The beta comments on my latest draft of Summer at the Crossroads have arrived. My readers did a stellar job, as I expected. They read the manuscript thoroughly, enjoyed the concept, liked my writing style, and gave me great feedback.

image credit: Microsoft clip art

image credit: Microsoft clip art

Once the beta comments come in, a writer must decide which of them hit the mark and which can be ignored. The book is the writer’s vision and story, no one else’s. This is a good time to again ask the question, “Who am I writing for?” Continue reading

Are You With Me?

Well, the holidays are behind us and most of 2013 lies ahead. If you’ve made resolutions for the year, my best wishes to you for carrying them through. For me, there is one goal for 2013—complete one of my WIPs and have it on track for publication.

Image credit: Microsoft clip art

How are the WIPs going? Why, thank you for asking. Let’s see…. Continue reading

I Had My Characters Do What?!

A bit of fun today with some friendly writerly advice sprinkled on top.

We writers are sometimes caught up in our stories and gloss over the exact details of what we’ve written for our characters’ actions. If we’re lucky, readers skim over those details without stopping to think about the literal meaning of our words. But more likely, they’ll see them and have an unintended reaction. We don’t want that.

Good agents and editors should highlight these potential gaffs and ensure we fix them. But with so many writers going the indie route, the lack of serious quality control can be glaring. Good writers should identify and correct these problems before querying their manuscripts or directly publishing the books.

Thank heaven I caught these no-nos before I ask anyone to beta read the revised Summer at the Crossroads. Continue reading

Writers—What Do Your Characters Say About You?

This post has its roots in character Madeleine O’Brien’s guest post last Saturday. I mentioned in a reply to 4amWriter’s comment that character insights into an author could be an interesting exercise. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

For me, this isn’t difficult. My characters insisted on the chance to write posts for the blog. If I was going to write about them, they were determined to write about me and their views on the books. I didn’t argue. I know better. It’s probably obvious from this paragraph that I’m in the school of thought that the characters really exist “out there,” somewhere. If you’re one of my classmates, you might already have a good idea what your characters think of you. Continue reading

Learning From A Book I Didn’t Enjoy

I read novels for entertainment and escape from everyday life. Since I started writing in 2009, I read them differently. Now, I also look for what works—and what doesn’t—for my tastes. And I’ve made a discovery.

I learn more about writing from books I don’t like than from those I enjoy. And the book I just finished reading taught me a lot about my own drafts. I won’t say which one I read, but it was science fiction about time travel. Yes, I was checking out the competition.

Problem 1

Writers are told to begin with action. I was dropped into the action, all right. People hurriedly preparing for assignments, running into colleagues, but never the ones they sought. Changes in plans were everywhere and everyone was complaining. And me? I was floundering. Hey, author—slow down. Who are these people? Why are they time traveling? Can we meet fewer main characters first? It’s the 21st century. Don’t they have cell phones? Shouldn’t someone ask what’s going on with all these changes? Those are just some of my questions from the first two chapters.

What did my test readers say about my initial drafts of Death Out of Time?Who are these time travelers and what are they up to? You’re jumping around so much at the beginning, I can’t get a handle on the main characters. Hmm.

Writers have to provide enough information for readers to connect with the characters and story. Yes, I’ve revised my opening chapters.

Problem 2

I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters. Using my Kindle’s x-ray feature, I learned there were 120 characters or people mentioned. No wonder I couldn’t keep anyone straight. And some characters popped up in the middle of the book with point of view status. But I don’t think I met them before. I didn’t recognize them as “undercover versions” of the previously identified Main Characters. Then they disappeared. I’m still not sure who they were or what their purpose was.

What else did my test readers say? — You’ve got a lot of characters. I had to keep going back to remind myself who they were. Too many have POV status, including some that don’t appear until late in the book.

I had 61 characters originally. So far, 19 have been cut, leaving 42. Fourteen had POV status. We’re down to six. This is far more manageable. Some minor characters are now unnamed, letting the reader know they aren’t important to the larger story. They’re clearly “potted plants” in the room.

Problem 3

Much of this book is set in a particular historic time. And the author goes into excruciating details. Hey, some detail is needed. And I don’t begrudge an author a chance to showcase his research skills. But don’t overdo it. I was skimming sections in no time to find some action. I’m someone who doesn’t mind more details than the average reader. If you lose me, you’ve lost a lot of readers. If the author had cut half of this information, a “sequel” wouldn’t be needed.

