Monday, March 31, 2014

Choosing Beta-Readers: Who? How? Why?

This week I got 8 people lined up as "Beta-Readers" for my second novel "THE SHIP".

For those not familiar with beta-readers, they are basically test readers for you book.  They will read the story and give you feedback on what they thought of it.  But what kind of feedback am I talking about?

Well this may vary from writer to writer.  For me I'm looking for the following feedback:

1-Did they like the story? (this is a given, I have to know whether or not the story is even working for my readers in the first place)
2-How was the pacing?  Did the story drag a lot, or was it too-fast paced and hard to keep up with?
3-Were the characters likable and did you come to care about them?  Did they intrigue you?  Did you want to see more of them in the future?  (I'm working on an ongoing series where I will rotate some of the cast from time to time)
4-Spelling errors?  (I've done my best but some things will still slip past me so a few more sets of eyes doesn't hurt)
5-Grammatical issues?  (I've chosen my team from a variety of people including a few authors and grammar nazis who will be more than willing to point out areas of concern)
6-Did the story flow well?  Were there areas where there were contradictions in who was where during an action sequence?  Was there an idea that got confused and hard to follow?
7-FINALLY: What did they think of the piece overall?

This is a lot of questions I know, but this is the book's testing ground.  One of your last chances to work out the bugs and iron out any problems before you unleash your work on the public.  And trust me, sometimes the public can be unforgiving and harsh.  Remember, most of them will be putting out money to buy your work, so make sure you strive to put out a really good product.  Your reputation is on the line whenever you put out a book.  Never slack off on quality or it'll hurt the sales of your next book.

As I mentioned earlier in this entry, I'm doing a series.  So one of the things I made sure to do was get at least a couple of beta-readers who did NOT read the first book.  People are not always going to buy your books in order, so make sure you keep each story neat and self-contained that anyone can jump into whatever part of your series they happen to spot.  Give enough references to past events from earlier books so intrigue them enough to maybe want to check out the earlier books, but not detract from the one in their hands at that moment.

Beta-Readers can help your work tremendously.  And like editors, you don't have to take EVERY suggestion they make to improve the book.  You want to keep faithful to your own vision, but weigh the pros and cons for each change.  Some may prove to be a master-stroke, while others may not.  After all beta-readers will not know your long-term vision for your book and have all the insights you do.  So be careful how you take their advice.

Finally, always be gracious even if they give advice you don't agree with. Remember, they're trying to help your book become something even better.

Until next time, take care and keep writing.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Creating A Fictional Setting...

"Welcome to Pointer, West Virginia"



For those who have never heard of this place, do not fret. It doesn't exist.  I made it up to be the setting for "The Vampyre Blogs".  A good setting is extremely important to any story.  Your story's setting can shape your character's personality depending on how long they've lived there.  For instance, if they've been there a short time there's the getting to know the place and the people.  Certain action sequences may take place in particular areas.  The town's history may come into play.  If they've lived there all their lives, they should know a lot of people, have a reputation (are they considered cool, friendly, or weird by the other people?  Etc., etc...)  Already you can see the importance of your setting and you should know the place at least in your own mind, so you can convey it to the readers.  I don't care if it's a real place here on Earth or another world.  You need to become familiar with where your story is taking place.

I've touched on settings for stories in the past, but "Pointer, West Virginia" is very different for me. You see, I've never been to West Virginia.  I do not have any personal knowledge of what the place is like.  I don't know how people talk there, what kind of accents they have, etc.  


Creating a fictional place doesn't have to be super complicated, but whatever setting you build has to be believable.  In my case, I like to blend a bit of reality into my settings.  When I created New Swindon in Connecticut, for my first book "The Bridge", I was familiar with the area where I placed it.  My grandmother had lived in Salisbury Connecticut for years and I became familiar with some of the other nearby towns.  I blended the characteristics of several of them to create New Swindon to make it seem more real and authentic.  I would refer to certain landmarks, roads and the things that actually do exist in real life.  This allowed me to make my town more believable and real.  

In my second soon-to-be-released book, "The Ship", I used an actual setting from real life that I was very familiar with.  However, I also took steps to make sure only my characters were fictional and that they blended right in with their real-life setting.  I had the knowledge of Santa Cruz and Seacliff to make this happen smoothly and very believable.  (Remember the old saying:  write what you know about).

So why am I using West Virginia, a place I've never been too, as the location for my third novel?  History!  West Virginia is steeped in it, especially when it comes to the Civil War, which is the time-frame my main character Nathaniel lived in.  So how did I approach this situation to so

So what did I do?  Simple, it was time for a little research on the internet and here is some of what I learned:

-West Virginia was created as a direct result of the Civil War.  Most of Virginia sided with the south during that turbulent time, except for the section now known as West Virginia.  They were not inclined to enforce slavery or returning runaway slaves, and decided to break off from the rest of Virginia.  There was a lot of tension when this happened, and there were a number of famous battles that took place within the newly formed state.


So right there I had a rich source of background to play with for my new novel.  However, I still had a number of obstacles to overcome for the story.  Where in West Virginia should I place my fictional town?  I checked over some county maps and saw where towns and cities were located and took notes.  I wanted an area that didn't already have an actual town, so I could refer to the real places as being nearby.  Plus I wanted a location that was near the disputed Virginia/West Virginia border.  There were some hostilities there, and I had planned for my town's history to include a bunch of raiders (southern sympathizers) who crossed the border and nearly wiped out Pointer's population in one terrible "Night Of Fire".  Could such a thing have happened?  Absolutely, because I checked up on atrocities that took place during the Civil War.  Both the North and South committed atrocities, some extremely barbaric.  So right there, I had foundation to create such a background history for the town.


