Category Archives: writing

Beta Reading VS. Editing #amwriting

Once again, the question of the difference between beta reading and editing has arisen in one the many forums I frequent on Facebook. So, I feel the need to revisit a post from 2015, Beta Reading VS. Editing. If you’ve already seen this post, nothing has changed in the world of editing and beta reading since this first appeared. But thank you for stopping by!


Indies rely heavily on what we refer to as beta readers to help shape their work and make it ready for editing. But in many online forums, authors use the term used interchangeably with editing, and the two are completely different.

And unfortunately, some indie published works are clear examples of work by authors who don’t realize the importance of working with an editor, although it is apparent that they have had assistance from beta-readers.

What is quite disappointing to me, is the many traditionally published works that seem to fall into the same lack-of-good-editing category, and I am at a loss as to why this is so.

So, what is the difference between a beta reader and an editor?

Well, there is a HUGE difference.

Editing is a process, one where the editor goes over the manuscript line-by-line, pointing out areas that need attention: awkward phrasings, grammatical errors, missing quote-marks, or a myriad of things that make the manuscript unreadable. Sometimes, major structural issues will need to be addressed. It may take more than one trip through to straighten out all the kinks.

  1. In scholastic writing, editing involves looking at each sentence carefully and making sure that it’s well designed and serves its purpose. In scholastic editing, every instance of grammatical dysfunction mustbe resolved.
  2. In novel writing, editing is a stage of the writing process in which a writer and editor work together to improve a draft by correcting errors and by making words and sentences clearer, more precise, and more effective. Weak sentences are made stronger, nonessential information is weeded out, and important points are clarified, while strict attention is paid to the overall story arc.
  3. The editor is not the author She can only suggest changes, but ultimately all changes must be approved and implemented by the author.

Beta Reading is done by a reader. One hopes the reader is a person who reads and enjoys the genre that the book represents. Beta reading is meant to give the author a general view of the overall strengths and weaknesses of his story.

The beta reader must ask himself:

  1. Were the characters likable?
  2. Where did the plot bog down and get boring?
  3. Were there any places that were confusing?
  4. What did the reader like? What did they dislike?
  5. What do they think will happen next?

Beta Reading is not editing, and the reader should not make comments that are editorial in nature. Those kinds of nit-picky comments are not helpful at this early stage because the larger issues must be addressed before the fine-tuning can begin, and if you are beta reading for someone, the larger issues are what the author has asked you to look at.

This phase of the process should be done before you submit the manuscript to an editor, ensuring those areas of concern will be straightened out first.

Editors and other authors make terrible beta readers because it is their nature to dismantle the manuscript and tell you how to fix it. That is not what you want at that early point–what you want is an idea of whether you are on the right track or not with your plot and your characters, and if your story resonates with the reader.

Do yourself a favor and try to find a reader who is not an author to be a first reader for you. Then hire a local, well-recommended editor that you can work with to guide you in making your manuscript readable, and enjoyable.

If you notice a few flaws in your manuscript but think no one else will notice, you’re wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.

In my own work, I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed, but I can’t identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there.

That tendency to see our writing ‘as it should be and not how it is’ is why we need other eyes on our work.


Credits and Attributions:

Beta Reading VS. Editing, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2015 first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

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Character description: too much or not enough? #amwriting

I love eBooks for the simple reason I have over 800 books, and I don’t have to dust them. I do buy paper books, but only those on writing craft or research for my work.

I have managed to get nearly every book I ever loved as an eBook. Every week I add at least two more books to my library. I have become a fan of hundreds of new authors, most of them indies.

Every now and then I read a book that is traditionally published, sometimes taking a dip into general fiction. I did that this week, reading a book I saw advertised on twitter. I picked it up, knowing I might hate it because the critics loved it.

I can live without a happy ending, and even with no ending at all. Not every story ends happily. But please, make the pages that come before that lack of ending something more than self-indulgent hero worship of your protagonist. I get that you’re in love with your characters. I’m in love with mine too.

Just don’t wax poetic about their magnetic beauty on every third page, please.

Unfortunate phrasings that yank me out of a book:

“She lay there staring with her creamy blue eyes, water pooling in the corners.”

“Her eyes were the same color as the deep purple velvet drapes.”

Meh. Enough about their eyes already. Some authors go to incredible (and at times, awkward) lengths to force their personal creative vision of what a character looks like on the reader.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be told what to think when I am reading a book. What I consider beautiful is not necessarily attractive to someone else.

But this brings us to a dilemma that many authors seem to face. How do you describe a character in such a way that the reader will find them as attractive as you want them to be?

You must give the reader enough of a general description that they can fill in the blanks with their imagination.

Generally, you want to show a character’s coloring, hair style/color, eye color, general physical description. Especially, you must somehow mention anything that is unique about their appearance. If they are not too fastidious, mention it, and the same goes for if they are obsessively fastidious.

