RSS

Category Archives: Writing Advice

Advice to a Non-Reading Writer

I would not send a poor girl into the world, ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself. —Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

As an editor, I would not send a writer into the world ignorant, nor would I do all the work for him, depriving him of self-respect and self-reliance, of the power to learn, to improve, and to correct himself.

Most of the inquiries I receive for editing are followed by requests for free services or for writing advice. A good number of those requests are for manuscripts not yet ready for editing. But then there are some, such as the one received in February this year from a new writer for whom English is a second language. He prefers graphic novels over prose novels, and feels as if his head will explode if he reads more than a few pages at a time. And yet he wants to be a writer.

Although I have enjoyed helping fellow writers prepare their work for publication, my experience with non-reading writers has been mostly negative. Therefore, the decision to step aside was a matter of moments. However, not wishing to leave him without any aid, I offered this:

Congratulations on writing a book!

Since you asked for advice, allow me to be honest. I am concerned you’re not a reader, because one of the keys to good writing is good reading.

I write fantasy and science fiction most of the time, but my reading is wide: histories, biographies, mysteries, classics, poetry, and more. If all I read were other fantasy and science fiction novels, I might be tempted to imitate those stories rather than writing my own. Reading widely helps me to come up with fresh ideas for my work and fresh approaches to storytelling.

So, my first suggestion: Start reading. Read wisely. Read much.

Second suggestion: If you have not already done so, print out the entire manuscript so you have a copy you can hold. Then, as you revise the book, cut it up and rearrange it. Spread the pieces of paper out on a table or a counter or even on the floor, and then tape them back together as you see the order / the shape of the book.

Whatever scenes or parts you decide to omit, set them aside in a folder or paperclip them together (you might need them later). The stuff you intend to keep, tape those paragraphs back together.

Why do this with actual paper, tape, and scissors, instead of doing it digitally on the computer? Because it helps you see your work differently. In fact, your brain will process the information differently while you handle the physical objects instead of merely reading the words on the screen.

Once you have the manuscript cut-and-taped back together, the next step begins. Open a new document on your computer, and start typing the story in its new form. You may see scenes that need to be expanded, details that can be omitted, holes in the plot, and more.

Then, after the manuscript has been revised and retyped, now’s the time to find at least one trusted reader, but no more than five readers, who will read the entire manuscript and give you honest feedback.

Be willing to accept their criticism. Consider what they say. If their responses are too vague (“I like it” or “it’s boring”, but without any useful details), then ask questions until the readers can give you specific answers (“I don’t like the plot because_____” or “The middle part is boring because _______”). Honestly consider what they say, and determine whether or not it will be useful to your work.

Then, revise the manuscript again.

At this point, the book should be ready for other eyes. Go ahead and find a new batch of trusted readers, make any further revisions you deem necessary, and then search for an editor.

All through the process, be reading. Study the structures of other novels, the order of short stories anthologies, and so on. This will help your writing in more ways than I can name.

Writing is hard work, but it can be rewarding in many ways.

It can stab at your pride, but it can transform you, too.

No one will care about your work as much as you do. Know that truth. Accept it, and don’t be upset when other people aren’t as nice as you’d like them to be when they offer opinions about your writing or your storytelling. Allow them to be honest. It is the ultimate kindness they can offer, and it will help you grow as a writer.

My best wishes in your endeavors, and I hope to hear good news about you in the future.

As a young writer — still a teenager — my pride was wounded when I encountered a writer who offered criticism alongside her praise. I thought I was better than I was, and she showed that I still had a long way to go.

A similar sting may have accompanied my advice to this writer. He never replied. Perhaps he didn’t actually read the message. I can only hope he reads widely and sharpens his craft.

Advertisements
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Advice to a Young Writer

Advice to a Young Writer

This message from a young writer arrived last week via my website:

I am interested in writing teen fiction light novels. The genre I would like to work with is fantasy, adventure, and space. What does it take to become a fiction writer? What steps did you take? and How did you accomplish your work? I am still working on my fiction story. I created a link [omitted]. Just to get a head start.

A few days later, when I had time to provide a lucid reply after sleeping hours and hours, I wrote back:

Welcome to the land of stories! We writers are an odd bunch, living so often as we do in worlds of myth and make-believe.

How does one become a writer? One writes.

A lot.

