The Fictorians

Archive for the ‘Rewriting’ Category

The Gift of Scorched Earth

16 December 2013 | 4 Comments » | Gregory D. Little

BookToday’s post is going to cover two gifts for the price of one, both intangible and tangible.

I began my first novel manuscript in January of 1999. There were three of us then, and during our winter break from college, we set out to write the greatest epic fantasy novel known to man. I probably don’t have to tell you our plans didn’t quite pan out. But flash forward four or five years, and that book, the first thing I ever tried to write with a serious intention of publishing it, was nearly the reason I quit writing for good.

My co-authors dropped out early in the process. We enjoyed talking about our story’s awesomeness more than actually working on it together. But I’d continued plugging slowly along on the book throughout college. And by the time I was graduated and then married, I had a couple of hundred draft pages. That seems like a tiny amount to Present Day Greg, but at the time it was by far the longest thing I’d ever written. The trouble was, I’d basically stopped working on it.

I told myself I was just busy. Working at a full-time job and commuting three hours daily left me very tired by the end of each week. But that wasn’t it. In truth I no longer believed in the story I was writing. I was no longer excited by it, because there was a dissonance between the plot and the protagonist. I didn’t believe that this protagonist would be responsible for the acts of his recent past that formed the foundation of the plot.

I’d be willing to bet a lot of writers don’t consciously decide to give up writing. It just sort of happens bit by bit, day by day until they look back and realize it’s been months or years since they’ve written. The point of no return is when this thought no longer bothers them. I came pretty close to that point. A more experienced writer would have just tossed the idea and started on a new one, but that wasn’t how I looked at it. The germ for this story had been in my head for a decade. If I couldn’t even see it through, what hope did I ever have of being a writer? But the Sunk Cost Fallacy had me in its claws. For those unfamiliar, the Sunk Cost Fallacy is the human tendency to “throw good money after bad” and continue investing in something that isn’t working just because you’ve invested so much into it already.

I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but I gradually gave myself permission to scrap what needed scrapping in order to the save the story. It started with rewriting the protagonist into the antagonist, but by the end I trashed every single word of text and started over. Some of the characters’ relationships to one another and some of my original world-building concepts would survive, but every bit of the prose was fed into the furnace of reigniting my excitement for the project. It was total scorched earth, and as much as I’d dreaded the concept, it was surprisingly liberating once I’d committed myself to it.

Eventually I finished my monster of a first manuscript, An End to Gods. The final product is infinitely better than the project was originally shaping up to be. I’ve gotten much faster and trimmer as a writer since then, and the book is still too big and too Byzantine to publish as a novice writer, but I love it for all its messy complexity. My cousins even collaborated to get it printed and bound in leather for me several Christmases ago, complete with custom chapter icon artwork (Ben and Duncan, you guys still rock!) and it is still the coolest gift I’ve ever been given. It’s sitting on my shelf behind me as I type this (and in the picture at the top of this post). I don’t mind telling you I got teary-eyed when I first laid eyes on it, and I still plan on publishing it one day, however many rewrites that takes. I’ve already done it once, after all.

So there you have it. Two greatest gifts for the price of one. Kevin J. Anderson likes to use the phrase “dare to be bad (at first)” and that’s excellent advice. But if that first draft is so bad it’s discouraging you from continuing to write, it may be time to tear it down and start again.

How Writing Badly Can Help Your Career

13 November 2013 | 2 Comments » | Leigh Galbreath

Sounds a bit silly, doesn’t it? But as I’m sure everyone here knows, one of the biggest stumbling blocks for any aspiring author isn’t really how good their book is. It’s how finished their book is.

After all, you can’t have a business without a product, which is, in our cases, a completed story.

The key is to be productive and with just about everyone I know, one of the biggest obstacles to their productivity (right next to the two hour commute or the kids who can’t seem to do anything without parental help) is that voice in their head that keeps popping up to say, “What are you thinking? That comma’s ruining the emotional thread of this scene!” or “Jeez, this is crap. Let’s go play on the Playstation where it at least feels like I’m accomplishing something.”