So guess what test readers pointed out in my work — You dump a lot of information in some sections. Some dialogue provides information to the reader, but the speakers already know it. They shouldn’t be talking this way. The story slows down when you present big chunks of history or details.

You bet I’m working on this.

Problem 4

Finally, authors are told to put Main Characters through hell, and then send them back for more. This provides tension to keep the reader engaged. How will the Mains pull through? This is good storytelling. However, I wish I’d see more “expert advice” that warns writers — don’t overdo it.

Everything these characters tried to do was derailed. And I mean everything. Yes, Robin, I mean tried. Nothing went as planned. Was the writer making a point that Time will keep you from changing the past? Possibly. But I’d been hit over the head so many times with all these failures that my brain hurt. Cut some of these scenes, too, and two books wouldn’t be needed to tell the tale.

I haven’t overdone the tension in my drafts. In fact, I’ve been told I need to add more. But I refuse to make Job’s life look easy by comparison.

Off My Soapbox

Okay, enough ranting. But this book reinforced the importance of reading to become a better writer. Many writers in the audience already know this, although a refresher doesn’t hurt. And I hope non-writers enjoy a peek into the behind-the-scenes-work that goes into your favorite books. Few good writers spend their days sipping cocktails on a beach with the Muse. Instead, they’re hard at work, writing your new favorite story.

How about you, writers? Has reading a book you like or didn’t like been more helpful?

Readers—what do writers do that make you toss their books aside in boredom or frustration?

A Writer’s Less Than Supportive Subconscious

I was wondering what to post today. Meghan is still recovering from the heatwave and doesn’t feel very poetic. She’ll be back soon. But Sunday night, my subconscious decided to help. Well, I hope it was help. But I can’t rule out taunting. . . .

I thought I’d be dreaming about spiders this weekend thanks to Susaartandfood’s recent post. If you haven’t checked out Susie’s blog yet, you should. She tells great stories and shares fantastic recipes. But no such luck. Honestly, spiders might have been better than the dream I had Sunday night.

In that dream I found myself at one of my undergraduate colleges (there were two—I transferred). I walked past a classroom and saw my old freshman English professor. Of course, he hadn’t aged a day, but I recognized him by the copy of The Little, Brown Reader by his desk. (Yes, strange. Remember, this was a dream.)

I happily walked in and introduced myself as one of his former students. This, after all, was the professor who in the real world told me my writing had a great sense of style. And I was one of only two students to get an A for the course. The dream world students sat there as if this was an ordinary occurrence.

He politely asked what I was doing. Did I tell him I was an archaeologist as I do in real life? No, I told him I was writing two novels. And I started telling him about Summer at the Crossroads. I tried an off-the-cuff elevator pitch.

It was horrible. I kept saying things like, “Oh, I should have mentioned,” or, “I know it sounds strange, but trust me, it works.” I apologized for not having a pitch perfected yet. And my happiness deflated with every word as he shook his head and his interest waned.

He did perk up when I tried to explain Catherine’s idea that vivid dreams and déjà vu, for example, are glimpses of our lives in other universes. But what caught his attention wasn’t those two examples. No. It was “favorite fantasies of an alternate life.” I had to explain I didn’t mean those kinds of fantasies. He was disappointed. (And, guys, I apologize for my subconscious stereotyping your reactions.)

As I lamely finished, he said,” I thought I remembered you, but I was mistaken.”

Mercifully, I woke up.

But you can imagine how I felt Monday morning. If this was my subconscious trying to help with an idea for a blog post, it could have given me something more encouraging.

After all, writers are an insecure lot. Okay, maybe not all. Some have a healthy dose of self-confidences and others could share their overabundance with the rest of us. But most of us question our writing, if not every day, then maybe once a week or a few times a month.

I’m certainly in a questioning state of mind these days. That may be what triggered the dream. I know the Muse gave me two good stories. But even as I work on the revisions, I ask myself—can I turn them into good, well-written books? That’s where my self-doubt comes into play. I know it will pass. At some point I’ll read a section that I like and will think, “This is good.” And my confidence in my writing will return. But that could happen any paragraph now. . . .

Does self-doubt grab you often? How do you subdue it?