Anna Questerly

Anna Questerly
Bookseller and bibliophile turned author, Anna Questerly writes medieval fiction and fairy tales for smart kids and young hearts. For adults, she creates Utopian fantasy as A.J. Questerly.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Managing Your Muse: Part 6 Communication

Once you have your teams in place. You need a way to communicate effectively with them. These are the two worksheets are what I give to my teams, so we're all working toward the same goal of making my book the best it can be. Would love to hear your thoughts or comments as this is a work in progress.  

Alpha/Beta Reader/Critique Partners

While reading, please look for and comment on the following. Go ahead and notate directly onto the manuscript. Please be sure note any additional concerns or questions you may have while reading. I realize this is more like homework instead of a pleasurable reading experience. Please know, your honest feedback is vital for me to make this book all I want it to be and I appreciate you taking the time to do this for me.

Is he or she likable?  Do main characters come across as multidimensional?  Do they have distinct character traits and personal history?  Are the main characters' goals well defined?  If he/she acts out of character, is there sufficient motivation?  If historical novel, are actions consistent with social norms of the time fully or if not, have they been supported/explained? If fantasy/sci-fi are actions consistent within magic/technological boundaries established within the story? Are his/her motivations believable? Do you care about him/her? Were you able to see character’s growth throughout story?

Is he/ she unlikable enough?  Is he/she well-developed and multidimensional? Does he/she have distinct character traits and personal history?  Does he/she have a well defined goal?  If he/she acts out of character, is there sufficient motivation?  If historical, are actions consistent with social norms of the time, or if not, are they fully supported/explained? If fantasy/sci-fi are actions consistent within magic/technological boundaries established within the story? Can you understand what makes the villain bad? Is he/she believable?

Other Characters
Do secondary/tertiary characters contribute to and support the plot without being detracting from or diminishing the importance of main characters?  Can you tell characters apart? Are their voices unique enough to tell who is speaking in dialogue? Do the supporting characters contribute to storyline and setting?

Are all characters described through a balance of action, dialogue, and narrative?  Do you care about these characters?  Are conflicts between characters well defined?  Do they have sufficient challenges/obstacles in the quest for their goals?  Do they react appropriately to new situations or challenges? If Fantasy/Sci-fi/Time Travel, do characters react to new time/place appropriately or appear either too blasé or too overwhelmed?

Relationship and Conflict
Are the-conflicts, both internal and external, believable and well-motivated?  Are relationship and conflict components of the story properly balanced?  

Do characters exhibit a range of emotion shown through character interaction?  Do emotional scenes evoke the intended response from you? Do emotional scenes develop forward momentum of the story? Do you get the humor? Did you notice any unintended humor?

Does dialogue effectively develop characters, express emotions, and advance story action?  Is dialogue stilted or overly narrative in style?  Are transitions between dialogue, action, and narrative smooth?  Does each character have a distinct voice so his/her personality comes through? Are there scenes of only talking heads or can you see conversation unfolding within a setting with the characters acting believably within that setting?

Are descriptions of characters, clothing, scenes, etc., adequate for you to visualize?  Did I balance the use of all senses?  Did I use dynamic description instead of halting the action for long narrative descriptions?  Are mood and emotion part of the descriptive process?  Are descriptions handled through a viewpoint character rather than author-intrusive narrative? Can you see the people and places and understand how the viewpoint character interprets both?

Did I  make changes from one character viewpoint to another smoothly and clearly without jarring you? Is there a viewpoint missing as a reader you’d like to see?

Does the opening put you there? How long did it take you to become settled within character’s viewpoint or attuned to narrator’s voice?
Does the opening scene fully convey the setting and include character description and character interaction?  Does it set up or introduce the major conflict?  Does the opening hook you as a reader?

Writing Technique, Style
Does important action take place on stage?  Is background information woven in at appropriate times, when it will have the most forceful impact?  Did I set up clues/complications to keep you interested?  Did I make transitions between scenes/chapters smoothly and effectively?  Does story progress at engaging pace?  Do I have a distinct voice?  Is style suitable for intended market?  Did I demonstrate skill with language/mechanics?  Does research appear to be accurate?  Are story components necessary to the story included? Are there excesses that could be cut and not affect outcome/motivation?

Is ending satisfying to you? Was it expected? Is it fair? Did it seem to be the inevitable outcome with hindsight? Were elements important to the ending foreshadowed throughout the story? Does ending resolve all major issues? Is it believable?  Any major holes or unresolved issues?

Does manuscript tell entire story (beginning to end), including necessary background information?  Does it define major conflicts (internal and external) and the resolutions?  Does it show a coherent, believable plot line?  Is  setting an integral part of story?  Does story develop through interesting series of events in a logical progression of cause and effect motivations? Did you notice any continuity issues? Any questions the manuscript didn’t answer. Would you have been happy if you’d purchased this book? If you didn’t know me, would you recommend this book to a friend?

