My Tipping Point on Wattpad

It has been nearly five months since I last talked about Wattpad. Yikes!!

Sadly, at the very moment things began to take off for my book on Wattpad, I also entered one of the craziest seasons of my life — my first semester as a Middle School English teacher. It was all I could do to keep updating my story, and my blog updates got brushed aside.

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But now things are finally settling down, so I have to share what’s happened.

In the past 5 months, my fantasy, THE SHADOW WATCH, went from 8K reads to 106K reads! The first 8K reads took four months. Now, I am averaging 1K reads per day. Ironically, I was also far more active on threads and reading other people’s work when my reads were lower.

I felt I had a good story going, but needless to say, I was blown away when the reads started compounding.

For those of you just getting started, keep at it! I believe that if your writing is of quality and you post regularly, you will get noticed in time. Being more active last fall probably would have helped my cause further, but such is life…

Today, I thought I would share about my tipping points on Wattpad. Points when my readership suddenly shot up to a new level, and the book became more visible.

THE MAGICAL 10,000 READS!

Up until August, my reads averaged around 100 a day. At that time, I was posting at least twice a week. The day I crossed the 10K read mark changed things. I had 500 reads that day, and began averaging between 200-600 reads nearly every day that month. There were some outlier slow days. But simply crossing that threshold seemed to make my book more clickable, as I hadn’t changed anything else. All of a sudden, the reads and votes came flooding in at a much higher rate. I had more reads in August than I’d had altogether before that.

In September, I was forced to slow down my twice-a-week chapter posting schedule due to my crazy workload. Yet, still the reads held. Each month, the reads increased, but generally, I averaged somewhere around 400-600 reads per day for the entire fall.

I finished posting the book at the beginning of November. By that time, I had reached 50K reads. I was so burnt out from work and trying to keep up with writing, I hardly showed my face on Wattpad until mid-December, other than to respond to reader comments every couple weeks. In spite of the inactivity, my reads continued to hold.

That brings me to my next tipping point…

90K Craziness

I had begun to think my book had reached a threshold it would not pass until I managed to get the book featured on Wattpad (sadly, a few days ago, I discovered that my August application did not go through correctly, so that will have to wait). But this proved untrue.

After about 3 months of the same 500 reads or so a day, by the end of December my reads reached 90K. On Dec. 28, after crossing 90K, I had my first 1K read day. I have had 1K + reads every day since (minus one 900 day).

This has proven to be yet again, a tipping point for THE SHADOW WATCH.

While, I would not go so far as to argue this is the rule of Wattpad, for me, hitting those two points marked sudden, sharp increases in reads that held steady afterwards. I wonder what the next tipping point is?

I hope this is helpful to you! I have written a couple posts about the benefits of posting to Wattpad, benefits that I saw before I attained any level of success. And they hold true.

I have received no calls from agents due to hitting 100K reads on Wattpad. I know people who are pushing 1M reads, and are still having trouble finding representation in the traditional world. I have a friend who had a Featured Book with 200K+ reads who decided to self-publish and is seeing awesome results on Amazon now. I am working on a new draft of TSW at the moment, and plan to query some agents in the next couple months, and we’ll see what happens.

I do not think Wattpad is a path to publication, at least not typically. And I would still discourage people from approaching it with that mindset.

But I will say that it is a great experience to have your work read and loved by readers of your genre. Posting to Wattpad helped me finish THE SHADOW WATCH much faster than I probably would have. It also helped me keep the tension high throughout the book (a post for another day). Hitting those milestones (the first 2K reads, the first 10K, and the first 100K) have all been huge confidence boosts for my writing.

We’ll see what 2017 holds for TSW, both on and off Wattpad.

But either way, it was a great decision to try posting it there, and I personally would recommend giving it a try. At the very least, I guarantee you will connect with some cool people.

 

Keep on writing!

Stephen

 

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Why You Should Post a Story on Wattpad

20814-1Okay, if you have been following my Wattpad experience at all, you know I am still new to the site, but I have been chronicling my experience for anyone out there who is on Wattpad or is considering using the site.

Last time, I talked about how to build a readership on Wattpad.

