Tag: writing advice

How Does I Critique Good? Redux

My previous entry on how to do critique partnerships may have been a bit heavy on demands and rules. I’ve come up with something a lot simpler. You give me as much of your writing as you want. I’ll get back to you in 30 days. All I ask in return is that you extend to me the same courtesy.

And that’s it. For critique partners, I’m looking for fellow writers who will read with a writer’s eye. I need help on characterization, pacing, and unpacking of scenes. Once the critiquing stage is done, I’ll move on to beta readers.

Beta readers can be anybody. All I ask for them is to read as much as they can in 30 days then get back to me with general “Is this story good?” type of feedback.

That said, I currently have 1 critique partner, and I’m in need of about 4 more. People from different cultural backgrounds is a plus. It’s always nice to get a good cross-section of society.

Does this mean my book is ready for CPs?

Basically, yeah. The book is done. Unless I decide to include book two as the second half of the same book. Then it’s about half-done. Still toying with that idea. Will make a final decision by September.

Something Something Dark Side. Something something something complete.

Hey, kids! Book is coming along nicely. Current draft is done, and I am looking for feedback on the first three chapters. Going to be soliciting for CPs on Twitter shortly. Let me know if you’re interested in being a beta reader. Comment below.

Beta readers read as much of the book as they’d like and send me their initial impressions. CPs, I expect some more in-depth, writerly guidance. That’s why I ask other writers to be CPs. We can’t help ourselves. Try to resist the urge to edit as you go! I don’t want anyone editing and not getting paid for it. If you’re good at something, never do it for free. Ha ha! Been guilty of that myself.

In other news, I’m thinking of converting this blog to twice a month or monthly, and then doing a weekly video rather than weekly blog posts. That way you get more bang for your buck, and I don’t have to write something captivating every freakin’ week.

Of course, I could do both. Weekly blog and weekly vlog. That could be fun. Hm…What do you think? Comments welcome!

What To Do: Can’t Write

Here’s seven quick things you can do to get the creative juices flowing.

Creative juices. Ew. What are creative juices anyway? Is it like blood? Some kind of special brain phlegm? Spinal fluid, maybe? Or maybe it’s cranberry juice. I bet it’s cranberry juice.

You know, I was having trouble working on the novel today. Just couldn’t seem to get in the zone. So I thought I’d make this list post about how to get the creative juices flowing. But now I’m hung up on juices. What carries creative juices? And why “juice?” Why that word? Why not “creative waters” or “creative liquids?”

And why is it plural? Is there more than one type of creative juice? Is there a diet creative juice? How many calories are in creative juices? Can you buy it at the store? Clearly not.

Do adding tags do anything to my stats? I’m guessing not since I average about 5 readers a week. Not to insult any of you. I’m sure you’re lovely people. But it’d be nice to get into double digits now and again. Ah well.

Anyway, the book is coming along. Trying to get in 1000 words a day, but it’s tough. Because I’m lazy and easily distracted.

Distracted by juices.

Critiquing Manuscripts the Conq Enterprises Way

Finding critique partners can be tricky. Finding good ones is trickier, and of course giving and receiving valuable critiques is the trickiest…er…trick of them all.

Probably the most daunting prospect of being a critique partner is just reading someone else’s book. You may not like the story or connect with the characters. You may not particularly care about the other person’s story at all. But you’ve signed up to offer a critique, and by golly, you’re gonna do it!

All the while thinking “Sigh. Are there really 300 more pages of this?”

But it’s not just that our interest may wax or wane depending on the story we’ve chosen to critique. If you look online, you’ll find there’s no one standard way of doing critiques. (There’s no one standard way of doing anything, really, but that’s a subject for another blog.) You’ll find dozens of videos, articles, and podcasts spouting opinions on how to give an effective critique, and while these are useful, they seem to lack a certain structure.

Don’t get me wrong. These resources are excellent means for telling you what constitutes a valuable critique. The question is how to package your critique within a reasonable time-frame. Too often as writers we can over-commit ourselves to reading half-a-dozen novels for friends and acquaintances without regard to a realistic schedule. Just when, exactly, are you going to finish reading your cousin’s brother’s best friend’s alien/robot erotica? You’ve had it on your desk for three weeks. When are you going to read the five ten-page excerpts from your fellow writers’ club members? How to prioritize? What to say when you make the critique? All of these seem to be lacking in the resources I’ve found.