Actions can reveal physical characteristics and mannerisms. Consider how they fix their hair, what style of clothes they gravitate to, even how they move and interact with both the environment and other characters. What are their habitual facial expressions?

Offer this information up in bits over a period of time rather than dumping it in a police-blotter style of delivery. Just don’t go on and on giving minute, unimportant details.

In my Tower of Bones series, the men in Edwin’s family have this sort of cachet that makes them irresistible to all women. It is the Goddess Aeos’s way of ensuring that the girl she has selected for them falls in love with them, and their bloodline is continued.

But what do Edwin and his father (and grandfather) look like? Edwin and his family are a lot like my uncles were as young men, tall, blondish, blue-eyed, and physically strong from working on their farm. They’re rather average, nothing spectacular. They’re good-looking, but aren’t overly handsome. However, there is something about them that causes trouble in a certain strata of female society that has a rather free approach to life.

So what is this charisma these men have? (And that my uncles did not have.)

Here is where I romanticize them. To most men, they seem no more intriguing than any other person, but to women, they are an irresistible banquet of masculine pheromones. Since they do a lot of traveling, this creates opportunities for mayhem. While writing the Tower of Bones series, I’ve had a lot of fun with that plot-line, especially when it came to Wynn Farmer in Mountains of the Moon.

For my other characters in various books, again we write what we know. In my mind, all my characters are exceedingly good-looking in their own different ways. I am of British Isles stock as is most of my family, but I live in a town filled with people of all races and origins. Throughout my life, my neighbors have been from such diverse places as Japan, Mexico, Alabama, Norway, Cambodia, Nigeria, India, and Minneapolis.

Thus, in my head, my characters are of all races, and all are attractive to me.

Huw the Bard is darkly handsome, blue-eyed with black curling hair, and has a roguish charm that women find irresistible. An incurable romantic and on the run, he loves many, but gives his heart only to a few.

Billy Ninefingers is exceptionally tall and strong, sandy-haired, with a boyish face. He’s competent and a strong leader with a firm sense of justice. He is in love with only one woman, but there are complications.

Reina Jacobs is a middle-aged woman, a retired pilot who has been conscripted back into active duty. She has short iron-grey hair and is a cyborg. She is attracted to Ladeaux, a pilot of her age, but while they are working together, she won’t fall into a romance.

Personally, I don’t find Prosperine as painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti to my taste, although as a painting it is flawlessly executed. But millions of people find her beautiful, and he certainly did. His model, Jane Morris, was considered a great beauty in her day.

Yet the images of her, both painted and photographed, portray her as sulky-looking, which is not attractive to me at all.

I choose not to beat the reader over the head with my personal vision, other than the general description for the reader to hang their imagination on. I want the reader to see beauty and magnetism in the way that is most appealing to them. I hope that mannerisms, conversations, and other characters’ opinions convey the image the reader wants to see in a protagonist.

And this is the way it is for every author. We are painters who use words to show an image. We want to the reader to see what they believe is beauty.

Your vision of beauty is not what your readers see, and to force too many details on them ruins the flow of the tale.

A good general description, with hints or comments about their beauty or lack thereof, is all that is needed. If you provide the framework, the reader’s mind will supply the rest.

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Billy Ninefingers #amreading #books

My newest novel in the Billy’s Revenge series, Billy Ninefingers is now on sale at Amazon and all other fine eBook sellers. A literary fantasy, it is set in the same world as Huw the Bard and features some of the same characters.

Billy’s story was begun in 2010. My original view of my protagonist, Billy MacNess, was more callous, more of a pirate than he is today.

For a variety of reasons, I set Billy’s novel aside and moved on to writing Huw the Bard, which was a more intriguing story to me at the time. (I’m still in love with Huw.) Billy appears toward the end of Huw’s book, much as he is today. But, instead of going back to Billy’s story, 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’s story, but never really did until 2016. Over the course of six years, he had appeared in several other works set in his world, which set him and his circumstances more clearly in my mind.

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.

Billy’s story is more lighthearted than Huw’s, but it does have its dark moments. His loyal dog, Bisket, keeps him grounded when everything is about to fly apart.

Excerpt: About an hour before supper, a knock sounded on his door. “Captain Billy! It’s me, Willie.”

“I know it’s you. What do you need?”

“It’s Bisket. He almost fell down that old, dry well again. This time he was chasing a skunk.”

Billy opened the door, gazing down at his beloved yellow hound of uncertain parentage. All he needed was for the pooch to fall into a well. Reaching down with his good hand, he scratched Bisket’s ears, receiving an apologetic lick in return. “What am I going to do about you?”

“I only just barely caught him by the tail before he went down.” Willie shivered. “I don’t think Slippery Jack would have let you lower him down it again, just to save a dog that’s stupid enough to keep falling down the same well.”

