Every writer should have someone to tell them their draft is c**p. (or not good enough)

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Seriously, this is a must in every writer’s bucket list, a brutally honest beta-reader who tells you that he/she didn’t care about your characters, your story had a long list of faults, you must show and not tell and whatever else they have found of extremely badly written in your manuscript draft, especially if you are now starting your writing career and therefore clueless of where you have to improve.

If your writing is a career for you, then you need to study to develop your weak spots, you need feedback and you need to hear your beta-readers, even if he/she was brutally honest and even if the way how he/she manifested his/her opinion made you cringe at the sight of that feedback for a whole month.

I remember when I received that brutally honest feedback. I had swapped beta-reading with another writer, but I couldn’t get her story for two reasons:

First, she didn’t tell me that one of her short stories was a spin-off of a novel from her that I haven’t read, so, not understanding at all where her short story had come from, I found it confusing and with an underdeveloped story world. She should have told me as a beta-reader that I would only understand the short story if I read the novel first.

And second, her protagonist failed to do anything out of her own insecurity and misplaced principles until the end of her story. So the protagonist was arrested, the horrible and well-depicted villain won and the third character, whose goals weren’t clear for me since the start, went on doing nothing apart from being the (impossible to understand) passive love interest of the protagonist. It was a weak story without a fully formed plot where nothing happened. It masqueraded as a tragedy, but at least for me, a tragedy without enough reasons for its sad and inconclusive end. I confess that I don’t like tragedies unless that really makes sense in the context of the character arc. Her story didn’t make sense to me at the time so I was sincere enough to tell her my opinion, taking care though to also point out what I had found of positive in her WIP, so it would be a balanced feedback.

As an answer, she sent me a really long email telling me all the things she had hated in my WIP in a really emotional way. To summarize it, her main points were that my backstory was stupid, my writing was beyond terrible and she didn’t care for the characters or the story at all. Her feedback was much more emotional and negative than what I usually received from other beta-readers, so I concluded that being upset about my previous, not completely positive feedback, had influenced the way how she expressed herself in her answer.

I thanked her for her quite thorough feedback and said nothing about the emotional way she had expressed it. I was astonished that my writing had called such a strong emotional reaction, even if a negative one. So, I decided to ignore the emotional coloring of her feedback and concentrated on the more precise advice buried under all that emotion.

And the advice was:

I had to find ways to bring the reader into my story so the reader would care.
I had to flesh out summarized narrative (Change tell into show) and make better description and settings.
I had to make my characters intriguing even if not likable through a clearer character arc.
I had to break the backstory into smaller bits, weaving it into the plot.
I had to show, not tell.

I accepted that brutally honest feedback regardless of how it was expressed and learned from it, instead of dismissing it completely or being hurt/discouraged by it. The harsh way how the critique was written convinced me to study and try to improve my writing in a way that milder feedback had not. So it was a hard experience, but one that was vital and important for my writing development.

Bucket list item accomplished. 🙂

Of course, there are always exceptions. Once I received feedback where it was clear that my beta-reader was disappointed that my story wasn’t a courageous group of marines shooting around to save the world. So I read his feedback taking that into account. 😉

And you? Have you already received brutally honest feedback?

How will we be when we get old?

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My neighborhood is one with mostly old people. I’m not saying this to complain. In the end we, a family with two young children, are probably the outsiders who shouldn’t have rented a house here. Some neighbors look at us in an upset way, knowing we’ll probably won’t stay around for long because this area has almost no children. They are right too. It’s sad to live in a street without other children than your own, and sooner than later people move on, looking for a place they fit in better.

