Tag Archives: Fantasy Fiction

The priceless value of beta readers. 

Last October I finally nagged two beta readers for my fantasy novel. I’d had a couple of people on and off, but, as we all know, life tends to get in the way, and it is hard for people to read things for pleasure when they are going into nursing school or going back to school to get their masters degree, no matter trying to digest and critique something that isn’t scholarly, and work a full-time job. But, as luck would have it, one of my original beta readers graduated last year and I approached her again about reading. She jumped at it, being really excited the first time she started reading my novel. She ended up asking her cousin as well about reading, and after I made sure they not only had the will but the actual time to devote to this project, we started. 

I sent ten chapter increments. My friend’s cousin asked me about editing, and I told her to edit to whatever degree she felt comfortable, because a) I’m poor, & b) I wasn’t going to load more work onto someone that they didn’t want to do.

My first reader is one I’d kind of wanted for a while, which is someone to read just for the entertainment value. I’m pretty sure that my second reader is going to be my editor for the rest of my life, 😉 and I love having these two ladies in my corner.

For me, at least, having two types of personalities and two types of readers is hugely beneficial. Just as there are different types of authors and writing styles, so are there readers. Some people like to get into the mechanics of it all, and some people merely want a book to read on the beach, and don’t always care if point A leads to point B to point C, and I think that’s true no matter the genre.

The other immensely valuable thing about beta readers is the honesty. Placing your work in the hands of someone who has no emotional attachment to it is a big step for an author. Digesting everything they come back with is another BIG step. I admit that while I agreed my betas’ points on a lot of things, there were sections that I kinda bristled at the comments. I had to remember that this is what I was asking for.

What works, what doesn’t. Is there something out of character for someone ten or fifteen chapters in, after you’ve gotten a good sense of the character? Are they believable little creations, in a believable world? Does Point A go to Point C without skipping Point B, because in some novels, especially the ones more on the ‘epic’ scale, it can be hard to remember some minute detail that happened twelve chapters ago that comes back into play and having it work. And when you’ve read your own writing a hundred times, it’s easy for your author brain to fill in a mistake without it actually being on the page.

So if you’ve written something, anything, and you think one day in the future you might want five people or eight thousand people to read it, go find someone else to read it first. Preferably more than one. Give them a purpose in reading, and don’t be afraid to ask for the feedback you need, which is not the same as what you want. And, yes, I know that most professionals advise against using family or friends as ‘honest’ readers, because I’m sure that some people’s family would gush praise no matter what. Thankfully, I have a best friend who will always gush about what she loves and will absolutely not on everything else. In, like, all aspects of our now twenty-five year friendship. 

It’s been several months since my betas and I finished the first read through, and I got a bit sidetracked (stuck! Damn you Chapters 22 & 42!!!) in my editing/revising, but I’ve gotten back on track. I know it can take me longer to get some of this done than others, but I am accepting that fact more and more, and that’s allowing me to not beat myself up as much on my writing progress.  

As for those sections that weren’t not working for my in-depth editing beta—it will happen to you. It’s fine to be a bit taken aback, or to even resist changing something you think works. But take a few deep breaths, or a day or week even, and go back to those concerns. I now have some much-improved and truer chapters than I did, and in a couple of those, I really didn’t have to change as much as I thought. Sometimes, the smallest solutions have the biggest impact.


Story A Day May #31

Woo hoo! Totally did it! Even with the six days I missed, I’m pretty darn happy with how the month went. Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in my created fantasy world writing that I forgot, or more often feel, that I have no other stories inside me. It has been refreshing to let go of that space and get out of my head, and it has given me the added bonus of boosting my much needed final revision/editing of the last six chapters of my novel. Thanks so much to everyone who has been following along this month. I’m sure many of you already know how amazingly (and needlessly!) scary it can be to throw your fiction out into the world, which is what makes these past four weeks even more wonderful. Enjoy the last story of May, and I’ll have a progress report in the next couple of days on whatever I feel like writing about. 🙂

May 31, 2015

The kettle whistled. She turned the burner knob off quickly, knowing that the louder it became, the more likely the dog was to bark. The dog did not care for the high-pitched, insistent squeal of steam.

