Fixing the First Page Feature #39

Photo credit: WordRidden on Flickr
October is just days away! Which means all things Fall are upon us, the leaves are changing colors, the weather is cooling in the Northern hemisphere (hopefully), and, of course, it's time for the next Fixing the First Page feature.

As 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.

Let's do this. 


Genre/Category: Fantasy
"The tavern was filled with pirates of various fashion senses. A gaggle of them roared for refills, sporting offensively garish breeches and egos to match. The older ones slouched in corners, black trench coats pulled up around their grizzled faces, rapiers hanging like dead men from their belts. With her outlandishly feathered hat and high collared coat, Captain Scarlet Rogue was right at home. 
She sat in the corner, hands clasped around a mug of ale that, by the look of the tavern, was most certainly watered down. The amber liquid sloshed in her glass as she tipped it back and forth, listening to pirates shout for drinks and pretty barmaids. 
One such barmaid had approached her, asking in a reedy voice if that was all she’d be having. Scarlet ignored her until she flounced off to go sit on some drunkard’s lap. She’d been sitting in the same tavern all day, and her hands were clenched around the mug so tightly she didn’t think she could let go if she tried. 
Her crimson hair was tied up and shoved under her hat, her revolvers tucked away into her coat. She was no longer the feared Scarlet Rogue, captain of the Vespers, a name that had once struck terror into the hearts of every good-hearted merchant and dirty-mouthed sailor. She was just Scarlet, captain of a ship that hadn’t left port in months."

This is so interesting! I love the characterization of Scarlett and definitely have lots of questions, as a reader. There are also some really nice moments of imagery I enjoyed.

I do think it'd be helpful to condense a bit to get to the part about how her ship hasn't left port in months a little faster, though, because I felt like it went on just a tad too much in places where it'd be more effective to get to the point.But overall this was an enjoyable start.

Now for the line edits!
"The tavern was filled with pirates and Captain Scarlet Rouge was right at home of various fashion senses. I'm suggesting you move (part of) the last line to the start, for a few reasons. First, starting with the protagonist right away helps better ground readers, who in your original version are left to kind of float around aimlessly until you mention Scarlet. And secondly, the "various fashions senses" bit wasn't really carrying its own weight, meaning that it was vague and didn't really add enough to the sentence that I felt it was worth keeping. A gaggle of them privateers (or another word for pirates) roared for refills, sporting offensively garish breeches and egos to match. The older ones slouched in corners, black trench coats pulled up around their grizzled faces, rapiers hanging like dead men from their belts. I love this image so much! "rapiers hanging like dead men from their belts" like, what powerful imagery! Really, really nicely done. With her outlandishly feathered hat and high collared coat, Captain Scarlet Rogue was right at home. 
She Scarlet sat in the corner, hands clasped around a mug of ale that, by the look of the tavern, was most certainly watered down. Nice voice. The amber liquid sloshed in her glass as she tipped it back and forth, listening to pirates shout for drinks and pretty barmaids. 
One such barmaid had approached her, asking in a reedy voice if that was all she’d be having. Scarlet ignored her until she flounced off to go sit on some drunkard’s lap. I want to encourage you to be careful with the word choice here, because Scarlett is starting to come off as arrogant, like she thinks the barmaid is beneath her. It's not endearing. She’d been sitting in the same tavern all day, and her hands were clenched around the mug so tightly she didn’t think she could let go if she tried. 
Her crimson hair was tied up and shoved under her outlandishly feathered hat, her revolvers tucked away into her high-collared coat. Bringing back some of that description I cut earlier. She was no longer the feared Scarlet Rogue, captain of the Vespers, a name that'd had once struck terror into the hearts of every good-hearted merchant and dirty-mouthed sailor. She was just Scarlet, captain of a ship that hadn’t left port in months."
So there are my suggestions! Overall, they're mostly just tightening notes, to help move things a little more quickly and ground the reader right away. I think this was a really strong start to begin with and I'm totally interested—if I saw this in the slush I'd definitely keep reading. 

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

Twitter-sized bite:
.@Ava_Jae talks grounding the reader, imagery and more in the 39th Fixing the First Page Feature. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: How to Keep Track of WIP Timelines

Keeping track of timelines in a project as big as a novel can be confusing, harrowing—and sometimes painful. Today I talk about the lessons I've learned the hard way and how I avoid major timeline mess ups while first drafting.


