How to Find The Best Beta for You

 

So far in this series, we’ve talked about the difference between Beta Readers (Betas) and Critique Partners (CPs), how to find  the best CP for you, and how to be a good CP. We’re going to continue that Trend this week by talking about some of the qualities of a good Beta, and where to find them. This content is inspired by three of my favorite youtubers, who have countless videos on this subject, Jenna, Kim and Vivian Reis. if you haven’t checked them out, do it. They rock.   

 

Things to Know

  1. Create a diverse environment: In talking about the qualities of a good CP, I mentioned that you’re probably going to want someone who has similar interests in terms of what they like to write. Mostly because they are going to be looking at your manuscript several times. With Betas, You almost want to do the opposite. Of course, you can still find people who have similar reading interests, but don’t restrict yourself to them. Open up the opportunity to a wide, varying audience. Recruit people of all ages, walks of life, those who love your genre, those who don’t… Toss a net into the ocean and see what you catch.  There are a few reasons this can be helpful:

Intended Audience vs. New Audience

Intended Audience New Audience
  • Familiar with the genre and will likely catch smaller details pertaining to that particular subset that the other readers might not.
  • Might have preconceived notions about the genre that allow certain things to make sense it in ways that they wouldn’t to be average reader (i.e. the stipulations of magic or time travel).  Someone familiar with the genres may be able to fill in the blanks based on other source material in that genre, even if it isn’t clearly stated in your work.
  • Unfamiliar with the genre, so if they agree to beta, you know your book might have a wider audience than intended.
  • Go in without expectations or bias, allowing them less opportunity to view your book from a pre established point of view. They will be able to point out bigger plot holes that may not catch the eye of the experienced genre-reader..  

 

  1. Ask questions and set requirements: At first glance, this probably seems counterintuitive to my last point. However, you still have to make sure that you don’t end up with an audience that is not even close to the one you hope your book will reach. If you’re writing a post apocalyptic angel story meant for those 17 & over, but all of your applicants  say that they hate post-apocalyptic and they’re underage, that’s probably not going to be to great set of betas for you. Toss in a few  willing to read the book even if they usually don’t like postapocalyptic to see if your audience is wider than you think, but   make sure to look at their reasons for wanting to beta  in the first place Before you accept or disregard anyone.

 

  1. Communicate, and be okay with change: This is something that Jenna and Kim mention in their Beta and CP videos, and it is undoubtedly the most important thing to look for in a beta. You’re going to go through a lot of people before you find a solid group that works for you and your book. Be ready to let go of those who don’t. If you ask them for feedback and all they give you are bland the statements like, “It was good,” or “I liked it,” explain  that you need more than that if they really want to help you. If they don’t comply, let them go. Also do this if you have a beta who only ever makes negative, snarky, rude comments that make you feel bad  about your writing,

 

Where To Look

 

  • Join a local writing group: Whether online or in real life, writing groups are great Places to find people to read your work. Not just because they’re writers, but to be a good writer you must also be an avid reader. They will likely read your work with an open mind and honest eye, not only looking out for writerly concerns such as grammar, but big picture things as well.  
  • Be active on social media: Advertise, advertise, advertise. Get the word out. Like with CPs, Twitter and Facebook are great places to find betas, as is Wattpad and any other online writing platform. Kim also made a google docs form which is how I signed up to beta her book Keeper just under a year ago (Wow!) it was super easy to fill out and helped her keep track of all the requests she received. I highly recommend this avenue in addition to posting everywhere online.  
  • Don’t use your friends and family as the first group of beta readers: Unless you have a super honest group of Family and friends they are probably not going to be the first people that you want see your book. Not because they won’t want to help you, but because they are already unintentionally biased toward liking your work because they like you. This does not mean that they can never read your work, but I recommend going through a couple of rounds of other betas before handing your manuscript off to those who know you best.

