Fixing the First Page Feature #8

Photo credit: eflon on Flickr
Number eight, here we go! As per usual, I’ll start by posting the full first 250 excerpt, after which I’ll share my overall thoughts, then my redline critique. I encourage you guys to share your own thoughts and critiques in the comments (because, as I will continue to say, I’m only one person with one opinion!), as long as it’s polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be deleted.

Let’s do this. :)

Genre/Category: Inspirational/Christian Fiction 
First 250:  

“Libby paced the living room of her Berkeley apartment and checked the clock on the wall for the dozenth time. In a matter of minutes, Kurt would arrive to pick her up for their eighth date. Eight dates in eight weeks. Had it already been two months? 
Jayne Licerio, Libby’s best friend and roommate, sauntered into the room and over to the counter separating the kitchen from the main living area. “I thought you were going out tonight.” 
"We are.” Libby stopped her pacing and plopped down on the couch. 
“That’s too bad.” Jayne shook her head. “I thought your casual attire meant you’ve finally come to your senses.” 
Libby looked down at the faded denim jeans she wore and feigned a smile. Jayne never liked Kurt. At first Libby didn’t understand why. He was successful, charismatic, and a Christian. What was there not to like? 
But their last date caused Libby to question his motives and made her regret not sticking to her plan of not dating, something she hadn’t done since high school. Getting her college education didn’t allow time for it anyway, and watching what her sister went through convinced Libby men were bad news. When Kurt Stevens swept her off her feet, Libby thought maybe she’d give the male gender another chance. 
Big mistake. 
She took a deep breath and released it, but it did little to relax the ball of nerves rolling in the pit of her stomach.”

Hmmm okay. This is actually not a critique at all, but the coincidence of all these eights is amusing me. Anyway.

At this point, I’m curious about what Kurt did to make Libby question whether going out with him would be a good idea, though I’m thinking it might work better if the reasoning wasn’t withheld from the reader (after all, as we’re in Libby’s third person limited POV, shouldn’t we know what happened?). I’m also a little uncertain about how Libby feels about the date—initially I thought she was just having pre-date nerves, and then she mentions regretting going back on her no-dating policy, which then made me question why she’s going on another date if whatever Kurt did was that bad. Granted, this is only the first 250, and I don’t expect to get Libby’s full motivations right away, but I think a little more clarity on how she’s feeling in this opening would be useful.

Now for the redline critique.

“Libby paced the living room of her Berkeley apartment and checked the clock on the wall for the dozenth time. In a matter of minutes, Kurt would arrive to pick her up for their eighth date any minute now. Eight dates in eight weeks. Had it already been two months? Rather than this thought about the time (as we can see that yes, it’s been two months), I’d like to see something about how Libby feels about the situation. Is she happy they’ve been dating two months? Has it been a good two months? Is she wondering if maybe she should end it? The range of possibilities is super wide, and right now, I have no idea where she stands.  
Jayne Licerio, Libby’s best friend and roommate, sauntered into the room and over to the counter separating the kitchen from the main living room area. Is it important for us to know Jayne’s last name? This is super subjective and more of a peeve for me, but I tend not to care about last names unless they’re major characters (though maybe Jayne is? It’s hard to say this early on). “I thought you were going out tonight.” 
We are.” Libby stopped her pacing and plopped down on the couch. "We are.” Check to make sure you're consistent with your quotation marks. You have smart quotes and straight quotes here. 
“That’s too bad.” Jayne shook her head. “I thought your casual attire those ugly jeans meant you’ve finally come to your senses.” I’m not sure if it fits Jayne’s character to call her jeans ugly, but the idea is to go with a specific detail rather than a vague descriptor. Also, “attire” sounds too formal for the situation.  
Libby looked down at the her faded denim jeans she wore and feigned a smile. Jayne never liked Kurt. At first Libby didn’t understand why. He was successful, charismatic, and a Christian. What was there not to like? Is there a way you can show this? Maybe Jayne could make a comment like “You’ve never liked Kurt.” Otherwise, I’d condense to something like “It’d been easy to ignore Jayne’s warnings about Kurt until their last date…” The bit about him being successful, charismatic, and Christian you can show us through Kurt’s actions and characterization. 
But their last date caused Libby to question his motives and made her regret breaking her no-dating policy not sticking to her plan of not dating, something she hadn’t done since high school. Having read this a second time now, I’d definitely rather know what happened. The detail would be more grounding and make sense, considering we’re in Libby’s POV. Or, if you don’t want to give it all away immediately, then hint at the disaster date with a detail rather than vaguely talking about it. Getting her college education didn’t allow time for it anyway, and watching what her sister went through convinced Libby men were bad news. When Kurt Stevens swept her off her feet, Libby thought maybe she’d give the male gender another chance. I’d cut this and show us this backstory bit by bit later on. I think you’ve got too much backstory in this opening, and it’s slowing down the narrative considerably.  
Big mistake. 
She took a deep breath and released it exhaled slowly, but it did little to relax the ball of nerves rolling in the pit of her stomach. Reworded to avoid repetition of ‘it.’

