Writers Helping Writers: Beta Readers

So you’ve written and edited your novel within an inch of its life. It’s been transformed from an unsightly rough draft to something that you are really proud of. Let me be the first to say fantastic job! You’ve come a lot farther than most writers out there.

But there’s still some work to do.

If you are intending on publishing your work, then you will need to go through yet another round of people reading your story. These are your Beta Readers.

Beta Readers are people that you trust to give you honest feedback on the story you’ve written. The feedback doesn’t need to be full on edits, but they should be able to tell you what parts made them happy or what parts didn’t make sense. What they liked, what they didn’t like, etc. That being said, there are a few vital traits your beta readers need.

1.       Honest. They have to be comfortable enough with you to give you an honest opinion of your work. It defeats the whole purpose if they simply tell you “it’s good.” The whole point of feedback from Beta Readers is much the same as editors; their comments and opinions are meant to improve the work.

2.       Reliable. Your Beta Readers need to be reliable enough to get you the story back along with their comments in a relatively good timeframe. Sure life happens, but it won’t do you any good to give someone a copy of your story and then never hear back from them or if they don’t bother to read it.

3.       Trustworthy. You are entrusting your Beta Reader with something you’ve worked months on. You have to be confident they will respect the integrity of your work.

There’s no set number of Beta Readers required for your work. I try to get at least one or two for my projects, but that’s really your choice.

May your Beta Readers be enchanted by your tale!

Kira

 

Writers Helping Writers: How many edits does it take to make a novel?

It’s been some time since you’ve hidden your glorious first draft from yourself. You have created enough distance from it to be objective and ready to fix what needs to be fixed. It’s time to edit!

Now, your instinct will be to jump right in and start changing stuff. Don’t. Give yourself time to read through the story without making any changes. The reason for this is that when you start changing things, it will send a ripple effect throughout the novel. It is best to understand where all the changes will take place and how it will affect the rest of the story. Keep a separate document for your editing notes during this initial editing read through. Note down page numbers and what you need to address. It can be as big as complete plot change or as little as a spelling fix. This means as you read, you are creating a list of things to address in your edit. It will help guide your edits and make sure all of those ripples are accounted for.

When you are done with the initial read through, save your first draft into a separate document. This will be the first edit document. I personally like to keep versions of my stories by edits so I can see the progression. This is in case I change my mind about deleting that plot point. I can go back to the original and salvage what’s already been written and edit it into the newer edited version. Believe me, it happens more than you think. Plus it’s fun to see how far you come along the editing process. You can see how the manuscript transforms.

When I am ready to start actually changing things, I tend to go chapter by chapter and address the big things first. This means the plot changes, character reactions, prose clean up, etc. One of the absolute biggest things is the concept of “show, don’t tell”. More or less this means not telling the reader what’s going on, but showing the reader through descriptions, character actions/reactions and body language. A good way to look at it is that you are painting a picture with your words. Your words are being translated into images in each reader’s mind, so why not get as descriptive as possible? Instead of writing “Chloe was upset”, show what that means. “Chloe’s fingertips were white with the pressure of pressing into her hips. Her eyes narrowed into suspicious slits as she cut off his stammering excuses with an angry exhalation.” See the difference?

            So how many edits need to happen to make a coherent novel? A whole bunch. Not only do you have to go through it (I recommend at least three times), you then hand it over to one or two trusted people. These people need to be ones you trust and have a very strong friendship with because if they are worth their salt as editors, they will rip your beloved manuscript apart. You take your time to heal from their edits and realize that what they are saying is intended to make your work even better than it was before. You edit again with their feedback, rinse and repeat. How many times? Well, it depends. You will know when it is ready for the final clean up edits.

            Next, you give the story to a few beta readers. More on them in a later blog post though.   The last stage of editing is giving it to a professional editor for either content or line/copy edits. It is up to you and your budget for how much in-depth editing you want the professional to do. Because I have two very trusted friends who can find a content error like a shark can find blood, I usually have my (absolutely fabulous) editor, Beth, do copy edits- meaning grammar, spelling, etc.

            The whole process can take months or even a whole year depending on how busy your editors are. Have patience. Remember, this is when your draft becomes a novel. It is being polished and perfected. Consider this the labor of bringing a fully ready manuscript into the world and no one ever said giving birth was easy. In the end, you will have a beautiful new novel to present to the world.

Happy Editing!

Kira

Writers Helping Writers: You finished your first draft! Now what?