Now, I am going to talk about why Wattpad is worth your time as a writer, and how you can hopefully get the most out of it.

But first, an update on my personal progress.

I have been posting twice a week for about 4 months now, and the momentum continues to build. If you’re a person who cares about stats (and Wattpaders tend to watch their stats pretty religiously), here are mine: my fantasy novel, THE SHADOW WATCH, has reached 8.3K reads and 1030 votes. The first couple months brought me to about 2.5K reads, the next month saw that many in one month, and now I am averaging about 100 reads per day (all-time high was 250 about a week ago, which was fun). I am also typically ranked in the top 200 in Wattpad Fantasy (high of #88 a couple weeks ago)

A few factors that [may or may not] have helped along with a steady increase in dedicated readers:

  1. THE SHADOW WATCH got added to a list on Wattpad’s Fantasy profile, which has led to a lot of users adding my story to their reading lists. I didn’t request the add, but apparently some HQ person discovered it and liked it.
  2. TSW also did well in several contests (I would highly recommend submitting your story to some contests! It is a great way to meet other writers, and to make your story more visible to more people. And it’s just fun!)
  3. I also got had a couple interview questionnaire thingies posted in preparation for the 2016 Watty Awards, which I did have to submit.

Possible factors that [may or may not] have detracted from further progress:

  1. I’ve had a busy summer and, while I have found time to keep at my writing every day (nearly), I have not been as active on forums and interacting with other users, outside of readers and a few writers I’ve connected with. In other words, I am not very actively networking and building online relationships right now.
  2. I’ve also not been reading as much on Wattpad, for the same busyness reason. How much that has affected things, I don’t know, but Wattpad is a social network and the more interaction, the better, I think.

So I want to get better about both of those.

So there you go, you can now discredit me as an amateur and move on to another blog, if you wish. If not, then read on, my friend.

As you’ve gathered, I am not a Wattpad star. Just another writer figuring out what writing looks like in the digital age. I think Wattpad is a fantastic tool for writers in that age. And I will tell you why…

But first of all, you should know that Wattpad is not a likely track toward publication.

What I mean is that you have probably read about the stars, and you’re right, it could happen to you. Your story could garner millions of reads and lead to an instant publication contract. But it probably won’t. In fact, some of the best writing on the site will not go viral, simply because it is not OneDirection fan fiction.

Most of the writers I have met on Wattpad (some of them being the top fantasy writers on the site) are going through the normal channels: write a book, query it, (hopefully) land an agent, and then follow the traditional publication path. In other words, the agents aren’t calling them at 2am, begging to represent it because they saw it went hot on Wattpad.

But that shouldn’t discourage you. Because Wattpad has lots of things to offer writers:

  1. Building readership — agents and publishers are asking about this more and more these days. Can you market yourself? Can you build a readership? If you write a good book and post it on Wattpad wisely, you can have thousands of people who are following you and care about your stories. That’s thousands more than the person who wrote a book in the closet and hasn’t even let their mom read it.
  2. Testing Grounds for your Book — Some people will tell you that Wattpad is not the spot to find beta readers. I would say that’s not true, but that you have to pay attention to who you listen to. There are lots of book clubs on Wattpad where writers will essentially trade feedback. Some of them are high-profile writers and Wattpad Ambassadors. Probably better than most beta readers I will find in my small town, and I can know who they are. On most beta sites, it is all anonymous, but on Wattpad, you can know who they are and determine how credible they are by reading their stuff and seeing the quality of their own writing. Normal readers will often leave reaction and feedback as they read, which can also be very useful. You can see things readers like and dislike about the plot. Was something too far-fetched? Too predictable? Was a scene confusing? They will often tell you.
  3. In-Line Comments — You can get real-time feedback from real readers of your genre. My novel, THE SHADOW WATCH, is teen fantasy. I am able to interact with teen readers, see what they like, what they hope will happen next, etc. I often have readers shipping (a term I learned from readers, which means they hope they end up together, in case your out of touch like me) different characters. This doesn’t change the plot, but may remind me not to forget about my romantic subplots, because readers like a little romance in fantasy. I also have readers who catch typos. I proofread quite a bit, but I still am human, and I miss things. Pretty helpful to have hundreds of eyes on your work.
  4. Connecting with other Writers — Writing can be a lonely endeavor. But the community of writers on Wattpad is typically very kind and sincere. I had several major Wattpad fantasy writers who welcomed me gladly as a newb to the site. Writers often trade feedback and encourage each other regularly. It’s not a narcissistic site. Obviously, we all want to succeed, but on Wattpad, writers are rooting for one another. They also often shout-out other writer’s works to their followers. Pay it forward, folks! Writers are also keen to help each other out with plotting and ideas. When I wrote a large scale battle scene (my first attempt at it), I asked some writers in the forums for time period information, battle strategies, and weaponry, and received wonderful tips and information. That scene turned out infinitely better the first time around as a result. Writers are also supportive of endeavors beyond Wattpad, and are keen to share their experiences with agents, self-publishing, querying, etc. It is great to have a network of writers who are so helpful and supportive. Go be part of it 🙂