A lavender teabag lay nestled at the bottom of the ceramic mug. It wasn’t a small mug, although she had one of those brown hotel mugs, taken once out of a want to always have one of the plain, almost Middle Ages looking item. Apt to drink out of it while reading fantasy novels or imagining fantastical characters who carried swords. So simple, the shape of a mug or teacup. Simple and pleasing. This one wasn’t over sized either, not that she didn’t have plenty of those kind.

A red glaze, warm in tone, colored this mug. She liked it for its reminiscent upside-down bell shape and the smoothness of its surface. She liked the art of making hot tea, and the vessel must reflect the mood.

This particular evening, she felt contemplative. Settled and content. A long day after little sleep turned less exhaustive by a simple yet delicious dinner, and time spent playing tug-of-war with the dogs in the cooling evening air. She’d picked a sprig of lavender from the garden, just to rub the leaves so she could smell it on her fingers. The fresh sprig rested on the kitchen windowsill, reminding her again of her imagined world and all those characters swirling about her head.

She added sugar to the mug, and poured steaming water from the red kettle. The fragrant tea begging to be tasted, though it would have to wait a few minutes. There is simply no rushing tea.

Photo May 31, 10 00 03 PM


Story A Day May #18

Confession, I really felt like doing anything else than writing, at all points of this day. However, in the spirit of the challenge, and challenging myself, I knew I’d feel worse for not posting a tale, and like I’d let everyone who has been kindly stopping by down. I apparently also needed some extra sleep, since I did not get out of bed until noon, on my first day of having two off days in a row from my job. I also didn’t leave work until 12:20am and got to bed at 2am, with a house full of animals morning feeding in between sleeping for eight hours, so that might have had a little effect on sleeping late. So without further procrastination, enjoy today’s entry!

May 18, 2015

The sound beyond the silence, she was once told in her lessons. If you wait long enough, concentrate long enough, push past the barrier, then you will hear. It won’t be quiet anymore.

Too many times she had come to the circle of trees. So many that she’d lost count. The first time she failed to hear the spirits, she felt the hopefulness of the recently initiated. After a dozen times, she began to feel dismayed yet kept coming. There were times she cried. Times she raged. How could she be worthy of such a gift? The ancient spirits were cruel, or laughing. Both.

She’d never be good enough. Never be blessed enough. But still she came. Each day, an hour before sunrise. When the world was painted in that strange bluish tone, and the nocturnal creatures were preparing for sleep, and the diurnal ones were preparing for the day.

She stood among the trees, eyes closed, on what she didn’t know was her ninety-ninth morning. She felt worried on the walk here but the moment she broke the circle, it melted away like snow on the coming of spring warmth. Something felt different inside, so she waited.

Waited.

Waited.

The moment she felt peace with not hearing the spirits became the moment the world stopped. Silence like she never experienced. She couldn’t even hear her own breathing.

She heard the whispers.


Story A Day May #7 (Here Be Pirates)

Two years ago, when I attempted May’s writing challenge, one of my posts included a pair of characters belonging to the world created in my fantasy novel (and subsequent books planned in the series). I decided to do another one with these two characters, plus one or two others. Where my first novel currently sits, the minority of pirates left have turned into (mostly) legitimate businessmen, but, of course, that was not always the case. If anyone feels like searching back through posts, I think it was May 2 or 3, 2013 that first featured Margaret and William. Luckily, I fell off the face of the blogging world, so there’s not a hundred posts to wade through. Enjoy!

May 7, 2015

Word prompts: bounty, tooth, remonstrance

Edward Dupree squirmed in the chair. He banged the palm of his hand on the seat and let out a shout.

“Hold still, you moron,” Margaret growled.

