Monday, November 23, 2009

Beta Readers Comment Form

I'm trying to wrap up my edits by the end of the year so I can let my beta readers tear my manuscript up. That means I won't get it to them until February at least, but that's why it's a goal :)

I've had some friends read a few chapters, but I haven't gotten the detailed responses that I would like. So I'm playing with "Beta Reader Comment Form a-1".

Here's what I'm considering-
  • A page at the beginning of each chapter so they can have it out when reading to make notes on.
  • It will be preprinted with the reader's name on it so they will 'own it' and feel obligated to fill it out.
  • Every sheet will ask things like (this is still tentative):
    • Is there any events/actions that were confusing?
    • Did the character do anything that felt "wrong" for their character?
    • Did you ever think "That's dumb. Why didn't they just (fill in the blank here)?"
    • Could you clearly see the action when reading? What was confusing?
    • Did you skip/skim any? (Please mark where)
    • Do the chapter titles work?
    • Is any of it too slow? or feel like a summary (too fast)?
    • Were you pulled to keep reading in this chapter?
  • At the end I will ask for feedback on the title and if it matches the book. I may give a few options and ask which one they like best after reading the book.
  • I will ask if any books they've read remind them of my book.
  • What were their favorite scenes?
  • What were your least favorite scenes?
  • I will hug and squeeze them and tell them they are my good, bestest friends for life. Possible beyond.
That's what I've come up with thus far. I'm hoping this will help me completely avoid wasting their time and my paper. And I will tell them about the comment forms before they commit to reading. Just a few thousand changes to make and it will be ready!

What am I missing? How do you help your readers help you see potential problems?
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Open Mouth, Insert foot

A few weeks ago a blogger got up on a soapbox and blasted a group of people that make up roughly half the country. I stopped following her blog. I agreed with her overall point, but the angry tone bothered me, and I thought she was misrepresenting the opposite side.
I've read some authors' blogs that seem to effortlessly combine personal and professional, and I'm trying to do that. I know enough not to get into politics, potty training, and  religion...but really? What if the politicians are debating a potty training bill and I have some religious objections? How can I not blog about that?

So, I've been thinking about blog content and what my personal rules are.

Why blog?

We all want to be understood and writing is a way to express yourself (and my preferred venue). Plus there's something nice about someone leaving a comment.

A lot of readers develop a friendly mindset towards 'their' authors and like to get to know them better. It helped me to be a better mom/writer when I read Shannon Hale's blog. We can encourage each other.
But I wish I hadn't sought out info on a few writers, just like it bothers me to know too much about some actors/actresses. It kills the magic when someone gets arrested doing something icky, for instance.

Does there have to be a general match between your blog tone and your books?

I think that happens naturally- the things that interest you enough to put in a book are probably the same things you blog about.

But I have avoided talking about religion here because it is not 'professional'. But this is about writing, and I write around religious topics. My characters are not perfect, some believe in God some don't-much like the people I know in real life. Is my self-imposed taboo on religion misplaced? I'm still thinking about that. It's such a personal part of me- one I like to talk about, but only if I'm sure the other party is interested.

How much is too much?

I don't generally have impulses to whine on the blog about other people, but it's important to remember that the internet is forever. I NEVER write anything that I would not want my husband, my mother, or my church friends to read. Even down to the books I review.

And I have a few long-standing conversational rules that I try to apply- never make it all about yourself, ask questions, don't complain, don't say anything about someone that you wouldn't say to their face, and do what you can to help others be happy.

I try to remember that it's a 'blog', not a 'bdiary', and I have a special notebook to write my personal thoughts in. And I don't share that I burned dinner (unless I was writing when I smelled the smoke), dentist appointments (except here), or that my kids call Burger King 'King Booger'. That's on my family blog. Just because I can type it doesn't mean that everybody wants to read it.

What are your guidelines? Do you lean towards personal or professional?
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Review my first attempt at a book trailer!

I have some need video editing software, and had never used it.
Is the font legible? Is the heart beat cool or distracting? What feelings are evoked?
Most important, are you engaged?

