Beta Reading At The Writers Bloc Part 2

betareadingSam van Zweden, the editor at The Writers Bloc, asked me to write a check list to help readers workshop writing. Late last month the first of two articles, Beta Reading as Translation, went up. Today, the companion piece, A Practical Guide to Beta Reading, is live.

The last few months with the Magic Puppies (yes, my writing is group’s name is abbreviated to ‘magic puppies’) has given me new insights into beta reading. Even so, these articles have been the hardest non-fiction I’ve written in some time: trying to quantify, qualify and then articulate what is often a gut feeling informed by time, experience and the story at hand.

Today’s article covers etiquette, basics, a six-point frame of focus for looking at problem areas and an extended list of questions that can be used by beta readers as a guide for deeper deconstruction of work or for authors to assist in constructing a beta reading brief.

From A Practical Guide to Beta Reading:

Beta reading is the truthful evaluation of a story’s effectiveness.

  • Beta reading is a request from an author for assistance to improve their story.
  • It provides the author with an overview of what is working and not working in the story.
  • It is framed as an opinion and is only one of many on the story. Adding a caveat at the bottom will reinforce this.
  • Opinion is always influenced by taste and experience. Biases need to be transparent.
  • There is no place for ego gratification or back-slapping.

You can read the full article and get the extended downloadable question guide here.

Interior Monologues in Writing

The internal/interior monologue is possibly one of the least used points of view these days. An internal monologue is something associated more with the soliloquy of the theatre than a stand alone piece of literature.

“Points of View: an Anthology of Short Stories” is published in sections based on point of view.  The editors James Moffet and Kenneth McElheny say an internal monologue is like ‘overhearing someone’s thoughts’. They suggest three different scenarios which facilitate an internal monologue:

  • the narrator is reacting to his immediate surroundings – the monologue tells the story of what is going on.
  • the narrator presents their thoughts as memories – the monologue review past events and connects them with present ones.
  • the narrator’s train of thoughts are neither a record of the present nor a recollection of the past – the monologue is purely a reflection, and in itself, the story.

While few short stories are compromised entirely of a monologue, many writers use this point of view in a limited capacity. Stephen King’s “The Shining” utilises the internal monologue–in tiny snippets, rather than in large slabs–delineated from the rest of the narrative, through the use of brackets.

He closed his eyes and all the old phrases began to parade through his mnd, it seemed there must be hundreds of them.

(creaking up not playing with a full deck lostya marbles guy just went looney tunes he went up and over the hig side went bananas lost his football went crackers nuts half a seabag)

All meaning the same thing: losing your mind.

“No,” he whimpered, hardly aware that he had been reduced to this, whimpering with his eyes shut like a child. “Oh no, God. Please, God no.”

Monologues also appear in the guise of diary entries and letters, which perhaps are more palatable to a reader for large slabs of introspection.

Two stories in Chinese Whisperings: The Red Book are excellent examples of the use of diary entries as monologue pieces. Paul Servini’s uses the diary entry to good effect in his story “Discovery”, juxtaposing the assured, business-like Elizabeth, with her less secure inner self.

What now?

The last ten years of my life have been spent trying to forge a career in business. Yet, it was more than a career at stake. I was looking for an identity after Robin. I found it. The cost was high but I paid it willingly because it made me into someone. I needed that. So I closed my eyes and went for it. Today, someone opened my eyes and I recoiled.

Is this really what I’ve become? And is there any way out?

Jasmine Gallant’s “Not My Name” is told entirely through diary entries. Her narrator’s deteriorating mental condition is expressed in the confusion of the tenses – his memories are told in the present tense and his every day observations in the past tense. He alternates between observing the mundane now and the terrifying past.

I am so cold—huddled at my little desk, pounding on this keyboard— I feel the breath rush out of my lungs, freezing the air in front of me. A coffee sits beside me, its warmth leaks away. A cigarette smokes lazily in the ashtray. Rings drift to the ceiling like a young girl’s hair. Stray books and clothes have a life of their own and come to rest wherever they find space in our small, cramped living room.

Why do I write these things?

These things of no importance?

While internal monologues give us an unparalleled intimate view into a character’s life, thoughts and feelings, it is a fairly limited approach not to mention a biased one.