He shoved away her arm when she let go of his jaw. “If you’d pull the damn thing instead of inflicting more pain.”

“I like inflicting pain.” She half-turned and grabbed a bottle of wine. As she brought the bottle to her lips, she said, “On you especially.”

“Give me that.”

Margaret walked a few steps away while Edward sucked at the bottle. She pushed open the door of the hut, staring at the darkening sky. While she couldn’t see the ocean, she could hear it; the comforting sound of the place she called home. Normally so vigilant and alert, she let her mind be lulled by the sound of waves and birds. William startled her when he appeared in front of the door, and she gasped.

“What are you doing in here? I could hear him down the beach.” Her brother pushed past. She noticed the folded paper he carried.

“New bounty?”

William shrugged.

“How much this time?”

“For all of us, or just you?”

“I told you it was a bad idea coming here,” said Margaret. She pulled the door shut and returned to the middle of the tiny structure. Picking up the forceps, she jabbed them at her brother. “We should have gone to La Suo. We should have gone there a bloody month ago, but no, you said we would be protected here. That woman is not going to help us. Kera was Dresden’s mistress. Was, William. He left her a year ago, sitting in jail in Fandor, and she owes him nothing. Why would she want to help us?”

“Kera. What a woman,” said Edward.

“Oh, shut your mouth,” Margaret snapped. She grabbed his jaw with her left hand. “Not literally.”

“Fok you,” he managed while she tightened her fingers.

She could hear the squeamish sound William made while she forced Edward’s head back and gripped the broken tooth with the iron forceps. “One … two … three.” She pulled back in a straight line, and the molar finally came free.  Blood flowed from the empty socket. Margaret picked up the bowl from Edward’s lap, shoving it at his chest. “Spit in here.” For added effect, she dropped the chunk of tooth into the wood bowl.

William stood near the cutout section of bamboo which served as a window, arms crossed over his chest. Margaret joined him, wiping her face with a rag.

“You still think Eamon Ward is coming?”

He gave her the look of surety that only an older brother could. “You worry too damn much, Mags. He said he’d meet us here.”

“And half of Sertha’s navy is tracking us and him. That correspondence is months old. Probably he’s been killed or arrested, or he ran.”

“Not everyone runs.”

“Yes, they do,” she said, laying a hand on his arm. “Eventually.”

“Is that what we’re doing? Running?”

“You’re Gods’ damn right that’s what we’re doing,” said Edward. He spit out another mouthful of blood. “Have a little faith in your friends, Maggie. If Eamon said he’d come, then he’ll come. So what if it is later than expected?”

“It matters if Kera turns us in,” she said.

“She won’t for another week.”

Edward and Margaret stared at William. He dropped his arms to his sides. “That’s where I went earlier.”

“By the Creators, William!” said Margaret.

“I need to know to what degree of safe we are. Kera might hate Dresden, and while she’s not a fan of Ward, she agreed not to turn us in for a full week. The navy keeps coming here and searching her home and tavern, threatening her with imprisonment. They’re searching the whole town every few days. She’s got children to think about.” Her brother pulled one of the rickety chairs over to the window and sat. “Lucky for us, Kera has no grudge with you. Or Edward.”

She shook her head, but said nothing further, turning away from her brother. A bottle of whiskey, a pair of scissors, a large roll of gauze, and a small bowl sat upon the table on a metal tray. She reached into the bowl to retrieve a thin, short strip of whiskey-soaked gauze that she rolled. She gave it the barest of squeezes and took it to Edward.

“Head back.”

“I fucking hate you,” he said.

“I know. Head back.”

The younger man did as she said. She noticed his knuckles whitening as he gripped the edges of the seat. She caught the look in his brown eyes. Sometimes she forgot that he was only twenty. Practically a child. When she was his age, she’d already lived through three years of horror.

“Take a deep breath, Edward.”

When he sucked in a long breath, she packed the wet gauze into the tooth socket. His shouts were muffled when she pressed a hand against his lips. “For the love of all things, Edward!”

