- Both will provide feedback on a manuscript
- A beta reader doesn’t have to be a writer. They evaluate a manuscript strictly from a reader’s perspective. They may earmark an area of concern (like a critique partner) but they may lack the toolkit to help suggest corrections. It’s best to give a beta a middle draft or final draft for evaluation, since this will be closest to the product readers consume and they provide an early view of how a larger group of readers will react.
- Critique partners, as fellow writers, are available to help trouble shoot during more phases of a writing process and are able to better evaluate what the concern areas might be along with solutions.
I think most writers believe if they plan to head hop, it should happen every other chapter. And I think that’s a soothing concept. People like patterns. The problem comes in when as a writer you have multiple scenes that don’t lend themselves to alternating equally.
Like in the beginning of the book, a writer might want to set up the protagonist and his or her normal life. That could be 2-7 chapters (or more, it’s a random number) of scenes all from his or her perspective. And yes, you can flash to unrelated nefarious scenes from the antagonist, but I think this may open its own well of problems. Do you want readers to know “all is not well” or even what that something is so early into your work? Does knowing something the main character doesn’t create tension or does it create frustration? Is the jump between two different tones too jarring? Has the author established why she should care about both narratives? What happens if your antagonist isn’t active yet? Like if the big bad is a construction mogul, I don’t want to hear about the details of their business stuff (even if it is shady) until they try to buy the main character’s farm—because that other stuff doesn’t matter to the story the writer is telling (maybe), it’s just filler they’re giving me so they can write in a pattern with how the perspectives changes between the two characters. If I’m working my way through the main character’s struggle to keep their farm relevant, a bunch of legal back-and-forth claims of land or bad building practices is jarring and may tell me way too much about the second act.
And there’s a case for my problem in the Numia series. Did the pressure for an alternating perspective drive Holmberg to share Rone’s view? Would those books be better without his perspective? There’s no way to know.
, I finished the series “The Kingmakers War” by Kate Avery Ellison. The first three books are written in a limited third person perspective where we follow Briand. Book 4 sets up a far broader continent sweeping story and we get a lot of chapters on palace intrigue and on “enemies” movements/perceptions. And I discovered I might be one of those readers you can’t please because I didn’t like how she changed the focus from mostly Briand to a more “Game of Thrones” style story. While the expansion of the narrative was a little jarring, I found I didn’t care about the head hopping because often the characters were involved in stories I didn’t care about OR their story was too much about Briand but from a different perspective. Briand telling her own story and discovering these differing view points on her own would have made a better (in my opinion) story.
I felt significant pressure to make my novel alternate perspective every other chapter. It halted my creative flow on the second draft for a good eight months. And I can give you a million reasons why the perspectives don’t alternate following a set pattern but my conclusion is from a story telling vantage, alternating perspectives every other chapter would give Roxi’s take and then Gerry’s take on the same event, but it would become monotonous. Sometimes not telling a reader how or why characters do things is better. It leaves interpretation open.
I think the age of your audience matters. Both Ellison and Holmberg are working in a young adult audience. Their works may NEED to spell out certain elements more definitively because teens need that little extra push towards reflection. As a teen, I read the “Animorphs” series and it’s told from an alternating first person perspective. As a teen, I loved that gimmick, and I loved rehashing each and every single detail from someone else’s perspective. As an adult reader, I still enjoy different takes on the same story, but the perspective has to be distinct and have a larger purpose in the narrative. I think it’s just an evolution and refinement of the parts I enjoyed in close narratives. So my “complaints” in how Ellison and Holmberg share their stories may be perfect introductory primers for teen readers.
I hope in my own writing I’ve first actually made more space for readers to speculate, but second that readers of my books enjoy that instead of looking for a more definitive answer. Personally, I think it’s part of differentiating between young adult and new adult literature. Less is spelled out for rehashed. But I don’t know for sure and won’t know until some reviews roll in on my book.
What do you think about head hopping? Do you like to relive the same scene from different perspectives? Do you prefer a pattern to how perspectives jump or do you just want to vary perspectives when the story calls for it?