I also, checked to find out what are the more prominent religions in the area, so I could populate the the town with a churches and denominations.  Plus I researched, what kinds of agriculture and commercial businesses are most prominent and where they are located in West Virginia.  

Now I know a lot of this sounds complicated and detailed, but I simply made a few notes to myself.  The object was to be able to make 'general references' to real aspects of the area, to make my fictional town blend in and seem more real.  That's all.  I won't be dedicating entire chapters to detailed descriptions, mostly it will be comments and points of reference made by the characters.  I even found where a community college is located in the county where I am placing my town, so one of the secondary characters can be an instructor there.  



I know a lot of my readers may have never stepped foot in West Virginia, but there will also be some how do live there and I want them to feel like I treated their state fairly.  I try to make the settings enjoyable and fun to think about.  Who knows, some people may even want to visit them one day to see what it's like for themselves.  It depends on the picture you paint, so to speak.  


A few of your might be asking, how much time did I spend on researching the area?  Well, I'd say I spent a total of maybe 10-12 hours over a several day period to get my vision for "Pointer".  I checked Google for images so I can describe buildings and streets, I checked maps for counties, I looked up the state's governing body and typical law enforcement agencies, as well as the average population of towns so I could populate mine with the right number of civil servants and local government.  

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, I checked out some of the state's history.  Again I didn't go into great detail, but simply made notes I could refer back to in order to make the town fit in and seem real.  Even the name of my fictional town comes from actual state history.  In May 1788 Fort Donally was attacked early in the morning hours by a group of indians led by Cornstalk.  The fort housed soldiers, wives and children.  One of the defenders who helped keep the gates blockaded and fired through a hole in the gate, was a slave named Dick Pointer.  For his courage and loyalty during the fight, he was given his freedom AND a piece of land with a cabin that people built just for him.  A rare honor at the time.  Upon his death in 1827 he was buried with military honors in Lewisburg West Virginia.




For my story, I'm going to have it that one of the children who saw him in action that day helped found my fictional town and named it after his hero.  A town named for a former slave would understandably be targeted by the raiders in my story and make it more believable.  

So there you have it.  Here's another one of my methods for making a believable fictional setting.  What are some of yours?  Please share in the comments below or give us links to a blog where you may have discussed your style of doing things.  

I hope this entry has helped some of you.  And as always, take care and keep writing.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

Writing In The First Person Point Of View...

As most of you know by now, I've started work on my third novel.  What makes this book different though is the fact that I'm writing in the first person instead of the third person.  In the third person one tends to do a lot of "he said," "She smiled", etc.  Whereas the first person is a bit more personal in my opinion.  

Just about all writers like to let the audience inside their characters heads.  Some will do it in the "omniscient" style, where they let  reader see inside every characters head in the same scene all at once.  We're allowed to know what they're thinking, even if they don't share their thoughts with the other characters.  Or  the author will let you inside one character's head at a time.  This is called 'limited perspective' which is what I use a lot, where I only let you inside one character's mind at a time, even within the same scene.  But I'll indicate the 'change' of who's head you're inside of by putting a space break between paragraphs and clearly letting the audience know who's point of view we're now watching through.

However, in first person perspective, you get a narrator who tells the entire story.  You'll see a lot of "I said...", "I thought..." etc. etc.  While powerful, this point of view can be limiting since the audience can only know what the narrator knows.  We don't get inside the heads of the other characters to see what they're thinking, unless the author switches narrators between chapters.  This is kind of what I'm doing with "The Vampyre Blogs".  

Like a real blog, the entire book is made up of entries, only in this case they are created by the different characters.  Each speaking in the first person perspective.  Bram Stoker used this style in "Dracula" and it worked really well.  Since I'm doing a vampire piece, using the same style seemed only natural.

But what I didn't count on was how much fun I'm having with this style.  With each entry, I get to play with a new character.  Now, I took theater back in high school and had a blast with it.  I'm finding doing these 'blog entries' by different characters to be a lot like my theater experience.  I really get inside whichever character's entry I'm working on, and get to be them.  I really get a chance to see through their eyes and get to know them in a deeper way than I have with my characters in the past.  Then when I'm done with that entry, I get to take mentally shed that character and don another persona and repeat the process.  I sometimes feel like I'm doing a one man show in front of an audience.  Only I'm doing it from behind a computer screen instead of being on stage.

Now I know for a lot of writers, getting inside a character's head is normal.  I did it for my other novels, but as I mentioned just a little while ago, I feel like I'm getting to really know my characters more in depth than before.  Will I be able to keep going this deep when I return to the third person perspective?  I don't know, yet.  I hope so.  Because I'm really enjoying the experience.  Just so long as I don't get too caught up with them and lose myself so to speak.

This whole experience is a fascinating journey of discovery for me.  What have some of your experiences with writing and getting to know your characters been like gang?  I'd love to hear about it.  Please feel free to share your experiences with the rest of us in the comments section below.

I'm afraid this is all I have to share for now.  Take care and keep writing everyone!



  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Another New Post Over On "The Vampyre Blogs--Private Edition" Marisa's Back...

Over on "The Vampyre Blogs--Private Edition" young Marisa is back with a new entry.  Today she's talking about her Dad.  A simple everyday guy who is not a fireman, not a policeman, or an EMT.  He's just an ordinary fellow who manages to save a life.  Come on over and find out how he did it by clicking on the link below.  You'll be glad you did.