Query Swap (#QuerySwap) Twitter event Coming June 1, 2018 It’s Query Swap time again To help you polish your query, I’m hosting Query Swap (#QuerySwap) from 8am-8pm EST on June 1, 2018 Your hook is your selling point. It has to be perfect. But getting […]
Month: April 2018
Writing by Committee
When betas take control of your novel and how to get it back
Beta readers are one of the biggest issues beginning writers have. Either they don’t have any, or they have too many. Having too many beta readers swamps the new writer with advice, and that isn’t always helpful. Too often the new writer will become trapped in an endless loop of rewriting by trying to incorporate every piece of advice. In this process, the writer loses her own voice and ends up with a bland mess. While getting some feedback is a crucial part of revisions, don’t let your novel get stuck in this phase.
How to know you’ve lost control
Endless revision loop- While it may seem like revisions take forever, there is a point where they need to end. If you have been revising for a year or more, then you may need to reevaluate your process.
Eventually, you will reach a point of diminishing returns. If the novel still isn’t working after several rewrites, then you may need to scrap the idea.
Conflicting advice– The problem with beta advice is that it is just advice. I always tell clients that half of what I say will be helpful and half will not. It’s up to you, the writer, to decide which pieces of advice will help you reach your story’s goals. Everyone has their own preferences. Can you think of a novel that everyone else loved, but you were just so-so? Because preferences vary, you will get conflicting advice. This does not mean that one is right and one is wrong. It is simply subjective.
Lack of interest– This is a symptom that you are getting frustrated with your process. If the prospect of getting feedback from a new beta is more dreadful than exciting, then you may need to move on. Once you begin to lose interest in a project, this is your warning that it may be time to either put this project on hold or abandon it.
Changing something “because a beta said”– As an editor, I have frequently seen the same manuscript in various stages. Almost every time I see a revision, something that I really loved from the previous version is gone. When I ask about it, the conversation usually goes,
Her: “Oh a beta said I should change it.”
Me: “Did they give a reason why?” (pacing, plot, foreshadowing?)
Her: “They didn’t like it.”
The problem with this scenario isn’t because the author didn’t follow my advice, but because she didn’t follow her own. The author created the original version the way she liked it. There was nothing actually wrong, but the moment someone else criticized it, she gave in just to please a beta. Surrendering your story to beta readers will not get you a story that you love.
Evaluating Writing Advice
There are three types of writing advice: correct, subjective, and wrong
Correct advice is anything that fixes a mistake. Plot holes, consistency errors, POV errors, etc. These are things that can objectively be considered wrong.
Subjective advice is anything that falls under personal taste: pacing, levels of description, overall narrative distance, likability of a character, etc.
Wrong advice is anything that conflicts with the writer’s intention or is simply wrong (for example, never use “was” is a great example of terrible writing advice.)
How to evaluate writing advice
When you get feedback from a beta, you need to decide what advice to use in your revision. Yes, you can (and should) ignore some advice. Not all advice is good.
Question 1: Who is giving the advice?
Even if your beta is a published writer, that does not mean she is qualified to give you writing advice. Imagine a horror writer giving you feedback on your middle-grade feel-good adventure. Or an erotica writer giving advice on a Janette Oak-style Christian romance? All writers will have preconceived ideas about what makes a good novel based on their preferences. So try to get feedback from writers who read what you write.
Secondly, try to get feedback from another writer over a family member or friend. The average reader will be able to say whether they liked something, but won’t be able to articulate specific issues as well as another writer.
The friend: This part was boring
The writer: The pacing in this scene begins to drag. There is too much backstory that isn’t relevant to the character’s current conflict. Also, the stakes aren’t clear. Tighten up the sentences by eliminating extra description to increase the tension.
Which feedback would you prefer?
Question 2: Does the feedback match your vision?
Your beta says the main character should be nicer so she’s more likable, but you were planning a redemption arc. Following this advice would weaken your character arc and take your further from your story’s goal. When you decide which advice to implement, make sure you keep your personal vision of the story as your goal. If the advice is counter to that goal, it won’t help your story.
Question 3: Does the feedback improve the story?
Too often writers change things and the results are no better than the original. Before you make a change, decide if the new is actually better than the old. Positive changes are those that increase tension, clarify characterization, clarify motivation, increase the stakes, fix mistakes, etc. Switching the setting from the football field to the soccer field does nothing. Make sure you can identify a reason for the change.
Question 4: Am I chasing trends?
Nothing will date your story faster than writing to trends. So if you are making a change because something is more popular, think twice. There are certain exceptions. Genres like romance and urban fantasy have conventions that readers have been trained to expect. For example, many romance lines are written in 3rd person point-of-view, while urban fantasy is almost exclusively written in 1st person deep. There are exceptions, but if you are expecting to write for a specific publisher’s line, you will have to follow the conventions of that line.
Taking back control
Before you make any change ask:
- Why am I making this change?
- How is it improving the story?
- Do I like this version better?
If you can’t answer these questions, then reconsider whether you really need to make the change. Change for the sake of change isn’t progress.
Writing is subjective. No two people will agree on what makes it great. Don’t let beta feedback trap you in an endless editing loop. Learn to evaluate writing advice and take back control of your story.
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Finding the will to write
This is my post for The Insecure Writers Support Group: a monthly blog hop therapy group for writers.
(If you’re here for my writing lessons and have no need for this warm-fuzzy-feeling stuff, I’ll see you on Friday.)
April 4 question – When your writing life is a bit cloudy or filled with rain, what do you do to dig down and keep on writing?
What I do when I get into a writing funk
(Well, after the coffee, the chocolate, and moping around the house for days.)
My road to recovery in three steps:
1. Reread my first novel
“Oh, wow, was I an awful writer.” The painful writing that is my first novel never grows stale. It’s a master class in telling, bizarrely constructed sentences, (random comma, anyone?) and not to mention a head-hopping nightmare. All this coated in a thick layer of beyond-epic dialogue. All ye Lords and Ladies take heed!
Aside from a few good laughs, the real purpose of rereading this nonsense is to remind myself of how much progress I have made as a writer since that first NaNoWriMo. Writing can be a long lonely road where you are constantly huddling into a corner and quietly comparing your work to other writers while making silent bargains with the devil to be half as good as… But revisiting my old manuscripts reminds me that my former self would have given anything to be as good as I am now, and while I still have a long way to go, I am making progress.
2. Edit other people’s stuff (no, not for the reason you think)
If I’m being completely honest, I’m a better editor than a writer. I also feel more passionate about editing. Taking apart stories, cutting them down to their essence, and rebuilding them stronger is my zone. Nothing makes me happier than when an author tells me, “Oh, that makes so much sense. Thank you.” Editing gives me the boost I need to tackle my own projects.
3. Read for inspiration
Nothing helps me rekindle the creative spark like reading my favorite genre (YA fantasy). Seeing new places, meeting new characters, and hearing new ideas. This is what gets my wheels turning again. Many of my ideas are inspired by other stories: side characters who deserve their own narrative or a scenario that could have had an alternative outcome. This is why I love fantasy. Alternative worlds contain endless possibilities.
Reading reminds me why I write: my love for stories.
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