Archive for January, 2015

The Reliability of Beta Readers vs Length of Book

Ah, beta readers. An essential tool for most writers, and yet, sometimes, one of the most infuriating.

A beta reader, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is a reader to whom you give a draft of your story, with the plan that they will read said story and point out potential issues to you. These can run the gambit from seasoned writers who can point out what is wrong and why, to friends and family who may be able to give you good feedback but also might just tell you they like it and how proud they are that you’ve written a story.

Anyway, I like them, because I like the feedback, and it helps me hone my editing process before I get started, resulting in fewer drafts before I have a viable manuscript.

But, as useful as they are, sometimes they can be a little aggravating, and this mostly stems from deadlines. I like to give my betas at least three months (longer for longer books) to go through my stories. Personally, if I’m beta-ing for someone else, I prefer shorter deadlines (a few weeks to a month) but most people I know just panic in those situations.

(I am talking novel-length stories–three months for a short story is a little ridiculous.)

If you ask someone to read a flash story for you, they will probably do it immediately. Short stories of a couple thousand words can get done in an hour or a day or two. And people stay on top of these sort of stories, no problems. But when you get longer–50,000 words, 100,000 words, or more–your response rate plummets.

(I admit the first time a beta didn’t get back to me I panicked–was she dead? Had she stolen my story? What on Earth was happening?–especially since she also seemed to be avoiding me, but I am old and cynical now.)

Still, with a single book, I’d say you get 80% of your comments eventually, though you’ll probably have to hunt down a few people and poke them with a stick. Some repeatedly.

I recently finished the first draft of the third book of a trilogy, and I offered all three books to some betas who had not read the previous books. Several people accepted. And here is where I have learned a new beta lesson.

Seven people got all three books. This was last April. I asked for comments by the end of October. Number of people who completed all three books within the time frame? One.

Number of people who have read all three books at all? Two.

Now, admittedly, a high fantasy trilogy is a daunting thing to undertake, and I understand that. I’m still hoping I will eventually get comments from the other five, hopefully before the end of February, because I really do value the feedback I get.

But in the future? I think a book at a time will probably be the max.

How about you, Squiders? Love betas, hate them? What sort of deadlines (or do you use deadlines) do you give, and how well does that work? Any tips or tricks to suggest?

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The Hobbit Movies: Actually True to the Book?

So, Squiders, I finally did it! I finally, after twenty years and who knows how many times of trying, have read The Hobbit.

(I’ve read the Lord of the Rings multiple times and had no trouble with The Silmarillion, so this has always baffled me a little.)

Anyway, it had to be done, since I’ve seen all the Hobbit movies and people have tried to have conversations with me about them. One person asked me if I remembered how the Battle of Five Armies went in the book and I had to admit I’d never finished the book (and had been totally unaware that there was anything of note past Smaug).

But now I have, and now I can have opinions.

The Hobbit movies have gotten a lot of flack, both for length (three movies out of a 300 page book!) and for content (new characters! too much Legolas! kdsfjdskfhdskfjs orcs!) and in some cases the complaints are justified. But for people who wanted a true-to-the-book, page-to-film translation–I just don’t think there was any way to do that.

Why? First of all, it would feel confined. If they’d done the Hobbit first, sure, it would be possible, but knowing that the Hobbit ties into LOTR, and knowing the world that exists, it would feel wrong to leave all that out just to conform to what’s on the page. The Hobbit was written first and, while Tolkien went back and revised it after LOTR to tie in a little more. And, while it’s more simplistic, there are hints throughout of something larger going on.

Gandalf is gone for most of the story (there’s a single line when he comes back that he was off dealing with the necromancer, and then he and Elrond have a vague conversation on the subject on the way back to the Shire), but why not show it? The book is from Bilbo’s point of view (well, it’s more omniscient, but most of the time we’re focused on Bilbo, though there is a long aside about Lake-town and Bard which is a little strange since Bard was not mentioned at all before Smaug, even when they’re in Lake-town) but movies tend to be from outside any particular character, so why not show what other people are doing too?

And honestly, I thought it was cool to show how the events of this time period were directly connected to the events from LOTR.

About content changes, well. It’s a matter of taste, I think. I was a little put off about the addition of Tauriel when I first heard about her, but in the end I thought she was okay. Plus there’s the fact that, without her, there is not a single female character otherwise (except for a couple of appearances by Galadriel–who is also not in the book–and whose handling I felt was very strange, honestly). And her addition helps differentiate Kili (and to some extent Fili) from the otherwise indistinguishable sea of dwarves. Changing Azog and Bolg to orcs instead of goblins? Ties into the LOTR storyline better, I suppose. I’m a bit iffy about them. The addition of the orcs hunting the dwarves the whole way certainly ups the tension but I’m not sure about it from a story telling point of view.

Overall, though? I feel like the Hobbit movies fit the world and the story that was established in the LOTR movies. Though I did feel that BotFA was kind of dumb action for most of it.

