Reading

Alpha/Beta Reading – What I Will Look For In Your Stories

I’ve begun to receive fairly regular requests to alpha/beta read some stories and it worried me a tad. I am well aware that critical analysis of one’s work can be a touchy subject – I know my favourite beta reader has suffered some silent treatment from me as I sulked about the things he said about my magnificent creations, so I was a little concerned about exposing myself to the receiving end of the process. Ultimately, I decided that my passion for writing and desire to help and support others on their journey to publication was worth the potential silent treatment (or worse) that I may get from those I read for.

So now I have taken the plunge (and suffered my first bout of silent treatment) I thought I’d write about what I will look at when being an alpha or beta reader.

  1. The First Line. – The first line in a story should be the first ‘hook’ to encourage your readers to keep reading. It needs to be engaging and, more importantly, it needs to be relevant to the story. There are many different ways to write a great first line, as Joe Bunting explains in his excellent article ‘7 Keys To Write The Perfect First Line’
  2. Continuity. – The longer your work, the more difficult it is to keep up with what your characters have been saying and doing, where they have been going and why they have been behaving a certain way. I’m sure we have all seen examples of continuity errors on TV and in movies, I’m sure many people have found them in books too. I once wrote a story where I described a character as wearing leggings and then later on in the same scene mentioned a tattoo that could be seen through the slit in her skirt. I’d changed what my character was wearing halfway through a scene and not noticed. A beta reader pointed it out to me. These things might seem small and insignificant sometimes, but they can pull a reader out of the little world you are conjuring up for them and they will escape from the thrall you, as a writer, work so hard to develop. For information on how to avoid the more common continuity errors, check out this post on continuity by author A J Humpage.
  3. Pacing. – The pace of your story should ebb and flow depending on what is happening in your story at the time. If your story is too slow throughout, your readers will become bored and may abandon the story altogether. If your story is paced too fast, they may wind up feeling mentally exhausted at the end and this could put them off reading more of your work. I will look at sentence length and regularity and whether your action and connecting scenes are paced appropriately to allow the readers to get swept along in the right places, but also allowed time to reflect on what they have read. For more information on effective pacing, check out this Readers Digest post.
  4. Repetition. – Repetition in literature is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it can help to really underline a particular message. Most of the time, however, it’s insignificant words which are repeated all the time. When words are repeated, we often notice the repeated word… (See what I did there?)  It can drag a reader out of their story and back into the real world. That is not where you want them. You want to create an atmosphere around your readers so they almost forget that they are reading words and instead find themselves in this strange kind of reading trance where they can see the story unfolding around them. For more information on repetition, check out this post by Fiction Editor Beth Hill.

Hopefully these links will be useful to you and will help reduce the number of things I or any other alpha/beta readers will pick up on.

 

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I’m Being Published!

Eeep!

So this happened a week or so ago now, and  I have been meaning to come on here and let you all know, but I needed to make sure I completed my uni year first.

A few months ago I got wind of a call for submissions to an anthology on monsters. I had a half finished short story that I thought would fit the theme so I finished it, tidied it up and submitted. After a few small changes, my story has been accepted and will be published this year.

I’m so ridiculously excited. I will no longer be a writer, I will be an author.

I’m going to have to update my blog…

Ah The Nostalgic Feeling Of A Summer Break

I did it!

I completed my first year of university with about twenty-four hours to spare before the final assignment deadline and i’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.

I haven’t ever studied at university level before but, whilst I have found this first year suitably challenging, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, and the marks I have been getting for my assignments mean that I am set for a grade this year which is only just short of the 1st class degree level. Whoop!

That isn’t what this post is about though. I wanted to tell you guys about the weird nostalgia I feel now about having a summer holiday from study. I’m getting that heady feeling of pleasure knowing I can spend my evening watching TV whilst snuggled up with my fiance instead of hiding away upstairs in my study at the computer. It’s mixed with a slight tinge of guilt, however, that I should be studying something, somewhere, somehow. That might be why I appear to have enrolled onto several free short courses over the summer. They keep emailing me updates. I don’t even remember doing that!

I also have a list of things that I have planned to do until uni starts again in October. I haven’t started any of them yet, naturally, and if i’m being honest, it will probably remain that way as I waste my free time just like I did during the summer holidays when I was at school. I want to write more stories for submission to publications, I want to write to you lovely people much more frequently than I have been, and I want to read. Oh I have so, so many books to read… Of course I also have a full time job so it’s not all going to be fun and games. Hopefully I will be able to get some things done this summer… I’m not going to hold my breath for the whole list though.

What can you remember about that magical summer holiday feeling? Is there anything that takes you back to that nowadays?

What plans do you have for summer 2016?

 

 

The Clean Reader App – I Don’t Like It

I was browsing Facebook the other day as part of my pre-writing procrastination, when I came across this article from Book Riot about a Clean Reader App. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of it, it’s an App that you can download eBooks into, to remove or change certain ‘unsavoury’ words with dots, or a more palatable alternative.