A recurring session during the Superstars Writing Seminars is Kevin J. Anderson’s productivity tips (which he is currently covering on his website for NaNoWriMo). This is where I first heard his #3 tip: Dare to Be Bad (At First)…Then Fix It.

And the guy must be on to something because he makes prolific authors look lazy.

Now, I do spend some time prewriting to figure stuff out, for the most part I find my story as I’m writing it. For the longest time, I’d get stuck in that loop that made me want to re-read what I’d already written and tweek the text until I had to force myself to move on to the next scene. And then I gave myself permission to write badly. This was incredibly freeing. Now, when I’m doing a first draft, I can write upwards of 20-25k words a week, knowing that I’m going to edit it like crazy once the first draft is done. They aren’t great words, sometimes they’re downright horrendous, but they come together to form a completed work.

Now, your process might be different. But ask yourself, is your book stalled because you keep going back to that one or two scenes that seem so pivotal but your inner editor keeps telling you it’s just not right and if you don’t fix it now the whole book will fail utterly?

Stop that.

A house builder doesn’t sit there working on the same bathroom for years because they can’t get the shower to the perfect dimensions. They have a whole house to build and if someone isn’t living in it, it has no purpose. The same goes for you. Don’t let a desire to write perfection stop you from finishing the book, because if no one reads it, it also has no purpose.

Once the first draft is done, then you can let your inner editor run amuck…somewhat.

I usually have to step away for a bit before diving in the editing/revision process, otherwise, I’m just polishing the punctuation. Some people go ahead and send it out to alpha readers to get feeback. You’re process should be whatever works for you, but the real key to editing your own work, I think, is honesty.

Yes, that scene in your epic fantasy between the hero and his pet parakeet makes you cry every time, but does it move your story forward? Yes, you skipped that escape scene in your adventure to get to the emotional angst, but is the reader still engaged? Yes, you left out the detailed description of your cyborgs in your SF because it slowed the pacing, but can the reader really understand your world?

They may be you and your critique group’s favorite scenes. They might be hard to write. But if the story and the reader isn’t served, be honest. You’re going to have to fix it. The nice thing is that you’ll probably like the result better.

It’s actually kind of funny how often I tell someone that a scene isn’t working, or the story is missing something, and they say, “Yeah, I was kind of thinking that, too.” If something doesn’t ring true, or a scene doesn’t seem right, don’t wait for someone to remind you of something you already know. This instinct might take some time figuring out on your own, but the only way you’re going to learn how to tell what works and what doesn’t, is to keep writing and reading your genre.

It’s all so much work, I know. But that the difference between a hobbiest and a professional: get the work done, then make it the best you possibly can.

Dare to be bad. Fix it later.

Beta Reading: The Book Report You Trick Your Friends and Family Into

11 November 2013 | 3 Comments » | Gregory D. Little

BETA_(capital_and_small)“Oh, you’re writing a book? You have to let me read it when you’re done!” If you’ve been writing long enough, you’ll probably have heard this a time or two. Little do they know that a book needs beta readers. But what is a beta reader and how can you shamelessly leverage their time and good will into making your manuscript the best it can be?

Because I am an engineer as well as a writer, I’m going to use the laziest possible analog for the technological age. A beta reader is exactly like a video game beta tester. They are the people that take your playable (readable) video game (manuscript) and play (read) through it, looking for bugs (terrible parts) so that you can fix them before they get seen by the general public/publishing industry. Now, one quick point of clarification: when I say “readable” I mean that the draft of your manuscript is complete with no missing parts that you haven’t gotten around to writing yet. A beta reader should be reading your best attempt at a complete story draft. Someone who is only reading incomplete chunks of your story is called an alpha reader, which is a subject for another post.

So who should you select for your beta readers?

1. Above all, you need people who are willing to (very generously) grant you their valuable time to both read and provide feedback on your manuscript. Because they are willing to do that, these people probably like you, which can actually be a problem. People that like you might not want to be brutally honest with you, so…

2. You want beta readers who are willing to be honest with you (brutally or not). If there’s a problem with your story, they are doing you no favors by holding back on it to spare your feelings. And even if they believe they are being honest with you, they are probably still holding back subconsciously. It’s understandable. They’re excited for you! You wrote a book, and they want to like it! It’s just a general hazard with any beta reader that you need to keep in mind.

