Tag Archives: Theme

Beta Reading Challenge

My writers group just started a new program called Beta Readers Round Table

Five of our members submitted their completed manuscripts to be reviewed by Beta Readers (myself included). Each Beta Reader critiques 2 manuscripts based on content (not line editing). Searching for plot holes, characterization errors, point of view switching, change of tenses, the bigger stuff (not grammar, punctuation, etc). And it’s a challenge.

This is what critique groups are for, in my opinion. Our meeting sessions normally focus on 10 pages at a time. The online critique sessions can be anywhere from a chapter to 5-6 chapters long. This is the first time we’re doing entire manuscripts in one swoop. And two manuscripts at that. This seems like a great opportunity to capture big plot holes and voice, flow, all the big stuff all writers want to know about their unfinished babies. A great opportunity, and a big responsibility.

When all of the beta readers are finished critiquing their ‘assignments,’ we’ll get together in a round table forum and go over everyone’s work. I’m sure this session will take well more than an hour, but it should be with gold-level content. Writers are supposed to walk away from the session feeling good about themselves and their stories. And feel like they’ve carried away a massive ruby or emerald in their pocket of exceptional critiques.

How many opportunities do these manuscripts get before a writer submits them to an agent or editor?

I’ve just finished the first of two, and I’m really impressed with the stories our members create. Truly original and completely new perspectives. But at the same time I’m also hesitant to be too critical. I’m not published, yet. I don’t have an agent, and no experience in what editors look for in submissions. But I’m an avid reader. I know what I like to see. I know the difference between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ and I’m much more entertained by ‘showing.’ I love the emotion in stories. So those are the kinds of things I look for in manuscripts. When I give critiques, I try to give ideas on how to make something better (not just, ‘I don’t like this scene. Not realistic.”) I give a suggestion on how to make it more realistic, or better for the reader.

Don’t close a door for someone without giving a them a window they can open.

I hope the other Beta Readers do the same for my manuscript.

It’s challenging. Seeing a potentially brilliant story with vibrant and genuine characters in its most raw form- I want to help the writer make it better. I don’t want to ruin it with my suggestions that may not be the best ideas. Its challenging trying to help someone. But if it’s the right idea, I’m proud to say I helped make their story better.

Inspirational Settings

In a few short days, I’m heading to this lovely island with my family.

Guess which island? Nope- not in the Caribbean. It’s actually not even tropical.

Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

As I look at these photos knowing I’ll be playing on the beach with my son and hubby, it reminds me of the exotic and far away settings a lot of books have. I’m a big historical romance reader, so a lot of settings are in mist-covered castles all over Europe, all built against picturesque lakes, lochs, or cliffs. Those kinds of fanciful stories are a great escape from the every day life of toddler tantrums, runny noses, laundry, dishes, and fretting over potty training.

Then I compare these incredible settings to the ones in the stories I write. I write contemporary romance and romantic suspense. And they all take place in North Texas. Hardly exotic. And it brings up an interesting question in my mind. How can I love to read about unique settings and be thrown into fantasy worlds, but I write about normal people in every day settings? They could take place in a Normalville in any state. But perhaps its because I view contemporary hometowns (like mine) as my strength. Perhaps writing in far away islands or mountains is my weakness. I don’t know. I’ve never tried.

But they say to write what you know. And I know my state. I know my surroundings. And when I close my eyes and envision the setting my characters live in, I see Texas. And they always tell you to write what you see. Maybe that means I’m not very imaginative. And I’ll be the first to tell you that, if I truly am not as creative.

But then I widen my scope (literally, as I sit here and type this), and think of the vacations and exotic places I’ve been. And I’ve been to several. Heck, I’ve lived in several.

Maybe if I steal away a few precious, uninterrupted hours on my vacation I’ll try to write a short diddy in one of these locations: Curacao, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Belize, or Honduras. I mention Curacao first because its one of my favorite vacations I’ve ever taken. Pure white sands and the most awesome scuba diving ever. I could write a contemporary romance in that spot any day. But now I just have to imagine the characters and the jaw dropping storyline.

Any romance author or editor will always say setting is crucial; like another character intertwined in the storyline with its own personality and flavor. And I’ll admit, characters aren’t my forte. In the stories I’ve written I focus on the plot first and think secondly on characters. Which is why my local settings aren’t as creative. It’s like a tertiary character to which I hardly give any thought.

So that’s what the back of my mind will focus on while I’m bouncing around Hilton Head Island with my family. Widening my scope to more creative settings.

What about you? What settings capture you in your readings, and if you’re a writer, what places do you see in your mind?

