Showing, Telling, and Paddling Ducks

“Show, don’t tell.”

That’s the mantra that gets hammered into the head of every beginning writer. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class or attended a writer’s conference, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of, “Don’t say ‘Sally is sad.’ Show us Sally being sad.” This leads to painting a picture of Sally’s sad expression, describing the teardrops streaking her face, and detailing Sally’s posture and movements in a way that makes it clear to readers just how unhappy Sally is.

That’s good advice, as far as it goes. The problem is that for most people, external emotional responses are just a tiny part of their actual reaction. Indeed, one of the most important things we learn as we grow from childhood to adulthood is to hide our emotions.

It’s like that famous quote, usually attributed to actor Michael Caine: “Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.” If your characters are to come off as real people, most of their emotional reactions are going to be entirely internal. And if we only ever describe the tranquility above the surface, our readers might never guess at the frantic paddling that’s going on down below.

My Own Achilles’ Heel

I’m blessed to be in a writing group with three perceptive readers who are diligent at reminding me when I’m not telling enough. We submit our chapters to each other using Google Docs, and we use the platform’s commenting feature extensively. When my group reviews my writing, the most common response I get from them is something along the lines of, “Where’s the emotional response?”

Okay, I’ll be honest. Sometimes I just forget. What happens, I think, is that I get lazy and assume that readers will take their own emotional response to the story and project it onto the POV character. This usually falls flat. Just as often, though, I’ll write a character’s physical response but forget to dig into the inner reaction to help carry the story along.

So I submit my chapters. The next day, I’ll open up them up to see a comment from Kris: “How does she feel about what just happened?” Mike has responded to Kris with something like, “I was wondering the same thing.” Inevitably, Kelli has added, “That makes three of us.”

That’s how I know I need to go back and revise.

Show and Tell

In a guest post on WritersDigest.com, author Joshua Henkin calls “show, don’t tell” the “Great Lie of Writing Workshops.” As he explains:

“A story is not a movie is not a TV show, and I can’t tell you the number of student stories I read where I see a camera panning. Movies are a perfectly good art from [sic], and they’re better at doing some things than novels are—at showing the texture of things, for instance. But novels are better at other things. At moving around in time, for example, and at conveying material that takes place in general as opposed to specific time…. But most important, novels can describe internal psychological states, whereas movies can only suggest them through dialogue and gesture (and through the almost always contrived-seeming voiceover, which is itself a borrowing from fiction).”

Showing is good. We have to show. But the best writers also embrace telling as a technique that allows them to provide much better insight into what the duck is doing down there with its little webbed feet.

As author Lee Child says, “We’re not story showers. We’re story tellers.”

Balancing Show and Tell

I’m still learning how to use both showing and telling effectively in my own writing. Honestly, it’s been difficult for me. From my work with my writing group, though, I can single out four suggestions that have really helped me improve.

1. Keep your POV character(s) in mind.

If you’re writing in first person, you’re telling pretty much all the time. The conceit of first person is that the reader is getting a direct feed of the point-of-view character’s inner monologue. This can lead to a vivid, unique voice that’s difficult to achieve from other points of view.

Stories in third person unlimited aren’t as common as they used to be. With this POV, the narrative voice drifts in and out of heads, reading the thoughts and emotional reactions of whatever character makes sense at the moment. In contrast, with third person limited the inner voice comes through a single character who is the focus of the book, chapter, or section.

Regardless of how you deal with points of view, it’s critical to consider how your characters would react to everything happening around them. Knowing your characters—their wants and needs, strengths and weaknesses, goals and regrets—is the easy part. Translating those character traits into genuine human reactions is where things get really tough.

2. Take an “all of the above” approach.

We usually start by showing. Your characters say and do things. They act and react. Even the “stage directions” that accompany your dialogue can go a long way towards portraying realistic human responses. A sidelong glance, a cock of the eyebrow, or a sudden intake of breath all say something to the reader.

Beneath all the “camera and microphone” stuff is the internal dialogue. You can present your characters’ direct thoughts (“Geez—what’s her problem?“), or you can report their thoughts in third person (“Gwendolyn wondered what Julie’s problem was.”). The things your characters notice and internally comment on can go a long way toward rounding out your POV characters’ responses.

