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Category: A Writer’s Musings

All About Writing – Are You a Plotter, Pantser, or Plotster?

Welcome to the new series, friends! This one is all about writing. Next month, we’ll take a little break from it to focus on NaNo prep instead (not just me, either – we’ll prepare together, right here on CookieBreak!), but right now? Right now, let’s answer the important questions in life!

You’ve probably seen people identify as either plotters or pantsers before – many writers include it in their Twitter and Instagram bios – but the awkward middle child, the plotster, is often overlooked or only mentioned briefly. Well, friends, I’m a plotster (for lack of a better word… I admit, I made this one up), and today I’m going to introduce you to all three!

The main difference between the three lies in how they prepare for a new WIP.

If you’re a plotter, you plan. Meticulously. You know what happens in the final chapter of your book before you even start writing the first chapter. You know where your characters are and what they’re doing when and why and with whom, and they will obey you rarely change your mind. You know what you want, and where your story is going. If you’re writing a series, you probably know what happens in every future book before you’ve even started writing Book 1, too!

Plotters are my kind of people, and for a while there I thought I was one of them. They colour-code religiously, their notes might be messy but they’re thorough, and they don’t get stuck halfway through their drafts because every chapter is planned out.

If this sounds like you, be careful not to stick too closely to your plans, though. Sometimes your characters may not develop the way you intended, and events you didn’t foresee when you first planned your book might pop up. As you delve deeper into your first draft, take care not to confine your characters to roles or scenes that might no longer suit them.

Plotters are more likely to have folders, notebooks, and files with all the information relevant to each WIP (colour-coded. religiously.) before they begin writing.

Plot ahead, but don’t be afraid to allow your WIP to evolve on its own, too. 

If you’re a pantser, know that I don’t understand how you get anything done.

Pantsers are the exact opposite of plotters. They don’t plan, they start and see where their idea takes them. Their books develop as they write, and aren’t confined to any one path the writer has set out for them. Books written by pantsers can really come alive, and evolve as the characters do.

However, pantsers are also more likely to hit that dreaded wall. Without a pre-plotted plan, it’s easier to get stuck or run out of ideas. We’ve all been there, and we all know how frustrating this can be! To avoid this, it can help to have a few backup ideas, something to fall back on should your characters grow tired of their freedom and stop talking to you.

Pantsers are more likely to take notes as they write, sometimes in notebooks, and sometimes on scraps of paper; whatever’s handy at the time! Often the two fuse together to create a beautiful mess.

Allow your characters and stories to take the lead, but have a backup plan just in case you hit that wall (or fall into a deep, dark pit).

The plotster is a mixture between the two, and in my opinion it’s the best of both worlds (I’m biased, though, since I’m one of them!). Plotsters plan and plot as much of their book as possible, but they also leave wriggle room for their stories and characters to develop on their own. They know what needs to happen and when, but they’re not afraid to let their characters lead them in another direction if that’s what they want. In fact, they often count on it!

Plotsters have most of their story planned, but chances are they’ve left some gaps, too. Unlike the plotter who prefers to know every chapter before he starts writing, the plotster doesn’t mind leaving a few empty index cards. Plotsters trust that, by the time they reach those empty spaces, their characters will know what needs to happen next and take the lead until the next notes pop up.

This doesn’t always work, however, and sometimes plotsters get stuck, too.

Plotsters are more likely to have notebooks filled with information for each WIP (I have a different notebook for each WIP or series, and yes, I do colour-code religiously!), but you’ll likely also find a few scraps of paper from when ideas popped up halfway through their daily commute, or in the middle of the night.

Don’t worry if you don’t have all the details before you start writing – your characters know what to do.

How do you prepare for a new WIP? Are you a plotter, pantser, or plotster? Make a cup of tea, have some biscuits, and let’s chat!


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Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love – Which Point of View is Right for Your Book?

It’s time for the final post in this series, friends! Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at how to create believable characters, how and why to craft the anti-baddie, and various other aspects of character creation, but today we’ll take a look at Point of View. It’s an essential part of your WIP, after all!

Who tells your story is one of the first things you decide before you start writing. Will there be one POV, or six? Will it be first person narrator, or third? When I was younger I struggled with this; the choice seemed SO important, and it never even occurred to me that I could just change it later (not that I finished any of my earlier drafts or thought about editing…).

I do have a preference now. My POV of choice is a third person narrator with multiple POVs. While I have used a first person narrator and a single POV on occasion in unpublished experiments, I fall more easily into third person and start every WIP that way. I rarely change my mind. It’s the POV that feels most natural to me when I’m writing.

Let’s take a look at the options available to you:

For many of us, a first person narrator comes easiest. We talk in first person, we send messages and emails in first person, so it only makes sense that you might write in first person, too!

Many of my writing buddies prefer first person to third person. It allows you to really get into your character’s head, and will make it easy to convey what they’re going through as they’re going through it. It makes your chapters more personal, since we feel like the character is talking to us.

At the back of my mind, Darin’s voice grows fainter: Find something, Laia. Something that will save me. Hurry.

No, another, louder part of me says. Lay low. Don’t risk spying until you’re certain you won’t get caught.

Which voice do I listen to? The spy or the slave? The fighter or the coward? I thought the answers to such questions would be easy. That was before I learned what real fear was.

(from An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir)

It’s also more limiting, which doesn’t have to be a weakness! A character written in first person gives the reader insight into everything the character does, sees, and thinks, but no more. This can create tension if done well, but can also leave your reader frustrated if done badly.

For some examples of excellent first person narrators, check out these books:

 

A second person narrator isn’t easy to pull off, but if you want to give it a try I suggest you experiment a little first before committing to anything. I haven’t read any books written entirely in second person, but The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern had some parts written like this. Have a look:

In this tent, suspended high above you, there are people. Acrobats, trapeze artists, aerialists. Illuminated by dozens of round glowing lamps hanging from the top of the tent like planets or stars.

There are no nets.

You watch the performance from this precarious vantage point, directly below the performers with nothing in between.

The reason it can work extremely well is because it makes everything personal. The writer addresses you, and effectively makes you a part of the story. When you’re reading The Night Circus, you feel like you’re experiencing the circus yourself. But it’s also easy to do badly; most people just aren’t used to writing in second person. Educational books and poetry are more likely to use second person, but it can be done in fiction – it’s just not as common. As a matter of fact, my blog posts are a mixture of first person and second person, because I’m addressing you but I’m also talking about my experiences and writing methods!

Here’s the one example I have read:

I love the third person narrator, because it allows you to get into your characters’ heads and give a little insight on the side. It’s a common choice in fiction, so you’d be in excellent company!

I’ve read several articles that state third person POVs can’t get into your character’s head as well as the first person narrator does, but I don’t think that’s true. I’d argue that third person narrators are just as capable as getting into your character’s head (and your readers’) as first person narrators. In fact, the books that have moved destroyed me the most were written in third person!

