Questions To Ask Your Beta Readers

Hey everybody! Sorry for my brief disappearance; it has been a crazy week and a half. I was back in my hometown over the weekend to do a performance with alumni from my high school, and then I ended up back at school for a hellish three test week. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to balance five classes. I want to dedicate enough attention to each one, but I definitely feel a little behind. But now I’m back to blog posts! Today, I want to cover some questions that you may want to ask your beta readers when you give them your book.

Beta readers are a crucial component of the writing process because they offer insights into what is working and what isn’t from an outsider’s perspective. You can only read your own book so many times before you become blind to its faults. But in order to figure those out, you need to know what questions are best to ask! So, I’m going to lay out a list of good questions below for you to pick and choose what you really want to know about your story. Feel free to take all of them or select the ones that fit your concerns about your story the best!

Story

  1. Did my story hold your interest throughout the book?
  2. How long did it take you to get hooked into the story?
  3. Was there any point where you felt like the story stalled?
  4. Did you notice any plot inconsistencies that need to be addressed?
  5. Did the dialogue sound natural to you?
  6. Was there enough conflict and intrigue to hold your interest? Are there places would you have liked to see more?
  7. What were your favorite scenes or chapters? Did any section jump at you specifically?
  8. Are the plot twists both believable and unexpected?
  9. How did you feel about the ending?
  10. Do you think the writing style fits the genre?
  11. How was the novel’s pacing?
  12. Was there any point that you put the manuscript down?

Characters

  1. Can you relate to the main character? Do they seem believable? Are you able to see both strengths and weaknesses that make them a well rounded person?
  2. Were there characters that needed to be fleshed out more?
  3. What was your opinion on the villain?
  4. Are the relationships between characters believable?
  5. How do you feel about the main character’s goals? Are they working towards those goals in clear ways throughout the book?

Worldbuilding

  1. Does the world interest you? Does it excite you?
  2. How were my descriptions? Would you like to see more or less of them? Do they need to be more detailed?
  3. Which setting was most memorable to you?

I hope these questions will be useful to all of you tackling this stage in the writing process. Enjoy! Happy writing!

Reference List of Writing Resources

This list will expand as I encounter new programs and websites.

Character Building

Epiguide’s Character Chart for Fiction Writers: A detailed chart that allows a writer to dive into a character’s appearance, personality, and daily life.

Labotomy of A Writer – Epic Character Questionnaire: A comprehensive interview to conduct with your character. Highly recommended.

Worldbuilding

SFWA Worldbuilding Questions: A comprehensive set of worldbuilding questions that cover a wide range of categories to fully immerse a writer in the world they want to create.

World Anvil: A place to create an encyclopedia of your world through articles, profiles, and other posts. Both a free and a paid service.

Outlining

Iulian Ionescu – Master Outlining and Tracking Tool: A high powered outlining tool that allows a writer to summarize their book and split that summary into 81 scenes to aid in the plotting process.

Drafting

Marissa Meyer’s blog post series From Idea to Finished: An article series that walks a writer through the process of writing from the idea all the way through the publication process.

Scrivener: A word-processing program designed specifically for the writer. Combines a research binder, an outlining board, and a typewriter.

Google Docs: My preferred word processor.

Revisions

How To Edit Your Novel – The Ultimate Crash Course: A crucial guide for understanding the editing process and how to tackle it.

Autocrit: An online book editor for fiction writers that analyzes your writing in the context of your genre and gives you specific tips to improve your prose.

Grammarly: An online grammar and spell checker perfect for writers of any profession.

Character Development Exercise

Hello everybody! Hope everyone is doing well this week. I’m gearing up for the end of my freshman year, running headfirst into three written exams, two final papers, one final presentation (which luckily is already out of the way as of yesterday), and one final performance for my theater class. Wish me luck. I’m definitely going to need it.

Today, I want to talk about character development. I wrote a previous post a couple months ago about creating character profiles (linked here), and I still believe in the effectiveness of this into getting to know a lot about your characters. However, I want to introduce a new exercise that I have found to be even more effective.

