Wednesday Writing Warrior: Lucy Summers

Welcome to another edition of Wednesday Writing Warrior! Today I’d like to introduce fantasy writer Lucy Summers. You can samples of her upcoming work, Storm of Thieves, on Facebook. Click here to check it out!

TSW: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

Summers: I think I’ve always loved writing. Ever since I was about 10 years old, I would dabble with short stories that I now cringe at. I enjoyed the freedom in writing and loved that I could design the world and shape the characters any way that I wanted to. I have a bucket full of old musings that I still keep, just as a document of my creative worlds. The passion and ability to shape something from nothing is an art that I have fallen in love with.
TSW: In which genre do you classify your writing?

Summers: I have played with romance and thrillers when I was much younger, but after watching Lord of the Rings, my passion for fantasy was kindled deep within me. I went as far as learning archery because of it, and later got good enough to become an archery coach. I coached for 3 years before I had to quit due to work, but I will still shoot recreationally. I think it’s the freedom of fantasy that I love most, because in a world that doesn’t exist, anything at all can happen. There are no limitations put on it by the rules of our world. I mostly read fantasy as my go-to as well, but I will read just about anything.
TSW: What books/short stories/novellas/poetry have you published, or what projects are you working on?

Summers: I’m currently working on an epic fantasy story that will eventually be a trilogy. I have not yet published, but for all my musings in writing, this is the first piece I’ve written that I truly believe in. I am nearing the final stages with it and hope to eventually find an agent to help me share it with the world.

(See below to learn about Storm of Thieves!)

here is a brief synopsis: Ryale Stromstorm is a notorious thief in the land of Ashtrean, where magic has ceased and crime is spreading. Her latest mission: a high-risk heist to steal from one of the very lords ruling her city. Miscalculating the brevity of her attempt, she lands herself in the custody of the very man she tried to steal from.
Thanifear has been owned by Lord Saydor for as long as he can remember. He knows little of the outside world and doesn’t know what it’s like to be free. When Ryale enters the mines, his chance at a new life starts to take hold.
Daemon Arroyan has unparalleled abilities. The multitude of daggers on his belt and dark glare are enough of a warning. He has little issues killing any who get in his way. Forced to accompany Ryale and Thanifear as they make their escape, he just might be their only chance at surviving, as Ryale didn’t leave the city empty handed…

It is written in first person with 3 POV. The book is broken into 3 sections, each told by one of the three.

TSW: What is your favorite writing resource, be it a book, website, program…?

Summers: I haven’t really used alot of writing resources, per se, but I have taken creative writing classes in college by a crazy professor who taught me more than I realized. Styles, point of view, learning better vocabulary, thinking of seeing and communicating a scene without telling are all points that I developed through those classes.
TSW: Are you a plotter or pantser?

Summers: Absolutely a pantser. I don’t like outlining. Even for high school papers, despise it being a requirement, I wouldn’t do it. It is all unknown to me. I write to discover. I write because I’m curious and need to see how the story unfolds. Small bits get revealed slowly, one scene at a time. If I plan and outline it, I already know the story, so I don’t have the same motivation for it.
TSW: Can you give us a glimpse into your writing routine?

Summers: What a fun question! For me, I like to be completely alone when I write. I’m not the type who can go to a cafe or public place and sit down and work. I don’t have the same level of focus. I usually keep to my room and lay on my back with my laptop propped against my legs, the same position I’m currently in as I write this. And I need silence. I used to be able/prefer to listen to music while I worked, but I find now that it can drown out the characters at times and I want to see them clearly. I am a firm believer that somewhere, on the other side of the veil, their voices slip out and find us. How they choose us, I don’t know, but it is our duty to write their stories. I picture myself sitting in a fairly dark room, one table pushed against the northern wall, a single light source from above. I sit on the far end, my back to the wall, and my 3 MCs sit on the other side. They talk to me, tell me scene by scene how things happened. I stay silent and write, unless I have a question. And they can be so moody, especially my assassin, Daemon. Sometimes, they just aren’t in the mood to talk. And I have to try and motivate them to reveal what happens next. This is the same reason why I can’t outline.

