Friday, November 25, 2011

Beta Reader

According to Wikipedia, A beta reader (also spelled betareader, or shortened to beta) is a person who reads a written work, generally fiction, with what has been described as "a critical eye, with the aim of improving grammar, spelling, characterization, and general style of a story prior to its release to the general public." Believe me, a valuable resource, one not all that easy to find, and I know why. Having been asked by several writers to 'take a look at' their work, I have found it to be a time-consuming project. Don't get me wrong; I love to help other writers. By doing so, I get to read some really awesome stories, and I know how valuable a fresh pair of eyes can be. Sometimes one's own brain just keeps reading what it wants to read, not seeing the little mistakes.

I'm not educated in the english language and my spelling skills are mediocre at best, but after having put enough words into my computer(s) to fill over a dozen books, I've learned a thing or two. I also have a much varied life of experiences to draw on for trivial information. Also, since acquiring an internet connection, I've learned a few tricks about the skill of writing itself. I'm no expert; there are several writers which I follow in one way or another who I consider a far better expert than I am, but I do try to pass on what I've learned.

The most frustrating thing about helping beginning writers is their desire to take my word for it all. After however many pages of corrections, suggestions and comments, it's very disheartening when you get another installment and exactly the same kinds of mistakes are still being made. It makes me wonder if my comments and corrections are being read or if they are simply all being blindly accepted. And I do believe this may well be the biggest reason beta readers are so hard to find.

'Voice' is a very real thing; you might say it is a writer's fingerprint, and we all know that fingerprints are very individual. 'Voice' is likely one thing a reader falls in love with when they read your books; it is something that can draw people to buy anything you write rather than just judging by cover and title. If you allow a beta reader to dictate all of your corrections, you risk your 'voice' becoming muddled if not completely usurped. So, my advice to writers who religiously use beta readers ---> LEARN from what they say. They are experience. They are a fresh pair of eyes, They are an opinion on some matter you may have overlooked. And absolutely none of them will be the slightest bit bothered if you don't make a change they may have recommended. In fact, it is entirely possible, them recommending some change is a way for you to see that they missed the point you were trying to make.

I have asked for a little help from time to time without much real success, not the kind I was looking for, however I have worked with now two professional editors. Both have suggested different spellings for names; one I agreed with rather blindly (in that regard) to my regret, the other I agreed with and then changed my mind. Be willing to learn from anyone around you, but also be willing to disagree in order to preserve your own 'voice', your own story.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Investigation

In my current manuscript, Druid Derrick, I have been bothered by the fact that I have relatively little information from the other side of the 'looking glass'. You see, my character kind of walks in two separate and distinct worlds. There's the world you and I are familiar with, and then there is the hidden life of a druid, a life where he must protect the other sentient species that inhabit this earth. Races like centaurs, elves, dryads and pixies, and many others have hidden for centuries, and druids like Derrick help to ensure they stay hidden for their protection.

It bothered me that my story was rife with adventures in Derrick's side of the 'looking glass', but next to nothing from our side. Then I got the idea to add a few chapters to that end. Just a few - nowhere near half.

In the chapter I'm adding now, I decided my detectives would be going around to all the different people most closely involved in, or closest to, either the crime itself or to Derrick. A month has passed and I'm really having fun getting the different points of view from the different people.

Remember that different people will see the very same event and each one will have a totally different opinion or translation about what happened.

Derrick's mother can't even think about that night without breaking down.

Derrick's father rules the family with an iron hand. He has strong opinions about what his son should and should not do.

Derrick's uncle refuses to believe he could have done the crime but the evidence is pretty strong. Ultimately, he's just plain furious about the whole affair and determined to find Derrick at any cost so that he can clear his name once and for all.

From Derrick's best friends we will get the best insight into what might make Derrick tick. It remains to be seen if the detectives can pick up on that though.

What do you think? How would you use such an investigation? Or would you do something different?

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Germ with a Collective Intelligence

I have been hashing out with myself a scene in my current book that deals with vampirism. I wanted it to be realistic. Though I can understand where the sparkly idea came from, and I can even imagine it being true, I'm more interested in how traditional vampirism could occur.

As we all know, vampirism is transmitted by a bite, one that breaks the skin. We also know that if the victim is sucked dry the germ isn't transmitted, or at least it cannot grow. Therein lies my theory, and I am really interested in knowing what you think of it.

Just so you know, this is only for a single scene. There is not going to be another vampire book out there. I know you are all heaving a huge sigh of relief.

In two and a half years (book time) Derrick will encounter a rogue vampire. Before anyone else finds him, Derrick must hunt him down and either kill him or return him to the hidden vampire society where his 'family' can deal with him. Yes, just like in Twilight, vampires move among us with some restrictions, but they have agreed to be obscure. It's either that or eradication.

At any rate, the fight will go pretty much as expected. Derrick will win after a fashion, but he will also lose - he will be bitten. Rapidly weakening, he must go to the closest place he can reach, the grove near his home. This grove is a focal point of magical energy, plus a clan of dryads live in the oaks around the perimeter. Between Derrick's magic and that of the dryads, Derrick and the vampire are bound on the surface of the cromlech to await the coming sunrise and their demise.

