Is Fiction Writing Like Exercise?

Prior to the pandemic, did you ever run into this scenario? You pay for a monthly membership to the local fitness center. At first, you’re all excited about the prospect of getting into shape. The friendly trainers at the center give you an orientation to show you how to use the machines, and off you go. At first, you meet your goal of working out regularly. Then life starts getting busy and your visits to the gym grow less frequent. You really want to get back there more often, but there’s just too much going on. While you still visit the gym occasionally, you start feeling guilty about not going more. Eventually, you lose your motivation to go at all, but you keep the gym membership because you know you “really should get back there.” Maybe, there is a bright spot where you get all excited about it again for a couple of weeks before it starts to taper off. Finally you cancel the membership.

Over the years, I’ve seen the same pattern among some amateur writers. They start with a load of enthusiasm (and often real talent), but eventually lose their motivation and stop writing altogether.

I understand the problem. While I’ve never given up writing, I have certainly canceled gym memberships. Trying to stay motivated over the long haul is difficult. Writing can be one of the most rewarding activities in the world, but it is seldom easy, and parts of it can be tedious. It can feel frustrating and discouraging, particularly when you hear about how tight the market is these days and you watch good writers get one rejection letter after another.

When I see a friend lose the motivation to write, it saddens me greatly. I’ve tried various ways over the years to motivate my friends to get back to writing, but have met with mixed results. I don’t even fully understand what motivates me to write fiction. I’ve been writing novels since at least my college days and probably even longer. At times, I have been discouraged. I’ve even slowed down my pace for a while, but I’ve always come back to writing eventually.

The best advice I can give to young writers comes from my own experience: don’t give up. Remember that it will get better. The more you write, the easier it becomes to write more. When you finish that first book or short story, it is an accomplishment to celebrate, even if the only people who ever read your work are your friends and family. Your writing will improve as you go — I’ve seen it happen multiple times with my writer friends over the years.

With respect to physical exercise, on the other hand — ahem — well, let’s just say that If I tried to admonish people to get more exercise, I would be a hypocrite, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut about that. Hmmm…I wonder if exercising your fingers on a keyboard counts?

Talk to you next Friday.

-Susan 4/23/2021

When You’re Bored…Write!

Are you looking for more time to write your novel during your crazy, hectic schedule? Here’s a suggestion: Use those times when you are forced to sit and wait for an appointment. Even during the pandemic, we still occasionally find ourselves in a waiting room (or waiting in the car in a parking lot) for a doctor or dentist appointment. Don’t spend that “downtime” flipping endlessly through email or social media. Start writing fiction instead.

How does that work, you might ask? Obviously, if you have a laptop with you, writing is very easy. Suppose, however, that you typically do your fiction writing on your desktop computer at home? How can you write in a doctor’s office when your computer is miles away?

The answer is easy — make use of the technology you have with you. Most of our electronic communication devices provide some method to type memos. My phone has a free app called “notes” that allows me to use my phone keyboard to type reminders to myself. Yes, the screen is small and the virtual keyboard is awkward to use, but it is possible to compose fiction using it. Once you get home, you can email the note to yourself and cut-and-paste the text of what you’ve written into your existing manuscript. (There may be other phone apps specifically designed for writing, but I have not researched them. I’m just talking about the free apps that come with your phone.)

If you prefer “old school” methods, you can bring a pen and paper with you to write (or use a spiral notepad). This method is slow and also requires you to type what you’ve written into your manuscript when you get home, but it is possible to write that way. I did it for years before we had modern communication technology. Even now, I tend to keep a paper copy of my latest chapter in my purse for proofreading and revision. I pull it out and work on it whenever I am sitting in the car in a parking lot waiting for John to return.

Another great time to write is while riding in commuter mass transit. Planes, trains, and busses all require you to sit for an extended length of time doing nothing. That’s a great opportunity to write. Some mass transit systems will even provide electrical outlets for your laptop. When you’re waiting in an airport lobby (and we all hope to be back there some day after the pandemic), don’t spend your time staring at the video screens above you. Work on your novel instead.

By the way, I am NOT suggesting that you write while you are driving, even if you are sitting in stopped traffic during rush hour. Don’t try it! Even texting while driving is dangerous (and illegal where I come from).

Maybe that’s another good reason (in addition to helping the environment and relieving personal stress) to commute by mass transit when you can. Think of all the writing you can accomplish!

