My Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.38 – How to Find and Use Alpha Readers

Been awhile since I was caught up enough on my podcasts to be getting in reaction posts, but thankfully all caught up on Writing Excuses, so here’s Episode 13.38.

Alpha/Beta readers and how to use them. Having only really done one book through readers, my process isn’t very set yet. But for the most part, my process is similar to the podcasters. Alpha reader is one other friend who is a librarian/author who reads a lot in my chosen genres. I found her through NaNoWriMo, I think through the cabins that are done during Camp NaNo in April/July. We connected up and she has been a great champion and supporter who manages to balance good critiques with plenty of cheerleading. Beta readers include some family and local friends, and recently members of my writing group, though I think they will move forward into alpha read status in the future.

Finding them all felt like luck, but in line with what the podcast recommended – networking with other writers (in my case, through NaNoWriMo) and sending out invites to those close to me to see who would have the time and desire to do it. I’ve had lots of people accept enthusiastically, but who end up not reading it. Probably about 50% fall out rate in that sense. Those people I will ask again for the next novel just because they say they want to help, but I have a core that I trust who give me the right feedback.

As for getting back the answers I want, I’m very much in the same camp as Valynne – I know my strengths and weaknesses as a writer and I’m actively looking for people to call me out on my weaknesses. I know I do big picture premise well, along with story structure, narrative threads, and action scenes. I’m also pretty good with the logical inferences that come from extending a technology or creating a magic system. Where I struggle is making characters memorable and anything descriptive. So I ask my readers to look specifically at my characters and locations to make sure they’re striking enough. And I always ask about the emotional beats and about the things that already work to make sure I don’t loose those or that I haven’t blinded myself on a topic.

I also generally send an entire manuscript rather than chapters/scenes just because I’d like a one and done, but that might change more as I try to level up faster.

So far, it’s worked out well.

The homework challenge from the episode was to send something to alpha/beta readers that I’ve done recently. I do have a completed manuscript sitting, but I’d been calling it a trunk novel because I didn’t think the story worked. But then again, who knows? I’ll see if anyone one my writing crew wants to read it or if my library friend wants to take a crack at it. Maybe it’s better than I’m giving myself credit for. Or maybe it’s more salvageable than I realize.

Creation and Self-care

With the large push I undertook to get Betrayed ready for Pitch Wars, as well several trips for work, a funeral, and getting kids back to school, I have been struggling to get into the swing writing. And in my writing group, I was definitely not the only one — we have  several all on the very limits of time and effort trying to balance artistic creation and just getting through the day.

When we met for our monthly meeting last night, one of them asked me how my exercise regime was going in a perfectly timed moment of “keeping me honest”. And I had to admit that in the last two weeks it’s been terrible. I haven’t been making it to the gym and haven’t been taking care of my body the way I needed to. So, I re-committed to my friends that I’d get back in the groove for both exercise and writing.

This morning I hit the stationary cycle at the gym and this post gets me back on the writing train.

But it got me thinking about how I try to balance my self-care with all the other things I have to do.

Pretty much my whole life, working out has taken a back seat to something else. Sometimes, that thing was a “still good for me, but isn’t exercise”, but often it was just blowing off steam or wasting time. Other types of self-care have been slowly getting better over time – stress management, eating well, brushing teeth, etc. – but I still find that I have to remind myself more often than not to do the things that my body, soul, spirit, and mind need in order to stay sharp and working well.

Habits are slow to build and can get upset by changes in schedule, but the longer I go, the more I find I need to have bits of self-care to keep me going. And today thankfully is one more notch in the proverbial belt of habit making.

What kinds of things do you do to take care of yourself so that you’re ready to create? Or what challenges do you find yourself struggling with in performing that self care?

Drop a line below to chat.

Singing in the Rain – The Most Meta of Movie Musicals

Yes, the alteration is intentional.

Introduction

Singing in the Rain has long been my favorite movie musical. A fun story, awesome dancing, catchy music, great gags and jokes, a wonderfully wicked antagonist, and a look at filmmaking by a film.

But this isn’t going to be a standard movie review; hopefully something deeper. I’ve been trying to wrap my head more and more around how story is told. A while back I stumbled on something I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else talk about with regards to this film. The expectation I have as I write this is that you’ve seen Singing in the Rain – indeed that you are well familiar with it. Because I want to look at the way this story was told, not the story itself.

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Ergodox EZ 8+ Month Report Out

TLDR: Corporate computing takes some adjustment, new layers might be needed even months later, and odd habits can take a long time to switch, but I’ll never go back from split programmable keyboards.

It’s been over eight months since I contracted split keyboard madness and purchased the Ergodox EZ as my primary driver at work during my day job. Fully programmable, tilt and tent capable, weirdly shaped, and definitely a conversation starter, I’ve have loved getting used to, then thriving with the Ergodox EZ. I’ve talked quite a bit in my previous installments about the features I like and how I’m using the keyboard day to day, so this one is going to focus more on long term impressions and how it’s changed my daily computer use both as an engineer and as a writer.