When the woman dared disobey him the child was so surprised she bit her fingers. She scarcely felt the small pain, vast like the barren wastes beyond the village’s godpost, and had been so since her first caterwauling cry. She was almost numb to it now.

(from Empress by Karen Miller)

You need to be careful, though, because it’s all too easy to switch narrator part way through. If this keeps happening to you, you may want to consider writing your book with several POVs (more on that below). It’s easily done – you’re writing a chapter from Kath’s POV, mention briefly how Jake left the room without a word because he felt like he needed to throw up – and just like that you’ve switched POV without even realising it! Because, you see, Kath only knows that Jake ran out of the room without a word. She might suspect it’s because he’s feeling sick, but she can’t know that because he hasn’t said anything. When you’re writing your first draft it’s easy to make a mistake like that, but it can be hard to spot on your own, so you need to be careful.

Take a look at these wonderful examples:

While I personally prefer multiple POVs, I don’t mind a single narrator telling the entire story. I prefer writing multiple POVs, but I’m not fussy when it comes to reading them.

Having a single POV means that one character tells the entire story. We’re not privy to anything the MC doesn’t know, and will unravel the plot as your character does. This can add a lot of tension, since we don’t know what’s going on behind the MCs back.

What a single narrator doesn’t mean is that your readers only get one opinion. Unless your character never talks to anyone and doesn’t make eye contact, the other characters in your story are likely to argue or support your character throughout. In this way, even though we don’t get whole chapters from their POV, we still know how they feel about the plot and other characters. Your side characters don’t have to fall short just because you’ve chosen a single narrator!

Here are two books with brilliant single POVs:

This is my favourite (I may have mentioned this already… *ahem*). Multiple POVs allow your reader to get a broader sense of what’s going on, but this also means that your characters need to be strong. If you have four POVs and three characters sound and act the same, you’ve got work to do! Every POV needs to add something unique to the story. One of the reasons Six of Crows works so well is because all six points of view have their own voice, and we know who’s talking without Bardugo needing to tell us. There’s a scene where Kaz asks the others what the easiest way to relieve a man of his purse is, and the answers that follow stand alone. No identifiers. No ‘so-and-so said’. But we know who’s talking, because Bardugo has created six strong characters who each stand out from the others.

From my own experience, your readers will either enjoy this or they won’t. Some readers love getting more angles and even knowing that the antagonist has set a trap their favourite characters aren’t aware off, but other readers think it takes away from the tension. Personally, I’m more tense knowing that a character I’m rooting for is walking into a trap. Of course, having more than one POV doesn’t mean one of those has to be the villain! Who you choose is up to you – just make sure they’re there for a reason.

I’ve read plenty of articles recently encouraging new writers to stay far away from multiple POVs. I don’t think that’s necessary. If you want your book to have six narrators, you go write six narrators – just make sure you create six different narrators. Make sure all six are strong, believable, and shine in their own right, and having more than one POV won’t be a problem. It creates more work, sure, but if you enjoy the character creation process like I do you won’t mind that.

More to love, more to hurt you 😉

 

This would be my recommendation of what to stay away from. At least until you find your feet. I’ve read a few books this year which had an omniscient narrator, and most of the time I find it irritating. If a chapter starts with Taylor’s thoughts, I don’t want it to switch to Hillary’s thoughts mid-sentence, and then switch back to Taylor before the paragraph is over. I’ll happily raise my hand and say it’s confusing, and I don’t get it.

You might like an omniscient POV because it knows everything, and can show the reader whatever it wants at any time. Personally, I always feel more detached from the characters, like I’m getting a bit of everything but I’m not getting any of it completely (kinda like buffets which serve however many different cuisines but haven’t mastered any of them).

I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but I do think it takes some skill. I love the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, but as a general rule I’m not a fan.

Here are some examples:

 

You’re excused if you’re writing your book with an omniscient narrator. Otherwise, choose your POV and stick to it. If you feel while you’re writing or editing (I hope for your sanity’s sake that you feel it while you’re still writing the scene) like the chapter would be better told from someone else’s POV, fix it. It’s not too late to change what you’re doing until you’ve hit publish.

If you do switch POV partway through a chapter, make sure there’s a clear scene break so we’re not confused by the sudden change. It’s as simple as tapping the space bar twice instead of once.

As with anything in this business, there’s no one right way of doing things. Go with your instincts. If you start writing your book and it just comes out as a first person narrator with multiple POVs, go with it! If you had plans of writing it in third person with one narrator but the opposite happens naturally as you write, don’t force your first choice. Let whatever happens organically happen.

And if you suddenly realise halfway through the first monster edit that your book needs to be rewritten from third person to first person, I send warm thoughts to you and your sanity.

And that’s it for another series, friends!

If you’ve missed anything or would like to remind yourself of a specific topic, here they are again:

(have you collected your free character questionnaire?)

In the next series, we’ll look at why you should write for yourself above anyone else, what it means to be a plotter or a pantser (or the plotster hybrid), and other general writing related topics, so keep an eye out for those! 😉 In the meantime, if you have any questions, ask away!

How do you decide which POV is right for your book? Do you have a preference when you read? Make yourself a cuppa, and let’s talk about books!


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For all of my other musings, click me!

For Cookie Break’s home page, have a look here.

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Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love – The Anti-Baddie

Over the past few weeks we’ve already talked quite a lot about how to create believable characters. What we haven’t looked at so much are redeeming qualities, or why you might want your villains to be likeable in the first place! The short answer is conflict. The long answer is below 😉

You’ve heard plenty of talk about the anti-hero, I’m sure! People love an anti-hero – a hero who has some negative traits like assassination or thieving besides the good ones – but they love a good anti-baddie just as much.

Your antagonist probably wants to rule the world, create chaos, and generally make life difficult for your protagonist (or something along those lines, anyway – I’m not here to tell your villains their business). But it doesn’t have to end there. Villains rarely see themselves as the bad guys, so there’s no harm in giving them some good traits, too!

We all love an antagonist we love to hate, but I love the antagonist I have conflicting feelings for even more. So he’s an assassin – he’s a cat person, too, and will stop to pet every kitten he meets! (one might argue that’s not really a positive trait, exactly… but don’t listen to those people. they’re not cat people and can’t be trusted.)

Or how about the evil queen who wants to murder a village – but only because it would save her sister’s life, and even though she’ll despise herself for it?

The redeeming quality can be something emotional like that, or it can be an action. Your baddie might be a murderer, but oh look, he volunteers in a soup kitchen once a week because really he feels guilty about all the lives he’s taken. Or what if he doesn’t want to kill all those people or seek world domination, and only does it because someone else is pulling the strings? Your villains can commit crimes without enjoying themselves or without being the mastermind behind the plans.

All those things make your readers more conflicted. It’s easy to hate the antagonist who creates chaos for chaos’ sake, but it’s harder to hate someone who’s doing all those evil things for a good reason, despite having a good side, or knowing they’ll live with the guilt for the rest of their lives!