 

All right, I know that’s not exhaustive, but it is all for now.

Are you a Wattpader? What do you love about the site? Why do YOU think it is a useful site?

LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS!

 

 

If you want to check out my story you can follow the image link below: 65367089-368-k310254

 

 

 

Getting Readers on Wattpad

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That’s why you’re thinking about posting your story on Wattpad, right? Everyone wants to have their story read. But how do you get people to read a new story on a site that has literally millions of stories?

There are stories on Wattpad with millions of views and thousands of votes, and it can be really disheartening when your story has only a few dozen reads and four votes.

I have been posting my fantasy THE SHADOW WATCH regularly on Wattpad for about 7 weeks now. I am at 2,300 reads and about 400 votes. In the scheme of things on Wattpad, that’s nothing spectacular. But it has been steadily building, and that is the biggest thing to remember. Hitting 1K reads was a sweet spot that seemed to boost daily readership. Your story begins looking like one worth checking out.

But how to get there?

The other day, I was reading Taran Matharu’s account of posting his story, Summoner: The Novice. He posted daily during NaNoWriMo and reached a million reads in about three months. Incredible! But that is not usually the case, at all, and I just started feeling a bit discouraged, really, because that would be so cool, but that is soo not what has been happening.

But, here’s a truth, even the most successful authors on Wattpad typically go through the slog of building readership over many months.

I currently average about 50-100 reads a day on my story, and anywhere from 5 to 30 votes, typically from around 10 unique readers, and I have spent the last month on the Fantasy Hot List, typically in the top 300 or 400.  Again, nothing crazy. But when I think back to being desperate for a single vote or read when I first started posting, it is actually not too bad.

I have about a dozen or so really dedicated readers, at the moment. Ones who read chapter updates right away and enthusiastically comment (a couple have been with me since the first postings, which is pretty cool) and chat about the story. But you will find these are few and far between. When you get them, treat them well. Thank them often. Dedicate chapter to them. Maybe follow them. 

The majority of Wattpad readers are “silent readers.” Meaning they don’t vote on every chapter (or not at all), nor do they comment, but every now and then one will thank me for posting the story, etc. A little frustrating when you want votes, but you will find that the people who care about votes and comments are typically writers, and the majority of your readers won’t say much, because they just want to read. But hey, someone is still taking the time to read your stuff, and that is awesome, so don’t knock on silent readers. If they interact at all, thank them for taking the time to read your stuff.

*An aside — Don’t be that person who sends messages to followers about how they wish people would vote and comment and quit being silent. No one likes that person.*

 

So how do you build readership, then?

 

Well, I am assuming your story is already top quality, with no grammar mistakes, complex characters, and wonderful tension! No? Then, edit and make sure it’s good before posting. Obviously, if you have major structural flaws, you will have trouble getting noticed (unless you are writing One Direction fan fiction, then it seems anything goes).

There is no exact formula to building readership on Wattpad, but I truly believe these things will help everyone. They have worked for me, and are what I see successful writers doing.