A druid dying in his grove is the worst thing that can happen to a grove, but Derrick couldn't go anywhere else, he didn't have the energy or the time. The dryads, however, opted to do what they could to keep Derrick alive. They 'fed' him. They gave him what he needed to live. What they didn't realize was that dryad blood wasn't what the vampire germ needed to survive. Herein is my theory. Dryad blood is like unto tree sap; it does for trees and dryads what blood does for people, and since it's dryad blood, and not tree sap, it did for Derrick what was most needed at the time. It fed Derrick but not the vampire germ.

The vampire germ has a collective intelligence - the more of the germ grows in the body, the more intelligent it becomes, and the more it takes over the body. As it multiplies, it of course kills the body, but it also keeps it animated, an animated body is needed in order to continue to feed the germ, and the brain is the perfect location for the germ to collect its intelligence. Thus develops the vampire.

New vampires need to feed. The germ grows at a furious rate right at first, devouring what blood is contained within the host, thus sparking the insane hunger that drives new vampires. Derrick couldn't help but feed, and he couldn't stop himself. Fortunately, he wasn't the one in control. Being bound, the dryads could dictate how much he fed off of which one. They could then retire to their tree to recover.

Derrick's elf friends came looking for him and they continued the treatment. It was obvious something was working because the ashes of the vampire were still there, but Derrick, though very ill and very pale wasn't even sunburned.

At the Crystal Palace (the elvin home in the Rockies), the dryad colony was much larger. Therefore the donation pool was also much larger, taking the strain off the grove dryads. The germ was tenacious though, and the human body fabricates new blood all the time. So, in the hopes of eventually starving out the vampire germ entirely, the elves hooked Derrick up to a dialysis machine to keep feeding him dryad blood and to clean human blood from his system.

I'm having this take days or maybe weeks (I'm open for suggestions here). During this time, Derrick goes between a desperate vampire personality and the extremely weak human druid who isn't sure how many dryads he managed to kill in his grove. At some point, his wife is brought in in the hopes of giving him reason to continue to live. If he gives up, nothing will keep him alive. Of course she has some extra news for him, news that works even better than just her being there cheering him on. She's going to have his baby.

Well, that's my idea. What do you think. I've left out much of the drama that will occur, and the fight scene is still a blur in my head. What do you think?

Friday, November 4, 2011


November - National Novel Writing Month - NaNoWritMo - I'm sure many of you have heard about it.

Here are the rules:

Participants' novels can be on any theme and in any genre, and in any language. Everything from fanfiction, which uses trademarked characters, to novels in poem format, and even metafiction is allowed; according to the website's FAQ, "If you believe you're writing a novel, we believe you're writing a novel too." Starting at midnight November 1, novels must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before 11:59:59 PM on November 30, local time. Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no earlier written material can go into the body of the novel, nor is one allowed to start early and then finish 30 days from that start point.

Participants write either a complete novel of 50,000 words, or simply the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later. While 50,000 words is a relatively low word count for a complete novel, it is still significantly more than the 40,000 word mark that distinguishes a novel from a novella. Notable novels of roughly 50,000 words include The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Brave New World, and The Great Gatsby. Some participants set higher goals for themselves, like writing upwards of 100,000 words, or completing two or more separate novels. To win NaNoWriMo, participants must write an average of approximately 1,667 words per day. Organizers of the event say that the aim is simply to get people to start writing, using the deadline as an incentive to get the story going and to put words to paper. This "quantity over quality" philosophy is summarized by the site's slogan: No Plot? No Problem! This is also the title of Chris Baty's book of advice for NaNoWriMo participants, published in late 2004 by Chronicle Books. There is no fee to participate in NaNoWriMo; registration is only required for novel verification.

No official prizes are awarded for length, quality, or speed. Anyone who reaches the 50,000 word mark is declared a winner. Beginning November 25, participants can submit their novel to be automatically verified for length and receive a printable certificate, an icon they can display on the web, and inclusion on the list of winners. No precautions are taken to prevent cheating; since the only significant reward for winning is the finished novel itself and the satisfaction of having written it, there is little incentive to cheat. Novels are verified for word count by software, and may be scrambled or otherwise encrypted before being submitted for verification, although the software does not keep any other record of text input. It is possible to win without anyone (other than the author) ever seeing or reading the novel.

In October 2008, the self-publishing company CreateSpace teamed up with NaNoWriMo to begin offering winners a single free, paperback proof copy of their manuscripts, with the option to use the proof to then sell the novel on


When I first heard about it, the first thing I thought was that since I already had over twenty stories written, long and short, the last thing I needed was to speed-write another one. As I understand it, the goal is to just write it. No worrying about spelling (much). No worrying about grammer (much). You can fix all that stuff next month when the contest is over. Trouble is, I always worry about spelling and grammer. Those quaint little red and green squiggly lines would drive me nuts if I ignored them. I have enough fun figuring out what my computer is trying to tell me as it is.

I never timed myself when I came to my writing. About the best I've accomplished is ten pages a day. At roughly 300 words per page, that's not bad. However, now that I have this very addictive distraction called the internet, of which Facebook is probably the worst, accomplishing ten pages in a day is a thing of the past, I'm afraid.

Maybe I'll give this a shot when I get more of what I already have cleaned up enough to hand over to an editor. How about you? Are you doing NaNoWritMo? If you are, tell us a little about the story you're writing. Here is where you can test your hook.