Monday, January 12, 2015

It'll Get Betta' With A Beta

Home sick, so I finished Woven in one day
Wow. It feels like January. Not only is it bitterly cold with dreary, freezing weather, but my "to do" list is getting out of hand. My Christmas lights are still hung on the outside of the house. That's how bad it's been. I promise, the first day it gets above freezing (and it's not sleeting or raining or snowing), I'll get to that next.

The last half of 2014 had me to a lot of beta reading. A few were full length novels, some were novellas and short stories, and many times, I was asked to read a chapter or two. Woven, by David Powers King and Michael Jensen is easily the best ARC/beta work I read all last year.

Unfortunately, most of the pre-publication stuff I read had a lot of problems. Here are just a few things I've noticed with a lot of what I beta-read:

* 80% of prologues should just be labeled "Chapter One." I think so many writers have been abusing prologues lately, and it's an ugly trend. 50% of the time, a book doesn't even need a prologue. If you must have one, make sure to separate it from the rest of the book in some way. Maybe the action takes place WAY earlier. Or write it in a different POV, verb tense, etc.

* Speaking of POV (point of view), make sure you stay consistent. I see many writers using third person limited (intimate). Personally, that's my POV of choice for my own writing. If you use this POV, don't head pop! In other words, if we're experiencing the book through Character X, then we shouldn't be able to get intimate with the thoughts of Character Y. And it gets tricky getting a character to describe herself with 3rd limited, and I see writers suddenly pop into 3rd omniscient or 3rd objective to do so. Actually, a few writers I've read for have no idea what I'm talking about here. Um, that's a problem.

* Once again, nothing is wrong with the dialog tag said. It's invisible to the reader. They fly right over it and never give it a second thought. Obviously, you want to vary up your dialog tags and dialog beats. Just don't get fancy with tags. Make your actual dialog the star, and keep your dialog tags nothing more than stagehands. And if you don't know what a dialog tag or a dialog beat is, well...you REALLY should know.

* What's up with all of these dream sequences? When done right, they're fine. But we don't need pages and pages and pages of one. A dream scene pulls the reader away from your main action, and it's a drag. If you need to have a dream scene, keep it short and to the point. Movies love dream sequences, but they just don't work as well in books.


* Fight scenes. Oh man. It's so obvious many writers have never been in a real fight. I've done whole posts on this. Don't give us a blow-by-blow account of the action. It's not fun to read. It's indulgent.

* Speculative fiction needs some diversity. I beta read 13 pieces of work in the science fiction, fantasy, paranormal genres from October-December. Guess how many of these 13 works had a non-white main character...NONE. None. We need to do better.

* Finally, please stop abusing the comma. Whether you're putting in too many or not enough, it gets VERY hard to read. If you're joining two independent clauses with a conjunction in between you NEED a comma. If one of your clauses is dependent, don't put one in there. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, PLEASE...for the love of Thor....go seek some good grammar workbooks and learn. Your betas and editor will love you for it.

So yeah, these are just some things I'm noticing quite a bit with the stuff I'm reading for my fellow writers. I hope this quick list helps a few of you.

I'm super behind on visiting everyone's blogs. And it's going to get worse. I leave for Orlando next week. Unfortunately, it's not for vacation. Fortunately, it's pretty darn nice out there. I will do my best to catch up with everyone.

40 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

In most cases, said is all that's needed.
DL had a post about black ice and skimming, and I've noticed skimming in some reads that are the result of excessive description.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I admit to head hopping in the beginning. I eventually learned.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I don't head hop because I'm not that talented. To me it's like lying, I can't keep up with lies either. I may have, in my short story compilation, described a fight between a man and a spirit. It was physical. No I haven't been in any fights other than slapping and punching in my youth.

Lots of good advice here.

Pat Hatt said...

I use said and shout and smile and stuff like that to switch it up, as said said said every time just annoys me haha but yeah you don't need anything fancy. Hmmm comma abuse hmmm I'll take the 5th lol too much description just clogs things up indeed. And I always found prologues pointless

Sarah Foster said...

These tips are great! I hate dream sequences, unless maybe--MAYBE--if it's a fantasy and the dream is prophetic in some way...but even those can be lame and forced. I had a silly dream sequence in my first draft and I cut it because it just seemed pointless. The characters should be able to figure things out without having their dreams do it for them.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Those are great tips. I'm going to the Woven signing party later this month as DPK is a local author. I plan on getting a hardcover.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

LOL. Its freezing rain and sleet for us today. I'm so behind too mostly because I don't want to leave the house.
Great tips and 'for the love of Thor' made me laugh.

Mark Noce said...

Nice pic of Woven:) Also, very true advice. Prologues are usually not that good an idea, and for fight scenses I think film can be very isntructive, i.e. you don't see every blow in a battle, but a few details stand out in the chaos, and that's all you need:)

Jay Noel said...

Alex: I already have a short attention span, so I'm a skimmer. I wanna get to the story.

Diane: I will do it once in awhile, but catch myself. It gets frustrating trying to explain it to another writer who doesn't even know what 3rd person omniscient means. Yikes!

Teresa: I'm glad you haven't scrapped. It's not fun! I LOVE fight scenes, but only if done well.

Pat: Dialog beats are great. But if you have one after another, it ends up reading like stage direction. Variety is key.

Sarah: Dreams are just plain goofy,unless the dreaming is key element to your plot. For example, all the Nightmare on Elm Street movies!

Jay Noel said...

Michael: Thanks. I'm so jealous! I wish I lived out in SLC to hang out with all of you.

Susan: We had a nice wintry mix. Temps are starting to drop slowly now. Not fun, so the lights will have to remain. And you gotta love Thor!

