Fixing the First Page Feature #28

Photo credit: mine
It's Halloween! Also known as the last day of October, which means it's time for this month's Fixing the First Page Feature! Hooray!

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 I'm one person with one opinion!), as long as it's polite, thoughtful, and constructive. Any rude or mean comments will be unceremoniously deleted.

Here we go!


Genre/Category: NA Dystopian Urban Fantasy

First 250 words:

"Only one thing could make me leave my house for the first time in two years—the promise of revenge. The vague message I’d received via email had been just a hint, but the opportunity had sounded too sweet to resist. 
Hell Here at 10. No more. 
Bundled against the driving snow in a wool coat and gloves, I marched down the sidewalk in front of my house. The brutal Iceland wind whipped my collar into my chin and spiked frozen needles through the leather on my hands. My loud, crunchy footsteps through the knee-high snowdrifts beat a laborious rhythm at the back of my skull. I was used to dead silence contained within four walls, not this eternal winter bullshit. 
By the time Hell Here’s neon lights strobed behind the falling snow, I quickened my pace. Despite the harsh weather, the arctic air fanned the vengeful fire that burned in my gut into a raging storm. 
I grinned, possibly a little too maniacally, because a couple coming up the sidewalk skirted wide. I eased up the shoveled path toward the thick wooden door of Hell Here and mistakenly made a grab at the handle. Pain stabbed into my hand and flared red across my vision. An anguished cry ripped from my mouth and lost itself in the wind. I backed away, gripping my palm to my middle, while tears iced my cheeks. Thankfully, no one stood around to see that nonsense. 
A burly man knocked his way out the door, and I slid by him into the crowded bar."

Interesting! I'm curious about a couple things here, like what's going on and why the protagonist hurt themself when touching the doorknob (does that happen with any doorknob? just this particular door?). My main concern right now is that it's very internal so far and the e-mail is so vague it strikes me as a tad bit...melodramatic, I guess? I couldn't really take it seriously because it felt so fictional, I suppose, but that could very well just be me. Otherwise, I'm liking the wintry backdrop and my curiosity is piqued. :)

Now for the in-line notes:
"Only one thing could make me leave my house for the first time in two years—the promise of revenge. Interesting opening. I'm curious. The vague message I’d received via email had been just a hint, but the opportunity had sounded too sweet to resist. Here's my second issue with the e-mail: your protagonist mentions the opportunity sounds too good to resist, but the e-mail is so vague that no opportunity is mentioned. So if your protagonist knows what opportunity this is referring to, the readers should know too.
Hell Here at 10. No more. 
Bundled against the driving snow in a wool coat and gloves, I marched down the sidewalk in front of my house. The brutal Iceland wind whipped my collar into my chin and spiked frozen needles through the leather on my hands. Great imagery here. My loud, crunchy footsteps through the knee-high snowdrifts beat a laborious rhythm at the back of my skull. "Laborious rhythm" doesn't sound to me like something anyone would say casually—and it throws off the flow to me (which is ironic, because it's talking about rhythm). I was used to dead silence contained within four walls, not this eternal winter bullshit. Nice voice.
By the time Hell Here’s neon lights strobed behind the falling snow,; I quickened my pace. Adjusted because "by the time" indicates something happened by the time they reach the place. Right now it sounds like you're saying when they see the lights they speed up. Despite the harsh weather, the arctic air fanned the vengeful fire that burned in my gut into a raging storm. See note on this below.
I grinned, possibly a little too maniacally, because a couple coming up the sidewalk skirted wide. I eased up the shoveled path toward the thick wooden door of Hell Here and mistakenly made a grab at the handle. Pain stabbed into my hand and flared red across my vision. An anguished cry ripped from my mouth and lost itself in the wind. I backed away, gripping my palm to my middle, while tears iced my cheeks. Lovely detail. I've had this happen IRL and it is a bizarre thing to experience. Thankfully, no one stood around to see that nonsense. 
A burly man knocked his way out the door, and I slid by him into the crowded bar."

Note: upon a second read, the main issue I'm noting is as a reader, I don't feel your protagonist's anger. This is for two reasons—one, we've literally just met your protagonist and know nothing about why they're pissed (which is fine, this is the first page), but also because I haven't really connected with them yet. You've got the emotions in place, so to try to start forging this connection I recommend including more of their thoughts. What are they thinking when they finally see their destination? What are they thinking about the e-mail? Do they know who sent it? What it's referring to? I have no idea what's going on as a reader, but your protagonist does, so we should get glimpses of that even from the first page.

