Author Archives: fictorians

10 Steps After “The End”

Guest Post by Editor and Author Adria Laycraft

So you wrote a book … CONGRATS! Not as many people as you would think make it this far. Writing and completing a novel is a big accomplishment. Take a moment and relish that. You deserve it.

Now here are ten steps to take before seeking critiques from others:

1. Let it rest. The more space you can manage to put between yourself and the work, the more discerning you will be when you come back to it. But you MUST get some distance in order to see the work objectively.

2. You let it rest, right? No, overnight is not enough. Go write something else. Plant tulips. Walk the dog. Take up yoga. You’ve had your head in this story for way too long, you know it’s true, so really try and get clear of it … and only time can do that.

3. Now before we get into step three, I want to make sure you realize how serious I am about that rest time. If you’ve really done that, then it’s time to read through, make notes, and edit yourself. Draw up your plot points. Look for places to increase the tension. Be ruthless and delete what doesn’t further the plot, no matter how well written. You will likely do some line edits in this phase, but don’t let it consume you. There’s time enough for that later.

4. Write a back cover blurb. This tests your knowledge of theme.

5. Now write a synopsis. Two pages, single spaced, that sum up your story’s plotline, including the ending. This forces you to examine plot in big picture mode, and it will be useful later when you are sending in your submissions. Steps 4 and 5 are somewhat like reverse engineering–you want to take the finished product (your manuscript) and break it down to study the bare parts, the ingredients, and check their quality and coherency.

6. Search out your story promises. Does the opening reflect what’s important? Does the ending resolve the promises made? If your opening scene is romantic, but it turns into an action thriller, that’s not fulfilling the story promise. Does the opening hint at things that are never important later? Those story promises need to be filled, or the hints rewritten to point to important plot items. And first lines are important, so if there is a place, person, or thing featured in the first lines that isn’t an integral part of the story, it needs to be deleted.

7. Rewrite based on your findings, then scan through it again.

8. REST. Yes, again. For weeks. Months if you can stand it. Here again we benefit from seeing the story anew after we’ve ‘forgotten’ it a bit.

9. Now read again, fresh-eyed, and search for lines where you say the same thing twice and rewrite into one. Watch for where the word choices aren’t quite right and find better ones. Polish your prose so descriptions use subtext that enhance your theme, and subtle foreshadowing is in place to help make your ending surprising but inevitable. Check any spelling, punctuation, or grammar you are unsure of. You want your manuscript to appear as professional as possible.

10. You’re ready for beta readers! Remember to be clear on your theme and plot before receiving critique so you can see where suggestions work or don’t work for the story you are trying to tell. Be prepared for many more revisions! Even a book deal will mean more editing to come. Writing, and publishing, is very much a long game.


Editor, Author, and Wood Artisan, Adria Laycraft tries to use her fickle creative squirrel nature as a tool, bouncing between several projects at any given time while wondering why people stare. Her new website (coming soon!) is at www.adrialaycraft.com with information about editing services. Watch for her novel Jumpship Hope coming from Tyche Books.

How do I know it’s a Rough Draft?

 Guest Post by Barb Galler-Smith, Fiction Editor, On-Spec Magazine

I’ve been asked how do you know when a story is ready for submission? As an author, it’s always the moment I’m finished. Fortunately another part of my brain (the editor) stops me before I make too big a fool of myself and actually submit it before I’ve done a little bit more work.

Different editors and authors will tell you slightly different things. In my years with On Spec magazine I’ve learned a lot about stories, about when they are ready, and when they only appear to be ready.

What is a first draft? Well, it’s not usually the first thing you put on paper. That would be the “almost” draft, sometimes known as a sketchy outline. Then you might write down the things that fill in that sketchy outline. This might include a note to yourself to check some details, and plot points, and character notes, and the major theme, the premise, and the major conflict(s). THEN you have a pretty decent outline. If you are a “pantser” this process is a little different. But either way, the next step is the “Ugly Draft”.

The “Ugly Draft” is exactly that. It’s the words as they come out of your head without the editor even being aware you are writing. You’ve snuck it in under that annoying part of the brain that stops you from finishing a complete sentence without going back to fix something other than the momentary spelling error. It’s full of homophones, other mistyped words that are actually words (eg. in writing this my brain typed “being aware” but my fingers typed “vein aware”). The end of the Ugly Draft is an easy, but involved process.

You spell check. That can fix a lot.

You search for your buzzwords (that, was, were, could, should, nodded, turned… you get the drift?).

You search for all useless words that end with ly or ly. or ly? etc. These -ly words are adverbs that usually (not always) add nothing. Another useful search is for “weasel words” such as also, very, though, some, or many. These are not specific and good writing demands clarity and specificity. I also like to search for “like” because it’s often used in common speech as a conjunction, which it isn’t.