This past week, I’ve been focused on fleshing out character development. In my novel, I had relatively strong characters, but their development was choppy and disjointed. More needed to be seen from them in order to make the story feel whole. After a lot of thought, I revisited working on my characters individually.

The Exercise

I discovered this tool while searching for character development exercises online. After working through the questions for a few days, I can speak for its effectiveness.

This link leads to a blog post from 2010 by the creator of the blog, Labotomy of a Writer, Anastasia V. Pergakis. It contains an incredibly detailed character questionnaire that reads like an interview. Working through these questions allows you to answer questions in your character’s voice and allow your character to take full shape.

I have learned more about my main character in the last few days than I could have imagined. I have found three new stories of her past to explore in various places in the book, stories that blend in seamlessly. Suddenly, my fingers would be on autopilot, pulling new ideas out of thin air. I feel like a new writer again.

I highly recommend giving this post a look. I feel like it gets deep into both a character’s personality and their motivations and goals, which as we know is very important to the progression of your story. Happy writing!

How To Turn A First Draft Into A Second Draft

Hey guys! Welcome back to Fluff About Fantasy on this fine Saturday. I’ve been up for hours volunteering at the local farmer’s market and finishing up some homework. I’m really looking forward to writing today; I’m on my second round of revisions moving towards a third completed draft.

So today, I want to talk about how to take the first draft of your novel and turn it into a second draft. Since I’ve just recently finished this process, I thought it would be a good idea to show you some of the steps of moving forward with your story. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to more first drafting and researching processes again!

The Second Draft: The Creation Stage

I read in an article somewhere, though I can’t remember which one right now, that the first draft is to get everything down on paper and the second draft is to make the story look like you knew what you were doing all along. I think that this is a very powerful and very useful way to approach drafting, especially in the early stages. Your second draft is a great time to fix all of those places, large and small, where you knew what you wanted to happen, but didn’t know what to say. This is where your story is really going to come to life.

Step Zero: Take Time Away.

Before you can even think about touching your first draft again, you have to put it away. The minimum time recommended is two weeks. Many authors like to have at least a month away from a draft before they come back. Others say it’s fine to come back whenever you start itching to write again. Regardless of your timeframe, time away from your novel will allow you to look at it with fresh eyes and catch mistakes much more comprehensively. Personally, I put mine aside for two weeks and distracted myself with Christmastime and spending time with family.

Step One: The Readthrough

The first step is to confront your first draft with a reader’s eyes. For this step, you’ll need a pen, a highlighter, your draft, and a comfy place to sit. Once you’ve settled in, it’s time to read! Read your entire draft start to finish with as little interruptions as possible. It helps if you’re a fast reader. If you read slowly, try to finish the book in as little time as possible. Don’t leave long gaps in between readings (i.e. a full day or more).

As you read, take notes. This isn’t really a place to fix typos, though if you’re a nitpicky reviser, it’s okay to make note of them. Mainly, you’re going to be focusing on big and small changes. Larger ones include items like a whole chapter needing to be reworked or you may find you need a whole new chapter! Smaller ones can be word choice, phrasing, or a new passage that would improve description or worldbuilding. Any and all questions you have about your own work or new ideas you want to incorporate should be noted down.

Leave no stone unturned. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. If it doesn’t work, even if you love it, get rid of it.

Step Two: The Revision Phase

Once you’ve read through your draft and made all the notes you want to make, you should have a good indication of how much work is ahead of you. Now onto revising. There are many revision methods that authors take to complete their next drafts. I’m going to go over a few options.

1. Chronologically: This is the method that I used. I worked through my changes one chapter at a time, starting from the prologue and ending with the last chapter. Any changes that crossed multiple chapters, I made notes of and made sure to incorporate elements when I got there. I felt like I could see myself progressing much more clearly, and it made me feel closer to the end with each step.