Do you keep track of your timeline while first drafting?

Twitter-sized bite:
How do you keep track of your WIP's timeline? @Ava_Jae vlogs some tips. (Click to tweet)

Fixing the First Page Winner #39!

Photo credit: rjsteih on Flickr
Another month, another off-schedule post to announce the winner of the thirty-ninth fixing the first page feature giveaway!


And the thirty-ninth winner is…


Yay! Congratulations, Arden!

Thanks again to all you wonderful entrants! If you didn't win, as always, there'll be another fixing the first page giveaway in October, so as always, keep an eye out!

On Reading Many Books at Once

Photo credit: Dvortygirl on Flickr
I used to be the kind of reader who could only read one book at a time. I'd often binge read and get through a book quickly—especially if I was enjoying it, especially especially if I was enjoying it and eager to read another book—but one book at a time was a firm rule for me.

Then I started doing literature programs in college and I didn't have the luxury of sticking to my one book at a time rule.

Granted, I suppose I could have added all the pages I needed to read in a week (adding together the page counts of the books I needed to read) and then gone through one book at a time that way, but for some reason I've found it's less daunting to read 50 pages of one book and 30 pages of another book and 35 pages of yet another book than it is to read 115 pages of a single book. Which is silly, I know, because I'm reading 115 pages a day either way, but it doesn't feel like it as much as it would if I was reading that amount from a single book.

After I broke that rule initially years ago now, I started occasionally pleasure-reading multiple books at once, oftentimes because I'd get a book I was really excited about and couldn't wait to read so I'd dive into that one while still reading another one. It's not something I did often but...#noregrets.

The other thing book hopping allows me to do is get through books I'm not enjoying as much (a necessity, in literature programs because invariably there will be books I have to read I'm not really into) in bite-sized pieces. I'll tell myself, okay, I'll read 50 pages of this book I don't love first, then I'll get to read 65 pages of those other books I do like. 

Granted, reading several books at once means it takes me longer to finish all of them—but it evens out because I end up finishing a bunch of them within a couple days as I near the end of every book around the same time.

Moving to reading a bunch of books at once has actually been easier than I anticipated, although it's quickly becoming clear to me that pleasure reading is a thing that's probably going to be rare as long as I have three (or more) books in a week to read for school. But that's okay—I'm reading lots of books I probably wouldn't have otherwise—or at least wouldn't have so soon. And that's certainly not a bad thing.

Do you read multiple books at once? 

Twitter-sized bites:
Do you read multiple books at once? Join the discussion on @Ava_Jae's blog. (Click to tweet)

Vlog: 3 Types of Editing

You asked, I answered: what are the different types of editing and what is each helpful for? Today I'm talking the stages of editing and why each are equally important.
What are the 3 types of editing and why is each important? @Ava_Jae breaks it down in today's vlog. (Click to tweet)

How to Juggle Multiple Deadlines

Photo credit: The Lowry, Salford on Flickr
Writing deadlines are hard, and writing deadlines when you have more than one, and when writing deadlines aren't the only deadlines you have, and when writing isn't the only thing you do, is even harder.

I've been thinking a lot about that as I juggle my writing with my responsibilities, new and old.

Writing-wise, I currently have three projects I'm tossing around, two with deadlines (one self-imposed, one not), and a third that really wants my attention but has to sit and wait. On top of that are my freelance editing projects, my social media commitments, my part-time job, and grad school. And even before I've started doing all of those things at once—though I will have started by the time this publishes—I've already been thinking a lot about how to prioritize to make sure things get done.

For me, it starts with recognizing hard deadlines vs soft deadlines. Hard deadlines are deadlines I can't move—deadlines in contracts (both writing and freelance) or homework, for example. Hard deadlines I usually get plenty of advance notice on, so when I initially get them I sit down and do some math to figure out how much work I have to do every day in order to finish on time. And then I build in a few extra days, for days when things don't go as planned.

Conversely, soft deadlines are usually self-imposed deadlines. They're goalposts, rather than something someone else is waiting on—or, they're sometimes a hard deadline date with the wiggle room built in. So, if I've committed to finishing a project on the 31st, I'll usually math out so I finish on the 29th, so the 29th is my soft deadline that can be moved if needed, and the 31st is my hard deadline.

