I’m in the depths of revisions on two manuscripts. Both are set in the same world. Both manuscripts had flaws that were caught by my friend Dave, who reads my work before I bother an editor with it. Addressing these flaws was not a problem, as I had someone to help me brainstorm it.
Dave has great ideas, but his mind doesn’t work the way mine does. While they are excellent, his fixes usually don’t fit what I envision my story to be. However, his suggestions fire my own inspiration and show me the way I need to go to quickly resolve these issues. Without his insight, I wouldn’t have thought of the right fix.
In the process of rewriting certain events to remove fatal plot-holes, and then going through and altering later scenes to make them match, I found several places where I meant to change the wording of a scene, so it reflected what I wanted for my protagonist(s). I had noticed these places earlier but was sidetracked, and the intended alterations were never made. Thus, their motivations were murky and didn’t ring true.
Now I am also making these changes, and checking the manuscripts to make sure I have removed any inconsistencies.
My original view of my protagonist, Billy Ninefingers, was more callous, more of a pirate than he is today. His story was begun in 2010, but I ran out of steam on it, and nothing seemed to make sense. I decided to scrap it and move on to writing Huw the Bard, which was set in that world, with many of the same characters, but which was a more intriguing story to me at the time. (I’m still in love with Huw.) Billy appears toward the end, much as he is today. But, instead of going back to Billy, I wrote three more novels in the Tower of Bones series, and many short stories, both contemporary and fantasy.
In the back of my mind, I always intended to get back to Billy Ninefingers, but never really did until just this last year. Over the course of six years I used him as a character in several other works set in his world, which set him and his circumstances more clearly in my mind. Through that process, my protagonist became less two-dimensional, less of a cartoon. Four years after writing the first draft of Billy’s story, a short story featuring him was published. It was written for a themed anthology, and adhering to that theme changed Billy and his motives for the better. The short story for the anthology fired me up, gave me ideas as to what had to happen to make the real story be what I knew it could be.
I went back and pulled the original manuscript out of storage and rediscovered a character I had always loved, but didn’t know well. With a new goal in mind, I began rewriting it.
Thus, some of what I had already written didn’t dovetail with the story as I now see it, and Dave pointed that out. Having a trusted reader who will tell me where I have gone off the rails is critical to my writing process.
In my experience, when I read my work after having written it, if there is something that doesn’t ring true, a reliable first reader will be able to identify it for me.
Every Tuesday morning I meet with a group of published authors, and we talk about everything, from what we are writing to how our children are coping with the slings and arrows of modern life. These authors give me support when I need it most. I regularly Google-chat about life, the universe, and writing with Dave, who lives in another state far from me. Dave and I have never met in person, but we’ve become close friends through the wonders of the internet.
Talking with fellow authors, both in my area and from around the world, is the most important thing I do for me—it’s a “spa treatment” for my writing craft.
Writing is a lonely craft. I recommend you go to Writers’ Conferences and Workshops. The networking is important, as are the workshops, but I have made lifelong friends through the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference, and also the Southwest Washington Writers Conference.
If you need feedback but don’t know where to turn, sit in on local critique groups to see if they might be a good fit for you. You don’t have to share anything until you feel you can trust them to be fair and honest with you. If the group you are visiting doesn’t seem like a good fit, you’re under no obligation to return, and you can move on to a different group. You can find these groups usually through the local newspaper, Google, or even find their public pages through Facebook by searching for your town’s name and adding the word “writers.”
One of the surest ways to find these local groups is by joining NaNoWiMo, and searching out your local region. Look at the threads of conversation, or message your local Municipal Liaison to ask where these groups might be.
Having an external eye to help me see my work with a less jaundiced view is the most exhilarating part of writing. It never fails to rekindle the fire I have for a particular story. Right now, thanks to my friends, I wake up every morning, chafing to get started writing.
Quill Pen, PD|by its author, BWCNY at English Wikipedia.
My Favorite Cup, Author’s Own Photo
2 responses to “#amwriting: The External Eye”
I agree that forming relationships with other writers and getting their insight is not only beneficial but enjoyable and enhances the writing experience. I can’t drive any longer and found it impractical to join a live group thus the internet has been my only source of feedback.
As a beta reader, I often fear that my comments or suggestions may be taken as harsh criticism of the author’s skills as a writer, but that is never my intent. My sole purpose is to give honest feedback on sections that didn’t work for me. When I suggest an alternate scenario, I don’t expect the author to use it except to understand better what my problem was. And, I always learn from the beta reading processes. I like to think it’s making me a better writer.
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I agree. For me, the alternate scenario may not be what I would write, but it jumpstarts my imagination and shows me the direction I need to go. It’s part of the brainstorming process.
From what I’ve observed in writing groups and in my own life, hurt feelings occur over miscommunications. Writers and people who love their children have thin skins and often perceive less-than-glowing observations as a criticism of their parental/writing abilities.
But the fact is, children frequently misbehave, and not everything an author writes is worth reading.
A bond of mutual respect and trust is critical for an author to benefit from a beta reader’s comments.
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