As we’ve discussed a few weeks ago, every character has strengths and weaknesses. I won’t go into detail now because we’ve already covered this topic, but in the case of your baddie his weakness could also be his redeeming quality. You could see the assassin with the hit list of ten high-ranking government employees – or you could see the brother who’s scared for his sister’s life because she has talents said government has just outlawed. He goes on to kill some of those high-ranking people, maybe even all of them (where’s your hero in this? why isn’t he saving them??), but he only does it to protect his sister, who may not even know what her brother is up to! Maybe he didn’t tell her because he knows that she would shoulder the guilt, and by not telling her he’s trying to protect her further!

Years ago I read an article – and I could kick myself for not remembering where! – about what makes redemption impossible for any character. This doesn’t affect just your anti-baddie, either, but your heroes, too. There were three actions the article stated no character could recover from. I remember two of them *ahem*

It stated that killing dogs and molesting or otherwise hurting children are actions no character, no matter how good otherwise, can recover from.

While you might disagree, this is something you need to consider. Your character might have a good reason for killing a dog – an exception could be if the dog is dying and in pain, and the character shows mercy and ends its suffering – but you’d need to do something pretty special to let your character recover from it. A lot of people are protective of their dogs and children, and if your character harms one or both chances are he’s had it.

(If you somehow know which article I’m talking about, please let me know so I can link it)

… don’t count. If you ask me. You can disagree with me, obviously, but if something terrible happened in their past and they use it as a reason to do bad things now then that’s not a redeeming quality. So what if your antagonist was kicked out from home at a young age and was despised by his parents before that? He’s still capable of making his own decisions, and deciding to destroy someone’s world – or everyone’s world if your villain is so inclined – is a decision he’s made.

Reading to sick children at the hospital twice a month is a redeeming quality. Getting revenge for something that happened in your past is not. The former is trying to be a good person at least in some aspects of his life. The latter is committing a crime because he can.

If you think you can convince me otherwise, bring it on 😉

Not every villain needs to have a kind side. As I said above, we love baddies we love to hate, and they’re definitely easier to hate when they’re all evil with no flicker of goodness in them. Literature and cinema are full of excellent examples! Just look at Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Sometimes the bad guys are just evil, and their re-occurrence on TV and in books shows just how much we love it. But plenty of them are more complex than that, too. Next time you create your antagonist, consider creating an anti-baddie, because they need our love and hatred, too <3

Who are your favourite anti-baddies? Do you prefer your bad guys all evil with no kindness, or do you prefer them with a few redeeming qualities? Make a tea, have a biscuit, and let’s chat!


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Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love – Your Character’s History

We’ve already looked at the basics of creating intriguing characters as well as your character’s strengths and weaknesses, but today I’d like to delve a little deeper.

Our characters’ lives are complex. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what they’re afraid of, what their goals are, and what their odd little speech quirks are that we sometimes forget that our little fictional babies didn’t start with Chapter One. They started way before that (unless Chapter One is your MC’s birth, in which case excuse me), and just like with us their history has turned them into the complex creatures they are when your story begins.

Your character’s history is something that will likely pop up sooner or later while you’re writing anyway, so it can’t hurt to be prepared. As with all aspects of writing a book, it’s not necessary for you to know every tiny detail before you start writing the first paragraph – if you’re a pantser you might even prefer it that way! – but knowing at least some of the more basic details can help you when a side character suddenly asks your MC where he’s come from, or why he’s on this journey.

In Six of Crows, for example, Inej had a happy childhood walking the tightrope and generally getting a pretty good grasp over her balance – until she got kidnapped, shipped off on a slaver ship, and sold to a whorehouse. Both of those things – first her childhood then the slavery – had a huge impact on her life, play a massive role in the books, and influence her character development.

In Reflections, Rama’s history is everything. Before the beginning of the book she was raped, and she’s never told anyone about it. This affects the way she sees herself, her confidence, and her desire to become someone else, if only for a brief moment, which only informs the entire plot!

I’m currently reading A Torch Against the Night, the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes. Elias, a Martial who has grown up with his people’s brutality and superiority over just about everyone else, hates the things he’s expected to do and the way he’s meant to treat the other races. He’s seen this cruelty all his life, and it informs his decision to flee the Empire and help Laia, a Scholar girl he’s been taught to kill without question if told to.

Two examples from my own books: Rachael, my main character in the Relics of Ar’Zac trilogy, grew up as a homeless orphan hated by the other villagers because she has magic. She’s paranoid and very suspicious of strangers by the time the story starts. She’s also starved for love and friendship, so when she meets Cephy, a little girl who can control fire and is as hated by the other villagers as Rachael, she’s on her guard but she’s also tempted by the possibility of having the first friend of her life.

Doran, one of my four main characters in Darkened Light, travels and thieves his way through life, but he hasn’t always been a thief constantly on the move. He used to have a happy childhood growing up with his older brother, until the accident (Darkened Light isn’t out yet so I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers). He ran away from home, lived in Cairdh for a little while where he learned how to pick locks, pockets, and the prize of shiny valuables, and moved on when the monotony became boring. When the book starts he’s fairly selfish, a wee bit arrogant, and has a habit of getting himself into danger. But he has a kind and loyal side, too, and as the plot progresses he battles with which Doran he wants to be.

They inspire conflict! At the very least your character’s history affects some of her decisions and personality like in Six of Crows, but at most it can affect the entire plot like in Reflections and An Ember in the Ashes!

A few weeks ago I uploaded a character questionnaire, and some of the questions included are there to help you figure out your character’s past. Has your character ever been in love? What’s their earliest memory? Is he holding on to something he maybe shouldn’t be? You can still download the questionnaire here for free – just scroll down to the bottom of the post and it’s there waiting for you 🙂

How do you figure out your character’s history? Do you use a questionnaire, too, or do you use other methods? Pour yourself a tea and share away! 🙂


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Self-Doubt: 14 Authors Share Their Advice

Today is an exciting days, friends. Today is the day we kick self-doubt where it hurts because today, 14 wonderful authors have come together to talk about how to go to war with it!

If you’ve written for any length of time – or if you’ve put it off because of self-doubt, perhaps? – you’ll know exactly what I mean. Self-doubt is the reason you haven’t hit that ‘publish’ button on KDP yet. Self-doubt is the reason you can’t continue writing your draft because you’re scared no one will like what you do, or worse yet – what if everyone who reads it leaves soul-destroying reviews? It may even be the reason you haven’t started Chapter 1 despite wanting to.

I’m hoping we can convince you to keep writing anyway, and glare right back when self-doubt is glaring at you and shove it back into its dark corner.

Crippling self-doubt is a horrible feeling, but you’re far from alone, friends. Every creative in the existence of ever has had to deal with this, and we’re here today to tell you why you can’t let it defeat you, and how to tackle it to the ground and tie it to a tree so it can’t escape.