Once I've established all I need to do every day for each of my commitments, I prioritize within the day. My to-do list nowadays typically looks like this:
  • errands
  • writing/revision work
  • freelance work
  • grad school reading/work
  • social media work
Within my grad school reading, I like it split it up between boring reading and fun reading. The boring reading I try to get out of the way first, and then the fun reading I know I can spread out throughout the day, even up until my bedtime reading. Social media work often gets priority unless I can push it off a day without consequence—but I try not to do that too much because I usually have plenty to do the next day too. Freelance work and writing work I generally prioritize the most, because the later in the day it gets, the less energy I have to do it—but those two categories frequently have the most hard deadlines, so I have to get them done. Then errands of course get prioritized and scheduled by how urgent they are.

By splitting up my tasks into bite-sized pieces and prioritizing them from most important to least, it allows me to get high-priority items done even when I have a lot going on while leaving some flexibility for overflow tasks that I can get done on a catch up day. 

It's not a perfect system, but it definitely helps. And it's very necessary, for me at least, to keep track of all I need to do. 

Do you prioritize your daily tasks? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you juggle multiple responsibilities with writing? @Ava_Jae shares a few tips. (Click to tweet

Fixing the First Page Giveaway #39!

Photo credit: Eldriva
We are somehow nearly halfway through September! Which means Fall is upon us and Halloween is creeping closer and it's time for the next Fixing the First Page giveaway! Yay!

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 thirty-seventh public critique on Writability, do the thing with the rafflecopter widget below. You have until Thursday, September 21 at 11:59 PM EST to enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Vlog: How to Move Affordably with Lots of Books

Moving is expensive and moving when you have a lot of books, even more so. So today I'm sharing how I moved with over 100 books without breaking the bank. 


Have you ever moved with a sizable library? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Getting ready for a big move & not sure how to affordably transport your library? @Ava_Jae shares how they did it. (Click to tweet)

On College and Authoring

Photo credit: Sole Treadmill on Flickr
I frequently get questions from writers about what degree they should do if they want to be a published author, or what I learned from my schooling so far that helped me get published. And up until very recently, where I've started schooling specifically for writing children's books, the truth was my schooling was a thing I did alongside my writing, not something I did specifically to write.

Of course, my situation was not the same as many. I'd been writing all through high school and was largely self-taught. I devoured books on writing, blog posts from people in the industry, and wrote manuscript after manuscript. By the time I transferred over to my alma mater to get my BA in English, I already had an agent—and just two months into my BA degree I got my debut book deal.

So when people asked me up until recently if I went to school to be an author, it felt disingenuous to say yes. Because the truth was, my education hadn't really done much to make me a writer—I did that on my own.

Now things are a little different, however. Now I'm starting my MFA in Writing for Children, which is very much intended to further push me as a writer and also hopefully open up some doors for job opportunities down the road directly related to children's literature. But my main focus is very much to improve my skills and expand my writerly repertoire.

I do want to emphasize though: I didn't have to go to college to get published. No one does.

When I was first deciding what to do, college-wise, all the while knowing my ultimate goal was to become a published author, a degree became important to me not to help me write, but to help me get a job that'd allow me to support myself while I write. So I could've gotten a degree in just about anything, really, but after dipping my toes in the film world I decided I'd be happiest getting a job analogous to writing and children's books—even if not directly publishing-relating. That was the option I've decided was best for me, but that's not going to be the best option for everyone.

Some writers are also doctors, or analysts, or teachers, or fishers. Some are booksellers, or scientists, or nurses, or event planners. I think the main thing that's important when considering college is keeping your expectations grounded and understanding that making a living as a writer isn't easy and often takes a lot of time. So when considering college, I encourage writers to consider how they'd like to make a living outside of writing and then go from there.

Starting school specifically for writing will be a new experience for me—and one I'm looking forward to. But ultimately, for me, this was another step toward figuring out how to make a living in a way that I'd enjoy—and that requires openness and exploration I'm grateful to have the space for.