Tears brightened his eyes. “Please, stop,” he whimpered.

“The last thing I need is to cut out an infected, pus-filled piece of your gum,” she said. “Keep that stuffed in your mouth, and when it dries, I’ll replace it.”

William still sat by the window. Head propped against the wall, eyes closed. The man could sleep anywhere. She felt hot and closed in, so she left the hut, walking a through the trees and brush until she emerged at the edge of the beach.

The wind cooled her body and her temperature. She wanted to be on her ship. She wanted to be a thousand miles away, free and unworried. They were both right—she was running. She felt old, tired, and worn of running. Building an empire of piracy had its price, and maybe this was the beginning of the payment.

Margaret stepped out of the dark shelter of the woods. She bent down to scoop up a handful of sand, closing her fist tight against the flowing grains. Staring up the sky, she whispered, “Please, Creators. Let me get out of this one. Let this be the last one. I’ll quit. I’ve got a spot in mind already. And a garden plot. The sea was your home first, Goddess, and one you used to seem content to share. Not anymore. I can feel it. I swear I will leave it forever if you help me.”

A crack of a tree branch had her whirling around, sword drawn before she fully turned.

“Your remonstrance has not gone unanswered.” The man smiled, showing an impossible set of straight, white teeth. She noticed he’d shaved his head, but kept the beard. “Ward sent me.”

Margaret narrowed her eyes at her husband-to-be.


Perspective

The ah-ha moments are what get me. I like having them in my writing. I like good surprises. Admittedly, in most cases of my writing, I wish they would happen earlier, but I’ll be grateful when they happen.

Recently, I was editing a chapter on my first novel. I wasn’t setting out to do anything major. (I have comma issues.) I went over a chapter I knew well, which was a conversation between two men about a third. Let’s say Man A, B & C. So Man-A reveals something to Man-B about Man-C.  Both the first two men know the third and have for many years, and I did a little tinkering with the conversation, though not much. I went onto the next chapter, where I did have to fix a plot point to match a change I had made further down the line. But the conversation I left behind stayed in the back of my mind. Something has always bothered me about the scene. It’s a necessary scene, revealing a few things about Man-C that will be important, but one plot point always seemed wrong.

I have strange reactions to my ah-ha moments. I can remember some of them so well, it’s like I re-live them. This one happened as I got home from work last week. I parked the car, opened the door and wham! Like a literary realization walked up and smacked me. I absolutely knew why the scene bothered me, and how to fix it. It wasn’t that the information I was revealing was unimportant, but that it absolutely did not belong in said Chapter. The reason was that both men would know such an occurrence happened in their friend’s life. Some events change people, and this tidbit is one such event. Why wouldn’t Man-B know this already????? was pretty much what came screaming into my mind. So today I sat down and deleted a small chunk of the scene, added a few sentences here or there to tighten it up, and hit save, satisfied in my work.

What really excites me is that I get to hold onto this information for when it will make the biggest impact. Fingers crossed that if my books ever hit shelves, e- or real, then my readers will like surprises as much as me. 🙂


Quote Day #6

There was a squeaking of of wheels out in the corridor, and every wizard stiffened in anticipation. The door swung open and the first overloaded trolley was pushed in.

There was a series of sighs as every eye focused on the maid who was pushing it, and then some rather louder sighs when they realized that she was not, as it were, the intended.

She wasn’t ugly. She might be called homely, perhaps, but it was quite a nice home, clean and decent and with roses around the door and a welcome on the mat and an apple pie in the oven. But the thoughts of the wizards were, astonishingly, not on food at this point, although some of them were still a bit hazy as to why not.

She was, in fact, quite a pleasant looking girl, even if her bosom had clearly been intended for a girl two feet taller; but she was not Her.*

 

*The Egregious Professor of Grammar and Usage would have corrected this to “she was not she,” which would have caused the Professor of Logic to spit out his drink.                        –Terry Pratchett  – Unseen Academicals.


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