Okay! So all in all, this is well-polished already to begin with—I didn't have a whole lot to adjust in the line edits because with exception to the minor points I noted, it already reads smoothly, so nicely done! I think it could still use a little tweaking, as I mentioned above, but if I saw this in the slush I'd definitely keep reading. :)

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing your first 250 with us, Lindsey!

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

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks deepening POV, great imagery and more in the 28th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

On Creating (Flexible) Schedules

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So a couple days ago, I tweeted a realization I had about just how incredibly busy I'll be in November. I suppose I already knew that logically, but after picking up a part time job, remembering NaNo is days away, and booking editing clients for next month, it all started to sink in. But it was a good realization—because while my schedule will be, let's face it, a lot, it's all stuff I really enjoy doing.

The tweet, however, inevitably led to people asking me how I plan to manage it all, which got me thinking about scheduling, yes, but more specifically flexible scheduling to make the most of my time every day.

I've written before about how I'm a morning person and get most of my writing done then. This worked well when I had afternoon classes or worked nights as a waitress—I got all my writing done in the early morning hours then tackled whatever commitments I needed to get done. Looking at my schedule for the first week of NaNo, however...I can already see that's going to be a little more challenging.

Right now, out of the first six days of NaNo, I have commitments in the morning on three days. I'm getting the sense this is probably going to be a common thing next month, so I've already started making necessary plans to fit everything into my schedule. The building block for busiest days next month will probably look something like this:

5:15 AM: WAKE UP (I've been getting lazy with this and pushing this closer to 6AM, but next month I need to be stricter about it because I'm going to need the time.) 
5:30 - 7:15 AM: Write, blog/vlog stuff 
7:15 - 8:30 AM: Get ready for day's commitments 
[Do day stuff] 
2:00 PM - ???: Editing work, work out, whatever else I need done for the day.

This of course is a really rough sketch and will need to be adjusted daily depending on my needs for the day, but I find that it helps to plan out my busiest days, so that on days I have extra time or more flexible hours, great, but if not I know I can still squeeze in what I need to. I'm also thinking it might be a good idea to plan my blog topics in advance because it tends to take me longer to figure out what to write about than to actually write the post. Maybe I'll even write some posts in advance...hmm.

Then, of course, there's a very important second component to this: built-in breaks. Traditionally, I've established Sundays as my day off, in which I don't allow myself to do any work. This will remain true next month, though I've already decided if I fall behind on my NaNo writing, Sunday is the day I'll allow myself to make it up, mostly because it's work I find the most enjoyable, so I wouldn't stress too much over it. Even if I manage not to fall behind, I'll likely NaNo on a Sunday or two to give myself wiggle room for those days where I just can't squeeze the writing in.

The keys to flexible scheduling, I find, is to plan for the worst (i.e.: least time), take minutes where you can, and be kind to yourself. That last part means don't forget self-care, because when you're in the grind, forgetting self-care can be pretty disastrous. For me that means Sundays (mostly) off. For you it may mean something else—just make sure you don't neglect it.

I'm wishing you guys all the best next month, whether you're NaNoing or not!

Do you use flexible schedules? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Tight on time but want to get some writing done? @Ava_Jae shares tips on making flexible schedules. (Click to tweet)

What Books Must You Read Before 2017?

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So, incredibly we have just over two months left of 2016 which means, if you're anything like me, you're looking at your reading challenge and laughing nervously about how you're going to read seventeen more books before the end of the year. Or you're looking at your TBR shelf and thinking about what books you want to squeeze in before the New Year. Or both.

I am firmly in the both category and thought it might be fun to talk about what books you guys plan to definitely (try) to read before 2017. Because my list is growing, which is good because those seventeen books aren't going to read themselves.

The books on my list include:

Most of those I either own, have pre-ordered, or have ARCs for, and the rest I plan to hunt down at my library, which I've confirmed are there. And because of course it's totally not too early to be thinking about Christmas list books, I'll be asking for these:

How about you? What do you aim to read before 2017 and/or plan to ask for in December?

Twitter-sized bite:
What are some of your must reads before 2017? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #28!

