Monday, November 25, 2013

Sharing Your Story: The Awesomeness of Beta Readers

I've finally made it to the Beta Reader level on my novel writing journey. YAY! I'm so excited!! Beta Readers are those brilliant, amazing, fantastic people who volunteer their precious time to read your completed novel or whatever other kind of writing you create.

They are super heroes for writers! And I LOVE them!! 

You may be wondering, "When should I look for a Beta Reader?" Or, "How do I find one that's amazing?" and "What exactly does this awesome Beta Reader do?" These are questions I asked when I first got serious about writing. 

The first thing is to have your novel completed and polished to the best of your ability. That means you've had other people look at it besides your mom or loved ones. 

You've received some feedback, looked for errors, read it through from start to finish more than once, etc. Most Beat Readers aren't first draft readers. Unless you've made that agreement with them.

How do you find this amazing person that is willing to spend at least 12-16+ hours reading your novel?

You must put yourself out there!! Join a writers' group, critique group, or critique website. I found my awesome Betas from conferences, critique partners, and just by talking with other writers.

A quick list of some online resources are:

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators or SCBWI
WriteOnCon (It's where I met some super amazing writing buds!)
This article at Squidoo lists tons of online groups.
Check out local groups through Meetup, ask your local librarian, or start one of your own!

And if you are looking for a group, you should read this blog post by Holly Lisle about group expectations, and if a group is toxic! Watch out, because some are!

Once you've caught a Beta in your sights, it's best to get to know them a little bit. If you don't know the person very well, you can always send a few chapters of your WIP and read a few chapters of theirs to see if you're a good fit. Offering to swap novels is always an option too.

I'm separating my Beta reads into three rounds. My first round consists of some of my critique partners who have already read the book chapter by chapter. The second group of Betas know something about the book but haven't read it entirely. And the third set is made up of people who haven't read it all. Those last fresh eyes on my work will really make a difference if I've missed something.

Having a list of questions for them to answer about your WIP is also very helpful. Ask about things that concern you. If you're not sure about a character or pacing for example.

And, always, always show appreciation to your amazing Beta Readers! They've spent their precious time on you, giving suggestions and catching mistakes when they could've been doing something else! Show the love!!

How about you? Where are you at on the writing journey? Any ideas on Betas?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Find Your Crutch Words! And Then Stop Leaning on Them

When I’m getting close to finishing a draft of a manuscript, I like to paste my draft into one of those word cloud sites. It’s a fantastic way to see which words you’re using the most.

Minus character names, here’s what my WIP looks like right now! I made it on TagCrowd, which lets you filter out certain words and pick how many words to display. 

This is a first draft, so it’s pretty clear that I have a lot of thinking and feeling, which are signs I’m probably telling too much instead of showing. The breakdown makes it so easy for you to control- or command-F in Word to find all these words, and then figure out a way to get rid of some of them! 

Here are some of the words I see a lot, divided into categories.

The repeat offenders

These are the words that seem to pop up over and over and over. Some can be indicators that you’re telling too much instead of showing – “I look,” “I think” – or simply overusing the word “just.” If you are a writer and happen to not be guilty of this, I bow down to you.

1. just
2. look, stare, watch, see
3. think/thought
4. feel
5. even
6. start
7. really/very
8. realize
9. like/love
10. smile/laugh

The body parts

I searched the word “hand” in a manuscript once and found 200 instances of it. That was nearly every page. After I stopped panicking, I realized there were so many ways to get rid of it. I didn’t have to say “my hand reaches for door” each time someone entered a scene. Also, look out for your poor characters. Don't hurt their shoulders by having them shrug too much!

1. hand/hands
2. eye/eyes
3. lips/mouth
4. breathe
5. cheeks
6. head
7. face
8. shrug
9. nod/shake
10. voice

The sneaky ones

Once I started seeing these in my own writing, I found them in some of my critique partners', too. Characters opening too many doors? Plot points or emotions happening too suddenly? Too much kissing? (I know, not possible, right?)