Chris is writing a novel in the first person perspective and he realized while working on it, that he could not tell his story only from the main character’s viewpoint because there are scenes happening a reader needs to see but that his main character isn’t present for.
I wrote a book with close third-person narration from the perspective of my protagonist, Roxi, and antagonist, Gerry. I struggled to alternate perspectives in a way I hope fulfills a reader.
This past year I read The Numia Series where Charlie N. Holmberg uses first-person split perspectives to tell her story. In the first book I found it annoying and unwanted because I didn’t care about or like Rone. He was not compelling, and his chapters didn’t seem necessary. In the third book, Rone had his own story, and I thought to myself “have I been reading his junky perspective this whole time because I’d need it in this part of the story?”
So yes, I want to talk about split perspectives. How does a writer divide time? How much do you need so a perspective change doesn’t feel random or lazy but thought out? Do you need to follow a pattern like every other chapter or every other scene? Is it hard to follow split perspectives or a good shake up?
Some basic “rules”:
- Use chapters to change perspectives, the pause can help to alert readers to a change.
- If one needs to change perspective mid-break use ***** or a similar line break to alert readers when they are switching perspectives aka “head hopping.”
- Make the two characters feel like separate people. They have opposing views of what’s happening. Don’t just head hop for a better angle on the action, make it a whole different take on what’s happening. Maybe the characters are so different they don’t even agree on what’s going down in the scene.
Now onto the tricky things:
- Is it lazy to head hop? I mean, should writers use a single voice to tell a story instead of “cheating” and using an otherwise unused perspective to give the reader information the main character doesn’t have.
- How often does a writer have to head hop? Can I tell a 30 chapter story and have all the chapters be from a single perspective except for one?
- Does every chapter have to change perspective?
- Can I change perspectives mid-series? Using the Numia and Kingmakers’ War series here. Could Holmberg have cut Rone’s perspectives from the first two books and only introduced it in the third book when it was relevant?
None of these questions have one simple answer, but I’d like to explore some thoughts in further posts. Meanwhile, share your opinions. Do you like a single or multiple perspective? What voice(s) do you write in and does it line up with your taste in reading?
Depicting that witchy aesthetic can be part of the fun of writing an urban fantasy novel. Crystals, fancy magical rituals, swirling doorways that rise from mist or dark shadows are cool. Using rose petals to cast a circle looks awesome and who doesn’t love a cupboard full of magical herbs and oils?
But let’s face it, all this stuff requires investment. If you’ve got a character on the run, on a limited or realistic budget, or if you’ve got a character who may live somewhere without access to all the “stuff”, how do you build their magic?
May I recommend sigils and other magical symbols?
Sigils originally referred to the magical signatures for angels and other beings—which is still an amazing “who done it” urban fantasy tool. Maybe you’ve got a magical detective looking through crime scenes seeking the sigil or the perpetrator and tracking them that way… Every work a person does leaves their sigil calling card, which can’t be erased, but can be obscured.
Or maybe you’ve got a lot of characters communicating across a distance. The sigil may be the only way they can verify who did what and when. It becomes an identifying code.
Or you could use sigils like chaos magicians do. They take a word or phase they want to embody and create a symbol out of the letters. First, they write words or phrases of the desired result. Then they cross out all the vowels, then they get rid of repeat letters. Finally, they pull all the letters together into a symbol. Sometimes the symbol is burnt, or drawn every time they want to call that power/energy. Sometimes the sigil is a meditation or visualization tool. Sometimes it’s a banishing technique. Other times the sigil is used so often its original origins are forgotten from the conscious mind.
I love sigils because they are flexible, easy and cheap to make, and because they can have so many uses and meanings. But I also love sigils because even the least artistic of us can create something cool AND we could add it into a book with very little work. Plus that symbol can be drawn, carved, or even hidden in another work. There’s a lot of layers and levels one could build with sigils.
If a character created enough sigils, they could use it as their own shorthand language. It could have the mystery of hieroglyphics with the modern utility of stenography.
