The End of NaNoWriMo

For some of you, today gives you great reason to celebrate. You’ve achieved the coveted NaNoWriMo badge and all the accolades that accompany it.
And then there are others who are asking themselves: what the F@$% is NaNoWriMo?

Oh, let’s not forget those who have not met the NaNoWriMo…I have fallen into this category in the past.

NaNoWriMo is the name of a nonprofit organization that assists and encourages people to write. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it takes place every November. People are encouraged to write 50,000 words, which is an acceptable length for a novel. Their website is HERE!

My feelings for NaNoWriMo are mixed. I always like it when people find the correct tools to help them achieve their goals, and for some, NaNoWriMo offers such tools.

For others, though, it’s a reminder of their past failures or just another stress in their life—an impossible task with their workload.

Have I ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Every time I do, I fail miserably. But it’s not due to being a slow writer or writer’s block. I do things when I do them, and if NaNoWriMo starts when I’m in the middle of edits, I’m not straying from my edits.

On multiple occasions, I’ve written 65,000 words in three weeks. When the novel has been sitting in your head for a while, sometimes the words just flow from you. NaNoWriMo is not a tool I’ve ever needed, and at worst, it could have been something that made me second guess going into writing. That certainly didn’t happen to me, but I can imagine it weighing on others. It never feels good to have unmet goals.

Do I recommend giving NaNoWriMo a try next year? Depends. If you are someone that needs to set clear goals and push yourself, it might be a good idea. If you are overburdened and feel dejected when you can’t finish something–stay the F@$% away.

That’s my take on NaNoWriMo. Congratulations to those who made it to 50,000! I know how hard that can be, especially when life comes at you hard and fast. If you fell short, well, you’re in good company. Many authors do. It could be that NaNoWriMo just isn’t the tool for you.

Dialogue tags and all the bad advice….

One of the wonderful things about social media is that it provides a gateway for like-minded people to meet and interact in ways that weren’t around in previous decades. The ‘writing community’ is alive and thriving on several social media platforms, full of positive energy and a willingness—no eagerness to help.

This is both good and bad. It’s good that people can come together with others who share the same interest, but sometimes we step outside of our areas of expertise by giving advice that may or may not be correct. Or even just opinion based.

Years after entering the ‘writing community,’ the debate on dialogue tags is still alive and thriving. I’m going to break it down and go over it analytically, though I will pepper in opinions of my own at the end.

DISCLAIMER: I am not an expert. I have a masters in business, not in writing, which is why I’m doing an analytical analysis. 

The Debate: 

Opinion #1: You should only use said and asked when writing. Readers will read over those words without noticing them.

Opinion #2: Said is dead. Use diverse tags.

Opinion #3: Cut as many dialogue tags as possible and replace them with action tags!!!!

Opinion #4: Don’t use any tags. All tags are dead.

What is a writer to do when they post their question on social media and are inundated with very different pieces of advice, like the example above?

It’s simple. When writing, seek out professional advice. There are people that have never been published or held a job that encompassed writing, giving very specific advice that is best left to professionals.

Now, back to dialogue tags. I have an answer for you. A good one. A professional one, but not as a writer or an editor. As an analyst.

It’s usually best to follow industry-standard in your genre, and dialogue tag usage may vary from genre to genre. In a very FAKE example that has no bearing on reality: it’s possible that western romance normally uses said, but medieval fantasy uses numerous other tags like whispered, shouted, muttered. I’m just saying that genres may use different practices—and that’s okay!

So, it’s never a bad idea to pick up a popular book in your genre and see what tags the author uses. For example, GRRM in A Game of Thrones uses: told, put in, insisted, shouted, reminded, continued blithely(yes, he uses adverbs with tags), and agreed among many other tags…including said.

Let’s check out prolific author Stephen King. He uses: replied, hissed, whispered, told, added, said breathlessly(another adverb in a tag!), muttered, roared, and many other tags…including said.

Let’s check out Nora Robert’s Hideaway: looking at the Amazon preview, there are almost zero dialogue tags. ZERO!!! I did find a whispered, but it’s almost all action tags.

So, based on initial analysis of very few books, it appears that two prolific authors use several different tags. And one barely uses any. 

What does this mean? Should you make a decision based on that small sample size? No. It means that you should do what you want knowing industry standard, finetune it, then send it for editing and beta reading to see what others think. It means that you shouldn’t just take arbitrary advice from people off the internet, including myself.

Now for my opinions….

And they are just that. Opinions. 

  1. I hear the advice, “You shouldn’t have to say whispered, the scene you set up should make it obvious.” —BULLSHIT. Sometimes whispered is the perfect word that gets you to the next, and the reader is going to be fine with it.
  2. I love action tags! Action tags help move everything along better and can make it obvious who is speaking when there are more than two people.
  3. Not every dialogue requires a tag, but having too few is confusing.
  4. Said and asked get repetitive and boring. Example:

“Hi,” Jake said.

“Hi. How are you?” Sue asked.

“I’m fine. How about you?” Jake asked.

“Okay, but my back does ache,” Sue said.

“I fell in love with this little Mexican restaurant down the street,” Jake said.

“The Purple Taco? I got sick eating there,” Sue said.

“I have an iron gut,” Jake said.

“Wish I did,” Sue said.

5. Although said and asked get repetitive, too many different action tags get exhausting to read. 

“Hi,” Jake said.

“Hi. How are you?” Sue asked.

“I’m fine. How about you?” Jake questioned.

“Okay, but my back does ache,” Sue answered.

“I fell in love with this little Mexican restaurant down the street,” Jake enthused.

