Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Beta Band

You know you need beta readers. You need all kinds of partners in writing. Crit partners, writing groups and beta readers. You need them because you aren't perfect. You make mistakes and, when writing, you become blind to your own fails. Writing partners give you a chance to get inside your reader's head before you unleash your creation on the world (whether that world is an agent, a publisher, self-pubbing or your grandma.)

I've had enough experience in beta-ing and being beta'd to offer this short guide to beta reading (or giving any kind of feedback.)

1) What Do You Want?
Know what you're being asked for/asking for. Beth Revis has a great post here that goes into deep detail - not only Alpha, Beta and Gamma reader definitions, but also, what point in your writing you'd need any one of these.  Know what kind of read you are asking for or you're being asked for and you won't be disappointed.

2) A Great Beta Read...
...Is like a conversation with your book. The comments aren't all smiley faces and 'like it'. They need to ask questions, test your logic, poke holes in your plot. The best beta reads I've had do that. I argue with the comments my readers make and sometimes they'll suggest something so obvious (which I left out) and such an elegant solution for putting it back in that I sit back and say, DAMN! (This just happened to me with the beta read I got from Jenny Herrera. That girl is smart.) Be the beta reader that gives THAT kind of care and attention to the work. Even if you think the comment might hurt a little, or if you think the writer was doing something on purpose. Err on the side of over commenting and put down every time something (good or bad) occurs to you. You wouldn't believe how many times one comment, one question shifts the whole meaning of the draft for me. Crystalizes it in a really good way.

3) Take the Time
To read and comment, it takes time. Beta reader's need to not only read and comment but think and digest your story, interact with it. I am guilty of being very impatient when my book is out. I am a beta reader stalker, having to sit on my hands to keep them from emailing, "Well? So? What did you think?" By the same token, when you are reading, take the time to do it properly (even if you are being stalked by the writer!) A bad beta read is one (and I got this once) that has few comments and a one paragraph sum up at the end that says something along the lines of 'Great Job! Really liked everything about it. I can see it on the shelves already. You're the Best!" Unless you are in Middle School, this kind of praise is meaningless. You know you aren't the best and that your ms. isn't perfect - that's why you sent it to the betas. So don't be a sloppy beta reader. It's not what you want in return.

This is tricky, tricky. Firstly, you should know the writer you are beta-ing for to know if you like or respect their work (generally.) If you don't, why are you offering to beta for them? Secondly, you don't have to like the book to be constructive. Art is subjective. All you have to do to be a good beta reader  is to respect the writer and to respect the craft. If you can do that, you can beta anything. I'm not a super huge fan of romance as a genre (though when I was a teen, I read every single Jude Deveraux book there was. Twice.) But I can beta romance because I can respect the writing. I look at the work, not as a reader, but as a writer. I can see where something is working well and where something is confusing. I don't have to like pirates or time-travel or zombies. I just have to respect them. (Actually, I love time-traveling zombie pirates, if anyone has such a book for me to beta, I'm in.)

That's it. That's my guide. What did I miss? What do you look for in a beta? What do you bring to the table when you are beta-ing?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bleached Words

If someone says you are awesome, do they fall down on their knees and cover their face because they are in such awe of you they must avert their eyes? If someone tells you you are wonderful, do their eyes wide and sparkly, like a child on Christmas morning realizing that (yes, Virginia) Santa does exist? Do Awesome, Wonderful, Amazing and other superlatives mean anything anymore?

We use these words so much, they're practically leeched of color. We've sucked the power right out of them. Awesome is such a toothless, meaning-free word that, when someone tells you they left that report on your desk you are liable to say (as I do), "Oh, awesome! thanks." But the report, and it's miraculous appearance on your desk is not awesome. It's not even great (which used to be a forceful enough superlative.) It's just ordinary.

Why do we do this to language? I am so guilty of this. It's like when you write down a word and suddenly it starts to look wrong. Recipe. Recipe. Recipe. Recipe. Did I spell that right? And then you say it in your head, (reciperecipereciperecipe) until it doesn't even sound like a real word. Words are powerful, damn straight, but they only contain as much power as we imbue them with. If we de-fang superlatives (Super. Amazing. Outstanding. Fabulous. Incredible) how can we use these words effectively when writing? It's like the world's most dangerous poker game, where we just keep upping the ante, making previously powerful words less so and looking for newer words with more oomph to them. If we keep this up, we're going to have to break out Supercalifragilisticespialodocious to describe an exemplary grilled cheese sandwich.

On a recent Here And Now show, author Arthur Plotnik talked about bleached words and suggested new words that we might dust off and use to inject some life into our listless vocabulary. I'm a bit dubious of telling someone they are wallopingly fresh, but it's better than saying they're 'cool' which doesn't mean much.

You can check out Arthur Plotnik's BETTER THAN GREAT book here.

What word do you overuse until it's bleached of meaning? Come on, confession time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How to Write without Writing

For the month of February, I'm not writing. I'm researching persistent vegetative states. I'm trying to outline my next WIP (which I've never done before.) I'm making creole bread pudding. I'm drawing 25' long murals of Brazilian carnival girls.*

My brain is bombarding me with alternate scenes for the ms. that's out with betas (Should have shown the scene in Staten Island instead of just talking about it.) And for the one that I'm about to do a major revision on (You know, you could have Anne interact with the villagers. That would be really interesting.) And last night, as I got up with littlest and put her back to bed, I saw the clock read 12:34. I thought, It's not midnight that's the witching hour it's 12:34. The numbers become a ladder, leading you up into another world. (Wha? I was half asleep...) Then I had a dream about an automata museum I visited years ago in York. The machines all came to life at once and it was terrible and beautiful at the same time.