Billy laughed. “You’re probably right. Lay some boards over it. I’ll do something about it next week, once I’ve healed up a bit. There’s a lot of things I’ve let go around here, and filling in that abandoned well is one of them.” Considering all the projects he and his dad had never gotten around to, he thought that at least he wouldn’t be too bored.

Billy’s story had always intrigued me. I admired how he took the hard knocks life had handed him and made them into something he could live with. The people he attracted were wonderful, and in so many ways their story was his story too.

And so, dear readers, Billy Ninefingers is now available at all fine eBook retailers, including Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Apple, and many, many more. He is also available in paper from Amazon.


But first, THE BLURB:

Billy Ninefingers knows three things.

First, the feud that cost him the use of his sword hand is not over.

Second, if he doesn’t pull himself together and become the leader the Rowdies need, he’ll lose everything his father left him.

Third, despite Bastard John’s best efforts, there’s no way he’ll ever take up farming.

All he needs is a plan, a mountain of luck, and the love of a good woman.

Well, she doesn’t have to be good, but a few scruples would make a nice change. A plan would be nice too, since luck is never on Billy’s side.

Billy Ninefingers knows one thing.

He’s doomed.


Billy Ninefingers is available at Amazon for $2.99 Kindle and $12.99 paperback

Not a fan of Amazon? Click here to purchase Billy Ninefingers from these fine Ebook Sellers for $2.99

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Short stories, submissions, and vanity publications #amwriting

Despite being primarily a novelist, I submit a lot of short stories to various publications over the course of a year. Many times, they are rejected for various reasons, but I polish them up and submit them elsewhere.

Therefore, I keep a list of what short story was submitted to what magazine or anthology. If it is rejected with comments, I make a note of the remarks. I then consider them, and if they are valid, I make changes and immediately submit it elsewhere. The fact is, rejection can be a positive thing.

Only submit your work to reputable publications and contests.

I strongly recommend you do not submit your work to vanity publications. Don’t even consider submitting to the slick-looking publishing house that contacts you by your WordPress blog email saying they want your work for “regional anthologies.” They want your work all right—and want to sell you publishing services you can do for yourself. You won’t benefit from any of their “services” but they will benefit from your desperation to be published. They will publish your work, and your payment is the glory of having it published, as they offer you no payment or royalties. They will expect you to market their product and they will offer you all manner of for-payment services that are dubious at best.

I prefer cash to glory, thank you.

When I first began this journey, I didn’t understand how specifically you have to tailor your submissions when it comes to literary magazines, contests, and anthologies.

First, you must research your intended market. This means you must buy magazines, read them, and write to those standards.

Go to the publisher’s website and find out what their submission guidelines are and FOLLOW THEM. (Yes, they apply to EVERYONE, no matter how famous, even you.) If you skip this step, you can wait up to a year to hear that your manuscript has been rejected, and they most likely won’t tell you why.

Formatting your manuscript to your intended publisher’s standards is crucial. If you are unsure how that works, see my blogpost of July 24, 2015,  How to Format Your Manuscript for Submission.

Only submit your best, most professional work. It’s not worth a publisher’s time to teach you how to be a writer—you have to learn that on your own.

A sci-fi magazine like Analog Science Fiction and Fact will not be interested in fantasy from an unknown author. If you read Analog, you can see they mostly publish hard, technology driven sci-fi. If they publish a fantasy piece at all, it will be by one of their regular contributors, and will likely have been solicited by them for a particular feature.

Analog’s Submission page clearly says: “Basically, we publish science fiction stories. That is, stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein without the science and you’ll see what I mean. No story!

The science can be physical, sociological, psychological. The technology can be anything from electronic engineering to biogenetic engineering. But the stories must be strong and realistic, with believable people (who needn’t be human) doing believable things–no matter how fantastic the background might be.”

You have been warned. Analog wants science, not magic.

Therefore, I never submit to this magazine as I don’t write hard science fiction. I don’t enjoy the kind of work they publish, and that is an important clue: If you don’t read what they publish, you likely can’t write it to their standards.

An excellent article that addresses that well is  “What Editors Want; A Must-Read for Writers Submitting to Literary Magazines.”

Because I have so many short pieces floating around in the ether, I now keep a document listing all my submissions by the

  • Title
  • Date of submission
  • Where the story was submitted to (including internet address of submission details page)
  • Whether it was accepted or not and date of rejection/acceptance
  • Any comments received

Remember, only submit your best work. If you have a well-written piece that reads smoothly when read aloud and is rejected for whatever reason, find a different magazine, contest, or anthology to submit it to. Chances are it simply didn’t resonate with the editor at that place, and who knows–it may be exactly what the next place is looking for.

However, finding these contests and publications has been challenging, as often by the time I hear about them, the closing date is approaching which means I may not have time to get a rough piece into the right shape for submission.

But even that is becoming less of a problem for me. I use an app for a submissions warehouse that makes it easy to find publications with open deadlines and contests which have several months lead before their closing date.