 

 

Resources:

Facebook Groups:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1662819743977604/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/OhanaNano/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/dailyflashwriting/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/fictionwritersgroup/

 

Twitter:

#CPConnect

#chance2connect

Being a Good Critique Partner

So far in this series, I’ve talked about the differences between Beta Readers (Betas) and Critique Partners (CPs) and how and where to find CPs. This week, I’m going to talk about what it takes to be a good CP. Some of these tips might cross over into my post about Betas when I talk about them in a few weeks.

 

  • Devise a Process: Every author/CP pair is going to work differently together. It’s important that the two of you talk about the kind of feedback that you as a CP feel qualified to give to make sure that it aligns with the type of feedback the author is looking for. You should also come up with some kind of schedule. Let the author know your timeframe and ask if they have a deadline. Some other questions to consider are:

 

    1. How far are you in the writing process?
    2. Is there anything in particular you want me to look for when going through this chapter/manuscript?
    3. How do you want to receive my feedback? (Google doc, Track changes on Word, FB chat, email, etc.)

Since you as a CP generally come into the process a lot earlier than Betas, deadlines might not be something that the author cares about yet. However, it is smart to ask those kinds of practical questions so that you are both on the same page with your expectations.

 

  • Be Thorough: Remember, you’re the first pair of eyes to see this author’s work, and you’re working with them so that they can become a better writer. Do not come back to them with comments like, “I loved this chapter!” This kind of surface feedback is not helpful to either of you. Honor their requests for certain types of feedback. If they don’t ask for anything specific, just write down your thoughts and reactions to scenes, characters, anything that surprises you or catches you off guard, etc. Act like you are going to review this book as a reader and let the author know what types of things you might include.
  • Be Honest: Please, please, please, do not say nice things to spare our feelings. If the main character is grating on your nerves to the point that you despise them, but you love the villain, that’s probably something that the author is going to want to know. Don’t hold back expressing yourself just because you’re trying to be nice. With that said:
  • Be Constructive: Just because you’re being honest does not mean you need to be mean about it. If you happen to hate the main character, don’t just say, “Laura sucks; she needs to go jump off of a cliff somewhere.” No. That is not helpful and unnecessarily rude. Instead, you could say: “I can’t connect to Laura because every time we see her she seems very shallow. Maybe you could include a few scenes where she’s taking care of her little sister. Show us that she really loves her and she has other sides to her  besides the one that she shows her friends.” This is advice the author can work with. You’ve still communicated that you don’t like this character, but now the author has some indication as to why, and you’ve offered them a way to change it.

 

  • And finally, probably the most important: Keep Communication Open: If at any point, for any reason, you decide that you can’t be a CP for this person anymore, please, for the love of all things writing, tell them. There is nothing worse as a writer  than sending out your manuscript  and not hearing from the recipient  for weeks. Even if you’re just busy, keep them informed so they know that you haven’t given up. Keep them updated as you read with anything you particularly like or could be improved throughout the manuscript. That way, while they’re waiting for the bulk of your comments, they can get an overall sense of what you think and be a little bit more prepared for what to expect.

Challenge of the Week: Were these tips helpful? Were there any tips I missed? Share in the comments!

How to Find The Best CP for You

Last week, I talked about the difference between Beta Readers (Betas) and Critique Partners (CPs) when it comes to the editing portion of the writing process. This week, we’re going talk about how to find those partners. Since CPs tend to come into the picture before Betas, we’re going to address them first.

