Posted in writing

Things I’ve learned from rewriting chapter one a million times

Sometimes, a writer just has to scrap what their doing and start over. It’s frustrating, but sometimes, rewriting something is unavoidable.

This week, I’ve restarted one of my stories for what feels like the millionth time. It probably wouldn’t be so frustrating if I have ten or so more chapters afterwards, but I don’t. Oh, I have an outline, but there’s nothing quite like knowing where you’re going. And an outline doesn’t show a writer what’s going to happen in her book. It’s the difference between knowing and experiencing.

I try to keep an open mind about rewriting and critiquing, and I’ve realized a few things.

It’s okay to rewrite something a million times

As writers, we learn and improve upon our craft by doing it over and over. There’s no short cut to being a good writer. So rewriting your work simply means you’re giving yourself more time to improve your craft.

Every time you pull out your computer or a piece of paper and jot down some words, your becoming a better writer.  Your words will be better, and your story will improve. It’s when you stop writing that things get worse.

Rewriting clarifies things

One reason why I’ve been rewriting is because I don’t know where the story is going. The vision in my head isn’t clear enough, and my characters haven’t been talking to me.

By writing the same scene over and over–or, in my case, twenty completely different scenes–I not only refined the scene into the best version itself it could be, I got to commit to paper different ideas and see which worked the best. Like painting a puzzle and trying to put it together at the same time. I had too many ideas and options, and I needed to weed through them.

Rewriting made me listen

While trying to find the plot for my book, I had to do a lot of rereading and thinking. I read my previous story, read my notes, and read my ideas. I listened to my characters, and did a lot of gut checking. What was giving me fits? What was making me stumble? Was I trying to hard? Was I, perhaps, going in the wrong direction?

It’s hard to force a story into a shape it doesn’t want to fit into. Some people will scoff at the idea of a story writing itself. We are writers–we control the story, not the other way around. Well, sometimes that’s the case. And sometimes it isn’t.

But if your story won’t go the direction you want it to, maybe it’s best to stop forcing it and see what it wants to do. That may mean giving up on something you’d been dead set on doing for forever, or killing a character or something. But what have you got to lose? Maybe your story will be better for writing itself. I do know that when you quit fighting it, writing can be easier.

Rewriting made me review the basics

I will admit, after rewriting the same part of the story over and over, I kind of forgot what I was doing. I mean, I knew it was chapter one, but I forgot what chapter ones were supposed to look like.

So I searched the internet for information.

First chapters are supposed to capture the audience’s attention, so they aren’t supposed to be boring. You introduce your characters, your setting or story world, and the plot. You start writing as late in the story as you can. Most importantly, you’re supposed to make people want to read the next page. That’s hard to do.

The review helped. It gave me bones and rules and structure to work with. Now I had a frame to dress my story on.

Concluding thoughts

I know I’m not going to be done rewriting my story. I’ve barely even started. I may have to scrap what I’ve done yet again and start over, but maybe I won’t have to do it for several more chapters.

Maybe. I won’t know until I get there. It’s hard to know where you’re going when you don’t know where you’re going.

But you won’t know where your going until you know where your going.

Confusing, but hopefully you know what I mean.

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Posted in writing

Mistakes that Make me Put Down Books

I love to read.

lost-in-a-book-2I’ve been a bookworm for most of my life. Lately, I’ve been catching up on fantasy novels. Makes sense, since I write fantasy, right? I need to have a good idea for what the genre can and can’t do. That’s the idea, anyway.

And hey, it’s a plan I enjoy. There are so many books in the genre I haven’t read–just at the library alone–I’m going to be at it for years. I’m having fun, and I’m learning a lot. Not just what the genre is capable of, but also what makes a good story.

Or a bad one.

Recently, I ran across one such book that, I’m sorry to say, I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages.  Knowing that fantasy novels are often slow going, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. But the further I went, the more things I saw. Blame that on my years critiquing writers’ works in progress.

