Tag Archives: beta

Stage 3 Complete


One read-through done, with some inconsistencies caught, a couple of over-enthusiastic edits reined in and a few names changed. Now weighing in at a healthy 91k words and change. I’ve learned a huge amount about writing, structure and characterisation during the course of this book. If I were to start it again from scratch, I’d do some things very differently. The next one will be better, but I still have faith in Spiritus as it stands. So look out, Harper Voyager, here we come!

In other news, work on Corpus has been bumped down the list. One of my beta readers, the lovely 2forjoy, has put in a highly flattering request – a short story for her favourite character (one of the supporting cast). In true fae fashion, I see this partly as repayment of a debt. After all, she drew me some original artwork for Spiritus. So I shall be trying my hand at a short story for the first time. How wrong can it go?!



Awesome word, huh? The only one from the very brief bit of Ancient Greek I studied that ever stuck. It’s the Classical expression of perfection in a person, and literally translates as ‘the beautiful and the good’. What they meant by that, beyond basic aesthetic attractiveness, was balance of skills and taste. Specifically, ‘nothing to excess’ – a phrase carved into the temple wall at Delphi, along with ‘know thyself’.

Good advice. Occasionally hard to follow, and I don’t just mean finishing off the bag of Maltesers by yourself. (Yes, you did, I found the packet.) I’ve been struggling to find balance and achieve perfection in two writing-related things lately. The first is in reading advice – there is TONS of advice on style, structure, subject, characterisation, grammar, dialogue and every other possible aspect of writing available in books, podcasts and blogs. You can read it until the cows come home and still make barely a dent. Some of it is actively helpful; some of it is just personal opinion (any advice I offer on this blog falls solidly into this category); some of it downright discouraging. Since approaching writing in a rather more structured way this year, the amount of time I’ve spent reading advice has upped considerably. I have no doubt that it’s improved my all-around knowledge of storytelling, but there comes a time when you have to stop and trust your own instincts. When is that time? When do you strike that balance? Good question – ask me another.

Okay… the next question, then, is when do you stop editing? Yeah, that’s a tricky one too. You can play with your manuscript forever, tweaking a word here and an ellipsis there. At what point do you say ‘It’s finished’ and walk away? No idea, but the temptation is there for me at the moment. Do I fight it and keep on going, or is Spiritus as good as it’s going to get? There’s another element of balance to think about, too – I’ve had some feedback from my betas on the edits that I made in the first round, and the feeling is that I’ve gone too far the other way. By adding explicit emotional reactions and thought processes, I have lost some of the spartan cleanliness of the lines and the opportunity for the reader to draw conclusions.

Now, given that I’m only on my second round of editing I’m pretty sure we ain’t done yet. The Harper Voyager deadline will almost certainly be the deciding factor on this one. In fact, given that they opened their doors today, I should probably be editing right now instead of blogging. Catch you later!

Stage 2 Complete


At 00.23 last night I finished the first round of editing. Man, that got to be a real labour of love towards the end. I’ve added just shy of 10,000 words, including two whole new chapters and a lot of new scenes, and I honestly believe it’s a better book now. Which is good, because you shouldn’t really be devolving during editing.

The upshot, of course, is that there’s now material in there which is relatively new to me too. The story has grown from its original structure which means that I don’t have a complete recollection of every part any more. This isn’t exactly a new experience – it happens with work projects all the time. You start out with the bare bones, all of which you’re intimately acquainted with, and then you add a bit here and tweak a bit there. When you look back at the whole thing, you don’t really recognise it any more. It’s good – it means I can rediscover my own words and be surprised by them. Maybe, if they’re good enough, even enjoy them.

But there needs to be a cohesiveness in all this tweaking. So that’s Stage 3 – a read-through from beginning to end, with a check-list of themes and a new red pen.

Truth vs Perception


Detach a unit of crack troops.