Overall, I think this opening can work with some tweaks, but at the moment a lot of the backstory and explaining is slowing down the action. Nothing has happened at the end of your first page, and I think it’d be helpful to move things along a little more quickly. Remember: we don’t need all the backstory upfront, and oftentimes, it’s much more effective to spread it out. Also, you've got a bit of wordiness throughout, which indicates you probably have the same issue throughout the rest of your manuscript. I've done what I can to try to condense here on the first page, but I recommend you try to do the same to the rest of the WIP.

If I saw this in the slush, I’d probably pass, however that’s largely because I tend to prefer a quicker pace in submissions (so super super subjective). That said, I think with some fixes, this could be a great start with some interesting conflict upfront.

Thanks for sharing your first 250, Linda!

Would you like to be featured in a Fixing the First Page Feature? Keep an eye out for the next giveaway! 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae talks balancing backstory and pacing in the 8th Fixing the First Page critique. (Click to tweet)

Nothing is Normal (in the Publishing Industry)

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I’ve often heard people say that anyone who talks about writing or the publishing industry in absolutes is most likely wrong. I think, beyond some obvious exceptions (i.e.: yes, you really do have to read, or, yes, you really do have to revise), this is usually true. Because the publishing industry? It’s weird, you guys.

Some writers publish traditionally. Some self-publish. Some do both.

Some writers won’t get an agent until they’ve written nine ten eleven fifteen books. Some writers get an agent with their first second third book.

Some writers go on sub and have an offer the next freaking morning (I know, contain your jealousy), others go on sub and have nothing but silence and rejections for over a year, then sell to a major publisher.

Some writers get a really small or nonexistent advance, other writers get multi-book deals with six plus figures.

Some writers publish a book a year (or less). Other writers publish six seven eight nine books in the span of twelve months.

Some writers self-publish and sell a few dozen or hundred copies. Other writers self-publish and become massive bestsellers and have traditional publishers approaching them to print their mega-successful book.

Some writers hit it big with their debut novel and end up a #1 NYT bestseller the same week their book debuts. Other writers mid-list with their debut and slowly build up their careers, one book at a time.

When it comes to the publishing industry, there isn’t a “usual.” This is a notoriously unpredictable career choice with a ridiculous range in possibilities.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is if you don’t get an agent with your fifth six seventh book, if you don’t get an immediate response when on submission, if you don’t get a huge advance or publish eight books a year, if you don’t sell as many copies of your book as you hoped, if you don’t hit it big with your debut, it’s okay. It really, truly, honestly is okay, and I promise there are a hundred writers out there in your shoes, or who had really similar experiences. You are okay, and you will be okay.

Sure, it can be a little disappointing when reality doesn’t match up with your wildest dreams. But know that just because things aren’t lining up the way you’d hoped right now doesn’t mean they never will. Know that you’re not alone, and things will work out, but right now you just have to (yes, here it comes) be patient and let things play out how they will.

This is a tough industry to be in, but there are many out there who are right alongside you. Just keep your eyes on your own paper and do what you do best: write.

Twitter-sized bites:
Writer @Ava_Jae says when it comes to the publishing industry, there isn't a "normal." What do you think? (Click to tweet)  
"This is a notoriously unpredictable career choice w/ a ridiculous range in possibilities." —@Ava_Jae on publishing. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Do You Need a Degree to Get Published?

Today I answer a question I know a lot of young writers in particular struggle with: do you need a degree to get published? The answer isn't as straightforward as you might think. 


What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Do you need a degree to get published? Writer @Ava_Jae vlogs her thoughts. (Click to tweet)  
.@Ava_Jae says you don't need a degree to get published, but you might decide to get one anyway. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Giveaway Winner #8

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Quick super rare double post to announce the winner of the eighth fixing the first page feature giveaway! Are you ready?

The winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Linda!

Thank you to all you lovely entrants! There will be another next month, so keep an eye out! :)

Book Review: I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson

Photo credit: Goodreads
As you probably know by now, I like to start these review things with the Goodreads summary, so here we go: 
“Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways…until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.”
Right, so, I don’t usually do this, but I’m also going to share with you my Goodreads updates from when I was reading, because they basically sum up my experience pretty nicely:

I’m not sure what I expected when I picked up I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I knew the basics: dual POV, everyone seems to love it, LGBTQIA+ themes, and then it went ahead and won the Printz a few days after I started reading, so I knew chances that I was going to like it were high.