Susan 4/16/2021

Lessons Learned from Writing 500 Words of Fiction Per Day

On January 1, 2021, I took a chance and publicly posted a set of New Year’s resolutions. Among other things, I resolved to continue writing 500 words of original fiction per day until I finished the first draft of our current novel: Prophecy’s Malignant Son. It is now March and somehow (to my astonishment), I have managed to keep up with that resolution. The manuscript just passed the 100,000 word mark, and the first draft should be finished by the end of the month. It is far longer than I originally intended and will require rewriting, but that is a problem for a later day.

In the meantime, I thought I would share a few things I learned from the discipline of writing 500 words of fiction per day.

  1. I am capable of doing it. When I typed those resolutions on January 1, 2021, I really wasn’t sure I could achieve any of them. There are so many things competing for my time these days (despite the pandemic lockdowns) and far too many distractions. Sometimes, after a particularly busy day, I found myself, through sheer stubbornness, finishing my daily quota at 9:00 at night. For anyone who knows me, I am a morning person and my brain tends to shut down by 10:00 p.m. At other times, I was forced to tell my beloved co-author, “No, I can’t watch that yet. I have to finish my 500 words for today.” Fortunately, he has always been understanding and supportive.
  2. It breaks writer’s block. When I took a beginning journalism class in college, the professor often required us to type an entire article, from start to finish, during the two-hour class session. We all had typewriters in front of us on our desks to complete the task. (Yes, they were typewriters, not computers. I went to college when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.) The discipline of being forced to write anything or fail the assignment cured me forever of the fear of a blank sheet of paper. Over the last couple of months, on those days when I got really stuck for what to write to meet my 500 word goal, I found myself falling back into that journalistic mindset — just get words on paper and worry about revising them later.
  3. It produces a novel in record time. John and I started plotting Prophecy’s Malignant Son in September of 2020. Absent unforeseen circumstances (“God willing and the creeks don’t rise,” as my mother used to say), it should be done by the end of March 2021. Prior to last year, I would never have thought myself capable of producing a novel in six or seven months. By contrast, it took John and me almost 20 years to finish and publish 60th Hour.
  4. I cannot sustain that pace forever. When I decided to write at least 500 words a day, I made a mistake. I never gave myself a day off. I have written at least 500 words a day, every single day since January 1 without a break. On some days I could breeze through 700 or even 1000 words with no trouble. At other times, as mentioned above, I completed the daily task near the end of the day through sheer stubbornness. As the weeks have progressed, I gradually realized it is too much for me. I am a person who really needs time off occasionally to avoid burn out. While I intend to keep my 500-words-a-day going until I finish the first draft of the current manuscript (because I made a New Year’s resolution and I am so close to being done), after I finish, I plan to reevaluate the process. I need to find a compromise — a sustainable method of writing — so I can finish books in a reasonable time without burning myself out.

Anyway, I hope these thoughts are helpful for newer Indy authors out there. If any of you would like to share your methods for sustainable writing, I would be delighted to hear them. Feel free to drop me a comment.

-Susan 3/12/2021

How Are Those Writing Resolutions Coming?

We are now approximately one month into 2021. It’s a good time to take a moment and assess how well your New Year’s resolutions are coming. On January 1, everybody talks about them, but then we all seem to forget very quickly. How often do we follow up on those things?

Because I announced my resolutions publicly this year, it only seems fair to tell you all how I am doing. My first resolution was to write at least 500 words of fiction a day until the first draft of the current manuscript is complete. So far, I have managed (somehow) to keep up with that. John and my latest fantasy novel Prophecy’s Malignant Son just passed the 80,000 word mark and is in the home stretch. We are hoping to have the first draft finished by March. An artist friend is currently creating the book cover.

My second resolution was to learn more about book marketing. I haven’t done as much of that yet as I should. I’ve signed up for some KDP classes on Amazon, but I don’t feel like I have a real understanding of marketing yet.

My third resolution was to develop a marketing strategy for the new book. Sadly, I am falling down on this one so far. How to market a novel without spending a ton of money is still a mystery. Writing is easy for me; marketing is not.

As a side note, I am pleased to announce that John and I made enough on our book sales in 2020 to be required to report the income on our taxes. WooHoo! Though I must confess that the IRS sets a low bar for what must be reported — a very low bar — so the need to report is not quite as cool as it first seems. But it will still be exciting to report income as authors. We’re professionals now!

My fourth resolution was to come up with an outline for the next book and to start writing it by June. I’ve already started playing with story ideas, and I should be able to meet this goal.