The Submittable App.

Many contests and publications use the Submittable platform to accept and review the large volume of manuscripts they received from writers. When a publisher uses this platform, it’s great for us as authors because we can use the app to keep track of what we have submitted, and where it currently is in the process.

On your personal page, Submittable lists four stages in the process:

  1. Received
  2. In process
  3. Declined
  4. Accepted

I can connect though both my PC and my phone so no matter where I am, I can check the progress of a particular story. It is the responsibility of the contest manager or publication to notify Submittable as to the status of their entries and submissions, and while most do, some contests managers aren’t as diligent about that. I assume that if it has been in process for more than a year, they didn’t want that piece.

But, even better than being able to track your submissions, all the contests that are currently open via Submittable are listed on the Submittable Website in one place on the “Discover” tab, so the question of where to submit your work is easily answered. Every open call for submissions is listed, and any entry fees are clearly shown.

At the top are the contests and calls that are closing that day. But if you scroll down to the bottom, you will find calls closing thirty days from now and beyond.

If you are new to this, a good place to start is the Lascaux Review. This is a literary magazine, but they have great contests for flash fiction, drabbles, and poetry–and offer cash prizes. Their rules are fairly relaxed.

The Lascaux Prize in Flash Fiction 

http://lascauxreview.com/contests

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Desires and Objectives #amwriting

Several conversations in an online writer’s group has inspired me to drag out a  post on the importance of identifying desires and objectives, which was first published in June of 2016. This post contrasts the works of two authors with unique and distinct literary styles: James Joyce and J.R.R. Tolkien.  Although they were contemporaries, born ten years apart, the two authors couldn’t be more dissimilar. And yet their works have one thing in common: the protagonists want something and are willing to to some lengths to gain it.

This is the core of any great novel.


When we sit down to write a story of any length, a novel or flash fiction, we often begin with an idea, and great characters, and little more. To make those things into a story, we must first ask what the protagonist wants, and we must know what she/he is willing to risk in their efforts to achieve it.

Objectives + Risk = Story

In The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, Frodo is just an ordinary young hobbit, with no particular ambitions. On the same day as his older cousin Bilbo’s “eleventy-eleventh” (111th) birthday, Frodo (Bilbo’s heir) celebrates his thirty-third birthday.

At the lavish double-birthday party, Bilbo departs from the Shire for what he calls “a permanent holiday.” He does so by using the magic ring (that he had found on the journey detailed in The Hobbit) to disappear. He is aided in that by Gandalf with a flash and puff of smoke, leading many in the Shire to believe Bilbo has gone mad.

He leaves Frodo his remaining belongings, including his home, Bag End, and after some heavy-handed persuasion by the wizard Gandalf, he also leaves the Ring. Gandalf departs on his own business, warning Frodo to keep the Ring secret. Seventeen years or so pass, and then Gandalf returns to inform Frodo of the truth about Bilbo’s ring. It is the One Ring of Sauron the Dark Lord, and is evil. It forges a connection between the wearer and Sauron, and whoever bears it will be slowly corrupted, eventually becoming a Ringwraith.

From the moment of learning the truth about the Ring, Frodo’s goal is clear to the reader: he must get rid of the ring. In Rivendell, he learns the only way to do so is to carry it into the depths of Mordor and cast the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom.

Frodo wants to achieve this goal badly enough to walk into an active volcano and certain death to accomplish this.

At no point in the narrative is the objective unclear. The path is blocked many times, and each of the characters is tested by the evil ring, some beyond their ability to resist it.

The objective creates the tension, which drives the plot forward.

But what about a book where the goal is not so clear? Let’s talk about Ulysses, by James Joyce.

Ulysses chronicles the wandering appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin, taking place over the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinized name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Joyce established a series of parallels between the epic poem and his novel. This book has one of the best opening lines of all time:

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Structurally, there are strong correlations between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom with Odysseus, Molly Bloom with Odysseus’ long-suffering wife, Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus with Odysseus’s son, Telemachus. It is set in early twentieth century Dublin with the events and political tempests of the time. Themes of antisemitism and the impact of Ireland’s rocky relationship with Britain as it was felt in those days are the underlying pins of this novel. It is highly allusive and filled with allegories.

There is no obvious quest, although many minor quests are completed in the course of living through the day. The book opens with Stephen Dedalus, the first protagonist, having breakfast with Buck Mulligan, who is perhaps a friend, or maybe a rival. Stephen is not Leopold’s biological son as Telemachus is Odysseus’, but he fulfills that role. Unconsciously Stephen wants a father.

But what do they want? It’s James Joyce, so it’s complicated.

Stephen shares his opinions about religion with Buck Mulligan, speaking of how they relate to the recent death of his mother, and Buck manages to offend him. They make plans to go drinking later that evening.

