Who Will Read Your First Draft And How Do You Help Them?

When I finished the first draft of my first novel, Descent, I was exhilarated and terrified. Exhilarated because I’d accomplished my dream of writing a novel, and terrified because I now had to share it with someone.

But who?

My lucky husband got to be my first beta reader. He understood how important my story was to me. He’d be kind yet helpful. So I took a deep breath and hit the print button.

I couldn’t be in the same room with him as he read. That was just too stressful.

Once he finished, he gave me one of the most useful pieces of advice that I still use today. It came in the form of a question.

“Do you know you start every scene in a doorway?”

I hadn’t noticed that. His question made me do a full rewrite of every scene, looking at the opening. This is when I discovered the term in medias res — start in the middle of the action.

Now, before I share my story with anyone, I check the beginning of each scene and choose the opening carefully. I try to open with a hook for each scene.

As the years have gone by, I’ve had many beta readers and received a lot of valuable advice, comments, and questions. I couldn’t write the way I do without these precious people.


What’s a Beta Reader?

A beta reader is a person who reads your manuscript before it’s published and provides you with feedback on your story. The feedback is usually on characters, plot, and settings. (Although you may get comments on copyediting and proofreading, too.)

A helpful beta reader gives you honest feedback, positive or negative, that you use to improve your story.

An ineffective beta reader says, “That’s a nice story. I liked it.” While that feels good, it doesn’t help you write a better story.


Tips for Getting Useful Feedback

Convincing friends to give you honest feedback is difficult. People who care about you usually don’t want to hurt your feelings and may be worried about beta reading.

Questions like “What if I don’t like the story?” or “How will I tell you if I find something I don’t like?” may swirl around their heads while they’re thinking of a way to say no.

Make sure your readers understand you won’t be hurt or offended by negative feedback. Feedback on what’s not working is the only way for you to tell a better story.

To make it easy for your beta readers to know what you want, provide a list of specific questions or instructions. This will help your reader know what you want from them.

I ask beta readers to do or answer the following:

  1. Mark anywhere you skim. This is an easy way to know that the writing is boring.
  2. Did you get confused on who a character was? Maybe you need more clues or dialogue tags.
  3. Did you lose track of who was speaking? I like to write with minimal dialogue tags, so this is critical.
  4. Note anytime you suspect a character of being the villain or know the ending. This helps to determine if you’ve done enough to too much foreshadowing.
  5. Mark each passage where you stopped reading. Get your beta readers to mark this each time, even it was to have dinner, go to work, etc. If all your beta readers put the book down at the same passage, there may be a problem with the story.
  6. Did you notice any story inconsistencies? To help your beta reader, give them an example of what you mean. I read a story where a dog was left at home in one scene, and in the next scene, the dog was still with the owner. The author had forgotten where the dog was.
  7. Avoid asking for copy editing or proofreading from beta readers. It’s ok if your readers notice errors and point them out, but what you want at this stage is input on your story, not on the grammar or typos.

Make Your Beta Reader Feel Special

Image Source: Pixabay

Once you’ve put a lot of time into finding helpful beta readers, you want to keep them for your next book.

The first time a beta reader gives you negative feedback, thank them. If you make the suggested change, let them know. A beta reader will put a lot of effort into reading your story and seeing that their comments resulted in changes can be very satisfying.

When you ask someone to beta read, make it easy for the author by asking what format he/she would like to receive the manuscript in. I offer a PDF file first, but some prefer a printed copy and others mobi. Some like to receive manuscripts in .docx format as it’s easy to convert and read on a Kindle. I try to send the manuscript in the format the beta reader prefers. I believe it’s a sign of respect for the person.

In the acknowledgment section of your published book, thank your beta readers. Mine all love to see their names in the book.

Make your beta reader feel really special and send them a signed copy of your book once it’s published.

Let us know if you have any suggestions for working with beta readers. We’d love to hear from you!


Perform a Story Edit Before Sharing with Beta Readers

Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Fictionary will help you evaluate your story on a scene-by-scene basis. You’ll be able to focus on problem areas in your manuscript and improve it quickly. Then your beta readers will be impressed!

Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories? We don’t ask for a credit card until you’re ready to pay, so there’s no risk.

Thanks for reading!

Top 10 Story Issues: Learn What to Avoid #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Thank you, Raimey Gallant for organizing the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.