If you do this enough, you’ll often find yourself monitoring your own thoughts and feelings, gauging your own private reactions to things as they happen to you, so you can use your responses later in your writing. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself wondering whether your personal reactions might be a little different if you weren’t watching them like a fly on the wall of your own brain.

Yeah, Heisenberg is kind of a jerk.

3. Do an “emotional response” edit pass.

My experience with my writing group has told me that I need to spend more time crafting my characters’ reactions to emotion-inducing events. As I’m getting my chapters ready for review, I set aside time to go methodically through each section, noting response-worthy moments and checking the narrative for appropriate reactions.

There are so many things to consider as you do this. Aside from your characters’ actual reactions, you have to figure out the right way to couch them in the voice you’ve chosen. In fast-paced action sequences, your characters may not have much time to respond to things. It may take a beat or two (or the end of the action) until your characters’ heads and hearts can catch up. If your story uses a “scene-sequel” structure, you may provide an immediate reflex to the emotional high points and then amplify your characters’ reactions in the scenes that follow.

However you choose to do it, explicitly tying the big moments in your story to specific reactions in your characters can solidify the impact these moments have on your reader.

4. Ask readers for help.

No matter how much effort I put into fine-tuning my characters’ responses, I always miss something. Usually multiple somethings. The amazing people in my writing group know me well enough that they instinctively look for off-key or absent reactions in the chapters I submit for review.

If you have similar challenges in your own writing, you can ask your readers to be specifically on the lookout for areas where characters’ emotional reactions don’t seem to meet their expectations. Give them a shorthand comment or a specific highlight color to use to indicate particular passages where a little telling could supplement what you’re already showing. Once others have helped identify the problem passages, go back to your characters to find out what their inner (and outer) responses should be.

My own writing has benefited from this process. I hope yours does, too.

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David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, shoots guns, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play is published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

Feedback

We are so excited to welcome John Scovill as our newest contributor! 

I have many different identities, like many of you who read this. If you were to check out my Twitter, you would see those identities listed. First, I am a father of three awesome and rambunctious kids, but after that, I am a teacher.

Before my current position, I taught sixth grade language arts for two years and was able to read a plethora of writing. I also gave feedback to thousands of students. Educational researcher John Hattie says that, “feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative.” Can you think of a time when feedback given to you was either negative or positive?

As writers, we give feedback to our peers in our writing groups or just friends who asks, “Can you read this?” But do we really know if one, our feedback is effective and two, if our feedback is moving the writer in a positive or negative way? Just know that feedback is a “consequence” of performance.

Children and adults need three positive contacts to erase one negative. This could also be true for feedback.

I have had many instances being on the receiving end of feedback. As a new writer, it is always comforting to know that my published writing friends have self-doubts about their writing. I know that I am not alone.

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Recently, I was given two “rounds” of feedback on two different pieces of writing. I even paid for this feedback. These were my two pieces of feedback:

Feedback One: The reader read two pages (I could tell because there were no scribbles on the remaining three pages), asked me a few questions (I admit, I have a hard time talking about my writing), and said, “you aren’t going home and rewriting, you are going home and outlining.” Okay, thanks for the direction at $40. How do I outline? Where do I start? What should I ditch? What should I save? Where is my starting point? Is there a nugget of hope in this writing? No answers. I was disappointed.

Feedback Two: After a few weeks, I get an email with corrections and a few thoughts in parts. All were negative. Again, no little nugget of hope.

After this, I felt like giving up. My writing is horrible. Why even try. I am not going to any more writing conferences until I can figure this out. These were the thoughts I was having.

I talked to a friend recently who has been on a long road to publication and has shown that perseverance is key, said, “I don’t let people read my writing. Too many cooks in the kitchen. I write. And maybe I will show it to at least two other knowledgeable people that know me. That’s it. When too many people look at your writing, it doesn’t give you any direction as to where to go.”

I loved this and have taken it to heart.

Many people don’t know how to give proper, helpful, useful feedback. Many people don’t have the time, nor are invested in the story you are writing to truly care about the feedback they give.

Effective feedback must answer three major questions: Where am I going? (What are the goals?), How am I going? (What progress is being made toward the goal?), and Where to next? (What activities need to be taken to make better progress?)