Are you ready? TO WAR! *battle cry*

I’m not going to lie and tell you that you won’t receive any negative reviews, because you will. Your book won’t work for everyone; the sooner you come to terms with this, the better. You haven’t enjoyed every book you’ve ever read, either, but the ones you didn’t like still have five-star reviews! You might get reviews so angry you’ll wonder why people have to use Goodreads and Amazon as an outlet for their aggression (and I’ve seen these, friends, they absolutely exist and defy logic), but they don’t cancel out your shining reviews! Ten one-star reviews don’t negate your fifty five-star reviews! The people buying your book don’t have any obligation to like what they paid for, they are allowed to be disappointed. So they didn’t like it; at least they tried it. Other people loved it, and it’s those people you write for (on the days when you feel you can’t write for yourself, anyway – always write for yourself first).

Don’t be discouraged when your first draft is rubbish. That’s what first drafts are there for; the magic happens when you rewrite and edit and overdose on tea. Don’t be discouraged when one person tells you your book didn’t work for them. As we’ve just discussed, your book won’t be right for everyone but this doesn’t make your positive reviews less valid. You still earned those.

And above all, don’t let self-doubt convince you that you’re no good and that everyone will hate your book and that it’d be better if you just gave up now. You’re not alone, we’ve all been there, and if you reach out I promise we’ll convince you otherwise (tea and biscuits will be involved if you come to me).

***

Eden Sharp, Author of The Breaks

Every year I tell the fledgling first year undergraduates I teach the same thing. Sometimes it takes three years to sink in but it’s really very simple yet crucial advice. You have to give yourself permission to write rubbish initially. All work begins this way. Writing is rewriting. Unfortunately, many beginning writers become so critical of their work in the early stages they either block themselves from writing or give up entirely. All early work is bad no matter who wrote it. Think of it this way. When other artists create stunning work they have to invest in the materials first. A sculptor needs to first purchase a leaden lump of clay which must then be worked hard in order for the beautiful finished piece to emerge. Our tools as writers are words. We need to mine lots of them to begin with. Quantity before quality. They’ll be misshapen and ugly and that’s okay because the more we work the mud the hidden gems within will start to appear and it is these which we will work on until they shine. So you have to give yourself permission to write rubbish without judgement. Don’t be afraid of mining mud to begin with. You’re just gathering your materials. As Stephen King said about the pain that goes with the first draft, just write the damn thing. Polishing comes later. Have faith. With enough work your words will eventually shine I promise.

You can find Eden on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Amazon, and her website.

Nadia L. King, Author of Jenna’s Truth

The magic of writing is contained on the page—it’s when you forget about who you are and everything becomes about the story. That magic is why most writers write.

Prolific American author, Richard Russo once said that self-consciousness is the enemy of art. Self-consciousness is where self-doubt and fear reside—it’s the voices in your head which threaten to sabotage your stories. I’m not sure if the voices ever fall silent but I do know self-discipline can help quieten them. Showing up, sitting in front of your desk, pounding out the words, crossing your fingers that the magic will turn up—that’s what moves you forward and overthrows the voices.

Every writer it seems suffers from crushing darkness of self-doubt. Charles Bukowski once bemoaned that bad writers seem to have self-confidence while the good ones suffer self-doubt.

Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear talks about the need to be brave. Gilberts says artists need to get to that place in creative life where curiosity becomes larger than fear.

As writing becomes more habitual hopefully ignoring the voices will become second nature and as a writer you will experience excitement about what the muse will provide. Don’t let fear stop you from connecting with the magic of writing.

You can find Nadia on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Rhianne Stephanie, Author of The Collective

The scariest thing to do is share your work, but it can be one of the best things to do as a writer who might be a discouraged. Speaking from personal experience, having a writer friend who you can bounce ideas off and share your writing with is worth it’s weight in gold. When I get stuck I share a few lines of what I’ve just written and a bit of background to one or two friends and they will help me bounce ideas on where to go next, and to think in depth about what my characters are going through. They remind me to think about how they would react and feel instead of focusing on the action.

Another piece of advice I would give to writers is to take a break. Work on something else, watch TV and films, read books. Find a way to re ignite your spark for creativity. It doesn’t have to be long, and you don’t even have to work on something else. I found that on breaks where I focused on self-care that ideas and lines of dialogue just came to me when I was in the shower, or watching a movie in bed with my boyfriend.

Take breaks and ask for help. No writer will turn you away, especially when we have all been in the same boat! But don’t expect results instantly, we have our own work to do too. Best to ask in Facebook groups and get people to let you know when they’re free.

You can find Rhianne on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Amazon, and her website.

Michael Chrobak, Author of Brother Thomas and the Guardians of Zion and Where Angels Dwell

As an artist, discouragement can come in a wide range of flavors. We can get discouraged that our books aren’t getting any attention by publishers or agents. We can get discouraged that our books are selling as fast as we hoped they would. Or we can get discouraged that our muse had taken a vacation, leaving us hauntingly unable to write even a simple birthday card greeting. I’ve even found myself getting discouraged after re-reading my work-in-progress and finding it to be very flat – after completing over 40,000 words! (And yes, I deleted almost 90% of that WIP)

Therefore, I believe the first thing to do is to identify what type of discouragement you are having. When you understand what it is that’s bringing you down, you can more easily identify the solution. I find that reminding myself why I chose to be an author in the first place helps me to identify where my frustrations are. For example, since I became an author for the simple fact that I could no longer quiet the urge to write, if I’m feeling discouraged that I haven’t sold a book in a while, I simply remind myself of why I write. To me, I would rather have a handful of readers who love what I do, then thousands of readers who are ambivalent.

Defining your ‘why’ gives you the understanding and strength to endure any ‘how’. It’s when we don’t know why we do what we do that frustration and disappointment come. Trust me, regardless your goal, if you don’t know why you pursue it, it will always be elusive. Define who you are first, and everything else will fall into place.

You can find Michael on his website, FacebookTwitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Ellen Read, Author of The Dragon Sleeps

Whether you’re starting out on your writing career or have several books published you will feel discouraged at least some of the time and plain scared at others. The first time you let other people read your words is terrifying. The moments before then you’ll be certain what you’ve written is rubbish.

The main thing is to believe in yourself and your dream. Think of where you want to go, what you want to do, then understand that in any job we have to take little steps in the beginning. We’ll probably make mistakes but use these to help you grow. Ask for and take advice, talk to other writers, but don’t let criticism cripple you. Remember you don’t have to accept all the advice.

You can find Ellen on her blog, website, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Goodreads, and Amazon

Liz Meldon, Author of the Lovers and Liars series and the Games We Play series

No matter how much you love writing, I think we can all agree that there are a lot of aspects about the publishing world that can get very disheartening. And that’s okay. It’s okay to have a moment of wanting to rip your hair out and quit. What matters is that you take some time to breathe, recover from your moment, and keep on working at it. Remember that we all get discouraged. Even the most successful authors out there feel exactly like you’re feeling right now. I promise.

