Show, not Tell

There are 3 rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Archive for the ‘Revising’ Category

Lesson 12

with 2 comments

Wednesday is a big deal. I am starting my last fall quarter of my undergraduate education. Exciting! Wednesday is also lesson day! CONFETTI! Now let’s talk about friends.


Friends, AKA Critters

I’m currently getting e-friendly with two lovely ladies who I’m hoping will become fantastic crit partners in the future. But I’ve learned a few lessons about critiquing: you need to be careful. You need to know who you’re critiquing. There needs to be a basis of friendship so you know that if you’re being too mean or if you’re missing the point, something will be said–and not before it’s too late.

Four Things to Think About When Looking for a Critique Partner

1. What

You need to know what you’re critiquing. Is this the first draft? The second draft? Is it in a stage that needs to be line-edited or picked apart for characterization and plot? These are things to think about before tackling your next critique project.

A lot of people like to revise the first few drafts themselves and then send it off to a few people for specific things. They may have a harem of people, where one person is particularly good with plot and another is fantastic with grammar.

So what are you good at? What can you bring to your partner to help them the most?

2. How

Once you’ve decided what your critique partner needs, you need to find out how to deliver it. Does your partner have thick skin? Are they going to be torn to pieces if you mention something about their style? You need to figure out what kind of feedback they need in order to give it to them in a way that will help them the most.

The rule is always to follow up with a positive. Point out the good things and the things that need improvement. Always be a critique partner. Always give constructive criticism. Never, ever be mean or rude or condescending. But honestly, this can be easier said than done. Sometimes tone doesn’t transfer over track changes!

This is why it’s important to have a relationship with your critique partner. If they know you, then they’ll know you’re not trying to be mean and that it may come across that way simply by accident.

3. Who

It is vastly important to know who your critique partner is–not just their age, sex, and location. Some authors have thick skin (not the gross kind, hopefully) and others don’t. If you have a bond and a relationship with your critique partner, your words will resonate with them a lot better than some stranger. They’ll know you have a proximity to their piece because you have a proximity to them. They’ll know you aren’t trying to rip their story to shreds by pointing out every time they use the phrase ‘in fact.’

They need to know who you are as a person so they can understand your critique and what matters to you. Understanding is a big thing. It’s a huge! thing because you need to assess what they can handle and when they can handle it.

4. When

Some authors start the critique process early (me) and others don’t. Just realize that the when comes after the whathow, and who. Once you’ve established everything else, then the critiquing will follow.

Now, when you’re going to start looking for a critique partner is up to you. It’s not easy and you’re going to come up short because the sad truth is that looking for a critique partner is almost as hard as looking for an agent. The only difference is that an agent doesn’t mind telling you no because it isn’t for them or it didn’t attract them. Authors are way nicer than that and they’ll say yes just because they want to help.

Just wanting to help isn’t enough.

So, here’s the big take away:

You have to want representation and publication for your critique partners just as much as you want it for yourself. Their story, in some way, needs to inevitably become yours. It’s like nurturing your sister’s daughter. Their story is your niece! (Or nephew!) You need to love it to pieces and want it to grow up well–and pretty–and get married and have children and have an amazing life.

So, how do you find someone that’ll be your story’s auntie or uncle?

Look around you! There are so many writers out there who’re looking for a good critique partner, and that person could be you. This isn’t the time to be shy. You need to be you and you need to put yourself out there.

Good luck!


Written by Jessica Lei

September 22, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Critiques, Lessons, Revising

Sage Advice from Last Week

with one comment

The Golden Throne

Malleable Gold is Like Your Manuscript

It is Monday! This means I’m going to share something with you that I learned last week that blew my mind. Secrets shall be here. Good ones.

I read a lot of blogs. Agent blots, author blogs, and blogs on writing and other similar subject matter. Why? Because these people are genius. Every other word sparks some sort of creative interest or epiphany that I just have to share with someone.

Last week, it was this: Malleability.

Natalie Whipple explains that changing your story (your characters, your plot, your themes) isn’t necessarily as much of a change as it is reshaping your ideas. She uses gold and rock as an analogy, saying that manuscripts are not rocks that will shatter when hammered upon. Rather, they are malleable like gold, able to be shaped and molded at will.

Pretty awesome.

To be truthful, I like jewelry, so visualizing my manuscript as gold is not only pleasing, but it is motivational. I want to revise my manuscript right away because I’d rather have a new fancy ring or bracelet, rather than the big chunk of deformity it is right now.

So, this week’s sage advise is to rethink and revisualize how changes actually affect your manuscript. How is your manuscript turning out after you change a weak part or reverse the order of a few scenes? Are you making all the changes that you could or are you holding back in fear that making this one big change may take your manuscript from first prize to shortlisted?

Don’t worry, young cadets: your story will always be your story, no matter how many drastic changes it undergoes. Underneath the plastic surgery, Paris Hilton is still Paris Hilton and underneath the wig, Donald Trump is still Donald Trump.

On the flip side, does anyone have any horror stories to finally committing to that one big change that left you dazed about what you’re going to do next? Share!