Like all crafts, writing takes time and practice. Often, the first book written will not be the first book published. Many writers have manuscripts that will never see publication, because those were their practice books. Maybe book three or book five is the one finally published, the one readers might think is the author’s first book ever.

Dragon’s Rook took twenty years from concept to publication. Most writers don’t take that long. I was busy making a living while writing short stories and poems, submitting them to contests or magazines, and then — at long last — finishing a novel.

However, there are many unfinished novels. Some I threw away, because the time to write them had long past. Some I kept, because I still have a passion to complete them.

I can’t give you any rules or checklists to guide your journey. It’s unique to you. However, all writers become writers by — drum roll, please! — writing.

Learn all you can about constructing compelling storylines, creating intriguing characters, writing dynamic dialogue, and even learn proper grammar and sentence construction. Good paragraphs are structured like good jokes: not that they are all funny, but that they build toward a strong ending. Write a strong sentence, write a strong paragraph, write a strong scene. Repeat until you have a chapter, until you have another chapter, until you finally have a book.

Avoid cliched phrases or trite characters. Avoid lazy writing. There may be only a limited number of stories in the world, but find a way to tell your story in a fresh way.

Be open to constructive criticism. Not nasty put-downs, but honest feedback meant to help your work improve. Be humble and teachable. Be ready to stand up for your story choices, if necessary, but also be ready to consider other options. Be willing to look at the story honestly, and to see its flaws as well as its strengths.

I saw on your website that you have some of your story posted. A word of caution: Avoid offering too much of your work for free, or too soon. A chapter or a scene might be okay, or a short story related to the novel not included in the book itself. (Many writers are offering free short stories or deleted scenes as bonus material for readers.)

I wish you all the best on your journey, and I hope to hear good things about you in the future.

Sincerely,
KB

Any other advice you’d give a young writer?

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dragon’s Bane Update

Dragon’s Bane Update

First, a bit of housekeeping: The recent Goodreads giveaway was a success. Not quite as many participants as the 2015 giveaway, there were still a large number of entrants interested in Dragon’s Rook. The winners are Jessica from the Netherlands, and Sheila from New Mexico. Signed paperback copies have been mailed, and should arrive soon.

Second, questions have been asked by readers concerning the availability of Dragon’s Bane, the second half of The Lost Sword duology. They have served as prods to speed up the completion of the story:

1) I just finished Dragon’s Rook and loved it. Any news on when the sequel will be available for purchase? I can’t wait!

(T)hank you for the kind review! We writers pour pieces — minutes, hours, years — of our lives into our work, so when readers receive it well, we are encouraged to continue.

As for when Dragon’s Bane will be available, I had hoped it would be completed and published by January 2016, but life matters took me away from it for a long while. (I won’t bore you with the details.) However, I hope to have it ready soon.

Today’s revisions included (SPOILER ALERT) a reunion scene between two characters who each thought the other was dead. 🙂

2) I just finished Dragon’s Rook, really liked it. I was wondering when the sequel is coming?

First, thank you for reading the book!

Second, I’m pleased that you enjoyed it.

Third, I wanted the book completed and published this year. However, due to life circumstances, my writing has been quite slow. Dragon’s Bane is about one-third complete, and there are copious notes regarding unwritten scenes.

The ending scene was written about fifteen years ago — believe it or not! — but it may change. I’m exploring a couple of potential plot twists that never occurred to me during the writing of the first book, but which may deepen the story even further.

Below is a taste, a scene from the first third of the book, a confrontation between Lady Yanámari and her mother, Queen Una:

The eyes widened, the fury grew, and as it did, Queen Una fully materialized, her form solid, even the tiny creases around her eyes and mouth delineated. She released Yanámari and stepped back, lifting her arms from her sides and lowering her head, looking at Yanámari from beneath dark brows.

As the queen opened her mouth to speak, Yanámari laughed. The sight was too comical: flowing black garments, menacing stare, threatening posture. A bit too much like the Hôk Nar Brethren. In the past two days, she had seen more amazing things than this.

Beside, what true power resorted to manipulation and magic?

There was something external about magic, as if the one who practiced it and the one upon whom it was practiced were both tools of a capricious power that must be cajoled and lured with secret rites and careful spells. Is that where her mother had been all these years? Learning the dark arts? What an absurd expenditure of time.