There are lots of reasons why a writer might get discouraged, but I’d like to focus on one: feeling as though your market is either oversaturated or too obscure. Let’s use romance as an example. You worry there are too many romance novels out there—so why bother writing yours? Or, on the other side of things, you fear your rather niche subgenre won’t garner interest, so let’s throw in the towel and pump out some silly romance books. That’ll solve everything, right?

Wrong. Write what makes you happy and your readers will see it. Write what makes you passionate. Write what thrills you. Readers know when your enthusiasm for a genre matches theirs, and they gravitate toward it. So don’t panic. Write your novel, even if there are literally millions out there already. Write your obscure, niche genre 10-book series. There is a reader for every writer. Never forget that.

Find Liz on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, her blog and Goodreads.

K. J. Chapman, Author of the EVO Nation series and Thrown to the Blue

I doubt there is an author alive who doesn’t get discouraged from time to time, whether it be a bad review, or just that nagging voice in the back of your head saying you’re not good enough. My ultimate advice for tackling this discouragement is to ask yourself, ‘Why do I write?’ I’m guessing the answer is because you love it, you enjoy it, you just have to. That’s all you need to remember. You are doing something that you love, and no, you’re work may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s yours. Keep striving to do what makes you happy. Write what you want to read. That’s what comes across in the writing.

You can find Kayleigh on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, PinterestGoodreads, and Amazon.

Becky Wright, Author of The Manningtree Account and Remember to Love Me

I promise you, it’s never been said, that being a writer is easy. We plunge knives through our hearts and bleed through our fingers. We do it because we are tethered to the written word. However, we can all suffer from doubt, those thoughts of ‘why bother?’

It’s at times like these, you should take a step back, evaluate and come up for air. Immersing yourself in those thoughts will only bring you down further. There’s no end of contributing factors, we lead busy lives, maybe it’s shortage of time or the lack of progress on your current writing. A clear idea, a structure, put to paper can be a real lift to your state of mind, to see tangible progression is a great motivator. Allow yourself the luxury of time, even if it’s an hour a day, or a couple of evenings a week, whichever fits your life. But always give yourself goals – aim, achieve, and plot your growth.

To fall back in love with writing is half the battle. Read, soak in the written word, the more you read the easier you will write, and the more focused you will feel.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt is not to compare. The success of fellow writers, can, if you permit it, hinder your own motivation, it’s never a healthy thought set for your craft. Instead, allow it to drive you forward, aspire, let their success boost you. If in your heart you can’t imagine life without writing, then why stop?

You can find Becky on her website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Beverley Lee, Author of the Gabriel Davenport Trilogy

Don’t think that everything has to be perfect the first time around. I fell into this trap for the longest time, and kept wondering why everything just felt clogged up and stilted. The most important thing is getting your ideas on the paper/screen in that first draft.  Everything can be edited. There’s a reason that fledgling draft is called the vomit one! Also, don’t compare yourself to other writers. Just because someone writes for seven hours a day in perfect silence, drinking green tea smoothies, doesn’t mean that you have to copy them. Any word count or planning is making progress on your story. It will unfold in its own time. You need to find your own rhythm and what works for *you*. Try mixing things up a little if you feel stalled – writing by hand works for a lot of people, and you have the added advantage that you can do it anywhere.

Write from the heart. Write what moves you and gives you All The Feels. Don’t be afraid to go where your characters lead you, even if it gets ugly. In truth, trust them, and trust your story.

You can find Beverley on her website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

R. K. Ryde, Author of the Stella series

It’s funny that I’m writing about advice for discouraged writers – and that’s not funny in a ha ha way, it’s funny in an woo-woo way because that’s exactly how I’ve felt the last month or so – discouraged.

So, how did I pull myself up by my bootstraps and carry on? By remembering that everyone gets discouraged with their writing at some point in time. AND by reading articles and listening to podcasts about encouragement for discouraged writers.

Here are a few gems I gleaned from my own readings and recent experience:

  1. Give yourself a break. I’m lucky enough to be self-published, so the only deadline I have breathing down my neck is my very own self-imposed deadline. Sure, you may have readers expecting your next novel (and that in of itself is a huge boost of encouragement) but in all reality, if readers are eagerly awaiting your next masterpiece, take the pressure off yourself and make it the masterpiece they are wanting. An extra month or so won’t deter the most devoted fan.
  2. Remember, it’s only a first draft. Especially coming off the back of finishing a fully polished and highly edited novel, the first draft of your next book can seem very clunky and imperfect.
  3. Keep at it. Don’t give up. Only by putting one word after another will that book be finally written.
  4. Read! I have found by using my break time (see point one) to read for pleasure, I am inspired by my favourite authors and can’t wait to get back to my laptop to get my own words down.

You can find Rhonda on her website, Facebook, and Instagram, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Melinda Devine, Author of Gina’s Diaries

What advice do I have for discouraged writers? Make sure you always have a supply of wine, chocolate, coffee and ice cream. Oh, and subscribe to Netflix so you can binge watch series during your ‘I can’t do this’ phase.

I become discouraged for a number of reasons. Self-doubt is a huge one. Another is comparing myself to other writers and their methods. There’s also the crappy writing I can do, and the writing I can’t do when the words refuse to flow. I don’t have a University degree stating I’m a professional writer, so that plays havoc with my mind and don’t forget the dreaded one star review.

To overcome all that and continue on your path as a writer, you need to remember one thing; it’s your journey.

It doesn’t matter what anyone says, negative or positive, bottom line is, it’s all up to you. You’re in control of your actions and emotions. You can sit with pen in hand or in front of your computer and do nothing. Or you can choose to get those words down and finish what you started.

So if writing is what you want to do, sure, entertain those discouraging thoughts for a small amount of time. Drink that wine or eat the tub of ice cream while binge watching a season of The Originals but when it’s finished, get back on your chosen path, believe in yourself and write.

You can find Melinda on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon.

Faith Rivens, Author of Eléonore

I’ll be honest, friends. Ten years into the writing game and I still suffer self-doubt on a daily basis. Some days it’s only a niggling qualm and some days it looms like a supermassive black hole. I fell into a particularly bad rut three years ago and almost walked away from writing for good.

I learned a lot from that experience.

Passion. If you love something deeply enough, it is worth the stumbles and falls. This applies to life in general, not just writing.

One of your greatest allies in this game is realizing that perfection doesn’t exist and so you shouldn’t aim for it. Your focus needs to be writing YOUR best story.

First drafts are supposed to be wonky. Your story will come out in your revisions and edits. Perseverance is key here. Writing YOUR best story requires discipline, but it’s worth it.

Recognize your own strengths. Humility is an important quality to possess, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give yourself credit where credit is due. And never let anyone convince you that your passion is a waste of time. Believe in your abilities. Believe in yourself. Trust yourself too.