Some ideas to think about with each question:

Where am I going?

How is the character reaching his/her goal? What is the goal of the character? What is my goal as a writer? What problem does the character have?

How am I going?

What progress is the character making towards reaching their goal? What is my progress in reaching my goal? How is the character going to reach their goal(s)? What shifts do I need to make to enable the character to reach the end goal, or little goals along the way?

Where to next?

As the writer, what plot holes or lagging areas do I need to address? Does a twelve- year-old actually say this or think this way? How can I fix it? What goals can I make as a writer to fix these mistakes and move the story forward?

Feedback shouldn’t discourage the writer from writing, but move the writer along with their writing. If you don’t have the time, energy, or you’re not invested in the writing or the writer, please don’t offer feedback (even for money), because feedback should offer answers and hope for the writer.

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John Scovill is originally from Iowa and has since lived in Arizona, Texas, and now Utah. He is a father, a husband, a teacher – now school administrator, and a writer. He hopes to hear from you at lit360degrees@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnlit360

Building Up Others Through Critiquing

A couple months ago, I heard someone talk about his experiences with a demolition project in a nearby city. He talked about surveying the property and how they set up the charges and what it felt like watching the building come down.

But then he made the comment that they were able to destroy in less than a day what took months—or possibly even years—to build. He said, “It is much, much easier to destroy something than it is to build it.”

I’ve thought about this a lot since then and about what, within my sphere of influence, I can build up rather than destroy. And I’m trying to do those things. Somethings are small things, like trying to smile and say, “Good morning,” to more people as I walk down the street or choosing to be happy instead of grumpy (which is often harder than it looks).

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There are other things, too, like critiquing manuscripts. It’s easy for me to be impatient and see only the perceived flaws in something. But that’s not the best way. One thing that has really impressed me with the workshops in my master’s program is how kind almost everyone is. They are so good at pointing out the good and encouraging growth instead of tearing down. This kind of attitude, where no one is trying to prove how much better they are by trashing someone else’s project, allows everyone to learn better.

I know I learn better that way. I learn so much better when someone points out what I’m doing right rather than focusing solely on what I’m doing wrong. And I know in parenting that kids do much better when they’re praised and encouraged instead of constantly yelled at. That’s just human nature.

But it’s oh, so much easier to destroy something than it is to build it up…

Wait, you might be saying. Isn’t critiquing supposed to point out the problems?

In a way. Critiquing is intended to help writers improve, but they first need some idea of what’s working. It’s also important for writers (who tend to be neurotic and in need of lots of reassurance) to know what they’re doing well and to feel like they have potential. And then, once they know that, you can encourage them to improve the other things, the things that aren’t working so well, to the same level as the good.

It’s not always easy to critique a manuscript like that, but I’ve found that when I go to a manuscript looking for the good, I can always find it. And when I start focusing on that, I can start to see where I can improve my own writing in subtle ways that I hadn’t noticed before. So instead of picking up a critique looking to find out what’s bad in it (and no book is ever perfect), try to look for the good and help that to grow. Try to build up and encourage and you might be surprised at what you learn along the way.

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Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.

Six (Sets of) Questions to Ask as a Beta Reader


If you’ve been writing for very long at all, you know that one of the critical tools in any writer’s arsenal is good readers. Sometimes these readers may come in the form of a critique group (sometimes called alpha readers) who read the story in progress. Often, they come in the form of beta readers–other writers and readers that read the entire novel and give feedback on the overall shape of the story. Personally, I think most writers–especially in the early stages–need both. 
But finding good readers can be tricky, particularly since, if you’ve asked another writer to read your work, there’s an implicit understanding that you’ll read theirs in turn. And being a good reader can be even harder. There are lots of blog posts out there on how to start a story. There aren’t nearly as many posts on how to read a story in order to give feedback. My aim here is to give you six (sets–okay, I’m cheating a little!) of questions to help you as a beta reader.