3. You want beta readers to cover a wide spectrum of, well, everything. As writers, it is tempting to wrangle only our writer friends to beta read. Other writers are usually willing to “trade” beta reads of each other’s work, so convincing them can be easier. Writers also understand what another writer needs in terms of feedback, so their feedback can be more constructive, incisive, and to the point. But writers also love to over-analyze writing, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll end up with a story that only other writers will love. So have writers beta read for you, but also pick beta readers who have nothing to do with writing, and even ones who don’t normally read the genre your story is in. Non-fans of the genre will be the toughest sell, so you’ll get the harshest criticism, and if your writing can overcome that initial handicap, you’ll know you have something special on your hands.

So, now you’ve gotten your beta readers your manuscript and they are busily reading away. What do you tell them regarding feedback? Obviously everyone has a different style, but I always try to follow the following guidelines:

I DON’T: require my beta readers to give me feedback in a specific format or in a specific level of detail. Rather, I ask them to provide feedback at whatever level they are comfortable based on their schedule and their preferred style of reading. Some of them like to go so far as to line-edit your work (more so in short stories than in novels given the time commitment). Some prefer simply to give general impressions (“I liked this part but didn’t understand when the character did this. This detail confused me. What was even happening here?”). For me, the important part is that they don’t worry so much about the level of feedback that their experience of reading the story gets impacted. Ideally you want them reading your story like anyone else would.

I DO: ask my readers to have the reading and feedback done by a certain (reasonable) date. In my opinion it’s perfectly fair to do this as long as you explain it up front so that everyone’s on the same page (pun intended) and as long as you are willing to be flexible because obviously we all get busy. But if you don’t assign some (again, reasonable) date you’ll find yourself waiting for months, unwilling/unable to do major edits until all your beta readers are finished.

I DON’T: let my beta readers talk to each other until they’ve talked to me. I don’t want them to start cross-contaminating opinions. Treat them like suspects in a crime (but much more politely) and request feedback separately from each.

So now you’ve got your feedback. What do you do about it?

- Look for trends. Does everybody think the main character is a big jerk? Maybe that’s okay if that’s what you’re going for. But does everybody think the main character is such a huge jerk that they would have stopped reading if not for the fact that they promised you they’d read your story? That’s a problem. Conversely, if everyone has a different problem with the same aspect of the story, but they all agree it’s a problem, you need to look at it again. Don’t be afraid to follow up and ask for further clarification. I’ve had instances where every reader but one mentioned an aspect of the story that bothered them, and I specifically went back and asked that one person if plot point X bothered them at any point.

- Conversely, take complaints that only one person raises with a grain of salt. I’ve heard it said that if nobody can agree on the issues your manuscript has, you’re doing all right because you’ve gotten it down to the realm of personal taste. Everyone does have different tastes, after all, and they won’t all like every aspect of something you write, no matter how well it’s written.

- Lastly, remember that you, the author, have the final say. Beta readers are offering recommendations, not ironclad must-haves. The buck, or in this case the word, ultimately stops with you.


November is The Business of Writing Month

1 November 2013 | Comments Off | Kristin Luna

Hello, faithful readers and new readers alike!

Ah, November. For most people, it’s just… November. For writers, it can be one of the busiest months of the year. It’s got Thanksgiving in there, it’s the month before some big holidays in December, and it’s National Novel Writing Month. November is a great month for writing, but it’s also good for going a little insane trying to juggle all of these commitments as a writer and still trying to be real live person.

Bear with us, dear readers, as we try to not go insane this November. In fact, we’re keeping our left-brains in check this month by diving into the business side of writing. You’ll read posts about some of the more logical and analytical aspects of being a writer, such as:

  • Working with an editor
  • Beta-readers
  • Hiring a cover artist
  • Marketing vs. advertising
  • Networking
  • And more!

As a special treat, we also have guest posts from the likes of Lisa Mangum, Stephan McLeroy, Nick Ruva, Heidi Wilde, and Sam Sykes.

Help keep us sane by commenting on our posts and sharing them with your friends!

Happy reading!



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