Beta Readers!

girl-hugging-teddy

That’s how I feel about beta readers right now. They are a wonderful breed of people.

Today I received some surprise feedback on Vengeance Will Come from a beta reader. I’d assumed I wasn’t going to be getting a response, but the email had been left and forgotten in their “draft” folder. Needless to say; every beta reader’s comments are precious, so I feel like I’ve just found a $100 note on the pavement.

It also doesn’t hurt my mood that their comments were largely positive. I can’t begin to express how that spurs me on to continue writing – both to finish this project and others.

You mean I haven’t wasted hundreds of hours writing? You mean you’d willingly pay money for it and be happy you did at the end? Music to my ears.

Of course not every beta reader is so complimentary, and I do genuinely also appreciate the constructive criticism. I know some of my beta readers have picked up on weaknesses – because I had those same doubts. What’s even better is when they detect a problem which I hadn’t seen without their perspective.

 

I’m still looking for a few more readers for up to five chapters of my novel. More details on the previous post.

Lab Rats Sought for Experiment

And by “Lab Rats” I mean generous, heroic, courageous individuals (of course). If that sounds like you, or embodies characteristics that you aspire to, read on…

I’m looking for approximately 10 helpful people who are willing to read up to the first 5 chapters of Vengeance Will Come, my first novel. 

All I’m looking for is an answer to 1-3 simple questions:

  • 1) “Did you make it?” Under normal circumstances (i.e. you just picked this book up of a shelf) would you continue reading, or did you put the book down in boredom before reaching the end of the 5th chapter?
  • If you didn’t make it to the end:
    • 2a) Where did you stop?
    • 2b) Any particular reason why?

Easy, right?

Ideally I’m looking for people who enjoy reading (adult level). In terms of genre, it’s a ‘light’ fantasy/scifi adventure. (* Previous beta readers exempted; I need fresh blood, and, hopefully, a consensus).

At an average reading pace I can tell that will be approximately 30 minute reading time. You could help me realise my dreams in spending a morning commute reading. I’d be very appreciative, especially if you’re willing to answer any follow up questions I might have (not required).

If you’re interested please contact me on [my-first-name].[my-last-name]@internode.on.net (after replacing the bracketed bits), or post a comment below with your contact details.

Naturally I’d request that you don’t send it onto anyone else. (Under Australian law the mere fact I wrote it makes it copyrighted, which is nice).

I’ll fire back an email, and then all you need is a cup of tea or coffee and somewhere comfy to sit…

A Reformation is Needed

One of my earliest posts on this blog was about creating a Story Bible – an in-world encyclopaedia to go with my novel.

It’s somewhat depressing to read in that post:

I am getting closer to finishing my first novel…

and be still talking about the same novel, two and a bit years later. Well, I guess technically any progress is moving closer… and (in some respects) I have finished it; now I’m just polishing.

I’m currently revising Vengeance Will Come, hopefully for the last time (pre-publication or pre-free-release), and I’ve noticed that only best intentions weren’t enough to keep my story bible well organised or up-to-date. If only I’d used best intentions and discipline it’d be in a better state.

The question is do I use valuable editing time to tidy up the story bible, ensuring it’s true to the current version of the story? The answer is yes. Vengeance Will Come is book 1 of a series, and so I need my source material to be easily accessible (and accurate) for when writing other books in the series.

I’ll however keep editing for a while longer while my brain is sharp. As the Writing Excuses podcast would say, “‘Smart Ben’ can edit. When ‘Dumb Ben’ subs-in later, he can work on the story bible.”

There is No Excuse

When you use your real name as a domain name you’re making yourself something of a public figure. (Possibly in the loosest sense of the word, just go with me for now). When you’re a public figure you have to be very careful how and what you say, so as to not unintentionally offend.

If you want to be a writer of fiction and you haven’t listened to the Writing Excuses podcasts then you’re flat-out crazy.

It needed to be said.

And perhaps you needed to hear it. You’re welcome.

As an amateur writer when I insert a character into a story I’m aware of their motivations and how they’ll interact with the other characters and situations. (At least I try to be).

When one of the Writing Excuses podcasters puts a character into a story their aware of so much more on a fundamentally deeper level. When it comes to constructing stories, while I build a lean-to in a slum they build a Palace fit for a King.

In a recent podcast (s9) Dan Brown talks about how his main character is a sociopath. The problem with sociopaths is they’re not really very likable people. So Brown puts in even more  unlikable characters around the sociopath. Relatively speaking therefore the reader likes the sociopath. He also gives him a healthy dose of gallows humour (pun intentional).

Just a small example of how they’re thinking way beyond the sentence structure. When you have to take some time out from writing, you’d be wise to listen to Writing Excuses. It’s fifteen minutes of informative conversation interspersed with humour that will have you laughing out loud. Probably best not to listen to it at funerals.

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

Recently a new friend asked what my favourite movie was and I couldn’t answer. There are lots of movies that I enjoy and some I hate, but I can’t name a favourite.

