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1. The antagonist: Hero or villain?

In many stories, the antagonist may even be more important than your main character. Your main character cannot become sympathetic without an opposing force.

The antagonist is more than just a bad guy who tries to stop the good guy. A good antagonist actually pushes the protagonist to action. The bad guy gives the good guy a reason to behave like a good guy. Because he is so important, your antagonist has to be every bit as real, every bit as well-rounded, as the protagonist.

The Antagonist is Evil


 No. The good antagonist is not evil. OK, he could be, but not for the mere sake of being evil. It's fun to write the bad guy who ties maidens to railroad tracks for fun, and throws the hero's One True Love on to the conveyor belt at the saw mill just because he can. The kind of bad guy who spends his time laughing maniacally while he twirls his 'stache. There's one secret, one thing you need to remember, if you want your antagonist to be truly interesting:

The antagonist honestly believes he is the good guy. Everything he does has a reason, and to him, those reasons are Right. They are Correct. They are Good.

Your good guy needs flaws and your antagonist needs positive characteristics. In some stories, the reader might even start to wonder just which character is the good guy and which is the bad guy. Few characters are as dull as the arch-villain who is evil just because being evil is evil. People aren't like that. Even people with a warped sense of reality (another little secret: we all have a warped sense of reality, shaped by our imperfect perceptions), do things for a reason. There are truly evil actions, and your bad guy might do some of them. But we humans have an almost unending supply of rationalizations for what we do.

A Rebel With a Cause

Your antagonist has his own character arc. Give your antagonist a cause. She wants to accomplish something, wants that more than anything else. And, like your protagonist, she is prepared to do what she has to do to achieve it, because that's what people do when something is of ultimate importance. Even a bad guy who wants to do something truly awful, like blow up a stadium full of innocent people, does it because he believes it has to be done to achieve the end result, which he believes to be for the ultimate good.  
  • Sauron thought he was doing Middle Earth a favor by taking dominion.
  • Saruman thought he was doing good by trying to stop the Black Lord and taking the power himself.
  • Darth Vadar probably saw the Jedi as nefarious upstarts who wanted to thwart his plan to make the universe a better place.

A Hero in His Own Mind

The antagonist believes he's the hero. Your protagonist, who stands in his way, is the villain.

We are both nice people. The last cookie is sitting on the counter. You want it. I want it. Boom: conflict! In my story, you are now a villain because you want what I want.


My favorite example of this principle comes from politics. No matter what your political position is, your side is right and the other side is wrong. Maybe even evil. The thing is, the other side looks at you the same way. Why? Because each side believes it is right. If they were allowed to have their way, the world would be a spectacularly better place. It's the same with your hero and villain.  

Which one is the bad guy?

Molly has a new puppy. This puppy is so naughty. When she takes it for walks, it pulls at the leash and tries to go its own way. It doesn't follow Molly's perfectly reasonable rules. When the puppy runs away, Molly is devastated. How could her puppy be so wicked?

But what is the puppy doing, really? It's being true to its own puppiness. It doesn't understand Molly's unnatural rules. All she does is try to to restrain it and she scolds it for simply being what it is. 

Let your reader sympathize with the villain, and understand why he wants what he wants, and maybe even see his point. If your reader can sympathize with both the hero and the villain, the conflict becomes more real, the stakes are raised, and your reader is more engaged.

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2. An African tree produces white flowers: The disappearance of the black population in Argentina 110 years later

The 2014 Men’s World Cup finals pitted Germany against Argentina. Bets were made and various observations were cited about the teams. Who had the better defense? Would Germany and Argentina’s star players step up to meet the challenge? And, surprisingly, why did Argentina lack black players? Across the globe blogs and articles found it ironic that Germany fielded a more diverse team while Argentina with a history of slavery did not have a solitary black player.

The post An African tree produces white flowers: The disappearance of the black population in Argentina 110 years later appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. ‘A girl who made the peacock look ugly, the squirrel unloveable': Martial mourns a lost love

I begin with one of Martial’s more troublesome twentieth-century Avid Fans: the poet, editor, translator, and Fascist propagandist, Ezra Pound.