2. Major vs. Minor: Many authors like to focus on making their largest changes first. Plot holes, weak characterization: issues like that are confronted first. These tend to span multiple chapters or even the entire novel. Once major changes are made, then writers confront the smaller issues. These changes usually include items on a chapter by chapter basis.

3. Rewriting: This method is the most time consuming, in my opinion, but some authors find this to be very useful. This method of revision is a conscious choice to start over from the beginning. This is an entire rewrite of your novel. Yes, I know it sounds crazy. But some people do find it easier to incorporate their changes through the natural writing process rather than inserting changes in here and there. Hey, once you’ve done it once, the next one is easier!

Once you’ve finished making all of your changes, big and small, you’ve got yourself a second draft! Isn’t that exciting?!

Worldbuilding Questions: Post #5 – Magic and Magicians: Rules of Magic

At the request of a new reader to the blog, I want to push out another worldbuilding post today! We’re going to begin diving deep into the building of a magic system, and trust me, its going to get interesting. I know exactly how complex this particular part of a universe can get; I’m just finishing wrapping up the finer details of my own magic system, so I’ve been working in this mode for at least two weeks in two separate periods.

Magic systems take time. That’s what it comes down. Building a magic system from the ground up takes time, especially if you want it done right. And you do because it’s going to be the foundation of your entire universe. Whether magic plays a main role or a supporting role, a fantastical universe will always be held in tether with some type of magic. Patience and attention to detail are key.

Let’s get started! Follow this link to the appropriate page.

Magic: Building a Foundation

Very first question, probably the most important question of all time. What can magic NOT do? What are your limits? This is key; take some real time thinking about this. Make a list. Make it reasonable. When my boyfriend and I were going over my magic system, he kept bringing up these tiny holes, the most nitpicky scenarios of all time, to point out flaws. That’s what he does; I’m not bitter about it. Okay, maybe a tiny bit bitter. I mean, EVERY nitpicky scenario you can think of. But what it did make me realize is that I needed to curtail my magic much more than I had originally anticipated. Not just on a large scale, but on a smaller scale too.

Once you’ve established limits, now you’re going to establish how magic users try to get around these limits. Is there a way of combining spells that have a similar effect as a spell forbidden by your system? Is there a loophole that you particularly need to be exploited during a scene? This can be as simple or as complex as you’d like, just like your limits.

Now to focus on the price of magic. Magic has to come from somewhere; it cannot occur spontaneously unless you want your system to be flimsy. It won’t hold up without at least a leg to stand on. So establish whether it takes years of study to master magic or whether a user uses a bit of their life force every time they use a spell. Then just as above, is there any way magic users try to get around this price?

Let’s talk about how a user can tap into their magic power. What does it take to do that? Can they tap into their willpower to cast a spell? Is there any type of ritual? Is every spell individually cast with different processes or is it all the same? What’s the time frame on a particular spell? Can spells be temporarily stored for later use in amulets or potions?

An Important Step

I want to digress from the questionnaire for a moment because I want to hone in on a step that I feel this questionnaire doesn’t go into enough detail about. A little bit further down this section, you’ll see a few questions based on the varieties of magic practiced. You see one, maybe two questions regarding this topic and then nothing else.

I feel like this is a mistake that this questionnaire makes; it doesn’t give a young writer or a new fantasy writer enough of a basis to know how to build the varieties of magic they want in their story. Don’t get me wrong, this is the best worldbuilding questionnaire out there, but even the best can make some mistakes.

My advice: stop your progress here and take a few days to write down everything you want to be able to do in your story in terms of magic. Add things later as they arise. Organize it. Make it easy for you to read and comprehend, no matter how complex it may be. If you can easily understand it, your readers will understand it.

Here is a fantastic link to start with. This is an article that comprehensively covers the different types of magic. Be prepared to be inspired by magic you didn’t even know existed, let alone had a name for it.

I think this is a good place to stop for today; I hope I’ve given you a lot to start with. Signing off!