“The Purple Taco? I got sick eating there,” Sue responded.

“I have an iron gut,” Jake said.

“Wish I did,” Sue muttered.

Conclusion:

So, there is a balance with how you should use tags, and receiving feedback from the right people is critical in perfecting your manuscript. If you’re unsure, have beta readers go over a chapter with a lot of dialogue and ask them what they think. Click HERE to learn more about beta reading.

So…that’s the blog. Some of you will disagree on some of my points, and that’s fine; just realize you’re not going to change my opinion, and arguing with me will be like talking to a brick wall—because I’ll be working. 

Yours in Adventure,

Lark

Lessons Learned From Beta Reading

Hello, Friends! Today I’m not going to talk to you about any of my books. Instead, I’m going to prattle on about an important part of the writing process: the beta reader.

Beta readers read and critique polished manuscripts—basically, an early reader of your manuscript. 

I’ve beta read over one-hundred manuscripts across multiple genres. It can be a great experience, giving important information to the reader—or it can be a nightmare.

Not only have I beta read a ton, but I’ve also had all of my works beta read—so I know what it’s like receiving feedback. Sometimes it sucks. Like, I’ve cried reading some of the critiques…but I’ve never mistreated a reader.

Below I’m going to go over some lessons learned I’ve experienced over the years. 

Asking for a beta reader when you need an alpha reader

By the way—I have done this. I have seen the way!

You need a beta reader when your work is polished. You need an alpha reader when your work is at a point where it needs editing. The problem is, some people don’t know that their manuscript requires work. I hate taking on beta reads only to find errors because I’m not one that can overlook them, so I sink HOURS more into a project.

How you can avoid this: If this is your first time having people read your work, always ask for an alpha reader.

Unsolicited requests for reads

It may sound like a great plan to simply ask someone to read for you. This person LOVES sci-fi—I write sci-fi! I’ll let them read my work for free!

Why might this be annoying: Some people don’t like giving feedback -or- they have a pile of books to go through -or- they’re busy -or- they hate saying no…so many reasons.

How to get a beta reader: There are places where beta readers linger. Facebook groups for beta readers are FULL of people wanting to read for someone! Also, Twitter. If someone’s profile says Beta Reader, approach them. People’s websites will advise if they beta read. If you know someone of a similar genre is looking, you can offer an exchange.

Hurt feelings

When you read as much as I do…you give a lot of criticism. I try to give it constructively, but people have varying levels of tolerance to your thoughts.

Most of the criticism I’ve given, I really shouldn’t have to. If someone is constantly correcting your tags, you should have had it proofread first. A true beta reader should not be editing, though I find myself doing this quite often.

Now, when I do find real issues, like plot holes and missing information(during edits, many people forget to add details back in), I type it in my notes and move on. It makes me feel terrible when the author gets distraught or is argumentative. I’ve had people say they’re going to abandon their manuscripts over very little things. DON’T DO THAT!

Beta readers can often spot a problem, but don’t give the best advice on how to fix it

I did NOT come up with that quote, but I find that it rings true. I wish I could credit who did come up with it.

Basically, they’re like drug dogs sniffing out the problems….but that’s all a drug dog can really do. You might get an excellent beta reader that knows exactly how to fix an issue…but it’s rare. And some genres are easier to fix than others.

A beta reader is only one opinion

Do NOT make major changes you don’t feel good about UNLESS you have several people telling you there is a problem. One opinion is just that, one opinion.

For a full-length novel, I recommend five beta readers. Right now, I have three dedicated readers because I’m having a hard time finding a permanent and reliable 4 and 5.

Your beta readers should be your target audience

You don’t want a grimdark fantasy reader to read your romance novel. TRUST ME!!! They will not be your target audience! They’re going to tell you shit like: while your happily ever after is cute, maybe at the end the woman could cut open the man’s stomach and eat his entrails… I mean, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point. 

Being too critical

I give criticism, but I never comment on someone’s ability to write and if they should write. I might say, “You really need to run this by an actual editor that can give you better feedback than I can.” I NEVER say, “You shouldn’t quit your day job. You’re never going to be a real author.”

EVERY BOOK STARTS OUT AS AN UNPOLISHED TURD! It may be rough, but I can’t speak to its potential.

Manuscript THEFT!

Okay, this is a real issue. I know people who have had their manuscripts stolen, and with how publishing works now, it’s easy to steal.

Some people choose to get an actual copyright for their work first. Technically, the work is copyrighted when written, but you cannot sue without going through the process of obtaining the copyright. It’s also really easy to prove when you’ve written your work, so some don’t worry about getting the copyright in advance. It’s not like many of us can afford to take these issues to court, which means even if your work is stolen, you might not be able to do anything about it.

Others choose to watermark their work. It’s not hard, and it can assist in making it harder to steal, but not impossible.

I would argue that choosing your readers carefully is the most critical step in ensuring your work’s safety. When I was finding them on FB, I would make sure the readers had profiles that extended years back with normal, human stuff in them. People who steal usually don’t do so if you can find out who they are so you can sue them. I never use Twitter because of the anonymity. I do think that paying a reputable company for beta reading services is a smart move if you can do it.

Have a list of questions lined up for the reader

It makes it so much easier to beta read when I know specific feedback is being requested. 

So, there it is…my advice and pearls of wisdom. Some people will argue with a few of these points, and that’s fine, but they’re certainly not going to change my mind.

If you have good advice or lessons learned from beta reading, it’s great to share with those getting their feet wet. It could save the writer a lot of time, and the reader a lot of frustration.

Until next time!

Lark