(If you’re reading this hoping to find directions on how to find a beta reader, may I direct you here instead?)
When you’re reading another author’s manuscript, the most important thing you can do is read as a reader–think about how you respond as a reader and try to articulate that response to the other writer. It goes without saying that your feedback should be honest and kind: someone has trusted you with their precious words, and you need to respect that trust. 
Also, don’t overwhelm the writer by detailing everything that you think needs fixing. Try to focus on a few areas that will make the biggest difference in revision. At this stage, you want to focus on big picture issues (plot, setting, pacing, character, mood and voice) rather than local issues (phrasing, grammar, style), since local issues are often things that might change in revision anyway.
Below, I offer questions you can ask as you read someone else’s manuscript to help pinpoint what suggestions to offer. (Alternately, you can also use these questions to guide beta readers who are new to critiquing. This is especially helpful if, say, you’re asking your roommate or partner to read for you. Though I also recommend branching out to other readers!) 

Questions about Plot:

Where does the story really begin?
Is it clear what the MC wants (consciously or subconsciously)–and is most of the action driven by her choices in pursuit of that?
Is most of the action rising action that escalates the conflict?
Where does rising action seem weak?
Where could readers use a break?
Is the ending satisfying? Why or why not?
The Cockeyed Caravan blog also has a great list of questions about plot.

Questions about Scene and Setting:

Which setting was most memorable—and why?
Does each scene have its own arc (goal-conflict-disaster)?
Does the end of a scene make you want to keep reading?

Questions about Pacing:

Where do you find yourself skimming?
Where do you find yourself wishing the author would slow down?
Where did you stop reading the first time?

Questions about Character:

What character do you enjoy the most—why?
What three words would you use to describe the main character?
Where do characters behave inconsistently?
Do you have trouble distinguishing between any of the characters—and why?
If you had to get rid of a character, who would it be—and why?
Does the main character ever surprise you? When?

Questions about Emotion and Mood:

What scenes made you the most emotional?
What scenes felt emotionally detached?
Does the mood shift in meaningful ways throughout the story?

Questions about Voice:

What three words would you use to describe the voice of this story?
Where is the voice especially distinctive?
Where does the voice seem bland or generic?
Note places where the dialogue bogs down or seems unrealistic.

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com: http://inkygirl.com/comic-use-policy/


By the time you’ve answered these questions, you should have some idea of the strengths of the novel, as well as areas where the writer can improve. As a teacher, I recommend using the sandwich method: start your feedback by praising what the author does well. Then offer suggestions for areas that could be improved. Close by returning to the strengths of the paper. Our goal as beta readers is to encourage the writer to improve their writing–not crush them so completely they refuse to write at all. (And though I’ve practiced this my whole teaching life, I didn’t realize how critical praise as until I got my own edit letter for the first time–the praise was the only thing that saved me, in the face of all the things I needed to work on).

If you’re still looking for more tips on giving feedback, you can check out this post on tips for phrasing your feedback to be most effective and this post on other ways to be awesome at critiquing.
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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is forthcoming March 2017 from Knopf/Random House. She’s represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.

 

When the negative feedback comes…and it will

As writers, we love to hear all the awesome things people think about our writing. And while there is a lot of positive feedback (probably most of which we don’t ever hear about), there is also the opposite. We’re not perfect–and we certainly can’t please everyone–and people will have negative opinions and reactions they choose to share with us individually or with the world through a review or online comment.

I’ve had my fair share of negative feedback in my experience of writing articles. In a few instances, people have decided to not only complain about what I wrote, but also took personal jabs at me. The first time this happened, I was literally can’t-breathe-crying-in-my-closet. I’ve seen comments where I’ve been insulted, called names, and had people disagree with my stance. The most shocking times are when people go through my personal blog to email me and spread their negativity in a direct message.

I believe in the mantra “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Why do people go out of their way to be mean? I have no idea. However, as writers, we need to expect it to come so we can be ready for it. Also, there are times when what we perceive as negativity is actually a good thing.

You think it’s negative, but it’s actually constructive.

If you’re a serious writer, you probably have a critique group or partners who read what you’ve written and give you honest feedback. We may not always want to hear what they have to say. However, give it a few days to settle in your mind rather than getting upset. Think about what they said. Will it really make your writing better? If yes, do it! You may not always agree with what they said, and that’s okay too.

Rejection letters.

We’re all bound to get at least a few of these in our writing careers. Rejections hurt. Don’t take it personally. If you received feedback, read it and see if you think it’s valid. Sometimes, the rejection comes not because your writing is bad, but because it’s not a match with that particular agent, editor, or publishing house. Or, they may already have another manuscript they’re publishing that is very similar to yours. Make any necessary changes and submit to the next publisher/agent in your queue.