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. -Kelly

Pulse Trailer

Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Proof of Progress

I've finally submitted Ch. 10 to my crit group, done a few reviews of other's work (I'm trying to get back in the habit, but haven't been critiquing as much since summer happened.) I'm putting all of the scribbles above into the computer, but mostly the marks are quick suggestions. 99% of the time I play some more. I've been wondering if I can do this. I'll share a few incidents.

On a road trip last weekend, I took a turn driving. Nathan wanted to sleep, but told me he wasn't quite drowsy enough. He asked a lot of questions about my book, listened to a plot summary of the first 8 or 9 chapters, then told me he was ready to sleep. I said fine, let me finish telling you about this chapter. I continued with the summary, asked him a question (Probably 'Does that make sense?') and got no response.

I'd totally set myself up, since he told me he was really tired and starting to nod off, but my inner scaredy-cat pounced. "You bored your husband to sleep," she purred. (This is why I don't like cats. Just kidding, cat-people. I like cats fine, wouldn't mind having one, except they like to sit on your computer or open book or whatever, and I have kids to do that.)

In his defense, he does fall asleep really fast, and had been working a lot, not sleeping enough, etc.

But still. He fell alseep.


I have about six chapters out with my mom, and another friend has the first three chapters. I've been waiting for them to bring it up.

No more. Last night I asked my mom how much she'd read. She knew I was really asking what she thought and said "It's better than the last version I read". Ouch. Bad Kitty.

She did say it in a really sincere way, not an I-have-to-tell her-something way. The first version made her cry, so for it to be better is good, right? (But mothers all cry about that kind of stuff. I cry over my kid's word-for-word copy of their teacher's example of a Mother's Day card.)

I was hoping for a call three weeks ago, her asking me to email her the rest Because She Has to Know What Happens Next! If your mom won't do that, who will?

But still...

I've gotten back two reviews from the crit group. Both were positive and honest and reassuring to my battered ego. They did not say it was perfect, ready to publish, but I knew it wasn't. I just want some progress.

I read a crit partner's new version of her ch. 1 and it was so much better. It wasn't perfect, but her hook was there, characterization was there. Somehow it made me happy for both of us.

Where have your big lifts come from? If you want to hear a great podcast on how to use emotion in the writing process and guide the readers' emotions, check out this "Writing Excuses".
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review-Stephen King On Writing

I've read some Stephen King- It, Carrie, Thinner, Misery, The Mist, but it's been a while. Most of that was because I have a cousin that LOVED Stephen King, so the books were around. But it's been a long time. I checked out The Stand a few weeks ago, and realized pretty quickly it wasn't for me. So, be aware that this is Stephen King, and he uses common words as they are commonly used.

The book is in two parts- the path that he walked to become a writer, and what he calls the "Writer's Toolbox" and both are useful in their ways.

The major take-home from the memoir 'inspirational' portion was that Steve-the-kid thought words were fun. Writing was a game.

After he was caught writing satire pieces about teachers, and the school arranged for him to channel his pen through work at a newspaper. When the newspaper editor John Gould marked through the 'bad parts', Stephen had a mind-bending moment of clarity. 'Ahhh. This is how editing works.' (my paraphrase)

Gould said, "When you're writing a story, you're telling yourself a story. When you're rewriting, you're taking out all the parts that aren't the story."

It's interesting that most writers refer to what other writers have told them. There's an unofficial apprenticeship system at work.

I had a similar experience- though the lesson was different- with a college writing teacher who said that the words should make the story clearer. That 'artistic' expression can limit understanding. I didn't agree
immediately, but I see the point now. If you write poetry, fine. Be as symbolic and obtuse as you want.
But a novel must have a plot, must build into something, must develop in some way. The ones I like to read, anyway. 

Stephen King says that a decent writer can become a good writer, but not a great writer. How do you know if you are a great writer or a good writer? Are brilliance and marketability separate issues? Is this a question you should ask?

What I got from this: If you love to write, then write. Write the scenes that heat your pillow. Name the characters the walk just behind you, a little to the left, nudging you towards your desk.

I wonder if I have the kind of faith (or pig-headedness) it takes to spear rejection slip after rejection slip onto a spike on the wall as he did. Maybe I could make a separate email folder instead?