 

  1. COVER! COVER! COVER! —  Don’t throw a crappy cover up and wonder why no one is clicking on your story. Find someone who can make a decent one. Deviant Art is a good place to look, as well as the Design forums on Wattpad. There are people who will make you a cover in exchange for you dedicating a chapter to them, or reading and commenting on a couple chapters of their story. Pretty good deal! Get a decent cover before you post anything.
  2. BLURB! — Maybe I will write more about the blurb sometime, but for now, look up what you should include in the blurb, and check out the blurbs of popular stories on Wattpad. What makes them stand out? Be sure to highlight your Main Character and the main conflict quickly. Unless people click on your story, they will only see the first few lines, so make them juicy. Don’t give us paragraphs of worldbuilding or description. Give us tension and make us need to find out what will happen in the story.
  3. POST REGULARLY! — This is one of the biggest things you can do to help yourself build momentum early. I would recommend 2-3 updates a week as you start out. Every time you post, your readers receive push notifications on their phones and an email, that reminds them 2-3 times a week that your story is there and is updating. Also, the more they have to read, the more votes and comments you can get. Don’t post all at once! But steadily put it out there. If possible set a definite schedule. I post every Monday and Friday. My followers and readers know when the new chapters come out and can depend on it.
  4. INTERACT WITH THE READERS YOU HAVE! — I don’t care if you have one reader or a hundred or more. Respond to every comment. Thank people when they vote for your story. Even the top writers do this. Have someone who comments on your story a lot? Why not dedicate a chapter to them. It will make them feel more invested in the story.
  5. BE PATIENT! — It will probably not happen overnight. Just keep at it! While you’ve got time, read other people’s work. See what they do. Get involved on the forums. There are lots of great people there. There are forums for Undiscovered writers. Why not see if some of them want to trade feedback? You may find a new reader who will stick with you the whole way, and you may find out you need to fix some things in those opening chapters.

 

A Couple Freebies

These aren’t necessarily what everyone does, but I picked up some readers through them.

  1. ENTER A CONTEST — Got an awesome story? Why not enter a contest? There are many on Wattpad. For Fantasy and Sci-Fi writers, there is an awesome group called FANTASCI that holds awesome contests regularly and are hosted by top writers on the site in the genre. I connected with a couple top-notch writers through this, and also found some dedicated readers, based on a blurb and cover contest. It is a chance to stand out, because the contests are not based on current readership, just quality writing.
  2. FORUMS — I know I’ve said it before, but seriously, connect with other writers. The community is very supportive. Make friends. Are you undiscovered? Go to the forums, and connect with others? You a romance writer? Connect with other romance writers. Don’t promote yourself! Just chat and connect. Maybe check out some of their stories. But in the long run, this will serve you well.

 

Some Don’ts

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  1. Don’t create fake accounts and get fake votes and comments on your story.
  2. Don’t mass follow people in hopes they’ll follow you back, and especially don’t mass follow writers, because it is annoying.
  3. Don’t troll around begging for reads. You just look desperate.

 

 

Okay, that is all for now. I am still new to the site. But I am pleased with my progress and am excited to see how the momentum continues to build.

 

You a Wattpadder? What works for you? What doesn’t? Was this helpful?

 

Let me know in the comments!

 

And hey, feel free to follow me on Wattpad: S.A. Klopfenstein

 

And if you care to check out my fantasy story, THE SHADOW WATCH, you can read it here: THE SHADOW WATCH

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Posting a Story on Wattpad

I am beginning a new blog series discussing my experience on Wattpad. If any of you are using the social writing and reading site, I would love to dialogue about it.

If you are new to Wattpad, it is a website where thousands upon thousands of writers post stories or novels, typically serially, for free for readers around the world to read. The majority of readers are teens and young adults, largely female, and the content includes high-quality novels that have gone on to be published as well as many lower quality fan fiction stories, etc. The most popular genres are fantasy, science fiction, romance, and fan fiction, though there are markets for most genres.

I approached the site warily at first, throwing up a few sample chapters of an old story about a year ago, to gauge reader reactions, with no fanfare. Meanwhile, other complete stories were garnering millions of reads.