World Anvil: Back to the Beginning

As I have enjoyed my vacation over the last few days, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about where to improve my novel. Of course, the best ideas always come when you’re actively trying to leave things alone for a while. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to incorporate more worldbuilding into my story, particularly when it comes to magic interacting with everyday life. Now, I’ve had a solid magic system built since I started worldbuilding, but details have either escaped me over time or have been written down across a bunch of documents I have no organization for. Many of my other elements are like this as well: useful but disorganized.

This is why I think it’s time for me to revert back to a tool that I discovered during the process of worldbuilding and experimented with on and off for a couple months.

Writers, may I present to you, World Anvil.

World Anvil is an online set of tools designed for writers, artists, and RPG creators alike and the worldbuilding process. This website has a lot of great components to help you make the most out of your research and efforts.

The site has templates with worldbuilding prompts to help you create your world and explore the relationship between places, characters, and laws. You can connect entries to each other to build complex families and systems. World Anvil also has features for map building and timeline creation (a feature I would highly reccomend; it did wonders when looking at my universe’s history).

You essentially have the ability to create an entire encyclopedia for your world that you can refer back to over and over again as you write.

A free plan will get you all of the basic features you need and a decent amount of space to store things. Of course, if you want to put a little money into it, you can get things like more storage and extra features. But pretty much everything you need is encompassed by a free plan.

So as I head into next week, I have plans to hop on World Anvil again and see if I can’t straighten my world out. It can only improve my writing, right?

Until next time, friends. <3

Making Character Profiles

As requested by my followers, today, I want to focus on creating strong characters that can carry your fantasy story.

Now in terms of what is more important, plot or characters, I have an equivocal opinion.

They are both equally important.

Let me tell you why. Your characters are the ones who are going to drive the story. Their decisions, their thought processes, and their emotions will influence every tiny detail of your plot. More than often than not, your characters will also change the direction of your story entirely, leading you to create new plot points that you may never have thought of before.

When I am creating my main characters, I want them to be as complete as possible. I want to know exactly what they look like, where they come from, and their strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, I rely on this pdf tool from EpiGuide that I discovered around age 13.

The link above will send you to a full length character questionnaire/profile with a fairly comprehensive set of questions geared toward authors looking to get deep inside their character’s heads. Now, when you first open the document, you may think it is insanely long. And truth be told, it is. It takes me a few hours to come up with responses and fill things out. However, when I’m finished, I feel like I have a much better understanding of my characters, and my writing always improves by incorporating little details from this profile.

So. What kind of information are you going to create through this character profile?

  1. Basic information: Name, nicknames, birthday, hometown, basic information about their home, job, and relationships (if applicable)
  2. Physical appearance: very detailed questions about physical features as well as the character’s general style (what type of clothes they wear and any prominent accessories
  3. Speech and Language/Communication: This section is one of my favorites; it’s really interesting and something you wouldn’t normally think about. These questions focused on the way your character communicate. Do they have an accent? Any words or phrases that they traditionally use? What about body language?
  4. Everyday Behavior/Habits: This section is going to include things like what a typical day for your character looks like, any personal habits that they may subscribe to, as well as their skills and hobbies.
  5. Family of Origin: basic information about the character’s family and their relationship to their family.
  6. The Past: Past events and memories that have shaped the way the character is today.
  7. Relationships to Others: This section is very important. Not only do the questions help you discover how your character relates to people they know, but also people in places of authority, strangers, people less fortunate, etc. It also includes questions about how other people view your character: what their reputation is to the outside world.
  8. Mental Attitude and Personal Beliefs: These questions go deep into a character’s personal values, fears, and mental outlook on life. It also helps to identify a character’s core strengths and weaknesses. A personal favorite section of mine, I think this is the most important of the entire questionnaire.
  9. Likes/Favorites: A fun set of identification questions to round out your character’s favorite things.

