Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Importance of Beta Readers

There are a lot of factors when it comes to writing a book. One of them is a good beta reader.

Beta readers (the term comes from computer programming) are readers. Some call them critters (for "critique") or readers. But all of these people do the same task, mostly: they read somebody's written work before it is submitted out to the world, whether that submission is a fanfiction site or the rounds of literary agents.

Writers often find beta readers in their critique groups, if they're part of one, or a circle of writing friends or out of their normal group of friends, the ones who are literary. Beta readers are critical to writers because they can pick up on things the writer can't. Does the story work? Does the plot make sense? How are the characters? After a long time laboring over a story or a book, it's hard to be subjective about the story. That's why handing it over to a different pair of eyes is helpful.

A writing professor I had in college once reminded me that while writing is a solitary occupation, it also involves a group aspect to it--workshops, critique groups, editorial meetings. I've experienced workshopping and I assume that critique groups can't be that different, except the work is probably more polished.

But here's a question---when is the right time to give the draft over to someone to read? I've had friends read just-finished first drafts, but I realized that at that point, I was still uncertain as to where the story was going to, so betas weren't as helpful as they could have been. So I guess the right time to ask and pester is when you know the direction the story is going in, the characters are clear, but there's still a little work left or a little wiggle room for things to change and you, the writer, aren't quite sure what's for the best of the story. Maybe. Anybody have any ideas on this?

Have you ever beta read for someone? What did you do as a beta? Have you had a beta reader? What kind of things--and at what stage of your process--did you allow someone else to read your work?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Editing Process: Adding and Subtracting

I hate math, I'm not good at it, never have been. Therefore, I don't like mathematical metaphors, but revising (and its substep, editing) are essentially a lot of adding and subtracting.

So, I finished "editing" my book. Of course, this edit is only a preparation for draft three, so I'm still running well into the "it takes three to five years to write a good historical novel" thing.

Clearly, the next project is going to be contemporary.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Editing is the Opposite of NaNoWriMo

I'm not doing NaNo this year. I have an idea I wanted to try, a new idea, but I also wanted to edit and continue on with the WIP, the same project that NaNo helped me burst through last year.

So unlike the past two Novembers, I am not powering through lack of ideas and lack of sleep to get to 1,667 words a day. Instead, I am crossing out swaths of my manuscript, making notes, ready to do some further research and rewriting.

Editing and rewriting is not what NaNoWriMo is about. In fact, I found NaNo the most helpful in combating first draft anxiety, where the Inner Critic (I named mine Buzzy) flat out inhibits writing--with everything from "But it's  not good!" to "But you need to do more research!"

I knew that trying to reach 50,000 words this month and trying to fine tune the manuscript would result in a very cranky me come the end of the month.

I am reading my book, all printed out, with pen in hand, being tactile with it in a way that editing on a computer screen could never replace. But I don't think Buzzy has made a come back, necessarily. I'm not being overly critical of myself or the story.

But editing takes careful consideration. If I get rid of this very long scene (or related chain of scenes, as I did yesterday and today), then how will it affect the rest of the story? Does it leave room for other, more important things that I know I'll need to add? What about deleting that word, so the sentence can flow better? Unlike the last time I attempted to revise a longer story, I'm seeing the possibilities for expanding or deepening the story. And that's all good.

This kind of anal retentiveness can't really happen when you're galloping toward a word count goal everyday. I remember feeling so excited during NaNo--the enthusiasm of the participants was infectious and seeing your pages grow everyday is so exciting. But I'm also excited editing with pen and paper. I mean, when you get to draw large X's through at least three pages of your WIP, there's a deep sense of satisfaction inside, like you are vanquishing an evil dragon of crappy pointless scenes and bad prose.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hometown Glory: the borough of Queens

Queens. Courtesy of Antipastarasta.

It's been a few days since Sandy left New York and New Jersey in tatters and I am finally getting back into the groove of editing my WIP on hard copy. I printed out 20 pages to mark up while I was stuck inside during the storm. I couldn't concentrate. I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year, so I should be done with the marking up by the time NaNo participants are crossing the 50,000 word mark. Good luck!

This week made me think a lot about hometowns and as I'm once again back in novel-mode, settings in novels. My story takes place in 1800, before photography, and though it's doubtful that an agricultural village would have changed much back then, it's still important to make up a plausible history for the place. The reader doesn't have to know, but I do.
Queens Blvd. at 80th Road, Kew Gardens, 1943.
From the Queens Library.

And as this is sort-of a history-ish blog, alongside the writing and the ranting, I hunted for old pictures of Queens. 

If you'd like to donate to the Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, please text "Red Cross" to 90999 to give $10. If you want to look up opportunities to volunteer or places to donate to or places to send your donations to, keep an eye on this Facebook group, where people have been posting constantly about every devastated part of the tri-state area, including Westchester, Connecticut, Long Island, and New Jersey. A lot of places are accepting donations, so check out the postings. You'll find one in your neighborhood, if you live in the area.