Things to Know

  1. Decide what you want: Before you can create a partnership with anyone, whether for work or something else, the both of you have to come to an agreement about what you want out of that partnership. Are you looking for someone to brainstorm with? Are you looking for someone to help you flush out your characters? Are you looking for someone to proofread your entire novel before you send it out to betas? Are you simply looking for a friend to bounce ideas off of and chat with whenever you get stuck? Or are you looking for a mixture of a few of these things? This is important to decide because you should make sure that you and your critique partner are on the same page when it comes to your wants and needs as a writer.  This, however, does not mean that your CP has to be at the same stage of the writing process that you are.
  2. Find someone you can learn from: My critique partner Is currently drafting his second book, and editing his first, while I’m still writing my debut. But that’s actually one of the reasons I love talking to him. He and I have completely different writing styles, but he’s really good at coming up with ideas if I get stuck in a tough spot and helping me stay motivated when I’m having a rough writing day. Because he and I are complete polar opposites  in regards to how we write, I feel like we both learn a lot from each other. It’s not helpful in a good partner if you’re both at the exact same stage and level of writing because that means you have less to learn from the other person. Of course, it’s perfectly fine if you’re in the middle of writing your second draft when someone else is in the middle of writing their first,  or if you’re marketing something that’s already been published when your partner is just getting ready to hit the publish button. Just make sure, before you commit to anything. that the partnership is a mutually successful one on both ends. 
  3. Find someone with similar interests:  I kind of touched on this in my previous post, but because your CP is going to be looking at your manuscript multiple times, It’s going to be really hard for them to be helpful if they really don’t like zombie horror stories, and that happens to be exactly what kind of book you’re writing. That’s not to say that your fabulous writing  won’t convince them to give something a chance that they might have otherwise never picked up, but you have to make sure they are open top trying something new. Ask questions before you commit. Find out if there is any genre or content that they absolutely refuse to read. If that content happen to be in you’re book and it’s heavily featured, then they probably are not the right partner for you. It’s very hard to give someone good, solid, sound advice if you can’t find something to it enjoy about their writing.

Where To Look

 

  • Join a local writing group: This is something that I’ve heard a lot of people talk about having a lot of success with. If you can find a local running group to join, it’s a great place to look for critique partners. Those people usually have similar goals, and  it’s easy to have longer, more detailed conversations with someone if you are able to talk to them face-to-face.
  • Be active on social media: This is how I found my critique partners, and so far, it’s worked out really well. Join writing conversations and groups on Twitter and Facebook, or search for those types of things on your preferred social media platform. Like the local writing group, those people and usually have like-minded interests, but the added bonus is they don’t need to live near you in order to help you progress in your writing.
  • Research and reach out to large organizations: If you been in the writing community for some time, I’m sure you’ve heard of groups like Romance Writers of America or the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I recently found the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and I’m excited to start exploring their content. Not only do they have a mentoring program, but they have a job listing page and a calendar for the whole year detailing plenty of different conferences for writers from all walks of life to attend and meet with other writers, authors, publishers and editors. Some of these organizations require a fee to join, but in my opinion, the price is definitely worth the payoff.

Resources:

Facebook Groups:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/OhanaNano/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/dailyflashwriting/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/fictionwritersgroup/

Twitter:

#authorconfessions

#chance2connect

#WritersPatch

Associations:

Association of Writers and Writing Programs: https://www.awpwriter.org/

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:  http://www.sfwa.org/

Romance Writers of America: https://www.rwa.org/  

Challenge of the Week: How do you find your Critique Partners?

Critique Partners v. Beta Readers

This week’s topic, and the series to follow it, is thanks to my friend Tanner Childs, and some of the information is inspired by Kim Chance’s Youtube video on the same topic. Beta Readers (Betas) and Critique Partners (CPs) are two groups of people who are essential to the author’s editing process. They typically come in to help us writerly folks polish our books, novella, etc. before we send it out to professional editors, agents, etc. They are basically the lovely guinea pigs that help us to better understand how our book is going to impact readers. Contrary to popular belief though, they’re not the same thing.

Kim makes a point in her video that Betas are typically non-writers who read your material as someone would if they were pulling it off of a shelf at a bookstore. They search for plot holes, point out flaws in storytelling, or tell you if characters behaving inconsistently, whether your world is vivid and easy to make sense of…  Any “big picture” things that your readers are likely to notice.

