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Tag Archives: Editing

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.

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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?

 

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When Gaerbith Met Kieran

Struggling to complete this scene. I’ve already composed the first paragraphs of a scene that comes later, involving these characters, but am not sure how to proceed with this fight scene. It should be intense, I think, but witty.

Perhaps I am asking too much of it.

From the Plains rose a smudge of green that grew or shrank depending on the swell of the land as they travelled. Days later, it revealed itself as trees, and in two more days, the trees revealed their size, giants standing arm-in-arm.

Yanámari halted her mount on a grassy rise and looked East. “The Guardians.”

Gaerbith nudged his horse up the slope and joined her. Thick limbs intertwined, and massive trunks were separated only by the shadows between them. Somewhere beyond them light flashed, perhaps sun reflecting from the glass observatory built by King Meresh in long ages past. How had it survived the war and all the centuries after?

“The House of the Sky,” Gaerbith said, clasping Yanámari’s hand. “Home to your mother’s ancestors.”

“That blood is too remote to claim any kinship here.”

“Still. Almost home.”

By nightfall, they rested in a hollow among the tangled roots of the guardians. Fallen branches provided enough fuel for a fire in a small pit dug where the Plains sidled up to the trees, and a tiny brook trickled out from the shadows as if it had been awaiting their arrival before springing up from the ground. Gaerbith and Yanámari sipped handfuls from the rill spilling over tumbled stones, and the horses drank from the little pool it formed before disappearing into the tall, waving grass. Animals shuffled and snuffled somewhere beyond the Guardians—familiar night noises—but when a sudden silence fell, both horses lifted their heads, chins dripping, and pointed noses and ears toward the darkness.

A faint shrr of cloth against cloth sounded a moment before the quiet firmness of a careful footfall.

Reaching over his shoulder, Gaerbith gripped the hilt of his sword. “Come, you. No skulking. Show your face.”

He did not expect the answering chuckle, or the pleasant low voice that accompanied it. “That sword is nigh man-tall. Exchange it for a stave, and we will have fine sport.”

A thick staff flew from the shadows. Gaerbith caught it more by instinct than sight.

 

c2017, KB, for Dragon’s Bane, a novel

 

The connection between these two guys is a minor plot twist — revealed to the reader earlier in the story, but not yet known to Kieran. And, at this moment, not known to either guy, because Gaerbith does not yet know it’s Kieran who is challenging him.

 

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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.

 

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Working, Writing: Parallel Pursuits

Working, Writing: Parallel Pursuits

Fellow writers whose royalties are not yet sufficient to pay the bills, or other folk who spend waaaaay too much time at the computer and not enough time actually moving (we’re artists, and we exercise our brains; that’s enough right? 😉 ) here’s a great way to get in shape:

1) Invest in a good pair of gloves, good shoes, and your favorite OTC pain reliever. (You’ll need less of the pain reliever as time passes.)

2) Apply to work part-time at a large store, one with lots of inventory that must be moved and stocked pronto; or work on a construction site, at a repair garage, or anyplace else that might be considered blue-collar and non-intellectual. (As kids, my brother and I worked with Dad in his construction and remodel business. I learned more good work ethics and life skills there than any job since has taught me.)

3) At first, whenever arriving home from your assigned shift, you may be too tired to write or think or even wiggle. You may curse your age, your out-of-shape-ness, your alarm clock, your creaky joints, etc. Let it all out. 😉 Your days off may be spent sleeping rather than writing. Let it happen.

4) One day, not too long after you’ve begun this new, body-pummeling endeavor, you’ll realize your brain is awake with new ideas. You’ve mingled a bit with real people. You might even have made new friends. The sunlight is your friend, not your enemy. Your food choices or cravings will change: more water, less coffee, and more meat and veggies, fewer instant noodles. Your clothes are now too big, but your posture and stamina at the writing desk have improved.* Your fingers, once so nimble on the keyboard, are thicker now due to hard work, but give them a minute or two to limber up, and they remember how to type.