Where was she when I was a child and longed for a mother? When I might have loved her?

But there was no hope of traveling that road—the cart had already passed.

(c2016, KB)

For more information or to read reviews, visit keananbrand.com.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Brief Word About Beta Readers

A Brief Word About Beta Readers

In a discussion on Facebook, someone asked the difference between a beta reader and an editor, and the cost one might expect to pay for the services of either. When I said that one should not pay for beta readers, there was disagreement. However, I still maintain that one need not pay for beta readers.

Consider them your product testers. They’re the focus group who tries out the new invention, samples a new product, gives feedback on an upcoming ad campaign, views an early cut of a movie, or tests a new video game to see if it plays as it should.

If you (or a close, trusted individual) are the alpha reader of your manuscript, then beta readers are the folks who see the final, pre-publication draft. That version can still be a manuscript, or it can take the form of a galley or proof copy of the book.*

In return for their effort on your behalf, give beta readers a signed copy of the published book, or offer to read or test something they’ve created.

But don’t hire beta readers as you would hire an editor. And while editors can provide a similar service in the form of a manuscript critique,** there’s nothing like getting feedback directly from readers — who are, of course, a writer’s intended audience.


UPDATE (8-7-16): The paragraphs below are from a reader’s comments in a Facebook discussion sparked by this blog post. They expand upon and better explain what I attempted above.

A beta tester for a video game or other piece of software enters into an agreement wherein he receives a free or discounted early release of the software to use, and in return, the tester will tell the company what he thinks about the software — what does or doesn’t work, what is or isn’t intuitive, what he would like to see changed or further developed, etc. The beta tester is not paid for his work. He is asked, as an average user, to give the company his average-user opinion of the product. At best, he gets a free copy of the software, but it is both understood and accepted (and generally stated in some Terms and Conditions document somewhere, for legal reasons) in the IT community that beta testers are not compensated.

Testers who are hired on for their services are not hired to come at the software from the average user’s perspective; they are hired to make sure that the software functions appropriately (e.g. program doesn’t crash on loading, save function actually functions, etc.). They are hired to seek out and fix problems with the software, not to provide the average user’s perspective. These testers are not referred to as beta testers, because that’s not the job they do.

A beta reader receives a free or discounted early release of a book to read, and in exchange, the reader will tell the author what he thinks of the book — what does or doesn’t seem to fit or flow well in the story, what does or doesn’t make sense, what he would like to see further explained or developed, etc. This makes a beta reader the exact literary equivalent to a software beta tester. Traditionally, beta readers are treated the same as beta testers — that is, they are not paid for their services. And there is nothing wrong with that.

For clarification, if any reader, compensated or otherwise, provides any services outside what I listed above (other services include but are not limited to any form of editing, proofreading, etc.), then he has ceased to be a beta reader and strayed into editor/manuscript critic territory.


* It’s best if beta readers are honest with you about what works or doesn’t, what they like or don’t like, and are willing to give specific feedback (not merely generic “I hate it” or “I like it” statements, but detailed responses).

Prepare a list of questions for them to answer, so they know what kind of feedback you need. Example: “In the scene where Tara is driving Sven to the airport and they encounter an overturned ambulance, is the dialogue and action believable? Why or why not?”

Keep the questions simple and straightforward, and keep the list short. Try not to make the readers feel they’re doing homework, but make it easy for them to help you.

Also provide readers with a simple way of reporting any typos or grammar issues they find. It’s handy when they provide you a page number, and maybe even a paragraph and a line number — “page 35, paragraph 3, line 7” — as well as a description of what’s wrong (“dipsolve” should be “dissolve”). 

** Manuscript critiques may cover such issues as continuity, characterization, worldbuilding, etc. Regular editing may also touch on those issues, but will also focus on the writing itself.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Where Are You Going?

Where Are You Going?

“Progress” is merely motion in a certain direction, as in advancement toward a goal. Depending on the goal, your motives, or your methods, that progression can be positive or negative.

People say, “Hold on! It’ll get better!” but sometimes we need to let go. As much as we admire people who trudge onward toward their goals, there is, indeed, a time to give up.

Sometimes we persevere in the wrong direction. We may not know it. We may know it but not know how to change it. Our effort, skill, hope, endurance, loyalty, courage, and strength of will are expended in vain.