But wow, you guys. I really really loved this one.

I'm not an externally emotional reader. I mean, I obviously have feels like everyone else, but I’ve yet to read a book that made me cry, as I’ve confessed here before, and I’m usually pretty good about keeping a stoic exterior while reading. But I’ll Give You the Sun put me on the brink of tears several times, which is ridiculously rare for me, and I just loved Noah and Jude so much, and the writing!

The writing. I think Nelson’s prose is one of those love/hate varieties, but I definitely fell on the love side. Both Noah and Jude’s voices were a little out there with some of the imagery and analogies, but I felt like I really got it, and it totally made sense to me with their very artsy personalities, and it just felt so fresh, and wonderful, and fit the tone of the book beautifully.

Noah and Jude aren’t perfect. They both make hurtful, cringe-worthy mistakes with big consequences. They’re emotional, and young, and full of dreams, and highs, and lows, and I became so very emotionally entangled with their stories.

I often tell people that the best books make you feel something. I’ll Give You the Sun didn’t make me feel something—it made me feel everything. I loved every page, and Nelson’s got herself a new fan for sure.

What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
.@Ava_Jae gives 5/5 stars to I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by @jandynelson. Have you read this beautiful YA Contemporary? (Click to tweet)  
Looking for an emotional & diverse YA read? Check out I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson. (Click to tweet)

How to Import Word Comments into Scrivener

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UPDATE: I have since learned (thanks to a commenter and some experimenting) that you can skip ALL of this and just copy and paste. Who knew? Clearly not I. Happy Scrivener-ing!

Up until basically last week, I was under the impression that it was impossible to auto-import CP comments from Word into Scrivener. And so, I would sit for hours, importing CP comments by hand—that is, retyping them into Scrivener.

When I received my CP comments for the latest WIP, however, I knew there was no way I’d be able to do that this time. Because there were over 1,300 of them. (Yeah.)

So I had a choice: either edit entirely in Word (which, I mean, was an option, but not my favorite one), or spend a ridiculous amount of time importing by hand, which I’d pretty much already decided wouldn’t be worth it.

Or was there another choice?

After doing some internet scouring, I came across this post on importing documents from Word into Scrivener. I’d seen the post before, and already knew the process described in the post didn’t import comments, but this time my Google search directed me into the comments on the post…where I found my answer: RTF files.

After some playing around, I managed to figure it out with a little help from the post. And so here's the process I used:

  1. Open all documents containing CP notes in Microsoft Word. For me, that was three documents this time. The reason you need to open everything in Word first, is before you import to Scrivener, you need to merge all of your documents with CP notes into one Word doc. Which is a thing! A very useful thing. Anyway...

  2. Go to Tools > Track Changes > Compare Documents.

  3. Choose two of your documents. You will now see this menu:

    If you want to attempt to preserve the tracked changes your CPs suggested, then choose the document with the most tracked changes as “Original document.” I will say, however, this attempt to preserve tracked changes is somewhat futile as it gets messed up when you import to Scrivener anyway. So up to you. 

  4. Click “OK” and save your new document. Word creates a completely new document now with the comments from both of the documents you just “compared.” Save this document, then repeat this process as many times as you need (using your new merged document with the next one you want to merge with). 

  5. Save your final document as an RTF. Once you have your brand new, shiny document with all of your CP comments in one place, save your file as an RTF. This is what you’ll be importing into Scrivener.

  6. Open your project in Scrivener. Self-explanatory. 

  7. Go to File > Import > Files…

    And choose your new RTF file. This will bring in your newly merged document into Scrivener, with all comments intact. YAY! 

Some caveats:

  • You will have to redistribute your chapters or scenes into separate Scrivener scenes again. When you initially import, it’ll all be in one ginormous Scrivener scene, so you’ll have to reorganize however you had it before you compiled it into a Word document. This is a little annoying, but relatively easy and totally worth it, IMO. 

  • Tracked changes will be a mess. So this is a more significant downside—you’re going to lose a lot of the tracked changes your CPs suggested, both because they get messed up in the Word merge, and because Scrivener doesn’t recognize tracked changes. Instead, Scrivener will automatically try to implement the tracked changes that remained intact in the merged document, which is a bit of a headache because it doesn’t implement it correctly and it’s not marked, so you kind of just have to catch them.

    I didn’t know that when I imported, so I suspect I’ll be catching them for a while. I think, however, if you go through your Word document and fix all the tracked changes there before you import into Scrivener (and, even better—before you merge the documents in Word), this shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll be doing that in the future. 

  • All of your comments will be imported as if they came from the same person. As in, they’ll all be the same color. Which isn’t a big deal to me. I plan to color code mine differently once I’ve brought my comment count down to a manageable number. 