You did it! You actually finished your first draft! Congratulations! Welcome to the 3% of writers who actually DO finish that first draft! It was a long road to get here. There was the beginning where everything seemed to go well. Then you hit the middle where you got a bit bored. You had to push yourself through obvious plot holes you didn’t realize you had until you were upon them. Then there were the several plot twists that you weren’t planning for. The days where you didn’t even want to look at the story, days where you couldn’t even get to the story, characters not wanting to do what their told and yet not giving you anything else to go on. Finally, the end where you finally said “screw it, I’ll edit this into something decent later”. I understand. I have been there myself.

So, now that you have a first draft, you are ready to begin editing, right?

Wrong.

Here’s what you are going to do. Put the manuscript away. Hide it in a file on your laptop, bury the notebook in the bill drawer, and forget about it. Seriously. You need to put some distance between you and that work in progress STAT.

The reason for this is that you are still too close to the project. Editing a novel, especially your own, is a completely different mindset than writing. If you begin editing as soon as you are done writing, it will defeat the purpose, which is to break through all of those plot holes, clean up that shoddy prose, and flesh out that one scene you just didn’t want to right that one time. If you don’t allow yourself time and space from your magnificent work of art, you aren’t going to be able to see where you need to touch it up.

So, forget about your story for a while. Go do something else. Catch up on real life for a bit. Start a new story. Read some books. Just give yourself a month or two away from your work in progress. I promise, it is the best thing for it.

Trust me, it's better this way.

Kira

Writers Helping Writers: Plotting and Outlining

You can’t have a compelling story without a plot. People want to read about characters that embark on some sort of journey- be it internal or external. The most rudimentary plot consists of a definitive beginning, middle and end. There’s more to it than just those three phases, though. The beginning is home to the exposition and then flows upward into the rising action. At the end of the rising action is the climax or the middle of the story. Immediately after is the falling action. I should note here that there can be more than one climax in a plot. Some of the more celebrated stories have multiple rising and falling actions and multiple climaxes. After the final falling action, we arrive at the resolution and end of the story.

It’s a lot to keep straight. There are three basic types of styles when it comes handing the plot of the story.

1.       Plotter: This means completely outlining your plot. You know what happens in the beginning, the middle and the end before you even begin writing the story. This method is good for when you have complex and long story lines. Plotting every aspect is understanding how they all fit together. The down side, at least for fiction writers, is that sometimes your characters will throw you curve balls and completely throw off all of your carefully crafted plans.

2.       Pantser: This writer flies by the seat of their pants. There is no outline, just a vague idea of a plot and that’s all they need to sit down and start writing. The theory behind this is that the characters will tell you where the plot will go and what will happen as you write.  The bad thing about pantsing your way through the plot is that if you don’t know where you are going, it is much easier for your characters to take you down paths that have nothing to do with the current story. Also, it could take you much longer to get to the end of your tale.

3.       Plotser: This is a strange hybrid of both Plotters and Pantsers and can appear differently depending on the person. Someone may have a rough outline of one or two basic plot points that their characters need to hit and then wing the rest of it. Others may have incredible detail in their outline, but also leave options for their characters to choose which way to go.

The best part about all of this is that there is no wrong way to prepare for writing your story. You will find that some plots require some Plotting while others won’t work unless you Pants it. It is your tale, it is your voice and your style. If you take anything from this blog, please take this: make sure you know where your story is leading up to. It’s fine if you don’t have a perfect outline for every nuance, but have a general notion of what the end of the story looks like. Other than that, find what works best for you and what works best for the story you are writing.

Happy Writing!

Kira

Writers Helping Writers: Getting into your Characters

Characters are a critical part of your story. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, characters propel the plot forward and are what your reader relate to the most. It’s important to understand them and their motivations. After all, a story is more or less describing a character’s actions and you can’t do that unless you know what they would do or you understand their thought process.

When I write a story, I can’t get started on it unless I know who I am working with. In creating my characters, I must first know their name. I have a big baby name book that I turn to in order to find the right one. Sometimes, based on the research I’ve done, I know a character will be of a certain culture or ethnicity. That will help narrow the name search.

As soon as the name is there, it sparks an idea in my head of what they look like. You know how people will sometimes say, “She doesn’t look like a Sarah.”? Well, it’s like that in my head. Names often carry distinct looks and even personalities. If the name isn’t helping to give you a clear picture of your character, turn back to your research. What ethnicity? What culture? Where do they live? What’s the time period?

