Reflections from a prose panellist

Thank you!  Thank you to everyone who submitted.  As a member of the Prose Panel, it has been a real treat to savour a broad and diverse array of pieces.  As always, we can only choose a very small selection from those which intrigued us.  Considerations of length, subject matter or voice can give the edge to one from a group of otherwise equally worthy stories.  These are some reflections on what I read:

A complete story is always more satisfying to read.  An extended piece of prose, regardless of how beautiful the writing, is ultimately dissatisfying if it fizzles out in the last two paragraphs.

We can accept an extract from a novel but think carefully about selecting an extract, ensuring it can stand on its own.

Resist the temptation to reach for obvious phrases.  We all use them in conversation but writing is an opportunity to experiment.  A well-placed descriptive verb always brightens a paragraph.

Eyes are the windows of the soul – aargh.  That may be true but what about other facial features?  Can they betray something remarkable and hypnotising?  Perhaps a pattern of freckles or a little pool of sleep clinging to an eyelash?  Distorting an image helps the reader see it in a fresh way – they get to do some work too.

Be wary of snide narrators.  A writer I respect very much, and a good friend of the magazine, told me never to judge my characters.  So, whether it’s mothers-in-law, noisy neighbours or cats feeling superior to dogs, use a disparaging tone with a very light touch.  The same goes for smug.

Have a go at humour.  Why not?

Edit and polish.  Edit and polish.  If possible, ask someone you trust to read over your piece.  It is invaluable for picking up lost meanings or areas of confusion, as well as typos.  Never rely on someone else’s song lyrics to do your writing for you.  And, archaic phrasing and inversions in contemporary pieces will quickly turn your piece stale.

Finally, take your reader to the hidden room behind the false wall where there are secrets but also truths.  Open the door and tickle their imagination.


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