Critique Partners, according to Kim, do the same thing, but are also fellow writers, so they can catch things the average reader might miss. Grammar issues, awkward phrasing…. All the more nitty-gritty, techie fixes will catch their attention, in addition to the “big picture” issues. Kim also says that, as implied in the name, the two of you agree to form a partnership where you read each other’s works. Beta reading only goes on way, CPing is a two way street.

I think all of her points are very valid and important, but I also think there’s a little bit more to it than that, on both ends.  To simplify things I’m going to make two bulleted lists: one for CPs and one for Betas. Please remember that these are only my opinions, based on my experience being a Beta, and having my own great CPs in my friends Tanner & SGD Singh.

CPs

  • Fellow writers with whom you swap works
  • Generally come before Betas and read the roughest form of your manuscript/chapter
  • Can also be brainstorming partners and are usually around for the long haul of the writing process
  • Generally writers do not have as many CPs as they do Betas, depending on how well the relationship works out for both parties
  • CPs will generally see the work in multiple forms, more than once
  • A CP should be semi-knowledgeable/interested in your genre, especially if you intend to brainstorm together

Betas

  • May be writers but can also just be readers
  • Come after CPs and get the most polished/up-to-date version of your work before it’s sent to an editor
  • Usually are only there to give feedback on an already semi-polished product, and offer suggestions, rather than brainstorm like a CP would
  • Generally a writer will have multiple groups of Betas, and send their work out in rounds, after considering/incorporating feedback from the previous round to determine how feedback changes
  • Betas will likely see the work once or twice, in the  cleanest form possible
  • A Beta may be interested/knowledgeable in your genre but they don’t HAVE to be. I believe Jenna Moreci or Vivian Reis pointed this out on their Youtube channels, but it’s important that at least some of your Betas are NOT your ideal target audience, because it will give you a chance to figure out if your audience is bigger or smaller than you originally thought, which can help you fine tune your marketing later on.
  • And finally, another great point of Kim’s-  You need to be confident your Betas are going to give you sound, honest advice and not be afraid of hurting your feelings. I hate to break it to you, but you are going to get your feelings hurt during the process; taking criticism is HARD. The good part about doing it with people that you trust, but you also know won’t sugar-coat their thoughts, is that I guarantee the feedback will be ten times more helpful than “It was great!”As nice as that is, it won’t make your work editor, agent, or publisher ready.

Next week, we’ll talk about how to find CPs, and how to be a good one.
Challenge of the Week: Was this helpful to you?

Chapters: How Do I Write One?

Last week we talked about why I think chapters are important to a longer work. While any and all of those reasons are valid, knowing that you should have chapters is an entirely different animal than actually writing them. Today I’m going to give you my top tips for creating engaging and meaningful chapters.

  1. Decide what part of the story this chapter is going to develop: Chapters are essentially clusters of scenes from your manuscript that have been grouped together because they serve a certain purpose within the narrative. For example: The first chapter of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (PJ) can essentially be broken up into a few main scenes (Minor SPOILERS Ahead):
    1. A sarcastic intro to Percy and some background info about some of the other  characters that come into play in the chapter.
    2. Percy and Grover are bullied on a field trip to a museum. Percy wants to do something to defend himself and his friend, but can’t because he’s on “probation” from getting in trouble earlier in the year.
    3. Percy studies the Greek statues in the museum and a teacher asks why the facts are important to real life. Percy doesn’t know the answer.
    4. At lunch, the bullying continues. Percy snaps and wants to get back at the perpetrator. His magic acts up for the first time.

Now, that isn’t a complete outline of the first chapter, but from a few bullet points, I think it’s pretty clear that the author’s objective here is to introduce readers to the main character and start hinting toward the main conflict. In other words, it’s meant to drive both character development and plot development simultaneously. This balance is what most chapters should do, but obviously there are going to be some chapters that are heavier in one area then the other. Deciding with this chapter is meant to accomplish is the key to determining what’s going to happen in it.

