Tag: Rewriting

Beta Readers: Bane or Boon?

betareaderblissThis spring, I’ve had my second – and third – encounter with a group of beta readers. Even as my stinging ego debates whether they are the bane of my existence or a boon to my career, I can’t deny they are essential.

If you’re a writer, you need beta readers. Further, you need beta readers who are willing to tell you what they think, regardless of how much your feelings might be hurt (and I mean demolished – picture me curled in a fetal position sobbing).

What are beta readers?

In my mind, a beta reader is like a software program’s beta tester. They take the product for a ride and find everything that’s wrong with it.

In the case of books, much of the beta feedback is subjective – as a reader’s preferences are varied and unique. Some people adore Shakespeare. I despise reading him, but I’m all about watching his work performed on stage.

In any case, betas are the first real readers of a manuscript. Sure, Aunt June may have seen your first draft and raved about it becoming a best seller. This isn’t the same as having an objective reader give feedback.

Beta readers read your rewritten and lightly edited second draft. They read it as if it’s a book they picked up off the shelf. The only difference: every time they see something they don’t understand or  something they dislike, they comment on it.

What I expect from my beta readers?

Unlike beta testers for software, beta readers might be expected to look for different things by the author. Software programs are meant to work a certain way, and the betas are supposed to find the bugs, so the code can be repaired before the program is marketed.

In a similar manner, beta readers are expected to see if a story works. Does the plot progress in a sensible fashion? Do the characters grow and change? Is there an obvious story problem that is resolved before the book ends?

Of course, my idea of what makes a story satisfying could be different than yours. This is where the subjectivity comes into the picture.

As far as expectations go, I send a detailed checklist to my beta readers. I generally ask about story structure, setting, believability and character likability and growth.

I consider every comment from beta readers, but that doesn’t mean I always change the things thy find problematic. After all, I’m the author.


Two types of readers tend to be the bane of my existence when it comes to betas: non-genre and published writers.

First of all, having readers who don’t generally read your genre take your manuscript for a test drive is an excellent idea. They are going to be more critical of story elements and plot holes. If you can suck them into the story, great. It’s more likely that they are going to be on the outside noticing all the things they don’t like.

Remember, I don’t change everything they suggest. This is especially true for non-genre readers. However, I do take their thoughts on plot and character seriously to heart. After all, if they can’t relate to my characters, I’ve done something wrong.

Published authors – especially if they are in your genre – are harsh. And, I’ll be honest, it hurts to have someone you respect dissect your story. It feels like being gutted alive.

Once you stop bleeding, however, you’ll be able to sort through all those comments – meant to help not scald – and use them to make your story better.


I always make sure I have some avid readers of my genre and some members of my focus audience read my early manuscript. These people are going to be a boon to my story.

Avid readers know what works. They’ve read so many books, they can predict outcomes and wade through poor prose without losing touch with the story.

This makes it sound like they aren’t going to be helpful. Not true. They will be able to spot a plot hole a mile away. If your plot is too predictable, you can be sure you’ll hear about it. And, they can tell you if the character you’ve chosen works in the story.

Since my novels are aimed at a young adult audience, it’s essential that some of my betas are in this group. It can be difficult to find young readers who can give helpful feedback.

Luckily for me, I have connections at the local middle school. Further, I can interview the readers in person, thus tailoring my questions based on the answers they give me.

Time consuming? Without a doubt.

However, I’ve discovered problems with character consistency, magic systems, weak resolutions and plot progression from my target audience. The investment is worth the outcome.

In the end, books are meant to be read. As the author, I’m too close to the work to determine if the story is clear. I know my characters so well, I might miss the fact that on paper they don’t appear at all like they do in my head.

This is why authors need beta readers. Without unbiased reader feedback, a novel will never reach its fullest story potential.

Bane or boon, if you’re a writer, get your manuscript to beta readers – before you send it to agents, editors, publishers or -worst of all – publish it yourself.

How I was forced into doing NaNoWriMo


The ink on my blog post detailing why I wouldn’t be participating in National Novel Writing Month hadn’t dried. My writing friend and I met at the library, and she insisted I participate in the insanity. I said no. She cajoled.

I signed up the next day. *sighs*

I thought I was stronger than this. My calendar for November is flooded with rewrite obligations. There are beta readers expecting that novel in December. Wouldn’t want to disappoint them.

“But you’re writing short stories anyway,” my friend argues.

True. I have scheduled seven days in the first three weeks of the month to work on some new stories. I’m trying to improve my market reach. A few publishing credits can only make my queries stronger.