  • If two (or more) CPs comment on the same line their comments will be merged. You’ll be able to tell, because there won’t be a space between the end of CP 1’s comment and the beginning of CP 2’s comment. I actually don’t mind this—it lets me see multiple opinions in one CP box, and it’s I found it pretty fun when all three of my CPs commented on the same thing. 

So that’s it! I hope this saves you some time in getting Word comments into Scrivener. I know I, for one, will never be manually importing comments again.

Twitter-sized bites: 
Ever wonder how to get Word comments into Scrivener? Writer @Ava_Jae share the process she uses to do just that. (Click to tweet)  
Did you know you can import Word comments into Scrivener? Writer @Ava_Jae explains one method of doing so. (Click to tweet

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #8

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Hey everyone, it's that time again! I'm posting this on a usually non-post day because I maybe forgot February has less days than the rest of the months and I'm determined to squeeze in a first page critique this month. So yay spontaneous post! Anyway.

For those who’ve missed it in the past, the Fixing the First Page features is a public first 250 word critique. Using the lovely rafflecopter widget, anyone interested in winning a PUBLIC (as in, featured in a post on this blog) first page critique can enter.

For an example of what this critique will look like, here's the last Fixing the First Page post.


  • ONLY the first 250 words will be critiqued (up to finishing the sentence). If you win and send me more, I will crop it myself. No exceptions.

  • ONLY the first page. I don’t want 250 random words from your manuscript, or from chapter 3. If you win the critique and send me anything other than the first 250 words of your manuscript, I will choose someone else.

  • I will actually critique it. Here. On the blog. I will say things as nicely as I can, but I do tend to be a little blunt. If you’re not sure you can handle a public critique, then you may want to take some time to think about it before you enter.

  • Genre restrictions. I'm most experienced with YA & NA, but I will still accept MG and Adult. HOWEVER. If your first page has any erotic content on it, I ask that you don’t enter. I want to be able to post the critique and the first 250 in its entirety without making anyone uncomfortable, and if you win and you enter a page with erotic content, I will choose someone else.

  • You must have your first page ready. Should you win, you need to be able to submit your first page within 48 hours of my contacting you to let you know you won. If 48 hours pass and I haven’t heard from you, again, I will choose someone else.

  • You’ll get the most out of this if it isn’t a first draft. Obviously, I have no way of knowing if you’re handing me a first draft (though I will probably suspect because it’s usually not that difficult to tell). I won’t refuse your page if it’s a first draft, but you should know that this critique will likely be of more use if you’ve already had your betas/CPs look over it. Why? Because if you don’t, the critique I give you will probably contain a lot of notes that your betas & CPs could have/would have told you.

  • There will not be a round 2 (unless you win again in a future contest). I hate to have to say this, but if you win a critique, it’s NOT an invitation to send me a bunch of your revisions. I wish I had the time available to be able to look at revisions, but sadly, I don’t. If you try to break this rule, I will nicely say no, and also remember to choose someone else should you win a second contest. Which would make me sad. :(

So that’s it! If you’re okay with all of the above and would like to enter to be the eighth public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Sunday, February 22 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How to Use Comments in Scrivener

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Once upon a time, I used to think Scrivener didn't have much of a commenting system, and then I discovered the truth and it basically changed how I approach revisions forever. Because it turns out Scrivener's commenting system is pretty fabulous.

As it's not one of Scrivener's frequently spoken about features, I'm thinking I'm not the only writer who didn't know much about it, and so I thought I'd share exactly where to find them, and how to use them.

Here we go:

By default, Scrivener’s right-hand sidebar is set to Project notes, where you can leaves notes for referencing while you work on your book. There are, however, other greatly underutilized sections in that sidebar, and comments are one of them.

  1. Click the comments icon (a speech bubble with an “n” and an asterisk). It looks like this:

    Congratulations! You have now opened the Comments & Footnotes sidebar. It’s pretty magical, let me tell you. 

  2. Highlight whatever text you want to leave a comment on. This part is just like Word—the first step to commenting is highlighting whatever line or word you’re going to comment on. Easy! 

  3. Click the add comment button. It’s the one that looks like a yellow speech bubble. See below:
Voila! You can now leave yourself comments. But there’s more!

  • You can change the colors of the comments. This is probably my second favorite part. I like to color code by CP (although, when I have a crazy high number of comments, that doesn’t always happen). This time I’m thinking about possibly organizing types of comments by color because colors are fun. Anyway.

    The steps for changing colors are pretty easy. You right click whatever comment you want to switch the color of and then choose from the following menu.

    You can even set a custom color, if you want! It’s pretty schnazzy. 