This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, anything that an author would find helpful.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, just hop on over to Ramey Gallant!

This month, I’m going to focus on what I’ve learnt from reading first drafts.


 

As the CEO of Fictionary, I read a lot of draft novels, and it’s one of the great pleasures of my job. It’s also an amazing learning opportunity.

Today, I want to share the top 10 issues I find in manuscripts in hopes that you can learn from them.

Here we go…


1. Word Count — Doesn’t follow the genre requirements

Inappropriate word count is the issue I see most often. For example, a 200,000 word mystery novel means the writer doesn’t know the expectations for the genre.

I also see random scene lengths, instead of scene lengths used to control pacing. Scene length can be shortened to increase pacing and lengthened to decrease pacing. This is an often underutilized method.

Learn more…


2. Point of View — Confused, inconsistent, unbalanced

A scene is told through a character’s eyes. That character is the POV character for the scene.

I often see a lack of control when writers change POV characters within a scene. This is called head hopping, and it’s jarring to a reader.

The order the POV characters appear, the number of times they appear, and consistency within a scene are all important. If an author hasn’t put enough thought into who has the POV for each scene, the novel can appear disjointed.

Learn more…


3. POV Goal — There isn’t a clear one

A character goal is simply what a character wants. The goals will drive the story forward.

The POV goal is what the POV character for the scene wants.

When you know the goal, you can start thinking about all the ways the character will fail at achieving the goal, what obstacles you can put in the character’s way, and how the character will feel about failing.

A scene where the POV character doesn’t have a goal will lack tension. And without tension the reader gets bored.

Learn More…


4. Purpose Of Each Scene — Isn’t clear

The purpose of the scene must relate to the overall story. If the scene is not driving the story forward or developing your characters, then ask yourself why the scene is in your novel.

If you don’t have a reason for the scene to be in your novel, think about cutting or rewriting the scene.

Learn More…


5. Scene Anchoring — Without it the reader is lost

A writer can be too close to their story and not “see” that the reader is lost. The mistake is to not anchor the reader in the point of view, the timing of the scene and the setting.

You know who has the POV, where the character is, and the timing of the scene because you wrote the scene, but does your reader? If the reader can’t figure out the POV, timing and setting within the first couple of paragraphs, you may lose them–the reader I mean and not the character.

Learn More…


6. Scene Entry And Exit Hooks — No exciting hooks

The beginning and ending of each scene is a chance to keep the reader engaged. This mistake is to ignore having entry and exit hooks for each scene.

When creating a scene entry hook, consider:

  • Starting in media res (opening in the middle of action)
  • Foreshadowing trouble
  • Using a strong line of dialogue
  • Raising a question
  • Not wasting words on extraneous description

The exit hook is the magic that will keep your reader wanting to begin the next scene. Types of Exit Hooks:

  • Cliff Hanger–perhaps your protagonist’s life is at risk
  • Revelation–show the reader something that will change the course of the story
  • Setback for the protagonist or antagonist–one of these characters should be very unhappy about the latest event
  • A secret revealed–you can either reveal a full secret or only part of a secret
  • A question left hanging–this will tease the reader, making them want the answer
  • An unexpected plot twist–this will keep the reader guessing

Learn More…


7. Tension — Not enough

A lack of tension in a scene may mean the reader puts your book down.

It’s important to know the difference between tension and conflict. I often see a lot of conflict but not enough tension.

Learn More…


8. Backstory — Too much, too early

Backstory is the story that happens before your novel begins. Sometimes during the story, you need to inform the reader of something that happened earlier in a character’s life. You may have files upon files of information you store elsewhere that you use to develop your characters, but what we’re concerned with here is what the reader needs to know.

Too much backstory early on will bore your reader. Don’t risk it.

Learn More…


9. Timing — Confusing timelines

This issue occurs when a story jumps around in time — meaning the story is not told in a linear fashion. This can be great, but only if the reader can follow it.

Learn More…


10. Story Arc — Key scenes are in the wrong place

I’ve read many manuscripts where the story arc is not followed. When the author rewrites the story and move the key scenes to the correct place, the story goes from mediocre to good, or good to great. Who doesn’t want that?

Learn More…


Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Fictionary will help you address each area listed above. You’ll be able to focus on problem areas in your manuscript and improve it quickly.

Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories?

The Story Arc & Why Stories Captivate!