As the story progresses, I force myself to keep on writing. If I try and edit each scene, I get stuck in an endless loop and never am able to move forward. For the first draft, I don’t even allow myself to edit typos or spelling. The editor in me will take a mile if I give an inch: edit one word, it will be a sentence then a paragraph then the whole darn chapter, and then I’m just focused on making it tighter, instead of on the events of the story. I’m currently well past that point now, and making my final changes to the story. I have such high hopes that the world will love my characters as much as I do.
TSW: What do you find to be the hardest part about writing?

Summers: Not editing as I go is definitely one of the issues I’ve found. I have seen my characters pretty clearly and don’t really have problems finding the next scene or how they’re connected, but thinking around the plot and finding plot holes, then filling them, makes it difficult at times. And then of course, there are the words themselves. Creating a sentence to be perfect is difficult. I will be pleased with one paragraph, look at it, tell myself, “this is good!”, then read it a week later and rewrite every single word. Writing is hard. We, as writers, have to see everything. We don’t get the luxury of the movies, where visual effects–not even special effects–come in. If a wagon pulls down a dirt drive, we, in a movie, see the wagon, the horse, the driver, hear the hoof falls, see the dust rising behind the wheels. In a story, we have to not only see that all in our heads, but communicate those details to the reader, all without cluttering up the story. It’s not easy. But it’s so much fun.
TSW: What’s the first book that made you cry (if there is one)?

Summers: Oh geez, I don’t remember. But I can tell you this much. I’ve only ever cried during 3 movies. I just don’t get sucked into movies the same way I do books. Number of books that made me cry? Lost track a long time ago. You just get so much more out of a book that a movie lacks.
TSW: What does success look like to you?

Summers: There are two levels I see as success. Professional success and personal success. On a professional level, it would be to have my work published. I intend to get there. I believe in fulfilling dreams, and this is something I dream of doing with Storm of Thieves. I will get there. Traditional or self publishing, one way or another, I will get there. Personal success, though, comes with what we do as writers. Finding that “a-ha!” moment when things slip into place, finishing a scene that was hard and struggling (my current ch. 13 was like this, hardest thing I ever wrote) to get right, or, my favorite, writing that very last sentence and being able to pause, stop, and look at it and say, “It is finished!” Those are the moments we strive for. There is no feeling like it.
TSW: Are there any writers who inspire you?

Summers: Absolutely! Patrick Rothfuss is an incredible author whose work has given me more passion. His way with words is incredibly beautiful. Ernest Cline is another. He is the author of Ready Player One. This book is actually a funny story. I’m not a big gamer. I’d rather be reading. I also am not a big sci-fi fan at all. Futuristic stories, science, aliens, space, etc. are just not my types. I only picked up this book because it was laying on the floor of our house and I was told it was good, so I grew curious. I expected to only read the first page. I read the whole thing in two days. I couldn’t put it down. His writing is incredibly clear, without questions of uncertainty. The writing in it alone inspires me to do better with my own, but the fact that I not only read the whole thing, but loved it, in a genre that I normally wouldn’t read…that is some serious inspiration.
TSW: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned on your journey as a writer?

Summers: I would say that writing is now a part of me. Developing my characters, or as I think of it, letting them tell me who they are, is a really big change. They are now constantly in my head, living there almost, and will talk and express themselves in the oddest times, like at work. I think no matter what I do now, the three of them will always be part of me. I think writing has taught me to think more analytically as well. I need to see the scene myself before I’m able to convey it. Every little detail matters. I now read books with a new look and a new respect. I never really knew just how much time went into writing. Now that I do, I have to appreciate a story more. I also read with a more critical eye. I have found a few typos in stories as well as thought of a few different ways to express parts of it different than the author did. I see differently now. Even in my everyday life, things I see I think could be a good story, or be part of a future story, or make a good setting, etc…