I figured the creation process would be a nice way to give my brain a break during the grueling work of rewriting (which is minor compared to the brain strain of editing). I’m wondering if I can work on two or more different projects at a time – and do them both justice.

“I don’t have time. I’m doing a rewrite.”

“You should still sign up.” (Is someone paying her for all the people she convinces to participate? Is that what being a Municipal Liaison means?)

I have no one to blame but myself. Who clicked on the NaNo website? *raises hand* Who typed in a description of a short story collection for their 2014 project? *looks away*

The voice of reason (my husband), “I thought you weren’t doing that this year.”

Yeah, I thought so too. Why did I want to be friends with writers again? Why did I go with this woman to a writer’s conference? Why do we have regular lunch meetings?

We’re “helping” each other. I’m not feeling especially encouraged at the moment. The stress of writing 50,000 words in 30 days is making my head pound.

What are writing friends for? Apparently, to push me out of my comfort zone. And in front of a speeding NaNoWriMo truck.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What crazy things have your friends convinced you to do? Were you later appreciative of their interference? (Please say yes. I really like this person.)

First Draft Finish Line

In this journey toward becoming a published author, I’ve learned to celebrate the small things. Otherwise, a road that can stretch for five years AFTER the manuscript is complete gets to feel somewhat like the Sahara at noon.

Dry. Dismal. Another hill to climb that looked just like the last five dozen hills climbed. No end in sight.

You get the idea.first-draft-oconner1

Thus, when I recently completed two first drafts within two weeks of each other, I did a serious happy dance. I posted my exultation on Facebook. Tweets exist to document my joy.

Of course, I know that a first draft is even uglier than a rough draft. It is generally filled with plot holes, clichés and shallow characters.

So, I opened the three-inch binder that held the 320-page manuscript of Doomsday Dragon. As I’ve shared before, after setting the project aside for a week or two, the first step toward perfection is a complete read-through.

Image my surprise when I didn’t have to make tons of circles (more information needed) and question marks (is this scene necessary?) on this first draft. If you recall my initial reaction to the last manuscript I rewrote, my stunned delight was nothing less than a 180.

In the spiral notebook dedicated to this project, I turned to a fresh page and entitled it “Changes needed after first read through.” When I did this with Daughter of Water in February, I filled the front and back of a notebook page.

Even though there were only six problems, they were huge. Things like “add POV for Kale and deepen Ausha.” And “setting incomplete.” These weren’t easy fixes. They screamed that the story had some serious issues.

For Doomsday Dragon, I had three questions, a note to include additional descriptions of the volcano types and a note to cut two scenes. Five things. And none of them could be classified as a “problem” with the manuscript.

In fact, as I was doing the read through, I laughed aloud a few times. I reread lines of description because they were original and captivating. I posted a few of them on Facebook and Tweeted a couple others.

Like this amazing moment inside my character’s head. Her voice comes through loud and clear:

“Zi gritted her back teeth to keep the full-blown smile from breaking the tense moment. Going to climb Everest and awaken a dragon, but he would be careful. Hilarious.”

The biggest problem is that I’m not quite as great getting inside the male protagonist’s head. I need to spend some more time listening to him talk. My initial plan to help with this is to rewrite all the scenes from his point of view first and consecutively.

Yes, the book needs to be rewritten. Of course, there’s some stuff in this first draft I want to keep. Words I believe reveal exactly what I intended. But it’s hardly perfect or ready for any eyes other than mine.

I’m wondering if I’m getting better at writing first drafts. Or if I’ve lowered my expectations. If you know me at all, you know option two is highly unlikely. In fact, there’s more chance of a dragon landing on my front porch. Yeah, I need to work on that one. Still.

Any fellow writers reading this, have you experienced a similar phenomenon with your writing? Those of you whose interest is piqued about the story, submit your questions in the comments. I’ll be happy to post more teasers and sample lines as the writing process continues.

How the Street of Dreams Mirrors Life

5,185 square feet, $1,325,000
5,185 square feet, $1,325,000

“I live on the street of my dreams.”

Do you? Does your daily life take you through your dream landscape?

Since I wasn’t being wowed by the uniqueness of the homes on the Street of Dreams, my writer brain went to town to make a life connection. It doesn’t take much to wind up my creativity.

I found three parallels between my experience with the million-dollar homes and my pursuit of a writing career.


When someone tells me about a million-dollar home, I’m expecting either an enormous lot or unique features.

If you read my post last week, you know I didn’t find either of these at the Street of Dreams. I found million-dollar homes with fantastic fountains and more floor space than I ever want to be responsible for cleaning.

Lot size? Not much considering how big the homes were. In fact, I could see clearly into all the neighbors’ yards from the second story balcony of one of the homes. Not much in the way of a private setting.