Jared and Kirsten Maughan from Idaho in the USA came up with the idea because their daughter was reading at a level much higher than her peers. They wanted to continue to encourage their daughter to push herself with regards to her reading, but were concerned about the content of more adult books, after she brought home books from school with swearing in it.  They spoke with lawyers who were quick to point out that they couldn’t re-publish books that had been edited in this manner as it would infringe copyright laws. The app that was eventually developed by Page Foundry gets past this issue by editing the original book for the use of the reader only. It does not make edited versions available to other people. Once you have bought a copy of an eBook, you can do what you like to it, including editing words you don’t like, much like taking a permanent marker to a physical book, if that is what you wish to do. This is legal because the book, either in eBook form or physical form, is your own to do with as you wish.

So whilst this App is legal, doesn’t infringe on the author’s copyright laws and doesn’t fall under the scope of censorship, it is leaving a lot of people, myself included, feeling rather uncomfortable.

From the comments I have read on various articles like the ones on Book Riot, Huffington Post, LDS Media Talk and also this gem of a blog I found a link to, many people are torn between their beliefs that everyone should have the freedom of choice and some religious beliefs regarding purity etc., but also that the app has the potential to get in the way of open-mindedness and slow down progression. My own initial thought; that the replacement of certain profane words with less offensive ones could completely change the tenor of the story intended by the author; is also a widely expressed one. Think of this classic sentence from Gone with the Wind:

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Can you imagine it being changed to “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a •” Or even worse “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a monkeys.”? The dot is strange and the alternative completely changes the atmosphere and inflection behind the words spoken. One comment I read claimed that authors who use profanity are doing so to cover up their poor grasp of the english language. I completely and utterly disagree with this. As a writer of horror stories, profanity can be used in my stories to shock the mind on purpose, the psychology behind profanity and people’s reactions to them are exactly why they are used. They show you things like anger and disrespect without the writer adding things like ‘they said angrily.’ which would be quite poor as a writing technique. I’m not trying to be delicate about brutal murder and jealousy and all kinds of other things that can rear it’s ugly head in a horror story. It’s not that I don’t have a good grasp of the english language, it’s that I have a good understanding of both the language AND the psychology behind people’s reactions.

In cases where there is a lot of profanity within a book, the replacement with dots could render the passages unreadable and take away from the reader the understanding of relationships between certain characters and parts of the storyline, which can only frustrate the reader just as much as the uncomfortable sensation they might feel at reading a ‘bad’ word. It’s also unrealistic. People use profanity all the time and pretending they don’t doesn’t, to me, seem like a good way to prepare your children for the outside world.

In my opinion, books are many things rolled into one. They can be an escape from the world as well as a window into it. They can re-affirm your opinions and ideas, or they can challenge them. They can be educational, or purely for fun. They can be uncomfortable. They can bring to your attention the horrors of the world that should not be ignored. I can’t help but feel that a lot of people who want to avoid such content is doing nothing more than attempting to protect the little bubble they have put around their life so that they can pretend everything is rosy. Life isn’t like that.

I understand that some content can trigger people. People who have survived rape, for example, might not want to read books with a rape scene involved. That is completely understandable to me. Maybe books would be better off with a rating like movies have? Then people can choose the books they want to read without the writing of the author being physically changed. I have seen a lot of comments from people who think that rating books is just as bad as using a clean reader app. Personally, as a compromise, I think it would be a good idea.

What do you think about the clean reader app? Would you use it? Do you think a book rating system, similar to movies, would be a good alternative? Let me know in the comments below.

Why Everyone Should Belong To A Book Club

Rules Of Book Club

At my completely non-bookish day job, my colleagues and I were talking about books, reading and how fabulous the printed word could be. One of my colleagues, J, told us that she belonged to a book club. Now the first thought that popped into my head was pretty much “Desperate Housewives read a book and talk about it over Martinis for the 5 minutes that they aren’t gossiping about their neighbours/friends/colleagues/celebrities. Unfortunately for J, that’s near enough what it is like in her club. She’s really not that kind of girl, she doesn’t really like the genre of the books they suggest, but she reads them anyway because she is the dedicated bookish type and because you never know when a book will come along that you absolutely love, but don’t know why. (J loves Wuthering Heights. I’ll never understand that. As far as I could tell, nobody is ever happy in that story, ever!) Of course when it is J’s turn to choose a book, they all complain about her choices because it isn’t their ‘thing’. Expand your mind ladies, J does it for you!

Another colleague, K, and I suggested that J form a book club with people who at least like similar stuff. If you like horror and paranormal thrillers, a book club full of chick lit/romance lovers is probably going to be hard work. This idea was pounced upon and became a bit of a work thing. J, K, and I have similar taste in books. J sent out an email to the rest of our team, looking to see if anyone else was interested in joining our freshly made Book Club. For some reason, J’s email was assumed to be a joke. None of us can work out why; Book Club is a very serious matter, don’t you know? After repeating many times that Book Club is real, we gave up trying to convincing the others and started looking for books. J and I started looking up the Top 100 books etc., compiling lists, making spreadsheets… K brought us back to earth with “There’s a lot of stuff on your lists we probably won’t enjoy reading. We all like Paranormal, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, why don’t we read more of those kinds of books instead?”