The post ‘A girl who made the peacock look ugly, the squirrel unloveable': Martial mourns a lost love appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. Topipittori – Publisher Interview

As many of my blog followers will know, a few weeks back I was thrilled to be contacted by Lisa Topi of the Italian publishing house, TOPIPITTORI, about translating my interview with Leonard Marcus for their website. Through our email … Continue reading

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5. Daily Drawing: Turkey 18


This turkey has given up hope and is waiting for the inevitable. I hope you’re having a much better day!


The post Daily Drawing: Turkey 18 appeared first on rob-peters.com.

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6. My tweets

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7. Chang3lings At Festive Toy & Comic Mart Edinburgh!

Yeah, I know I said I don't publicise events.  However, friends who run small businesses that I support go to events then I'll mention that event.

David (The British Manara) Gordon is not only a great comic creator but his Chan3lings items make me wish I had a bit of spare cash!

This from his Face Book page:

" Chang31ings will be at the Festive Toy and Comic Fair this Saturday https://www.facebook.com/events/1672913699605638/ (Nov 28th) come on by and see what Christmas goodies you could treat yourself to. This is just a sample of what's on offer here

 A selection of stock going to the Edinburgh Toy and Comic Fair at the peach Tree Edinburgh, Saturday 28th November, free entry."

And I am unashamedly going to show just some of the things -there is much more so go check out the table!


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8. Asking Better Questions by Eric Lindstrom

Eric Lindstrom worked in the interactive entertainment industry before writing his debut novel, Not If I See You First (Coming Dec 1), gaining a unique insight of storytelling from the gaming industry. Today, he's on the blog talking about how asking the right questions can make your story come to life. 

Asking Better Questions by Eric Lindstrom

The fourth doctor of the TV series Doctor Who was my childhood hero. (He still is, but that’s a different story.) In an episode I watched as a teen, he said, “Answers are easy – it’s asking the right questions which is hard.” It was my first exposure to this idea, and it stuck with me.

Over time this perspective became a very useful tool. When I get stuck and can’t find an answer, stepping back and examining my questions often leads to a solution. This process proves itself useful in many different ways, but here I’ll focus on a key example.

Starting out as a writer, I sometimes found myself blocked, wondering, “What should happen next?” I came to understand (over years, not one Saturday afternoon) how that was the wrong question. Tornados happen. Wildebeest migrations happen. But the vast majority of events in a story don’t just happen. Characters make them happen. “What happens next?” is appropriate for the reader to ask, not the writer.

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9. Blog Stop for The Argon Factor by Heather Harlow

From the Author

Writing this book was very challenging but extremely fulfilling, more like releasing.  Finally, releasing this start of an adventure that has been building in my head for years.  This first book of the Argonian Series is your introduction the Argon aliens.   The idea first came to me when I lived in the Virgin Islands.  The people I saw at the bars and restaurants were all so different from typical Americans.  Everyone greeted you in the grocery, walking down the street --- always with a smile and a formal greeting like "Good Morning", etc..  I started to think that these people are really from another planet.  Everyone was so intelligent too.  It was all so strange and surreal sometimes.

In a futuristic world, where Earth's cities are still recovering from being ravaged by gang wars, cyber crime is at its peak and threatens the world's digitized monetary supply.

Susan Caldwell is a newly hired security development manager at GTS, the company that controls the world's monetary supply and data. The sophisticated systems have been hacked and now people on Susan's team are being killed while they try to fix the breach.

Susan, who trusts no man, must rely upon the GTS CEO, Christoph Baldric, to keep her safe. Little does she know that he's the Argon alien commander on Earth. She's not interested in him, doesn't want a hookup with him, but is extremely attracted to him. Susan has her own plans and will be having a baby through the fertility clinic. She's excited about her pending future, that is, if she is still alive.

Christoph Baldric's mission is to protect the Earth's humans and nurture them so that eventually his people can merge with the humans. Christoph's planet, Argon, was blown up when their major sun exploded into a black hole. The people of Argon have been studying and nurturing Earth for many millennia as a new, potential home. Now is the time to make Earth their home and begin merging with Earth's humans, making both races stronger.

