Editing your sequel – Step 2

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently, I wrote about my experience in drafting the sequel to my debut science fiction novel, Resistance (Divided Elements #1)and promised to share my upcoming experiences in editing said sequel. Last week was Step 1 – Reviewing Book 1. Which brings us to Step 2 – Seeing your strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of your readers.

 

STEP TWO – SEEING YOUR WORK LIKE YOUR READERS DO

You’re probably champing at the bit to actually rip into your draft manuscript, but trust me – it still needs more resting time. Going back in to a work in progress too soon after typing ‘the end’ can be like trying to reflect on a relationship a week after the break-up: All you’re going to get are hot, messy tears or a rose-tinted view of the belle epoque (neither of which are helpful).

If you’re like me, you’ll be spending this time working on completely unrelated projects – the half-drafted Nano project from two years back that you’ve been holding out on, various short stories for upcoming competitions, beta reading for crit partners, etc. If you’re not doing these things, you should seriously consider them. At the very least, bury yourself in an amazing book that can act as you ‘palate cleanser’, benchmark and inspiration when it finally comes time to review your own novel.

So, while waiting for our WIPs to get to room temperature, it’s time to kick off Step 2 – Seing your work like your readers do.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the challenges and advantages of writing Book 2. One of the advantages I neglected to mention was having the benefit of third party reviews – from crit partners, beta readers, ARC reviewers, and book reviewers.

Getting feedback about your writing style, your plotting, your characters, your world-building – it all adds up to a more refined blueprint for making your second book shine. When you write your first book, you send it off for publication not knowing how readers will respond or engage. With your second book, that uncertainty is not as all-encompassing.

annie-spratt-454816

For those of you playing along at home, this is what I did:

  1. Take out your notebook or open up a new word or excel document – anything you can divide a page into 2 columns. Title the first column “Positive” and the second column “Negative.”
  2. Go to the Amazon and Goodreads pages of Book 1.
  3. Take a deep breath (you’ll need it) and start by filtering for 1* and/or 2* reviews. If you’re lucky enough not to have these, start with your 3*.
  4. Ease the pain by looking for the good amongst the review – even ‘bad’ reviews usually have something positive to say. When you find something good, write it down in the “Positive column”. Where multiple readers raise the same thing, underline/highlight/bold the entry.
  5. If you have less than 100 reviews, repeat step 4 for all them. If you have more, consider doing a dip sample from each of the rating categories.
  6. Now go back and look for the negative points. Write them down – but maybe not verbatim. Bad reviews tend to be full of emotion. Strip that away and get to the core of what the review is telling you – e.g. “All humans have a ‘lifeline’ that plugs into things. All I could think of was [a] silly looking plug-in device. I actually giggled each time it was referenced or used even if it was a serious moment” (yes, that was written in the 1* review for Resistance. sigh.) becomes “lack of understanding about / poor characterisation of world-building technology “.

 

These lists of things – of what your readers loved/were fascinated by/engaged with and what they hated/were turned off by/didn’t understand – become your touchpoints as you edit. The entries become the red flags for things you need to either a) incorporate more strongly or b) consider removing/reframing.

Here’s a snapshot of my list to get you started:

POSITIVE NEGATIVE
·       Original world-building

·       Dark tone that built tension

·       Great character development

·       Thought-provoking

·       Too philosophical

·       Didn’t like the main character

·       Didn’t understand the technology or mechanics of population control

 

Interestingly, of the three negative points listed, I’ll only address one: the lack of understanding about the world-building mechanics. The other two – character likeability and philosophical bent – won’t change. And that’s the thing with reviews – sometimes they just come from readers who didn’t like your book and not because your book was poorly written.

Remember, you’re not trying to please everyone. You want to engage the readers who want to love your story. Remove the obstacles for that love, but don’t try to write the book they wish they could have written.

What about you? What critiques or reviews have been left about your first book that you will incorporating in your Book 2 edits? Let me know in the comments!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

 

LIKED THIS? WANT MORE?

You can grab your own copy of Resistance (Divided Elements #1) to read now. Available as a paperback or ebook on your favourite device. Just click to start reading!