The more I read up on the site, the more I realized I was approaching the site wrong. It is a social network focused on writing and reading. Some writers find great success, and go on to commercial or self publication with much success.

My experience with other writing sites hasn’t been the best. I’ve found most of the time they are designed for other writers, who are reading your work hoping for you to give them feedback. This can be helpful for critique. But if you are a YA writer like me, you wonder how real teens will like your story, versus writers trading critique-reads.

If building readership and engaging with real readers is what you want, then Wattpad may be the site for you.

As I worked on a new project, I decided to test the waters, and really give the site a go. I have begun posting chapters serially for my new fantasy THE SHADOW WATCH.

I am only a couple weeks in, and I have quickly found some amazing readers who have left lovely comments and cannot wait for the next chapter. Every day, that number increases. I have experienced nothing like it yet as an unpublished author. You get in-line feedback and reactions from real readers, reading your story because it sounded interesting to them.

Here are a few tips I’ve discovered so far, in order to stand out on the site and build readership:

  1. Your cover — you need to have a good, professional looking cover. There are so many stories with bad covers that you will immediately stand out.
  2. Follow readers in your genre — Wattpad lists users who have works written or lists of books they are reading. I follow readers who have followed other fantasy writers. Many of them have added my book to their lists and enjoyed it. I try not to follow writers unless I am reading their work and want their updates.
  3. Post polished work — Wattpad is not like other writer sites, where you post for critiques. You may get some, but readers are looking for professional-looking stories.
  4. Interact with your readers — Wattpad is a social network. Consider it more like Twitter. If someone takes the time to follow you or add your work to their lists, thank them. If they comment, write back.
  5. Give your readers a schedule — I post every Monday and Friday. Readers know as soon as they finish the latest chapter when they can read the next one. It also gives you a deadline and readers who will be letdown if you don’t meet it.
  6. Read the works of other writers — Check out what some of the most successful writers are doing on the site. How long are their chapters? Do they give readers a call to action? Do they dialogue with readers? You will learn what works, and you will also read some quality stories. Like I said, many top-rated stories find great success beyond Wattpad.

All right, that is all for now. I will be sharing more tips and sharing more experiences soon.

If you are on Wattpad, what have you found works for you? How do you use the site?

 

If you are interested in reading my fantasy, THE SHADOW WATCH, check it out here:

 

George R.R. Martin on Outlining Before You Write (or Not)

It is Friday, and so it is time for a quote from a famous writer.

There are people on both sides of the outlining approach to writing. George R.R. Martin describes it this way:

I’ve always said there are – to oversimplify it – two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail… the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up. I think all writers are partly architects and partly gardeners, but they tend to one side or another.

In another interview he clarifies which way he tends toward:

I hate outlines. I have a broad sense of where the story is going; I know the end, I know the end of the principal characters, and I know the major turning points and events from the books, the climaxes for each book, but I don’t necessarily know each twist and turn along the way. That’s something I discover in the course of writing and that’s what makes writing enjoyable. I think if I outlined comprehensively and stuck to the outline the actual writing would be boring.

Ultimately, there is no right way for this. Figure out what works for you. There are great and successful writers from both camps. However, I think Martin hits it on the head, that there is no one way without the other, but merely tendencies toward one or the other.

There are many who might think themselves purists, or fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants writers, or organic writers, or whatever. These writers tend to demonize outlining, and often planning, period. I used to side a lot more with that camp.

Writing this way is fun and exploratory, I suppose. It also churned out a really rambling and crappy first draft. I started developing more plot points that I was writing toward, because I realized things needed more focus, and the writing got better. Lately I have been studying plot and structure and the things that are known to be present in good fiction. The things that make good plot points, and ways to make my writing tighter.

I don’t know if I will ever be an all out outliner. I think I would tend to agree with Martin that to do this entirely would take the fun out of the writing. However, especially as a writer in progress, I think really thinking through and *gasp* planning out those plot points and major events, and maybe even some ways of getting there can be really beneficial. No matter what, you will probably discover many things, regardless of the plan. But good plots have structure.

Don’t just jump in and hope for the best, though. Most great works happen with a lot of planning, a lot of hard work, and, yes, discoveries along the way. But most likely you won’t have one without the other.

