Someone offered to critique me!

green Hello, from Vacation Land!!! I know I warned you all about the blog silence (the holidays, Blah blah, etc.). Even so, I still feel like a jerk for neglecting you. Sorry about that. Today I’m going to give you the old fashioned typed out blog, instead of a video. The reason is because I’m in a house full of in-laws and I can’t seem to find a free quiet moment to myself to make a video. As I type this, we’re all gathered in the living room watching “Taken” and I’m multitasking. I do that. Obligatory life update: Christmas is awesome and I love my in-laws. They’re seriously the best mandatory family a girl could ask for. I told my mom and several other random people that my in-laws are exactly what my family would be if they all liked each other and got along. My family tends to be over-dramatic and angry half the time. Brad’s family is just super chill. We got a lot of cash for Christmas. Also, my mother-in-law taught me how to use the sewing machine that my aunt gave me, which means now I can pursue my dream of making fleece Pokemon hats to sell on Etsy and at cons. I’m quite pleased. We also bought a bunch of DVDs and some random gadgets, like an aux cable for my car so I can listen to my iTunes. I JUST learned that I could do this. I’m kind of technologically retarded at times. I don’t even have a smart phone (I prefer not to have such easy access to the internet ALL the time). Speaking of tech-retarded… I just now, as of an hour or so ago, finally got my first Kindle. I have already mastered it and loaded it with free eBooks. I even bought Frankie’s eBook, THE SCIENTIST’S DAUGHTER, which means I can FINALLY read it in its entirety. You should probably go buy that, too.

TSDYAY!

I learned about this reading challenge for 2015: http://9gag.com/gag/a8bQeNe?ref=android.s.fb

I’m going to give it a try. I’ve been meaning to read more. I’ve neglected reading for too long in favor of other hobbies–writing being one, though I don’t intend to give that up, either. There’s a FB group for the reading challenge if anyone else wants to try it with me.

A lot of my NaNoWriMo friends are also imposing writing challenges for 2015. A page a day, or 1667 words a day, or 5 books by the end of the year. I can handle something along those lines, but holidays and such are going to keep me from daily goals. I’m planning on writing at least one more book in 2015. I think I can manage three, even with editing and all that jazz. I work fast, and setting a goal of three will allow for other commitments and periods of burnout. A good, solid goal, I think, and I have MORE than enough ideas. The damned plot bunnies have been breeding like rabbits, taunting me as I edit.

It’s actually quite disturbing.

Now, on to the actual writing update. 

I had set a goal of finishing editing by the end of December. There’s good news and bad news on that front. The good news is… I did it! Yep, I sure did. I got my ducks in a row. Deleted the scenes that needed deleting. Added the scenes that needed adding. Saved a scene that I couldn’t live without but didn’t need anymore. I cut 33,457 words in the first heavy-handed revision. 159,043 down from 192,500. That is no small feat. I’ve never cut that many words from a story in my life. In fact, I had expected to add about 20,000 words and delete about 15,000 words for a net gain of 5,000. I’ve surprised myself, and I’m quite proud. Cutting words isn’t really something I enjoy doing.

The bad news is, I still have a long way to go. The typical goal for a debut fantasy author is 90-120K. 159K isn’t TOO far over, so if it turns out I can’t cut any more than what I have, I’ll take it. I believe in my story. I also find solace knowing that Pat Rothfuss’ debut novel is 255K. I’m no Pat Rothfuss, but it gives me hope. That tells me that a bloated word count is NOT an auto reject for every agent. It also tells me that if my writing is good enough, someone out there will take a chance on my word count. That means I can either cut words or improve them if the rejections start to stack up. I can live with that. I’m in this to write quality works, anyway. If it’s shit, I don’t want someone to publish it. These are words I will never be able to take back. I don’t want to cringe when I see them again in 10 years.

As a side note, I find it ironic that I’ve trained myself to stretch my word count to what I consider the proper length for a novel (400-800 pages) only to be told time and time again that the upper limit for a novel should be 120K (about 400 pages). Such is life I suppose. Apparently only the cool kids are allowed to write long books, and I’m still too n00bish. *sighs dramatically*

There’s more good news, though. Last night on Twitter (ATTENTION: Writers who are following our blog who are STILL not on Twitter, you’ll want to pay VERY CLOSE ATTENTION to what I am about to say), I was having a conversation with another author about our main characters. We were comparing sassy heroines (I was talking about Heike) and I mentioned that I’d love to share my MC with her. We got to talking about our genres and what we were working on and such and I mentioned my word count issue. She sympathized and offered to have a look at my first chapter, offering to point out where I could cut words or what I could do in general to improve.

The answer to this question–if it’s a reputable source–is ALWAYS yes. When someone who knows what they’re doing offers a free and friendly critique, take that. So, I sent her my first chapter. The moment I made the decision, I felt sick to my stomach. Sharing my work is always terrifying. This is heart and soul and months of work. Sharing it with a person makes me feel vulnerable. It’s scary! But I knew I needed it, and this author doesn’t know me personally. I took it as a valuable opportunity, and mailed off my chapter one.