Comments from editors. 

When you get the “yes” from a publisher, it’ll go through an editing process, which often means revisions for you. These can feel like you’re doing it all wrong, but it’s actually a good thing (uh, hello, they still want to publish you!). Sometimes it’s hard to see parts of your writing that may not be working because you’re too close to it–maybe mentally filling in some of the missing key details. They may want you to take out a favorite scene or make some bigger changes. It can feel negative, but after you let it settle and work through the changes, you’ll see that it’s a great move for your writing.

Reviews from readers. 

The reviews you find online are simply someone else’s opinion. You may agree with it or you may not. Some may have a valid point about something they didn’t liked, while others may really be a negativity troll. Negative reviews hurt. You’ve put your heart and soul into creating a beautiful story, put it out into the world, and now you have readers being critical and harsh. If you can go without reading comments, that’s a great way to go, but it’s so darn tempting! Find a way to laugh it off or see it for what it is–an opinion. Not everyone is going to like what you write or how you wrote it. Some will be vocal about it. But, there will be people who LOVE what you wrote. You’re writing for them! Don’t let bad reviews derail your writing.

Don’t let the negativity get you down, but be ready for it. Some of it is necessary and constructive, but, as for the rest, take Taylor Swift’s advice and “shake it off.”

Above all, keep writing and improving.
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Wendy Jessen is the author of more than 300 articles—book reviews as well as family-oriented articles on familyshare.com. She somehow manages to do that with 6 spirited children ranging in age from 4 to 13 under toe. In the throes of writing her first book, she finds ways to procrastinate which usually involves scrolling through social media. Wendy often stays up way past her bedtime reading YA or other fiction. She loves kid-free date night with her husband, family vacations, and kids’ bedtime, aka, the human version of whack-a-mole.

Beta Readers

One of the biggest differences I see between work that is tightly paced and well-plotted and work that is not, is nothing in the story—it’s a tool that is entirely outside of the story that often makes or breaks it: beta readers.

When someone else’s book isn’t working for me, the most frequent thought I have is, “Man, they needed better beta readers.” That’s because I read like a writer. If I read like a NORMAL person, I would think, “Ugh, that had some really boring parts,” or “Eighteen million things just happened in that scene and I have no idea what’s going on,” or “I call BS. That never would have happened.”

But I’m a writer, not a normal person, and so I know the problem with the story I’m holding is that it got to me without going through the right beta readers first. You need them. And you need good ones. So let’s tackle 1) what they are 2) why you need them, and 3) how to find them.

A beta reader is someone who is looking at a second draft—or later—of your work. They should not be first drafts. No one should be looking at your first drafts except for you. If you MUST show a first draft to someone, it should be a critique partner/group and no one else. Beta readers are different than critique partners. They’re not really looking at things at the line level. You need them to respond to the story as a whole, so they should be looking at the entire story at once, not chunks as you finish them.

Ideally, they should be looking at your work when it’s as good as you know how to make it. Then they’ll find what’s not working, and you’ll fix it, and now you’ve got something.

Beta readers don’t have to be writers to be effective. They just need to have a good sense of story and know when something is falling apart. Honestly, they don’t have to explain why it doesn’t work, just that it doesn’t. They need to be able to react to your work the way your non-author readers, who are your real audience, will. For example, one of the first beta readers I lucked into had graduated in English and loved the fluffy genre I was aspiring to write in. She read my first manuscript and would mark things with “Pulled me out of the story.” She couldn’t explain WHY it did, only that it stopped her short. It was my job to figure out the problem each time I saw that note. Was it that I had a character speaking or acting in a way that seemed contrary to their nature? Had I included a distracting detail?

One of the best things you can do is find a beta reader who is willing to flag something as “Boring.” YES! I can work with boring! I know I must have gotten too bogged down in something, or I need to break up exposition with some dialogue to speed it up.

Basically, a beta reader should be a litmus test to tell you at one point a future actual reader might check out of your book, and you then go to work figuring out how to fix it so no one checks out.
The hardest part is finding beta readers. You’ll be able to find plenty of people who will pat you on the head. That’s validating, maybe, but . . . well, it’s not actually helpful. “It’s good!” or “I liked it!” won’t make your story better. So here are a couple of Do and Don’t suggestions.