  1. Decide what scenes are going to best illustrate your goal for the chapter: Currently my chapters contain one to three scenes each. I like to think of each chapter almost as a separate short story. It has rising actions, a climax, and falling actions or cliff hangers that launch the reader into the next chapter. If you’ve used either the Hero’s Journey Outline or the 3 Act 9 Block Structure, those steps should be a good springboard to get you started. Pantsers should not discount this method either, as it can be helpful if you get stuck.

Using the PJ example again, the basic structure of the chapter might look like this (Again SPOILERS):

Chapter 1:

Goal: Introduce the MC and hint at Percy being a demigod.

Rising Action: Background information and minor character bullying Percy and Grover.

Climax: Percy soaks the bully with water from a fountain, unknowingly using his power for the first time.

Falling Actions: The display of powers causes him to be attacked by a Greek monster, which he disintegrates. Afterwards, he notices one of the teachers has disappeared, but when he tries to ask where she went, everyone seems to have forgotten she existed.

With the previous example, we took the chapter and analyzed the plot points that best demonstrated the goal. Here, those points are still relevant, but now they not only communicate an objective, but are their own compelling arc within the narrative.

Challenge of the Week: How do you structure your chapters?

Chapters: Why Are They Important?

There are many components to writing a book, but few as daunting for over-writers like me as figuring out how in the world to divide your book up into chapters- either once it’s written, or during the drafting process. This post and next week’s are inspired by author Kim Chance’s recent video.

“But, Claerie,” you’re thinking, “you just added another monkey wrench to this already impossible process! Do you really think I need something else to worry about?” Right?

As if coming up with, writing, and editing a novel isn’t complicated enough, unless you’re writing a short story, you’ll likely want to slice and dice that monstrous, glorious manuscript of yours. Why? Well, a few reasons:

  1. Focus: I talked about this a little bit before in my post about staying focused when writing, but I go into writing a large project by taking it apart in small chunks. Each chapter is like a puzzle piece, and when they all come together, the picture is complete. There is no set word/page limit on chapters, but mine are usually between 3k-5k long and span over one or two important events in the story. Thinking of each chapter as a piece of the overall picture helps me to concentrate on only a few plot points at a time, making them shine as much as I can. It also helps me feel more easily accomplished because instead of thinking, “I’ve only written 13k of a 75k story,” I think, “Yay, I’ve finished four chapters-now let’s make it five.”
  2. Point of View Change: If you have a book with multiple plot points happening to different characters at the same time, or you have a book where the point of view alternates, chapters are a good way to alert the readers to those kinds of changes without confusing them. It can also help avoid “head hopping” between the thoughts and actions of your main cast.
  3. Passage of Time: If your story takes place over a six-month or year time span, or really, anything longer than a few weeks, you’re likely not going to need to show every single day, hour, and minute of that stretch. Chapter breaks are perfect for skipping over the boring, unnecessary  parts while indicating that a significant amount of time passes between page 35 and 36.
  4. Location Change: This one might seem obvious, but if the first three scenes take place in a school, but the fourth takes place in a park, back alley, pet store, etc. that might be a good time for a chapter break.
  5. And, finally, my favorite reason to create chapters: Conflict: Chapter breaks can also be used to heighten suspense; either with a cliffhanger, a  time jump, or maybe just to give readers a breather during a particularly emotional scene. (Yes, scenes can stretch over more than one chapter, but that’s a discussion for next week.)

Challenge of the Week: Why do you think chapters are important?

Showing vs. Telling: When Should You Do It?

Last week, I talked about what it meant to “show not tell” in your writing.

To recap: I think of telling as giving the straight facts of a situation, and showing as painting a picture of the situation for the reader. I explained how I believed showing to be a more immersive form of writing because it helps the readers get to know the characters and their world in a much more engaging way. At the end of the first post however, I also said that I didn’t think this method of writing was always superior to telling. Considering I spent the entire post saying how great I think description and vivid images are to keep the readers turning pages, that pronouncement likely seemed like a contradiction. Allow me to explain my reasoning.