Are you struggling to make your story work?

The story arc can help you.

The story arc is made up of the Inciting IncidentPlot Point 1, the Midpoint and Plot Point 2, and the Climax.

There are those who think the story arc is a formula to follow and that it will stifle creativity. I don’t believe this. I think the story arc is about form, not formula, and it inspires me to tell better stories.

Writing a novel is a personal story arc.

Inciting Incident: You’ve been living your life, but something just isn’t right. AND THEN…your brain tells you that you need to write a story. You don’t know yet how hard this is going to be, but the world has changed, and you’re going to roll with it. So here’s the problem. How are you going to write 80,000 to 100,000 words and get people to like it?

Plot Point 1: You’ve written 20,000 words or so, spent hours doing this, and there is no turning back. You’ve invested emotion, time, brainpower and you won’t give up.

Midpoint: You’ve made it halfway. Now you really get working. Everything you have is going into the story. This is where you figure how hard it is to write a novel, but you’re determined to solve the problem.

Plot Point 2You can’t possibly go on writing. Your structure is a mess. Everything you’ve written since the middle is making it difficult to bring the story together. You don’t know how to end the story, but you know you must work hard to finish or you’ll lose the whole story — and maybe a little part of yourself, too.

Climax: You are going to overcome your demons and finish the story. Your adrenaline is rushing. You’ve got this. You just have to fight your way through and you can write the resolution. There’s the word count you needed, and you’ve solved your problem.

I searched for an interesting way to describe the story arc. And then I found Tomas Pueyo and had to share his video.

This entertaining and insightful video will motivate you!

It’s time to stop struggling to make your story work.

Why not evaluate your story arc and see if you can make the story better? You’ve got nothing to lose by learning and trying — as long as you save your work before making large changes…

 


Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Fictionary draws a recommended story arc and draws the story arc for your story. You can see how to improve the structure of your story within seconds.

Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories?

The Climax In The Context Of The Story Arc

The climax scene is where you get to shine as an author. Every word you’ve written up to this point is going to pay off.

What is the Climax?

You’ve built you’re story up to the climax with rising action, and now the climax scene (or scenes) will have the highest level of conflict, the greatest tension, or the most devastating emotional upheaval.

Up to this point there has been no scene as intense as the climax scene.

I read a book where the most intense scene occurred at the midpoint. A woman trapped in a car was slowly being submerged. The scene was wonderfully written and had me turning the pages. The book could have ended there. If I’d stopped reading there, I would have left the book feeling satisfied.

Unfortunately, I had no idea the climax was going to be a let down compared to the midpoint scene. The climax was less tense and less emotionally satisfying. The author built up the expectation by putting a ripper of a scene in the middle of the book and couldn’t keep the excitement rising. I felt let down at the end.

The protagonist must be in your climax scene, or you risk alienating your reader. The protagonist should face the biggest obstacle in the story and determine her own fate.

After the climax you’ll follow up with a resolution to the story.

Earlier posts cover the Inciting IncidentPlot Point 1, the Midpoint and Plot Point 2.


Famous Climax Scenes:

Note: there are story spoilers, so don’t read this section if you want to read the book or see the movie.

Gone Girl: Nick plans to reveal Amy to the world in a novel that reveals the true story of what she did. He thinks he has the upper hand until she tells him she’s pregnant. In order to protect his unborn child, he’ll never be able to leave Amy.

The Martian: Mark is finally at the moment where he launches his space ship so he can intercept with the crew on the Hermes. The tension is built when his ship doesn’t have the range to reach the Hermes and he has to pierce his space suit to propel himself to the Hermes.

The Philosopher’s Stone: Harry, Ron, and Hermione must protect the Philosopher’s Stone from (they think) Snape. They want to stop Snape from giving the stone to Voldemort. Ron sacrifices himself during the climax, and Harry faces the final confrontation alone.

Twilight: Bella gets injured by James when as she tries to save her mother.


Placement Of The Climax

The climax should happen somewhere around 90% into your novel. This is a guide so you can check you’re not writing too much before or after the climax.

If the climax occurs too early in your story, the reader may get impatient with a long resolution and start skimming.

If the climax appears to late, the resolution may lack depth and the reader finishes the story without being satisfied.

Here’s an example of a story arc from Fictionary. The brown line shows the recommended story arc, and the green line shows the actual story arc for the novel.