So you’ve done all your checking and searching and on the computer screen the copy looks pretty darned good. This leaves you at the beginning of the Rough Draft.

You turned off the grammar checker while spell checking because fiction is loaded with fragments, especially dialog, and having that pointed out on 2/3 of the work is irritating. Of course, when the grammar checker was turned off, you also ended up with a few fragments that were just wrong, a few run-on sentences, a few sentences so unwieldy their meaning was lost, some misplaced modifiers, actions out of order and a dozen more foibles.

The real Rough Draft is that draft in which you fix all those things you didn’t notice before to the very best of your ability. After that, the process varies a little bit depending on how you plotted, researched, or even how you think (sequentially or randomly) which can affect the order of sentences, actions, and scenes.

Let it sit for a couple of days (unless you waited until the last minute as I usually do and cranked it out in an afternoon–outline, ugly, and rough all in one).

Then send it to one beta reader who will read it and let you know if it all makes sense. This is important. That reader need not be an editor or another writer. That person does need to be able to tell if a story works or not, and preferably why it may not work, where it slows (if it does), or anything else critical to the story. If you have written science fiction and don’t hold a degree in astrophysics or biochemistry, you might also want to run it by someone who passed physics or biochemistry in the past five years. Or do a heck of a lot of research for that one line in the story!

After that, you fix anything wrong with it. At this point you also have to decide if the beta reader is right (usually) or is out to lunch and knows utterly nothing about your art (not usually). Voilà! You have done every single thing you know how to do to make the story perfect. You now have a finished FIRST DRAFT!

If you have a lot of short story writing experience and some good story-telling skills, this could also be your Submission Draft.

You may have noticed I said Submission “Draft”. Yep, and this is where I get your story in my Submission piles.

So how do I know it’s not ready?

The list is long:

You sent an Ugly Draft. You sent a “First Draft”. It doesn’t follow our specific guidelines regarding format, word count limits, preferred spelling and usage. It’s not “Speculative” not “fiction”. It’s SF/F elements aren’t integral to the actual story. It’s full of profane and vulgar language for NO reason. It’s got gratuitous violence, graphic sex descriptions, and anything else that could overstep a general PG-13 rating and for NO reason. It’s hate-mongering. And as the King of Siam in the musical used to say “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera”.

We also note things that are more subtle.

1) It takes too long to get going. The actual story starts somewhere around the middle of the submission. That means there’s a whole lot of back story we just do not need there.

2) The pacing slows to a crawl in the middle. This usually happens because nothing is happening.

3) Talking heads in which there is no story along with it. Nothing happens.

4) Dialog has characters telling each other things they already know, but the author wants to makes sure the readers know this too.

5) It’s dull.

6) It’s really dull.

7) It’s really really dull. (You get my point? Something needs to happen!)

8) The characters have no aspect that the readers can relate to. Some of my favourite characters from On Spec stories: a puppet, a contract killer, a senior farm wife from Saskatchewan. They share nothing in common but each imparts a sense of humanity I can relate to.

Nothing is ever sent to the editor without flaws. It’s our job then to read through a good story, and find those places in which our skill or knowledge can make a story better. Our goal is to make that story better for everyone–the author, editor, and most importantly, the reader who WILL notice little things. We want that reader to get to the end and say “That was a satisfying read!”

So if you have done the best you possibly can (and do not over edit it yourself–but that’s another blog!), please consider it YOUR Submission Draft. Send it out. While it’s out there, write another story. Then another.

Bottom line, how do I know it’s ready and not “rough”? I know when it propels me from start to finish on the first reading. I miss little things like minor typos, unwieldy sentences, odd settings, and minor science errors. It’s ready because it’s a solid, interesting story.

 
Barb Galler-Smith resides in Edmonton. She’s been an editor with On Spec magazine since 2008. She’s co-author of the Druids Saga historical fantasy trilogy: “Druids”, “Captives”, and “Warriors”–all available from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. She is an award-winning writer and has judged both Canadian and international writing competitions. She loves reading short fiction, teaching writing, and freelance editing.

When A Pantser Revises

Guest Post by Chris Marrs

If you’re a panster like I am, then your first draft probably contains quite a few random place holder scenes, notes, and a plot that may end up looking like a different animal at the end than the beginning. Which, to a lot of people I know who plot meticulously, doesn’t seem very efficient. A pantser’s first draft is likely to be less organized than a plotter’s and, if it’s like mine, will need a complete rewrite.

