Find A Good Critique Partner

imagesFHQ2HXNTI’ve talked about critiques and critique partners in the past. If you are a new writer or want to be an author, it is important to have others review your work. Not just for the feel-good effect, but for honesty and constructive criticism.

We don’t always see our mistakes, and as a new writer, you probably don’t know a lot of things that a been around the block a few times writer knows. You are going to make the common mistakes that most newbies make.

One of the issues I ran into was finding critique partners. I have great friends but none of them are writers. Sure they could and were willing to read my work, and I had a few do just that. What they were able to do was comment on my premise and point out plot holes and areas of confusion.

What they weren’t able to do, was say hey, you have POV inconsistencies, dragging dialogue, pacing issues, info dumps…… They knew something wasn’t quite right, but they couldn’t identify the problems.

Another issue you run into is friends and family who want to encourage you and not hurt your feelings. They will tell you your work is great, even when it is lacking and you have broken every rule in the book.

So where do you go to find a true critique partner who isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings and knows what they’re looking for? I use scribophile.com. I enjoy the site. They have many published and unpublished authors working together to help each other prepare their work for publication. You do critiques for others and they critique your work. While it’s a large community, you will more than likely develop a following of two or three people who show an interest in what you are doing and follow you through to completion.

There are other sites out there, but I can’t speak for them as I have not joined their groups. You may also find critique partners in your area through organizations like Romance Writers of America, or Christian Romance Writers of America. Have you checked at your local library? Have you tried googling critique groups in your area, or online?

One caution I would offer. Remember it’s your story, a critique partner should help you catch mistakes, improve your writing,  and may occasionally make suggestions, but they should not be writing your story for you. If they are trying to change your work into something it wasn’t meant to be, you are probably working with the wrong person.

Something else to think about.

-Jan R

 

 

Find A Good Critique Partner

Keep Them Guessing

suspense-headerIf you want your reader to continue reading, you have to give them a reason why. Draw them in and keep them guessing. The number one weapon in your arsenal to accomplish this feat is the use of suspense.

If you’ve done a good job of developing a character your reader cares about, they are going to hang on to make sure things work out in the end.

There are four main ways to create suspense.

  1. Put the outcome in doubt. Keep your reader guessing. It could end one way, but it could end another. This works best if your reader has a strong connection with the main character.
  2. Make them wait. Don’t show your hand up front. Don’t resolve issues right away. Present the conflict and then take your time presenting a resolution.
  3. Foreshadowing. Hint at what’s to come without sharing the details. Twilight used this technique by opening with the end minus all the details of how and why.
  4. Use a clock. The main character has a limited amount of time to accomplish a task. Will he/she find succeed or fail.

You can mix and match these techniques. You are not limited in your choice. An example would be opening with foreshadowing in the first paragraph and then adding the use of a clock at the end.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Keep Them Guessing

Empathy Is A Must

582dab8d5a4e7If you want to draw your reader in, you have to figure out a way to get them to empathize with the main character in your novel. They have to connect. Help them to see and feel what your character is going through.

In order to do this, you need to change the focus from the us/them mentality. People don’t listen to facts because of their own personal bias. They accept or reject them depending on whether they line up with their beliefs/agenda or not. Think about the USA today and the divide between the Democrat and Republican parties. Ouch! Maybe not!

You have to change your methodology and come in a little sneaky. Instead of lining your prose up from the us/them point of view, you want to look at things from your main character’s point of view. Your reader will be pulled in immediately, not because of the facts of the situation, but because they empathize with the feelings of the character. They are seeing things through his/her eyes.

I’m not a Malcolm X fan, but if you pick up the book entitled Malcolm X you will be pulled into his story immediately. It was an autobiography that followed his life and the events that brought him to the beliefs that he strongly supported and fought for.  The story allowed you to look into his head. You could see what he saw and feel what he felt. You may not have agreed with his point of view, but you understood where he was coming from and empathized with him.

That’s the same technique you would use in a novel to draw your reader into the story. You have to present things from your character’s point of view. You reader has to see what they see, feel what they feel, and experience situations as they would.

Something else to think about.

-Jan R

Empathy Is A Must

Past Or Present?

past-present.jpgHave you thought about what tense you will be writing your story in? To be honest, I never thought about tense from that perspective. I knew the tense in my sentences had to be in agreement, and I made sure I was producing grammatically correct prose, but I never thought about the entire novel being written in a specific tense.

While there are many different tenses in the English language. You will only find two being used consistently in novels. The story will either be written in the Past tense or the Present tense.

As in many other aspects of writing, there is no wrong choice with the tense you decide to use. It’s more of a preference. There are pros and cons to each, and the tense you use may even boil down to the genre of your work.

The present tense isn’t a fan favorite, because it’s not how we tell stories. Think about when you talk to friends and are sharing an experience. It’s in the past tense.

Present tense can sound contrived and unnatural, at least at first, but one thing present tense has going for it is it makes you feel like you are right there in the middle of the action. There’s uncertainty and suspense. Events are unfolding as you read, anything could happen.