This is why I’ve developed my own unique style of critiquing. First, I’m not going to read your entire book. I’m just not. I’m busy. You’re busy. You want your critique in a reasonable amount of time, and in order to get it to you, I have to sacrifice a great deal of my time. I’m ok with that. But I also have numerous other books I want/need to read, recreational activities I enjoy, and a full-time job, as well as a book I’m working on. I don’t say this to be mean, and if I genuinely enjoy your story, I’ll probably end up reading it cover-to-cover.

Otherwise, here’s what I will do:

  • Read the entire first chapter
  • Read the first and last paragraph of every chapter until the final
  • Read the entire final chapter

This is what professional book reviewers do (at least according to one of my old college professors), and this is how I’m going to handle your manuscript. This way, I can get you my critique of your work in a timely and efficient manner. Probably around two weeks from beginning to end, maybe more depending on length of manuscript.

“But what if I don’t use chapters?”

Then I’ll split your book into ten-page bites and treat those as chapters.

Of course, if you’d rather exchange bite-sized chunks rather than completed manuscripts, we can do it that way too.

When I’m done reading your manuscript or excerpt, I’ll provide you with at least three aspects of your story that worked really well and three areas you may want to work on. That will be three things I liked, and three things you can do right now to make your book even better.

I’ll look at your book’s use of the five elements of story to determine these areas of excellence and growth. These elements of story are plot, character, conflict, theme, and setting.

You can expect at least five paragraphs typed, turned in within a reasonable time-frame, along with specific examples of what went right and what needs improvement.

In exchange, I only ask that you give my work the same attention I gave yours. That means you don’t have to read the whole thing. Read as much or as little as you want. Please give me three things you liked and three ways I can improve the work.

And that’s it.

Now why should we do it this way? Well, I think it will be the most effective use of our time to get each other’s complete novels read, as well as providing a clear, specific guide for what a good critique should include. There’s no reason for us to read each other’s full and complete novels, covering each other’s pages in red ink, circling every misspelled word, scribbling notes in every margin, etc.

We’re not offering free edits to each other. If we offer editing services, we should be paid, and critique partners should be unpaid, informal sources of feedback. If you’d like to give me a full edit, feel free to let me know your price ranges, and I’ll do the same for you.

I think these standards and guidelines are fair for writers to adopt. What do you think? Am I being gross? Have I been fair? Let me know in the comments or feel free to rage-tweet me @MrWBrust.

Book Update: 4/15/20

Good news, everyone! Book is still on the way. I’m in the midst of final edits as well as reworking the ending. Got some great stuff on the way. Working on character arcs and having some actual meaning behind the words. Sounds fancy, I know, and hopefully I can pull it off. We’ll see. If not, no worries. You write one book. You go write another.

Some people may be wondering what inspires someone like me? Well, I find inspiration everywhere. In the trees, in the sunlight, in the mountains, and the sea. And of course good books.

Some of my favorite authors include Ursula Le Guin, Kurt Vonnegut, and Octavia Butler. I derived a ton of inspiration from Star Wars. In some ways, my story is a mix of Return of the Jedi and Conan the Barbarian. Does that make any sense? Maybe not. That’s ok. Fantasy doesn’t always make sense.

I’m just writing stream of consciousness now while I listen to the 7th Annual On Cinema Oscar Special. What is that? Well, that is another long story.

In other fantasy news, I did see Dracula this past winter on Netflix. It was amazing! Yes, even episode 3. I don’t get why people are talking about a season 2. They said they’d adapt the novel, and they did. Is it a precise adaptation? No. But neither is the Lugosi version. Frankly, I found the Netflix version to be closest to Stoker’s original text, second only to the Coppola film.

Yes, even with Keanu Reeves’s attempt at a British accent (It’s ok, Keanu. We still love you. You’re the One, after all.)

Now, you may be wondering: During this pandemic, have I been keeping busy with my writing? Of course! Lots of writing is getting done.

Have I made any new LEGO videos?

Of course I have.