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Another quick pre-post post to announce the winner of the twenty-eighth fixing the first page feature giveaway!


And the twenty-eighth winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Lindsey!

Thanks again to all you lovely entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there will be another fixing the first page giveaway in November, so keep an eye out! :)

Vlog: How to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a week away! So for those of you scrambling to get ready for the big event, here are some NaNo preparation tips.


What NaNo preparation tips would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bite:
Getting ready for #NaNoWriMo? Author @Ava_Jae vlogs 5 ways to get ready for the big event. (Click to tweet)

Are Your Characters Flawed?

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Every once in a while, I fall into the trap of loving my characters too much. By this I don't mean that I don't put them through hell twice-over—I can't think of a single manuscript where that was a problem for me *insert evil smiley face*—instead, I mean sometimes I forget about something rather important: flaws.

More times than not, this happens for secondary characters—the best friend, the love interest, the people that, for all intents and purposes, you're supposed to love. Sometimes, for these characters, I do such a great job making them lovable that I forget they're not actually supposed to be perfect until a reader pokes me and asks what their flaw is and I can't answer.

Whenever this happens, I open up my copy of The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (the geniuses behind The Emotion Thesaurus). It has an enormously long list of possible character flaws, with descriptions of each flaw, what causes it, what it may lead to, etc. which often helps inspire me when it comes to developing flaws that make sense for the character.

And that is the key there: the flaw should fit organically into your character so that it doesn't feel tacked on or ill-fitting. It wouldn't make sense, for example, for Sherlock Holmes to be obtuse or not think through his actions—but his arrogance and bluntness definitely makes sense for who he is.

It's definitely important to remember flaws when creating characters, because characters without them start to feel too perfect—and consequently too unrealistic—if you're not careful. And besides, a character well-balanced with flaws can create new opportunities for tension and conflict, which is always a pretty nice bonus.

What are some of your favorite flawed characters?

Twitter-sized bite: 
Are your characters flawed? @Ava_Jae talks the importance of balanced character development. (Click to tweet)

Discussion: Will You NaNo This Year?

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There are ten days left before NaNoWriMo (and ten days left to implement pre-NaNo tips)! Which is pretty incredible to think about, and a little intimidating, and also exciting because NaNoWriMo is nearly here!

I finished revising my WIP and sent it off this week, which means I've met my deadline with time to spare, which means NaNoWriMo is in my future this year! YAY! I'm really excited to dive into the new story world and play with third person, which I haven't done in ages, and just feed off the NaNo excitement in general. It's been a great experience when I participated in the past, and I very much look forward to it again. Which also means I should probably start figuring out the last-minute details of the WIP I'll be working on...

So this is a short and fun post just to officially say yes, I do plan to participate this year, and I think it'd be fun for people to connect with other NaNo-ers here on the blog so time for a shout out—who else will be participating this year? (And feel free to add me as a NaNo buddy!)

Twitter-sized bite: 
Are you participating in #NaNoWriMo this year? Join the discussion and make NaNo buddies on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page #28!

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I was pretty stunned to realize this week we're already halfway through October, which means November is almost here, which means NaNoWriMo is nearing and, happily, it's time for the twenty-eighth Fixing the First Page feature!

For those who’ve missed before, 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 twenty-second public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Monday, October 24 at 11:59 EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: 4 Common Query Mistakes

So you've written your manuscript, revised it death, traded with critique partners, revised it again, and now you're ready to query. But before you start, make sure you aren't making any of these four common query mistakes.


Have you made any of these query mistakes? (I know I sure have!)

Twitter-sized bite: 
Getting ready to query? Make sure you don't make any of these common query mistakes. #vlog (Click to tweet)

We Don't Live in a Bubble

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I've been thinking a lot lately how what's going on in politics, especially in the US, is trickling down to every other area of life. Many of us have acknowledged long before now that this isn't an ordinary election season. One candidate in particular has negatively changed the discourse on the national level. Time and time again he's broken what's expected from candidates—that they aren't overtly racist or misogynist, that they aren't mired in fraud and sex scandals, that they will respect the rules of political discourse and expectations.

We've accepted nationally that this isn't like every other elections. "This isn't politics as usual," Michelle Obama said in her speech last week. This isn't normal.

So unlike previous elections, this one has seeped into everything, because the truth is this: we don't live in a bubble.