Granted, not all of them mistakes, either–just annoyances so glaring I couldn’t see past them. Things that could have been said or done better.

I can’t say whether or not this novel got better the further I got in. I didn’t finish it. But honestly, as a reader, I shouldn’t have to wait until half-way through the book in order for it to get interesting.

So, young writers, let me tell you what things I saw so that you don’t make the same mistakes.

Omniscient Point of View

Let me be straight with you. Writing in omniscient point of view is not wrong. It is just not popular at the moment.

Writing in this point of view gives writers a lot of different tools with which to tell a story, the number one being that the narrator (silent or not) is essentially God. You know everything about your story world and characters. You know what they are thinking and feeling, why they do things, and what they’re going to do. You know how the story is going to turn out, and what things are going to come next.

Done right, these tools can serve to enhance a story. Used wrong, and mistakes creep up. For example, head hopping and info dumping.

Head Hopping

In first person or third person limited, it’s a big no-no to head hop. That means jumping from one point of view to another without warning. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t–it’s just advised you keep the number of heads low and switch point of views in such a fashion as to not confuse the readers.

This is not true for omniscient point of view. You are allowed to head hop whenever you want.

But the question every writer should ask themselves is, “is this confusing to the readers?” If it is, fix it. You don’t want readers to chase readers out of your story.

If you’re writing in omniscient and you’re going to head hop, be mindful of your readers.

Info Dumping

Info dumping is the dumping of large amounts of information all at once.

This is a no-no, no matter what point of view you write. Unfortunately, omniscient point of view makes it so easy to info dump. After all, the narrator knows everything. And this little bit of information–about backstory, setting, or how-this-is-done–is so convenient. Let’s just put it here. And thus your reader is left reading five pages about how such and such city got established.

Info dump.

Now, information and explaining things to readers has its place. Sometimes it’s necessary to forward the plot. Just be careful how much you put in and how you do it. Too much and it’s boring. Not enough and your readers get confused.

To be fair, the author of this book tried not to info dump. He tried to limit it, or weave it in through narration. But I still saw it, and it was still annoying.

Passive and Telling

Hopefully, if you’re a writer, you’ve heard it’s better to show and not tell. This means it’s better to show what happens and not tell what happens. You’ve also heard it’s better to write using an active voice and not passive.

These mistakes have nothing to do with point of view and everything to do with lazy writing. I’ve notice that telling what happens and writing in passive voice often go hand-in-hand. Not always, mind you, but they do. And it leads to boring writing .

I’ll do a quick example of both, but if you want more information on telling and showing, or passive and active writing, there are plenty of places with more, better explanations than me.

Passive: The ships were launched from the docks.

Active:  The ships sailed into the sunrise, leaving the docks far behind.

See how much more interesting that second one was than the first?

Telling: Adam saw the saw blades fly through the air and felt fear grip him.

Showing: The industrial mill exploded, flinging circular saw blades into the air straight toward Adam. Icy fear froze his limbs. Move! He shouted at himself, but it did no good. He stood like a frozen statue as the storm of debris overtook him.

Both these examples are written in active voice, but in the first, the writer tells us what Adam sees and feels instead of allowing the reader to experience it for himself. This not only puts you reader deeper into your character’s psyche, it allows for more detailed and expansive story telling–without the necessity of info dumping.


Really, when it comes right down to it, you want to write a story so gripping that readers won’t want to put it down. If what you’ve written doesn’t do that, you’ve failed.

But don’t despair. Keep practicing and keep learning. You’ll get better. Avoid these mistakes, and hopefully your readers won’t abandon your book–no matter what point of view it’s written in.

Posted in writing

The Difference Between Alpha and Beta Readers

penNo one writes their books perfectly the first time. Wouldn’t it be nice if we did? Then we wouldn’t have to edit.

Unfortunately, most writers do have to make corrections and revisions. It’s a long, drawn-out process that’s a lot less fun than the actual writing. In some ways, though, it’s more important. But not all of us writers are at the point where we have professional editors on speed dial. We rely on a network of self-help books and computer programs, of writer friends and English teachers we bribe with cookies or actual money.