Check out the first two chapters of Storm of Thieves on Facebook!
Ryale Stromstorm is a notorious thief in the land of Ashtrean, where magic has ceased and crime is spreading. Her latest mission: a high-risk heist to steal from one of the very lords ruling her city. Miscalculating the brevity of her attempt, she lands herself in the custody of the very man she tried to steal from.
Thanifear has been owned by Lord Saydor for as long as he can remember. He knows little of the outside world and doesn’t know what it’s like to be free. When Ryale enters the mines, his chance at a new life starts to take hold.
Daemon Arroyan has unparalleled abilities. The multitude of daggers on his belt and dark glare are enough of a warning. He has little issues killing any who get in his way. Forced to accompany Ryale and Thanifear as they make their escape, he just might be their only chance at surviving, as Ryale didn’t leave the city empty-handed…

About Lucy Summers:

I am a fantasy fiend. I’m the type of person who has no problem expressing what I love. I will go out in public wearing a cloak, hood up over my face. I love reading and have been a reader since before kindergarten. I have my mom to thank for that. She quickly instilled in me a love for books. I am an archer and horseback rider. I have been riding since I was 9 and have an amazing horse who I ride 3-4x a week. I have shot my bow off her many times as well, usually dressed up as one of my characters. My passion for fantasy stories was always there, but after seeing Lord of the Rings, it was the spark the really fed the fire. I live in California, USA. I love to travel, anywhere and everywhere. I always have a striving desire for adventure.

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Beta Readers: How to Utilize the Power of Readers

What exactly is a beta reader? Simply put, it’s an average joe reader who gives feedback for an unpublished manuscript.

betareaders

(It’s a betta fish…get it?! …I thought it was funny…)

Betas give feedback and offer suggestions for “suspension of disbelief”/believability, continuity and general flow of the story, any possible plot holes, characterization, etc. Betas who are not writers themselves can make some of the best beta readers, as they tend to not over analyze every minute detail of the story like writers. They can take in the story as a whole and get a better view of the big picture.

Should you consider looking for beta readers? Yes! After working on a manuscript for what seems like an eternity, it’s hard to look at our own work objectively. Betas can read your work with fresh eyes and a completely new, unbiased take on it.

There are some important things to remember when working with beta readers:

  • Be up front and clear about what you are and are not looking for. What kind of feedback are you looking for? Characterization? Plot holes? Descriptions? Voice? Flow? Recurring grammar faux pas like dangling modifiers?
  • Know your target audience. If possible, find beta readers within your target audience. Is your story intended for young adults? 18+ adults only? Businessmen? Stay-at-home moms who need a break from the kids? You’ll get the most useful feedback from betas roughly within your target audience and, in turn, gauge what kind of revisions you may need to make. Avoid having family and friends beta read for you. As much as they insist that they can give you helpful feedback, the fact that they know you personally can influence how they see the story.
  • Edit your manuscript to the best of your abilities. Yes, it’s still an unpublished manuscript, but it’s important to give your betas the most polished writing you can give. Even if it hasn’t been to a professional editor yet, revise and edit as much as you can. Take your time with edits, and don’t rush. Remember, some of these beta readers may end up recommending your upcoming novel to people they know — or worse, telling them to steer clear.
  • Have several file options available. Some authors think it’s all about them, when in reality, it’s about the readers. Make it as easy as possible for them to read your work. Ask your betas if they have a preference for file type and, inversely, let them know what types you’re able to provide, such as .pdf, .mobi, .docx.
  • Be considerate of their time. This goes both ways. Authors, remember that betas are taking time out of their day to read your work. Don’t expect them to read and have their comments/notes written within 24 hours. Also, refrain from asking someone to beta for you until you’re absolutely ready for beta readers.
    Readers, remember that authors may have a timeline they’re working on. Don’t dilly dally or put off reading the manuscript for weeks at a time.
  • Get some thick skin. It sounds harsh, but remember to not take feedback personally. Be prepared for both positive and negative feedback. Never lash out or defend yourself against something a beta reader says. Even if you don’t agree with their critique right off the bat, give yourself some time to consider their suggestions. Again, don’t become defensive. Just be gracious for their time and remember to thank them.

 

There are many places to find beta readers — even sites like the Goodreads forums and Tumblr. I also offer more in-depth editing services such as developmental and substantive editing. You can check out pricing info here or email me at allison@thesentrancedwriter.com.