This phrase was caught by a beta reader last week, and with it came an interesting point. At first glance, she thought it was terribly incongruous to the 13th-ish century setting and it jarred her out of reading smoothly. She then proceeded to look it up – proving once again that my beta readers are awesome – and discovered that it’s actually an incredibly old term, used by Sun Tzu over 2000 years ago. So entirely contemporary with the setting, regardless of initial response.

But in a work of fiction, is it more important to be historically accurate or to appear so? Do you teach the reader, or risk jarring them? This is a discussion that came up on Writing Excuses a while back, using the example of the name Tiffany – a common name in the Regency era, but not necessarily accepted as such by the modern audience. There is an argument for sticking to your guns and teaching the audience something new but to be honest this is an area where I’d chicken out most of the time. If education was the reason I wrote, I’d be a teacher. (Tried it once, briefly, never going back.) I write to tell a story and to entertain. Jolting my audience out of submersion is exactly what I don’t want to do.

Is there a way round? Sure. There’s always a compromise. You can put it in footnotes, or author’s notes at the back, or – hey look! – you can blog about it. But unless you’re writing specifically around the details of the Art of War, I’d put perception first.

Good Timing


Pacing’s a tricky thing in writing, and you can’t afford to get it wrong. Even your villain is perfect, your plot is engrossing and your hero is the most dashing protagonist since Mr. Darcy climbed out of a lake, if the pacing is off you lose your audience. Pacing is the pulse of the book – flatline, and it’s dead. And there’s so many ways to get it wrong, and no perfect way to get it right. Which seems a tad unfair, really.

  • Way to Get it Wrong the First – Flatlining

You can’t keep the tension at a constant throughout. If it’s low tension, the audience will be very bored very soon. If it’s high tension, they’ll just be exhausted plus your big finale won’t get any greater reaction because they’ve just got nothing left. You must vary to keep people interested and give them a chance to breathe.

  • Way to Get it Wrong the Second – Yoyoing

You can have too much of a good thing. Excessive variation has an equal chance of exhausting the readers, with the added drawback of them not really knowing what they’re supposed to be feeling at any given moment. There are physics to the peaks and troughs of writing, just as there are in the peaks and troughs of waves – abide by them or drown.

  • Way to Get it Wrong the Third – Speeding

It’s very tempting to skip to the exciting bit because surely that’s what the reader’s interested in, right? But rush the build-up and you won’t get the pay-off. Half the pleasure’s in the anticipation, and all that jazz. Besides, it should ALL be interesting, whether it’s the climax or not.

  • Way to Get it Wrong the Fourth – Dawdling

You’ve built up to the first peak, wound down and started the foreshadowing to the next. And then there’s a couple of scenes of character development, or a brief expostulation on the political and financial drivers of Gondoria, which is all doubtless important background for the next peak. But it isn’t actually getting you any nearer in terms of action, and the reader’s beginning to wonder if he’s nearly there yet or whether it’s worth skipping ahead.

  • Way to Get it Right – ???

The million dollar question. There are various tricks of the trade: cliff hangers, adding/skipping detail and explanation, show vs tell, flashbacks and recounting, sentence length, bullet time, etcetera etcetera etcetera. But when to use them? There’s the art. And it is art rather than science. There’s no winning formula, only instinct and experience. It’s one of those ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ things, which is wildly unhelpful, I know.

I’m going on about this because I’m juggling with it at the moment. Currently it feels like trying to do a puzzle with pieces that don’t have a right way up, and are from one of those impossible baked bean jigsaws. The number of times I have moved a particular chapter is about to hit double figures, just because I’m trying to ensure that the trough is the right size and shape. It’s getting to the point where I can’t see wood for trees and I will be forced to hand it over to the Beta Posse. The problem with that, of course, is that pacing is almost impossible for a beta reader to catch. They’re on the look out for character action, typos and plot holes. Pacing’s invisible – when it’s right you don’t notice, and when it’s wrong you don’t realise it’s to blame. Sort of like a Hollywood casting couch.