1. door 
2. room
3. when
4. second/moment
5. word/words
6. silent/silence/quiet
7. “I don’t know”/”I’m not sure”
8. sudden/suddenly
9. well – I tend to overuse this in dialogue, especially.
10. kiss – it almost pains me to put this on the list because I adore writing kissing scenes, but I know I overuse it!

What crutch words do you rely on? How do you go about replacing them in your writing?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rest in Pieces, Literary Darlings! And our BIG winner...

First, a little happy housekeeping:

Congratulations, Wendi! 
You are the winner of a signed copy of Olivia Twisted by the fabulous Vivi Barnes!
We'll get that book out to you this week. Yay! :)

And now....

Rest in Pieces, Darlings.

We writers can be a very self-deprecating bunch, but sometimes—just sometimes!—we actually like what we’ve written. Occasionally we even, dare I say, get attached to a certain sentence or passage. But then you get feedback. It’s just not working. And even worse— you have the inexplicable urge to disregard any edits/suggestions/bribes to revise. 

You’ve been smitten by a dreaded darling.  
You know what comes next. Kill your darlings, they say. And they’re right, whoever they are. But don’t stop there. 

Learn from your darling. 

See those lines from my manuscript posing so nicely in the fake Polaroid over there? That was a darling. My scene-setting darling that I couldn’t believe every single member of my critique group said had to go. It stung, but when I stopped explaining why I'd written what I had and listened,
Keep in mind this is 1st Draft material here. :)
I learned a few things. 

The first was actually pretty obvious once they pointed it out:

  1.     I like describing setting. A lot. Apparently I’d already set the scene three paragraphs up, and did just fine, so no need to beat the reader over the head. (my characters were on a creek bed, and lemme tell ya, I can go ON about it)  

This first point led to a great conversation, which led to me this bit of insight:

  2.      Uh, I’d done this before. It was darn near becoming predictable. Right before an intense scene, WOW do I like to set the stage.

Which finally led to this revelation
  3.    My desire to over-describe was killing my tension. I had the readers ready to dive into this perilous scene and wham! More imagery. No action. This was an invaluable habit to recognize. And it all stemmed from analyzing my darling. 

Darlings can stand a little scrutiny. Try these three tips to help cope with your next emotional editorial roadblock: 

Study your darling’s behavior. Is there a trend in what turns up in your darling file?

Dissect your darling. Maybe there’s jewel in your darling. Maybe you can harvest a few words or an idea to build a super Franken-darling that will fit into your scene.  

Cryogenically freeze your darling.  Heck, maybe this just isn’t the right chapter or manuscript for THAT phrase or THOSE lines of dialogue. Don’t delete. Tuck your darling away in a folder to be revisited. It somehow feels better just knowing that darling is relaxing somewhere, waiting to be called in to the big game. 

What do YOU do when a darling appears on your pages?  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Author Showcase and Giveaway - Vivi Barnes

It’s difficult for first-time writers to get an agent and even harder for them to get their book traditionally published, especially in the crowded young adult category. So, we’re super duper excited for RW’s first Author Showcase featuring author Vivi Barnes. *throws confetti* 

Vivi has graciously offered to donate and sign a copy of her book for one of RW’s readers, so make sure you become a follower of this blog then enter below for a chance to win.

RW:  Thank you for coming by.  We are very excited about your new book OLIVIA TWISTED available tomorrow, November 5, 2013, from Entangled Teen.  I still remember the night we chatted after critique group and you told me you were thinking of writing a modern-day version of OLIVER TWIST.  A few weeks later, you showed up with the completed manuscript. Okay, okay – so maybe that’s a bit of an over exaggeration, but you really did churn the manuscript out pretty fast. Are you a plotter or a seat-of-the-pants kind of writer?

Vivi: Ha ha I remember that night! And I remember you saying “What the—it took you like two weeks to write!” Two months, missy! I am a bit of both, actually. Before I start a book, I write out a summary of the plot and characters. Very general, mind you—just so I know the story will have a beginning, middle, end and so I won’t forget my character’s names. But otherwise I let the story take me where it will—and sometimes end up in very surprising places.