(And, if you are reading this, no, Bilbo only leaves the mountain once to talk to Bard/the Elvenking, just like in the movie.)

How did you feel about the movies, Squiders? What parts did you feel were okay changes, and which were unforgivable?

Oh, and I’ve got two announcements:

  • I’m now offering coaching services through my editing business.
  • I’ve set up a Patreon where you can get doodles, stories, updates and other assorted goodies.

Go check them out!

How Important is Your Writing Space?

We’re just going to question everything, apparently.

I’ve seen a lot of talk lately about the importance of setting up your writing space. In theory, I think this is supposed to increase your productivity or the ease of your writing flow or something along those lines.

And do they?

You’ll have to correct me, Squiders, if I am wildly off-base, but I kind of feel like the whole “writing space” thing is just a way to procrastinate set up as creativity.

Is it good to have some place dedicated to writing? Oh, probably. You certainly need somewhere where you can work, where your kids/significant other/cat won’t bother you, some place where you can relax and get things done. But does it need to be this big ToDo, with fancy wall hangings and inspired decor?

I would argue no.

Why?

Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I write all over the place. I write at the library. I write at various coffee shops. And even around the house, I write in the office, at the dining room table, in front of the TV while my husband plays Skyrim. Sometimes I write in bed (though not often because frankly it’s not that comfortable and because the laptop gets suspiciously hot to the touch).

And maybe there are people out there who can only write in one spot, and only if things are laid out in the best creative feng shui, but that seems inefficient to me and I kind of feel sorry for those people.

But because people like these sort of things, here’s my “writing space” (where I am currently writing this blog post, and where I do my freelance editing work, and write my serial and short stories, and sometimes novels, and also where I pay my bills, play on Tumblr, and listen to the current music of choice).

The space itself:
Writing space

You’ll notice there’s lots of books. And tribbles. And crocheted squids.

You’ll also notice that it’s wedged in the corner instead of facing my lovely, large bay window where I could, in theory, spy on my neighbors, because my “writing space” shares a room with my husband’s desk, the filing cabinet, our library, and occasionally a large puzzle in the middle of being done.

books

Here’s a sampling of books.

And here’s the one attempt I made at one point toward having a “proper” writing space:

Writing flair

They say “Imagine, Create, Inspire” and I never ever look at them.

So, what do you think, Squiders? Do you need a writing space? Or is that time that could be better used actually writing?

Do Writing Prompts Work?

Ah, writing prompts. They’re everywhere. Daily ones, writing exercise ones, lists of prompts, music prompts, picture prompts. But how effective are they?

Well, it depends.

It depends on lots of things. What your goals are. What you’re hoping to get out of a prompt. What frame of mind you’re in.

Some people swear by them. Some people can only use a particular type–music, or pictures. Song lyrics or poetry. Short phrases or given beginnings.

Sometimes a prompt can be just what you need to get through a rough spot in a draft, or to jump start your writing after a dry patch. But I feel like sometimes people rely on them too much. But that goes back to the goal thing. If someone just wants to write something every day, for fun, for themselves, then good for them. Prompts work great for that.

And I feel like a lot of excellent short story ideas can also come from prompts.

But sometimes, I think, people get lost in them. They write and write and write, but never advance, never finish anything, never share anything.

If that’s your end goal–just writing–then great. But a lot of people want more, and they get bogged down.

Not all prompts work for all people. I prefer lyrics, but sometimes pictures work as well. Concepts work better, such as genre mixes or themes. If I can’t immediately see some sort of SFF connection to a prompt it normally doesn’t work at all.

How about you guys, Squiders? Do you like prompts or feel like they’re a waste of time? How often do you use them? What type works the best?

Even Outlining Goes Awry

Ah, outlining. Some people hate it. Some people swear by it. The longer I’ve written professionally, the more I’ve come to like outlining, both as a writing tool, but more as an editing tool.

One of the last steps I do before I start in on a major edit is to create a new outline for the story. (At this point, I’ve already identified plot and character issues, missing worldbuilding, etc.) And then I go through and see what’s salvageable from the original draft and link it to the new outline, so I can reuse things or move them around instead of rewriting everything from scratch.

And I make note on each new scene of the associated old scenes, and how much of the original scene is useable. Sometimes a scene is brand new, and needs to be written from scratch. Other times, the original scene is more or less fine as is, and just needs some line editing here and there. Every other one falls somewhere in between.

Doing it this well tends to be very beneficial, because it helps me know the amount of work a particular scene will take, and how much time I need to budget for it.

But, as lovely as this method is, it’s not always fool proof.

Take my current scene for an example. My notes denoted that the original scene was about half useable, though I would need to pull in information from a couple of later scenes. It’s always a bit of a pain in the neck to graft scenes onto each other, but you know how it goes–sometimes things simply aren’t in the right place the first time through.

In this case, though, my notes ended up completely wrong. The scene needs a complete rewrite. There’s almost nothing that’s useable from it.

