An end to the radio silence

I have been doing a lot lately. I could blame the lack of blog posts on that, but if I’m going to be honest, I haven’t been posting blogs because I’ve been too lazy and uninspired for blog posting. But many things have been going on!

At the end of March, I found out that my mom needed to have brain surgery—on May 1st. Additionally, she wasn’t going to be having it here in Atlanta the way she did last time but instead was flying up to Pennsylvania to have the best doctor in the world for this type of surgery (called MVD, or microvascular decompression) operate on her. Lucky for her, she’s originally from Erie, PA, and has family in Pittsburgh, so she wouldn’t be reduced to staying in a hotel until she was able to fly home.

I took care of her during her recovery, and she is doing wonderfully. Her recovery was very quick, compared to last time! She’s at about 90% at this moment and last time she was at maybe 70% this many weeks out from surgery. (She also has fibromyalgia so it makes recovery take longer than it does for normal people.)

In June, I edited 235 pages of not-my-own-fiction in about 15 days. If that wasn’t enough, I stuck with my usual “write 1k words a day” and ended up writing 33k words that month. Still not quite on target for my goal for this year—I’m about 15k words short of the mark—but I’m at least staying in the ballpark this year!

Before both of these things, though, it was convention season part one.

I attended Atlanta Poly Weekend, Furry Weekend Atlanta, Frolicon, and Outlanta. Four cons in six weeks; yes, I was pretty worn out afterward and yes I had an absolutely fabulous time at every convention. I may do individual write-ups for each convention at some point, but that’ll have to wait for separate posts.

Come hell or high water (or two cons on the same weekend) I will be attending all of them again next year. I’m also attending Authors After Dark (with the SMP crew); Dragon*Con (where I volunteer); and possibly Anime Weekend Atlanta (where I will be there as a regular attendee in theory but probably not in practice because I have this weird habit of showing up at con ops and saying, “What can I do to help?”) but I’ll have to wait to be for sure on that one. These will make up the second and final part of convention season for me.

Oh, I also got to meet the owners of SMP in meatspace at Outlanta and it was a very, very fun experience… even if the three of them were bone-tired when we first met! (And I was so keyed up from first-night-at-the-con jitters.) They were fun people to be around, and I wish I lived closer to them so we could meet up offline more often. Conventions are the way to go for now, I think; I’m looking forward to Authors After Dark, where I will be rooming with them.

What about y’all: Anybody attending any of these cons? We should meet up!

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On authors beta reading/giving critique

Beta reading in an insightful way can be very hard for authors. It was very hard for me, for a long time (though I didn’t realize it then) because I just twitched to go through and make tons of corrections that were all to stylistic things and ended up strangling the voice of the author I was reading for.

I think it was a pretty sucky time to be my beta partner, and I look back and am not surprised that the people I was reading for then don’t have me read for them anymore. But I got older and wiser, and learned how to beta in the way most useful to my partner.

It can be hard for an author to look at something and divorce themselves from the way they would have written it. But it’s totally necessary, if you are going to be an effective beta reader/crit partner: you cannot focus on things that are stylistic issues. I am not saying that you should never mention these things–if there is something that really bothers you and you believe would trip up readers, go right ahead–but don’t put tons of focus on it.

Because the things that are really important to focus on, the things it will help your beta partner the most if you focus on, are the parts that don’t work for you because you are having trouble following the plot logic/characterization/whatnot.

So look at the comments you are making. Do these comments boil down to “I would have written it X way”? If so, nix them and make comments that are universal, comments that point to problems or good parts that most everyone can agree exist to one extent or another.