Since I have difficulty reading for long stretches on a computer I print the manuscript. A page of a first draft may look like:

 “Mist off the lake—remember to change setting from barn to cabin—swirled around the base of the giant oaks dotting the shore. The slap-splash of oars cutting through water startled a loon. In a flurry of wing beats and a lonely sounding call, it took to the air. Mark chanced a look over his shoulder as he leaned against a tree trunk. Ragged breaths hacked his throat. Emerging from the tree line a dark figure. Harry pushed off from the oak and waded into the lake.

“Help!” he yelled hoping whoever paddled out there would hear and come to his aid.

The almost seductive shush-shush of tall grass and random crack of a small tree breaking came closer. Heart racing, Mark waded further into the lake. The boom of a shotgun blast made need to find a distinct sound that’s not trite or maybe an action for the character would work better than a sound.

Pretty messy, right? There are notes and poor/confusing sentence structure not mention the MC’s name went from Harry to Mark because Mark suited the character better later on. And a whole lot more crap not shown in the sample. Things like gratuitous scenes that don’t further plot or character arc, the main character acting out of character, and strange rambling sections that aren’t quite sure what they’re trying to say. Alternately, I discover little gems. A wonderful turn of phrase or two that zings, a character flaw or trait in a minor character that compliments the main character’s struggle or strength, and maybe a random scene that subtly enhances the theme. Personally, going through the first draft is more enjoyable than writing it even though there is a lot of stuff to got through and piece together.

As I’m reading, I’ll circle the paragraphs that stand out and I want to keep and scratch out the ridiculous or redundant. I’ll make comments, use the backside of the page for loose rewriting, and question character motive. I’m also looking for continuity—more specifically where it took left turns—for how the plot and character arcs relate, and for which notes are applicable and which aren’t. And all the usual culprits you look for when reading a first draft pantser or not: theme, voice, setting, ect.. Grammar and the like I leave until after the second draft. Then I open blank document and start again using the first draft as a guideline. Like I said, not very efficient but I have found my second drafts come closer to a plotter’s third.

It’s only after a clean up of the second draft that I will send the manuscript to my beta group. In my opinion, my pantser first draft isn’t fit for light of day. Honestly, even if you plot I feel the first draft shouldn’t be let out the door. I feel you owe it to your beta readers to send as complete manuscript as possible. I have a wonderful beta group and if I sent a first draft or first draft point five where I’ve taken out the notes and “tidied” up the story, they would send it right back unread. The mindset being one is unable to constructively critique a first draft and I am wasting their time wading through b******t. So I wait until I’m finished editing the second draft before sending it to them. I have found I receive better critiques this way and, as a beta reader, am able to provide more constructive critiques.

I liken a pantser first draft to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. In the beginning the task of putting together all those pieces seems daunting. Then the pieces begin to fit together and the whole picture starts to emerge in a way you hadn’t dreamed. I love that, that seeing where my imagination went without being obligated to a plot. So, despite the extra work, I’ll stick to pantsing the first draft.

 
Chris Marrs lives in Calgary, Alberta with her daughter, a cat, and a ferret. She has stories in A Darke Phantastique (Cycatrix Press-2014), the Bram Stoker winning The Library of the Dead (Written Backwards Press-2015), and in Dark Discoveries Issue #25/Femme Fatale, October 2013. Bad Moon Books published her novella Everything Leads Back to Alice in the Fall of 2013. Her novella, Wild Woman, was published in September 2015 as part of JournalStone’s DoubleDown series. Entangled Soul, a collaborative novella with Gene O’Neill, was published by Thunderstorm Books in November 2016. January Friday the 13th, 2017 saw the publication of Intersections: Six Tales of Ouija Horror in which her story Sounds in Silence appears. She has two stories available with Great Jones Street short story app.You can find her at www.hauntedmarrs.com, https://www.facebook.com/chris.marrs.14, on Twitter as @Chris_Marrs, or Instagram as hauntedmarrs.

Organizing Critique Comments for Implementation

Guest Post by Susan Forest

You’ve chosen beta readers from more than one source who understand your genre, you’ve given them your best work so they don’t correct flaws you know about, and you receive their feedback. But how do you organize the feedback, process, and implement it?

Knowing how to effectively deal with feedback will greatly help and improve your manuscript and will turn beta readers into fans.

First, it’s helpful to receive your feedback, when possible, in both written form (line edits and/or written comments) and verbal form. A nice protocol is to invite your three beta readers over for snacks or out to a restaurant for coffee and dessert. This is not only a way to thank them, but to bring them together by a specified deadline, to give feedback.

During this meeting, ensure you set a tone of professionalism (it’s not just social) and take notes without interrupting (except to clarify misunderstandings). There is no point in taking up time explaining what your story was supposed to say—if they didn’t get your message, that’s feedback, too.