Some people argue that outlining means there’s nothing to discover in your story. I think it’s cases like this that proves that statement wrong. This was a fairly detailed outline, with everything in its place to make sure that I’m getting the most out of my editing process.

Part of it is an evolution process. When I outlined, this scene seemed perfectly reasonable. And indeed, the characters involved, and the order of events, are fine. It’s the nuances that no longer work–conversations sharing information that came out earlier, or changes in the characters’ relationships that make a particular set of actions no longer make any sense. It’s hard to predict that sort of thing, no matter how much work you put in.

Any opinions on outlining, especially for editing, Squiders? Tips or tricks you’ve found really work?

Tie-in Fiction Friday: Star Trek #8 Black Fire

Here’s something I’m going to try out on and off throughout the year, Squiders. I think there’s a bit of stigma against tie-in fiction, to some extent. And I don’t mean a book that gets made into a movie (though one could argue that there is some stigma against the movie, in such cases), as that’s a completely different case, but a book that’s based off a movie or a TV show or a video game or whatever.

Why the stigma? I think a lot of people see tie-in fiction as just a way whatever company is trying to milk more money from whatever the source material is. Books get “cranked out” by the dozens, farmed to random writers, continuity may or may not be observed, etc.

But how bad are they really? No doubt it varies wildly from franchise to franchise, and also within franchises, but I thought I’d give some a try. I’ve got a ton of Star Trek books I haven’t read since I was a kid, ditto Star Wars (though, do we bother with the new movies erasing the EU?), a Doctor Who ebook, a ton of D&D books (that my husband bought me to help me understand the universe better), and, if we get really wild, I’ll read back through the Myst books which I remember being excellent (…a long time ago).

Should be fun, if nothing else.

So, to start us off, today I’m offer Star Trek #8 Black Fire by Sonni Cooper, written in 1983. Amazon tells me she also published some romance novels in the ’80s, and has put out some other books in the last few years.

Black Fire was one of my favorite Trek novels as a kid. What I remembered most going into reading this was that Spock spends a significant amount of time being a space pirate (named Black Fire, hence the title). So, there’s the premise for you. Spock. Space pirate.

Well, in actuality, the space pirate part is a much smaller portion than what I remember. The book holds up better than I expected it to, but it still is a little lacking in characterization (not capturing the characterization of the original series characters so much as expecting the readers to know them well enough to fill in the blanks). The plot is still fun, and perhaps the weaknesses in characterization are to avoid making the twist ending too obvious.

She gets bonus points for her Romulans. (I love the Romulans and am always pleased when they’re properly portrayed.)

Is this a good novel? I think without being familiar with the source material, a reader would be extremely lost. That’s probably true of most tie-ins, I would think. Is it a good Trek novel? I would put it middle of the range. I read another Trek novel, Enterprise: The First Adventure, a few years back, expecting it to be cracky goodness, but that was actually a much stronger book, both from a Trek novel and a general novel standpoint.

Verdict? Okay. A quick read. Very trek-y. Read Enterprise: The First Adventure instead. There’s no space pirates but there is a space circus.

Read Black Fire, Squiders? Have any tie-in books you’d recommend?

Looking Forward at 2015

Woo! Does anyone else find the holidays absolutely exhaust them? I look forward to them every year, but by the end, I’m happy to return to the normal routine of everyday life.

So! We’ve got a bright, shiny new year, full of potential! I’m not really a resolution sort of person, and I don’t really even like to plan too far ahead, in case I change my mind, or something happens, or I come across a fantastic idea that needs immediate doing. But I have laid out a vague plan for the year, and am going to try some new things.

General plan for the year:

For my main projects this year, the plan is to switch off between an editing project and a writing project. First up is finishing the edit on my YA paranormal novel, which should be done by the end of the month. Then I plan to finish the first draft of my scifi adventure from Nano. And then, in theory, I’ll do the chainsaw edit on the first book of my high fantasy trilogy. I’m not sure where I’ll go from there–nor am I sure how far through the year that all will take me. Book One needs quite a bit of tweaking, so that could take most of my time.

Marketing and submitting happens co-currently with the above as necessary.

New Things:

I’ve been toying with branching out in some new directions.

  • Nonfiction: I’m looking at putting out some nonfiction ebooks–focusing on writing motivation and process, as well as some speculative fiction studies. Also maybe some formatting and editing books for people who are planning on self-publishing.
  • Serial Fiction: The serial form seems to be making a comeback, especially in digital form, and I’d like to look more into it and maybe give it a try.
  • Comics: I’ve been looking at translating the Landsquid into some sort of more coherent project for a while now, and a comic book/graphic novel format may be what I’m looking for.
  • Audiobooks: I think this would be fun, though I’m not sure I have everything I need to make it happen.
  • Cooperative Writing: I’ve written novels with other people before, but always more for fun and experimentation, but I’d like to approach a couple of people about trying some more serious projects.

So! That’s a busy year. And I’m still going to do short stories and so forth around everything else.

How about you, Squiders? Trying anything fun for 2015? Any major goals?