Step back. Examine goals, motives, methods, relationships, results. Is this truly the path you want to tread? Is this the end result you desire?

Don’t be discouraged by how much road — or how much life — lies behind you. It’s never too late for a course correction.

east on a Wyoming highway (c2013, KB)

east on a Wyoming highway (c2013, KB)

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gotcha Covered

Last night’s writer’s meeting was ill-attended; only three of us showed up. However, that allowed me to seek advice from the librarian who leads the group, and ask her how the exteriors of books affect 1) inclusion in the library’s collection, and 2) reader choice.

Concerned about my preference for simplicity in artwork or design, I was surprised — and yet not — by her responses. Sure, if the artwork is cheesy and/or seems at odds with the subject matter, the staff might have a laugh, but what’s most annoying to them are book covers so minimalistic they reveal nothing about the content. She mentioned one publisher that tends toward such spareness there’s no artwork or even a description of the plot. Just the title and the author’s name.

So simplicity of decoration is fine, but tell readers about the story. Give ’em some reason to choose your book.

“If the reader flips to the back to read the blurb, you’re almost guaranteed they’ll check out the book.”

Then she looked at my rough draft for the cover of Thieves Honor. It looked like a thriller, not science fiction, but the fix was easy: She suggested I flip the background image, so the front became the back, and vice versa. The color gradiant and the angle of the light changed, giving the illusion of outer space rather than what the photo actually portrays — a table, a wooden chair, and the light from my computer screen all running together into a tie-dye abstraction of formless color.

The current draft of the front cover:

in-progress cover (c2016, KB)

in-progress cover (c2016, KB)

So, can I get away with no focal image on the cover, or is some artwork still needed? And is the look too “homemade” to be taken seriously?

For reference, the original image in its original orientation:

Abstraction (c2016, KB)

Abstraction (c2016, KB)

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How Real Life Can Color a Story’s Reception

Romances are not my usual viewing fare because they tend to be ridiculous, shallow, or boring — yes, my opinion is showing 🙂 — but since this series is only sixteen episodes long and stars some of my favorite Korean actors, I thought I’d give it a try.

4703_TheTimeThatILovedYou7000Days_Nowplay_Small

Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

Summary on the website:

Jang Ha Na (Ha Ji Won) and Choi Won (Lee Jin Wook) are incredibly close platonic friends: throughout 20 years, they’ve braved it all through thick and thin. As Ha Na’s 30th birthday approaches, Won extols the virtues of aging as a man—like a wine—while explaining that women are like grapes that shrivel into raisins. Determined to prove him wrong, Ha Na strikes a bet on which of the two will marry before turning 35. Based on Taiwan’s hit In Time With You, can these two friends make the ultimate leap?

Characters in their thirties allow fear and misunderstandings and all sorts of other obstacles keep them from telling the truth to themselves and to each other. There’s a hint of My Best Friend’s Wedding, but without the mania.

It took me a few weeks to watch the first seven episodes, but that was sheer stubbornness rather than actual interest.

It’s not that the writing is terrible or the acting is stiff or that I didn’t like the characters. Perhaps I expected — I don’t know — more spine or mental strength or maturity from the characters. Perhaps I expected me.

When I was thirty-something, I was interested in more than friendship from a close friend. I know the fear and uncertainty of declaring myself. And, when I did, the worst happened: the friendship fell apart. However, I mentally prepared myself for that rejection. It still stung, I still felt as if my lungs had been crushed, but I gave that person room to be true to self. Granted, I was not prepared for the anger that accompanied the rejection — “You’ve ruined a good friendship!” — but the uncertainty was suffocating and I needed to move forward. If that person chose to come with me, wonderful. If not, I had to straighten my shoulders and walk on.

That was years ago, and sometimes the sadness springs out from the shadows, but I wouldn’t trade the freedom and all the good things that have happened since.

So watching fictional characters drag their feet for more exaggerated, soap opera reasons than those I experienced in real life is torture, not entertainment.

The ratings (overall 4 out of 5 stars) give evidence that viewers without my jaded, curmudgeonly perspective consider “The Time That I Loved You” must-see TV. Good. Whatever kinds of writers we are — screenwriters, TV show developers, novelists, playwrights — there’s the story we tell and the story the audience views or reads. Our experiences inform what we write, and theirs color what they see/read. Stories interact with the audience in ways even the creators may not expect.

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,