1. Don’t ask published authors to look at your work.

I know this sounds mean, but you are asking them to make a major investment of their time, experience, and skill and they’ll get nothing in return. This is a lot like asking a surgeon to perform an eight hour surgery, pro bono.  Published authors spend years honing their craft, and asking them to invest 10-20 hours in YOUR work instead of theirs isn’t fair.

2. Don’t ask family to read it.

If they’re objective enough to give you helpful feedback . . . you know what? They won’t be. And if they are, you probably won’t listen because relative so-and-so is always critical of you, etc. Mostly they’ll tell you you’re a genius. You’re not. Yet!

3. Do ask other writers in your genre.

They write in it because they love it, so chances are they’ve read widely in it too. They’ll know the conventions and be able to tell you when you’re falling short.

4. This is trickier, but if you have a Goodreads friend who you’ve seen offer consistently thoughtful reviews, ask them if they’ll look at your work.

It’s best if it’s someone you know in real life too, even if it’s not someone you know well, because then you don’t have to worry about piracy/plagiarism.

5. Find an English major.

Bonus points if it’s not a close friend. It’s not that English majors are superior Word Beings so much as it is that they’re used to reading critically. Downside: they can get bogged down in nitpicking at the line level because they think it’s fun (weirdos) and that’s not what you need. Remember, beta reading is about the Big Picture.

6. Writing conferences.

Go to as many as you can, and if they offer critique group sessions or boot camps where you can trade feedback with other aspiring writers, DO IT. Then pay attention to who is giving good feedback and ask if they’re willing to trade manuscripts. Make sure your feedback to the group is good to so that people will want to trade with you.

Which brings me to the final point: IF YOU GET ANOTHER WRITER TO BETA READ FOR YOU, YOU ARE PRETTY MUCH OBLIGATED AT A BLOOD OATH LEVEL AND BY ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY TO RETURN THE FAVOR.

Over the years, I’ve figured out which beta readers are going to be good at identifying problems with plot versus character, etc. And I also know where I want to use them in my process.

I started with my first manuscript by sending it to as many readers as would agree to look at it, and then assessed who really gave me helpful feedback. Over the next several manuscripts, I fine-tuned what round to use readers in, always trying a new reader or two with every manuscript to figure out who to make a regular part of my process.

In the first round: those who are going to tell me if the story is going to work for the casual fan.
Round two is someone who is going to flag spots with notes like, “Too much talking,” or “She’s being too bratty here.” The final round is going to the people who, no matter how good I think a manuscript is, will still find ways it needs to be improved. They are my FAVORITE. When you find them, treat them like GOLD.

And the funny thing is, the more you act as that kind of beta readers for others, the more of those Golden Betas you’ll find. Magic, huh? And inversely, if you’re pouring your heart out in a beta read for someone and don’t get much back when they read for you, drop them (just ghost them, don’t be mean) and move on. That’s not an equitable relationship.

All right, go forth and get betas, my pretties. Fly! Fly!

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Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and champion shopper. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and romance novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Melanie is a former English teacher who loves to laugh and make others laugh. In her down time (ha!), she writes romantic comedies for Covenant and maintains her humorous slice-of-life blog. Her sixth novel, Always Will, hits shelves in October. Melanie’s contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin.

Writing Shoes, Which Do You Use?

We are excited to welcome our newest contributor, Christie Perkins!

I’ve been known for wearing the wrong shoes.

I’d clonk one mile uphill (both ways) in chunky shoes to pick the kids up from school. I’ve marched down a marathon hill in Germany in flip flop clod hoppers. Yes, downhill. It caused severe distress on the toe flap, but the castle nestled in the bottom of a forest was totally worth the experience. And if you must know, I’ve fashion crashed in chocolate loafers paired with a black swimsuit.

Gasp.

But in all of this I had one defining moment when I wore the right shoes. One real moment that mattered. I’ll get to it later.

Writing is like wearing all the wrong shoes. These wrong shoes still take you places.  Sure, it’s accompanied by pain, suffering, and embarrassment.  But, all of these feats are gearing you up for success. I speak from experience.