I loved reading about 'Carrie' getting sold. I loved his brother's science giant electro-magnet experiment blowing a transformer box. I appreciate the gentle acknowledgement of his own faults and addictions, especially how he sold his monster desk and got a modest one and tucked it under the eaves in his converted stable loft.

"It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

The 'Toolbox' section reviewed some basics- vocabulary and grammar and why you must master these (and not reach for words that you can't use correctly), but the thing I liked best was his reference to the 'glass teat'. Anybody care to guess what he was referring to?

Other points I appreciated-
  • Writing makes you a writer. Don't wait for someone to let you call yourself that. Don't let other things (ie-tv) get in the way. Writers must read. MUST.
  • He's written books plotted and unplotted, and lists some of each.
  • Write for your ideal reader, not for critics or the market or to avoid Those Letters, wherein readers 'gleefully' inform that they have been offended.
  • How he thinks about description, dialogue, and symbols. I won't get unto all that here, but it is a nice discussion, worth reading.
There is only one writing exercise- He gives you some plot points  about a woman in an abusive relationship and then asks you to switch the genders and write it. Then he invites you to email him the result and he promises to read at least part of it with great interest. Which made me laugh. I may send a little vignette out. It would be fun just to know that he's read something I wrote.

Here's a video that covers the basic tone of the book. Enjoy!
Glutton for Punishment?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. Leguin

If you haven't read any of Ursula K Leguin's books, definately do. She's the daughter of an anthroplogist and a writer, and it shows in her simple to read (but not simple to understand) scifi. I was first introduced to her via "The Left Hand of Darkness" as required reading in a college anthropology class. We also have her children's book "A Ride on the Red Mare's Back", and it is lovely.

So, she knows how to write. But does she know how to teach writing? Can anyone teach writing, or can you only learn it? That's a bigger debate than I want to get into here.

But I like EXAMPLE. How can you tell me how to use setting to move the story without giving me something great to read? Le Guin gives wonderful, lengthy, varied examples from Mark Twain to Virginia Wolf to Jane Austen. The part of me that likes to skim had a hard time not reading ahead to her next discussion, but I forced myself to slow down and enjoy the words. And they are worthy of study.

One of my favorite sections was on point-of-view. Le Guin writes a single scene from multiple POVs: first person, limited third person, involved author (or omniscient author- she has her own pet terms), objective narrator,observer-narrator in first person,objective narrator in third person. (Yes, there are more POVs than first, second and third limited or omniscient.) She also talks at length on POV changes and how to do so effectively, and then gives examples from literature. I learned quite a bit about a subject that I already understood pretty well, plus extras like POV standards in some genres.

Although all of the exercises appear designed to make you more aware of your writing and to learn technique, two stood out.

The chastity exercise (great name!)
 What are we to be chaste about? Use of adjectives and adverbs. Write a piece of narrative prose up to one page without using adj or adverbs. And no cheating by using dialogue.

A terrible thing to do
Take a piece up to four-hundred words and cut it by half.

Yikes. I cut a four thousand word short story in half to fit submission requirements, and it was extremely eye-opening. I think you have to do this exercise before you do a final revision on your manuscript. It forces you to economize, to distill meaning, and reveals how much is fluff. This is the best writing exercise I've done.

I am "love 'em and leave 'em" with most books, but every once in a while I find a keeper. This one goes on the short list.

What writing exercise has surprised/shocked/delighted/tortured you?
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Where do we go from here?

Click here to set the mood
Okay, book. Have a seat.
Things have been really good between us lately, and I appreciate that you've been trying. But I found out something about you a few days ago, and I need to clear the air.
Your ending is rough. It was shocking, actually. I'm partially to blame; I've worked the first half a million times, and the second half has only gotten two quick passes. Of course you feel neglected. But that's no excuse.
Have I grown as a writer and you haven't kept up? Are we in different places? Have I done this to you? Your scenes are shallow, you're pathetic fallacied, and you don't even answer my questions, questions I have been raising since page one. How about some resolution? Is that so hard for you?
Fine. I'm angry. I tried to hide it, tried to be Pollyanna. I was looking for an easy fix, a silver lining, but I've given up. I will have to rewrite EVERY sentence. Didn't I just write these sentences?
You're hurting me. You're giving me little choice but to eat another bowl of ice cream and curse your complicated "this isn't easy for me, either" plot.
But I'm not ready to give up on us.
I'm not going to spend this evening reading "Harry Potter" or "The Chronicles of Narnia" or any of my other comfort books. I won't fool myself into thinking we're going somewhere by sketching some cover art ideas or plotting a sequel. I'm not sure we can make it, honestly.
But I'm done pouting, done whining to my husband and sister and anyone else who will listen. I'm ready to try.
Glutton for Punishment?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