Then we get to the point in our editing process where we need to know how we’re doing.

That’s where alpha and beta readers come into play.

What is an alpha and beta reader?

I recently learned about alpha and beta readers. I already knew about beta readers, but not alpha.

Beta readers are the people who read your story for the sake of reading it, and tell you how you did. Whether they liked it or not, what worked/didn’t work–stuff like that. These people can be one of your writer buddies, but often it’s a member of your audience. Who you are writing the book for. They read your book at the end of the writing and editing process, just before you’d send your precious baby off to the publishers.

Alpha readers are different.

The way I understand it, alpha readers get your story first. They read your rough draft and do critiquing for you. They might be your writer buddies, or someone who knows a lot about grammar. Once they get done with your story, it’s probably bleeding red. You will feel terrible with all that’s wrong with your story, but that’s okay. After all, it’s just your rough draft, and you’re going to do more edits anyway.

That’s the key difference, the way I understand it. Alpha readers get the story when it’s raw, when it still needs lots of help. Beta readers get to enjoy the nearly-finished product.

Without knowing it, I have had both alpha and beta readers helping me write my story. I can safely say that every serious writer needs both kinds of readers to help make the story the best it can be. You may not call your alpha reader by that name–they may simply be your editor. But still, you need someone to help you find the diamond in the pile of rocks you call a story.


If you have more questions, may I suggest clinking on this link.

Posted in writing

I Plan to Participate in Nanowrimo

penNext month is November. For most everyone, that means Thanksgiving turkey and travel time. For writers and aspiring writers alike, November is National Novel Writing Month. Nanowrimo for short.

During November, writers of all skill levels put pen to paper, hunker down, and try to write as many words as they can. 50K works is the goal. Basically, write a novel in a month.

It’s been a few years since I’ve participated in Nanowrimo. For the past few years, I’ve been too busy with other things. But I’ve just finished re-editing my current story, and I want to get started on book 2 as soon as I can. Nanowrimo is the perfect time to do that.

Of course, writing that many words in a month is hard, and if I want to accomplish that goal, then I need to prepare first.

Preparing for Nanowrimo

The first thing I need to do–after finishing editing book one (I got maybe a week’s worth of work left on it)–is brainstorm. I got ideas about what my story is going to be about, but I need to write them down before I forget them. Organize them into something resembling a plot. If I’m lucky, I’ll hammer out the plot of book three while I’m at it.

And that’s it.

Ok, it doesn’t look like much, but believe me, having only two weeks to brainstorm and hammer out an outline for an entire, 100,000 work novel? That’s a lot of work for two weeks. A lot of time to waste on self-doubt and double guessing. More than enough time for my muse and inspiration to get drowned out by doubts and fears.

Thankfully, that’s one thing Nanowrimo will be good for. Writing 50,000 words is hard, especially around Thanksgiving. I plan to be too busy writing those words to let doubt cloud my judgement. Or my book.

So, to everyone else planning on doing the same as me next month, good luck. You’re going to need it.

Posted in writing

Second Time Critiquing: Lessons Learned

What I’ve learned from critiquing the same book twice

penLast year I wrote a 115,000 word fantasy novel, and got it critiqued by my then-critique group. Then I moved, and had to find a new group of writers to hang out with. Once I found them, rather than start critiquing book two–which only had two chapters to it at the time–I decided to critique book one again.

And I’m glad I did.

I’ve only just begun the critiquing process over again, but already I can tell the difference. The book is already tighter, better written, and more interesting.

Here are some some things I’ve learned the second time around.

Don’t Get Attached

Don’t get attached–to anything–in your story. Not your characters, not the setting, not a piece of dialogue, not a scene, not the plot. Not anything. Period.

The minute you think your story/character/dialogue/whatever is perfect and can’t be improved is the day your story stops getting better. Your story isn’t perfect. It’s not going to wow the judges or  agents or whoever–especially if this is your rough draft.