I can easily name my wife’s favourite movies. It doesn’t take a genius-level of observation to realise if she watches the same movie back-to-back for an entire day that she likes it. I have no such movie stuck on loop.

The other possible metric is how often I’ve watched a movie, which brings me to the original Guardians of the Galaxy. I’d seen the promos and, thinking it was a sci-fi, thought it looked lame. When I eventually watched it with the mindset of not sci-fi but just a fun movie I found that I really enjoyed it. It didn’t take itself seriously, was quite funny and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a villain stalled by a “dance off” before. Over the years whenever the opportunity presented itself I’ve watched it (probably six times in total).

Recently I went to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Unwisely, I went in with high expectations.

The jokes seemed forced and were often predictable (not to mention considerably cruder than I remember #1 being).

And the ending… minor character dies (bad guy choosing to be heroic) and is cremated. Estranged friends arrive for a final farewell and put on a fireworks display. It might have been emotional and touching if it wasn’t completely corny.

And of course to add to the cheese the ending wouldn’t be complete without the lovers making up, the two feuding friends having peace and the delinquent’s behaviour understood.

The one shining light (other than the little dancing Groot, of course) was the basic premise: boy finally finds father, only to discover father is the villain.

My judgement: wait for TV. And only then, if you’re really, really hard-pressed to find something else.

Jumping the Productivity Moat

Although revision on Vengeance Will Come has only just begun I’m reasonably happy with the progress so far.

Revision Work…

Here’s a summary of what I’m looking at:

  • I’m Cutting out superfluous words. Not just the occasional word in a sentence, but also entire sentences. For example, the following line of dialogue:

“Physical muscles are less important than mental strength and wisdom, neither of which is guaranteed by age.”

I originally wrote it as a subtle dig at a character that he was physically weak, to feed a sense of inadequacy. That reference is no longer required and its presence is now out-of-place. It adds no value and causes only distraction. The delete key fixed that.

  • Word choice. Sometimes I’m using the same word in quick succession and that is poor form. (Sidebar: A previous Writing Excuses podcast I listened to mentioned that there are some words you can only use once in a story).
  • Using contractions in dialogue. This, strangely doesn’t come naturally to me. Although I speak with them, for some reason I write long-form. My flow-of-consciousness dialogue tends to be formal and so feels scripted. It was something an earlier version alpha reader detected, and I was trying to fix this… obviously I missed a lot. I suspect the further into the story the less I detected.
  • being more descriptive about motion and emotion; trying to show in a more nuanced way, instead of telling the reader.
  • Evaluating the criticisms of my beta readers, and adjusting accordingly (more about that in another post).

…Meets Productivity Moat

But then my forward progress is halted, midway through chapter 2 (of 29). I’ve hit a piece of text that’s really slowing me down: a productivity moat that’s blocking my path.

I’m not happy with the paragraph of text and are indecisive about wording and positioning. Several times I have opened up the document and sat there looking at it, as though it were written in Swahili (which I can’t read). After an annoying ten minutes of staring, my enthusiasm begins to wane. Stupid moat. I’ve tried to skip it and move on, but it’s like I know it’s there like an enemy at my flank and it’s on my mind.

I have a new strategy. To be honest it’s not much different from my previous strategies, but often I’ve found writing is a mind game. So if my slightly modified strategy works – hooray. They say you need an edge over your enemy: not a whole new weapon, just an edge.

I’m going to:

  1. Highlight the paragraph, admit to myself that I currently lack the ability to solve it and I can’t allow it to slow me down.
  2. Write some extensive comments: what I think is wrong with it (why I am having difficulty) and any possible options I can see to fix it in the future. I’m going to try to be descriptive e.g. “Z might work but that would require Y (which I don’t have)”.
  3. I’m going to move on, having done everything I can currently.
  4. At a later date, either at the end or when the answer presents itself, I’ll go back and fix it.

The productivity moat may cause a change in strategy, but it won’t stop me.

Revising Vengeance Will Come, Again

Previously I stated it was my intention to not further revise my first novel, Vengeance Will Come unless of course a publisher decided they wanted it. (Not that I’ve sent it out yet).

That decision was born of the knowledge that many first time authors get stuck in an endless rewrite cycle, and I didn’t want to be one of them. Especially considering how long this project has taken.

However since making that decision I’ve learned that professional authors can regularly do 6+ revisions. (Granted, some of these would likely be under the direction of publishers and editors).

My beta readers have also alerted me to the fact that there are numerous improvements to be made. This new-found knowledge of my novel’s shortcomings means there are two options:

  1. I revise, or
  2. my book goes in the bottom desk drawer, never to see the light of day again.

I realise that I’m still learning the writing craft (very much so) and my novel won’t be perfect. Ever. However, I’m not willing to let the book out into the world with simple things I know how to fix. It’s about quality control, and respecting my readers to do the best I can.

And so, the revision process begins anew.

PS: I’ve taken “The Hostages” off my progress chart. I’m still very committed to writing it, but it’s not going to progress any time soon, hence it’s disappearance.