  • When you click on a comment in the sidebar, it jumps to the spot in the manuscript. I said colors were my second favorite part, because this right here is what makes Scrivener comments better than Word comments, in my opinion. If you have your whole manuscript selected, you can view all the comments in your manuscript in the sidebar and when you click one, it’ll jump to that spot. Or if you have just one chapter open, it’ll show you all that comments in that one chapter. Or whatever other selection you make.

    This makes organization really easy, and also allows you to jump around and make changes however your heart desires, as well as giving you a general overview of the comments in your manuscript. 

Now, there are two pretty big downsides of Scrivener comments. Or one a half.

Firstly, as far as CP purposes go, track changes in Word is way superior. In Scrivener, there is a sort of track changes thing, but it basically just changes the colors of changes you make (which I like! But isn’t all that useful for seeing what changes your critique partners recommend). Also, as far as I can tell, you can’t import tracked changes, so you’ll have to make the changes manually anyway.

Second, up until yesterday I thought it was impossible to import comments from Word into Scrivener. But! I have figured out a way and I will share that with you guys on Friday (UPDATE: the post is live). This is still a half downside though, because the process is far from perfect and has some caveats. Still.

All of that said, I still love using the comments feature in Scrivener, and so the caveats are worth it to me. You may agree, or you may not, but I think it’s worth experimenting with. :)

Do you use Scrivener comments? Do you have any tips?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Did you know Scrivener has a commenting system? Writer @Ava_Jae breaks down where to find it & how to use it. (Click to tweet)  
Love Scrivener? Writer @Ava_Jae discusses why she prefers Scrivener comments over MS Word & how to use them. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: About (Remote) Publishing Internships

Curious about publishing internships? Today I talk about remote internships, why they can be great for writers, and lessons I learned from my intern experience. Enjoy!


Twitter-sized bites: 
Curious about remote publishing internships? @Ava_Jae vlogs about why they can be great for writers. (Click to tweet)  
What do remote publishing interns do? @Ava_Jae vlogs about her internship experience & lessons she learned. (Click to tweet

Writing Tip: CPs vs. Betas

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I’m going to start this post by saying I’ve seen varying definitions of CPs vs. beta readers throughout the interwebs, so this is just how I see it. Your definitions may vary. And that’s okay.

(My) quick definitions:

  • CP (Critique Partner): Someone you regularly trade manuscripts with, with whom you give (and received) detailed critiques on each other’s WIPs. You may even trade the same manuscript several times. This is a long-term deal.

  • Beta Reader (Beta): Someone you share your manuscript with for overall feedback, oftentimes focused on a couple particular aspects. Usually this is a one-off, but if you find a couple really awesome betas, it can be a longer-term relationship. This differs from CPs, however, because it’s very much dependent MS to MS, while CP relationships are assumed to be an every (or almost every) MS deal.

    Note: I’ve seen other writers use betas a little differently, and that’s totally fine! Do whatever works best for you. For me, betas are an extra set of eyes with expertise my CPs don’t have. 

Personally, I have three main CPs (I recommend you stick with odd numbers, because it saves you when you get contradictory feedback, which is somewhat inevitable). They see just about all of my manuscripts (with only a couple exceptions), and I’ve been working with each of them for at least over a year. They know my writer ticks (sometimes better than I do), have seen my manuscripts in not-so-fabulous shape, and continually push me to do better. Basically, they are the best.

My CPs see my earliest work, which is to say usually the second draft (which, depending on the WIP, may or may not have gone through more than a round of revision already). Sometimes I send all three the MS at once, sometimes because of scheduling things (or other reasons) I send them the MS in different feedback rounds. Sometimes they see the same MS more than once. It depends on the WIP.

Fun fact: this right here is where I stopped before querying what is now Beyond the Red. Possibly this is part of the reason I had so much revising to do after signing with the Agent of Awesome, but that was, originally, the end of my CP process.

No longer!

Once I’ve received feedback from all three and implemented their suggestions, I now move on (or at least, I will be with the current WIP) to the in-betweeners.

The what? Right. So, I also have readers who kind of fall in between CPs and betas. Some of them I’ve given feedback on MSs, some of them we’ve agreed we should totally trade but haven’t yet, some of them I’ve traded with, then fallen out of touch with, then started planning on trading with again. They are all excellent and have been sorted into respective critique rounds, after my CPs.  Not all WIPs are sent to in-betweeners, and like betas, it varies MS to MS. (As of right now, most of my in-betweeners have not seen my work, but that will change shortly.)

From there come the betas. Beta readers, for me, are the last stop between revisions and Agent of Awesome. They help me catch stuff my previous readers didn’t, and I usually use them for really specific issues that weren’t addressed enough earlier (for example: representation). I also ask for general, overall feedback and thoughts, which helps me determine just how much more I need to tweak the MS before sending it off.