But first, the Argonians must save Earth from the Grogan's, the Argon nemesis from their home universe, Baldracon, who want to eliminate all life on Earth and take the planet for their own.

Paperback: 266 pages
Publisher: Heather Harlow Books (October 19, 2015)

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10. Process vs. Deadlines

One thing the University has wanted of me, has been to see my process. This may sound easy, but it's been a major shift in the way I usually work. Why? Because for most of my working career I've been dealing with deadlines. Deadlines don't allow you to meander and try various ways of attacking an end goal. With a deadline, you think something through in your head and you go for it. Then you send it off and get paid.
     Books are a slightly different beastie in that I always made tons of sketches, and sometimes played with some new digital methods, but it still didn't go quite as far as this.
     Here at the College of Art, they've asked me to show my process - that part that happens in my brain. They've also asked me to meander and try different media, styles, techniques before deciding which might work for my current project. Basically, they want to see my brain on the outside.
     Once I figured that out, I was able to dive into this new way of working and document it. In fact, one of our required projects is an almanac - basically, a diary of our process.
     So I bought a gorgeous sketch book and I started putting my ideas into it. It also includes sketches, images of influential books and art, pictures of various workshop projects, etc. Judy Schachner would call this a 'character bible' - she's done one for every one of her books. But until now, I didn't really get it. Happily, I'm starting to.
     It was also the reason they had us take a book-binding workshop - to learn to create an almanac (or bible) from scratch. Between my sketch book and my handmade book, I didn't want to create one more book, but I did want to collate these creative volumes. So, for my almanac project, I created a box to keep these two items in. I also might include other floaty things like pretty feathers and leaves.
     It turns out there is a ton of skill involved in making books and boxes - and a ton of little tricks of the trade. (Read my post about book binding here.) I will forever have a greater appreciation for these handmade treasures. My box isn't perfect, but I'm pretty darned proud of the end result.
     Here is is just opened, revealing the caramel paper lining inside and the two books - my sketchbook and handmade book, which will soon be full of Trickster paraphernalia (more on that soon).
Here you can see how the books pull out.
And with the books pulled out. I opened my handmade book so that you can see how the end papers and decorative details tie in with the box design.
My next step will be to make labels for the books and the box itself. I've cut a lino block, which reads "e's process, a.k.a. e's brain on the outside." (I used the easy carve board - which I will never use again - pah!) And I cut out the word Tricksters, which I will use for a new (to me) printing method - collagraph. More on that soon, too.
     In the mean time, I have so enjoyed being able to take the time to explore various methods and run down different rabbit holes. Using glue sticks and scissors speaks to my inner creative child. I hope I can keep it as part of my process in the future. It's so much FUN and makes me feel like a true artist!

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11. Presidential Polar Bear Post Card Project No. 27 - 11.24.15

For Nola, the White Rhino who died November 23rd at the San Diego Zoo. There are now only three remaining White Rhinos left in the world... #Nola4Ever #EndExtinction

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12. Thanksgiving Day Prayer

O God, we thank you for this earth, our home;
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
— Walter Rauschenbusch

The post Thanksgiving Day Prayer appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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13. In Thanks: Books That Built a Writing Teacher

What are the books that have shaped you as a teacher of writing? Reflecting today, in thanks, for the authors and books that have influenced my life as a teacher.

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14. How to Order Signed Books -- The Perfect Gift

Books are a delightful way to brighten the deep midwinter. You can pre-order an autographed copy of Flamecaster (release date 5 April 2016) or order signed copies of any of my other books, hardcover or paperback, through my local independent bookstore,  The Learned Owl Bookstore . Just indicate in the comments how you would like the book to be personalized or signed. Call the store if you have questions about your order.

If you're ordering for holiday giving, get your order in as soon as possible so we can make that magic happen in time.

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15. The Subtle Knife: Writing Characters Readers Trust But Shouldn’t

I don’t know about you, but I love reading books where the author encourages me to draw conclusions that are wrong. Case in point–untrustworthy characters who I trust anyway. Like all writers, I am ultra aware of character cues and actions as I read, so when I’m led astray and find out someone I believed to be good really isn’t, I want to cheer and tell the author, “Well done!”