What does Leopold desire? He wants a son. In Episode 4, the narrative shifts abruptly. The time is again 8 am, but the action has moved across the city and to the second protagonist of the book, Leopold Bloom, a part-Jewish advertising canvasser. He and his wife have a daughter, Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography.  As the day unfolds, Bloom’s thoughts turn to the affair between his wife, Molly, and her manager.

He also thinks about the death of their infant son, Rudy Bloom, who died at the age of 11 days. The absence of a son is what leads him to form an attachment to Stephen, for whom he goes out of his way in the book’s latter episodes. He rescues him from a brothel, walks him back to his own home, and even offers him a place there to study and work.

Finally, we come to Molly. Within the city of Dublin, Molly is an opera singer of some renown. She is the mother of Milly Bloom, who, at the age of 15, has left home to study photography. She is also the mother of Rudy, the son who died at the age of eleven days. A significant difference between Molly and Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, is that while Penelope is eternally faithful, Molly is not. She is having an affair with Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan after ten years of her celibacy within her marriage.

The final chapter of Ulysses, often called “Molly Bloom’s Soliloquy,” is a long and unpunctuated stream-of-consciousness passage. During the monologue, Molly accepts Leopold into her bed, frets about his health, and then reminisces about their first meeting and about when she knew she was in love with him. It is comprised of some 20,0000 words of her thoughts as she lies in bed next to Bloom. What does Molly want? She wants to be loved.

In The Lord of the Rings, we have a clear and obvious quest, straightforward and seemingly impossible: Destroy the One Ring and save the world.

In Ulysses, we have a group of people who all want something, but just as in real life, what that may exactly be is not as clear as we would like it. But there is an objective: they just want to get through the day and in the process they find they are a family, thus achieving their individual goals.

Once we know what our protagonist wants and what he/she is willing to risk to achieve it, we have our plot.

How we dress it up is up to us—I admit James Joyce’s rambling is too daunting for me to read for pleasure. I had to read it in the environment of a college class to make it all the way through the novel with some understanding of it.

I am a huge fan of Joyce’s magnificent one-liners, though.

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

Ulysses, Episode 2


Credits and Attributions:

Desires and Objectives © 2016 – 2018 by Connie J. Jasperson was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on June 13, 2016.

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First-person Point of View #amwriting

A month ago, I mentioned the problems I was having with a short story I had been working on. I couldn’t seem to get into my main character’s head. So, I rewrote it in the first-person present tense narrative mode, but because I was unused to that mode, it felt like I had written a walk-through for an RPG (geek-talk for role-playing game).

Apparently, it read that way too.

But after a lot of help from my writer friends, and a lot of rewriting, I got into the swing of things. Finally, the story drew me into my character’s mind, which was what I had wanted all along.

In traditional first-person POV, the protagonist is the narrator. One thing I had to keep in mind is that no one ever has complete knowledge of anything so the narrator cannot be omnipotent. At first, this was difficult for me. When I chose to have the reader experience the story as the protagonist does, I had made a fundamental change in my style of writing, and my finished product has required several rewrites.

After all, in real life, we aren’t all-seeing and all-knowing. Any lawyer will tell you, even eye-witnesses are notoriously unreliable.

We each see and interpret things from our own perspective. The human mind is hardwired to fill in the blanks—this is why eye-witness accounts of a single event will often vary so widely.

That lack of information is why I now love writing in this point of view for short stories.

What I had to figure out:

Who is the best person to tell the story? I could easily have told it in third omniscient POV, but I had a compelling main character with a real, gut-wrenching story. It didn’t feel as close, as intimate as I wanted it to be when written in my usual narrative mode of Third Person. She had to tell her own story.

What was the inciting incident? That was also difficult – deciding where the story actually began was the first step to getting it on track. Because this story is intended for submission to an anthology, I have a specific word count to fit the story into, and the anthology’s theme must be strongly present throughout. After reading the first draft, a writer friend pointed out that the narrative had to begin at the point of no return, as there is no room for backstory.

They were right. Thus, I had to scratch the first half of the story and begin at what I had thought was the middle. That was when things began to fall together.

What does she actually know? She isn’t omniscient, so she can only know what she has witnessed. That was also a problem for me, as I know everything. Just ask me. But I had to figure out what she really could have witnessed, and then work only with that information.

What does my protagonist want? At first glance, it seemed obvious, but the truth is that her quest is to find herself as a human being, as much as it is to honor a promise made and quickly regretted.

What was she willing to do to achieve it? I didn’t know. She didn’t know either, and until I wrote the last line in this tale, I didn’t know what she was capable of or if she had the backbone to accomplish it.

I am once again approaching the finish line on rewriting this tale. The submission deadline is still several months out, so I’m not rushing. I still have to rework and condense a few things at the front end of it, but now I know what changes I want to make. Writing this story has been an awesome adventure for me, and once this is ready for an editor’s eyes, I might attempt writing another in the first-person point of view.

