Posts Categorized: Writing musings

Final editing and beta reports

June 15, 2014 The Plains of Kallanash, Writing musings 4

I’ve had a number of beta readers report back to me, and I’m now running through ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ one more time, incorporating final edits. I had a weekend away recently, which allowed me to read the whole book through from beginning to end, so I have my own notes on changes I want to make, as well. Some of them are easy: typos, repetition, adding in a little foreshadowing, tightening descriptions. But some are less easy. Here are a few problems that have come up:

1) Your main character is too passive. Well, yes, she is a timid, meek character, who does what she’s told and doesn’t exhibit much agency initially. That is very much in her nature, and, to be honest, if she had even an ounce of assertiveness in her, she’d have put her foot down in chapter 3 or 4, told her two men how things were going to be, and there would have been no story. So it’s difficult to make her more assertive without destroying the entire plot. Read more »


Bookvetter: an interesting website for self-publishers?

May 18, 2014 Writing musings 2

Self-publishers have many hurdles to overcome along the way, but two of the biggest problems are getting the book up to professional writing standards, and attracting the attention of book bloggers. BookVetter is a new site which attempts to address both these issues.

For the first, Bookvetter allows writers to post their finished books for review by other authors. Naturally, this isn’t a no-work affair; before you can see reviews of your own work, you have to review other people’s books on a one-for-one basis. Reading and reviewing entire first draft books in order to have your own book reviewed is very time-consuming, so it’s not going to be an option for everyone. If an author already has a tranche of beta readers lined up, then Bookvetter is not going to add much, if anything.

However, for anyone who has no reliable source of beta readers, this might be a good alternative. I’m a big fan of online critique sites where authors comment on other author’s work on a chapter by chapter basis, and this could be the ideal extension of that, encompassing the whole book. You can start at the ‘draft’ level, requesting from one to five reviews. Then you can revise and resubmit, however, for each review you request, you have to review a book yourself, so it’s not a process to be undertaken lightly. Read more »


Edit as you go: good or bad idea?

May 16, 2014 Writing musings 6

I recently stumbled across this blogpost by fantasy writer Victoria Grefer, which explains in very logical detail why it’s a bad idea to edit while in the middle of writing the first draft. It makes total sense: the first draft is the time to get stuff down on paper (metaphorically) while not worrying too much about whether it’s tight enough or has the emotional impact you want. The editing phase is the proper time to reread what you wrote and polish it into shape. Write it first, rewrite it later. Good advice.

Except that I do the exact opposite. Every day when I settle down for a writing session, I reread what I wrote the day before and – yes, I edit it. I tighten, I smooth, I polish, from the level of removing or rejigging entire paragraphs to changing words here and there and fixing typos. Then, when I start on the new writing, I’m quite happy to go back and rewrite an earlier section if I feel it needs doing. Read more »


When are you ready for a beta reader?

April 8, 2014 Writing musings 2

Having been a professional programmer for years, I’m quite familiar with the idea of beta testing and beta versions. When you write some code, you do your own (alpha) testing to check that it works, and when you’ve got it debugged to your own satisfaction you hand it over to someone else to be tested independently, and that’s beta testing. A beta version is something that’s being readied for release, but isn’t quite there yet.

So when I started editing ‘The Plains of Kallanash’, naturally I assumed that the same principle would apply: a beta reader’s role is checking out a version that’s had the initial kinks worked out, is tidied up but isn’t quite polished enough for publication. So it was quite a surprise to discover that not everyone sees it that way.

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Not THAT uncivilised, then

April 6, 2014 Writing musings 4

All secondary world fantasy writers have one problem in common: just how advanced is this imaginary world? How far has technology progressed? The answers, of course, are as varied as authors themselves. Fantasy societies can vary from stone age through to quite sophisticated steampunk cultures. It’s entirely up to the author to decide just what scientific discoveries have been made in the created world.

Obviously, whatever magic is in effect will have an impact on this. Teleporting powers will remove any need for mundane transportation, for example. Magic heating stones will replace coal or wood burning fireplaces. Instant wizard zapping powers mean that guns and explosives are unnecessary. All these aspects have to be considered.

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Looking for beta readers

March 17, 2014 Writing musings 0

The time has finally come… The early sections of ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ have been critiqued and revised on a chapter by chapter basis, and now it’s time to see how it works as a whole. So I’m looking for volunteers to beta read for me.

What is a beta reader? Basically, someone who will read the complete book and assess it from the point of view of a reader, and answer a few basic questions:

  • Is the opening engaging?
  • Is the plot easy to follow?
  • Are there any plot holes, or parts you didn’t understand?
  • Are the characters believable?
  • Did you get a good sense of place?
  • Did you lose interest anywhere?
  • Is the writing style readable?
  • Were you emotionally engaged (excited, sad, did you laugh)?
  • Is the ending satisfying?

I’ll be revising again after feedback, and then getting professional proofreading, so there’s no need for detailed reports on grammar, spelling or punctuation errors. It’s more of an overview of what works and what doesn’t.

If you’d like to volunteer, please email me at pmross AT


The exposition swingometer

December 9, 2013 The Plains of Kallanash, Writing musings 0

The Brightmoon world is quite complicated, and ‘The Plains of Kallanash’ has an intricate social structure that’s unlike anything in the modern or historical world (as far as I know). It features multiple marriages, with from four to twelve members, which means that many conventional assumptions about the relationships involved simply don’t work.

For instance, it can’t be assumed that sex is an automatic part of the relationship, as it would be between a couple. With two couples, one couple can be sexually active and the other not, one husband may have both wives, or both husbands may share one wife. Even if they are all sexually active, the actual pairings may vary, and can be anything those involved want, from straightforward couples to a complete free-for-all. With more than two couples in the marriage, the combinations can get much more complicated. Anything goes, so long as they all agree to it.

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That tricky opening chapter

October 22, 2013 Current writings, The Plains of Kallanash, Writing musings 0

Everyone agrees that the opening to a book is critical. Some say it’s the first five pages, some the first 18 lines (the first page on a typical print book), and some will tell you that you have to grab the reader by the throat within the first sentence, or All is Lost.

Well, to be honest, if a reader is so flighty that they’re going to toss a book based solely on the first line, I’m not sure I want them anyway. The first page is trickier. I can see the case for putting something there that’s so compelling that a reader absolutely has to turn the page. It’s all very well for George R R Martin to stick a forty page prologue up front, full of characters who promptly die, dialogue that is deeply portentous but unintelligable, and events that will possibly be understandable three books later, if you’re lucky. Most of us won’t be given that much leeway by the reader.

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More thoughts on Scribophile

September 21, 2013 The Fire Mages, Writing musings 0

[Edited on 17th November 2013] So a few days after posting the first chapter of The Fire Mages, I’ve had five critiques. They’ve ranged from quite negative to extremely positive, full of glowing praise. But from the five crits together, I’ve got a great deal of feedback, both large and small. Some of it I feel safe in ignoring. The critters who wanted the main character named and setting described within the first few lines – it’s a common principle, but it’s hard to do in a first person point of view, and really, fantasy readers in particular are quite happy to wait a while longer to find out about the world (in fact, they enjoy having it revealed in tiny snippets along the way).

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On Scribophile and other online critique groups

September 9, 2013 Writing musings 2

[Edited 17th November 2013] As I inch closer towards editing The Plains of Kallanash (Work #2), I realise I’m going to need other eyes to look over it, both at a low level (for typos and other errors) and at the structural level. That’s part of the reason for putting it out on this blog in the first place, but that’s rather a scattershot approach; maybe no one will read it? If they do, they may not provide any constructive criticism.

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