Writing might be a personal thing, but it doesn’t have to be a solitary one. Engaging on social media platforms led me to discover a supportive writing community. We encourage each other on our journeys. It’s a good reminder that the struggles we face are not unique to us. We all suffer self-doubt. We all suffer fear. We don’t have to be overwhelmed by it.

Life’s too short to hide away in fear.

You can find Faith on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Amazon, and her blog.

Anna B. Madrise, Author of The Hatter’s Wife

The best advice I have to give to discouraged writers is to remember this one point: “this career choice is a marathon not a sprint.” The decision to go from being a writer to being an author is one that should showcase your passion for the written word through your stories. This is not a way to “get rich quick” but rather a way to see your art come alive and touch others. I have a full-time job on top of writing as much “full-time” as I can. Yes, my goal is to live off of the income that my books bring in but my driving force behind what I do is because I get excited about the worlds I create and the characters I bring to live for my readers. Write because it is your passion and eventually the rest will all fall into place.

You can find Anna on her website, InstagramTwitterFacebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.

James Fahy, Author of the Phoebe Harkness series and The Changeling series

As writers, we are all SUCH control freaks, and SUCH perfectionists, that no matter how many times you draft and redraft, revise, cut and edit, rearrange and review, you are NEVER (no…really…NEVER) going to reach a point where you genuinely, with your whole heart can say to yourself: ‘There. It’s done. It’s perfect. There is no way I could possibly improve this. It can go out to Agents now. Now, finally, I am happy to send it to the publisher.’ We’re good at procrastinating.

Have faith in your work. It should be good enough that you are super-proud of it…of course…but it will NEVER be so good you think it’s perfect. Holding on to that fear and obsessive doubt that either you or your writing is not quite top-grade is one of the first main obstacles to taking the publishing plunge.

The worry ‘everyone won’t love your book’, is also a crippling doubt. The fact is, not everyone will. Some people will love it, some people will cast it aside with a ‘meh’, and others, no matter how much you wish it wasn’t the case, will hate it.

Deal with it.

You cannot write to please everyone, and the important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t TRY to. If you try to, it’s obvious, and it shows, and it stinks of phoney.

I don’t write for other people. I don’t write with a target audience in mind that I’m hoping to ensnare (If you’re writing in any genre, that happens naturally and organically as you pen the story) but even the most loved books in the world will have fanatic fans and sneering detractors in equal measure.

If only a handful of people love your work, that’s NOT a bad thing… that handful of people LOVE YOUR WORK. That’s an amazing compliment. To achieve that kind of connection of minds and ideas through a shared story. That, to me, is the magic of writing, and why we need to confront, rather than ignore, our ‘doubts’.

Doubt shouldn’t ever stop you believing you can make that connection, and you can make it on your own terms, and for all the right reasons.

So stop worrying your writing isn’t perfect. It isn’t. no-ones is. Still write anyway. Singing off key is still music. And stop trying to ‘maximise’ the number of people you can reach and please. You only need to reach one, and your job is done. Any more than that, is just icing on the author cake.

Find James on Twitter, Instagram, FacebookGoodreads, Amazon, and his blog.

***

How do you tackle self-doubt? If you need more words of encouragement, you can either grab some cookies and a tea and leave a comment below, or you can check out the two previous posts on self-doubt I published here this month. Author Dana Fraedrich talks about it here, and I talk about self-doubt as well as writer’s block on Nadia’s blogsite here.

Or you can do both 🙂


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Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love – Strengths and Weaknesses

Two weeks ago we looked at how to make your characters pop (not literally, of course. that would be messy), and today we’ll look a little closer at one of the points raised then.

Your characters’ strengths and weaknesses – and why both are equally important – has almost become a cliche post to write, if you ask me. But I read too many characters which only have strengths and no weaknesses, so I feel it’s important to repeat it again. As often as it takes!

You’ll probably sigh with boredom and wonder if you should just skip this bit. After all, your character’s strengths are easy! Make him constantly positive! Make her confident! Make him a feminist! Make her brave!

It looks simple, but there’s more to character creation than making our precious babies brave or strong. Once you know what your character’s strength is, you can use it to really shine! How do you show that a female character is confident with her body and appearance? A lot of us girls struggle with our confidence, so writing a character who struggles, too, but turns it into a strength and becomes more confident as the plot progresses can be fantastic!

For example, Briana Morgan does this beautifully in Reflections. Rama is all of us where her body image is concerned. She hates her body and the way she looks, and clothes shopping with her beautiful friend is a nightmare. Watching her transformation into a self-confident girl who appreciates her body and looks was empowering, ladies!

Another fantastic example is Nina from the brilliant Six of Crows duology. She’s not your usual skinny girl but celebrates her slightly larger body, no excuses made. I think you’ll all agree, ladies, that that’s one hell of a strength! Reading about a character who’s comfortable with who she is, what she looks like and wears it like a badge of honour was empowering, ladies! (I seem to be developing a pattern here…)

One more example: In An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Laia is a slave girl who is tasked with infiltrating her enemy’s headquarters and spying on their leader (a fantastic villain, by the way, if you need more of those in your life (and, I mean, why wouldn’t you?)). She has no experience as a spy and is more likely to run away than stay and fight, but she’s stubborn, determined, and most of all she loves her brother, who’s been taken prisoner by the enemy. It’s for his sake she agrees, endures torture, and gets up time and time again. A love for your family and the will to see them safe is something we all recognise and can relate to, and informed Laia’s character development massively!

Heroes need weaknesses like I need cookies after a long editing session, so you mustn’t skip this. Weaknesses make them more relatable. If your character is too perfect with no flaws, your readers will find it difficult to root for him, and that’s the last thing you want! Especially when it’s so easily avoided.

When you’re at the beginning of your writing journey and only just start to think about character creation, thinking of negative traits to give your precious imaginary friends can be difficult, but it’s vital that you don’t skip this step.

My favourite example comes from Nevernight, because it’s not the kind of weakness you’d expect. Mia trains to be an assassin – and as we all know from personal experience (*ahem* obviously), assassins get hired to kill, they don’t get to be picky. So it’s seen as a weakness (Mr. Kindly, her beautiful wisp of a ghost cat, points this out several times) that she can’t bury her compassion and do as she’s told. Because, friends, while she harbours deep hatred for a small selection of people, she’s really a good person deep down. Mia can’t get herself to kill innocent people, even if it’s expected of her, and she’s told over and over again that she needs to move past this if she wants to succeed. Given her ultimate goal, this was a genius weakness to give her!

Another good example comes from the Six of Crows duology (I’ve a feeling you’ll see this pop up a lot over the coming weeks…). While every character in these books is perfectly flawed, I’m going to talk about my own personal favourite: Jesper (I mean, they’re all personal favourites, but I had to pick one) He’s got a gambling problem, and it’s relevant to the plot because he gives away important information in the heat of the game, and he learns to resolve it! And that’s what you want friends: Weaknesses and strengths that are relevant to your plot are a must, but if your characters figure out how to grow and overcome their weaknesses?