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And it’s done – pitch away!

Now all I have to do is hurry up and wait…

Hang on, no it’s not! I’ve got books to draft and stories to tell. As exciting, nerve wracking, and tortuous as preparing for Pitch Wars has been, I am looking forward to a nice break working on the story that’s been keeping me up at nights recently.

Betrayed is away. Back to Junkyard Dogs!

Gearing up for Pitch Wars 2018

My wonderful friends at CityInk Tulsa (my absolutely beloved writers group) challenged several of us wanting to level up to submit to Pitch Wars this year. I remember hearing of it in the past and decided it was time to push myself to that next level. I’ve been stalling on submitting my novel Betrayed this whole year, I think because I was just finding so many things to tweak or improve instead of buckling down and getting my work out there.

Getting ready for Pitch Wars and having the awesome support of my group has helped me kick things into gear. It has made me get all the ancillary material (synopsis, query letters, author bios, and pitches) ready and given me the right framework from which to pitch in the future.

Submissions started yesterday and go through tomorrow. All I have left is my query letter and then I’m off to submit.

Wish me luck!

Making Time vs. Making

An aspect I struggle with in nearly every facet of life revolves around setting aside time to do something – time to exercise, finishing projects at my day job, volunteering in the community, fixing the plumbing, visiting friends for a game night, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And that has been how I addressed creating – making time to make. Waiting until my kids go to bed, then using that time to draft and edit, because I didn’t want to take from family time. Even my interests around personal productivity have this pernicious undercurrent of trying to fit more into less time.

But what if when I sit down to write, I use that as a time to engage my children in the process of creation. Let them see me work, struggle, fail, push through. Ask their thoughts about word choice, plot points, character motivation? What if making became part of my family time, a part of play, or a part of learning? Would that change how I create or impact my motivations? I think it would.

What might you decide to do if you could just make instead of having of make time? And what if you didn’t have to change anything except your own paradigm?

woman pouring down a brown paint
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Incredibles 2 (2018) – Quick Review

Fun film with really great music and some good family characterizations. It did feel like the filmmakers got a little precious with it and it didn’t have quite the same heart as the original; specifically some of the dialog suffered early on and the banter felt forced to me. It also suffered some expected sequel bloat.

But it absolutely shown in the creative superpowers. Elastigirl + motorcycle = awesome! The new supers had some great moments. The pacing was good throughout and I like the continued developments of all the mains.

Final verdict: another great movie from Pixar and another fresh look at superheros.

Now, a thought that includes some spoilers for both Incredibles films.

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Seth Godin, Facebook, and Direct Engagement

So, it has been a while since I’ve posted on my blog. Partly due to stress and busyness and partly due to lack of motivation, I’ve let this corner of my web presence languish.

I’m going to try to make that right.

I listen to Seth Godin’s Akimbo podcast regularly and he started season 2 with a reflective on how his blog has changed and moved over time and how his goals to improve his engagement through it have adapted. I love Seth’s podcasts and I love his short, insightful, daily blog posts. One of the challenges he gave in the podcast was to take more charge over where you build an audience and where you interact with people if you are a creator.

I am a creator, though still one in training. So his words struck a chord in me. But I wasn’t seeing a ton through my blog whereas Facebook seemed to hold more promise. But I don’t control the information on Facebook and I definitely don’t control Facebook’s policies.

Add the recent problems with Facebook’s Cambridge Analytics scandal and the decision to start pushing autoplay ads in FB Messenger chats and I finally decided that enough had happened to push me back towards regaining some control over my web presence.

I don’t have a lot of readers here yet, but I have some. And to you I apologize for disappearing these last few month. Instead, I’m going to try to do something that Seth suggested in the podcast: regular, disciplined blog posts.

And I’m going to do it a more motivated way – I want to post myself some challenges. First challenge: have 5 regular readers who comment on posts at least once a week.

That’s a challenge for me to be willing to be more creative in what I think and post so that there’s something interesting to comment on. More frequent and often shorter – a thought may be enough.

And it goes directly towards doing something I have been feeling for a while about helping to foster a community of trustworthy writers. Well, I’m want to extend that now to trustworthy creators – coders, makers, developers, crafters, artisans, and thinkers. If you create, if you share something new with the world, you will be welcome here. I value your thoughts and insights on whatever topics get discussed and I look forward to getting to know you better.

Updates and Reflections on Writing Excuses 13.12/13.13/13.14

Updates

Catch-all catch-up post today while I’ve got some mental time to focus. Warning: this is longer since I’ve got so much to catch up on.

First to announce that I have finished my line edit pass on my novel and will be posting the call for beta readers within the next few days, so if you are interested, watch for that post and the instructions for getting access.

Next up, I’ve had a lot of thoughts running around in my brain about trustworthy writers and a community supporting them, so I’ll be kicking off a series on that soon.