And finally, I resolved to keep writing this blog every Friday. So far so good!

Talk to you next week!

-Susan 1/29/2021

A Few Points About Multiple Viewpoints

So whose novel is it anyway? Well, yes, of course, it’s the author’s book. But which character or characters are the focus of the story? Whose thoughts and observations drive the narrative? From which character’s point of view is the story told?

When I first started writing, I did not understand the concept of character point of view. I’m certainly no expert on the subject today, but I have done enough story critiquing (and had my own writing critiqued enough) to recognize a point of view shift in a story when I see it. No doubt there are treatises and “how-to” books out there to describe and define what constitutes character point of view. I don’t feel qualified to do that.

What I can do is give you my favorite example of viewpoint shift within a story. In Chapter Three of the Fellowship of the Ring (“Three is Company”), the story is mostly being told from Frodo’s point of view (though not completely). At one point, as the Hobbits are traveling through the Shire, the viewpoint abruptly shifts for about a paragraph to a “fox passing through the wood on business of his own….” We read the fox’s thoughts and are told “but he never found out any more about it.” The next paragraph then shifts back to Frodo’s point of view as he wakes up the next morning. I always felt sorry for that fox because he never learned the full story!

Many years ago, a person critiquing one of my manuscripts told me that a book should be written from a single character’s point of view. I respectfully disagree. That is certainly the most commonly used method of storytelling in modern novels, but I have also read excellent novels told in multiple viewpoints. On the whole, however, if there are going to be multiple point of view characters, I prefer a clear demarcation between viewpoint shifts, such as separate chapters for different viewpoints or, at least, section breaks between them.

As a writer, my “default setting” tends toward ensemble casts, in which the book is told from more than one character’s point of view. There were five point of view characters in 60th Hour and there are three in the current draft of Prophecy’s Malignant Son.

I suspect my preference comes from my fondness for table-top role playing games. In a really good, story-driven rpg, the game master makes sure that each player-character at the table gets his or her moment in the spotlight. If one character is the real protagonist and the others are just there to bolster that character’s plotline, it will rapidly become a boring game for anyone except the person playing the main character.

There are both advantages and challenges to writing a novel with multiple point of view characters. Multiple viewpoints allow the action of the story to occur in two different places at the same time. The author can create mini-cliffhangers as the story abruptly shifts from the events involving one character to a different character. In addition, the writer can have fun describing a character in different ways depending on whose viewpoint is currently being portrayed.

One of the challenges with writing multiple viewpoint novels involves making sure that each viewpoint character is different from the others. Each character in a novel should be unique, of course, with a separate personality, but that is particularly true with point of view characters. Their thoughts, experiences, and outlook on the world should differ from the others.

Timing can also be tricky with multiple viewpoints. With a single viewpoint character, the story tends to be linear. With multiple viewpoint characters in different scenes, it may get confusing for the reader as to what events are occurring at what point. You may need to draft a timeline as an author to keep track of concurrent events.

The recent movie Dunkirk had a fascinating twist on the concept of multiple viewpoints and timing, with three stories set in different timetables being told at the same time. Even though the movie announced that would happen right from the beginning, it still took me a large part of the movie to actually appreciate what was going on.

The idea of timing recently hit home for me, when I was drafting Prophecy’s Malignant Son. I changed the length of time that passed in one chapter from a week to a month. That meant I had to revise the timeline for the concurrent chapters involving the other point of view characters to make the story consistent. Despite the extra work, I still think the story will be better for the change.

There is another question I cannot answer. When, if ever, do you hyphenate the words “point of view” when used in a sentence? For purposes of this blog post, I decided to forego hyphens between those three words, but if I have done so in error, you can all laugh at me behind my back!

-Susan 1/22/2021

Fantasy Novels and the Real World

We have an interesting power as fantasy authors. We can invent a unique society that operates according to the rules we choose. As long as the world we write about remains consistent with its own rules and is familiar enough to be engaging to our readers, we have a lot of latitude. Unlike other genres, we don’t necessarily have to follow scientific laws or real life conventions. Obviously, certain types of fantasy, such as urban fantasy or historical fantasy, may be bound within the strictures of the real world, but even then, the fantasy author can bend those conventions to suit the story.