Worldbuilding Through Action (A World in the Details — Part One)

Perhaps one of the greatest rookie mistakes in writing is found in the setting. Not because the setting is no good, but because beginning writers tend to info-dump their setting into paragraph upon paragraph of details, all in the first couple chapters when you are supposed to be hooking the reader.

Setting is one of the most important aspects of your novel, and I believe it is one of the most poorly done aspects. Not due to content, but due to poor execution.

So I am going to spend a few days talking about worldbuilding more effectively.

 

Info-dumping

Info-dumping may be especially apparent, and tempting, in fantasy and science fiction, as the worlds are different from our own, but it is a tendency in any sort of fiction.

infodumpsWe want to figure all these little things out as the writer, and that is okay. We need to know how the world of our novels works. And so do the readers, but readers don’t need pages of details outlining infrastructure and government systems and so forth. They will almost assuredly get bogged down, bored, and will probably not read further.

Your novel needs a resonating setting that is nearly as gripping and complex as your characters. And you need to know how to paint that world strategically as you seek to draw in your readers.

 

Reveal the World Through Action

When I set out to write my first novel ever, I had some ideas about the setting, but mostly I was starting out with a few vague ideas and trying to figure out the details. I just started writing, and what came out was a couple of pages of detailed setting, before zooming in the “camera” on my protagonist, who was sitting around, and thinking about her troubles. In other words I had a really boring, but really descriptive first chapter that contained lots of information but no plot movement. I, the writer, discovered a lot, but the reader would have been bored.

Resist that urge to info-dump. Rather than spend pages of description at the outset, unfold your setting through your protagonist’s eyes during scenes of action. It’s okay to slow down every now and then and give the reader information, but don’t ramble, and don’t throw too much at the beginning. Just give us enough to spark our interest.

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One of my favorite examples is the film Inception. It is a pretty crazy and complex film, and Christopher Nolan could have began the film before his characters enter the dream sequence and explained how the system of mind-heisting worked. But instead, he progressively reveals it through action. Show, don’t tell, you know.

We find out that the action is a dream, through action and dialogue, and then action tells us that the characters are in a dream within a dream, and so on. It is not until we are thirty minutes into the film that Nolan pauses to explain how the characters are able to hack into dreams. And even then, Nolan does it by introducing the method to a new character.

6f5Not convinced? How about George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones? Here we are given a grandiose and very detailed world. And yet, it slowly unfolds. He doesn’t begin with details about the history of Westeros, and details upon details about the relationships between Targaryens and Starks and Lannisters and so forth. He doesn’t tell us about the tension between Starks and Lannisters. This is revealed when Lannisters come to the Starks’ home in Winterfell. And more and more is revealed as the action of the story unfolds.

We don’t need to fully understand things to keep reading. In fact, wanting to know and understand more, may be the very thing that keeps us reading. Give us a character and a great inciting incident, and let the world unfold along with the story.


Tune back in tomorrow for Part Two and we’ll talk about using fewer but more effective details to enrich your storyworld.

The Color of Mourning

I’ve heard it said that you don’t truly love something until you see someone else love it. I think there is truth to this.

I never read much Terry Pratchett to be honest. His books were always high on my list, but I never quite got to them. But people I know loved him, and without reading much of his work, I recognize him as a great writer, who’s work got tragically cut short by disease. As Alzheimer’s has wreaked its havoc in my own family, perhaps his death rung truer than most. For a writer I never really read, I’ve thought of him often the past few days, imagining the frustration a writer would feel as Alzheimer’s took it’s toll. But I think it may be more than that.

Neil Gaiman is one of my all time favorite writers, and was good friends with Terry Pratchett. What I think is most powerfully incredible about writing is that it allows us to hop into others’ heads for a while, to think like they think and feel like they feel. Shortly before his friend passed away, Neil wrote a piece about his friend Terry Pratchett, and I feel that I grew to know him more through reading this, and watching some subsequent anecdotal interviews, than perhaps if I had read Terry’s fiction.