coming picks of creative writing books

I am a library reader. I love to log on at home-where it doesn't matter who is laughing, crying, dumping puzzles out or who has to go to the bathroom- and search. Search reviews. Search similar books categories. I've developed a habit where someone online recommends a book, and I log onto my library account and request it, right away.

I've read maybe fifteen books on writing- some fantastic, some decent. I requested another 20 to be sent to my home library and will be bringing you my take-home points from each. The librarians will be glad to see me since there aren't a lot of shelves. (FYI-150 books came up in the search. Writers love to talk about writing, don't they?)

A lot of this is subjective- things that might have blown my mind six months ago I may have read in several places, and I won't be impressed in  the same way I might have been. And I know there're so many author/agent blogs out there, but there's something about a book. I'll let you know who it's aimed at, or try to.

I'll focus on some loose groups- workshop books, famous writer books, and genre books- how to write romance, mysteries, etc. Plus a few other categories as I figure this out.

I will review the "Idiot's Guide to Writing", though I don't like the title. The best title I read was "You're not fooling anyone when you take your laptop to a coffee shop."

Open to suggestions! What books have helped you become a better writer?
Strunk and White is off the table, okay?
Glutton for Punishment?

Writing is rewriting. No kidding.

I have an imaginary world, separate from the world in my novel. The world of writing my novel. It's a place where I read through my stack of pages, make a few notes, then click my pen and put it away. It's fine. All these changes are cosmetic. The bones are in place, the description is relevant to the story, the characters are deep and consistent...but it's not real.

I'm finishing my hard-copy edit- my third pass at the whole manuscript. I THOUGHT that the end was in decent shape, but it is not. The last hundred pages are over-complicated, confused and convoluted. The good news is I thought of a way to streamline the whole thing, but it involves cutting that chunk and rewriting.

I remember thinking "I'll have to come back to this," and just wanting to get my characters to the end. That was fine, then. I needed a frame to start with, and that's what a first draft is for me. An ugly, chipped-paint, rusty, teetering scaffold.

My second pass was mainly to learn more about the craft of writing- a really long writing exercise about believable dialogue, fresh description, a weaving together of story elements to form a cohesive whole. I did a lot of workshop critiquing and read a lot of agent tips and writing articles in this pass.

So, now I'm in the third edit. Streamlining plot, refining characterization and motivations, and checking details. Cutting passive voice, deleting/adding commas, checking commonly overused words (just, that). I also have a habit of  using multiple verbs when one will do- ie- I thought I saw, I turned to see, etc. I'm not sure what that's called, but I recognize it.

I've also started a fourth edit using Microsoft Narrator (mainly so that any submissions I make to my crit group will have an extra pass of editing), where I listen to the computer read me the text. Narrator is a bit of a pain because it won't read from Microsoft Office, so I copy the chapter I'm working on into Notepad. The narrator goes as fast or slow as you want, but it feels safer to me to take notes fast, and then make the changes in Office slowly. The really nice thing about Narrator is it came with Windows. So maybe you already have it.

My next step after the Narrator edit is to hand out the full manuscript to some Beta readers. After responding to their comments, I think I'll be ready to query. In my dreams:)

I critiqued a friend's first chapter a few months ago. He hasn't read it, nor will he until he finishes his first draft. I think that's fine- that's what I did, too. Not because I didn't want feedback, but I wasn't sure I could do it. I needed to get the boost from concluding the story and believe that I was a writer before I had people tell me what was wrong with my writing. So, join a crit group if you can, but not if you're not ready to learn. Because humility and learning like to hold hands. They're going steady.

One day I'll read my MS and feel satisfied. Or at least tolerably pleased. But we're not there yet. And that's okay.
Glutton for Punishment?