How the Wrong Shoes 

Can Get You on the Right Track

Flip Flop Writing:

Whatever flips into your brain you scrawl down without thought to your ultimate purpose.  You try to formulate a brilliant idea. Try. Sometimes this writing flips point of view or topic.  Topic flip, focus flop. Next thing you know its flip flopping, belly-flopping all over the place: like fish out of water. Fixing mistakes can be overwhelming.
Solution: 
No worries.  It’s called a first draft.  Writing will never be good unless you allow it to be bad first. So don’t stop at draft number one.  Pin-point problem areas and work on them.  Hate your writing for the moment, but work it to love it.  Know what your direction is and where you are going.  Some people outline.  I don’t.  I simply flip up a post it note on my screen that is stated with my objective so I stay on course.

Stiletto Writing:  

Every sentence is piled high of blurbs of words and verbs. Your backlog of backstory bores readers. Sure, stilettos look good from a distance, but they’re not comfortable. This method is overwriting- and I’ve been somewhat of a pro at this. Your readers get tired because they have to work to absorb all of your meaning.
Solution: 
Get used to cutting your work. Cut, cut, cut. It’ll be easier to walk around in and you and your readers will be happier. Tell us an important piece then leave some wonder up to the reader. Remember not every word in your sentence needs to be creative. Simplify and dazzle us with just one really impactful sentence trickled in here or there.

Smelly Boot Writing: 

Have you ever owned a pair of shoes that stink to everyone else but you can’s smell it? Yeah, well.   Trust what they are saying. It’s not that you stink but the methods you’re using do. Do you consistently get told the same things? (You overwrite. You need more description. There’s holes in your plot. I don’t understand what you are saying.) These are hard to take. But, I’ve learned that when I’ve stepped away from the project and gone back to it- half the time they were right. But only half the time. Are you your own critic?    
Solution: 
Cry and eat peanut butter M&M’s (unless your allergic- scratch that). No, really. If anyone’s ever told you your writing stinks- congrats! You’ve just made your 1st real step in the writing world. Learn methods that work for others but tweak it for you. Throw out what is not working. You are a writer because you love it. Remember that. Don’t give up, just try new methods. These critiques are great opportunities to turn you into a fantastic writer and freshen up your writing.  

House Slipper Writing:  

This writing is casual. You write at your convenience, which is rare anymore. You know you enjoy it but you think you will write when life slows down. Ahem, key word: think. That’s not going to cut it.
Solution: 
Push yourself to new heights. Make goals: write daily (even for 10 minutes), start a blog, find a critique partner, send off a query, edit that first book you hate. What is the next step you need to make in your writing journey? We are all at different levels so don’t compare yourself with a national best seller… be rational. Take a little step today. No more excuses or enjoying bonbons because your time will soon be gone… gone.

Running Shoe Writing:  

So, what if you have your writing mojo? It’s not that writing comes easy, necessarily, but it’s already a habit. You sweat over your work, you can’t catch your breath some days, and sometimes you’re sore with unexpected results. Even winning the race is exhausting. But all of this pushing yourself is getting you somewhere.
Solution:
Keep going but take a break. You’re body and mind need a refresher. If you’ve mentally crashed from hard work, take a day off. Do something you love. If you’ve finished a really big project take a week off. Explore and get new ideas. Catch up on life. But whatever you do, never stop training.

Success:

One day you will be writing and you will realize that you have the right shoes on. You will find yourself running down the street chasing the kid who stole your son’s bike (no lie). And you will think, “Hmm, I knew I needed those shoes today.” And all will be right in your writing world by first plowing through all the wrong shoes. Find what works in your writing, then take off running. Change the world with the right pair of writing shoes. Your toe flap will thank you.May your rugged writing paths eventually be equipped with the right shoes.

Have you ever strapped on the wrong pair of writing shoes?  What did you learn?

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Christie Perkins is a survivor of boy humor, chemo, and faulty recipes. She loves freelance writing and is a nonfiction junkie.  A couple of national magazines have paid her for her work but her biggest paycheck is her incredible family. Christie hates spiders, the dark, and Shepherd’s Pie. Bleh. Mood boosters: white daisies, playing basketball, and peanut butter M&M’s. You can find out more about her at howperkyworks.com.