At the same time, however, fantasy authors are themselves people who live in the real world, and our experiences undoubtedly influence what we write. The relationships we have, the people we meet, and the milestones of our individual lives shape our writing, just as they do for authors in any other genre. Likewise, the concepts of the real world — love, faith, friendship, hope, loyalty, determination, war, peace, etc. — not only apply to fantasy stories, they are critical to help make the otherworldly setting seem realistic.

As a fantasy reader and writer, one of my primary motivations has always been escape from the real world. My goal in writing fantasy fiction is to entertain, not to make commentary on society or politics. Like Professor Tolkien, I tend to dislike allegory. I prefer fantasy universes that exist on their own merits and are not just our world with the serial numbers scratched off. (Incidentally, this comment does not apply to fantasy stories that are supposed to take place in the real world, such as historical fantasy or urban fantasy. Those are fine. Instead, I’m talking about the stories that purport to be set in an entirely different world from ours, but really aren’t.)

But even for fantasy authors like me who try not to write about the real world, I wonder how much our writing is subconsciously influenced by the events occurring around us. The unprecedented year we just collectively experienced will likely leave its mark on us all. The extent to which that affects our fantasy stories, either on a conscious or subconscious level, remains to be seen. After “sheltering at home” for so long, I know that I will forever think differently about stories involving a princess locked in a tower with only a magic mirror to let her view the world outside.

-Susan 1/8/2021

Do You Outline Your Novels Before You Write?

Notice that the title of today’s blog post does not say: “Should you outline your novels before you write?” I don’t think there is a correct answer to the “should you outline” question. From what I have heard and read, it seems to be a matter of author preference. There are successful authors on both sides of the outlining issue.

Making an outline of the plot before you write a novel has advantages. You know exactly where the story is headed and how to get there. Although I cannot speak for everyone, I suspect an outline helps to prevent writer’s block — you know what you need to write and the only problem is how to write it.

Writing a novel without a detailed outline can also be fun. You can let the tale change as you go and see where the characters and situations lead you. Of course, at the end, you will probably need a significant rewrite to change the meandering manuscript into a cohesive story, but every book needs revision before it is publishable.

I have tried writing novels both ways. For the book John and I wrote just before 60th Hour, I started with a detailed outline, with headings, subheadings, etc. I began the outline by using each of the four main sections of the story as the headings, and the individual chapters within each section became the subheadings. Many of those chapter subheadings also contained sub-subheadings detailing events within that chapter. I knew precisely where the novel was going and how to get there. The book ended up very long and, based on comments I received from reviewers, was rather slow moving. I don’t know if the outline was partially responsible for that or if it was simply due to my own inexperience with writing at the time. I suspect the latter.

The one lesson I learned from that experience with outlining was to go “off script” from the outline if it helps the story. When I reached the third part of that novel, John suggested adding a set of characters and subplot that were not in the original outline. At first I resisted, partly because his suggestion deviated from the outline. Eventually, I revised the book in accordance with John’s suggestion. To this day, I think the book became far more interesting once those characters were added. (Obviously a story that really starts to move in Part 3 is not ready for publication! Maybe someday there will be a revised version, but right now John and I are having too much fun with the new story.)

For 60th Hour, I did not prepare an outline, although I knew pretty well where the story was headed before I started writing. Because John and I were not working from an outline, we had a lot of flexibility to add characters and subplots as I was crafting the story. On the other hand, it meant that the second draft required extensive rewriting to make everything work well together. (As I recall, I ended up with at least four major rewrites of the manuscript before it became the novel you can buy on Amazon.) While Chapter 1 (originally the prologue) pretty much stayed the same throughout the writing process, the other early chapters of the book changed extensively in later drafts of the novel. For example, the chapter that introduces Aubrey in the current novel did not even exist until a later draft. Originally, she first entered the story when she showed up in Demesio’s office, already furious at him.

For the current novel (Prophecy’s Malignant Son), I am using a hybrid outline system. I know generally where the novel is headed, but I have not outlined every chapter in detail. Instead, I am outlining one or two chapters ahead of where I am writing. Because this is a new universe, John and I are also engaging in fantasy worldbuilding as we go. Undoubtedly, the manuscript will require a major overhaul during the second draft to bring everything together, but so far I am keeping up with my 500+ words per day, so the system seems to be working.

Of course, the comments in today’s post are meant to apply to novels and fiction writing. Non-fiction is a whole different world. (And it is a world I am definitely not qualified to speak about.) The one time I wrote a non-fiction book, not only was the outline essential, it was mandated by the publisher before I even started typing a single word.