But I digress. Now and then I look around me and think about the people. I always said hello to the woman in her nineties who was almost always walking on the sidewalk of her house. She often complained of the cold weather, I never saw her using trousers, though. Once she invited me to visit her. I entered her white small house inside a quite big garden for this part of the city. She told me her husband had bought the house many decades ago. She failed to understand me sometimes, and I wondered if it was due to my weak German. She made me tea and we sat in a really nice winter garden. Her house smelled of mold, and I wondered if she had any help at all with the household. For around six months I would still meet her quickly walking around her house. But then she disappeared. A couple of months later I met her son and he told me he had sent her to a rest home because she was often leaving her house and being found in another part of the city without remembering how to come back. Now no one lives in her house.
I told this story because it represents to me how people from my grandmother generation are getting old. My now deceased grandmother also forgot almost everything in the end. She at least had always people around her, her mind long gone into the fog of her oldest memories, she who had once remembered the date of all her relatives birthdays, until her physical body failed too. My other grandmother had more luck and could remember everything almost until the end.
Some people shine brightly almost until the end, some fade quicker. So I wonder, how will we be? Will we have advancements in medicine who will help us to remember our lives? Some science fiction books talk about old people transferring their wise, experienced minds into clone bodies, or about rejuvenation procedures where your current body could be made young again. It’s all very far fetched anyway. And even if we would have such amazing technology would we really want to be transferred? Would we want to start anew in a young body, or would we be tired and only wishing to rest? What would have our grandmothers wished? How would it feel to have an old spirit in a young body?

I go to close the roller blinds of my upper floor window. My old neighbor sits and reads his newspaper with his back to the garden. He’s married to a younger looking woman who likes painting. In summer they sit all the time in the garden and in winter in the living room. The only time I saw them on the street was on an uneventful New Year’s Eve we went to the corner of our house to see the fireworks. They seem to be happy in a contemplative kind of way. Perhaps you can find peace by dividing your time between taking care of your garden, reading and painting. Perhaps they also spend time on the internet.

Will it all get old when you are ninety or can you still have the same joy with the things you did in the last nine decades? Will you still read new books or only want to reread the ones you read a long time ago? Will you still have friends and relatives who care about you or will you be lonely? Will you be bitter or happy for every day? I have many questions, but only the future will answer them.

If I live enough to be really old.

I have to find the mojo for my blogging potatoes

To blog or not to blog … That’s the writer’s question.

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I have, since May, posted on this blog twice per month and somehow found the time and ideas to do so. But lately, I’ve been quite busy with our dear RL (real life), busy enough I have had barely time to learn the craft, write or revise my drafts. And when time is somehow available I find myself lacking the energy to really apply myself as I should if I want to get anything ready for publishing this or next year. And I really want to have at least Book 1 of my series ready for editing until then.

To make things more complicated I’m in the crossroads on what I want this blog to accomplish. First I thought about making it a more visual blog until cautionary tales on the legal image using made me realize I would waste a long time putting together all the necessary images that could be used commercially. To say the truth I rather use my time working on my WIPs than putting all that together.

Until I have found the right directions for this blog I’ll do as some fellow wise writers do and post only when I have something to say. 🙂  Then I won’t be so dependent on great images to have a nice blog post.

I have to find the mojo for my blogging potatoes. Until then I’ll just relax and have them deliciously salty as they are served in Tenerife.

 

My favorite villains

An important tip in the book “Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors II” by Alexandra Sokoloff is that making lists of your favorite characters/ villains/ story endings is a helpful inspirational exercise. In the book, it says that analyzing your own list can give you insight on your own story’s characters, endings, and villains.

For me, the best villains are the charming, educated, tragic, twisted and obsessed. The ones a story protagonist could even sympathize and be friends with (if they don’t know better).

Here is my list of favorite villains, I also included the bad boys or the bad who turned out to be good.

Here it’s like Adele Dewitt so nicely says:

 

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The first vampire, from the time these guys were still dark and not sparkling: Dracula

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The obsessed and tragic husband: Soames Forsyte

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Another case of obsessed love with tragic consequences: Claude Frollo

V.Hugo, Gloeckner / Gem.v.A.Couder

We all grew up with the tale of Darth Vader

 

 

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This one had a tragic story leading to a dark path through Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff

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A villain I could sympathize with because the people around her were not much better:

Amy Dunne

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Including another villain whom she could not control: Desi Collings (you simply never take the dessert out of the hands of a woman)

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This one managed to remain enigmatic to the end, to finally show he wasn’t the bad guy after all.(He reminds me of a teacher I had): Snape

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And finally, the king of slimeballs, Sir Richard Carlisle

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And you, do you have a favorite villain or bad guy/girl turned good, dark hero or bad boy/girl who wasn’t listed here?