Image Source: Fictionary

You can see above, the inciting incident occurs too late in the story, plot point 1 occurs too quickly after the inciting incident, and the middle occurs too late in the story.

After that, plot point 2 is reached too quickly, denying the reader story depth. By appearing too early, it also means the last act is dragging. Act III is going on for too long.

And on it goes until the climax is too late, and there isn’t enough time for a satisfactory resolution. Meaning the reader won’t read the writer’s next book.

I’ve love to know what you think and if you have any questions 🙂


Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories?


Post written by Kristina Stanley, best-selling author of Look The Other Way (Imajin Books, Aug 2017).

Plot Point 2 In The Context Of The Story Arc

It’s the end of act II and all is lost. Your protagonist must work hard to get what she wants or lose everything.

The story arc has been around for over 2000 years, and is a proven way to tell a good story. It’s not the only way, but it does work.

Evaluating your story arc in the context of the three-act structure should spark your creativity, not box it in. Use the story arc to make your story better by understanding why certain key events happening at the right time will engage your readers.

The story is yours. The arc helps you make it better.

Today, we’re talking about Plot Point 2.

Earlier posts cover the Inciting IncidentPlot Point 1 and the Midpoint.

 


What Is Plot Point 2

Plot Point 2 (PP2) signals the end of Act II.

Plot Point 2 will be a low point for your protagonist. Her actions since the middle have caused disaster. At PP2, she becomes more determined to reach her goal.

 


Famous First Plot Points:

Note: there are story spoilers, so don’t read this section if you want to read the book or see the movie.

Gone Girl: Amy comes home and lies about being kidnapped. Nick wants nothing more to do with her, but can’t get away. Amy will frame him for attempted murder if he leaves her. Life looks bad for Nick.

The Martian: Mark leaves his base for the final time and has to cover 3000 km in a hostile environment. If he misses the window for the crew to pick him up, he’ll die on Mars. This is serious motivation.

The Philosopher’s Stone: Harry encounters the Voldemort in the Dark Woods. Voldemort tries to kill Harry, but a centaur rescues Harry. Harry will have to confront Voldemort at some point if he’s going to survive.

Twilight: A vampire is going to go after Bella for her blood, and Bella must leave Fork. Bella wants to survive.

 


Placement Of Plot Point 2

Plot Point 2 should be somewhere around the 75% mark in your novel. If this plot point comes too late, the story will feel like it’s dragging. If it comes too early, the story may feel rushed or lacking in depth.

Here’s an example of a story arc from Fictionary. The brown line shows the recommended story arc, and the green line shows the actual story arc for the novel.

You can see above, the inciting incident occurs too late in the story, plot point 1 occurs too quickly after the inciting incident, and the middle occurs too late in the story.

After that, plot point 2 is reached too quickly, denying the reader story depth. By appearing too early, it also means the last act is dragging. Act III is going on for too long.

And on it goes until the climax is too late, and there isn’t enough time for a satisfactory resolution. Meaning the reader won’t read the writer’s next book.

I’ve love to know what you think and if you have any questions 🙂

 


Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories?

 


Post written by Kristina Stanley, best-selling author of Look The Other Way (Imajin Books, Aug 2017).

Kristina Stanley is the best-selling author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series and Look The Other Way.

Kristina is the CEO of Fictionary.

The Midpoint Of A Novel In The Context Of The Story Arc

Act II is underway, and your story is dragging. What do you do?

A dragging story is not what we want as authors, so let’s look at how to fix this.

A good story contains key plot events. To create a story readers love, these events must happen at the right time — including the midpoint.

If you’ve written the inciting incident and plot point 1 well, then at the midpoint, you’ll be taking your readers on a journey where the protagonist moves from a reactionary mode to a proactive mode.

The midpoint of your novel happens at around 50% of your story’s total word count. It’s also about halfway through the second act. So that was a little obvious…but had to be said.

The events following your midpoint will lead the reader to plot point 2 (at the end of Act II), and then on to the climax.


Key Scenes In The Story Arc

The inciting incident is the moment the protagonist’s world changes in a dramatic way.

Plot point 1 is the point of no return. The character can’t back out of the central conflict. This is the moment when the setup of the story ends and Act I is over.

The midpoint is when the protagonist changes from reactive to proactive.