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bite:
Do you need to go to college to get published? @Ava_Jae shares their experience getting published while at school. (Click to tweet

What’s Driving Your Plot? by Janice Hardy

Hello, friends! Today I've got a special guest for you guise, Janice Hardy, author of The Healing Wars trilogy and several writing books, most recently Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means). Hope you enjoy!

Conflict encompasses a wide scope of problems and situations, and can be as varied and interesting as you want to make it. But no matter what type of conflict a character faces, it presents a challenge in how to resolve the conflict. That challenge leads to a choice on the best course of action, and that choice forces the character to act. And that’s good, since those challenges, choices, and actions create and drive the plot (the combination of internal and external conflicts). Without conflicts, the protagonist would have no problems at all, and there'd be no story.

On one side, we have the external conflicts. These are challenges the protagonist has to physically overcome to resolve the core conflict problem (and all the smaller problems along the way). They’re the actions she takes to fix the problems preventing her from getting her goal. They’re what make up most of the action in the plot, since this is what the protagonist does from scene to scene.

For example:

  • Protagonist wants to find her missing sister, but someone has stolen the security tapes covering the parking lot she was last seen in.
  • Protagonist wants to impress her date on their trail ride, but she has no idea how to ride a horse.
  • Protagonist wants to surprise his girlfriend with breakfast in bed, but he has to get her kids out of the house first.

External conflicts are based on how the protagonist uses her intelligence, skills, and resources (or lack thereof) to overcome an external challenge. The key thing to remember with external conflicts is that resolving them takes action—the protagonist does something. While she might take a moment (or longer) to come up with a plan to overcome the challenge, it’s what she does that resolves it.

Generally speaking, the scene will unfold like this: The protagonist will be trying to achieve a goal when she’s presented with a challenge (she’s trying to do something in a scene and something stops her—the conflict). She’ll either react on instinct and try to overcome that challenge, or take time to decide what to do (how much time is up to the writer). The difficulty of the challenge, the level and type of conflict, and the competence of the protagonist determine how that challenge is resolved. What happens at the end of the challenge leads to the next goal of the plot and the next challenge.

This is essentially plotting in conceptual form. Pursue a goal, face a challenge, outsmart or overpower it, proceed to the next challenge with a new goal.

Of course, just watching someone complete a series of tasks can get boring after a while. Most external challenges just require skill, strength, or intelligence to overcome, others will be much harder to resolve due to personal issues. To counter potential task boredom, another layer of conflict is often added to keep the story interesting. This is where the internal conflicts kick in.

Internal conflicts are the emotional, ethical, or mental struggles a character faces while trying to decide what to do about an external problem. The challenge isn’t a physical thing in the way, but a struggle within the protagonist to make the right choice. It’s the mental and emotional debate the protagonist needs to have in order to resolve an external problem.

For example:

  • Protagonist wants to save her missing sister, but doing so will reveal a secret she can’t afford to have known.
  • Protagonist wants to be loved, but her refusal to compromise keeps her alone.
  • Protagonist wants to romance his girlfriend, but he doesn’t want to risk making her kids mad and their not liking him.

An external task that’s easy to complete can be made difficult by adding an emotional roadblock. What needs to be done is clear, but the protagonist doesn’t want to resolve it that way for personal reasons. Either the right choice has consequences she doesn’t want to suffer, or there is no good choice—whatever she does has serious ramifications.

Internal conflicts are based on who the protagonist is and what has happened to her in her life, and this past makes it harder for her to make decisions and resolve her external challenges. They typically come from the morals and ethics of the character, and more often than not, choosing one side negates the other and the protagonist can’t have it both ways.

Internal conflicts are great opportunities to put the protagonist in the hot seat and force her to decide who she is and what she stands for. How far is she willing to go to help a friend? What will she risk? What does she value? Her struggles while making a decision shows readers who she really is as a person.

Mixing the two create a plot- and story-driving engine that keeps readers invested in what problems might be faced and where the emotional challenges will come from. It not only piques readers’ interest about what could happen, but it makes them wonder why, and anticipate how the protagonist will overcome the conflict.

So, what’s driving your plot?

Looking for more tips on creating conflict? Check out my latest book Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), an in-depth guide to how to use conflict in your fiction.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the fantasy trilogy, The Healing Wars, and multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure 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.

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