Interior monologues can also be tough to articulate authentically. Blair Hurley of The Creative Writing Corner, says the challenge with writing interior monologues is two fold:

  • thinking often does not occur in grammatically correct sentences. We don’t think in big words. Our thoughts are often broken and disjointed. Authentic-sounding interior dialogue needs to capture the essence of this, however…
  • if we are too authentic and accurately capture what thought is really like, we end up with an  incomprehensible quagmire of text.

Hurley says for a monologue to be touching and effective it needs balance.

While I wasn’t a great fan of Dorothy Parker’s “But the One on the Right” she does strike a working balance between cohesive expression and the sporadic, randomness of thought. It was just a shame I didn’t really care too much about the situation in which her protagonist finds herself (I’m not one for whinging which forms a fair chunk of the monologue.) Having said that, it comes with an excellent ending and a good example of how one might include direct speech into an interior monologue.

We all like a challenge don’t we?

March’s writing challenge is to spend 10 minutes writing a simple interior monologue. How easy is it to replicate your thoughts or the thoughts of a character in an authentic manner, but also allowing the reader ‘in’? A bit like trying to transpose Shakespeare into text speak?

This blog post first published on the Write Anything website March 1st 2010

21 Tips for Writers of all Persuasions

In May 2010, the Emerging Writers Festival’s five ambassadors Guy Blackman, Natasha Campo, Jill Jones, Sean Riley and Julian Shaw were invited to share their best tips for writing. At the end of the session, what struck me most was–writing is writing– whether you’re a song writer, a journalist, an academic, a poet, a film maker or a novelist. All modalities have more in common as a creative creative process than you might think.

Following are 21 tips distilled from the 35 given during the panel session.

  • Arrive late and leave early: get straight to the heart of the narrative.
  • Defend your work and keep your creative dignity: learn to say no/no way/go f*ck yourself – because no one else will stand up for your work – and remember you cannot write someone else’s vision.
  • Don’t show your work to family and friends: you will erroneously become attached to what they think is brilliant – which in fact is likely to be absolute crap.
  • Go out and live your life: do not allow yourself to become stuck in a hole of your own creativity – especially when you’re creatively blocked – being in the real world is the best antidote.
  • Make up the rules for what you want to produce: in a global market there are an infinite number of possible niches with people willing to pay for your work.
  • Build an audience online: utilise a website or a blog to connect with readers – capture them through a mailing list – don’t be afraid to give away free stuff.
  • Back yourself: don’t ask others for permission to do what you want to do.
  • Know you can do it yourself: you do not need the backing of major publishing houses/production companies – the rules are changing – look for those you know, who want to work with you, and your idea.
  • Persevere: your yell is someone else’s whisper and whispers are pervasive, it will get heard – work on several projects – this keeps you energised and working creatively even when one project isn’t firing.
  • Utilise a multi-media approach: there are audio books, podcasts, youtube as well as thinking further afield such as combining/selling photos and music with writing. (Jessica Bell’s String Bridge–novel and soundtrack–is an excellent example of this)
  • Embrace festivals: nothing is ever to small to be part of.
  • Look after yourself: writing will ruin your health – so take care – consider writing standing up (apparently Hemmingway did this) and making use of pen and paper rather than chaining yourself to a computer.
  • Get to know your process: work out when and where you work best and do it your own way – try to write every day, even if just for a few minutes and carry a note book with you so ideas don’t escape you.
  • Trust the intuition of your readers to know where something doesn’t work: but don’t trust their advice on how to change/fix it.
  • Don’t write to a presumed audience: there is no point in second guessing your niche market – just write!
  • Promote yourself in public: but allow space to doubt yourself in private.
  • Write simply and vividly: specifics paint the best pictures on the page.
  • Don’t hold back and don’t protect yourself: say things no one else has said before – turn off the inner critic/editor
  • Collaborate: work with new people and don’t be afraid to change circles of friends – there are always new opportunities out there.
  • Be professional: submit on time, to the required word length, to the brief agreed on – editors like writers who they can rely on.
  • Cultivate a community of writers: writing can be a lonely enterprise, but it doesn’t need to be – other writers understand where you are, what you’re thinking and feeling.

Which piece of advice strikes a chord with you? Why do you think this is the case? How can you incorporate it into your writing life?

Article based on a column written for Write Anything on 31st May, 2010. Image via via http://www.stepheneinhorn.co.uk.