What does it all mean? Absence makes the heart grow finder and taking a break from writing makes the muse keen. At least it does for me. Now that I'm not actively writing something, ideas, images music and art are vying for my attention. Ideas pour out. It's a creative-palooza over hear.

Sometimes, I need to remind myself that writing isn't only about butt in seat, fingers on keys. It's about thinking and reading and doing things that have nothing to do with writing. That's where some of the biggest magical leaps of creativity happen.

How do you write without writing?

*my eldest daughter's school is having an International Fair on March 1st. Last time I did a rain forest scene for Costa Rica. This time it's Brazil and carnivale girls. drawing the howler monkey last time was much easier...!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Two-Brained Writer

I often wish I was a cow. It's not only that I look good in black and white (but I do), it's also because they have two stomachs. TWO STOMACHS. Just think about the possibilities! The damage you can do to an all you can eat buffet. The baked goods that could be made and consumed. If I had to peg myself as one of the kids in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (not Charlie, that's cheating) I guess I'd be Augustus Gloop (with manners, I hope), but less spherical.

Which, in an extremely convoluted way, brings me to having TWO BRAINS. I wish I had two of those. I wish I had a writer brain and a reader brain. You hear about putting on your drafting hat, your editing hat - but you don't have a reader hat, do you? I don't. And that's why I wish I had a Reader Brain. Now that I write, I can't turn off the writer part of my brain. I see patterns. When a character is introduced, I'm asking myself - is he a catalyst for the inciting event? Or, "The MC has mentioned her college sweetheart twice now. Dollars to donuts, he's going to appear in a few chapters and it will be TROUBLE. I'm more sensitive to bad writing, too. Bad writing can stop me reading what is essentially an interesting story. I'm also more sensitive to good writing - I started reading WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead (which is awesome so far) and it's depressing me because I can't just enjoy the story, I have to beat myself up with how gooood it is. I can't help but compare it to my own work. Guess who's work is seen in a more favorable light by my inner editor. Exactly.

If there were only a switch I could flip in my brain that would allow me to read a book like the good Lord (insert other deity/belief system here) intended - to get completely immersed in the story, so that I don't even feel like I'm reading words - just seeing pictures. I really miss that.

Do you have trouble leaving your writer brain at the door when you read for pleasure? Can a writer even read for pleasure anymore?

Oh! My friend Bob Shea (who my youngest daughter calls Giant Shea) posted a video of his upcoming book, DELICIOUS MYSTERY. It comes out in January 2014 on Hyperion. Seriously, I can't remember the last time I was this excited about a picture book.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My Least Favorite Part of Writing

Is stopping.

Now, I'm not one of those people who say that they can't live without writing. Believe me, I envy those people who say they'd die if they couldn't write (I envy them, and I suspect them of hyperbole.) To be so overwhelmingly consumed by your art that you think you'd expire without being able to do it, that seems like a level of passion I can only aspire to. I've lived just fine without writing. Yes, I've always been creative, whether it's drawing or writing or singing or other expressions of art. But I won't die if I don't write. I'd do something else.

Having said that, I hate when the writing stops. There's a natural life-cycle to writing, at least for me. There's the bloom of an idea - which is my favorite part of writing - then there's the excitement of starting the project followed by waves of elation and despair and hard work. I'd say that in the last 1/4 of writing a book, it's a job (you could argue that it's always a job, and I agree. What I mean is that it feels like a job.) But I like that part. I know that I have Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 9:30-11:30 to write my ass off. On those days, I'm raring to go. I'm Pavlovian on those days. I open up my WIP and say to myself, let's get cracking.

So when the last stage of a book's cycle - the stage when it's in the Beta's hands and from here on in it's revision, not drafting, the schedule changes. Today is Monday and I'm floundering. What do I write? Where's my writing? I'm still so mentally engaged in my book that I'm having trouble thinking of other works, even the reading I'm doing (I'm reading THE NEAR WITCH, by Victoria Schwab.)

So this is my least favorite part of writing. I need to wrench my brain and heart away from my last project and prepare for my next project. I have to decide what that will be. A revision I really need to get going on? A new, slip of an idea that might be a short story? A fully formed idea I almost developed last year instead of FIND ME, but then decided to shelve. Will it be her turn, or will I jilt her at the altar again?

I don't know. I wonder if I should do some sort of Bon Voyage party for the project that I finished.* I could invite all the characters, make a cake (Lemon Drizzle, maybe?) and mix cocktails. I can wish them luck with the strangers that will be reading and judging them in the months to come and I could make sure they pack clean underpants for their trip. I could wave my hanky at them as they sail off into the sunset. I wonder if that's a good idea or if it's just me prolonging the inevitable. It's not like I won't see them again, HELLO, REVISIONS?

What do you do when you finish a project? How do you move on to your next one?

*I say finished. I think we all know I mean kinda-finished.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...