Sometimes writing a story with a finite word-count limit and a specific theme to adhere to is as time consuming as writing a novel. But finding ways to work within these constraints is making me a stronger writer, so even if this isn’t picked up by the publication I hope it will be, I will have a good marketable story.

I’m grateful to have the company of talented authors to help me brainstorm sticky problems.

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When your Sequel Makes a 90 Degree Turn, by @StephenSwartz1

My good friend, author Stephen Swartz, had a brilliant post this weekend on plot and the three-act structure. I couldn’t explain it better, so here is his post. Please, do click on the link at the bottom of the excerpt and go out to his post and read it to the end!


A week ago, SUNRISE, the sequel to my 2014 vampire novel A DRY PATCH OF SKIN launched and let me tell you it has been anything but a roller-coaster ride. In fact, when my personal copies arrives I was so excited I did not open the box for a day. Then I picked one up and routinely flipped through it to be sure there were no ink splotches on any page. You see, I’ve read it already – about 15 times!

But I cannot let it be. There is a third book to write if this is going to be a trilogy. I kinda expected to give it the trilogy treatment when I started Book II. Of course, it’s been three years since Book I came out. I thought that would be it, the end, one and done in the genre of literary horror. I am not even a horror author. I just needed to prove something to my teenage daughter: the truth about vampires! But I digress…

It was easy to set up Stefan Szekely’s departure from his family castle, leaving his vampire parents behind. I simply replicated my own history with my parents. I extrapolated a vampire version and recited similar scripts. How does the adult child relate to the elderly parents?


Stephen goes on to show us how he employs the three-act structure for plotting the story arc, with excellent graphics to illustrate it. You can find the rest of Stephen’s article here at his website, Deconstruction of the Sekuatean Empire.  Please click on the link to find the best parts of this informative post.

When your Sequel Makes a 90 Degree Turn

 

Stephen Swartz is the author of literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and contemporary horror novels. While growing up in Kansas City, he dreamed of traveling the world. His novels feature exotic locations, foreign characters, and smatterings of other languages–strangers in strange lands. You get the idea: life imitating art.

After studying music and even composing a symphony, Stephen planned to be a music teacher before turning to fiction writing. Today Stephen teaches writing at a university in Oklahoma. Stephen Swartz has published poetry, stories, essays, and articles for scholarly journals in the U.S. and Japan.

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Chaos and Order #amwriting

Theme is the core of the plot, an idea-thread that runs through your story from the opening pages to the end. It binds the elements of character, conversation, action, and reaction, making the story cohesive. Theme is independent of the setting or genre.

A common theme in literature is the juxtaposition of chaos and stability. Good versus evil is a common trope of genre fantasy. Evil is usually portrayed by taking one or the other of these concepts to an extreme.

Author L.E. Modesitt Jr. has taken the theme of chaos and order and built his Magic of Recluce series around the contrasts and conflicts of the two fundamental forms of magic arising in the world of Recluce. Each side is explored from the protagonists’ POV in different books as the series progresses.

Modesitt digs deep and discovers the way each side’s magic works and the fundamental changes the mage goes through from the use of magic. He lays bare the moral and ethical values that each side holds dear. Politics and the slim justifications we hold dearly to for the sometimes-inhumane way in which we treat others is central to his work, showing that neither side is without sin.

When it comes to good and evil, each considers themselves morally superior, and believe they are the side of good. Both sides are wary of those who walk that gray path in the middle. This allows Modesitt real opportunities to put his protagonists through the wringer.

The late Roger Zelazney’s brilliant Chronicles of Amber series also details the distinctions between Chaos and Order, and moral and ethical challenges of those who travel from reality to reality through the shadows by walking the pattern, with each shadow growing more radical depending on the distance from Castle Amber (which represents Order). In several of his works, elements of each are combined freely and interchangeably.

Zelazney’s Jack of Shadows and Changeling, for example, revolve around the tensions between the two worlds of magic and technology, which manifest as order and chaos.

But what is chaos, and what is order?

Google defines Chaos as

Google also defines Order as:

Either side of the coin, when taken to an extreme, can be truly evil.

Consider chaos, or Anarchy. When a culture descends into anarchy, you have an absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual. While this frequently begins as an attempt to allow for individual freedoms without state interference, history shows that what follows is the emergence of a violent culture that is beyond the reach of the law.

There is no law as we see it, and no one capable of enforcing it. The strongest, most violent thugs rise to the top and frequently war with each other, while the common person is caught in the middle. Followers of each warlord are rewarded with the spoils of conquest, which are often goods taken from the common citizen who must somehow survive under that tyranny.

Now let’s look at order: totalitarianism, or total order can also be a form of tyranny. Everything is static, and nothing changes. There is centralized control by an autocratic authority, combined with the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to absolute state authority. No divergence from the norm can be tolerated, and good, obedient citizens are rewarded, while deviants who are seen to be free-thinkers: intellectuals and artists are persecuted and imprisoned, or killed.