RW:  What is it about writing for teenagers that appeals to you? 

Vivi: I love writing for teens because those years are full of firsts—first kiss, first love, first temptations. It is a time ripe with all the possibilities in the world ahead of you.  

RW:  I have several ‘Go To’ books that I keep near me when I’m writing.  When I just can’t get something right, I think – hey, how did so and so do this?  When it comes to voice, I often refer back to passages you’ve written because you’ve got amazing voice.  Do you have any tricks of the trade you’d be willing to share with the readers about how you’re able to get into the head of your protagonists and how your dialogue sounds so natural?

Vivi:  Aww thank you! It helps when I write in first person present tense because I can immerse myself into the character and “see” everything from his or her perspective. For example, there is a scene in OLIVIA TWISTED where someone spiked her drink in a club. So instead of saying “I start to feel funny,” which is a removed observation, I got into her head to write what she was actually feeling, and what I would feel if this happened to me. I had a lot of fun writing this scene! Here’s an excerpt:
“Are you okay?” the hot leather Z says in my ear.
“Sure.” I giggle. The leather smells so good. I wonder if it tastes good. I lean forward to lick it and accidentally drop the bottle of water on his foot.
He winces. “Whoa, take it easy. Did you drink out of this?” He takes the empty cup next to me and smells it, like maybe he thinks it’s roses or something. He frowns. “This is just Coke. Did you have something else to drink? Alcohol?”
“Nope. That’s it. Coke.” That’s a funny word, Coke.
His eyes tighten. “Did you do any drugs?”
“Drugs, schmugs. I don’t do drugs. Just like on TV.”
“Who gave this to you?” he demands, his face crinkled in anger. Or maybe it’ll be happy if I tilt my head…
“Is your frown turned upside down?”
“Who gave this to you?” He holds the cup in front of my face and shakes it to rattle the ice. I try to concentrate but my eyes keep slipping around to him. Hot guy is hot.
“Liv!” Z peers at me closer like he’s trying to see inside my eyes. “Who gave this to you?”
“Ooh, him. Tyssson. He’s sooo gross. Tries to sit on me on the bus. Or sit on the bus.” I can’t remember what I’m trying to say.

RW:  I love that excerpt!  Some writers finish their manuscripts with 100K words then start whittling it down when they edit.  Others start at 50K and add more layers with each pass, increasing word count.  Could you share with us your revision process, from critique group, to agent, to editor to copy editor? 

Vivi: I’m one whose manuscript starts out shorter and grows as I revise. OLIVIA TWISTED was 55K words. By the time I finished what felt like hundreds of revisions, it ended up around 89K words! This was probably because I added more of Z’s point of view later. But it seems like even when I remove sections, the word count increases. Critique partners and editors have helped me tighten certain parts and expand on others, so somehow it just ends up growing.

RW:  OT is dual POVs – your protagonists Liv (Oliver) and Z (Dodger).  Was one of the POVs easier than the other to write from?

Vivi: That’s a great question! I really enjoyed writing Z’s perspective (I tapped into my inner bad boy), but Liv’s was definitely easier. Maybe because I had been in her head from day one of writing the story, so I felt closer to her. In fact, early in the writing process I didn’t have Z’s POV through the entire novel, just parts. So my editor asked if I could make his POV through the entire story to balance it out. Keeping true to the characters in the original story of Oliver Twist, I had to ensure Liv’s innocence and Z’s cunning came across, which wasn’t always easy. Writing both POVs helped with that.

RW:  Do you listen to music as you write and, if so, did you have some favorite tunes that inspired OT?

Vivi: Oh YES! I have to listen to music in order to write. Music helps me get into a scene. When there were tense moments with Bill Sykes and any action scenes, I usually had Godsmack, Three Days Grace or Korn playing. For softer moments (HELLO KISSING), it’d be songs from Hinder, Staind or Coldplay.  Sad scenes might be songs from Evanescence, Civil Twilight and Josh Groban.

Thank you, again, Vivi for stopping by RW. We can’t wait to see what’s in store from you next. 

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