For months, until finances reached a crisis, I resisted returning to ‘real’ job, because 1) it felt like selling out, 2) I didn’t want another full-time job to overwhelm my mind and my time to the point that I couldn’t write, and 3) I didn’t want to be among people. Mingling with my characters and taking the occasional trip to writers meetings were all the socializing I needed.

And I was afraid of the pain. After injuring and re-injuring the same set of muscles and joints (car accident, a fall from a step ladder, and a few other falls), I didn’t want to aggravate the site and invite more debilitating pain. However, although there have been days like today when the pain of last night’s work leaves my shoulder stiff and unwilling, the aggressive activity has been therapy, forcing muscles and joints to work at full capacity and in their proper function. Chiropractic issues are resolving themselves as muscles gain strength to keep bones in alignment.

The doctor told me once that, if I refused the physical therapy exercises, my shoulder would freeze. I’d have no mobility unless I faced the pain. I kinda sorta followed his instructions, and at home I used the chart and performed most of the necessary exercises. But with no one else to  me, to encourage me through the pain, I didn’t do the hardest ones.

The part-time job as a stocker has solved that issue. Sure, I’m typing this in pain, but I’m typing. The pain is merely at a discomfort threshold, far from the Oh-God-make-it-stop level it was after the car accident and the fall from the ladder. Both left me breathless, staring out the windshield or at the wall and wondering if I’d damaged myself this time to the point of no recovery.

We writers, our dream may be to shut out the world and tell our tales, but we need pain, I think, in order to write pain. We need troubles in order to write troubles. Those we write may not be the same as those we experience, but we know the emotions: the worry, the fear, the grief, the despair, the agony, the recovery, the planning for a new future, the hope.

I won’t be a stocker forever. I know this. Just as in nature, life has seasons, and this is merely one of them. For now, though, as strange as it may seem, keeping the shelves stocked with canned veggies, with dog food, with hairspray, with toilet paper, is also keeping me fit for writing.

Working or writing: We don’t have to choose one or the other. There are times when the writing lags, or when the day job must be abandoned, but those are mere seasons, and the two pursuits need not be anathema to one another. Just as winter’s snows feed summer’s streams, and sping’s buds lead to autumn’s leaves, so too does work inform writing and writing lighten work.


* Bought a new, smaller pair of jeans for work, washed ’em, wore a few days later, and they were already too big. Working in the stock room is better than going to the gym — and I get paid! 😉


Just for kicks, April 29-May 6, 2016, there’s a Countdown deal for the Kindle version of Dragon’s Rook. Today it’s .99, but the price will increase incrementally until it returns to it’s usual $4.99.

 

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In Progress

In Progress

In the past, I’ve shared incomplete poems or scenes, or pieces that have been worked and re-worked, to show fellow writers that perfection is 1) often relative, and 2) not a one-step process. Writing is the practice of perseverance.

In the wee hours of morning, when my head hurt and I couldn’t sleep, I pondered the beginning of Dragon’s Bane, the second half of an epic fantasy yarn. Scenes need re-arranging. (Anyone who knows me knows I play “52-card pick-up” with chapters and scenes, mixing up parts of the story until I settle on a progression that feels right.) Emotion needs to be established. (Always tricky.) Mystery and atmosphere must be heightened. (Always fun.)

And I need to write more poetry and fragments of the story world’s history. I used almost all of them for the first half of the story (Dragon’s Rook), so the well is almost dry. Time to dig deeper.

As I lay awake, this gap-filled poem arrived, employing phrases and concepts from the first book, obliquely summarizing the entire story:

in the high mountains
beyond Craydaegs’ gate
behind Brona’s Veil
the people await

past the curtain of night
on the path of the moon
in the land of the horse-kings
_______________-oon

hear the horn of the Woodsman
heed his ____ tread
his fell axe is trimming
the leaves of the dead

the warrior, the flame,
a sword in the west
away, all ye Dragons
let enmity rest

c2016, KB

Once finished, it’ll be the opening poem before the story begins.

lake at Myriad Botanical Gardens, Oklahoma City (c2014, KB)

lake at Myriad Botanical Gardens, Oklahoma City (c2014, KB)

 

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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)

 

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