There are many great writers out there, but I think Terry was also a great human, and those are much rarer. He took one of my favorite writers under his proverbial wing before he’d published a Sandman comic or much of anything else. Terry faced Death bravely, and he raged against injustice and against his own disease until the end. He also continued writing, despite his fading mind, until last year, which I find absolutely remarkable.

Many will mourn a fantastic comic fantasy writer. But I am mourning a human I never met. Not because of the tragedy of his disease, and because I can relate to that tragedy in my own family and to the rage at the lack of Alzheimer’s research. Though I think that is part of it, I think I caught a glimpse of Sir Terry Pratchett through another’s eyes, and that made his writing, his rage, his disease, and his death, matter to me all the more.

Writing is a funny thing, and it is powerful.

Keeping Things Plot Specific

Revision Reflections Part 2

 

In the early drafts of my novel, The Lingering Shadow, there were various elements to the story which I found very interesting, but as I was revising and redrafting, found that they slowed down my narrative significantly. Especially when I needed to trim things down. There is no better microscope for unneeded material than the need to trim down the manuscript.

Word count is a tricky thing. For established writers, I think, it is much less of a worry. Stephen King and J.K. can write for as long as they want, and sure they have editors, but they can pack a lot more into a story. For those of us still waiting to break out, word count is a constant worry. Our respective genres have expectations, and we, as newcomers, are a financial risk to publishers. My novel is YA sci-fi / fantasy. Most sources I’ve found give a general WC expectation of 80-100,000 words. Anything longer than that and agents and editors alike worry before they’ve read a word of the book. So, large as my plot is, I have striven to remain within that range. Here are some suggestions from my latest revision that have helped me keep things trimmed down.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

There is a main plot line for your story. There will be smaller secondary plot lines for various characters, and you need these, because, even in first person, the story does not only belong to your Main Character. Everyone needs to be in the story for a reason, not a body count. Each character needs to WANT something, and being striving to obtain it, just as your MC is doing. Some writers keep things too simple, and everything pertains to the MC, and the secondary characters become nothing more than extra bodies in a scene. Don’t do that. However, if a character, plot line, or event is not driving the larger story forward, it can probably be cut.

For example, in my story, Taylor, my MC, originally begins the story with a boyfriend. Early on they break up, providing tension later on in the story, and between her and her good friend, Darien, who is secretly in love with her. I considered cutting the ex altogether, but found that I needed him for some tension at key points in the story, even though he doesn’t play much of a part in the larger story. But he was needed. However, I did NOT need the relationship shown in the story. I was able to cut scenes of his and Taylor’s relationship, and make him the ex from the start. Those scenes, I found, were not missed at all. I needed the ex in the story, but I didn’t need the relationship, just knowledge of it. This simplified the story and got it going much quicker, while maintaining needed tension.

Keep the STORY Moving

You need tension dripping from every page. Things can’t go your MC’s way. That’s boring. The WANTS of your characters need to clash, causing conflict. However, tension for tension’s sake is not good either. The best tension arises from those conflicting wants of your characters. Other tension drags down the story.

In early drafts, Taylor was a recovering alcoholic, who turned to drinking after her mother and sister died, and her family system fell apart. Taylor’s alcoholism was very interesting to me. I loved writing from that perspective and seeing Taylor deal with that throughout the story. However, I found that it really didn’t add anything at all to the larger story. It added some great tension early on, and then, when the bigger story comes to the forefront, it actually hindered it. I would still love to investigate the struggles of a teen alcoholic, but this wasn’t the story to do it in. I had too many other things going on that were more important. I could either keep it, and have be insignificant later, which would be a low blow to teens (or anyone) who struggles with alcohol abuse. Or I could cut it. Which I did.

This cleared up scenes and helped me keep the main story moving and at the forefront of my narrative.