Once there’s the basic form for a character (general personality, traits, age, etc.), start asking questions and write down what comes to you. What do they like to do on their down time? Are they picky eaters? Do they have a phobia? How do they handle stress? What’s their family background? Those internet personality quizzes are also a great tool in helping understand your character. Another way to build an understanding of your characters are D&D character sheets, complete with rolling a dice for personality trait levels.

Getting to know your characters and how they interact with each other is vital to your story telling. Remember to be realistic with them. Take any and all opportunity to observe people in different settings. You can even take a Sociology class at the local college to help understand how people interact with each other and to get genuine reactions for various things. The more real you can make your characters, the stronger the story.

Sometimes your characters will develop into a voice in your head. No, you are not crazy. This can be a great tool in understanding them and getting them on the page correctly. In my experience, they will DEFINITELY let you know if something isn’t them.

Lastly, keep a page or two in your story notebook dedicated to each character. Keep track of all the information they give you, it will come in handy when you start to write!

Smiles,

Kira

Writers Helping Writers: Research, Research, Research

Now that you’ve got your story idea, it’s time to really flesh it out with details. How do you do that? The answer is simple: RESEARCH! (Alternating yays and groans). This is the part of writing where your browser history may lead to the NSA or FBI keeping an open file on you. You are going to google some weird shit, I guarantee it.

If you don’t know where to start your research, think about your story idea and type into your trusty browser one detail that you know about your story. For instance, do you know where your story takes place? How old the main character is? What time period does it take place in? Does it involve animals? Really, any detail will do to send you down the rabbit hole that is researching a novel.

Remember it’s important to keep notes on what you are researching. I recommend keeping a notebook for the story so you can write down the bits that jump out to you. Some of the information will make it into the story, but a lot of it won’t and that’s alright. That excess knowledge will still be incredibly useful as you write.

What you discover can also cause your story idea to grow and expand. Research will provide locations, time periods, clothing details, mannerisms, how-to’s, descriptions, you name it to fill in the blank spots that aren’t readily apparent.

The best part about research is that it often will bring about more story ideas. That is why it’s crucial to keep learning new things.

Research for a story is almost never done. Even when you think you have all the details you can possibly wring out the internet, when you start writing, more things will come up- like is the trajectory of a cannon ball hampered by rain? Or how much blood can be drained from someone before actually killing them? Research is the whole reason I know how much gasoline it would take to cremate a 160 pound body. See? NSA and FBI material.

Keep researching!

Kira

Writers Helping Writers: Cultivating Your Book Idea

There are you are, minding your own business, walking down the street when BAM! It comes out of nowhere. The best idea for a novel EVER! You have to get it written down somehow, there’s no way this idea would be bad! The world NEEDS this story!

We’ve all been there. We’ve all had that genius story idea that would be perfect. But how do you get from incredible lightning strike from your muse to published work? Well, this blog series is aimed at the tough in-between times of idea and publication. We will start where every novel starts and that is the idea.

Ideas, especially story ideas, as a general rule are not fully formed. Often times they come only in bits and parts and it is up to us to string those bits together to generate a decent full-blown novel idea. When you have that spark of an idea, write it down and don’t just stop there. Ask questions of it. What if scenarios. Who are the players? Keep a record of what you discover.

Sometimes not all the answers are apparent, either. This is where novel ideas require some patience. It takes time for an idea to evolve. It takes careful cultivation in an information dense pocket of your mind. The way to create such fertile ground that is to learn new things constantly. Always expand your horizon. You never know if what you are reading about is really an aspect of your story in disguise.

Keep adding to your idea over time. Don’t let it just sit in the corner, keep playing with it in your thoughts. It’ll tell you when it is done growing. Talk about it with people you trust. Sometimes someone else can give you a new perspective or ask the right question that will spark a growth spurt of this idea.

Don’t fret too much if your idea isn’t wholly original. With 7 billion people in the world, it’s almost a guarantee that there are no ideas that have not stemmed from somewhere. That doesn’t mean stealing someone else’s work and calling it your own though. It means to start with a common theme and then look for ways to make your version unique.

Save all of the things that don’t quite fit too. I keep a file of “story bits” on hand for all of the ideas and tangents that I manage to capture as I am daydreaming and thinking.  When I am working on a new idea, I will go through that file to see if anything fits. You never know what you will need for the next idea you have.

Happy Writing!

Kira