RESISTANCE

 

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Editing your sequel – Step 2

Writing for your readers…and yourself

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

During the initial drafting of Divided Elements, I realised that I needed more eyes on it than just mine. As an untested author, I was unsure whether I was on the right track, whether the story idea was genuinely interesting, whether I had the chops to pull it off. To that end, I joined two online critique groups and found a local critique partner with whom I could exchange ideas and chapters. Feedback is critical for any writer, but sometimes reviews and critiques can seem like a version of ‘how I would write this book’, rather than ‘this is a problem for your story’. In this post, I talk about how to manage reader expectations to avoid the former criticism…

Getting feeback

Honest feedback and constructive criticism from other writers and readers can be incredibly useful in identifying technical areas for improvement, such as:

  • plot holes
  • crutch words
  • writing flaws (spelling, grammar, punctuation,etc)

Feedback, especially when critique partners are also assessing your WIP as readers, can also become more subjective. Personalities, reading preferences (genre, style, audience, etc), and whether they are in a good or bad mood when it comes time to reading that particular chapter, can all impact on how these readers assess:

  • Your characters – are they likable, sympathetic, competent, intriguing?
  • Your world – is it believable, over the top, too dominant, too generic?
  • Your plot lines – is the midpoint what they expected/wanted, does the ending satisfy their need for a perfect resolution of plot?

This is where the subjectivity of reviews and critiques becomes tricky. Yes, you need to write for your readers. But you also need to write for yourself.

This is your project, your creativity on a page, your piece of soul and worldview in ink.

Your responsibility as an author

That being said, you also have a responsibility as a writer to not mislead your readers. Readers may not like your characters or enjoy your world, but that is something that will become apparent early on in the story. It’s okay for this to happen, because at the beginning of the story, the reader’s investment in the book is still low. They may have only spent half an hour reading your novel before realising it is not for them.

No harm, no foul.

But what happens when a reader gets halfway through the book, or worse – to the climax, and their expectations or desires for the story are thwarted? They’ve been rooting for the protagonist to enter into an epic sword fight with her arch nemesis, but at the final moments she is disfigured and loses all of her strength and sword-wielding abilities, ruling out this plot line…

Or they’ve been reading eagerly through the chapters, enthralled by the developing attraction between the two main characters and awaiting that moment in the climax when they just know the two are going to finally put aside their resistance and actually admit they love the other, but just before the peak of this build up, one of the characters dies…

These are the sort of things that can send Goodreads review into vitriol territory – Hell hath no fury like a reader scorned.

Ned Stark - Brace Yourselves

Now, while it is not the author’s job to pander to reader desires – it is the author’s job to manage reader expectations. That is the whole purpose of a story – to take a reader on a journey with the author (and the characters) – and to set parameters within which plot twists and key events will be surprising, but in a way that enhances the reader’s appreciation of the story.

Managing reader expectations

The key to this is managing reader expectations from the start.

This is why the start of a book is so critical – it not only establishes the characters and the world – it should also establish the style, tone and theme. In a way, the start of your book is its constitution – the set of rules and laws by which your book will abide from beginning to end.

George R.R. Martin did this expertly in “A Song of Ice and Fire” – *** WARNING – Spoilers for those who have been hiding under a rock, living in another universe, living a life without television or internet and do not know about GAME OF THRONES ***

– when he killed off Ned Stark early on in the piece he illustrated his story’s constitution – indicating that killing off beloved characters was not something he would shy away from. Because it happened early in the piece, readers and fans were able to forgive him this (they were still orienting themselves to the story), and future instances of untimely deaths (they were, by then, used to his sadism).

So, dear authors, by all means introduce plot twists and intense character arcs and story surprises in your novel – just ensure that you have adequately prepared readers for the possibility of these things by successfully establishing your story’s constitution in the opening chapters where you introduce style, tone and theme.

 

Have you ever been disappointed or infuriated by a story plot point later in the piece? Has an ending ever made you regret picking up the book in the first place? Tell me about it in the comments section! 

 

Writing for your readers…and yourself