Let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 10 favorite blogs on writing

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Here they are, not in sequence, since I like all of them. When I’m looking for writing advice here is where I look. Many of these bloggers have awesome books on writing I surely recommend.

 

1. Helping Writers Become Authors
https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/

 

2. Live Write Thrive
http://www.livewritethrive.com/

 

3. Writers Write
http://writerswrite.co.za/

 

4. Rayne Hall, Making Good Books Great
http://www.raynehall.com/

 

5. Marcy Kennedy
http://marcykennedy.com/

 

6. Jane Friedman
https://janefriedman.com/blog/

 

7.Writers Helping Writers
http://writershelpingwriters.net/

 

8. What is a plot?
http://www.whatisaplot.com/

 

9. Jami Gold
http://jamigold.com/blog/

 

10. She’s Novel
http://www.shesnovel.com/

Is the first book the hardest to write?

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I could be mistaken, but I consider my current work-in-progress, my first book, the hardest. So by association, I would say the first book is the hardest for most authors, especially if you are strict on yourself and want to make as little beginner mistakes as possible. If you are in love with your story and must make it the best. Once I heard from a famous writer that you probably should start off with a smaller, not so important project and move on later to the stories you are dying to write. I didn’t follow that advice and neither could I, because I usually am passionate about most of my stories, but I still consider that advice wise, even if it’s meant for less impulsive people than me.

On your first book, you have a humongous learning curve. There are so many ways you can improve your writing that I couldn’t make a list of all of them, let alone which one I would consider more important. I could make a list of the books I already looked in topics like Structure, Characters, Viewpoint, Description, and Setting, but apart from books, there are tons of resources on the internet, amazing blogs on writing, videos, podcasts, online courses and so on.

Books are my favorite source of information though because on the internet you often jump from an interesting blog post on writing to facebook and then all your concentration gets lost. And a book will cover a subject in many more pages, in a longer way than any blog post can. And in a book I can underline the most important tips and read them again, I find that easier than jumping back on a video. Again, each one has their own way to learn. For me the less distraction on the side the better.

Together with learning the craft you have to find your own writing system. Once you establish what works for you writing tends to get easier. I wrote my first draft as fast as I could and then I had to establish a certain order to my rewriting process and this proved to be quite time-consuming. There were too many aspects to revise and it looked the first time as too much to juggle. Later I saw I should make a reread for each of the aspects I wanted to improve. It seems like a simple idea, but it took out the overwhelming side of revising out of the way. Now I just need undisturbed revising time to use all the insights I gained so far.

So, was your first book the most difficult? What lessons have you learned with it?

The challenges and rewards of researching your stories.

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1 – Reality can be harder than anything you imagine

When I first started researching, I didn’t think this would be at times emotionally challenging.

Sixteen years ago, when I wrote the short story I’m now developing into my novel, the plot already had a Sinti protagonist whose Sinti group had been slain by the people of the fictitious middle-age village of my story.  I was shocked to discover that such massacres indeed happened when reading books about the Sinti. I won’t dwell on this and other sad historical facts, but research confirmed my notions about how terribly the Gypsy and their subgroup, the Sinti, were persecuted along history.

Looking into middle-age also showed how hard life was at that time too. This had a sobering effect and brought a broader view of my story world. It showed the painful and hard side of it. I could then have a glimpse of all the pain and the challenges in a deeper and more concrete way. Reality proved much harder and shocking than anything I had previously imagined.

 

2 – The research will give you a truthful underlining of details for your characters everyday life.

As I went on reading the book from Michael Krausnick (Eine Sinti-Familie erzählt. Da wollten wir Frei sein) about the Sinti, the author talked about how the Sinti played with self-made instruments, how their violin was vital to them.

It also talked about how they were always used to the wind and open air and preferred wooden wagons to stonewalls, which they considered too warm and unnatural, or that winter fat hedgehogs were considered a delicious treat. That a marriage among them wasn’t arranged, but that usually the pair would just run away and after a period, when they should be away from the upset parents, they would be considered married.

These were only a handful of important Sinti life facts I would not know if I hadn’t researched. I’ll try to include that in my story world because those facts belong to the historical world and society of my novel. All these facts give me a perspective sometimes painful and tragic, sometimes beautiful and artistic of their way of life.

And this is what stories are about, other human perspectives.