Plot point 2 happens when your protagonist discovers something that allows him to finish his mission, or he thinks all is lost. This depends on the type of story your writing. Act II is over.

The climax is where your protagonist faces the biggest obstacle in the story. She may or may not win…


How To Make Your Midpoint Sparkle

At the midpoint, make something terrible or life-changing happen to your protagonist. This will raise the stakes.

Your protagonist needs to find the strength to deal with whatever horrible thing you’ve made happen or she’ll lose everything.

Because of this, she’ll decide to do something and take the rest of the book to do it. Meaning, the event has to be significant.

At the midpoint point, your reader should understand the story is moving in a new direction.

Depending on the type of story you’re writing, the event could be emotional, spiritual, or action packed. It must fit your story. Even though the midpoint is an exceptional event, remember the climax has to have even higher stakes.


Famous Midpoints:

Note: there are story spoilers, so don’t read this section if you want to read the book or see the movie.

Gone Girl: Nick wants to improve his image and gives a press conference. Amy’s “secret” best friend attacks, demanding to know what he did with Amy. Nick must now get proactive if he’s going to save himself.

The Martian: Mark Watney finds out his supplies are going to be delayed and believes he’s going to die on Mars. This results in kicking him into action to figure out how to live long enough for the supplies to get to him.

The Philosopher’s Stone: During a Quidditch match, Harry’s Nimbus 2000 broom takes Harry on a ride. Snape casts a spell. Hermione lights Snape’s cloak on fire. Harry can’t ignore all this and must become proactive

Twilight: Bella sees Edward’s true power. This strengthens how she feels about him, and she’ll do anything to be with him.

See Inciting Incident In The Context Of The Story Arc and Plot Point 1 In The Context Of the Story Arc for more on these stories.


Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories?

 


 Post written by Kristina Stanley, best-selling author of Look The Other Way(Imajin Books, Aug 2017).

Plot Point 1 In The Context Of The Story Arc

You’re heading into Act II of writing or editing your novel. So how are you going to keep readers engaged? You need a great plot point to drive them forward.

 

In an earlier post, I talked about the inciting incident in the context of a story arc. Today we’ll examine plot point 1.

What Is Plot Point 1?

Plot Point 1 is the point of no return. The character can’t back out of the central conflict. This is the moment when the setup of the story ends and Act I is over.

But there’s more. There must be something at stake. If the character doesn’t care about the outcome, a reader won’t care either.

Example plot point types (there a many more):

  • The character is obligated to take action.
  • The character is trapped.
  • Tuning back means returning to a life of unhappiness.
  • The character’s desire for something overrules all else.

 


Famous First Plot Points:

Note: there are story spoilers, so don’t read this section if you want to read the book or see the movie.

Gone Girl: Amy’s first treasure hunt clue is found. Nick has no choice but to follow it. Amy’s life is at stake (as far as the reader knows).

The Martian: Mark Watney decides he won’t die on Mars. Now he gets proactive. To back out means to die — that’s a lot a stake.

The Philosopher’s Stone: Harry Potter arrives a Hogwarts. He can’t turn back. He can’t get back on the train. That would mean life back with the Muggles and unhappiness.

Twilight: Bella learns what Edward is a vampire, but she loves him and decides to pursue him. Edward has emotional power over Bella.

See Inciting Incident in the Context Of The Story Arc for the Inciting Incident in each of the above stories.


Placement Of Plot Point 1

 

The story arc is the structure of your story and the timing of the events in that story.

The arc takes the reader from one state at the beginning to a changed state at the end.

Plot Point 1 should be somewhere around the 25% mark in your novel. If this plot point comes too late, the story will feel like it’s dragging. If it comes too early, the story may feel rushed or lacking in depth.


 

Here’s an example of a story arc from Fictionary. The brown line shows the recommended story arc, and the green line shows the actual story arc for the novel.

You can see above, the inciting incident occurs too late in the story.

After that, plot point 1 is reached too quickly, denying the reader story depth. By appearing too early, it also means the middle is dragging. Act II is going on for too long.

And on it goes until the climax is too late, and there isn’t enough time for a satisfactory resolution. Meaning the reader won’t read the writer’s next book.

I’ll cover other key events such as the midpoint, plot point 2 and the climax in future blogs.

I’ve love to know what you think and if you have any questions 🙂

 


Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing. Why not check out Fictionary’s free 14-day trial and tell better stories?