So, you see, strengths and weaknesses can literally be anything! Something you might see as a positive trait to have (like Mia’s compassion) could well be a weakness in the context of your world.

Finally, your characters need a good balance of both. It’s no good having a character with all the strengths but no weaknesses as we’ve discussed, but it’s also no good having a character with too many flaws and not enough strengths to make up for it. You want your precious darlings to have weaknesses, but not so many that it gets difficult to root for them. They need to get through the plot and the barriers you create for them somehow, after all, and that’s going to be difficult without strong points.

How do you work out your characters strengths and weaknesses? Pour yourself a tea, and let’s chat! <3


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Self-Doubt and Writer’s Block

It’s self-doubt awareness month on CookieBreak, friends! <3 Tomorrow Dana Fraedrich has a guest post for you, and in two weeks I’ve got a huge collaboration with 14 wonderful authors coming up, but today I’m on Nadia L. King’s blog to talk about self-doubt and writer’s block 🙂

Head on over there and check out the post:


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Creating Characters Your Readers Will Love – How to Make Your Characters Stand Out

It’s time for the third serial, friends! And this one is all about the most important aspect of our stories – your characters! If you’d like to catch up with any of the previous lessons, you can do so here.

Before we really get to the heart of things, I’m just giving you an overview today so you know what to expect. It should be enough info that you won’t need to read the following posts if you don’t want to, but if you’d rather have more info you’ll get it over the weeks to come 😉 And there’s a free character questionnaire at the end of this post! Read on or scroll down now to download it if you wish to (it is free…)

So, how do you make your characters stand out? Creating flat, unbelievable characters is easily done, but it can be easily avoided, too. If you want your characters to shine, they need:

Both of these together form the very foundation of your characters. Everyone wants something, and everyone is scared of something, so your characters need to reflect that if you want them to be believable. Their fears will be what hold them back and either send them into paralysis or get their adrenaline pumping. Their goals are their motivation to do, well, anything!

You can be as versatile as you want. Your characters can be afraid of failure, of the dark, of their parent beating them again when they get home, or of the impossibility of certainty when you can’t even be sure of your own existence. They can dream of landing that job they’ve applied for, of having a large family, of gaining financial security, or of looking at themselves in the mirror one day without hating what they see. Either way, your characters fears and dreams will greatly inform what they do.

If your book shows them struggle with the former and aim for the latter, you’re off to a good start!

I know it might be tempting to create a super character with all strengths and no flaws, but that’s precisely what’s going to make your little fictional babies unbelievable. The weaknesses are just as important as the strengths, friends! Weaknesses can include anything from being bad at public speaking to a massive gambling problem. Strengths can be just as versatile, and can cover anything from always remaining positive no matter the situation to being a survivor, and anything in between.

In two weeks we’ll look a little closer at this and I’ll provide examples then, too, so be sure to look out for that! 🙂

Unlike strengths and weaknesses, personality quirks are small and more subtle, but can seriously break your readers if used well. For example, you might have a character who has to pet every stray cat she finds (who doesn’t, right?), or you might have a character who hates raw tomatoes but tolerates them on sandwiches and burgers (I’m just describing myself now…). Quirks like these really help your characters come to life, but be careful. It’s easy to give our characters oddities just for the sake of it, but you’re job isn’t done there. Make sure the quirks are relevant, maybe even related to a specific trait (a fidgety character might twirl her daggers a lot, or be jumpy), and your characters will be much stronger for it.

If you don’t know where to start, work backwards. Get to know your characters a little first, then figure out their quirks from there!

No one is perfect. Not in real life, and not in fiction, either. I recently read a book I won’t name in which the MC had everything – a wonderful Mum, perfect adoptive parents later, all of the talent, fantastic group of friends, and an easy start into a new school where she was instantly accepted, even by the jocks. No weaknesses. No flaws. Just the perfect life in her perfect bubble.

Your readers will struggle to relate and care about your character. Even the hero of your story needs flaws, friends! If you’re new to all this it might seem counterproductive to give your MC negative traits, but we all have them, my dear. Your characters need to have them, too.

Your character’s life doesn’t begin with the first chapter. Our precious fictional young’uns have led interesting lives before Chapter One – The Beginning! If you don’t think so, then it’s your job to figure out what you’re missing. Something has put your characters on the paths that lead to them being introduced in your books – be that main character, all-important sidekick, or side character – and it’s important you know what happened to them. You don’t need to be as thorough as having a timeline with their educational history, dates of when they were applying for university, job hunting,  to and from dates of every relationship ever held, and so on, but you do need to know enough to confidently say, “This is what my character went through. This is why he is who he is today.”

Our history and past experiences shape us, after all!

Or perhaps that should be especially the villains? I mean, your MCs shouldn’t be so despicable that your readers need help liking them!

From your villain’s POV, this redeemable quality might be their weakness. Even your villain appreciates something. Not every villain is a cold, heartless creature of darkness! Villains have motivations, too – chaos for the sake of chaos is fine every now and again, but a villain with a personal reason is all the more terrifying. Maybe he even feels that this quality is holding them back in their quest to world domination? Gotta love a good villain with strong morals…

Your characters shouldn’t be the same people at the end of your book as they were at the start. They’ve just been on some kind of journey; show us what they learned! Your character might start out shy but slowly become more outgoing as your plot progresses. One character might start out scared of everything and everyone, but learn how to stand up for himself.

This is such an important step, because you can really touch your readers with this. All of us are on our own journeys, and if you can write a character who reflects some of what we go through – and, more importantly, shows her come out stronger at the end – you’ve got a winner! This is why fears are so important. Can your character learn to conquer what terrifies him? Drop him into his worst case scenario and see how he copes – and don’t forget to include it in your book!

I know figuring all this out can be daunting, never mind difficult. Don’t panic if you don’t have all the answers when you start writing; chances are they’ll come to you as you go. Many books have been written on character creation, and you’ll find heaps upon heaps of websites aiming to help you with this. My own favourite two ways are to just start writing and let the characters introduce themselves as and when they’re ready, and my character questionnaire. I can’t help you with the former so well – trust your precious fictional babies and they will open up eventually! – but I can help you with the latter! That’s right, it’s FREEBIE TIME! I’m making my character questionnaire of 35 questions (I found some with a hundred questions or more online, but gawd, who has the time for that? I’ve got too many characters for that!) available to you, right here:

Character Questionnaire

If you can ask yourself, “What would [name of your beloved character here] do?” in any situation, you’ve got it sussed out!

How do you make your characters stand out? I hope that the next few weeks answer every question you have regarding character creation. If they don’t, ask away. Or just stay and chat, if you fancy. There’s tea and cookies if you do <3


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Everything You Need to Know About Beta Reading – Beta Readers vs. Critique Partners

You’ve probably heard both terms before, but chances are you’re not sure what the difference is between the two, especially if you’re at the very beginning of your writing journey. How are beta readers different to critique partners? Do you need both?

