Beta readers are SO important if you want to find an agent, attract editors, and appeal to audiences. When I write, the story is engrossing that I don’t necessarily see the problems that are plaguing my work in progress, but I also have the fear of showing anyone my work. I’m Miss Passive Aggressive 2015, and I’ve always have had a problem showing anyone my art work, my writing, or really anything that I have done. It’s exposure at it’s finest and for me it’s like running down the street, completely naked while screaming: “Look at me! Look at me!”
When I handed my WIP over to my beta readers, I was like:
It’s hard to be a writer. Not only do you have to sit down and put a world of people, colors, smells, emotions, places, events, murders, romances, and heartbreak. I have fallen in love with my characters or hate them, because of their actions. My main character, Mary Elliot, is angry and hurt, but she is also 17 and does fall in love while trying to stop a villain that is concealed for a good portion of the book. When she gets angry, she gets mouthy and mean, and that comes off as being insensitive and nasty.
I’m like….okay….How the hell do I fix a character flaw that is supposed to be there? As a character, she actually isn’t nasty, but is hurt and desperate. She loves and trusts too easily, which is her fatal flaw. However, the problem that I am having is that I do not put enough information, what motivates her to act and react.
But back to the topic…
One big advice that everyone gives is get a trusted group of readers aka beta readers. I went to the Backspace Writer’s Conference in November 2012 (just after Hurricane Sandy), and that is where I met a group of awesome people, who are good writers. When it came time for me to give them a peak at my WIP, I was biting my nails and pacing around my room. Having them read my novel, was like having a villain finding me, feeling exposed that someone was tearing apart every word that I had written. (I chose this GIF because of Robert Kazinksy simply because he freaking rocked as Warlow and he has been in my dreams a few times since I saw Hot Pursuit earlier this month)
To put it bluntly, I felt scared that they would hate it. They did hate it. Actually, it was more like: “I hate your character” and “This is too long” and “You’re main character is too passive” and “This isn’t how teenagers talk (though I did when I was 17)” and “It’s too short” or “It’s too long.” I think my favorite negative response was: “You’ve got good bones, but it needs help.” After having three people read it, I was left feeling defeated, anxious, and a failure. Mostly though, I was frustrated.
I was speechless, and I took it to heart (not a good reaction). My reaction was:
My WIP is unique and I built it around historical events. There are real issues that are tackled in this novel, and I’m proud of the story. So I swallowed my pride, brought out my chair, and hyper-focused on all the problems they had said. Then I gave it back to them. No one has actually finished the entire WIP (mainly because I haven’t given the ending to anyone). There were some improvements, but the same problem. They didn’t like Mary. I was like:
“Yeah, thanks guys!”
“Thanks a lot!”
Honestly, I was doubting myself as a writer. The internet didn’t help at all. I was looking up different ways on how to write in action voice, dialogue, formatting, whether to use a prologue or flashbacks, and nothing helped. Nothing I did felt right. The entire manuscript was felt wrong and just bad, and no matter what I did, it was never going to get better. Finally, I realized my confidence had been shaken, because of what I thought others wanted from me was more important than showing the story through words.
I realized that Ernest Hemingway was right.
All of us learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t work. We can learn from each other, and take the critiques, because generally they’re right (just don’t take it personally, because it’s not personal). This is what beta readers are for. They help make our WIPs the best the can possibly be so that we can succeed as authors, so so that someday, Eric freaking Northman aka Alexander Skarsgard can pick up my book and I can think of this!
I also realized they don’t write horror/thrillers but romance! WAYYYY different formulas and styles. So I asked another friend to read it (someone who edits and reads thrillers/horrors and YA). She was like, great story, but details! I need details.
I smiled. Happily, I’m now back to work, adding details of why Mary is so angry. The information that motivates the characters, that makes them interesting was missing. That was my problem, and I needed that pointed out to me. Now I’m not doubting my writing skills and I’ve stopped looking up the “how to’s” on the internet, and comparing myself to other writers. My novel is a part of me, because it came from my imagination. That’s why I had such a defensive reaction. My betas were only trying to help, and they did help me. For that, I’m really grateful for! They are my friends, and they are fabulous, awesome people!
The moral is: It’s hard to put yourself out there, but it is helpful to do so. More so, it’s harder to not take critiques personal, but use them as a learning tool. I’ve learned not to take critiques personal, and now I’ve been given the reasons why my WIP wasn’t working. It’s up to me to fix the bugs, and submit the best manuscript possible. I can, thanks to my beta readers!
Have you felt this type of defensiveness and frustration?
I am currently writing a Young Adult dark urban thriller, horror. It was suggested that maybe I give my main character some…loving. Normally, I would never write a sex scene. Not my genre and I’d like my family to be able to read my work without me hiding away, blushing profusely.
The sex scene honestly does make sense, and would push the narrative along, and would be just as useful as a well placed murder. Hey! I write thrillers and horrors. Not romances.
But I read romances.