I’ll be honest about the writing career. I knew I needed to pen a million words before I could expect to begin to perfect the craft of novel writing. I have penned more than 750,000 (yes, I keep track) in the past two years. I’m still pre-published.

In fact, this writing gig is much harder work than I expected. Some days all the words I write sound trite or infantile. Other days getting the words out feels like an exorcism (not that I know what that feels like, but seeing one thanks to Hollywood – uh, similar screaming and pain quotients).

Comparison: Expectations while traveling the street of your dreams are never met. Bag them.

Awe Factor

Staring at the amazing great room, kitchen, dining and outdoor living area of the dream home we most loved dropped my jaw. I could visualize it teeming with the people I love – some of them aren’t even born yet.

An ooey-gooey swell of deliciousness warmed me from the inside out. A stuffed turkey roasted in the professional-grade natural gas oven. Trays of appetizers lined the granite-covered buffet along the wall of the dining room. A fire crackled in the great room and outside on the covered patio.

I wish you could see what I did and feel the emotions swelling like a tidal wave inside me. That’s the awe factor we expect from our dreams.

Writing, the dream of my heart, parallels this experience.

Fingers flying over the keyboard. Words, sentences and paragraphs become pages, scenes and chapters. Characters are born on those pages. Lives explode with love, fear, anger and adventure.

Hours pass and only the movement of the sun from my front window to my back deck signifies it. I’m engulfed in the fantasy of my creativity.

This exceeds what I imagined pursuing my dream and being a full-time writer would be like on a daily basis. No paycheck? That’s what you think. Contentment in the dream feeds a hungry soul and clothes lagging confidence.

Epiphany: Living the dream is like having Thanksgiving dinner every day.


Imagination is the bedrock of my chosen path. If I can’t visualize, I’m not going to be able to write a story that comes to life either.

My vision of a million-dollar home includes elevators, stoves that cook entire meals without me and a private setting in the middle of the woods.

The Street of Dreams in reality? Stairs I had to climb, even though some of the homes had three levels. Professional quality gas stoves but no automation that would prepare meals at the touch of a button (don’t get sassy about a microwave here, either).

Worst of all, I could see acres of trees in the distance along the ridge of Mt. Scott. Below that were fields of homes, too many to number. So much for tranquility in my million-dollar sanctuary.

Creating a story from nothing but my imagination is what I visualized when I pictured me as a professional writer. I have done that – seven separate times in the past year.

Of course, what I’ve done to take that first novel (well, actually the third; the first two had to be thrown away. They were me writing to find the real story) to a place where it’s ready for public eyes is hardly that glamorous – or enjoyable.

Weeks spent rewriting after reading through the first draft almost felt creative. Revising every sentence to make it sound literary – creative but pushing tedium. Rewriting a third time based on the comments and criticism from my beta readers required a firm hand.

“You will write today. I don’t care if you’re sick of this story. You have a goal to meet.”

You think this manuscript is ready for an agent?
You think this manuscript is ready for an agent?

Revising the 300 pages to smooth the cadence and perfect the prose rivaled a marathon. I was unsure if there would be enough chocolate to see me through to the end.

Still…not…done. Now, comb over every sentence, looking for grammar, usage and typographical errors. Gladly send the thing to someone else for proofreading.

Time to query agents. Time to fix the dull beginning. Time to rewrite the first fifty pages because a professional finds them flawed beyond redemption – almost.

Nothing like I visualized.

Truth to be learned: real life is nothing like the dream. It can be better, if you’re willing to work on reality conforming it to the reality you want.

My allusions might not resonate with you. Or maybe they do.

How has your dream measured up to your expectations and visualizations? Or how has the awe factor kept you moving forward?

A World of Revision

Image Courtesy of Leah Cutter

“The best writing is rewriting” – E.B. White

Glorious news: I’ve come to the end of the rewrite of my first novel. Or not. In my mind, I will begin revising now, polishing prose for prettiness.

Yep, I love that alliteration.

As I mentioned before, rewriting and revising aren’t technically the same thing. Not in my mind anyway. I can say what E.B. White was talking about in his famous quote is true. To make your writing the best, you have to keep revising and polishing (not the same as writing again).

The technical definition of the word rewriting is write again. I already wrote it once. I’m not throwing it out the window and starting over (maybe I should), so is it rewriting?

To me, rewriting involves creating new material. The author takes a brush to their manuscript and ferrets out areas where things drag and where plot holes exist. They realize they need more foreshadowing of a future event or that the subplot is nonexistent.

Starting at the first page, they add to what is written, completing it. This is what I spent three weeks doing.

