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It takes a village…

April 29, 2010

Writing is, by its very nature, a solitary process. I know writers who prefer it that way.

I don’t.

One of the things I like most about writing in English is that it allows me to interact with other writers, readers, beta readers, editors, publishers, etc. Creative writing is less common in Germany (yep, we’re still the land of Goethe and Schiller), and we don’t have large fanfiction fandoms that can help writers learn their craft. When I was writing in German, I had a “fan club,” but no one who pointed out ways to improve my novel and my writing in general — and I wanted that.

Now I feel quite blessed with my support system. Sometimes, it takes a village to produce an enjoyable novel, so let me introduce you to my “creative staff” and explain their roles in my writing process.

I’m lucky to have a beta reader who’s been incredibly supportive from the very first moment. She worked with me on all of my (English) novels and short stories.

I also work with two critique partners. Most authors would probably call them beta readers too, but I make that distinction because my beta reader is just that – a reader. She’s not a writer, and she doesn’t need to be, although she knows as much about writing as many of us writers do. My critique partners are writers. They read and comment on my work; I read and comment on theirs.

It’s a system that works very well for me, especially since we know and respect each other and managed not to fall into the “let me show you how I would write it” trap. I learned a lot about writing by beta reading. It’s always easier to see mistakes in other writers’ works, and it helps me to become more aware of it in my own stories. So if you are a writer who can’t find a beta reader, you might want to search for a critique partner instead.

I also have several test readers for each manuscript. They don’t comment on every scene and every page, as my beta reader and critique partners do. They will let me know who their favorite character is, what scene they liked most or least, and what they thought of the plot.

For Second Nature, I had my best friend as a “creative advisor.” She’s not a writer, but she has probably read every were-creature or shape-shifter fiction under the sun – or should it be “under the (full) moon” in this instance? 🙂 I often heard people say that you should never, under any circumstance, let your friends beta read your stories. And I know it often doesn’t work.

But for me, it worked. Her reactions and comments were refreshingly different from those of my other readers. Anyone want to take a guess who her favorite characters in Second Nature are?

Speaking of “refreshingly different”: my different beta readers have different strengths and comment on different things. That’s the advantage of having several people on my creative staff. Let me give you a few examples of typical comments (all quoted with permission, of course!):

  • My beta reader is great at letting me know when she liked things (“Hehehe. I love this.”). Well, actually, all of my betas are, and it’s important to me not to open a document and stare at a sea of red, knowing each comment points out a mistake.
  • Her reactions to my characters always let me know whether the characters are coming across the way I intended and whether readers are identifying with my characters (“Poor Helen!”)
  • She’s also much better than I at keeping track of details (“She was in a loose shirt when she greeted Dawn at the door. When did she change?”) or the passing of time (“Is this the new day’s evening? I’m confused on timing.”).
  • She has a talent for choreographing action scenes (“Aren’t they in front of the window? I’m unclear on the layout. Where’s the desk?”).
  • One of my critique partners has a sharp eye for point of view violations (“Horse stalls tend to be pretty dark. Could she really see the color of her eyes?”).
  • She also has a good ear for dialogue and lets me know when it’s too formal (“This is kind of stilted.”).
  • My other critique partner has an eye for description, and she’s also very down-to-earth and will let me know when something is unrealistic, over-the-top, or stereotypical in any way. She also points out repeated words.
  • My best friend typically pointed out when I had dropped a minor character out of the scene (“Is Gus mute? Why isn’t he saying anything?”), or when a scene was dragging. And she’s also great at brainstorming plot ideas (“I’ve got an idea. Let’s talk about it on the phone.”).

So with a team like that, I have everything covered. A big thank-you to my “village”!

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2 comments

  1. Pretty cool to get this behind-the-scenes look at your village.

    Obviously you pay these individuals A LOT!


  2. Someone once asked me if I pay them in vodka… she caught a glimpse of the grammar questions I send my beta reader and apparently thought they would drive anyone to drink. My beta reader assures me it’s not that bad 🙂

    Seriously, the help of my creative staff is invaluable to me.



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