When I get home from such a meeting, I first organize my comments into two types: line edits and global revisions. The line edits are easy to get through fairly quickly. Here, you can clear up typos and small wording or sentence changes that you agree with. You can ignore the occasional edit that is clearly wrong, or at least, wrong for you.

Sometimes, a line edit your beta reader gives you includes something bigger: a place where the reader was confused, where their comment has implications for several places in the manuscript, or where the comment gets to deeper thematic or character arc issues. Make a note of these, and add them to your second type of comments: global revisions.

By doing line edits first, you accomplish something important to the book, improve your novel, and give yourself a sense of achievement—and staying positive about your novel is critical, especially in the face of multiple notes to make changes.

The global revisions, especially on a longer work such as a novel, can be daunting. Begin by putting them all into a single document (perhaps in point form), and reduce their number:

  • Delete any repetitions. But remember: if all three of your beta readers pointed out the same issue, it’s probably valid.
  • Delete any changes you’re not going to make. Perhaps your beta reader isn’t really your audience (if he or she doesn’t read or understand your genre, they might be off base), missed the point of your story, or—although you respect their point—you simply know: this is not a change you’re prepared to make. Hey, you’re the author, and this is your book.
  • Don’t try to please all tastes. If one reader wants you to make a certain change, a second gives you the opposite advice, and the third doesn’t want any change at all, remember that by trying to be all things to all people, you can edit the passion out of your story. Follow the critique of the reader whose vision is closest to what you are trying to achieve.

Next, phrase all comments in the positive. You can’t do anything with a negative comment. For instance, even if you agree that the comment, “Don’t make your protagonist weepy and weak” is valid, it can’t be implemented until you change it to “Angela should stand up for her own position in her relationship with Greg.” That is something you can work with.

Then, find out where (in which chapter and scene) you want to implement the change. In the above example, you might decide that Angela will tell Greg she intends to buy a cat in chapter 2, scene 1; choose the restaurant in chapter 9, scene 5; and demand he pay half the rent on their apartment in chapter 15, scene 4.

In some instances, a comment will be implemented in only one place in the book. In other cases, several different examples will find their way into different parts of the book (as in Angela’s example, above). In still other cases, the same detail will be applied to multiple places in the book. This could happen when you want to ensure rats are ubiquitous in your medieval fantasy.

Create a new copy of your manuscript (Angela and the Rat, v. 2.0) and insert the points you want to change at the top of each scene. You might want to use a different font for these notes, just to be sure the point doesn’t accidentally slip into your text. Now, instead of an overwhelming list of changes to make, you have anywhere from 2-5 points at the beginning of each scene—and some scenes will have no changes at all. This is much more manageable.

Revise each scene. You are likely to discover as you go through that some revisions simply won’t work. You might have thought you could slip in a reference to rats in chapter 3, but to do so turns out to be awkward and derails the point of the scene. No problem. When you’re revising chapter 4 you might find a more natural place to put it—and, if you already intend to refer to rats in 2-3 more places, you might not even need the chapter 3/4 reference.

You may find that implementing a change in one part of the book spawns other changes, such as the domino effect of logic and motivation, or a cool new idea that enriches and deepens your text.

And, when you have finished all the revisions (like the guy taking the wheelchair apart and putting it back together who discovers he has a handful of nuts and screws left over), you may find there are some revisions that somehow just never made it into the new draft. Do you really need them? Maybe. If so, go back and find a place to put them in. Or, maybe you don’t actually need them.

Read the entire manuscript again. This not only allows you to catch inconsistencies the revision process may have introduced, it gives you a chance to put your finger on the pulse of the book as a whole, so you can see how the build and flow of plot logic and emotions work together. This step has the added benefit of pumping up your enthusiasm for your novel: it is better! Revision worked! And, it wasn’t as painful as it first appeared.

It is a truism that, with rare exceptions, first drafts are not very good; that fiction comes to life under revision. It is also true that coming out of a meeting with your beta readers with a wheelbarrow full of suggested improvements can be daunting and depressing—so much so, it can be hard to even look at your creation again. By winnowing the comments down, rephrasing them with positive wording, and dividing them up into small, workable batches, you can really make use of their power, and come away with a vastly improved draft: one you are proud to send off to potential markets.

 
Susan writes SF, fantasy and horror, and is an award-winning fiction editor for Laksa Media. Her novel, BURSTS OF FIRE, will be out in 2019, followed by FLIGHTS OF MARIGOLDS. She has published over 25 short stories, contributes to When Words Collide, and has appeared at many international writing conventions. https://fineartemis.wordpress.com.