Is it ok to swear in one’s writing? Opinions vary but my general thought: fuck yes you can swear in your prose. I can’t speak for all people in the world but the people around me swear. Some swear often, others less so. Interesting people (in my personal experience) swear. It shows a depth of emotion and a certain set of experiences that at least in fiction, lead to interesting stories.
Are there interesting people who don’t swear?. Lots of people I’ve met who don’t swear refrain from religious zealotry. I love cults and cult stories. I can imagine writing a clean cut shiny Jesus-eque cult piece full of characters who never swear.
Does swearing in books turn people away from that fiction? Maybe? Children shouldn’t read a book full of cussing. But did writers create a book that’s child appropriate excluding those darn swears?
There are adults who are offended by foul language. They’re a more realistic loss of an audience. Again though, I’ve got to ask if they would read the book if only it weren’t for all the f-bombs. I don’t know because I don’t know specifically what people find distasteful.
A common anti-cussing in books argument is that it stifles creativity. To me, that sounds like, “if you make that face long enough it will stay that way.” Which we all know isn’t true, your mom our your grandma or whoever just wanted you to quit making funny faces. Doesn’t making faces strengthen your facial muscles and help you create new expressions? Why can’t the same be true of swearing? I’ve heard some funny, creative, and expressive swears in my time. Cussing well is a talent.
It’s your manuscript and you have to be happy with it. Do whatever supports your creative vision and worry about other people’s stomach for foul language afterward.
As a reader, it’s always annoyed me when cover art doesn’t match the book description. I believed the writer just didn’t care enough about their work. They went to all this trouble to describe a character but didn’t care enough to make sure the artist portrayed their main character correctly! *Outrage*
When I began researching traditional publishing, I learned how little control the author sometimes has on the cover art of their book. And it horrified me. The saying is “you can’t judge and a book by its cover,” is more true than one might know. Sometimes publishing houses commission artists and give them no description including within the book, only an idea of what THEY think will sell the book (which may not be what’s in the book). When the cover isn’t accurate to the book, you might need to blame the publishing house and not the author.
BUT, the cover sells a book. I may know better than to pick books based on covers (and have loved many books despite a less than amazing cover) but I’ve also put down a book based on a horrendous cover.
AND I’ve been mad at books because the cover doesn’t match the content. As a person who tends to finish books once I’ve started, I’m more likely to be mad regarding a false cover than I am to have not read a book due to a bad cover… but I’d love stats on how most readers react.
A cover is important. Composition, what you show, how you show it, all of it matters. Does it have to be accurate to the book though?
If current covers are anything to go by. The insides don’t have to match the outside, but where is the line one can push before readers feel tricked?
Food for thought:
- What’s the most important part of your book/ what do you think would compel a reader to pick up your book?
- Do you know what you want your cover to be of?
- How accurate should it be to the writer’s description? Does accuracy matter more than visual layout or imagination?
- What’s the difference between an artistic rendering and deception?
- Do you have a favorite cover, does it align with your favorite book?
Annette Marie’s work is predominately urban fantasy meant for young adults. Her characters are “older” than a standard young adult character often between seventeen and twenty. Her story lines do not happen in a school or within a typical teen framework, instead they focus on emotional beats and key road divergence style story plots that characterize young adult literature.
Marie’s urban fantasies cover two differing genres. One where magic/gods/demons has always existed with humanity. It changes very little in the day to day modern world because mortals can rarely experience and hold a memory of these powers and the powers themselves do not like urban development.
In another, these powers reveal themselves when humanity threatened their safety and took over our realm to protect us from our own destructive nature. The man vs magic struggle is strong in this series.
“Red Winter” is Marie’s best series by miles, though the first three books in “Steel & Stone” make a close second. If there weren’t another three books in “Steel & Stone” full of a downward descent, this section would be a debate over which series is the best.
Instead, Annette Marie’s career is a fascinating case study regarding writing priorities. She’s an imaginative talentedwriter with a thriving fan base. She’s made her career testing out various stories and creating more when her readers responded to her writing.