Tricking readers in this manner is difficult.

moodyIn real life, all of us are body language experts. At least 93% of communication is nonverbal, meaning we are very adept at ‘reading’ other people by their mannerisms, gestures, habits and voice changes. In books, this skill allows us to pick up on nonverbal cues which communicate a character’s emotions. Plus, if we are in the dishonest character’s POV, we also have access to their thoughts and internal visceral sensations (heartbeat changes, adrenaline shifts and other uncontrollable fight-or-flight responses). All of this means that tricking the reader can be very tough.

There are several ways to make the reader believe one thing while another thing is true.

One technique is the red herring. This is where a writer nudges a reader in one direction hard enough that their brain picks up on ‘planted’ clues meant to mislead them. So for example, let’s say I had a character who was a pastor and youth councilor for his church and he spent his weekends working with homeless teens, trying to get them back into group homes. The reader will begin to get a certain image in their mind.

If I then further describe him as slightly bald with a bad taste in fashion (imagine the kind of guy that wears those awful patterned sweater vests) but who has a smile for everyone he meets, it’s a good bet that I’ve disarmed the reader. They’ve written this character off as a nice, honest guy. Even though his life is all about the church, no way could he be the one stealing cash from the collection box, or the man having affairs with depressed women parishioners, or playing Dr. Death by administering heroin to street teens, right?

Another technique is pairing. Similar to a red herring, pairing is when we do two things at once to mask important clues. If, as an author, I show my friendly pastor leaving an alleyway at night and then have a car crash happen right in front of him, which event will the reader focus on? And if later, the police find another overdosed teen nearby as they interview the pastor about the accident, commending him from pulling a woman from the wreckage before the car could explode…would the reader put two and two together? If I did my job right, then no.

1NTA third technique is to disguise aspects of his “untrustworthy nature” using a Character Flaw. After all, no one is perfect. Readers expect characters to have flaws to make them realistic. If our nice pastor (am I going to go to Hell for making my serial killer a pastor?) is characterized as absent-minded with a habit of forgetting names, misplacing his keys, or starting service late and flustered because of a mishap, later when the police ask him when he last saw dead teen X and he can’t quite remember, readers aren’t alarmed. After all, that’s just part of who the character is, right?

When your goal is to trick your readers, SET UP is vital.

If the clues are not there all along, people will feel ripped off when you rip the curtain aside. Make sure to provide enough details that they are satisfied you pulled one over them fair and square!

What techniques do you use to show a character is untrustworthy? Any tips on balancing your clue-sprinkling so that the reader doesn’t pick up on your deceit before you’re ready for them to? Let me know in the comments! 

Image: lllblackhartlll @ Pixabay

The post The Subtle Knife: Writing Characters Readers Trust But Shouldn’t appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS™.

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16. Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 11/25/15: San Diego is getting MORE hotels!

§ Rob Salkowitz gives an overview of the various subscription based comics services including Marvel Unlimited, ComicBlitz and so on. From Spotify and Apple Music to Netflix and Amazon Prime, huge chunks of the media distribution world are moving from paid downloads to monthly subscriptions. But since the early days of digital comics and graphic […]

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17. Academic knowledge and economic growth

Policies aimed at fostering economic growth through public expenditure in tertiary education should be better aware of the different contribution of each specific academic discipline. Rather than introducing measures affecting the allocation of resources in the broad spectrum of academic knowledge, policies might instead introduce ad-hoc measures to foster specific disciplines, for example through differentiated enrollment fees for students.

The post Academic knowledge and economic growth appeared first on OUPblog.

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18. Etymology gleanings for November 2015

It is true that the etymology of homo confirms the biblical story of the creation of man, but I am not aware of any other word for “man” that is akin to the word for “earth.” Latin mas (long vowel, genitive maris; masculinus ends in two suffixes), whose traces we have in Engl. masculine and marital and whose reflex, via French, is Engl. male, referred to “male,” not to “man.”

The post Etymology gleanings for November 2015 appeared first on OUPblog.