I’ve been thinking about sex scenes a lot, not just because of this suggestion, but also because I watch a lot of TV/movies and read a lot. Here is some proof. That’s not even the half of my book collection.
I have been thinking about sex scenes as literary devices and how they can be used. One of my favorite romance authors is Cora Carmack. Her debut, Losing It, is one of the funniest (in a good way) and most interesting romance novels that I have read. She doesn’t go overboard on sex scenes (like 50 Shades), but places them where it will push the story along.
This is what Losing It is about: Virginity. Bliss Edwards is about to graduate from college and still has hers. Sick of being the only virgin among her friends, she decides the best way to deal with the problem is to lose it as quickly and simply as possible– a one-night stand. But her plan turns out to be anything but simple when she freaks out and leaves her potential sexual partner alone and naked in her bed with an excuse that no one with half-a-brain would ever believe. And as if if that weren’t embarrassing enough, when she arrives for her first class of her last college semester, she recognizes her new theatre professor. She’d left him naked in her bed about 8 hours earlier.
Not only is Bliss relatable, but she is also fun to read about. This book has the best spin the bottle scene with consequences ever! Anyhow, back on topic. The scenes are graphic and over the top, and they help with the storytelling. It’s not forced or I’m not sitting questioning why the scene is in there like I have with other books and TV shows.
For me, there are two extremes with it comes to sex scenes.
Let me be clear, I LOVE the Outlander series. It’s pretty funny how I stumbled upon this gem of a book. It started last summer when a friend of mine mentioned Outlander, then I saw that Sam Heughan aka Prince Ashton from A Princess for Christmas….
I absolutely love, love, love cheesy Christmas movies! They are freaking awesome to watch with my sister (who is just as snarky as me) and a bowl of popcorn. We’re like:
When Hallmark or ABC Family comes out with new movies each year.
But I distress…
Outlander has a very interesting storyline and very likable characters. I love fiery Claire Randall and smoldering/dangerous/sexy-in-a-kilt Jamie Fraser. Here’s the description of the book:
The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743.
Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
The is smart, funny, dark in a lot of the time, and is unforgettable. Also, the sex scenes are tasteful, well placed, and it shows the love that develops between Jamie and Claire. Necessary, but not tacky.
The problem I have isn’t with the book, but with the TV show. I LOVE Ron Moore’s work, and I understand that sex is a part of the story. However, I feel (and this is my opinion) that certain sex scenes could have been skipped and it would have made the show better. The one scene that comes to mind from episode 10: “By the Pricking of My Thumb”.
It opens with Claire withering in ecstasy, because Jamie is giving her good oral sex. The scene was filmed with such slow perscistion that for a moment, I was like: “Is he actually giving her oral sex? Nope. I don’t want to see Sam Heughan give Catriona Balfe oral.”
Worse! Murtagh was banging on the door before she climaxed, then he came in after she was coming down. Very, very creepy. I get it. Ron Moore wants to show how deeply Jamie and Claire are in love, but honey, you’ve done that very well in the last few episodes when the sex scenes are needed to push the story along. The oral sex scene feels contrived and over the top to me. It wasn’t necessary and honestly, it wasn’t even a part of the story arc of that episode. Click here for an article about this episode from A.V. Club to get their opinion.
I think these conversations are very important. Sex is an intimate thing that can be use very well as a plot device. It can also be overdone and just plan tacky.
The other thought I had involves Christian Literature.
I stumbled upon this Hallmark show thanks to Lori Loughlin, Twitter, and Hard Candy. I’ve mentioned Hard Candy before, and I love the book and TV so I won’t dwell on it any longer. When I found When Calls the Heart, I was down with the stomach flu. A tweet from Lori Loughlin was retweeted and I happened to see it. I also saw Daniel Lissing (from Hard Candy) as a Mountie (made me smile) in a photograph on her Twitter page. My reaction was: “What’s this?”
iTunes has all of season one for sale, so I buy the first episode. Loved every minute of it, so I bought the whole season. Binged watched while I was stuck in bed. FYI: they’re now airing season 2. I love the storyline, the acting, the pacing, the writing, and it is fun to watch with my sister.
I love the blossoming romance between Jack and Elizabeth. I have to remind myself that it’s Hallmark, and we’re not going to see any sex scenes as it’s a G show and Outlander is MA. But the chemistry between Erin Krakow and Daniel Lissing is just as strong as the chemistry between Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. The difference is the amount of sex and naked bodies we get to see.
Honestly, to write or to act as love interests without sex or nudity is much harder than if you just pull back the sheets and are like:
Some of the sexist scenes I have ever seen or read has been pulled off without getting graphic. For example, in The One by Kiera Cass, America Singer pulls Prince Maxon down on her by his belt buckle. Yep hot, but not over the top. Personally I like less graphic, well placed sex scenes over the explains that comes from a lot of New Adult and Romance novels. I have a very good imagination. Let me use it! Sensual scenes are a great tool in a writer’s belt, but back to Janette Oke.