From authors speaking openly about politics in a way that was never necessary before. From heated Twitter discussions centered around issues reflected in the election debate, about race, about sexism, about women and AFAB people having boundaries crossed by men they respected or trusted. On and on the echoes crash into us, like inevitable ocean waves.

While I was first drafting over the summer, I'd quietly acknowledged to myself how fitting it was that I was writing a politically-focused book during such a politically-fraught time. Of course, the politics aren't exactly the same—one set of politics is completely fictionalized and created in the context of the book world, but many of the themes still resonated: from racial oppression, to a movement against progress, to queer acceptance (and not) especially in religious spaces.

It wasn't until a reader recently pointed out a specific passage in my WIP, however, that I realized just how closely some of the politics mirrored each other—and in retrospect, I'm not surprised. With a conflict so centered and real, affecting so many in their everyday lives and with the potential to affect so many more should the election go one way or another, I expect to see books release in the next few years with echoes of the political landscape today. I'd be surprised if it didn't happen, really.

Sometimes we write to cope with things without realizing we're doing exactly that. Sometimes we write to examine feelings we aren't entirely sure how to express. Sometimes we write to catch the overflow of life pouring endlessly into us even after—especially after—we've hit a limit.

We don't live in a bubble and I can't say I'm surprised to see national discourse echoing in publishing, in bookish Twitter, in thousands of little ways in people's lives every day. With an election as important, and dangerous, and scary as this one, for those who live in the US (and honestly, for many who don't) the echoes are nearly impossible to avoid.

We don't live in a bubble, and whatever happens on November 8th, I'm sure we'll be seeing repercussions of this election for years to come.

Twitter-sized bite:
Author @Ava_Jae shares her thoughts on how current political discourse echoes in other areas of life—and writing. (Click to tweet)

How to Write Excellent Plot Twists

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I got an interesting suggestion not too long ago about writing a post on plot twists—specifically, how to write a good one. I've found, for me at least, there are two kinds of experiences with writing effective plot twists: planned plot twists and surprise plot twists.

  • Planned plot twists. By and large, this is the majority of plot twists. In order to pull off a twist that both makes sense and is effectively built into the story but clever enough that it'll surprise readers, you often need to plan ahead. When trying to come up with a plot twist, some steps you can use to spark a twist include:

    • What are all of the possible outcomes? Write them down. Even the most ridiculous, out-there outcomes, add them to the list.

    • What are other outcomes I didn't include? By this, I mean push yourself. When you've come up with what you think is a final list, it can be good to push harder and consider what you could add as a possibility that you may have initially censored out. (Remember: don't censor!)

    • How can I make this specific outcome bigger/more surprising? Once you have a favorite (or a couple favorites), brainstorm to see how you can make it bigger and more surprising. What can you do to enhance this twist? Again, don't censor even the most ridiculous possibilities.

    • How can I make sure this outcome makes sense in the context of the book? Now that you have an outcome, built it back into the plot. This is one of the many reasons why it's helpful to plan ahead—it's much easier to build something into the plot when it's all an outline than it is to add something retroactively to a manuscript.

  • Surprise plot twists. Now, this might seem a little incongruous—of course plot twists are a surprise! That's the point! But what I actually mean are plot twists that are a surprise to the writer. This has happened to me a couple times; I'll have a solid plot down, start writing, and out of nowhere a wild plot twist appears! It's always fascinating to me when this happens, but I also have to make sure to integrate it into the plot as I write—and rewrite—because spontaneity can sometimes be messy. 

While those are two options for the inception of a plot twist, far more important, to me at least, is honing them in revisions. I'll often use multiple rounds of critique partners and readers to see who gets the twist and when, so I can then go in and make adjustments as necessary to make sure the twist is believable, but not predictable. Sometimes this means tweaking specific characters, or revising several scenes to leave a dusting of foreshadowing (but not too much!). It often takes some careful rounds of testing with readers to get the right balance between surprising but believable—but it's definitely worth the extra work.

How do you write plot twists? And what are you favorite examples from YA lit?

Twitter-sized bite:
Want to write a twisty manuscript but not sure how to nail those plot twists? @Ava_Jae shares some tips. (Click to tweet)

On NaNoWriMo and Finding Time

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As NaNoWriMo approaches, I've been seeing more and more writers consider whether or not they'll join in this year. And one of the top considerations for whether or not that answer will be yes or no is, understandably, time.