I had mixed feelings in including Annette Marie. While I love some of her work, I also dislike or was disappointedalmost as much of it as I enjoyed. I came into this article expecting to discuss writers’ fatigue (a classic Stephen King fault) or discussing how writers’ shouldn’t keep stories going past their natural end point.
BUT further research on Marie’s writing career highlights that she may have different goals than I do in creating her stories. It seems she’s trying to create a fan base and doesn’t mind stretching what’s popular in her writing to build that base. Her motives may extend beyond always telling the story she wants to tell to telling a story people want to read. What obligation do writers have to respond to their audience’s desires? Does it impede good story telling or does it create creative story narratives readers want?
Take Aways from Annette Marie’s Success:
1. Be responsive and interactive with your audience. Annette Marie and all writers can only succeed if others are interested in their stories. When you find something that speaks to your audience hold on to it.
2. An older protagonist in young adult literature works. The story beats that identify a work as young adult transcend the age of one’s main characters.
3. “Magic is secret” does not have to be the default setting for urban fantasy AND readers don’t want or need large exposition drops to integrate magic into a modern world.
Wondering why Kindle Unlimited? Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited
Grumpy Old Gods Vol. 7: 3,000-4,000 words a speculative fiction (mythic fiction preferred) on trickster gods pays royalties
The One and Future King: 5,000-10,000 word on a King Arthur-ish story but don’t base it on current shows depicting his time pays royalties
Eerie River Publishing: 1,000-5,000 words “it calls from the forest” speculative dark horror stories pays royalties
Inverted Fairy Tales and Folklore: 1,000-8,000 words fairy tale related-stories based on non-mainstream characters pay $.04 a word
Silk & Steel: 3,000-7,000 words “Princess and swordswoman. Scholar and mecha pilot. Warrior women… and the courtly ladies who love them.” pay $.08 a word
Parsec Ink: up to 5,000 words scifi, fantasy, and horror stories with the theme of extinction pay $.03 a word
A Haunted Yuletide: 1,000-10,000 words “Do you know what a Christmas story needs? More Ghost stories.” pays royalties
There was a lot I wanted to accomplish in my 2019 writing practice AND there was a lot going on in my job. To balance work/personal/writing life, I turned to a planner. Well, I went through several planners to get to my current system.
Why a paper planner when I’ve used Jorte for years?
2018 was very stressful for me and there was a lot I was tracking. My Jorte calendar was too cluttered. Looking at it created my anxiety than it alleviated. And nothing is as satisfying as checking, crossing out, or highlighting a task or series of tasks. Paper and pen is a comfort for me in times of high anxiety.
My Organizational Journey
I started with a huge monthly desk calendar. BUT in the first week it became clear that there was TOO much for even the largest monthly wall calendar. I needed a monthly and weekly glance.
Next purchase was a Simplified Planner. It had a hard cover with gold edges and bright cheery colors within. The weekly view let me carve out the time I worked vs my “free time” and it gave me a heads up regarding what was pending. It’s major drawback was combining the Saturday/Sunday in the weekly view. As a retail person I need the most detail on my Saturday/Sunday either when I work or when I have it off. Most things in my life happen on these days.
So I moved on to an Inner Guide Planner and a paper journaling system in July. The Inner Guide gave me more than a full 7 day a week spread, it also helped me make monthly goals in different categories like the professional, creative, family, fun, etc. This helped me figure out what I was spending time on and if it was what I wanted to spend time on. This planner helped crystallized the need to change day jobs, and it helped refocus me on my novel publication countless times. I think most people would find the Inner Guide Planner of immense value, especially for its price point. It was $32 and even using it only from July-Dec, I got that value back.
A blank journal gave me freedom and space to write whatever whenever. Lists, complaints/venting, future plans, progress reports, research, etc. It also gave me unlimited space, and I’m long winded.
However, I wanted more. I wanted a space to write my plans and goals and another space to record actual progress on those goals. There wasn’t enough space in a weekly planner for that so I did some research and purchased a She Plans Daily Planner.