The ability to “show,” and therefore have a better chance of evoking emotion in your writing is a wonderful tool to have in your arsenal. But it’s just that; one tool. Just as you cannot build a sturdy house with only one hammer to work with, neither can you write a book with only one method at your fingertips. So,how do you decide when to show something, versus when to simply state the facts? Well, for me, it’s simply determining which situations are important enough to be shown, and which are not. What do I mean by important? If It moves the plot along and/or adds character development, then I consider it important.

Now, I bet you’re going, “But Claerie, shouldn’t every scene do one, or even better, both, of those things?” Yes, yes they should. But it’s the detail put in those scenes that can make the biggest difference.

For example: “Kaley threw on her favorite red sweater before dashing out the door to meet her sister.”

We learn here that “Kaley” has a sister, but whether that’s important  to her character in terms of conflict and plot, depends on the type of story you’re writing. If she just discovered this sister existed and this is the first time the two are meeting, then yeah, the reader is probably going to want to be shown the next scene, because it’ll likely be full of angst and intrigue. If, on the other hand, the main character is meeting her sister because she wants a loan to buy an important Christmas gift… Well, you might want to show it, but you could also get away with not doing it if the scene itself isn’t essential. in short, every scene should act like a domino effect into the next. Kaley getting the extra cash is important in the way that it affects whether she’ll be able to get the Christmas gift she wants, but if the conversation is going to go something like:

“Hey, Maisey, can I borrow some money? I want to get Ryan something special this year, but I spent the savings for it at the car shop after my tire blew out.

Maisey rolled her eyes, but reached into her wallet and pulled out a couple of twenties. “Just make sure you pay me back, okay squirt?”

It’s not nearly as interesting and doesn’t really need to be written. It would be much more impactful if we just saw Ryan opening the gift. His reaction to it, along with Kaley’s would tell the readers whether or not she was able to get the gift she originally intended, and the emotions of that scene based on said fact would probably be a lot more intriguing for the reader.

The other thing we need to talk about is descriptions. In the above sentence, all I said was that Kaley chose to put on her favorite red sweater. A tiny fact that added detail, but does it need to be expounded upon?

Well, remember those literature classes where the teacher would make you analyze a poem or a passage from a famous work and they would say that the blue curtains represented  depression when in reality the author just meant for them to be blue? Well, that kind of applies here. If the sweater has a significant meaning to the character, then you might want to show the scene where she got it earlier in the book, but most of the time, the sweater will be her favorite just because she likes it.

The decision really boils down to motivation: if the reasons behind a character’s actions contribute greatly to their character or a plot point in the story, show it. If it’s a matter of what they ate for breakfast, odds are it does not need an entire scene, or even paragraph, dedicated to it.  

Challenge of the Week: What other writing topics would you like to see me discuss in the coming weeks?

Showing vs. Telling: What Does It Mean?

Recently, I was betaing for a writer, and I made a comment that their current draft contained a lot of telling rather than showing. They asked me to further elaborate what that meant, and I realized that this much-traversed  topic was something I had yet to address here on my blog. So, why not remedy that to kick off 2017?

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, or, in some cases, just a basic English class depending on the type of teacher you had, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “Show, don’t tell.” The advice itself can make your writing that much more engaging if you use it correctly, but before you can take it to heart, it’s important to understand how it can help you.

The fabric of writing is words, and words are used to pass along information. You tell your friend you’re stuck in traffic so you’re going to be late for dinner. Someone writes down steps to a recipe so you can make cookies for the school fundraiser… How in the world are you supposed to show something like that?

At least, that’s how I felt the first time I heard of this little writing “rule.”