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19. Review: The Program

There are few stories more abjectly fascinating than those surrounding Lance Armstrong’s triumph over a cancer he was given infinitesimally small chance of surviving and his subsequent seven Tour de France (AKA Tour de Lance) victories. Consequently, there are few stories more assumptions-shattering than the revelation that Armstrong had, in fact, been using drugs to […]

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20. NaNoWriMo Tip #18: Be Thankful That You Are Almost Done

November is coming to a close and hopefully so too is your NaNoWriMo novel. Today’s tip is: Be Thankful That You Are Almost Done.

With the Thanksgiving weekend upon us, hopefully you will have plenty of free time from your day job to put the finishing touches on your novel. Even if you are traveling to visit family and friends, be sure to set aside an hour or two a day to work on your novel (ideally before you’ve eaten too much turkey!).

This is our 18th NaNoWriMo Tip of the Day. To help GalleyCat readers take on the challenge of writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, we will be offering advice throughout the entire month.

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21. Q&A and Giveaway: Dragon Storm by Katie MacAlister

Katie MacAlister dropped by the virtual offices to answer a few questions! Be sure to enter the giveaway, too!

Do you have any favorite book boyfriends of your own?

Oh, mercy, just line my books up and start reading off the hero names. I’ve said before that I write books for myself first, and that’s absolutely true. I love all of my heroes, and it’s only because publishers won’t let me write all the heroines as me that I bother with writing those dishy men females who are worthy of them.

Outside of my books, I was one of those girls who grew up with the hots for Sherlock Holmes. As an adult, I’ve been quite fond of several of Georgette Heyer heroes, particularly those who give in to their senses of humor (Sir Tristram from Talisman Ring, and Freddy Standen from Cotillion).

What are five books on your night stand/bookshelf?

This is going to be a very disappointing answer, I fear. Right now on my nightstand are Sol y Viento (a Spanish textbook), Art: A Brief History by Marilyn Stokstad (an art history textbook), History of Italian Renaissance Art by Frederick Hartt and David Wilkins, Introduction to Forensic Science by Richard Saferson, and Step Aside, Popsm a Hark! A Vagrant Collection by Kate Beaton.

What’s your favorite quote or scene from your book?

I think the scene where Gary meets Jim is one of my faves. Especially since Gary is showing off, and Jim is instantly jealous of Gary’s toys.

If your couple’s relationship had a theme song, what would it be?

Roar by Katy Perry. The need to rise above people who want to put you down is pertinent to both hero and heroine. Plus I can see them both singing it loudly.

Tell us about the cover process. Is this what you had in mind?

I’m lucky in that my publishers have excellent art departments who take a few bits of scattered ideas that I pry out of my brain, and turn them into gorgeous covers, usually involving lick-worthy men. And this cover is no different. It’s not a bad thing to find yourself stroking a book cover, is it?

Where do you find inspiration for you writing? Do you use real people/places as a foundation?

I’ve always told myself stories, so writing is really just an extension of that. My inspiration is my muse, who I picture as a bon-bon eating diva who reclines of fainting couches a lot, waving a languid hand whenever she wants something, and basically ruling me with threats of going away on vacation if I attempt to work her too hard.  I seldom use real people in my books, since the people in my head are much more flawed and thus suitable for me to torment, but I do use as many real locations as I possibly can. I rely heavily on past trips to Europe as the source of many locations, and those I haven’t visited I usually research by finding people who live there, and haunting online webcams, and photo galleries.

Do you have any hobbies or activities that you enjoy outside of writing?

When my arthritic hands let me, I like to spin wool into yarn, knit, and sew a variety of things that never quite turn out as I’ve envisioned. I’m a gamer girl, as well, so I’m online in games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, Star Wars The Old Republic, Hearthstone, Lord of the Rings Online, and way too many other games.

I’ve also decided to go back to school, and am enjoying online classes at Fort Hays State University so I can add a history degree to my list of credentials.

Would the 10 year-old version of yourself kick your butt or praise you for what you’ve accomplished in life?

Oh, she’d be thrilled that I’ve survived the last few years, since they included everything from the death of my husband to moving to a new house. And I think she’d be quite happy with the body of work I’ve produced in the last ten years, although I know she’d tell me I should stop insisting on having time off between books, and instead write non-stop.