I love this planner. It’s a quarterly softbound sewn book I carry with me and make notes regarding the way I spend my time. At a glance I can see how much time I spend working, blogging, on social media, or “wasting time” gaming/watching YouTube by color blocking my day off using the half hour 6-8:30 pm marks provided in they system. There’s an untimed space for “to do” where I make notes on ideas/shopping needs/tasks as they come to me and review them each week to prioritize what I need or should plan out. There’s a space for inspiration I fill out with a writing quote every day. Tracking my time helps me clarify what I want and what I’m willing to do to get it done.
And all this lead me to 2020 organizational routine. For 2020 I have a desk full of plans to keep me on track with my writing, health, and work. I will share the current 2020 system in my next post and talk about moving forward. I hope this post helped offer some tools you could use to help you achieve your goals. Are you a planner or a seat of the pants type writer? Do you have goals and what do you do if you meet them? What do you do when you don’t reach your goals? Do you have a favorite tool: what is it and why?
Habitica is a free online site (and phone app because everything is a phone app right now) that allows you to write goals and track your progress. Like all progress trackers, Habitica gives users satifaction by checking off completed tasks and clearing a dashboard. More than just checking a box, the site gives the user points that allows them to customize and build a small fantasy character. Doing dishes or completing a writing goal isn’t just exciting in its own sake, now your little character can level up to achieve better armor or a better attack. While “gamifying” work can appeal to anyone, I thought the fantasy character nature may appeal to fantasy or scifi writers.
There are three styles of habits one can write.
“Habits” or goals that a user strives to repeat daily or 2-3 times a week. They are important but the user doesn’t want to be penalized if they don’t get around to completing these things every day. Instead the habits will color coat, suggesting how good a person is at completing them but not setting anyone back if they don’t get to an item every day.
“Dailies” are mandatory tasks that renew each day. If you DO NOT complete them, they will negatively impact your little avatar. This is a more carrot/stick method of goal planning where completing the goals gives your character great bonuses but forgetting to do them too often will lead to your avatar passing out.
“To-Dos” are one time, one-day style tasks. Finishing them is epic, but there’s no set timeline on getting to them and there is no need to repeat the tasks.
How I use Habitica as a writer
While I first used Habitica for the “Dailies” section. Forcing myself to either “put up or shut up,” I find it’s healthier for me to use the “Habits” and “To-Do” sections. It makes me less likely to micro manage my time or fill up my goal list with things I KNOW I will complete so I can collect the points. Checking off boxes and making plans makes me feel good and sometimes I’ll make a ton of plans instead of working on anything. Habitica enables this kind of behavior, so if this is you, beware.
I use the “Habits” section to suggest things I like “check social media X for X amount of time,” “respond to 2 people in y forum,” or “write x amount of words this week.” Habitica can also be a reminder system. It helps me remember to focus on general life or well-being items outside of writing specific goals.
Sometimes Habitica is just a tracking system. If I am trying to decide between projects I wanted to work on, I might create a habit for each book/story and see which one I checked off the most.
I planned to use the “To-Dos” to manage all my creative writing ideas, but it’s unnecessary. I’m excited about all my story ideas and can just keep a running paper list. I jump into creative projects without problem. Instead my “To-Dos” fill with ideas for blog posts and suggestions regarding what to edit next. This way when I schedule time to write up blog posts, I don’t waste time wondering what topics to cover.
Overall, Habitica has helped me stay organized and focused as a writer. While any list could do this. There is extra incentive to do well when there’s a cute little avatar face staring back at me asking for the next couple points to level up. I realize this won’t work for everyone, but if you’re in a rut, it might be worth trying.
Talk to me! Do you use any habit trackers in your writing? Do you use a planner at all or does all structure repel you? How do you feel about deadlines and goals when it comes to your writing or creative process?
Looking for more productivity and planning goodness? Check out my 2019 Goals Review. I’ve got a post on my 2020 writer’s goals, how I’m tracking those goals, and I have some advise on how to plan a rough draft for aspiring writers.