What makes betas different from CPs or in-betweeners is I tend to pick them with pretty specific qualifications, and whether or not they see future WIPs largely depends on the needs of that particular project. So this is assumed to be a temporary deal, unless I know a future project will have similar needs, in which case… :)

So that’s how I view the (rather blurry) line between CPs and betas—now I want to hear from you.

Do you use both? How do you define them?

Twitter-sized bites:
Confused about the diff. between CPs & betas? @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts on these important writer relationships. (Click to tweet
Do you use CPs and betas? How do you define the difference? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Romance & Love Writing Roundup

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So tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, which naturally means I should write about romance and love or something like that. Except, as I scrolled through my love/romance-related blog archives, I realized I’ve already done that a lot.

So! I’m going to share with you guys all of Writability’s current romance/love/face-smooshing related posts for your browsing pleasure.

In chronological order!

Whether you’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day with a loved one or with a tub of ice cream and Netflix, I hope you all have a fantastic weekend!

Do you know of any great romance-writing posts?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling to get your romantic subplots down? @Ava_Jae rounds up love, kissing & romance-writing posts for V-day. (Click to tweet)

Character Development Lessons from Game of Thrones

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So about two months ago I finally did that thing everyone and their brother was telling me to do: I watched Game of Thrones.

While usually I’m the kind of person that prefers to read the books before watching the movie (or, in this case, TV show), as the A Song of Ice and Fire books didn’t really grab me when I tried to pick up the first one, I made an exception this time. And…well…

Okay fine, I’ll say it—I’m hooked. (Yes, yes, you were all right, congratulations everyone. *sigh*)

I’ve been thinking for a little bit about why I’ve been enjoying the series so much, and the answer, for me at least, lies in the characters. Because damn, GRRM writes crazy interesting characters. Even the totally despicable ones are fascinating in their own right, which really appeals to me.

And so, because the characters are so very well written, I think there are some lessons that we, as writers, can learn from them. So let’s take a look at what makes these characters so interesting.

  • Every character has motivations, dreams, etc. What’s great about this is I’m not even talking about just the main ensemble characters—even minor characters, “evil” characters, and characters with short life spans are fully fleshed out with plans, dreams, desires, fears and powerful motivations. Whether it’s Olenna Tyrell (Margaery’s grandmother), Walder Frey, Renly Baratheonor someone else, every character is layered and ridiculously well-developed. 

  • No one is all good or all bad. Good characters make selfish decisions, and antagonistic characters have people they care about and base their decisions on (somewhat understandable) motivations. In fact, I’d say more characters fall somewhere in the gray area morality-wise than very good or very bad—which becomes especially interesting because you’re never quite sure how they’re going to behave. 

  • Characters make mistakes. Fatal ones, in fact, that end up getting themselves (or people they care about…or both) killed. This is huge because not only does it humanize the characters (after all, who doesn’t make mistakes?) but it also makes us doubly worried about them when we know their decisions could go awry very very quickly. Which leads me to…

  • Every character is in danger. This is sort of a controversial point about GoT, but I actually love it. Oftentimes, people go into a book (or series, or movie) assuming that the main “good” characters are going to emerge unscathed (or, you know, at least survive). No such assumptions can be made about GoT, which I weirdly like because it means I worry about everyone. It’s realistic (in the sense that no one is magically safe) and something I really admire about the series. 

Do you watch (or read) Game of Thrones? What lessons have you learned? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Watch or read Game of Thrones? @Ava_Jae shares character development lessons to be learned from this popular series. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Top 5 TBR Books

I've been doing a lot of reading lately, and so I thought I'd share the top five books in my (already-owned) TBR list.


What are the top five books in your TBR list?

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae vlogs about 5 books at the top of her TBR list. What books are at the top of yours? (Click to tweet)

What Your First 250 is Telling Your Readers

Photo credit: pamhule on Flickr
I’ve said it before, and it’s likely I’ll say it several times more: your first few pages are, arguably, the most important pages of your book. And the first 250 words? The most important of those first pages.

This isn’t a secret in the publishing world, in fact, it’s why writers spend so much time and effort making that first 250 gleam. But I think, sometimes, writers don’t fully realize everything that the first 250 words of their manuscript tells readers, whether they intend them to or not.

So here we go.

  • This is my protagonist. Regardless of whether or not your opening page starts with your actual protagonist, readers will assume the first character they meet is indeed your protagonist. Later pages will confirm or disprove that assumption, but by and large, this is what readers will think.

    This is also the first point of connection for your readers—they're immediately going to be making judgments about your protagonist, and it's up to you to decide what kinds of assumptions you want your readers to be making. First impressions matter, and this is where you want your readers to start to care about your protagonist (otherwise, that aforementioned point of connection doesn't exist).