Anyway, the key point of today’s blog post is: keep writing! If an outline helps you write fiction, then use an outline. If preparing the outline becomes such a hindrance that you don’t actually start the novel, then don’t bother with one, just write and have fun.

-Susan 12/11/2020

Writing, Marathons, and Mountains

Tahquitz Rock, as seen from the road near the base of Mt. San Jacinto. (Photo by Susan Ruff)

November is National Novel Writing Month, a time in which many talented people produce thousands of written words in a single month. They are probably drafting the upcoming New York Times bestsellers, even as I type this blog.

Some day, perhaps, I will possess both the time and the capability to accomplish such a feat. At the moment, however, I am a walker, not a sprinter. I can go the distance, but I’m not fast.

Novel writing has always reminded me of hiking up a mountain or walking in a marathon. The thought process for each of those endeavors is similar: although the ultimate goal is to finish, that is not the carrot that keeps the participant going. Instead, as you are walking, you focus on the shorter goals within the race or the hike.

During my college years, my dad and I backpacked up several mountains, including Mt. Washington in New Hampshire and a few of Southern California’s peaks. (I got lost during two different hikes on Mt. San Jacinto, but that’s a story for another day.) My dad taught me that hiking is all about putting one foot in front of another. When you are tired and discouraged, that’s all you have to do.

These days, I usually set my hiking goals a little farther than a single step, but I still find it better to think about the next mile marker or view point on the trail, rather than concentrating on the mountaintop. When you reach each small goal, you can look back and see all the distance you’ve covered. If you concentrate instead on how far you still have to go, it’s easy to become discouraged.

I walk marathons in the same way. The goal is to complete each mile. You’ll get to 26.2 eventually, but it is better to focus on the small goals within that ultimate distance.

Novel writing, although a much longer process than either hiking or marathoning (is marathoning a word?), can be approached in a similar fashion. When I write a novel, the goal is to finish a single chapter. Once that is complete, the goal moves to the following chapter. Of course, I know where the story is ultimately headed, but that is not my daily writing focus.

Incidentally, you may be wondering how I can talk about books in plural when John and I only have one published novel (60th Hour). Believe it or not, I have actually completed five full-length novels (one before I met John and four with his help). Where are the others, you may ask? *Sigh* Wasn’t there a famous author who stated that a writer’s first million words of fiction are garbage? Apparently he had seen my early writing.

But I digress. In addition to focusing my attention on a single chapter at a time, I usually try to write at least 500 words a day. So, in that way, I guess I am still following my dad’s advice about putting one foot in front of another. Each word and paragraph is a little father along the trail.

By the end of today, I should have completed 45,000 words on Prophecy’s Malignant Son, the latest fantasy novel that John and I are writing. That is a little over the half-way mark, and we are still hoping to have it finished, edited and ready for publication by March 2021. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

-Susan 11/20/2020

Dictation vs. Typing

“No! Don’t hurt my fingers! I’m a writer.”

Two weeks ago, I had minor surgery on one of my fingers. The surgery was very minor and the cut is healing up nicely now, so no worries. However, for the first few days after the surgery, I had to type with a huge bandage getting in the way and a finger that I couldn’t bend. I managed to keep up with my daily fiction writing, but it wasn’t easy.

John suggested that I try one of the dictation programs that automatically types the words as you say them. I am considering it, but I know that dictation can be a little tricky. Over the years, I have found that it is quicker and easier for me to put my thoughts on paper by typing than it is by speaking.

Yes, that sounds counterintuitive. We all speak faster than we type. That is particularly true for me, because I am not a very good typist. My dad wanted me to take a typing class in my first year of high school. In the spirit of youthful rebellion, I took Latin instead. (What? It’s rebellion. Literary geeks have to be rebels somehow.)

My history with dictation goes back a long way. When I entered the workforce in the mid-1980’s, we did not have computers at our desks. Instead, I had to dictate documents into a mini-cassette tape recorder. When I finished, I brought the cassette to the computer department where one of the computer operators transcribed it, printed a paper copy, and gave it back to me for proofreading.

During those days, I quickly learned that dictating is a different skill from composing at the keyboard or typewriter. You had to speak slowly and clearly so the transcriber could understand what you said. It also took longer for me to form sentences and paragraphs in my head when dictating than it did when typing. I have no idea why that is true, but my thoughts seem to flow more easily when I type the words. Eventually, I mastered the skill of dictation, but it took a while. By the early 1990’s, we all had computers at our desks, so dictation became a thing of the past.