 

 

Editing Your First Draft: Watch Out for These 5 Grammatical Errors

5grammarerrors
When deep in the midst of writing a first draft, using perfectly proper punctuation and grammar is probably the last thing on your mind. However, once you move on to the editing stage, it should definitely be in the forefront of your noggin.

I’d also like to make a note here. I’m all for breaking the rules and being rebellious when it comes to creative writing, but you have to know the rules before you can break them.

But where should you start when it comes to editing for grammar? There are some glaringly obvious ones that any self-proclaimed grammar nerd will eagerly correct you on if you make an error in an online forum (they’re/there/their, to/two/too, etc.) To start, let’s look at some common (but not always commonly thought of!) mistakes made by writers.

Subject-Verb Agreement
This one probably seems like a no brainer, but it’s actually a pretty common error. Slip-ups are so frequent in spoken English that we hardly ever think about it. Some nouns working as the subject of a sentence can be a bit tricky, such as nouns that mean a group of people or things, but the word itself is singular.
Wrong: The cast are going to a party after closing night.
Right: The cast is going to a party after closing night.

Dangling Modifiers
A dangling modifier is a clause that is ambiguously modifying the wrong noun in a sentence. While it may make sense in your own head, it may actually be grammatically incorrect.
Wrong: After ringing nonstop, Lauren had no desire to answer the phone.
Right: Lauren had no desire to answer the phone that had been ringing nonstop.

Em Dash (—) vs. En Dash (–) vs. Hyphen (‐)
When I first heard these terms back in my English classes in high school, I’m sure I had question marks for eyes. The em dash is the longest, followed by the en dash, and finally the hyphen. Computer keyboards are not well-equipped to differentiate between an en dash and a hyphen, but most word processors should have an option to insert special characters.
Em dash: Used as parentheticals and can take the place of commas, parentheses, or colons for more emphasis or better readability. Example: John had to do something–crazy or not–to save her in time.
En dash: Slightly wider than a hyphen. Used to denote a span or range, such as a span of years, a score in a sports game, and to denote direction or connection. Example: We hold meetings on Saturdays, 8:00-9:00.
Hyphen: Used when two or more words make one collective word. Example: Wizards using “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” instead of using Lord Voldemort.

Comma Splices
A comma splice happens when a comma is used instead of a period or semicolon. Example:
Wrong: He didn’t like her, she was too loud.
Right: He didn’t like her; she was too loud.
If the two thoughts (in this example, the two thoughts are “He didn’t like her” and “She was too loud”) can stand alone and still be complete sentences, then they should be separated by a semicolon or period. You can also correct this particular sentence by adding because: He didn’t like her because she was too loud.

Introductory Elements
To keep it short and sweet: Introductory words or elements require a comma after them.
Example: Luckily, we were able to get tickets before they sold out.

Sure, there are about a million more grammar faux pas that could be lurking in your first draft (okay, okay, maybe not a million, per se, but you know…). These five, however, are some common mistakes. If you’re self-publishing, I do suggest working with an editor once you’ve cleaned up your manuscript to the best of your abilities.

For more grammar faux pas, sign up for our monthly newsletter!  Sign up by 4/14 to get the April edition — all about commas!

Editing Your First Draft: 7 Tips and Suggestions

Before you send off your manuscript to your editor or beta readers, it’s important to get editing, first draft, tips, suggestions, novel, book, writing, self-editingit in tip-top shape. No beta reader or editor wants to slog through careless typos and errors that could have easily been fixed by the author.

I know what you’re thinking… but, Allison! Isn’t that what editors and beta readers are for?!

The answer is no.

I used to do beta reading from time to time on Goodreads. I’ve seen some really awesome manuscripts. But I’ve also seen some really horrible ones, too. I don’t mean horrible as in the story was bad; there were just so many typos, silly grammatical errors, or careless plot holes…so many that it just made me absolutely hate the story itself and internally curse the author. It was very apparent that the author had done zero proofreading or editing.