The first time around, your story isn’t going to be perfect. The first time around, you’re just starting to understand the shape and boundaries of your story, of the world you created. The editing process smooths out all the rough places and gets rid of the trash.

And don’t be fooled: there’s going to be a lot of trash.

By not getting attached to anything, you’ll be able to see your world and consider critiques clearly. Anything that doesn’t move the story forward, anything that makes it worse, or unclear–those things have to go. If a scene can be written better, do it. If you need to cut a character, a line of dialogue, or even a scene, do it.

Trust me. The story will be better for having the trash gone.

Know Your Weaknesses

As writers, we all have weak points. For example, I tend to have too much detail. Always have. I also tend to reuse words (for example, look up how many times I use the word ‘critique’ in first few paragraphs of this article. It’s embarrassing.) over and over again. Names too. Use of passive voice verses active voice also. Just to name a few of my shortcomings.

Every writer’s weaknesses will be different, so find out what yours are. The easiest way to do that is to let someone else read yours stuff and let them tell you what you did wrong.

That’s right. You heard me. In order to find out how bad your story is, you’re going to have to let other people read it and tear it apart. But that’s all right. You’ll live. Eventually. But at least you’ll know what your weak points are and will be able to avoid them. Then you’ll be a better writer.

Join Writer’s Groups and Learn from Them

I’ve already touched on this, but it bears repeating. You can only learn so much about writing by writing. I didn’t start improving until I joined a writers group and learned from those who knew more. Until I started letting them read my babies and tell me how I can make them better.

Reading helps, and going to classes helps, but to learn some things, you need to listen to the voice of experience.

Tags Verses Beats

Of all things I’ve learned lately from editing, this one has got to be one of the biggest, hardest, and simplest things that has made the most difference to my story.

What is the difference? I’ll keep it simple, since I’m still learning.

Tags are also known as speech tags. They are the things you put at the end of dialogue to let your reader know someone said something here. They include things like: He said/whispered/spoke/yelled/exclaimed/asked.

Up until now, everyone has said that tags are invisible. Your eyes just skim over them. This can be true up to a point. For one, you have to be trained to not see those words. For another–in a long passage full of nothing but dialogue, reading nothing but “he said, she said,” over and over and over again–it’s not invisible. And anything that takes your readers out of the story is a bad thing.

Beats are also known as action beats. For example: Barry thundered through town on his white horse, sounding the alarm. “The house is on fire!”

When you have an action beat followed by dialogue, you don’t also need a tag. It’s redundant. We already know who is speaking–Barry.

Using action beats also gives you, as a writer, another tool to build your story with. You can use action beats to help drive a story forward or to help build the story world.

Personally, I’ll say every story needs both tags and beats. Beats may be harder to use, but they can do so much for your story. However, there comes a point in every book where you just have to use a tag. Don’t over use them, but don’t neglect them, either. Either of them.


I hope you found these tips helpful. Feel free to leave me a note or reply with your own tips.

Posted in book critique, writing

Why I like Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass

the aeronaut's windlassAs many of my friends know, I love Jim Butcher’s books. He’s one of my favorite authors. I have almost all of his Dresden series, and also his fantasy series. I think he’s talented, creative, and knowledgeable about his craft. Every time I read his books, I’m pretty much guaranteed a wild ride.

So when he came out with a new series, it was a no-brainer for me buy.

When I finally got around to reading it–the book has been out since September 2015–I was not disappointed. But I was surprised.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

What surprised me the most wasn’t the genre, the length, or the plot. I wasn’t fazed by the elaborate world building. I fell in love with both his characters and the world. I can’t wait to read more. As I said, Jim Butcher’s a talented writer.

What surprised me was the faith displayed by the characters in the book. And not just general faith as in “Something Created Just For a Fantasy World”–but in God. After all faith and spirituality isn’t a strong theme in Butcher’s other books. Dresden certainly doesn’t believe in God, even though he’s seen plenty to make him question that conviction.