Written by Jessica Lei

September 20, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Advice, Revising

Lesson 9

leave a comment »

I had a few rounds of critique of my newest query at literary agent Nathan Bransford‘s forums and someone pointed out all of my unnecessary words. They really ate up my word count! Literary agent Janet Reid also has pointed out plenty of unnecessary words via QueryShark. The list has been very helpful in paring down and revising drafts of my query and my manuscript, so I thought I’d put the list together for other people. Here’s a list of generally unneeded words in your manuscript/query/synopsis/life:


  • She asked for his hand in marriage but was, scared of what he’d say.


  • He said that he’d love to marry her.


  • She just couldn’t be happier.


  • They went back home and made arrangements.


  • In fact, tThey ended up married that day.


  • They had lived happily ever after.

There are obviously going to be cases where the words work! It’s also prescribed to change -ing verbs to -ed if your story is in past tense. They “ended up married” instead of “ended up marrying.” Hopefully if you CTRL + f these hotspots, you can pare down your documents a bit and polish it up a little more!

Are there any words you’ve noticed that are typically extraneous?

Written by Jessica Lei

August 30, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Posted in Lessons, Revising, Writing

Lesson 8

with 2 comments

This one is about queries!

Read QueryShark like it’s the Bible.

No, really.

Even still, it’s not going to be easy work. Queries are the ultimate way for agents to know how well you write. Ridiculously, these little letters showcase your writing in 250-350 words. How is this possible?! It shows that you can be short, concise, and on-point. If you can do that in a query letter, you can do that in a scene. It means you know how to use words right.

Queries suck. I’ve revised mine at least fifteen times by now.

How many times have you revised yours?

Written by Jessica Lei

August 25, 2010 at 5:23 am

Posted in Lessons, Queries, Revising

Lesson 7

leave a comment »

This one goes hand in hand with Lesson 6: have selective hearing!

Why is it important to have selective hearing? Other than ignoring your parent and/or spouse, you have to tune your ear to the opinions of those that actually matter. You need to be able to pick out what will actually work for you (and your masterpiece). Someone might be telling you that your writing is perfect. It’s not–or maybe it is (hello it is a pleasure to meet you mr conrad). Someone may be telling you that your characters aren’t redeemable (mary will you be my bff). Does it matter? Was that your intent? Only you know what you want.

Having the correct setting on your selective hearing can be hard to accomplish. Do you listen to your mom when she tells you that you look nice? Sometimes you should and sometimes you should really throw that black eyelet lace tank top into the garbage. Do you listen to Janet Reid when she tells you that your query is garbage? Yes, unless that query already has gotten you published.

Exceptions, exceptions–that’s why life sucks so hard. It’s hard to tell who to listen to or what advice to take. So listen to who you want to and take what advice you want to take. See where it takes you. Adjust your selective hearing if necessary.

Written by Jessica Lei

August 18, 2010 at 7:50 am

Posted in Lessons, Revising

Lesson 3

leave a comment »

Here is our third lesson. We had an inkling about this lesson a few days ago but it didn’t really sink in until today:

Do not do revisions until after you are finished writing. It’s probably okay to pass around your first chapter for major critique before writing the rest completely, but if you are being thoroughly critical of everything you write, as you write it, it is slow and often discouraging.

I think we’ll stop revising after chapter three and just write like I know we want to. Free fingers, spin your tales and your lies!

Written by Jessica Lei

July 27, 2010 at 1:34 am

Posted in Lessons, Revising

Lesson 1

leave a comment »

Here is our first lesson as we start writing our first novel:

When you’re writing a novel to be published, it is incredibly important to find outlets to share your novel with before letting your baby out into the big bad world. Just like you nurture own baby, you need to nurture your story, too. It needs the proper clothing, the proper subsistence, and the proper environment to grow up well. We all want our babies, and our stories, to bloom into a successful adulthood.

For writing, I think finding someone to critique your work is almost invaluable (invaluable would probably be finding a publisher and a million dollar, lucrative contract).  When you’re writing, to stop and take the time to look over all the aspects of your own story is like trying to cut your own hair. It doesn’t work. You can’t reach the back of your head and you can’t find all of your own mistakes. Once you’ve read over your story once or twice, half of it is practically committed to memory, anyway. You need someone else who doesn’t know every aspect of your story like their very own pillow. No, you need fresh eyes, because not only are potential readers going to have fresh eyes, but your potential agent or publisher will, too.

By fresh eyes, I mean someone who has absolutely no idea what you’re writing. So when they read your first chapter, they don’t already know that subtle reference you made in your third paragraph will be meaningful in chapter twenty. For someone who knows next to nothing about your story, they can tell you if it’s truly interesting, and you must have an interesting story to find an editor, an agent, or a publisher.

So, great, you have someone who can critique your story. Even better, maybe you have several people. That is jolly.

Now, find someone else’s story to critique. Why? Because helping someone improve their story will help you improve yours. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase before that teaching someone something helps you learn it, too. Taking a critical look at someone else’s work will force you to take a critical look at your own. When you comment on their lack of description, you’re going to wonder: how’s my description? When you point out an inconsistency, you’re going to wonder: do I have inconsistencies?

Giving and receiving critique is important to improving your story. Improving your story is a sure step in the right direction to getting published. Logic would say that it’s pretty imperative to start that critique group up soon.

Written by Jessica Lei

July 23, 2010 at 4:35 am

Posted in Critiques, Lessons, Revising