Mark: The good Prologues I've read are short to the point. They set you up quickly, but it allows the reader to dig into Chapter 1, which is important.

Pat Dilloway said...

Those colors are freaking me out. Some of them look 3D on my phone screen.

Emily R. King said...

Great advice, Jay! Good reminders for us all.

I enjoyed WOVEN too. I'm glad I'll get my own copy soon!

Beth Ellyn Summer said...

Orlando, aah I'm jealous! And I agree, especially about dialogue tags. Nothing wrong with a simple "said"!

Jay Noel said...

Pat: Ha. Maybe I should see what it looks like on my phone too!

Emily: I had a little angst goin' on when I wrote it, but I feel so much better getting that out of me.

Beth: It's a 50 degree difference between here and there. I'll be working like crazy, but well worth it. Yes. Never forsake "said."

Stephen Tremp said...

I use a dream here or there in my books. But nothing that the reader really needs to focus on in order to follow what's going on in the story. They augment the plot and help it move forward, but are not so weird that it forces the reader to have to understand something or else lose track of the flow of events.

Lexa Cain said...

Ha! You crack me up! All these things annoy the heck out of me. And one more is backstory. It belongs after the first few pages and should only include what's absolutely crucial. I have a CP group that's well beyond these rules. Lucky me!

Jay Noel said...

Stephen: I've read some manuscripts where the dream sequence really distracted me. If I wasn't beta-ing, I would have just skipped it.

Lexa: YESSSSS! Don't kill me with backstory and info-dumping.

cleemckenzie said...

I'm with you on those fancy dialog tags. I can take a few, but when they come one after the other, they are one major turn off. Hey! Congrats on that book. Want me to post about it in my Hat's Off Corner in Feb? Let me know.

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

I have no idea of what you are talking about.

I kid! I kid! I'm an inconsistent comma user. I either over or under use it. I'm trying to get better though. :)

Christine Rains said...

Great list. I agree with the prologue and the head hopping. It drives me bonkers when there's head hopping in third person POV. Have a great week, Jay!

G. B. Miller said...

Great tips.

As for my writing, I try to be consistent with the p.o.v. Even though my first book is in the traditional 3rd person with minimal head hopping (only when needed), the novella I have on tap is in the 1st, which to me is the toughest of all to write.

In regards to the prologue, some of the prologues I've read (and the one that I've written) really were meant to be prologues. I think if a prologue is done correctly, it should give either just a hint of what's to come, or to properly set up the story with minimal interference (i.e. "just the facts ma'am").

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Tammy Theriault said...

you're a freakin' wise beta with crazy ninja like beta skills. I, say, that, with, no, commas. I actually remember a post from long ago about the "said" factor you did and still think of it today when writing. LOOK MA!! I'M LEARNING!! :)

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I am so bad with commas. I won't lie. I even study them, then turn right around and abuse them. I either want to pepper every sentence with too many or ditch them altogether. I hope I don't head hop. I know I don't use dream sequences and all fight scenes are bare bones (because I've never, ever been in one and have no clue how it would actually go down- and they bore me in movies.)
Enjoy Florida!

David P. King said...

Hey, how did you get my book? :)

I have come across some of the same issues as you have while reading ARCs this year (who am I to talk? I know there were some typos in mine). That's kind of the point, to let many extra eyes point things out that were missed. I'm glad you enjoyed Woven! :)

Stephanie Faris said...

I'd heard most prologues are unnecessary but when I was judging a contest last summer, most of the YA books I read had prologues. I did find that most of them were just not necessary. They took away from the power of the story.

Crystal Collier said...

I'm going to disagree with you about "said," but my preference is just that people cut tags altogether and replace them with action. We have one author we read out loud, and every single said grates on our nerves. Seriously. NO word should be used that many times. In any peice of writing. Ever.

J.L. Campbell said...

Things we all need to be reminded of every so often. Thanks, Jay.

M Pax said...

I will confess to abusing the comma, hanging head. I don't mind a short break in POV for a character description. It's better than a mirror. No more mirrors! Diversity is nice. I'd like to see less princesses.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Great advice Jay especially the comma point and I hope things work out in Orlando

Robin said...

Maybe a good way to describe third person limited is that it is like 1st person (with regard to knowing what that person knows). So, if the character whose head you're in doesn't see it... you can't describe it. Or know it.

Commas. A good way to describe this to folks who don't understand all those "big grammar words" is this: If you have a sentence that is separated by and or but, does the part of the sentence following the and or but stand on its own as a full sentence. If you could delete the and or but and insert a period, then it needs a comma. If you couldn't do that, it doesn't.

Anna Soliveres said...

Oh boy. I have committed the comma overuse crime. I think it's because when I'm writing, I'm naturally placing a comma in sentences where I take a breath/break which was a bad habit back when I was in college. It still haunts me today but I do my best being mindful of it.

I really appreciate that you mention the need for diversity in speculative fiction. I'm consciously trying to work that into my next novel. :) Enjoy Orlando!

Carrie Butler said...

I love writing fight scenes! Then again, I have fought a little in my day... ;)

Loni Townsend said...

Sounds like you read a lot of rough stuff. I hope you manage to stay on top of everything, and may you enjoy the weather in Orlando!

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Melissa said...

Amen to your list! LOL

I don't mind the occasional tag (shouted, grumbled, etc.)... helps me hear how the line was said. The ones that bug me are the ones that aren't needed at all. If it's two characters conversing alone, very few tags should be there at all. ;)

Milo James Fowler said...

I'm a fan of said; it's a healthy word, and it does its job well. I don't usually specify the ethnicity of my characters, but readers may assume they're pasty-faced just because I am.

Patsy said...

All excellent tips! Thanks.

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