I can’t tell how how refreshing it be transported to a world where belief in God is the norm, where respecting people is just how you treat others, and honor isn’t a word you look up in the dictionary. For them, that’s just the way it is. Best of all, the book doesn’t preach and neither do the characters. And this is a fantasy world to boot.

I don’t know if I’d call this book what fantasy Christian writers would call, “speculative fiction,” but I think it’s close enough to fit the bill.

So, if you’re looking for a fresh new world full of flying airships, privateers, and talking cats, look no further then Jim Butcher’s webpage for your next summer read. You won’t regret it.

Posted in writing

Learning from Past Projects

penHave You Written Any Books?

I can’t tell you how often I get asked this question–probably as often as I tell people I’m a writer. And the answer to the question is yes, I’ve written a few books. Quite a few, actually, as I’ve been writing since I was ten.

This past week, I decided to reread a story I wrote five years ago. After sitting for so long in my computer, I’d forgotten all about it. It took me a good two days to get through it, but that’s not surprising considering how long it was. 215,000 words. I’d completely forgotten how long the thing was.

But in spite of the length, I had a blast reading it. I was good and didn’t do any editing on it, though that meant I had to sit on my hands to keep myself from correcting all the mistakes I saw. And boy, did I see mistakes.

What is the story about?

Let me tell you a bit about the story.

Tales of the O.S.O revolves around six characters in high school. The Orphan School for Otherworldliness takes in orphans of all kinds–Pixies, Sirens, Elves, Minotaurs, just to name a few. Over the course of the story, these six characters become friends, overcome their personal problems, defeat an evil stepmother and save a kingdom from the Shadow Eaters.

Cassie is a Pixie who wants to be a godmother. She’s 11 years old, has skipped three grades, and is four inches tall. On a daily basis, she dodges feet and bullies alike in her quest to survive in a land where everyone is bigger than her.

Kabecka is half Siren and half Sea-Serpent. She has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up, but she has a temper and serious anger management issues.

Ferdinand is half Minotaur and half Giant. He looks like a cow, but all he wants to do is dance. Unfortunately, his family wants him to go into the family security business.

Mot is a troll, and he’s studying to be a healer. Like Kabecka, he has his own anger issue problems to work through, and wants to discover why his parents abandoned him as a baby.

Colt is a long lost prince hiding in the school from his evil stepmother. His one goal in life is to break the curse his brother suffers under, but how can he do that when everything he touches blows up in his face?

Law was turned into a hawk ten years ago and unless his brother breaks the curse, he’s going to lose his mind. Literally. In the mean time, no one can know his secret. His world is a lonely one with brother as his only friend.

What did I learn?

As I said before, this sucker was 215,000 words. If I learned anything from reading the story, it was not to repeat myself. I repeated so much in the course of this story that if I cut out just the repetitive stuff, I could cut at least 15,000 words from the story.

Something else I realized I have learned since writing this thing is the art of plotting. I wrote this when I was a younger writer, before I knew about plot arcs or the three act play. I wrote this thing by the seat of my pants, not knowing where the story was going until about 75,000 words into it. I just had these characters I wanted to play with, give them issues and then solve them. It was an exercise in character development. That turned into a much longer project than I could have ever imagined.

If I were to rewrite it, I don’t know if I’d go about it the same way. I think I would have organized it better, perhaps turned the huge novel into two or even three books.

I’ve also learned a lot about editing since then. I remember how reluctant I was to cut scenes, as it would mess with the structure of my chapters. As I reread the story, I began considering which scenes were crucial to the story and which weren’t. I even started thinking about cutting scenes and how I could fix the story structure. Don’t get me wrong–fixing the story would be a monumental task, but it doesn’t scare me nearly as much as it used to.

Am I going to edit and fix it? Honestly, I don’t know. I’m already working on a project. I don’t think I can start another. I might, one day. This world I created is so much fun, it just might be worth revisiting. And who knows–I might one day write the sequel I’d always thought about writing.