About Dragon Storm

According to some (including himself), Constantine is one of the greatest heroes of dragonkin who ever lived. Too bad he’s now lonelier than ever and his biggest adventure involves a blow-up sheep-until he has an opportunity to save his kind once again. All Constantine has to do is break into a demon’s dungeon, steal an ancient artifact, and reverse a deadly curse. The plan certainly does not involve rescuing a woman . . .
Bee isn’t sure whether to be infuriated or relieved when Constantine pops up in her prison. The broody, brawny shifter lights her fire in a way no one ever has before, yet how far can she really trust him? Their chemistry may be off the charts, but when push comes to shove, Constantine will have to make a crucial choice: to save the dragons or the woman he’s grown to love with fierce intensity.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1hQ84jD
B&N: http://bit.ly/1OFgvN4
iBooks: http://apple.co/1jQSK7v
GooglePlay: http://bit.ly/1MAdTdq
Kobo: http://bit.ly/1QNqSft
BAM: http://bit.ly/1OPgyo0

About Katie MacAlister

For as long as she can remember Katie MacAlister has loved reading, and grew up with her nose buried in a book. It wasn’t until many years later that she thought about writing her own books, but once she had a taste of the fun to be had building worlds, tormenting characters, and falling madly in love with all her heroes, she was hooked.
With more than fifty books under her belt, Katie’s novels have been translated into numerous languages, been recorded as audiobooks, received several awards, and are regulars on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. A self-proclaimed gamer girl, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her dogs, and frequently can be found hanging around online.





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The Book of Secrets (Forbidden Books 2) released today (e-book)! Paper should be ready in a week or two!
The world was turning out to be not just a book of secrets, but a whole library full.
Dexter and Daphna Wax have learned incredible secrets. Their mother was thousands of years old and on a Council devoted to destroying the First Tongue. And there are connivers, like Asterious Rash, who would do anything to learn Words of Power. They also know the Words were hidden in the Book of Nonsense.
But now it’s out of their hands, and they may not survive long enough to get it back.
The twins might stand a chance of completing their mother's mission—if they can get on the same page—but danger looms closer to home than they ever thought possible.
And the new secrets Dex and Daphna uncover are ones they never wanted to know.


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23. three things, one day: STORY, GOING OVER, Danielle Smith

Yesterday, amidst much corporate work, three things happened:

I learned that Going Over, my 1983 Berlin Wall book, has officially launched as a paperback, and I thank Chronicle Books for its faith in this story. (And the darling Taylor Norman, for tweeting the news.)

I learned (again from Taylor, who has so steadfastly supported this book) that This Is the Story of You has gone to print, with its gorgeous jacket and incredibly generous quotes from Dana Reinhardt, Tim Wynne-Jones, and Margo Rabb (and its Junior Library Guild citation).

I talked to Danielle Smith, who (in a matter of days) read the middle grade novel I've lately been obsessed with, said so many reassuring things, talked with me about some decisions I'd have to make as I refined the story, and said yes to representing me. I have known Danielle for almost as long as I have been writing for younger readers. The popular force behind the beloved There's a Book blog, Danielle has read my stories, always. She has supported me in a multitude of ways—throwing blog parties, walking the floor of the BEA with me, calling just to talk, listening as I worked through ideas. A few years ago, Danielle launched a career as an agent and today, as a member of Red Fox Literary, she is seeing her authors receive raves and stars, foreign sales, and success at hoped-for houses. I've always been happy to call Danielle my friend. I'm incredibly happy to be taking this step forward into the land of Middle Grade with her.

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24. Captain America and Iron Man Battle it Out in the Civil War Trailer

Marvel Entertainment has unleashed the first trailer for the Captain America: Civil War.

Entertainment Weekly reports that the plot “was inspired by the seven-part storyline written by Mark Millar in 2006-07 which pitted heroes against heroes in a crossover event that had the entire world of characters choosing up sides behind either Captain America or Iron Man. That happens in this movie, too, with veteran characters Black Widow, Falcon, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Scarlet Witch, among others, taking up arms against each other.”