Pay Your Artists

Once, I had a vision. I would write an amazing comic book and find an artist to draw it with me. Not for me. With me. You know, a collaboration. Like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Or Ditko and Lee. Or Simon and Schuster. Wait, that last one doesn’t work.

Anyway, the basic idea was that I’d write the script, and the artist would draw/ink/color the comic. Once the comic sold, we’d split the profits. Sounds fair, right?

Actually no. It’s not. To anyone. In fact, I was being an enormous jerk and not even realizing it.

“But William, why wouldn’t an artist agree to split the profits 50/50 once the product sold?”

Because this isn’t 1945 anymore, chubs. Artists get paid. Period. I know it may be hard to hear and harder to accept, but really I was the jerk expecting free work in exchange for the promise of payment someday. Would I have accepted that deal if the roles had been reversed? Absolutely not. How could I expect someone else to accept a deal like that from me? It was wrong of me. Hubris, plain and simple.

“But wait. What about exposure? Don’t ar–“

Lemme stop you there. People die from exposure (cue rimshot).

Now, you notice how I used Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as an example of a collaboration team? That was intentional. They created a lot of great art together, sure, but people forget it was Kirby who got screwed. Maybe it was his fault for signing a work-for-hire contract, fair enough. But remember Siegel and Shuster? That was a perfect example of a collaboration that created wonderful art…at the expense of the artist and writer. Both were paid minimal, neither truly compensated for what they contributed.

So what’s the point here? The point is if you want to make it as a comic book writer nowadays, you either have to draw something yourself or hire an artist. Hire. As in “pay somebody.” A sizeable percentage upfront, the rest on completion. Fair? Yes. For both of you.

Why both? Well, it’s fair to the artist because they’re being paid for their creative output, not in the promise of some hypothetical future payment that may never come. It’s also fair to the writer because if you establish yourself as the sort of person who puts their money where their mouth is, your reputation will soar. Artists will WANT to work with you.

If, on the other hand, you insist on paying in exposure or promises, you will build a reputation as an amateur at best, a cad at worst.

“But why should I pay the artist? I slaved over that script and no one paid me!”

You sure did, chuckles, but keep in mind you CHOSE to write that script. It’s your baby. Your passion. You can’t expect that level of passion from a friend, let alone a stranger. I’ve had plenty of artist friends. I hope I haven’t ruined too many relationships by asking for free art. Hopefully, those bridges aren’t burned. (I know at least one is intact. Hey, Joe!)

If you don’t have the money now, start saving. If you have the guts, draw it yourself. I did.

Now for the bad news. Writers are a dime a dozen, especially in comics. In fact, a lot of publishers will tell you upfront that script-only is a no-sell. Must have full-team to play. You wanna run with the wolves, you better have your own pack. No one’s matching you with an artist, slick. And if they hire the artist and tell you to hit the bricks, that’s just show-biz. Here’s where athletes have it a little easier than creatives. If you have the numbers as a pitcher, the MLB doesn’t expect you to bring your own catcher to try-outs. They’ll pick from the best and build the team up from there. Not so in comics.

There are of course, exceptions to this rule. And their names are Grant Morrison, Kurt Busiek, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, John Grisham, Richard Donner, and any number of high-profile creators who haven’t hurt for work in decades. Nothing against them. They made it. Most of us don’t.

Sadly, a big reason most of us don’t is that so many publications insist on paying their talent in either exposure or the promise of payment. A lot of us fall for this stupidity and wind up burned and discouraged.

Let me tell you as story. I worked for an online magazine for all of a year. I did three stories for them. They published one and told me they’d pay once the ad revenue came in. That was summer of 2008, and I still haven’t received my $100. Because I was young and stupid, I didn’t insist on a contract up-front, so there was nothing I could do. I’d just worked for free.

Do I remember that guy’s name? Yes, I do.

Will I name him here? No. I’m classier than that. (Besides the online publication doesn’t even exist anymore.)

The point is I’ll never work with that guy — or anyone else — without a contract. Why? Because I deserve to get paid for my work. And so do you. And so does your artist. If we don’t pay our artists, how can we turn around and expect payment from publishers? We must create a culture of compensation for creatives. It’s time for the starving artist archetype to die.