Instead, I like to look at it as two separate forms of writing. Telling is for giving important, essential facts, like steps to make cookies without burning them. Showing is when you have the opportunity to engage your five senses to paint a picture, and draw the readers into the world with you. With the previous example, you could show a scene in which a person is making cookies based on instructions their friend wrote down for them. This technique will introduce them to the character and can open up an opportunity for some comedic moments as they’re cooking. Furthermore. if the second set of cookies turn out better than the first, it will tell the audience that person has become a better baker thanks to their friend’s help.

Here is another example: It was snowing when Melody woke up that morning.

The fact that it’s snowing is important if the next scene is going to show her racing outside to go play in it. However, the above sentence has done the readers a disservice because even though they know what the weather’s doing, it isn’t clear why they should care, nor do they understand if/why the main character cares.

That’s how you tell whether something you’ve written is showing, or telling. Telling communicates things much like a textbook would, while showing aims at drawing a more emotional reaction, and helps the audience become more invested in the characters and environment you’ve created. Consider the following changes:

Melody yawned and snuggled further under her covers.

When did it get so cold in here? She rubbed her palms together and cracked one eye open, only to squeeze it shut the moment the blinding sunlight streamed through the frosted glass. What time is it?

She rolled over and glanced at her clock, frowning when the red numbers blinking up at her read: 7:23 A.M. She groaned, but slid out of her cocoon of sheets and paddled toward the window.  

Her eyes widened at the thick layer of fluffy, white flakes blanketing their once dry and discolored front yard. Snow!

She squealed raced to her closet, flinging clothes left and right until she found her bulkiest, warmest coat, along with a hat and worn pair of gloves, and scrambled into them.

The second example is a lot longer than first, but notice how much we learn about and the environment. It was the bright light from the snow on the ground that woke her up, instead of it just randomly having been snowing when she got out of bed. We can also assume that she’s not much of an early riser, since she groaned when she read the time on the alarm clock. Descriptions and words like scrambled or raced, along with her actions of squealing and tossing clothes around in an effort to find something warm to wear, let us know she’s excited without having to come out and say it.

Showing is not always superior to telling, something I will discuss next week, but 9 times out of 10, it will help the reader be more engaged with the characters and the plot, and thus keep them turning pages.

Challenge of the Week: What’s another common “writing motto” that you find easy to misunderstand?

The Balancing Act: My Top Tips for Staying On Track  

 

Everyone who has ever tried to write a book, or keep up a blog, or do any other project that is not adjacent to their main responsibilities knows that it’s a lot of work. And no matter whether you’re a student, full-time employee, parent, or something else entirely, you know it also takes a lot of time. Balancing priorities and extracurriculars is a real feat. Since school just started for me this past week, I thought it only fitting to offer my top tips for juggling the many aspects that make up our everyday lives.


 

  • Get organized: If you know you have a particularly chaotic stretch of time coming up, sit down with a calendar (or, if you’re like me, pull out your phone), look at everything you have to do, and make up a schedule. Even if you don’t stick to it fully, having a rough timeline of what you need to do and when should keep you from getting too overwhelmed. It will also keep you from forgetting anything extremely important.
  • Slow Down: Don’t look at the schedule as one big, intimidating task list. Take it step-by-step. Finish one objective before moving onto the next, and don’t let yourself think too much about all the things you still have to do. Find a way to keep yourself in the moment. When I really need to concentrate. I put on music.
  • Break It Up: I’ve mentioned this before in my Top 5 Tips for Staying Focused, but unless you are one of those awesome people who works extremely well in incredibly tiny amounts of time, I don’t recommend tackling any major project or goal, whether it be writing a paper, writing a book, finishing an art project, doing ten loads of laundry etc. etc.  all at once. That will only increase your stress levels and produce less-than-satisfactory results. Instead, work on it for as long as you can while still feeling like you’re churning out quality work, and then STOP. Take a break and concentrate on anything  except  your ongoing task. That way, when you come back to it, it will be with fresh eyes and more energy.
  • Find Something You Love… And Then Do It Every Day: My goal of writing a book is what I love, but I have a hard time doing it as often as I’d like. I’m actively working to improve though, not only because I want it, but because I find it relaxing. After a long day of tackling the have tos of your list, it’s a refreshing change to reward yourself with a want to. It can be something as long-term as writing a book, or as simple as watching your favorite movie or eating  a favorite meal. Doing something you love can be a great stress reliever, and will help you recharge before going back to the grind.