    If you don’t mention anyone in the first 250 words of your manuscript, then readers are likely to feel a little lost and disconnected. Characters ground us in the world of your book, and without them at the beginning, it’s very difficult to emotionally connect with your story—after all, no one is there to connect to.

  • This is my protagonist’s world. In the very first pages, readers are absorbing as much as they can about the world of your book. With the first 250, readers start off with absolutely nothing (except for a quick summary, that is)—we don’t know what your protagonist looks like, where the first scene will take place, the rules of the world, etc. Your first page should start to paint that picture for the readers, and while obviously not everything is going to be answered on the first page, by the end of the initial 250, readers should at least be able to picture where the scene is taking place, and have some initial hints of the world rules in your book.

    If you don’t give your readers any hints to grab on to about the book’s world at all, then they’re going to feel a little lost again—this time, because your story will be happening in a vacuum, which means we have characters to hold on to but nothing else. Unfortunately, this is just as problematic as not having a protagonist to hold on to at all…

  • This is what the writing/voice will be like. Fair or not, readers are going to make assumptions about your entire book based off that first 250.

    Read that again. I’ll wait. Got it? Okay.

    While a scattered typo, grammatical error, or line of passive voice isn’t going to kill your manuscript, having more than one example of any of those in your first 250 is immediately going to give the reader the impression that they can expect much more of it in the rest of your manuscript. Voice works much the same way—however your first page is written, and whatever bits of voice you give us on the first page, is what the readers are going to expect from the rest of the manuscript.

    Remember, however, that this works both ways: not only does it mean you have to make your first 250 shine, but it means you have to make the rest of your manuscript equally shiny. It’s not at all uncommon to see writers polish their first 250 (or first fifty pages), only to forget to do the same to the rest of their manuscript (which didn’t get critiqued quite as much). The only way to avoid this is to try to apply any critique you get on the beginning of your manuscript to the rest of the story. 

  • This is a hint of the initial conflict. Right, so, while you definitely don’t need to spell out the full conflict on the first page (in fact, it’d probably be a mess if you did), readers should have some kind of hint of conflict. It doesn’t have to be the conflict, even, it could be something related to the main conflict, or something that will lead it up to it. But planting the seeds early gives readers something to follow and become immediately interested in as they start reading.

    If you don’t have even a hint of conflict on the first page, then you risk making your readers worry that the story might be on the slow side. They might give you some leeway through the first chapter, but I definitely recommend you try to plant those seeds of conflict as soon as you organically can.

As a reader, what do you look for on the first page of a book? 

Twitter-sized bite:
What are the first 250 words of your MS telling readers? Writer @Ava_Jae breaks it down. (Click to tweet)

Confessions of a Binge Writer

Photo credit: Victoria Nevland on Flickr
Right. So. 

There are a lot of posts floating around on the internet on the importance of writing consistently, including posts from yours truly. But there are also a lot of posts out there implying you’re not a real writer if you don’t write every day, and I want to dispel that myth right now.

Or, you know, at least help dispel it.

Let me start this post again.

Hi, my name is Ava, and I’m a binge writer.

When working on a project, I sink into hyperfocus mode. If I’m first drafting, I write every day, and usually aim for around 2,000 words a day. If I’m revising, I revise every day possible, sometimes for only an hour if I’ve had a really tiring day, but many times for huge chunks of the day, when I have the time. When I’m not writing, or revising, or plotting, when I’m in class, or working on something else, or walking around town, my mind is elsewhere. It buzzes with whispers from the story, with scenes I’m working on or revising, with characters, and potential plot possibilities, and snarky lines of dialogue, and emotion emotion emotion. When I’m with people, I’m there, but I’m not.

For however long I’m focused on the project, I’m living in the world of my book.

This means I tend to get through stages quickly. I’m a definite fast-drafter, and average about three weeks when first drafting (regardless of length—the longest first draft in recent memory, which ended up around 83k, I finished in sixteen days). Out of the last couple rounds of revision I’ve done, I averaged about fifteen days per revision round (though I’ve been known to finish heavy revisions in a week, when I have time to block out entire days).

It also means when I finish, I usually emerge pretty tired and definitely in need of a break. Sometimes this lasts a few days. Sometimes a few weeks. Sometimes more than a month.

During that time, besides blog posts like this one, I don’t write. I don’t revise. I don’t work on a project.

What I’m trying to say is, if I’m not working on a project, I don’t write every day. And I force myself not to feel bad about it, because I need those breaks so I don’t burn out. I need some time to let my brain rest, and sit back, read, catch up on Hulu, and relax. I need some mental health days so I don’t run myself into the ground.

Writing every single day, 365 days of the year, is not a requirement of being a writer.