Now, this is a lot of information to take in. But I would like to point it that this is not mandatory, nor the end-all be-all of character design. It is a tool to help you create and think about what are going to be the driving forces behind your characters that will move the plot forward. Personally, I utilize these solely for my main set of characters: my main character, love interest (if applicable), and important secondary characters who have a constant presence (and even for these, I don’t necessarily answer every question).

What I hope for my readers is that this tool that I am sharing with you will inspire you to dig deeper when creating your characters, help to identify areas you may not have considered during character design, and will help you on your journey to writing a fantastic piece of fantasy literature.

Tips for First Drafts

Hello friends! For today’s post, I would love to talk about first drafts. For many young authors, this can be a bit of a scary concept. Taking an idea, whether you just came up with it or have been toying with it for years, and turning it into a full fledged novel is a daunting task. When you look at the blinking cursor on the blank page, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But that’s what I’m here for!

I want to give you some helpful tips on writing first drafts based on what I have learned in my NaNoWriMo experience to get you from page 1 all the way to the end.

#1: Get prepared.

Now, depending on whether you’re an outliner or a pantser (see this article to figure out which one you are), this step may or may not apply to you. But in my personal experience, I think it is always a good idea to start out with at least some idea of where you’re going. At the very least, a basic idea of beginning, middle, and end is a good idea as well as knowledge about your main character(s). For fantasy novels, I would also highly, highly recommend having more than a basic knowledge of your universe. It will save you so much time in the long run than creating details out of thin air where you may forget to keep them consistent. If you prefer more detailed preparation, I like to use a plot outline that I have the option of sticking to or deviating from as new ideas come to light. These tactics will serve you well as you begin drafting.

#2: Just start.

The hardest part of drafting is starting.

No, really, it is.

Your head is often filled with doubts. Is this the right idea? Do I know enough about what I want to write to start writing? Am I a good enough writer to start a novel on a whim? What am I doing? It can be difficult to shut off those thoughts, especially if this is your first novel attempt.

But I promise you, you are good enough.

All you have to do is start. You don’t even have to start at the beginning if you don’t want to; you can start from any point in your story where you have inspiration. Just get words down on the page. Which brings me to my next point:

#3: Keep going.

Drafts often end up partially finished, whether due to lack of inspiration or lack of motivation. I have found that a good way to combat this is to just keep writing. Even if you know it’s terrible. These moments can be fixed in the second draft when revisions begin. I read a fantastic tip in an article by Marissa Meyer, the author of Cinder, right before I began Chasing Fae that really stuck with me as I started NaNoWriMo.

Write fast.

That’s all. Write fast. When taken at face value, it may seem a little confusing. But when explained, it becomes a fantastic concept. Essentially, Meyer sets herself a relatively short time frame to complete her first draft. A month is usually a good place to start. Then you stick to that time frame, whatever you have to do. You skip over sections that you can’t seem to connect to another at the moment to places where you have more inspiration. I wrote Chasing Fae from both ends before meeting up in the middle. It’s a lot easier than you would think, and the end result is very satisfying.

And there you have it! My best advice on first drafts. Feel free to comment with any other pieces of advice or stories about your own experience with first drafts!

Worldbuilding Questions: Post #1 – Introduction

Worldbuilding is crucial to every story and every genre. You could be working with a modern-day city with everything already mapped out for you, or you could be building an entire world (geography, politics, social customs, etc) from the ground up. It does not matter. Without the setting, all a novel is is a storyline and characters wandering aimlessly through empty space. The world in which your story is set orients your reader and more often than not, draws them deeper into the tale you’re telling.

Every good fantasy and science fiction story relies heavily on the world that it is set in to help readers understand why events are occurring, why the conditions were perfect for them to occur at the exact precise moment that the characters were introduced. For example, what would the Harry Potter series be without Hogwarts and Diagon Alley? Who here read that series as a kid and did NOT pray that their Hogwarts letter would arrive by owl, even if you were already past the age of eleven? (or is that just me?) Without the beautifully crafted setting and laws of magic that J.K. Rowling carefully researched and lovingly wrote into existence, would that series be what it is today?

