Keeping Score: March 12, 2021

I don’t think I’m good at coming up with story titles. Mine tend to end up either very much on the nose — my first published story, “Wishr,” is named for the company at which it takes place — or become horrible puns, like “There Will Be Bugs” (I know).

So in trying to come up with a new title for the story I’ve been editing, I wanted to branch out from my usual process. Started brainstorming, just listing out things as they came into my head.

At first, most of them were more of the same (I really am fond of puns). But then I thought back to short stories I’ve read and liked recently, and their titles, and realized: The ones I liked the best (titles, not stories) were ones that fit the story, but where I didn’t understand how they fit until after I finished reading the piece.

So I shifted my brainstorm, away from trying to convince a reader to read the story (by telling them what’s inside it) and towards giving readers a new insight into the story after it’s been read. And voilĂ ! I found my new title.

I’ve got some beta reader feedback to process (on the story as a whole) this weekend, and then the story will be ready for submission, shiny title and all.

Meanwhile, I keep moving ahead with the novel, which is sitting at 35,380 words. I’m past the big climactic scene, and into the aftermath, where the consequences of the protagonist’s actions come due, and her life changes forever.

This part introduces a new character who becomes a major part of the protag’s life. So after filling in the rest of the climactic scene, I’m back to sketching what comes next, setting down fragments of conversation and description as they come to me.

I’m trying to consciously develop a different voice for this character, a distinct way of looking at the world, so it’s obvious she comes from a different part of it than the protagonist. Which means I’m focusing on dialog first, nailing down the back-and-forth between her and the protag before handling any action.

I’m also getting close to the end of this section of the book. 21,000 words and counting to cover just a few days in the protagonist’s life. Important days, to be sure: You only get one first encounter with a dragon! Even once I read the end of this section, though, I’ve still got some gaps left in the earlier parts of it that I’ll need to close, stitching everything together.

And once that’s done? On to the next big section, which will leap years ahead in time, and thousands of miles across the Earth’s surface. Let’s hope I don’t get lost along the way!

Post-Game: Stephen Blackmoore’s Critiquing 101 Class

So this weekend I attended another online writing class, this one from author Stephen Blackmoore (of the Eric Carter series) on how to give and receive feedback in critiques. I’ve been exchanging feedback with other writers for a while now, but never really had any instruction on how best to do it; my techniques have been cobbled together from blog posts and Litreactor guidelines. I wanted to see if, frankly, I’ve been doing it right, or if I’ve been failing my fellow authors by giving them the wrong type of feedback.

It was Blackmoore’s first time giving the class, so it went a little longer than anticipated: 2.5 hours instead of just 2. But those two-hours-and-change were packed with excellent advice.

Some of it I’d learned the hard way, like focusing on the positive when pointing out problems. Or remembering that at the end of the day, the story belongs to the author, which goes both ways: you don’t have to act on all the feedback you get, and you can’t expect other writers to act on yours, either.

But the vast majority of Blackmoore’s advice were things that I had some sense of, but didn’t have a good way of thinking about. Like how you should treat each work not as good or bad, but as either complete or incomplete. A story that doesn’t seem to be working isn’t garbage, it’s just a piece that needs polishing. The difference between bad and good isn’t necessarily one of value (in the work or the artist), it’s a matter of time and effort.

All in all, I took almost twenty pages (!) of notes. Blackmoore did more than cover general ways to handle feedback, he also did a detailed break down of six different aspects of a story to examine when offering a critique, and ways to identify — and talk about — problems in each one.

In short, it was a fantastic class, and one I wish I’d had years ago, before I tried to offer any other writer feedback on their work. I highly recommend taking it if you can, when he offers it again. And I’m going to start incorporating his advice into how I give critiques to others going forward.

But who will read it?

First draft of novel’s done, writing vacation is winding down.

I’ve got an urge to start editing the novel now, to go back and fix the mistakes I know are there, and find the ones I don’t yet know about.

But I’m holding off. I’m not ready to treat it objectively yet. While printing it off for my wife to read I read a few pages, and liked it a little too much.

I need fresh eyes on it, eyes that haven’t seen anything but the words on the page, and so will notice if something’s missing or inconsistent or out of tune. Thus the printing run for my wife, so she can read it while soaking in the tub. And thus my new search for beta readers, for those willing to slog through the mess that is the first draft.

Wish me luck.