My novel is written in past tense, as are most. When you read a book in past tense, you know the person is sitting in the library writing memories and there’s no stress. They didn’t die, or they wouldn’t be able to share their story.

Following is a great example of a passage written in the past and present tense. You decide which one you like better.

Past

Jessica counted silently to five then made her move. She opened the window slowly and slid into the room, her finger to her lips to keep the child quiet. “Sarah, it’s Jessica, remember me?” She whispered

The young girl shook her head.

“We have to get you out of here away from the bad man.” Jessica motioned her toward the window.

“But he said he would hurt me if I moved.”

“He will if we don’t get you out of here now.”

Present

Jessica counts slowly to five then makes her move. She slides the window open then enters the room holding her finger to her lips to keep the child quiet. “Sarah, it’s Jessica, remember me?

Sarah shakes her head, her pigtails bouncing.

“We have to get you out of here away from the bad man. You must be very quiet.”

“That bad man said he would hurt me if I moved,” Sarah whispered.

“He will if you don’t come now, quickly.

So what do you think? Take a section of your novel and write it in both tenses. Which one do you think works best?

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Past Or Present?

Inner Conflict

write-character-edgeYour novel is made up of outer conflict and inner conflict. The outer conflict is what we observe. It’s the plot, the incidents inciting action and moving our story forward.

An outer conflict could be war, divorce, medical issues,  political instability… The sky is the limit. All you need is a good imagination and the ability to pull it all together.

In order for the outer conflict to work, the protagonist has to engage. The outer conflict usually starts out at one level, and the stakes are raised, making a bad situation worse until it’s almost impossible to overcome.

You want action and excitement, but remember, the inner conflict is what will connect your reader to the protagonist and pull them into the story. By showing the protagonist’s inner conflict, you are allowing your reader to see things through his/her eyes and to empathize with him/her.  You are creating that emotional bond. You’re building a relationship between your protagonist and your reader.

Inner conflicts could be the desire to be loved, the need to be understood, stress due to financial issues, guilt, jealousy, fear of failure, pride…

Something else to think about.

-Jan R

 

 

 

Inner Conflict

Point Of View?

1404775735Have you thought about the point of view you will be using when you write your novel? Whose head will you be in?

You may be wondering what I’m talking about. What is the point of view? To put it simply, it’s the voice with which you tell your story.

There are three commonly used points of view in novels. They all have their pros and cons, but if you’re a newbie, omniscient isn’t the way to go. Even accomplished writers struggle with transitions.

Omniscient/ 3rd person omniscient-

  • He/She
  • God-like. You are all knowing and all seeing. You have the ability to look into everybody’s head at once.
  • This can and usually does result in head-hopping.  If you’re not skillful enough to create a smooth transition from one person’s thoughts to another’s, and odds are you are not, don’t use it.
  • Editors and agents will guess you’re new right away because you don’t know what you’re doing.

3rd person limited

  • He/She
  • Places you in one person’s head at a time.
  • You can transition into other character’s heads, but you should limit viewpoints to one per scene, preferably chapter, ideally novel.
  • If you can limit the point of view to the protagonist, you’ll have a stronger story. Harry Potter and the Hunger Games have one viewpoint, the protagonist.
  • If you’re writing a romance, consider writing it from the female point of view.

1st person-

  • I/Me
  • You’re in one person’s head for the entirety of the novel.
  • It’s how we narrate stories we are sharing with our friends.
  •  Your reader becomes the character and believes everything is real.
  • The reader is drawn into the story much quicker than with other points of view.
  • 1st person forces you to stay in one point of view, which makes it a great choice for new writers.

I didn’t mention 2nd person point of view because it is rarely used in novels. 2nd person is you/your and is commonly used in instructional writing.

Something to think about.

-Jan R

Point Of View?

It’s Your Story (Revisited)

3aefcc38a20542bd3ee999eca594de5eI’ve shared this blog before, but it’s been a while, and a message I think needs to be heard. As new writers, we sometimes listen to everybody but ourselves. Our friends and critique partners mean well, but if you let them, some will try to take over your novel and mold it into what they think it should be.

I was sitting on my couch reworking a scene in the novel I’m writing and stopped right in the middle of it. What am I doing? I asked myself. The purpose of the rewrite was to make some changes based on a critique I received from a critique partner.

The person that critiqued my book is very good at the craft, and I respect her opinion. There were others who critiqued the piece and loved it, offering a few comments here and there to correct grammar or replace a word. So who was right? The three people who loved it, or the one who thought I needed to go back and make some significant changes.

The more I looked at the changes this person suggested, the more I realized she had her own idea of the way the story needed to go, and I had mine.

With this being said, she’s made some great suggestions. Because of her, my story is more believable, my dialogue more natural, and my POV more consistent. Her critiques have been invaluable.

However, I had to remind myself that this is my story. Nobody has a better understanding of the dynamics than I do. Nobody knows it from beginning to end but me. Nobody can tell it better than me.

Weigh comments and suggestions you receive from others and ask this question. Is it making my story better or changing it into something it is not?

Remember: It’s your story.

-Jan R

It’s Your Story (Revisited)