You know what is a requirement? Taking care of yourself. Physically, mentally, emotionally—it’s all important, because in order to create your best, you need to be your best.

So do your best to write consistently and keep the momentum when you can. But don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process.

Are you a binge writer? 

Twitter-sized bites:
"In order to create your best, you need to be your best." (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae says it's not a requirement to write every day. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

On How I Plot a WIP

Photo credit: fadetowhite on Flickr
So I received a question on tumblr recently from a lovely follower, who asked what my outlining/organizing process is like. My first instinct, of course, was to run to the blog and pull up some posts, but I realized that somehow, I haven’t written about it? At least, not directly. 

That changes right now. 

Generally, when I first get a book idea I really like, I’ll let it sit in my head for a little while. Once it’s stewed for a bit, and I’ve decided I still like the idea (usually determined by how much I end up thinking about it during said stewing period), I’ll pull up an Evernote note and start jotting down ideas. How detailed or vague this is depends on the book and what’s in my brain. I don’t really censor in this stage. 

Once I have enough ideas to get a general sense of what I want the book to be about, I’ll put together a logline/one-sentence pitch or a book comp. This helps keep me focused while I’m outlining and writing the first draft, and it doesn’t usually take very long (for more info, check out my how to plot without plotting post). By the end of this process, I usually have a good idea of who the protagonist is, who the love interest is (or are), and who the antagonist is. 

Next step is actually putting together an outline.

As I’ve mentioned before, I use Scrivener to put together my outlines, using the cork board feature. Initially, my first few flashcards are usually near the beginning of the book, starting with the the inciting incidentAnd from there…it’s pretty scattered. I jump around from beginning to end, adding things in between, filling in whatever gaps I think of, changing plot points when I think of something better, etc. I ask myself “What if?” questions frequently, try to make the stakes as personal and big as I can, and when I think I’ve put my characters through a lot, I put them through more. I make the lows lower and the highs higher, I add conflict everywhere I can, and if I see opportunities for some twists, I take them. This process continues until I've got a fully fleshed-out plot from beginning to end.

Generally, I don’t go into huge detail with the plot points I figure out. Each flashcard usually will have somewhere between a sentence to a paragraph describing what will generally happen in the scene, and that’s it. How many flashcards I have at the end depends on the book, but I’ll usually end up somewhere between 30-50, and from there I can guesstimate how long I expect the book to be and get ready to start drafting. 

And that’s it! 

If you’re a plotter, what does your outlining process look like? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Struggling to find a plotting process that works for you? Writer @Ava_Jae shares her method for loose outlining. (Click to tweet)  
Brainstorming, book comps & Scrivener are all a part of @Ava_Jae's plotting process. What's involved in yours? (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Survive the Query Wars

Your query letters have been sent! And now begins the delight of every writer: the query wars. Today I'm sharing my top tip on how to survive this delightful stage.


What tips do you have for getting through the query wars? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
About to enter the query trenches? @Ava_Jae vlogs about her top query wars survival tip. #pubtip (Click to tweet)

Why I Love the Writing Community

Photo credit: Joris_Louwes on Flickr
Something I think my non-writing friends and family members have the most trouble wrapping their minds around is the non-competitive nature of the writing community.

Well yes, I understand they’re your friends, they’ll say, but they’re also your competition, right? 

I get why this kind of thinking happens. I mean, in most industries, everyone who is not you (or working for/with you) is your competition. Most people aren’t going to buy a Macbook and an HP laptop, or buy a Nook and a Kindle.

But it’s not like that at all amongst writers. Because here’s the great thing about publishing: every reader can buy (and read) as many books as their hearts desire. That means I can buy I’ll Give You the Sun and The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and Crown of Midnight while also coveting Made You Up and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and More Happy Than Not. I can be truly and legitimately happy for every one of my author friends who sells another book, without worrying for a second that their sale is going to somehow negatively impact my career. Because it won’t.

Granted, there are some more competitive aspects in the heart of publishing that I’m not addressing here, but by and large the writing community is ridiculously supportive and celebratory of everyone’s success and I seriously will never tire of it.

When I was a baby writer, I was terrified of jumping into the online writing community. But I’m so glad I did, because I’ve met some of the kindest, most supportive people in the writing community, and I’ve made some really wonderful friends because of it. And every day I meet new writers who continually show me the positivity and really incredible support system in place online.

If you aren’t already a part of it, and you’re a writer, I can’t recommend getting involved more. It’s a decision that literally changed my life, and I’m so grateful for it every day.

Have you gotten involved with the writing community? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Writer @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts on competition and her love for the writing community. (Click to tweet)  
"When I was a baby writer, I was terrified of jumping into the online writing community." (Click to tweet)
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