A day later (WOW FAST!), I got this:

Hey Sam!

All right, I’ve got your critique ready. I only went half way through your first chapter, because 13k as a first chapter is just a BEAST! It’s a short story, or generally a little less than a quarter of a normal length novel.
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First, let me say, you’re a very talented writer. The major problem I’m seeing is large info dumps of back story. It’s a lot of telling about things that already happened. You want to propel the story forward, especially in the first chapter. I don’t want to know what HAS happened, I want to know what IS happening. Breaking up back story and putting at appropriate points between dialogue and prose is going to help smooth that out quite a bit. 
.
I love, love, love the way you write your dialogue. It’s fantastic and engaging! 
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My opinion is, nixing a lot of the back story and get to the inciting incident. I think that’s where you’re going to be able to cut unnecessary things to get your word count down and keep the story by sprinkling it through out.
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My only other suggestion would be to break up the first chapter. It’s so very long, longer than most. 
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I hope my edits help, and remember, edits are suggestions, so take what you want and toss the rest. At the end of the day, it’s your story.
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If you have any questions, feel free to let me know!
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My reaction:
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The chapter length is whatevs. I had 50 chapters and decided it was too many, so I tried to line it up with what I felt was the right length based on my favorite stories (ASOIAF, tWoT, etc). Apparently, I overshot. XD That’s fine. Dividing chapters is small potatoes and an easy fix.
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HOLY SHIT I GOT COMPLIMENTS! If there’s one thing that people seem to agree on (who have read any of what I have shown them), it’s that my characters are pretty awesome. I’m glad someone complimented my dialogue. I’ve never really known how well I’ve done that.
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Info dumps. Yeah… I was afraid of that. And at this point I had already cut the prologue entirely. The next slice and dice is going to be harder… but a lot of agents have cited info dumpage as a problem, particularly with fantasy writers, so if Natasha pointed it out, then chances are my would-be agents will agree. Back to the drawing board on that one.
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In the revision document, she also points out that I use a lot of passive voice. Scooping that out of my manuscript has been a true pain (the slow death of my soul). When I tell stories, passive voice tends to be my default. I just think that it SOUNDS prettier, more elegant and poetic. I’m trying to make that switch. It’s hard, and I know it needs to be done. This is what happens when one desires to emulate the lofty high fantasy writers like Tolkien and GRRM. I want to write words that feel like lyrics when recited. Yes, it’s less action-y… I just LIKE it better. It’s a fault of mine, according to a lot of people that know more than me.
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The verdict? Natasha told me a lot of what I already knew. That’s really good to hear, actually. It tells me a couple of things. It tells me that I’ve got a pretty good idea of my own issues, which means I can work on them. It also tells me that I absolutely have to do it. She was perfect about pointing out what needed work without being insulting, too. She had excellent suggestions and pointed out very specific areas that could be cleaned up. *thumbs up* I have a direction again. This is good.
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Furthermore, I was just incredibly grateful that anyone took the time out of their day to spend helping out a nobody like me.
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Natasha Raulerson is an author of multiple genres and hostess/founder of Whiskey, Wine, and Writing. She’s quite entertaining, and a generally awesome person. You can find her here:
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Did Senpai notice me today?
Answer: YES!!!

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About oneofthedragons

Samantha K. Balk and F. R. Donaldson met on An Archive of Our Own, one of the many fanfiction sites online, when Sam asked Frankie to illustrate the fanfiction that would one day lead to Sam's first novel. They've been friends ever since! This blog was created as a way to share the oftentimes difficult journey any new author experiences on the uncomfortable quest of an introvert for attention to his or her most personal work. It is meant to remind you that authors don't just appear fully fledged like a George R. R. Martin, that all of us start out unsure and feeling inadequate. Feel free to ask us anything. Sam: sammykaye9@gmail.com Frankie: reluctant.fraggle@gmail.com

Posted on January 1, 2015, in Information, Sam Updates, Updates and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. That’s fantastic about getting someone to go through your first chapter. I have to get on this whole Twitter thing. I’ve never done anything with it because I never got the point. Whatever I’d put on Twitter I could put on Facebook so…why? But now you’ve motivated me to try.

    I am sooo doing that 2015 writing challenge. I read at least a book every two weeks, but they’re always in my writing genre (romance/suspence). I’d like to branch out, and this’ll force me to. Thanks for the link!

    Like

  2. You made me blush, so hardcore! Thank you for the compliments! Keep writing and revising. It’ll get there! No one is ever done learning how to improve their writing. Always something new to learn. 😀 Good luck!

    Like

    • “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” –Hemingway

      I’m glad I made you smile. ^_^ You made me feel pretty good, too. I was ill the whole time you had it and you were good to me. 😀 Thanks again!

      (I cut another 7K last night by the way… let the war begin).

      Liked by 1 person

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