The video embedded above features scenes with Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Scarlett Johansson reprising their roles as Captain America, Iron Man, and Black WidowThe Russo Brothers teamed up to serve as the directors for this movie. The theatrical release date has been set for May 06, 2016. (via ComicBook.com)

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25. When It Gets Crowded in the Revision Cave

Recently a friend asked me whether she should address the concerns of a beta reader who had clearly missed something in her novel that everyone else got. This started me thinking about the challenges in revising a story when you’ve received critiques from many different people, particularly when their comments contradict each other.

We’ve talked a lot at Publishing Crawl about revising your novel on your own and with editorial letters, but what about earlier in the process — maybe before your book even reaches agents or publishers? I am a big believer in beta readers and critique groups, and I participate in an amazing writing group. Almost every piece of fiction I have written has benefited from the sharp insights of other writers who tell me what’s working and what needs work, and call me out when I’m being lazy. If you’re fortunate, there will be a consensus, a clear sign to what you should focus on, but often there’s very different feedback from everyone, and it isn’t at all obvious who is “right” about your story. Now what?

First and foremost, it’s your story, so you have to follow your instincts. That said, you do have to be open to the possibility that you can make it even better by listening to suggestions you may not immediately agree with. And always remember that you can’t make everyone happy, but that isn’t the point; you’re trying to figure out how to make the story as good as it can be, which should also be the goal of your critiquers.

My record for critiques on a single piece is probably around twenty, for some of my short stories at the Clarion West Writers Workshop, which is where I developed my process for juggling feedback and planning a revision strategy. Whether I have seven or 17 critiques, my first step is to read through everyone’s comments and my notes from the crit session, jotting down the key points and organizing them into four categories:

  1. I totally agree with this comment and I will definitely do this
  2. I disagree with this note, but they’re probably right, so I’d better fix that
  3. That’s very interesting, I’ll keep that in mind
  4. Nope

Although here I’m focusing on what needs to be improved in the next draft, make sure you’re also noticing the good stuff, which can show you where your story is on the right track, as well as give you an ego boost that is likely sorely needed about now. This is the stuff you don’t want to break when you’re fiddling with everything around it — which can easily happen, especially if you’re trying to follow every suggestion you received.

Once you’ve listed everything out, categories 1 and 2 should give you a pretty clear idea of what changes to make in your revision; however, sometimes you will get two or more recommendations that are  incompatible, and you have to choose one. Assuming you don’t want to settle for the fastest and easiest fix, you should consider what makes the most sense for your characters and their story, and what fits with the rest of the feedback you’ve received and strengthens what was already there.

You can also consider the source of the feedback: For example, if you’re writing a YA novel, you might weigh criticism from other YA writers or readers more heavily than feedback from someone who rarely reads YA or doesn’t enjoy it. (Their perspective is still valuable and probably shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, but they may be unaware of some of the nuances of your particular genre.) Or certain readers “get” your work or connect with your story more than others, so they have a better idea of what you were trying to accomplish.

Once I have a sort of road map of the changes I want to make, I usually dive in and start editing from beginning to end, in a linear order, layering in changes as I go. Of course every edit ripples throughout the piece, so the more time I can spend focused on and immersing myself in the story, the better to keep it all in my head, and ultimately put it on the page. I’m also keeping in mind some of the criticism that I am less sure about, or even some of those “nopes,” because as the story changes, they might make more sense or I’ve become more receptive to them. As I change the story, I feel more free to take it wherever it needs to go. If I take it too far or it doesn’t work, I can always revert back to the previous draft!

When I first started revising this way, it sometimes felt like I was writing by committee, and I resisted taking too many suggestions from others. Whose story is this, anyway? But if you’re committed to telling it in the best possible way, so it will reach the most readers, getting lots of feedback from many different perspectives is incredibly helpful. Don’t forget that every reader is different — just look all those wildly differing reviews on Goodreads! (No, don’t.) In a way, they’re all correct, because reading is such a personal, unique experience. And so is writing. In the end, you decide what your story will be, and you’re the only person who can write it.

Everyone’s writing and revision process  is also unique! So, how do you reconcile varying feedback from multiple readers?

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