Some good questions to consider when beta reading:

  • Does the plot follow logically from one event to the next?
  • Is there enough conflict to carry the plot/keep the story interesting?
  • Is the characterization consistent?
  • Do the characters have clear goals/motivations?
  • Is the language/syntax appropriate to the point-of-view character? This means: is the sailor swearing? is the bride blushing? and if not, is it clear why they aren’t?
  • Does the point of view character have a strong voice?
  • Is the sex too technical? Too… anything? Not enough anything? In other words, is the sex appropriate to the characters having it?
  • Is there a fair amount of narrative traction?
  • Do the subplots make sense? Do they have a purpose/feed into the main plot?
  • Does it feel like there are any missing scenes? This would fall under the ‘plot logic’ heading–are all the paths that the plot takes clear? Do you feel at any point like you missed something plot-wise?
  • Are there any plot points which were unresolved?
  • Do any scenes feel like they drag along at a snail’s pace?
  • Does the tone that the scenes are written in fit well with the story?
  • Is the pacing even throughout the book?
  • What is the characteristic of the writing: dry? purple? somewhere in the middle? How does this line up with your preferences as a reader? (Keep in mind that the way something is written can have a big effect on your enjoyment of it.)

Of course there are instances where any of these things might not happen and the story not suffer for it–there are exceptions to every rule–but generally when you are beta reading, you want to focus on the elements of the story/storytelling than on line-editing. (Unless that is what your beta partner asked for, in which case, have at it.)

And always, always, if the answers to these questions are yes, then tell your beta partner that they did a good job on these things! It can be a huge blow sometimes to hear that you did this, this, and that wrong and nothing right. So if they are doing any of the above things (or some things I didn’t manage to think of) correctly, tell them, and they will love you for it.

For the record… these are also things I consider when reading submissions and editing. So beta reading effectively can extend to more parts of your life than reading your friends’ work.

Thus, it is important to learn to beta in a relevant way.

Some useful links:
Examples of beta reading – Very helpful if you are unsure exactly what format you are supposed to use when beta reading for someone.
How to Beta Read – Exactly what it says on the tin: an in-depth look at the way you should beta read.
Results of a Beta Reading survey – This is a very, very comprehensive survey of 54 beta readers from 2008, and the results of it. Helpful for the Do’s and Don’ts and also for going into depth about the ways that beta readers mark things, the resources they use. Like I said, very comprehensive.
Absolute Write’s Beta Readers Forum –  One of the many spots to find readers, and they have some useful information in their sticky topics, too.
An Experimental Psychologist’s Take on Beta Reading – Very interesting and an excellent resource for those of us who are science-minded. It is broken into four sections: Part 1 – Subject Pool; Part 2 – Recruiting/getting them to read; Part 3 – Data collection; Part 4 – Results and conclusions.

Any links I missed that aren’t just reiterations of the above? Toss ’em up in the comments and I’ll edit the entry :)

A look at my self-talk

In filling out questions for my interview at Blak Rayne Books for December, I stumbled across some random inspiration. This is the question, and my answer:

Who is your favorite character, which you’ve created? And why?

I think Atlas, from Trust Me, is probably my favorite of the moment. He’s a redhead, first and foremost (I might be biased) but the other thing I really like about him is that he can handle Koit. I didn’t intend for him to be an ass, but when Koit ended up being the way he was Atlas wound up being one right back. I don’t think Koit’s the kind of person who inspires the best in people!

I kind of want to write something about that, now: Atlas’ adventures in teaching Koit to act like a semi-normal person… or at least one who is slightly less offensive. Atlas would have his hands full, I think.

Maaaan, brain, the next story is supposed to be about Sera. I know you don’t want to write about her and her jealousy issues and her insecurity, but that’s what the next story’s supposed to be. Ballet is for Pussies, remember?

You should not be thinking about how you really want to explore that line between what Atlas wants and what Koit makes Atlas want, and how Atlas learns to tell the difference. I know you wanted to add that to Trust Me, but there were word count constraints, if you remember correctly. So don’t think about it.

Ballet is for Pussies comes first, okay? I know you’re bored by it because you know what happens at the end, but you need to write it, so then everyone else will know.

And when you’re done with that, you can write An Exercise in Humanitarianism or whatever wacky-ass title you’re going to give the Teaching-Koit-to-be-not-rude story.

