Friday, 28 June 2013

Beta Readers and Burnt Peas

I wanted to share a photo that demonstrates how my culinary prowess has taken a down-turn since I started writing.

Peas take a few minutes to cook don't they? Well I'll just tweak that conversation in Chapter 33 whilst they come to the boil. Whoops. At least I know the smoke alarms are working.

But my main topic is Beta Readers.

Yes, those words are capitalised and taking up all the seating on that line, because they are so important to me.
Since I started my novel I've read lots of advice. I found out I needed beta readers, a fancy term for people who read your work in progress (no-one ever mentions alpha readers, which is bit odd, no?) Apparently they should ideally be strangers or fellow writers, as your friends and family will never tell you straight.

I ignored that piece of advice. The person who wrote that doesn't know my best friend.

I didn't want to spend months networking on absolute write and other writers forums befriending strangers. I don't have time to join a writers group. Since I started writing I barely have time for the family and friends I've got.

So I invited my sister and three of my good friends to beta read for me. These people all love reading and critiquing books and are honest. They are intelligent and skilled. They are sharp, insightful and I trust their opinion.
I gave them some direction, so they couldn't be too nice.

I spoke to each of them for about four hours face-to-face. With the manuscript there, going through it page by page. I loved this. It's a luxury to talk about my creations even when they are being picked, prodded and dissected and its my job to put them back together again.
They did an amazing job.
My sister Kathryn and I ended up solving some big problems by creating a new character together. That was wicked fun. My best friend Sally was brutal also my biggest fan, understanding my characters so well she even pictured what they looked like before I had written the descriptions. Mags picked out my best bits and asked for more of them. Lyann challenged me to push my boundaries and notch up the peril and tension.

It was draft 3 (out of what I will expect to be 8).
The letter is pasted below. I also scattered question sheets at key emotional points throughout, to ask for their reactions.

Dear Friend, sisters, Beta-readers,

Thanks so much in advance for being the first readers of my manuscript. It is a post-apocalyptic adventure aimed at young adults.
I am afraid I will interrupt your reading pleasure (I hope it’s a pleasure!) with some question sheets scattered throughout, as picking your brilliant brains is the whole point of giving you this early draft.

Aspects I have concentrated on in my first 2 edits: Plot line/ continuity/ Flow, Pace, Characters, their voice, motivations and relationships.
Aspects for future edits: dialogue, description, grammar/punctuation/word choice
Your role is mainly to tell me your emotional reaction to the story and characters.

So please mark:

-Happy/Sad/Confused smileys for when it makes you feel this way. Let me know if it makes you laugh or cry (I can only dream…)

-Anything that doesn’t make sense, any conversations that sound fake or too long winded, anything at all that brings you out of the story/ annoys or irritates you.

-Any repetitions or if I have any pet phrases

-Anything boring (quite simply has to go)

-Bits you particularly enjoy (hoping)

You do not need to tell me how to fix anything – I’ll have to figure that out for myself.

 If you are a Grammar Queen (you know who you are!) please feel free to scribble all over as I do not inhabit that throne and need all the help I can get. If my grammar mistakes don’t bother you please feel free to ignore them.
Handing my baby over to you. Please be honest – I can take it.  L XXX

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

First Blog Post Blues - Nothing I ever write will be as cringe worthy

Yikes. It is stupidly scary catching my words and pinning them to the web like this. I’m a writer. I agonise.

I am also pathologically British. I don't like talking about myself. 

Cue people that have been submitted to my verbal incontinence in person spluttering into their tea /wine/gin.

Seriously people, I’m scared because this is a diary that other people are going to read.

Best way to face your fear – tackle it head on.

Now that’s an idea.

In the spirit of getting into the psyche of my teenage characters I’ve recently re-read the diaries I wrote obsessively when I was thirteen to fifteen. Oh lordy, lordy – I really don’t recommend it.

But you know what? In the spirit of overcoming fears I’m going to post a genuine extract of that diary right here, right now.

Gulp. I chose this extract because it was a momentous day – the day I got my first job aged fourteen. But you wouldn’t know it because I was slightly distracted as you will see below.

February 7th 1991

Dear Diary,

Today HTIA2 (He That Is Adored 2) was not at school. I couldn’t believe it, I was looking forward to double maths all week and when he wasn’t there I felt sick, actually sick to my stomach. He doesn’t even actually know I exist but when he is not there for one day that day is the slowest day ever and I felt totally miserable. I wish I could just fake being ill for the rest of week. I love him. I LOVE HIM. I’m going to die of it. No one can ever know how this feels. I need to get some new white socks to wear over my black tights. I love my new brown waxy DM’s glad I didn't get cherry reds. I love them! Yeah! I got the job. I start Saturday £12 a day and a girl called Jess works there who knows Gavin.

So that’s it. I’ve done the unthinkable. I’m liberated. Nothing I ever write will be as cringe worthy as that.

I didn't die of love.
I can't remember who HTIA1 was, let alone 2.
I really wish I’d kept those DM’s.

Anyone else keep a teenage diary? Go on share a snippet with me. You know you want to.