So far, I've done NaNoWriMo twice (though I've done my own write a book in a month challenges much more often). The first time I was at my first year of art college, and my classes and assignments were rigorous and time-consuming. My homework involved detailed projects that required many hours multiple days a week to finish—and that's without the frequent trips to art supply stores downtown to get what I needed for those projects.

Basically, I was the busiest I'd ever been, but I also knew I really wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time even though finals were happening. So I did.

This required stealing time wherever I could find it. I did the bulk of my daily writing in the early morning hours, sipping blearily at my tea, and on the bus on the way to my classes. When I didn't get enough words in during those slots, I wrote before class started at my desk, or after I got back between homework assignments and final projects. It was challenging for sure—and doubly challenging when I realized thirteen days in I was writing the wrong manuscript and scrapped the whole thing—but it was also rewarding. I proved to myself that even when I was tackling the end of the semester I could get the words I needed down.

Of course, the last few weeks when I was home from school on my extended winter break were much easier. But it was still rewarding to know I could manage to keep my head above NaNo water at the end of a busy semester.

The point is, time is absolutely a factor when it comes to whether or not you should NaNo—but it's not the only factor. Because like writing at any other time of the year, if time is the only issue it's not often impossible to overcome. As writers, we have to learn where we can best squeeze in our writing time, whether that's on the commute to work, getting up extra early before school, while kids are at school or napping, or after a long work day into the late night hours.

There will always be reasons why we won't have the time to write a book, or participate in NaNoWriMo. But if time is the biggest factor for you, it might not be a bad idea to sit down and really consider where you could steal enough minutes from your day to slap down 1,667 words. You might just be surprised by how a couple minutes here and there of quickly jotted down words can add up.

How do you fit writing into your schedule? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Concerned about time when considering whether or not to #NaNoWriMo? Author @Ava_Jae talks finding time to NaNo. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: My Writing Habits

Someone asked, so I answered: today I'm talking about my writing habits when I'm first drafting a manuscript.


What do your writing habits look like? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
Music? Snacks? Writing sprints? What do your writing habits look like? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

How to Digest a Tough Critique

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Getting critiqued is scary. Whether it's a CP who's already read four of your manuscripts, a beta reader, a freelance editor, your agent or editor or someone else, it can be nerve-wracking to wait for critique to come in.

Even though it's not personal, getting your manuscript critiqued can certainly feel that way. Comments can feel like punches to the gut and every flash of red can feel overwhelming.

To help get through the natural emotional reaction to critique, I like to follow these steps:

Before the critique:

  1. Remember this will make the manuscript better. This is a mantra I often repeat to myself both before reading critiques, during, and while I'm revising. Receiving criticism now is good—it means you can make your manuscript better and better and address problems early. Because...

  2. Remember it's 1,000% better to see the problems and fix them now than not realize until after it's published. As tough as getting critique for your manuscript can be, getting a lot of it early is important because the last thing you want is a major problem unearthed after the book is published. Because then it'll be too late to fix it. 

While reading the critique:

  1. Read it all in one sitting. I find it helps for me to read all the notes in one sitting, because that way nothing is a surprise when I come back to the notes and I can mull over everything together. This is, of course, what works for me—if you need to take breaks and tackle it in chunks, that's cool too. 

  2. Take deep breaths and consider each comment. Oftentimes, the first instinct with critique is to throw up defenses. Not everyone would see it like that or they didn't understand the point! or but this is too important for me to change etc. It's a natural reaction—but one you should challenge yourself to resist. You don't have to accept every comment, of course, but you do have to give each one careful consideration. It's your job.

After reading the critique:

  1. Thank critique partner (or whoever) for their thoughts. Always do this! Even if the critique isn't resonating with you right now, thank them for their time and thoughts. Critiquing isn't easy and they're helping you not only better your manuscript, but better your writing skills.

  2. Take a break. How long is up to you. I usually like to step away from notes and sleep on it before I make any changes. This helps me really let the critique sink in and get the gears moving as I start to consider how to tackle the problems and make changes. 

  3. Read again and consider how to fix issues. Once you're emotionally ready to start making changes, it's time to look over the notes again and start making concrete plans. For me, the second look-over is usually as I import comments from Word to Scrivener. I then like to organize them by category, which allows me to look at each section (plot/pace, character, world building, writing, miscellaneous) and consider what needs the most work and what strategy I'll use to start revising. 