About ten years ago, the office where I worked purchased dictation software for any employee that wanted it. I assumed it would be easy for me to use, because I had dictated documents in the past (getting back on a bicycle and all that). It turned out to be a little harder than I thought. It took some adjustment for me to learn how to use the software and for the software to “learn” how I spoke. I also had to find the right speed for the dictation.

More importantly, I discovered that I had the same problem with composing sentences in my head that I had experienced in the 1980’s. If anything, the adjustment to dictation was harder in the 2010’s, because I had grown used to typing everything and composing each document as I typed. The software worked best when I was dictating a quote from already written material; it was much more difficult when I had to think of what to say and how to say it.

Since my retirement five years ago, I have not done any dictating. I’m sure the software quality has improved during that time and that dictation programs are easier to use than ever. However, I am still uncertain whether to purchase the software for my fiction writing, because I am not sure if it will speed up my writing or slow it down. I may try it anyway, to save my fingers from “wear and tear” and avoid repetitive motion injuries. If I decide to buy it, I’ll let you know how things turn out.

-Susan 10/30/20

The Other Side of Writing Critiques

Last Friday, I talked about the importance of finding good critics to help evaluate your manuscripts before you publish. This week, I want to discuss the other side of that issue. How can you be a helpful critic for your friends and fellow authors?

Let me confess right away that I am no expert on the subject. The thoughts I share today come solely from many years of trading manuscripts for review with other fiction writers. I should also mention that the following tips apply only to critiques done before publication. I’m not talking about reviews written on Amazon about a published book.

Tip number 1: Be kind. “Your writing sucks” is not a good way to start a critique. One primary goal of a critique, particularly of a work by a new or unpublished author, should be to encourage the person to keep writing. You want to help improve the manuscript, not make the new author walk away and take up a different hobby.

Tip Number 2: Good comments as well as bad. This tip is closely related to the first tip. While your critique can and should point out problems with a manuscript, you should also be quick to point out the things that were done right. Authors can learn just as much about their writing by understanding their strengths as they can from hearing the weaknesses. Does a particular turn of phrase work well in the context? Does a paragraph provide a vivid description or good characterization? Was there a clever plot element or a scene that evoked strong emotions? Make sure to let the author know those things in your critique.

An old friend and fellow author (who shall remain nameless for the moment because I forgot to ask her permission to post her name in this blog) uses a system of “bings” and “bangs” when critiquing fiction. The “bangs” are the negative comments, such as problems with the grammar or writing style in a particular sentence or paragraph. The “bings” are the good things the reviewer found. My friend uses exclamation marks to note the “bings” and often includes a short comment to explain why the bing is there (such as “good characterization” or a similar phrase). When I was just starting out as an author, those exclamation marks on my reviewed manuscripts were more precious than gold to me.

Tip number 3: Be specific: A critique which simply says, “The story is great!” is fine as an Amazon review, but not really helpful for an unpublished manuscript. The author needs to know what works in the story and what does not. A really useful critique addresses the specific good and bad things in the author’s characterization, plot, and sentence/paragraph structure (often by comments in the margins). Even when there are no typos or grammatical mistakes in a manuscript, there are almost certainly places where the text can be tightened or improved.

Tip number 4: Read through the manuscript twice: This is a practice I always try to follow when I have time. During the first review, I enjoy the story as a reader would, without looking for specifics. Of course, I will note any typos or grammatical errors I find along the way, but my purpose is to see how the fiction fits together as a whole.

During the second review, I look at the language in detail and try to catch any typos or other mistakes I missed during the initial read-through. Often I will examine specific parts of the story based on problems I saw. For example, if I found a particular scene confusing or boring during the first reading, I try to analyze what was written to find out why. Is there a confusing sentence or paragraph that could be rephrased? Is there unnecessary language that could be cut?

And, of course, I note the things done well with those wonderful exclamation marks and comments in the margins.

Tip number 5: Be tolerant of the other author’s voice: As you do your review, be aware that there are many different styles of writing, all of which are equally valid. Even when a particular scene or phrase does not work or you, that does not mean it is “wrong” and must be changed. During our Emerald Cove meetings, it is common for one of us to criticize a particular part of a manuscript, only to have others disagree.

One final observation about critiquing another writer’s unpublished manuscript: Often it provides a benefit to you as well. By thinking about and commenting on what another author has done right and wrong, you can apply the things you’ve seen to your own writing.

-Susan 10/23/20