Revising is a horse of a different color. This is the one I can ride into the sunset and never finish. This is the step I believe White refers to with his famous (or is that infamous?) quote.

Horse of a different color according to ibmsystemsmag.com

Literal understanding of the word: vision again. Yes, I’m going to visit my pages and mull over every word, phrase and sentence. Does it say what I mean? Could I say it better? What would make the voice more pronounced?

After rewriting my manuscript, now the more difficult process of revision begins. It will be a laborious dissection of each and every sentence. By the end, I will likely be ready to throw the manuscript in a drawer and forget it exists.

Instead, I will send it along to my beta readers. They will then get to determine whether I filled all the plot holes during rewriting. Are my characters likable and round? Does everything make sense?

It still won’t be perfectly edited. Sorry, beta readers. Editing is the final step before the manuscript meets my future agent or publisher.

More revision will follow based on what these readers tell me.

Like I said, a world of revision. In my mind, writing is revising.



Self-Editing for Writers

I’ve been an editor since I learned to read, always finding errors and mentally rewording awkward sentences. (Isn’t awkward an awkward word to type? The k surrounded by ws just feels so…awkward.)

Self-editing can be a whole different ball game.

To help me stick to my guns, I purchased the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. With chapter titles like “show and tell” and “point of view,” it seemed like it would offer straight-forward and applicable instructions.

It does. According to chapter 11 “Sophistication,” I’m a hack. Several of the sentence variants I rely upon in my writing have been overdone and thus are considered immature by many editors (the authors of this text included).

When you’ve just completed your degree in English and Literature, this sort of insult incites the arched back of a territorial kitty. I was the outstanding graduate, so how can I be a hack? I’m still processing that information. It doesn’t take me to a happy place.

It occurs to me that the things I learn from Browne and King can be put into action when I get to Step 6 of my rewrite. You can imagine that after my reaction to chapter 11, the second one I read, by the way (who reads a book in order if it isn’t fiction?), I am less than thrilled to continue my study of this text.

I have also noted on several writing blogs I follow that hiring an editor is recommended, even for those seeking traditional publishing (which is my plan at the moment). Since story structure seems to be an area where I’m weak, I am considering having a professional check that for me – once I finish the rewrite.

Do you feel writers can edit their own work to an acceptable level if they’re going the traditional route? I can see a definite need for a professional edit (and proofread at the end) before anything is self-published.

Beginning a Rewrite

Image from wikimedia

Writing is rewriting – E.B. White

I guess E.B. White knew what he was talking about since every good writer owns The Elements of Style. Considering the first draft of my novel, I’m beginning to agree to the validity of that assertion.

In order to rewrite my manuscript into something remotely readable, I’m going to use the methodology given in Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. Believe me, the young adult fantasy novel I just completed *happy dance* needs plenty of work.

According to Bell, the rewriting process has seven steps:

  1.   Let it cool
  2.   Get mentally prepared
  3.   Read it through
  4.   Brood over it
  5.  Write the 2nd draft
  6.  Refine
  7.  Polish

Because I’m serious about completing this process, I set a schedule. (Some who know me would say I’m organized or perhaps a control freak.) After I completed the novel, I waited a week, getting mentally prepared all the while. Now it’s on to Step 3.

First Read Through

Bell gives great ideas for making simple marks on the manuscript. He recommends just reading it and not stopping to make any additions or corrections. Use his marking system at this juncture, and when you get to step five, you can go crazy.

I started this on the scheduled date (Monday, July 29) and finished the next day. Disappointment flogged me. Where was the adrenaline? Excitement for my story migrated to somewhere south of where I sat.

This story was lame. It had several holes and so little description that I felt like no one could even remotely imagine the fantasy worlds I invented for this book.

Brood Over It

After sleeping on it, I pulled out my spiral notebook and made a plot diagram. Yeah, just like those your middle school language arts teacher made you draw and label. The story progression seemed to fit. I discovered where the plot holes were and plugged in events to fill them.

I think character arc will take more thought and planning. My main character has changed very little by the end of this story. Yes, that’s a major faux pas for any story. I need to evaluate what her real motives are and get a better picture of what she’s like and how this adventure is changing her to be the girl who helps take down the Big Boss Troublemaker in book three.

Writing the Second Draft

This is what I started on Monday, August 5. Yes, that was a full three weeks ahead of my original schedule. Rather than patting myself on the back, I’m planning to utilize that extra time to fill the plot holes, finagle an interesting character arc and rewrite something that will get my blood pumping.

After all, I want to be proud to claim this work as my own.

What are your thoughts on rewriting? Do you start over with a blank document or do you cut-and-paste?