  4. Get to work. There's only one way to move forward and make your manuscript even better than it was before—and the time to do it is now. Good luck!

What steps do you take to digest a tough critique? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Struggling after getting a tough manuscript critique? @Ava_Jae shares some steps for taking critique. (Click to tweet)  
How do you digest a tough critique? Author @Ava_Jae shares some steps. (Click to tweet)

Why I Use Adverbs as Placeholder Words by Janice Hardy

Hey guys! I've got another special guest post today from award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy, Janice Hardy! Today she's talking about adverbs and placeholder words, so hope you guys enjoy!

P.S.: Janice is hunkering down during the hurricane, so she may not immediately be able to answer comments, but will as soon as she can!

You’ve no doubt heard it over and over: Never use adverbs in your writing. Sound advice, but if you follow it to the extreme, you could miss out on their very useful properties.

As bad a reputation as adverbs have, they’re handy during a first draft. They allow you to jot down how a character feels or how they say something without losing your momentum. You can keep writing, and go back and revise later.

They’re also wonderfully helpful red flags that point out opportunities to revise and flesh out what your character is doing. They’re like your brain telling you about the emotional state of your character, and pointing out a place you might want to examine further.

For example:

  • I walked cautiously across the room to the back door.

Here, “cautiously” is doing the explaining, telling that this person is nervous in some way. You could find another word for “walked cautiously” like tiptoed, sneaked, or slipped, but that only solves the adverb problem. It doesn’t do anything to capitalize on what your subconscious might be telling you. Instead, try looking deeper and showing someone being cautious in a way that helps characterize and further show the scene.

  • I scanned the room, checking for tripwires, pressure plates, anything that looked like it might be a trap. Clear. I darted for the door.

This is interesting and tells you a lot more about what’s going on, which probably saves you words somewhere else. Especially since there’s a decent chance the description in that scene might be a little flat. If you had a better sense of the character’s emotional state and what that character was doing, you probably wouldn’t have used the adverb in the first place.

Adverb tells are used most often in dialogue. They’re dropped in to show emotion or description without conveying what that emotion or description is:

  • "I hate you,” she said angrily.

In this instance, “angrily” doesn’t say how the character speaks. Does she shout? Snarl? Spit? The adverb is vague and adds nothing to the sentence that readers didn’t already assume by reading the dialogue. It’s a pretty good guess saying, “I hate you” means she’s angry.

Dramatizing the anger would show and thus make the scene more interesting. This character might bang her fist on a table, mutter snide comments under her breath, spit in someone’s face, or even pull out a Sig Sauer nine mil and blow some guy’s brains out. All of those would be more exciting than “angrily,” which can mean something different to everyone who reads it.

By using an ambiguous adverb, not only are you falling into lazy writing, you’re missing a great opportunity for characterization. The gal who would mutter snide comments is not the same gal who’d break out that Sig.

Now, let’s look at a line like:

  • "I hate you,” she said softly.

Many people would swap out “softly” for whisper in this instance, but whisper isn’t the same as speaking softly. You can speak softly and not whisper. “Softly” is an adverb that conveys something specific depending on the context in which it’s used. It denotes tone as well as volume, attitude as much as forcefulness. What we pair with this adverb changes how we read it.

  • She clenched her fists so tight her knuckles went white. “I hate you,” she said softly. (Implies controlled anger.)

  • She giggled, covering her mouth when the teacher turned their way and glared. “I hate you,” she said softly. (Implies playfulness.)

  • She kept the table between them, moving as he did around the edge. “I hate you,” she said softly. (Implies fear or apprehension.)

All three sentences use the same adverb, but notice how each has a different feel to it based on what came before it. Anger. Playfulness. Fear. Can you replace the adverb with something else? Sure. You could even drop the tag entirely. Do you have to just because it contains an adverb? No. It all depends on what you want that line to convey to readers.

Adverbs work when showing the action would take more words than using the adverb, and that would gunk up the story. It could even shift focus to the wrong detail and confuse readers.

For example:

  • She muttered incoherently.

This is clear and says what it needs to say. You could eliminate “incoherently” and dramatize it, but that might put too much focus on something that doesn’t need that much focus.

