting passed on. Instead of falling into a novice’s trap, I’ve now got a way around it, and I am so grateful.

So to all those people who spurn writers groups, saying they are toxic or full of jealous writers who want to see you fail, I say that you are in the wrong writers group. I’ve been in two now, both have been fantastic and full of people who want to help you to succeed.

There are so many reasons why I love my groups, and I feel blessed to have been able to find two such wonderful groups. Thank you!


A friend of mine recommended a book to me that he was reading. Unfortunately my public library didn’t have it, and his only copy was on his Nook (an e-book reader). He was so adamant that he wanted me to read it that he has let me borrow his Nook.

This is my first ever experience with an e-reader, and even at page 258 I’m still not sure if I like it.

There is the anxiety of worrying about the Nook being hurt in my daily travels (I do most of my reading on public transport), but I guess I have to ignore this because I always have a bit of hyper-concern with the books of others anyway, and I’m sure if the e-reader was mine I’d quickly get over it.

One issue I have is not getting the visual cue of how far through the book I am. I know I can look down and see I’m on page 258 of 510, but I like to see that. I like to glance over at my book sitting on the table and see the bookmark sticking out indicating exactly how much more of it I have to go. But I know this is a stupid issue so I can’t really count that.

I also don’t like that it is not as easy to keep my finger in place and flip ahead to see how long the chapter is to know if I will be able to finish it before I get to my stop. I’m sure there probably is some technical way I can do this, but my impatience with the instruction manual rendered it a mystery to me.

I’m also very aware of the reflected glare I might be sending into the eyes of my fellow passengers as I’m reading, in the same way as I have been spotlighted on numerous trips by others. This has led to some awkward reading angles on the bus and might account for the sore back I’ve had this weekend.

But after all those negatives… I have accidentally done a few things, which if I knew how to do intentionally might be quite cool. I’ve slipped my finger on a word and the little Nook has defined it for me. The word was ‘was’ –so probably not one I needed help with, but not matter what angle I poked at other words I couldn’t replicate this handy little feature.

I’ve also accidentally highlighted stuff, not useful stuff, but there have been many times I would have liked to do that with books I’ve read in the past, but my ‘leave it as your received it’ policy on books has strictly forbidden any such vandalism.

Finally there is the benefit of being able to keep so many books in one tiny little machine. I could fit probably twenty of my personal libraries into this one little Nook. But having said that, I love my wall of books in the lounge room, and I can’t see a little Nook being able to replace that.

So I guess the one last downside which probably has sealed the fate of my purchase or not of an e-reader is that you can’t easily lend out your books. Fortunately for my Nook friend I am still old-fashioned, so he’s got one of my oft’ read paperbacks to keep him satisfied until I return his Nook.