All authors should take the time to edit their work once the first draft is complete (yes, even if you were self-editing along the way). A sloppy manuscript only screams, “I’m lazy and I don’t care what you think of my writing!” 

Okay, maybe not quite like that. But every sloppy manuscript I’ve read made me doubt the author’s ability as a writer. Every careless error detracted more and more from what could have been a really good story, usually to the point of my being totally fed up and wishing I could just stop reading it.

Editors will also appreciate your efforts. It saves them time from having to correct the little, silly errors such as typos, when instead they could be focusing on the bigger picture of your story — plot and characterization, or the voice and syntax of your writing.

This doesn’t mean you need to have a Ph.D in English. I do suggest picking up a reference book for English grammar. English for Dummies is a good one; it explains grammar rules in simple terms and offers good examples.

Once you’ve brushed up on basic grammar and punctuation, here are some  suggestions for editing your work. I did all of these (pretty much in this order, too) after I finished my first draft of Waiting for You. But do what works for you!

  1. Step away from your story
    Once you’ve finally written those glorious words — The End — take a break from your first draft. After you’ve spent God only knows how many months of grueling over every scene and chapter, it all looks the same. Your brain knows what it’s supposed to say or sound like, so that’s what your eyes see when you proofread. Step away from it for at least a week. A month is great if you have the luxury of time (and not having a deadline). You’ll be able to come back with fresh eyes.
  2. Proofread your manuscript in various media
    If possible, read it in different mediums: print out your manuscript or load it onto your e-reader. If you print it out, mark up that bad boy with colored pens and markers (I’m a nut when it comes to colored pens). If you use your e-reader, load it as a .mobi or .epub file, and you should be able to “highlight” any troublesome passages. Also, make note of any phrases or words that you’ve used too much, as well as those pesky adverbs.
  3. Read it aloud
    Seriously, read your work out loud. You’ll be able to hear any clunky clauses or phrases, or dialogue that doesn’t quite sound genuine.
  4. Read it backwards
    You’ll be better able to pick out errors, as your eyes will be able to read each word on its own, rather than taking in the sentence or clause at once (which, like previously mentioned, your brain already knows what it’s supposed to say).
  5. Use your word processor’s handy dandy search bar
    Once you’ve gone through your manuscript a few times, go back into your word processor (or Scrivener, if you’re in the cool club), and use the search function to find any of those phrases or words you made note of. Reread those passages to see if there’s a more appropriate word or description you can use.
  6. Nix was, said*, very, etc.
    Or any other “weak” verb or adjective. I heard the tip some time ago to search for the word “was” — it was actually very eye-opening. I found that I was using the imperfect tense in a lot of places where preterite tense conveyed the action much more crisply. (i.e. “His hands were trembling.” vs. “His hands trembled.”) This also goes for the word “very.”*A note on dialogue tags: Tread carefully when it comes to your dialogue tags. If you find yourself having to replace a ton of dialogue tags for stronger verbs, or find yourself using a lot of adverbs, you may need to rework the dialogue itself. While using strong verbs for tags can be great in small sprinklings, your dialogue and your character’s action before/between/after should convey their emotion strongly enough that it doesn’t necessarily require a different tag.
  7. Those-Which-Must-Not-Be-Mentioned… That’s right. Adverbs.
    A lot of writers will cringe and hiss at you if you even utter the word “adverbs.” While it’s true that too many adverbs are a red flag that you should find stronger verbs and descriptions, I’m of the mindset that a few minor adverbs here and there are OK. You can’t seek and destroy every adverb in your story; you’ll end up with choppy passages and forced, awkward writing. If you find yourself scouring a thesaurus, just stick with your adverb. In a lot of instances, it’s extremely apparent when a writer had to look up a word.

Be sure to check out Showing versus Telling: 10 Resources to Help You Show, Not Tell

Take your time with edits and revisions. There’s no need to rush through them. Once you’re ready to work with beta readers and editors, be sure to keep an open mind to their input. You might find that all your betas have the same suggestions on a certain character or scene. Be receptive and respectful of critique, but also be sure to give your betas feedback as well.

What other steps do you take to get your manuscript ready for beta readers and editors? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!