  • She muttered half-words that didn’t make any sense.

Every writer will have their own preference here, but “incoherently” feels clearer to me in this instance than “half-words that didn’t make any sense.” I may not want readers trying to figure out what she’s trying to say; I just want them to know she’s not saying anything that makes sense. Making a point of what she’s saying instead of how she’s saying it could lead readers down the wrong path.

The reader/writer disconnect can happen at any time. Look at where you use adverbs and identify what you’re trying to do with them. If what’s in your head isn’t making it to the page, you could wind up with a disconnect.

  • "Oh, that’s just wrong,” Bob said angrily.

Here, the adverb is used to denote anger, but it makes readers decide what Bob’s anger looks like and how he acts when he’s angry. You might know Bob cracks jokes so he doesn’t blow up, so you read his dialogue in a sarcastic tone, but readers might think Bob screams and yells, or maybe he gets quiet and dangerous. They could read that same line in different ways according to what “angrily” means to them.

Adverbs are effective placeholder words that let your subconscious know where you can craft stronger scenes and sentences. It’s not always about replacing them with stronger words. Sometimes those adverbs are pinpointing an important aspect that would make the scene sing if you fleshed it out.

Adverbs, generic nouns, boring adjectives, even clichés—are valuable first-draft gems to quickly insert a basic emotional note into a scene without having to stop the drafting to find the perfect word or description.

How do you feel about adverbs? Do you find them useful or do you avoid using them?

Check out my new book, Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting it), and learn what show, don't tell means, how to spot told prose in your writing, and why common advice on how to fix it doesn't always work.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, and Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft. She's also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University. For more advice and helpful writing tips, visit her at or @Janice_Hardy.

Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

Three Books. Three Months. Three Chances to Win.

To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I'm going on a three-month blog tour--and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

It's easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. At the end of each month, I'll randomly choose a winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Excerpted from Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It)

Twitter-sized bite:
Author @Janice_Hardy talks adverbs & placeholder words on @Ava_Jae's blog + a giveaway! (Click to tweet)

How to Think Up Book Ideas

Photo credit: mathieuhervouet on Flickr
While for some writers book ideas pour endlessly out of the universe, for others coming up with an idea they want to write can be a little more complicated.

I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, closer to the "complicated" end. For me, book ideas are a little harder to come by than my friends who often have more than they know what to do with, but on the other hand it's been over a year since I've really struggled to think of a book idea. Which is fine—everyone works differently and has different writerly seasons and all that.

But for those who find it a little more challenging to come up with book ideas, this is for you.

  • Ask, "what do I want to write about?" I'm very much a list person, and my "what do I want to write about?" list is easily my favorite to work on. Right now my list includes lots of Latinx, chronically ill, and nonbinary characters largely because I want to read much more of those characters having adventures with leads me to...

  • Consider what books aren't out there enough that you want to read. This is actually what lead me to come up with the Beyond the Red trilogy. I wanted YA on another planet that included a POV of the natives from the world, plus all the things I love reading about—monarchy, fantasy politics, sci-fi tech, etc—and from there the story grew. I also love doing this because it pretty much guarantees you're going to love whatever you end up with. :)

  • Pay attention and ask questions. Sooo many stories start out of questions, and a great way to figure out which questions to ask is to pay attention to the world around you. Whether that means consuming art (movies, books, music, TV shows, games, etc.), keeping on top of current events, experiencing new things or places or something else, story ideas can come out of everyday experiences if we let them.

  • Consider what you loved about your favorites. Whether it's masterful world building, a certain type of character, a feeling you had while watching/reading, or something else, a great way to learn is to take note of what makes you love your favorites. Then, when you're ready to write your own, consider how to apply those lessons into your writing and sources of inspiration.

So those are a couple tips for coming up with book ideas—what would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bite:
Struggle to come up with book ideas? Author @Ava_Jae shares 4 tips for brainstorming ideas. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: Where to Find Books to Read

Love reading, but not sure where to find your next TBR? Today I'm answering a question from a vlog viewer: where to find books to read.


Twitter-sized bite:
Want to read more but not sure what to read next? @Ava_Jae vlogs about where to find books to read. (Click to tweet)

Repost: Pre-NaNoWriMo Tips

Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn on Flickr
The time has finally has finally come and the first post of October is here! Because October is also known as NaNoPrepMo, at least in my mind, I like to talk about preparing for NaNoWriMo here. But I've also written about this pretty thoroughly three years ago, so I'm going to repost what I wrote, but with some updates. Because websites and methods and manuscripts change over time, but much of NaNoWriMo preparation is still largely the same.