“First lesson: Using your powers to make me say yes when I said no before is a dick move. Additionally–”
“Yeah, but, Atlas–”
“Second lesson: interrupting people is also a dick move.”
“Can I talk now?”
“Yes.”
“You’re being a dick, you know.”
“Quite aware.”
“So why are you lecturing me on being a dick, when you’re being a dick?”
“Because you need to know the rules before you can break them consciously.”
“Can we fuck?”
“No.”
“Please?”
“I just said–Koit don’t you dare touch–I can’t believe… mmmngh, what was I saying?”
“Can we fuck?”
“I hate you.”
“That’s not a no.”
“We’re going to have this lesson.”
“When I’m through blowing you, maybe.”

No, brain, see, this is what I was just talking about. /frowny face. I appreciate that you are being creative after being burned out on writing for two days, but I just think you’re directing it at the wrong thing. Now…

“I swear, aaaah. I swear. We’ll have the lesson. Eventually.”
Koit didn’t argue, but he was fairly sure that the lesson could be derailed for the foreseeable future.

Ok, I give up. Maybe this does happen before Sera meets Riley.

Plot/porn balance! Or, How to get your story accepted

An author asked me this in an e-mail exchange recently: [H]ow much erotic content are you looking for? Obviously at least one sex scene […] but what are you picturing for the overall plot/porn balance?

This was a subject that I had never thought about in depth before. I tend to write and read very instinctively, which is one reason why I love to talk about writing: because I’m not going to think about if I don’t have anyone to talk to! But this was a good question, and the author needed an answer; the gears in my head started turning.

My first answer was that I was looking for as much erotic content as the story demanded, whether it meant that there was only one sex scene or that it was full of erotic scenes. Both of these were okay, i said, as long as there’s purpose for both the reader and the characters in the erotic content; as long as the sex wasn’t gratuitous.

(I tangented a little, at this point. Because I do like gratuitous sex, but if you don’t know the characters it’s a bit like watching someone you’ve never met before have sex–there’s no emotion/meaning attached to the characters, so it’s just bodies. Not something many authors can get away with outside of established universes.)

I want the sex to mean something, I said, once I wandered back on topic. It doesn’t matter how much or little sex there is as long as the sex is as important to me, the reader, as it is to the characters. There’s not a straight answer to this question, because it varies story-to-story. As long as there’s at least one romantic scene, it’s gravy.

So how does this translate to you? How does this translate to your story?

At Storm Moon Press, we publish erotic romance. Sometimes it seems like people put more emphasis on the first word than the second, and it ends up meaning that they write a story that’s centered around the sex that the characters have–or don’t have.

I will be the first to admit that sometimes this works. Sometimes an author can put enough conflict and emotion and importance into the sex that it carries the story without any need for an over-arching plot. Strong romantic conflict can be very enthralling.

But. And this is a big but.

Storm Moon also loves non-romantic plots. I love non-romantic plots. It creates even more conflict, which means more is going on, which means there are more things that are making the reader ask the question every author wants to hear: what happens next? (Thank you, Neil Gaiman.)

If your story has me asking this question, chances are that you’re going to get a contract.

Conflict not caused by the relationship (most especially if this conflict still has an effect on the relationship) is a big, easy way to do this. Sexual tension/friction–otherwise known as unresolved sexual tension, or UST–is another. I want something that will draw me in and make me care, and both starting with conflicts/problems and make bad choices that create problems are a good way to do this.

Just make sure you resolve it. I don’t want that UST to stay unresolved. I don’t want the biggest conflict to not have some kind of resolution–even if it’s obviously temporary. I want the story to end in a way that solves the conflicts that we’ve spent the entire story caring about, spent the entire story investing ourselves in what the outcome will be for these characters.

Bullet points, if that was tl;dr:

  1. Include as much or as little erotica as the story demands.
  2. Plot is never a bad thing.
  3. A strong conflict is the key to pulling the reader in.
  4. Make sure the conflict is resolved.

Sounds easy, right? I’m still working on it, myself.