Thinking Ahead… Revisions

Post-it notes

Image via Wikipedia

Alright, now that I’ve done a quasi-happy dance that I’m 3/4 done with my WIP, I know once I’m finished with the first draft I have to start revisions. MAJOR revisions. I’ve received feedback from friends in my writers group and a few online critique sites, and I’ve kept track of those suggestions in a separate file. But I haven’t incorporated them into my WIP yet, because I knew those had to be a part of the revision. If I sidetracked myself to work on the revision, I knew I’d never get the whole first draft completed. (Trust me, I’ve done that before and my first manuscript took YEARS to finish just the ‘first’ draft).

So, I’m keeping the ‘known fixes’ tracked on another file. The vast majority of the suggestions I’ve received I believe are good and I’ll implement them. There may be a few small suggestions that don’t fit (in my opinion), and I’ll wade through those as I go.

But I think its important that items for revision in any WIP be tracked on a different file, whether it be a notebook, computer file, physical file, or even sticky notes (that could be quite a mess, particularly with a 2.5 year old roaming the house that loves to tear up paper). If you think of something while you’re writing, or a friend makes a suggestion about Chapter 3 when you’re on Chapter 22, and you’re too tempted to go back and fix it right then, you’ll do that over and over again and the first draft will take three times longer to finish.

I actually have my revision items separated into categories. I have a characterization section, plot section, emotion section, even a dialogue portion. And when I come across something that I need to change, I note it in the proper section. Something quick, so it won’t take away my time from the first draft. (Example: Ch2, Parag4- Stacey needs to have more sense of smell.)

Occasionally, I’ll have a scene come into my head that I absolutely HAVE to write in full, even though I don’t know where it goes. A quick scene of 4 or 5 paragraphs of an argument or other pivotal moment, and I’ll shove that into my “Revision” file as well.

All of the revisions above are the bigger things, not the smaller stuff of grammar, punctuation, and word order. That in-line detail needs to be done once those major items are implemented. Otherwise, I’ll just go back and do it all over again. (Which is a given anyway- revisions take several more ‘drafts.’) A lot of times, I’ll get caught up in those in-line grammar fixes and miss the bigger issues like a major plot flaw, or the feel of a conversation isn’t right, or yet again my MC has bi-polar issues.

But I think revisions (the main parts of it) tends to be the most fun, at least for me. Even though it can be tedious, I like to take the step back and look at things from a different angle. Many times, scenes will progress completely different from the first pass. It’s always interesting to see how those scenes will morph into an alternate reality. Almost like those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books!

Writers: What is your process for revisions? What do you during the first draft when something comes to you that needs to be changed? What do you like more: first drafts or revisions?

Back to writing. Keep writing forward!

Battling Themes Causes Bi-Polar Character

02.19.10

Image by colemama via Flickr

I’ve realized why I’m stuck in my writing this week. After a few weeks of frustrating writer’s block, and having to delete several chapters and revise several scenes, I read at my local writer’s group who gave me another reason to be frustrated. I’m not frustrated with the writers group- not at all. They pointed out another serious flaw that I have to go back and fix. But it gave me the first insight into my much bigger problem that spurned all the others I was fighting.

My theme is all screwed up in my current project. Some days my theme is about my heroine trying to reclaim the life she wanted before her injury. Other days my theme is focused on the anger and frustration in trying to deal with the pain of her injury. And other days is all focused on going after the love of her life. So when I sat back and compared the scenes, my heroine seems strangely bi-polar. Extreme highs and lows in her emotions and behaviors from one day to the next, its hard for me to keep track. I can only imagine what the reader would think.

My writer’s group told me that in the scene I presented, my main character is too nice. She was boring. I needed to *itch her up. And they were right. In that particular scene, she was trying to be too polite and accommodating.  But in the next scene, she was a raging, chemically imbalanced drama queen that sparked from a phone call. And the cycle seems to repeat itself over the next few scenes.

After perusing a few author’s blogs I follow and a several other sites, I narrowed down on my overall issue. I have too many themes and they’re all battling each other. I need to get a handle on which theme I want the most prevalent in the book and write the scenes that way. In fact, its suggested to write my theme on a piece of paper, and tape the paper to my laptop or on my desk while I write. That way I’m constantly reminded of the MAIN THEME throughout my piece. Because the other themes are present in my mind and in the overall situation, they’ll be lingering in the background, but I can’t let those overpower the main theme.

So now my problem is picking the major theme. I posted a poll a week ago on my blog getting other opinions to help narrow down my choice. I appreciate those who’ve participated.  I’d always love more feedback. But I thought I’d keep you all posted on my current WIP (work-in-progress).

Writers: have you struggled with the theme in any of your manuscripts? How did you overcome it?

Readers: have you read any books that seemed to struggle too much between themes? What kinds of themes do you like best to read?

Poll: New Take on Life?

Question I’m dealing with for my new WIP (work-in-progress). I’m bouncing back and forth between themes, and I need some feedback from readers and other writers. Let me know what you think.