The Trouble with Editing

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I’m almost finished with a quick, by-the-seat-of-my-pants edit of my 1st draft manuscript. It goes into beta with about 7 people in just 3 days!! I’m thrilled but also feeling vaguely menaced at the same time. That’s not a lot of time to edit. Welllllll…

To be honest, I had this whole month to edit the 65,000 word piece (which is really very good odds, overall – less than 2,100 words a day to review!) but spent the first week of February celebrating the completion of my manuscript and the next week and a half sewing like a panicked woman for a hard deadline. That left just 13 days to edit the whole piece (more like 5,000 words to deal with per day). Only, wait! I also do freelance web copy writing and suddenly I had TONS of work. So now I was spending 7 hours a day doing freelance work and almost no time at all working on the novel.

Editing, one friend has said, is like being trapped in a gilded cage of my own devising.

I can’t wait to get out.

The Trouble with “Strong Female Characters”

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I was inspired to talk about this topic thanks to a freelance job I have writing about gaming culture AND this great blog post from Chuck Wendig. Wendig addresses something very important to me in his post: the idea of agency. 

What is Agency and Why Does it Matter?

Agency and ego are tied together in a character, creating a fictional person who thinks, reacts, and – most importantly – acts to move the story forward. The character has motivation. She does more than reacts – she acts and, because of her actions, the story moves forward. In fact, without her actions, the plot would not and could not exist.

A “strong female character” who kicks ass but has no depth or human desires is no better than a damsel who exists solely to be rescued. It isn’t ass-kicking that defines a believable, human, interesting female character; it’s a metric we should rid ourselves of because, in the end, shooting and kicking and magicking aren’t what makes a character interesting. Ass-kicking does not inherently equal agency.

Identifying Agency and Evaluating Character

There are several simple “tests” suggested to identify if female characters are even remotely three-dimensional. The first and probably most well-known is The Bedchel Test which asks if two named female characters in a book (movie, comic, etc) talk about something other than a man. It’s a simple enough test, but a startling number of stories “fail” it.

Comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick offers the “Sexy Lamp Test” that goes like this: “if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft. ”

We are, I think, all of us looking for characters who are interesting, who think, who act, and who have drives and desires.

The Strong Female Character

So often, female protagonists are described as “strong” almost as a justification – a defense of the strange decision to choose to tell a story about a woman. Are we ashamed, in some quiet way, as a culture, to be telling women’s stories? Is it so bad and scary that we must defend our female characters with the traditionally male definition of “strong?” Next time you see one of these so-called “Strong Female Characters” remember to dig deeper and see what she’s really made of.

Destroying Genre Fiction, One Under-Represented Group at a Time

Last June (2014), something strange and amazing happened: women destroyed science fiction. It was far from a tragedy. Rather, prominent online literary magazine Lightspeed published a special issue featuring science fiction and speculative fiction by all female authors and guest edited by Christie Yant.
And somehow – somehow – the world continued to turn.
In fact, literature at large may have come out the other side of this terrible rebellion a little better off.
Why? Because in literature, as with all things in life, inclusivity makes a huge difference. Sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, region of residence: all of these voices are different and all of them matter. We live not in an increasingly-diverse world but, rather, in a world that is finally, increasingly, acknowledging its diversity.
This year, Lightspeed has returned to promote another underrepresented group of writers with their new Kickstarter (which has taken off like a rocket): Queers Destroy Science Fiction. This one will be guest edited by the incredible Seanan McGuire (who wrote WDSF’s anchor piece, Each to Each).
I know that I, for my part, can’t wait to submit something(s) to this year’s amazing guest edition and I hope that, my dear readers, should any of you qualify, that you submit something as well.

Beta Reading

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“Get feedback — oodles of it. Along the way, show pieces of your book to lots of people — different types of people. Ply them with wine and beg them for candor. Find out what’s missing, what’s being misinterpreted, what isn’t convincing, what’s falling flat. This doesn’t mean you take every suggestion or write the book by committee. But this process will allow [you] to marry your necessarily-precious vision with how people will actually react. I find that invaluable.”
— David Shenk, Author of The Forgetting and The Genius in All of Us

Well. I did it. I finished my urban fantasy manuscript. Draft #1 is complete!

And now it is time for the hard part: beta reading and subsequent drafts.

What is a beta reader and why do I need one?

An alpha reader or a beta reader is generally a non-professional (that is, not someone involved in the editing or publishing industry) who reads and critiques a manuscript before it goes on to publication. In my case, my beta readers are members of my writing group who have seen this manuscript go from a few opening pages through to a completed 65,000 word project.

These readers are invaluable. They will read my first draft as if it were a completed book and give me feedback on plot, character, style, dialogue, and everything in between. No writer is an island. We need feedback and an outside perspective to keep ourselves on track (or at least from getting too terribly off-track). We can get so bogged down in our own work that sometimes we get lost in it and can no longer see the big picture.

The best beta readers will provide a comprehensive written reaction to a manuscript. The best writers, then, should help their beta readers along. I suggest creating a short survey with open-ended questions, which will help the beta reader form and clearly explain their feelings and thoughts on the book.

So that’s my February project: clean up the draft so it’s readable (close any plot holes and tentatively create chapter breaks) and create the survey questions for my beta reading team. Easier said than done, I’m sure. What is your February project?