Third – reaction posts for Writing Excuses.

13.12 – Q/A on Heroes, Villains, and Main Characters

I figured for the Q/A, I’d just answer the questions.

  • How do you make planned power increases not seem like you’re making it up on the spot?
    • Foreshadowing. With sufficient foreshadowing (this could mean as much or as little as needed), pretty much any planned power increase/superpower/level up/character change can be revealed and it not feel like you’re making things up on the spot.
    • For me, the biggest way to know if I need to fix my foreshadowing is to give it to readers.
  • What do you do when your villain is more interesting/engaging than your hero?
    • I think this may be more a problem of a particular type of story. I tend to write character/relationship stories more than idea/plot stories. I think idea/plot stories can suffer from having boring heroes/main characters because the story isn’t about them, but about the problem they have to solve.
    • This is where I think Mary’s approach of using the nested MICE quotient can solve this issue – if your villain is becoming more interesting, maybe you need to work out a character story for your hero so that there is something interesting about them that doesn’t require require them solving the plot.
  • How do you know when a character is unnecessary and needs to be removed from the story, or killed off in the story?
    • Do they show up in more than one scene and do they do more that just deliver exposition/news.
    • I had this show up during my cut edit in Jan/Feb. I had a character I thought I could cut from the first scenes because I thought I only had her delivering exposition, but had forgotten she showed up later as a complication to be exploited by my antagonist against my other mains. Removing her early removed my ability to leverage her later when I needed her as a way to ratchet up the pressure.
  • What tricks do you use when you want the reader to mistakenly believe a character is a hero, rather than a villain?
    • Haven’t done this, so can’t comment.
  • Which is more fun for you: creating a villain, or creating a hero?
    • Neither – as I’ve mentioned before, I have a really had time thinking of my characters that way. I much prefer labels of protagonist and antagonist. And what is most fun for me is figuring out how those two will relate in their relationship – friends, enemies, family, etc.
  • How many side characters can you reasonably juggle in a novel?
    • Me at my current level? – 3
  • What are the drawbacks to making your villain a POV character?
    • Have only writing protag and side character POVs, so can’t comment.
  • If your villain doesn’t show up until late in the story, how do you make their eventual appearance seem justified?
    • If I reword this as “If  your secondary antagonist shows up late,” then I can answer, and the answer is the same as the first – foreshadowing. In Betrayed, I have some very big consequences affecting the world that resulted from the actions of this secondary antagonist and they show very early – second scene.
    • The main characters were aware of the results, but didn’t know anything about this character. When my secondary antag shows up at 2/3rds through and all those consequences get tied back to this person, my readers now have a name to go with all that stuff they’ve been reading about.
  • How do you get readers to like a character who is a jerk?
    • I tried this in my trunk novel The Liegiver, but I don’t think I did it well, so I don’t think I’m yet qualified to answer.

 13.13 – Character Voice

I feel like this is a topic that comes up a lot on the podcast. It isn’t something I normally think about – when writing or reading – but I can see how it can be effective. One of my level-up moments came when reading Brandon’s Wax and Wayne series – Wayne has a very defined character voice and it works to set him apart, but what I really like is Brandon uses this voice to inject humor without needing to “tell jokes”. The humor comes only from how Wayne sees others.

I want to get better as this.

13.14 – Character Nuance

This podcast goes hand-in-hand with something I learned while listening to Robert McKee’s Story. I have this from my notes I took while listening to McKee:

  • Character and Plot are one and the same
    • function of plot structure is to provide more and more choices for the character to make under pressure
    • function of character is to make choices that seem rational to their internal self within that structure.
  • Character design begins with two primary aspects: characterization and true character
    • characterization: sum of all observable qualities
    • true character is behind this mask of characterizations – who they are really
    • KEY TO TRUE CHARACTER: true character can only be expressed through choice in dilemma

What McKee said is just a restatement of what I think Amal and Mary expressed – contradiction within a character is not necessarily contradiction if you can show how that contradiction plays out within the choices that character makes within the framework of the plot.

I think a lot of what Brandon and Maurice said point towards the second main bullet – the hats we were and the way we interact are part of those characterizations. How Maurice talks with other writers versus family in Jamaica are observable characteristics. But who they actually are would come from the choices they’ve made under pressure. Example from Brandon’s life that he’s talked about on the podcast – he’d written a dozen novels before his first one sold and spent his evenings writing while working the desk at a hotel. That pressure of having failure after failure and yet choosing to continue on showed some of the true character that is Brandon Sanderson.

The other reaction I have is to the homework – and a reminder that while “personality test” are fun, Myers-Briggs/Sorting Hat/Color Code-type stuff doesn’t really hold water when studied empirically. One that does have scientific backing is the IPIP-NEO test of the Five Personality Domains. And honestly, if you could go through and at least figure out where on the spectrum in each of the five domains your character is, you’d be in good shape.