Since I like the TV show a lot, I wanted to read the books. The real When Calls the Heart is so, so, SO different from the TV show. It’s really two different stories. Not gonna lie, the book was hard to get through, but for the purpose of this post (sex scenes), I’m choosing When Comes the Spring, which is the sequel. After Elizabeth (different Elizabeth from the TV show) marries her mountie (uh, huh) at the beginning, I laughed.
While Outlander (the TV show) has gone a wee bit overboard with sex scenes, this book was laughable when avoiding any mention of sex. It’s like Janette Oke twirled happily around the topic.
Elizabeth and Wynn are on their honeymoon, and on the day after their wedding. Wynn goes out to buy some supplies because they decide to hike up a mountain. Okay, couples do stuff on their honeymoon besides grooving to Marvin Gaye between the sheets.
So Elizabeth takes a bath and all she can think about is hiking up a freaking mountain. That’s when I lost it. I haven’t laughed at a book so hard since D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. I mean, I understand Christian literature, but a woman who has just had sex for the first time (honeymoon and the kissing prior to the scene alludes to this fact) isn’t going to be taking a freaking bath and thinking about climbing an actual mountain. She’s going to be thinking about conquering another kind of peak (if you get my drift).
So I haven’t picked it back up since putting down a few days ago. I don’t know if I will, because let’s be honest, a sex scene or at least a word or two alluding to it would have made the scene real and would have worked SO much better. I can handle the preachy stuff of Christian literature, but this scene was so ridiculous it was just odd.
My point for this post is putting a well written sex scene (like Cora Carmack has done) to make the story more solid is a good when it’s tasteful. It does bother me when the sex scenes pile on each other and becomes so gratuitous that the story become ridiculous and gross. Or the author goes out of their way to not have a sex scene it makes the story ridiculous and unrelatable.
Sex scenes are just like a murder scene; when used correctly, it can drive the story to a better place and make the characters grow when otherwise they wouldn’t. Will I put sex in this manuscript that I’m writing? I don’t think so. Honestly, I don’t think it’s necessary for the narrative or for either character that would be involved in the scene.
So tell me, what do you think? You don’t have to agree with me, but this post is wholly my opinion.
Dear Word Count,
I hate your freaking guts! Every time I edit or write a WIP (work in progress), I’m thinking about you. Just to tell my current novel well, I went from 75,000 to 95,000 words. I gulped and an ominous feeling made my skin prickle. I felt like this:
You are constantly creeping behind me like something stalking me and I can’t outrun no matter, and no matter how hard I try, you are still there!
I know, I know. As a reader, I sometimes get a little overwhelmed by how big the novel looks. My non-reader friends are like:
But I am not Leo Tolstoy who completed War and Peace at 587,287 words or Marcel Proust who novel, In Search of Lost Time, is the longest novel in the English language, which clocks in at 1, 267,069 words. I’m not them! I am me! I am a young adult writer. More than that, I’m a story a teller and the advice from agents and other writers has varied so much that sometime I want to do this after reading blogposts after a half hour or so:
So what do I do to myself? Google it of course. What I got was a whole lot of ambiguous numbers from different sources. Here are some (click on the link to see the page if you wish):
1. Literary Rejection: 50,000 to 80,000 words
2. Writersdigest: 40,000 t0 65,000 words
3. Litreactor.com: 55,000 to 90,000 words
4. Bookends Lit Agency Blog: 50,000 to 75,000 words, but 80,000 words can be safe.
5. Jennifer Represents: Wordcount Dracula (PS. LOVE THIS NAME): Realistic YA should clock in between 35,000 to 75,000 words, and fantasy YA should be within 50,000 to 150,000 words (the sweet spot is between 65,000 and 85,000 words)
The note at the bottom of Wordcount Dracula is that sometime a really good book goes through.
Here is a list of some popular YA books that I have read and their word counts:
- A Wrinkle in Time: 49,965 words
- The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: 60,216 words
- Looking For Alaska: 64,033 words
- Thirteen Reasons Why: 62, 496 words
- Inkheart: 146,809 words
- The Selection: 80,248 words
- Anna and the French Kiss: 81,100 words
- Cinder: 87,661 words
- Divergent: 105,143 words
- Twilight: 118,975 words
- The Giver: 43,617 words
- Hunger Games: 99,750 words
- City of Bones: 130,949 words
- Speak: 46, 591
- A Great and Terrible Beauty: 95,605
- The Book Thief: 118,933
Word counts are all over the place. Here is my conclusion to this conundrum:
Write the best novel you can, using as many words it requires to tell the story the way it should be told. Edit out all the stuff that doesn’t need to be in there to help the story move along. Even if you really want to keep it, don’t if it does not help the main character tell his/her story. Extra words and scenes causes the word count beast chew you up and spit you out. Don’t let the beast win. Show the reader your story. Let us fall in love and break our heart and everything in between with as few words as possible.