Let’s recap what we’ve learned about beta readers over the last few months.

  • is recruited when you can’t think of anything else to change/when you’re sick of looking at your own WIP (don’t feel bad – we’ve all been there)
  • helps you find the last few mistakes in your manuscript
  • is the last stop before the final edit and publication

Critique partners, on the other hand, can come in at any time, and you likely won’t have as many, either – although that’s up to you, of course!

Your critique partners should be people you trust to be honest since they will likely have a huge impact on your draft. If you have an ideal reader, ask them! Here are some of the things your critique partners can help with:

  • when you’re stuck halfway through writing the first draft, and need a second opinion on something specific, like a plot development or a new character
  • when you’ve edited your manuscript once or twice already, but want another writer to go over it before you send it to betas.
  • when you’ve applied the changes they suggested, but would like them to have another look after having rewritten that one annoying scene
  • when you have any questions about your book at all
  • when you need to bounce ideas before you even start writing

So, you see, unlike betas who come in at the end your critique partner can jump in at any time you need them. And there’s a reason they’re called partners – you should be willing to do the same for them. You could say it’s an exchange of help!

Like your beta squad, critique partners are unpaid. You’ll likely already repay them by doing them the same favour, but if you feel they deserve something extra feel free to treat them. While they are generally unpaid, there’s nothing that says you can’t gift them your book, a voucher, a drink, or whatever you think is appropriate!

I’ve had two critique partners go over Wardens of Archos for me at the same time as my editor did the developmental edit, and I can’t tell you how much my book has changed for the better! Thanks to my editor and critique partners, my draft is so much tighter. By the time my betas get to it, they shouldn’t have too much work to do – but I think we all know how this works 😛

Whether you work with both is up to you, but more feedback can’t hurt and once you’ve found a critique partner you trust and who gets you and your books, you can call on them again and again, knowing they’ll help you change your draft for the better.

And that’s it for the series on beta reading! I hope you learned a lot, had all your questions answered, and feel better prepared for this step now. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, please don’t hesitate to ask! Here’s a list of all the posts in this series again, in case you’ve either missed something or would like to remind yourself of a specific topic:

How Do You Find Your Squad?

When Do You Assemble Your Squad?

What Do Beta Readers Do?

How to Work with Your Squad

How to Make Sense of All that Feedback

Don’t worry if you lose this link but want to come back to one of the above posts later – you can easily access them via the Writing Help and Tips page on the left 😉

The next series is all about character creation! If you want to know why weaknesses are just as important as strengths and why you don’t want a perfect character without flaws (among other topics), make sure you keep an eye on this blog!


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Everything You Need to Know About Beta Reading – How to Make Sense of All that Feedback

Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at how to ask for beta readers, how to work with your eager beta squad, and how to be a beta reader if you’d rather be on that side of things. But how do you make sense of all their feedback? How do you know what to use, and what to discard? You’ll likely receive a lot of notes and once you do, things can get confusing quickly – especially if you leave organising them until the end.

As some of you know by now, I made the mistake of asking twelve betas to help me with Rise of the Sparrows, so naturally I had a huge amount of feedback! Some betas send me large chunks of notes on every chapter, whereas others only send me a few comments for the entire book. I still ended up with 21 A4 pages (typed, not hand-written – now that would have been chaos!), and if I hadn’t organised them from the beginning I imagine I’d have lost my mind doing it all at once at the end.

Please bare in mind that, while this process has worked pretty well for me, it may not do the same for you. If there’s another method you prefer, you’re welcome to share in the comments. I’m sure writers new to this process would appreciate it! 🙂

I asked my betas to send me lists of notes in emails as they read, rather than one big email with everything once they were done. This allowed me to add to my file here and there, and meant that I didn’t need to apply 21 fudging pages worth at once at the end. (don’t you just shiver at the horror?) Having lists, separated by chapter, also made the organisation itself much simpler.

I created a new document, and added all the chapter numbers with another section for miscellaneous notes at the end. As the feedback came in, I copied it from the email and pasted it into the relevant chapter section in my document. So far, so simple!

Here’s a quick summary to give you an idea:

Positive feedback and swoonings

Change, don’t argue

Does this need changing? Come back to this

Questions

Notes

Changes were suggested, but we’ll ignore them

Once changes were applied or I’d made up my mind about everything purple, I changed the colour to a light grey. Here’s what my document looked like by the end:

 

Colour-coding your feedback makes it so much easier to see at one glance how you’re getting on and which chapters need more work. And anyway, it feels good to see all that red and purple turn white!

It’s simple, really. You want to apply everything related to spelling, grammar, and punctuation – just be smart about it. If you’re British, for example, and your beta reader is American, they might think you’ve spelled ‘neighbours’ wrong because it’s ‘neighbors’ in American English. Unless your beta reader is also an editor, they might get some things wrong.

Opinions are more difficult to sift through, but even those don’t need to be complicated. If a beta says that the last line of Chapter 10 needs something more and you agree that it could do with a little more oomph, you get back to work. If four out of five betas tell you that a specific character didn’t add anything or that the prologue felt like filler, you cut. You may be especially fond of the prologue, or that character might be one of your favourites, but if they’re unnecessary or worse – slow down your plot – you cut them. You may have heard the phrase ‘killing your darlings’? This is what it means.

If, on the other hand, only one beta out of five didn’t like something, you can ignore it unless you agree. Other suggestions you can ignore are those which were meant well, but don’t actually work for your book. You’ll know them when you see them. One beta wanted to see more animals in Rise of the Sparrows, and wanted the ones that are in it to play a bigger part. That’s nice, but it’s not about the animals, so I dyed his suggestion blue and moved on.

If, at any point, you think ‘Yeah, all right, I should probably change that but I can’t be bothered.’ or ‘He’s right, but I’m sick of looking at that chapter now and it’s so much work!’ you fudging apply the changes. I understand being sick of your own words after a while, but never let that stand in the way of a better draft. Not wanting to is never a good enough reason! Take a break, eat a cupcake, drink a bottle of wine by the fire with your favourite movie, and come back to it tomorrow. Or next week; however long you need.

Stephen King talks about this golden rule in his book On Writing: if half of your betas don’t like something and the other half do, you win – meaning you leave it as is. And don’t forget you can always ask your squad if you’re not sure about anything!

Having an ideal reader in mind also helps, so you can ask yourself “What would [insert name here] think?” when you’re stuck. Of course, the clever thing to do would be to ask your ideal reader to be a beta reader or critique partner… That way you don’t have to wonder what they’d think.

In two weeks we’ll look at the difference between beta readers and critique partners – and why you probably want both! 😉

How do you organise your feedback? If you’ve got any useful tips, share away! Or perhaps this is something you struggle with? Ask, and we can figure it out 🙂 Get yourself a tea and a biscuit first – it helps 😉


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