Definitely not.

Worldbuilding isn’t easy. Good worldbuilding is even harder. It takes a good amount of effort to do it right. And it can be hard figuring out where to start. When I started working with the concepts for Chasing Fae, I didn’t exactly know where to begin. Actually, worldbuilding was the main reason I had never attempted a fantasy novel before. I didn’t believe that I had all of the creativity required to bring something original to the table.

Then I discovered this.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers website has a limited amount of resources available to current and budding writers who are not members of their associations, and this list of worldbuilding both saved my life and inspired me to create. It breaks down the aspects of creating a world and diverse societies into easy to decipher categories that each have a plethora of questions geared towards making writers really think about the universe that they are creating. Now of course, this list is insane, and it is by no means necessary to answer every single question in order to consider your world “complete”. But it is a useful guide in showing you where to start and the types of things that influence any universe and that you should consider incorporating.

In this series of posts, I will go through this questionnaire and break down the sections to give some commentary on why various things are crucial to worldbuilding and offer some personal insight into the process. I hope you all will bear with me (!) because it is a very interesting topic and the breakdown will be worth it to anyone having trouble with worldbuilding.

Until next time! <3

Are You an Outliner or Pantser?

There’s two traditional types of writers when it comes to long form fiction or novel: pantsers and outliners. Figuring out which one you are can help you better analyze what steps to take when getting ready to start a new story.

Pantsers

Pantsers tend to fly by the seat of their pants, as the name suggests. When they come up with an idea, they jump in head first with little to no preparation. Most likely none. They rely primarily on their inspiration and whatever their brain comes up with in the moment to put words down on the page.¬†A story idea has to be fairly strong in a person’s mind in order to drive this kind of writing, or you must be exceptional at seizing ideas as they arise and acting on them. In my opinion, pantsers are a very special type of writer. I know personally, I couldn’t create half as well if I didn’t give myself at least a very basic outline. But these writers can create gold out of essentially nothing but an idea and a strong belief in said idea. I admire that. It’s a powerful way to write, but these types of writers have the potential to need more focus and time on the revision process.

Outliners

Of course, outliners are incredible writers in their own right. These writers like to work out a framework of where the story’s going before they start writing. Outlines give writers a little order to the chaos of creativity swirling around in their brains. These can range from a simple bullet point list of plot points to a comprehensive scene-by-scene playbook. For me, my outline guides me down the right path and gives me a base to stand on to embellish and create off of. A little prep work can go a long, long way and sometimes bring you closer to a finished draft faster, depending on how you work. The downside for outliners is sometimes they can get bogged down by trying to create the perfect framework, they can delay starting their novel. Sometimes they may never even get around to it.

One tool that I would like to recommend to the outliners is an Excel spreadsheet that I discovered on a fantasy and science fiction blog about a year ago. Click here to see the original post and download the tool to follow along. This worksheet is the most incredible outline tool I have ever seen, and it is a great way to really flesh out a story.

Here’s how it works: First, you write your story idea in one sentence. Sum up everything in one sentence, and try to keep it a reasonable length. Then, split that idea into three sentences: beginning, middle, and end. These sentences are automatically transferred down to the next section where you will split three into nine (beginning of the beginning, middle of the beginning, end of the beginning, etc). Eventually, nine becomes twenty-seven, and twenty-seven becomes eighty-one full sentences that give you a detailed layout of how your scenes are going to go in your story.

You come up with ideas that you had no idea you had when using this tool. I found myself pulling scenes and characterization moments out of thin air, and they actually fit beautifully with what I was hoping to convey in my novel. I planned out almost the full trilogy that I plan to write with three separate spreadsheets, and it was absolutely crucial to making sure that I could successfully carry long arcs that would not seem repetitive or burn out too early. I would highly recommend it to any serious writer, pantsers and outliners alike.

So what kind of writer are you? Which style do you fall into? Comment below and share your experiences.