Anarchy=instability and a breakdown of society. Totalitarianism=lack of growth and stagnation of society.

For most people’s comfort, a good society allows for both law and creativity.

In extreme types of societies, power is everything, and drawing negative attention to yourself is dangerous. Thus chaos-based societies are usually represented in literature as having an underlying order that holds them together, and order-based societies are often represented as requiring the ability to grow and change, but within certain parameters.

The theme of order and chaos can really power a story-line, and the way you perceive them will not be the way another author sees them. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. and Roger Zelazney couldn’t be more different in the way they portrayed these concepts.

If you haven’t read either of these two authors’ works, I highly recommend them.


Credits and Attributions:

This post first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy in the post Theme: chaos or stability by Connie J. Jasperson © Oct. 12, 2015.

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Creating Romance #amwriting

Normally people don’t look too romantic. On weekends they hang around the house in comfy clothes and only get cleaned up to go somewhere. Come Monday, they dress a certain way to go to work–dressing in whatever is suitable for their business.

However, no matter how they dress for work, people always dress in their fanciest clothes if they’re going out nightclubbing, or to dinner in a fancy restaurant, or going to a party. People want to look their best, especially if they are single and hoping to find love.

The point is, no one looks good all the time in real life. In many novels, the events and action leaves them dirty and disheveled for a large portion of the story, which in real life isn’t that pretty. But what if you want to give these unkempt, stinking heroes a romance? When it comes to injecting romance into an action adventure story, the author’s task is to make the protagonists ignore the dirt and seem attractive no matter what the circumstances. There is a bit of escapism in all readers. A grand adventure with a good romance is the sort of story I will gravitate to in a heartbeat.

I love an author who manages to take her heroes and heroines through rough adventures and still make the romance between them special. Sure, let them get dirty and sweaty, and make their lives hard. That makes them feel like real people.

Just please, make any romance between them a part of the story that advances the plot.

Writing romance into a scene and not going off the rails requires skill.  Do we keep it restrained or get graphic? Would my characters really get graphic? And how much graphic is too much graphic? When do we cross the line of writing fantasy and venture into erotica?

I don’t really see myself going into that area of writing, although I understand there is a large market for it.

As for what is too much, it depends on what story I am trying to tell. In my current work in progress, innuendo and allusion are the means to convey the deeper story. In my novel, Huw the Bard, a certain amount of graphic detail was required to advance the plot, although not as much as in many other authors’ books. Because these scenes were such a small part of the story but were defining moments in his life, the romance scenes of Huw’s book required many revisions to get right. They had to be important, but couldn’t overshadow the larger story.

For me as a reader, there is a fine line between enjoying an erotic scene and feeling like a voyeur. It’s easy to write graphic details, but are they romantic? Quite often they read like the assembly instructions for a set of bookshelves from IKEA—insert tab A into slot B.

Certain words repel me, especially if they are applied with no finesse, emerging from the prose with force of a jackhammer.

The lead up to romance is critical. Are you going to have them together forever? If so, make the road to happiness difficult. We must show longing, wondering, hoping, and there must be roadblocks to instant happiness. A trail of hints and innuendo creates a sense of growing connection between two characters. Each tiny connection between two characters raises the emotional stakes, and emotions are the key to a real romance. The chase is the story—‘happily ever after’ is the epilogue.

If the romance is a brief moment of respite in a sea of chaos, a long chase is not needed. With that said, the romance between two characters who are not destined for each other must be central to advancing the plot. Whether you choose the ‘fade to black’ method (which I usually do) or get graphic (which I have done on occasion) is up to you. You must consider your intended reader and what they will expect.

When I contemplate how to portray a love scene, I want the reader to feel like it was worth the time they took to read it. I want them to care about what happens next in that couple’s relationship—if anything does. Just as in real life, sometimes true love is not meant to be.

I want to be able to stretch myself as a writer and learn more skills at telling a good tale. I try to do that by finding the works of other writers that moved me and discovering what it was about a scene (regardless of whether it involved romance or not) that made me glad I had read it.

When I write, I’m like every other author—words fall out of my head, some good and some not so elegant. And if I have written something awkward, my beta readers will graciously (or bluntly) tell me so.

Being an author isn’t always roses and wine. Sometimes it’s weeds and pickle-juice.

Writing something worth reading is hard work. It’s striving to meet the expectations of people you’ve never met, which is not easy. By working closely with a circle of trusted author friends, I have gained a better ability to step back and see my work with a less prejudiced eye.

If they don’t see the charm that I do in a certain passage, I ask myself why. Sometimes, the answer lies in the fact they don’t enjoy the sort of work I do, but very often the answer is that what I wrote was not ready for someone else to read it.

That ‘proud child’ urge to display your work in its raw stage is one we all combat. Nevertheless, for me, having the opportunity to do this full time is living the dream.