Oops! In all the excitement, J and I had forgotten that we were making a book club based on our bookish tastes. Thank you K for bringing us back down to earth. I’m glad one of us didn’t get carried away with ‘Top 100’ and ‘Books you must read before you die’ lists. Of course then we reached the ‘fun’ part. How do you pick a book that we would all want to read, but none of us have read already?

K and I have read The Name Of The Wind but J has not. J and K have read Enders Game, but I have not. We very quickly had new individual lists for reading (Lets call that Reason 1) but couldn’t think of a book to read that none of us had already just gone and read. In the end, I googled “top ten fantasy authors”. Amazon came back with a top 10 most popular authors list, and lists of their books. Number 3 on that list is Brandon Sanderson. We have picked his novel The Way of Kings as our first book club book.

So, from my story about making a book club, we have Reason 1: You get a great list of books recommended to you by other bookish types before you even start looking at books to read with the others. This is great for me because I read pretty fast. Our book club meets every 2 months at the moment because J can’t bring herself to leave her other club. I could read most books within a week so my shiny new list of books to read will help to occupy me between times.

Onwards now to Reason 2: You get to know people better and/or meet new people. I already know J and K as they are colleagues, but I don’t know them well. Until a week or so ago, I worked on a different team. Talking about book club (Rule 1 of Book Club, never talk about Book Club. Shhh don’t tell anyone!) has helped me to settle into my new team because it gives me something to talk about with J and K besides work. For you, it might be that you’ve moved to a new town and you are looking to meet some people. It could just be that your friends and family aren’t as bookish as you and you just want to meet some people that you can talk to about books.

Book clubs generally work by each member choosing a book that everyone reads, then the next time they meet, they talk about it. This leads me on to Reason 3: You will read different kinds of books. Now, going back to J’s experiences, it’s not always fun to read loads of books in a genre that you don’t like, so I would recommend finding or creating a club with people with a similar taste in literature, but even then, you will find yourself reading and, most probably, enjoying books you may not have even considered reading otherwise. I’m a lover of all things paranormal and mythological but usually the books I favour are based on earth. I have just finished reading The Shining by Stephen King. I should have read that a long time ago, but that is a classic example of what I enjoy. J and K are more Sci-Fi and fantasy lovers. I have read a fair few Trudi Canavan Novels in my time, I love them, so fantasy is great for me too, but I will no doubt end up reading more novels based in fictional places, on fictional planets or other planes of existence. I am looking forward to that. My personal reading list is full of the classics because of the creative writing course I am studying, so some fantasy will balance me off nicely.

Bringing me nicely on to Reason 4: If you are a writer, reading can only help you get better at your craft. When I was very new to the writing scene, I have read up lots of tips on how to improve your writing. One of the most prolific pieces of advice out there, is to read. Read your genre, Read outside your genre. Read something. Read it again. Basically read everything you can get your grubby paws on. Even the milk carton. With a book club, you not only get a plethora of different books to read and share, but you also get feedback on the story from other people’s perspective. This is invaluable to a writer. You are giving and hearing other feedback as readers, to someone’s piece of writing. This will help you to understand your own readers and how different people will interpret your writing in different ways, like you and your Book Club buddies will with the books you read. You will also notice the building blocks for a story, the techniques writers use in storytelling, how every author has their own unique ‘voice’. Do you remember English Lit classes at school? Pulling apart a book and looking at all the different aspects of a story, it’s composition, and how it all fit together to reach the conclusion at the end? Book Clubs encourage you to do this. I will often read books and not notice any of that, because I was lost in the great storytelling. Discussing the books and the storyline with others encourages your to see past the story to find all those little building blocks, all those things that will make your writing even more ‘amaze-balls’ than it already is.

And finally, on to Reason 5: Its fun! Everyone has stressful elements in their lives. Be it work, family, writers block; its a natural part of life to deal with these things, but sometimes you just need to relax and unwind. Often I do that by myself with a good book, but now, once every couple of months, I get to go to the pub at lunch (I tried for happy hour after work but was out-voted) and have a chat and a giggle about a subject that I am passionate about. Sure, it will help my writing, but for me that is more of a fantastic side affect of spending some time with some like-minded readers having a chat and a giggle about a book (possibly amongst other things). The only thing I would recommend is to be aware that it is, first and foremost, a book club, so keep the gossiping to a minimum/save it till after you’ve talked about the book. If you want to spend more time with your Book Club people talking non bookish things, you could always suggest a few drinks in a pub somewhere after, or arrange a book club night out. It doesn’t have to be serious, but Book Club should be about the books.

Book Club rules borrowed from here

Do you belong to a book club? If you do, what are the good and bad parts of your book club? If you don’t, have you ever considered joining or creating one? Do you actively avoid joining one? If so, why? I’d love to hear from you.