So here we go!

  • Decide on an idea. This kind of goes without saying, but the sooner you think of your NaNo novel idea, the more time you’ll have to let it develop before the mad dash of November. And you’ll be writing so quickly come November, that you’ll be glad for every iota of pre-decided information you have. Assuming I get all my deadlines done this month, I'll be working on my #MagicMurderMayhem WIP this NaNo, which I worked out over the summer. :)

  • Start plotting. If you’re a pantser, then you’re probably going to skip this step. But if you’re even slightly open to plotting (even a very flexible, loose plot), then I highly recommend that you try plotting in advance. As a regular fast-drafter, I can tell you that the best tip I’ve ever received on fast-drafting is to know what you’re writing. Just about every time I’ve ever encountered writer’s block, it was because I didn’t know what was next, or how to connect the dots between two plot points (in which case I plotted in more detail and voila! The words returned).

    Point is, when you’re writing like a speed demon for NaNoWriMo, it’ll be much easier to keep the pace if you actually know what happens (or at least have a vague idea). Whether it’s flashcard plotting, a brief list of events, a plotting method similar to mine, or the combination method I used (successfully!) for #MagicMurderMayhem, NaNoWriMo will be so much smoother if you get your events in order before the race begins.

  • Tell family/friends about your November plans. We writers tend to withdraw in November. We sneak away to our caves and shoot daggers (with our eyes, of course) at anyone who dares interrupt our precious writing time. Letting your friends and family know in advance about why you’re going to disappear for thirty days can help save you some aggravation and disappointed people. 

  • Connect with fellow NaNo writers. Do you have a Twitter? If you don’t, I recommend getting one and searching hashtags like #NaNoWriMo to find fellow NaNo writers. It’s early, but people are already thinking about it (like me), and you’ll be glad for the support of your fellow exhausted/excited/slightly crazed writers come November. 

  • Familiarize yourself with the website. I’m not sure when exactly, but the website occasionally goes down before the big event to prepare the servers and give the site a fresh upgrade. That’s normal, so don’t panic when it happens. (It may have already happened this year, but I'm not sure.)

    But until then, it doesn’t hurt to set up your account and browse through the site, just to get to know it if you don’t already

  • Investigate distraction-free writing tools. Like Write or Die,  Freedom, or my new fave, myWriteClub's word sprints, which I talk about in this post. They come in handy when you're trying to write quickly.

  • Mentally prepare yourself. In order to reach the goal of 50,000 words and claim your NaNoWriMo victory, you’ll need to write 1,667 words a day, assuming you write every day of the month. 1,667 words isn’t all that bad, and some days you’ll fly through them and roll right into 2 or 3k. But there are days when you’re going to be exhausted, when time is really short, when every word is fighting you, and those are the days you need to be prepared for.

    It’s okay to miss a day. It’s also okay to get stuck and write terribly and cry over your keyboard. It's also okay to realize part-way through you're writing the wrong manuscript and start over.

    Here’s what you’re not going to end up with at the end of the month: a masterpiece. You’re writing the first portion of a book (50k isn’t usually a full-length MS, although it can be depending on the category/genre) in a month. It’s going to be messy and occasionally ugly and embarrassing. And that’s totally okay.

    The point isn’t to come out of NaNoWriMo with a gleaming, beautiful draft. The point is to get the first portion of a draft finished, so that you can complete your book and then revise it later.

    You’re writing the bare bones. They aren’t going to be pretty, but they don’t need to be. 

  • Get excited. You’re going to write a book. Or a portion of one, anyway. You. A book. Yours. It’s something to be excited about, it’s something to celebrate, even if the writing is so horrendous that you cringe when you read it back. NaNoWriMo is exhausting, yes, but it’s also exciting because you’re doing something that millions of people only ever dream about—you’re writing a book, and it’s all yours.

For those who have (or are going to) participate in NaNoWriMo, what do you do to prepare?

Twitter-sized bite:
Ready to gear up for #NaNoWriMo? Author @Ava_Jae shares tips to prepare for the big event. (Click to tweet)
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