Credits and Attributions:

Galadriel and Celeborn, by Araniart [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons|Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Araniart – Galadriel and Celeborn.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Araniart_-_Galadriel_and_Celeborn.jpg&oldid=262862472 (accessed April 1, 2018).

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Random Thoughts on Lazy Writing #amwriting

For me as an author, the easiest part of writing is inadvertently slipping some clumsy bit of phrasing into my narrative and having an action scene go hilariously (and impossibly) wrong. I don’t usually notice the awkwardness until my editor points it out.

As a reader, there are a few things that will pull me out of the narrative, and most of them are lazy writing habits. First up is the poorly researched “historical” novel. Lazy writers get some info from Wikipedia and fabricate the rest.

Research: Using real science requires research which is hard work and can be expensive—I have a friend who is writing a historical novel and has been working on it for nine years. She has made two trips to New Zealand to the town where her novel is set. While in New Zealand she visited the local libraries and interviewed people who knew witnesses to the shipwreck she is writing about.

I realize we can’t all visit New Zealand to research a book, but wow—that is what I call doing “due diligence.”

Writing true history, writing medical dramas, and using police and military procedures requires ACTUAL research from more sources than Wikipedia and watching old CSI episodes. Robert Dugoni is a lawyer, and interviews law enforcement professionals for his novels. He knows what he is writing about, and his thrillers sell quite well.

If you’re writing historical/medical/legal fiction, you must read many books on your subject. Make notes as you read each one, noting the book title, the author, and the page number where you found the info—you may need to know those things later. It’s work, but this is a job you can’t skimp on.

Even if you are writing speculative fiction, you will accumulate background info in your world building process. Keep your notes in a clearly labeled file, and back them up on a thumb-drive or file them in the cloud via Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Docs. I use and work out of a file-saving service, so no matter what happens to my computer, my files won’t be lost. Turning those notes into your story is called research and is an important part of the writing process.

Lazy writers sometimes “write” work written by other people. When we first start out as bloggers, we don’t always realize what our legal obligations are when it comes to using images and information found on the internet. We may want to quote another blogger or use the information we have learned from them.

 Savvy bloggers cite their sources and only use images they have the legal right to use. 

If you are blogging, put it in quotes and include a link back to the site you found it. Then credit your source in footnotes at the bottom of your post. See my post on citing sources and images here: Citing Sources and Image Attribution

This is most important: do not ever copy lines from another person’s work and put them in your book or essay without their permission. That is plagiarism, and you never want to be accused of that. If you must quote someone verbatim in your work, contact their publisher and get their legal permission to do so and credit them by using proper footnotes. An excellent article on how to do this can be found here on Beard with a Blog: Cite Unseen: 3 Bits for a Better Bibliography

Random thoughts about strangely worded things I’ve read:

The awkward description: Sometimes we struggle to get too artful and it just doesn’t work. Please, don’t use a phrase like: “He felt his eyes roll over his host’s attire” and then follow it with a paragraph describing the host. Let me just say it now: If ever you feel your eyes roll over anything, pick them up and have a professional put them back in your head.

That unfortunately phrased sentence is one of the less obnoxious lines from a book I was unable to finish reading. I could see what the author was trying to say, but other than Professor Alastor (Mad Eye) Moody, most people’s eyes do not operate autonomously. Try to slip descriptions into the narrative in less obvious ways, with no clumsy lead in that announces a lengthy exposition is forthcoming.

Use of clichés. Speaking as a reader, please do a global search for the word alabaster. If you have used it to describe a woman’s skin, get rid of it, and find a different way to describe her. It’s an overused word that has become cliché. Find different ways to say what you want, unless you have a character who uses clichés—if so, she’d better have a good reason. Even then, don’t go overboard.

Use of obscure words. Sometimes we try too hard to bring variety to our prose. We need to change things up, but we should avoid technical words and jargon that only a professional in that field would know.

Events that occur for no reason: I loved “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series of books written by the late Douglas Adams. The books detail the adventures of Arthur Dent, a hapless Englishman traveling the galaxy in his pajamas. He and his friend are transported off the Earth just in time to miss the destruction of the planet by the Vogons, a race of unpleasant and bureaucratic aliens, to make way for an intergalactic bypass.

Don’t be afraid to be a little bit “out there” but there must be a point to having the protagonist leave his house wearing his pajamas. Otherwise, get rid of it. Adams used that opportunity to show the environment Arthur was about to be thrust out of. Adams understood he had to show Arthur in his happy home, and then he had to be quickly yanked out of there and placed on that Vogon Constructor Ship.

Books are my life—I read constantly, and often re-read my favorites. I learn just as much from the ones I don’t love as I do from the ones I like.

I haven’t had the time lately to write reviews, but I will have several reviews soon. I always try to review the books I loved, especially if the author is an indie. In fact, I’m several behind, so I need to stop chatting and get reviewing!

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