Raise the Stakes

My novel is filled with several significant events that bring certain characters together and introduce the larger story (yep, I said it again). In an early draft, Taylor is attacked by a pair of drunks and a mysterious stranger named Rogue comes to her rescue. Originally, the drunks were merely a device for her and Rogue to meet. It was interesting enough, but it didn’t have anything to do with the larger story outside the meeting of two characters. But what if those drunks weren’t drunks at all, but actors, or better yet, since I’m writing about a race of humans with supernatural abilities, what if the actors were also shape shifters trying to draw out (spoiler) Taylor’s not-so-dead mother? Now that is a lot more interesting, and kept the main story at the forefront, and introduced the antagonists from the get-go, while also introducing Taylor and Rogue when Taylor is in danger, significant to their relationship and a mind connection they share, which is revealed later.

I’ll say it again, keep the larger story, the main plot, always in view. We need those secondary story lines and characters, we need that tension throughout, but it will always be more interesting if it also has to do with the real plot. This also keeps things trimmed down, and helps with that dreaded word count.

The Gateway Drug (on ‘escapist fiction’ and the beginning of a writer’s blog)

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“Fiction is a gateway drug to reading… Once you learn that [reading is pleasurable], you are on the road to reading everything” – Neil Gaiman

 

This is my first post on this particular site; as a writer you may guess that I’ve written elsewhere. And that quote is one of my favorites from one of my favorites, addressing critiques of ‘escapist’ stories for children.

Writers of fiction, particularly speculative fiction, and even more so, children’s fiction (I am guilty of all three), regularly seem to come under criticism from snobs and intellectuals, who I imagine read nothing but Stephen Hawking, history textbooks, etc., and perhaps for some light reading, breeze over Plato’s Five Dialogues. Who needs stories, when we have facts, right?

For snobs, if fiction is to be tolerated, it sure had better be literary, whatever that really means (when I hear literary, I immediately think of my college lit classes, and blaring sirens go off, “Boring, boring, boring!“). For writer’s like me, (YA fantasy, specifically) it seems that we are constantly forced to justify our work, because it is seen as lower, dumber, etc. than aforementioned literary literature that generally has to have over-the-top dialect, which makes for an excessively tiresome read, as well as very little action (tension) present throughout. In my college writing classes (where I began my now-completed fantasy) my imaginative work was often thought of  as “B-movie” material, a plot about a race of humans with super-human abilities set in a rebuilding, post-apocalyptic earth had little literary value in comparison with the memoirs and largely boring scenes of dialogue, dealing with unwanted pregnancies, etc.

Granted, my writing probably wasn’t great. Actually, I know it wasn’t, but I was only beginning, give me a break. It took me years of lots and lots of writing to get to where i am now: decent. But for me, my idea was original, and it was mine. I was creating a world from scratch, and I was loving it, and I was getting flack from the ones whining about their childhood all day in their writing.

But there is something to be said about the real world in speculative fiction, I think. If nothing more, it is pleasurable, as Gaiman says, and as I discovered as a child. It is not escapist fiction. We may not be the best writers on earth (we speculative children’s authors), but our kind is widely read and enjoyed world-wide. And the snobs are probably just jealous that that sort of dribble is what sells.

I’d rather be read by ordinary folk anyway, than by the literary folk. Perhaps, another day, I will expand on the College Literary scene, which I find detrimental to YA/ children’s writers like myself. But those classes also got me started. They helped me waste a lot of time, trying to refine my writing, and make it more “literary, etc.” when I should have been completing the story (story always comes first, and then the writing can be made better — but NOT literary, when that is not your intended audience!). But I digress.

I’ve been writing for many years now, and I now have a project called “The Lingering Shadow” that is completed, after multiple drafts. I am currently revising and trimming it, and then it will be beta-reader time, and then, it will be querying-an-agent time.

Until now, all I’ve done is learn from others how to write and get better, but as I move into a new realm (seeking publication), I thought I would begin sharing what I’ve learned, and continue to learn along the way.

Stephen King was once asked why he wrote horror (and he is a master at it). He replied that he didn’t see why it was assumed he had a choice in the matter.

That is often how I feel with what I write. It is a part of who I am. I loved children’s books, and continue to love them to this day, particularly those of a speculative fantasy nature. I find they have more to say about the world than many other ‘higher’ forms of literature. How could I write anything else, but what I enjoy?

If I could begin this blog with any advice to other writers, it is this: Write what you love, and ignore anyone who would try to belittle it.