 


Challenge of the Week: How do you find a good balance? Did I miss your favorite method? Do you use any of mine? Come chat about it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or comment here!   

Character Development: Part 2

Last week, I discussed  this TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,  and how I thought her observations about a “single story,” were of importance to the writing community if we want to keep our characters from seeming one-dimensional. Everyone has a story to tell, even the people we make up. My favorite way to find out my characters’ stories is by answering questions from The 100 Most Important Things To Know About Your Character by Beth Kinderman and Nikki Walker. Today, I will share a few of their questions with you, and explain why I think each one is so helpful and important when it comes to bringing characters to life. Let’s get started!

Who are/were your parents? (Know their names, occupations, personalities, etc.)

Especially with my current work in progress (WIP), learning the  background, occupation, and backstories of my main character’s (MC’s) parents helped me to figure out some of the conflicts in the fictional society I’ve created, and thus gave me ideas for tension and possible obstacles for the MC to face. Knowing the parents/guardians or any  other authoritative figures in the MC’s life is almost as important as knowing the MC, in my opinion, because a lot of our personalities are determined by the lifestyles and relationships we had when we were young. Even if your MC doesn’t have parents who are very present, or the parents don’t play a large part in the story, that in and of itself should tell you something about the way the character might behave.

Write a full physical description of yourself. You might want to consider factors such as: height, weight, race, hair and eye color, style of dress, and any tattoos, scars, or distinguishing marks.

This question may seem obvious, but the first time I tried to write a book, I didn’t place any importance on things like scars, tattoos, marks, etc.  that my character may have had, and I feel like that was a real missed opportunity. Most significant markings have backstories (bicycle accident, fight, surgery etc.) or traditions that come with them. The small details can really add a lot to the depth of your character even if all of the stories don’t make it on page. Thinking about things like that gives me a more complete picture of the characters’ lifestyle up until the start of the story.

What words and/or phrases do you use very frequently?

Do you have any quirks, strange mannerisms, annoying habits, or other defining characteristics?

Everyone’s voice sounds different. We all have distinct vocabularies and our own habits. I stick my tongue out when  I concentrate, for example, and I catch myself saying “like” a lot when I talk. I’m also constantly fiddling with something, especially when I’m nervous. It’s the smallest things that make characters seem the most human, both to the author and the reader.

What do you have in your pockets?

This is one of my favorite questions on the sheet because even though it’s a bit random, I think what a person keeps in their pockets or in their purse can tell you a lot about them. The best friend of my protagonist, for example, always carries a dagger and a small satchel of healing herbs. Her training as a… soldier, of sorts, in the society has taught her to always be prepared.

Each question adds another layer of background to your character. I like this method because it starts basic and works up to the bigger, harder to define aspects. It also keeps me from creating perfect characters with no flaws, thus making them more relatable (I hope) and easier to write. Some of the later questions in the sheet include:

What is your earliest memory?

Where did you learn most of your skills and other abilities?

While growing up, did you have any role models? If so, describe them.

If you are a supernatural being (i.e. mage, werewolf, vampire), tell the story of how you became what you are or first learned of your own abilities. If you are just a normal human, describe any influences in your past that led you to do the things you do today.

What do you consider the most important event of your life so far?

If you could change one thing from your past, what would it be, and why?

What is your best memory?

What is your worst memory?

What is your greatest fear?

To see the full list, follow the link at the top of the post, or click HERE.
Challenge of the Week: How do you create your characters?