Line Editors/Proofreaders
Please look for the following and mark errors/concerns directly onto the manuscript. Feel free to notate additional concerns you may have as well. Thank you for taking this time to help me make my book the best it can be.

The basics.

Homonym abuse
Missing words
Repeated words

Important yet easy to overlook:

Tense errors (past to present, present to past, etc)
Point of View errors (looking for consistency within scene, easily identified changes where intended)
Sentence structure (varied lengths of sentences, long sentences need to be easy to navigate and make sense.)
Fact Checking when needed

I’d also like your opinion on the following:

Font choice (style and size)
Formatting choice (chapter headings, margins, page numbers, space between the lines)
Consistency in formatting
Word Choice (note any preferences where needed)

Was there anything they jarred you out of the story? Were you satisfied with the ending? Did you like the main characters? Would you have been happy if you’d purchased this book? If you didn’t know me, would you recommend this book to a friend?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Managing Your Muse Part 5 Teambuilding

Team Building

As much as it may seem like you’re all alone and on your own at times, in reality, writing a novel takes a team. In this post, we’re going to discuss two very different types of teams a writer needs.

Your first team, we’ll call Team A. These are the folks who will help you whip your manuscript into shape to either self-publish or submit to a publisher. Members will need to fulfill roles as Alpha readers, first round editors, Beta readers, critique groups, and proof-readers. This team helps to make the magic happen. We really should call them the A-team.

Obviously, we’ll call your second team, Team B. These guys and gals take over after you and your Team A members have finished. They will take your novel through to publication.

If you choose a traditional path to publishing, your Team B is already in place. Your editor, layout and cover designer, proofreader, marketing expert and sales team are already on board and know their roles.
If you are planning to self-publish, you’ll need to build or hire your own Team B.

A few other people you may need to include on your team are research sources, illustrators, a literary agent, and possibly an attorney.

Let’s start with you’re A-team; where can you find members and what exactly are they supposed to do?
Your Alpha reader is most likely someone very close to you; a spouse, family member, or best friend is perfectly suited to this role. This is probably one of the toughest tasks to ask someone to take on. The perfect candidate for this job is the one person you’d feel comfortable asking, “Do these pants make my butt look big?”

My hubby is my Alpha reader and he’s great at it. He’s the first to read anything I write. He understands what I need from him, because I’ve told him clearly. His role is not to edit or proofread, although he does mark any obvious errors his finds. His job is much more important.

First and foremost he is to protect my ego, yet not let me embarrass myself; a delicate balancing act to be sure. Again, “Do these pants make my butt look big?” is the perfect litmus test when selecting an Alpha reader. The one who can answer that question for you, will rock in this role.

Because you putting someone important to you, in a vicarious position, it’s vital that you communicate your needs clearly and be open to criticism. In my next post, we’ll go over communication with your team, and I’ll share some tools I use to make communicating more effective.

Then, you’ll need a first round editor. Many new writers lump all editing functions into one big pile. But there are actually two very different skill sets for editors. Your first round editor will be looking at the big picture, some refer to this as “chunking edits.”

Unless you happen to know a professional editor, this is where you’ll want to pay someone to help you. Don’t ask mom to do it. This job is too important to leave to amateurs.

I go into more detail in my book, Strategic Rewriting, but for now, keep in mind; this person is not looking for spelling and grammar errors. You don’t want to waste your time fixing typos when you may have to change or delete large chunks of text (and you will most likely have to, I promise.)

Your chunking editor will point out problems in character arc, plot points, subplots, and point of view issues. Big stuff. Important stuff. This is the person who helps you shape your story. You’ll need someone who first, understands what these things are and how to fix them and second, has a dispassionate eye and can be completely and brutally  honest about what changes need to happen. You’ll need a professional. Your book deserves it. Almost everything else you need, you can beg friends to help with, but please understand how important this round of editing is for your book.

Next, let your critique group have a crack at it. Again, in my book Strategic Rewriting, I’ve dedicated an entire chapter on how to find or create, and participate in a critique group, so I won’t go into it here. Your fellow writers can point out many inconsistencies, problems, errors and more. I’ve always found their input helpful.

At this point, you may want to consider hiring a line editor to go through your manuscript line by line looking for any grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors as well as doing some fact-checking. If you have an analytic and detail oriented friend, they may be able to fulfill this role for you.

Finally, let’s talk about Beta readers. You can have anywhere from one to one hundred, but be aware, everyone has different ideas about what makes a good novel. The more Beta readers you have, the more decisions you’ll need to make and rewriting you’ll have to do.

People who enjoy reading the type of story you are writing make great Beta readers. Don’t ask someone who hates vampires to read your paranormal novel. Ideally, you are looking for the same type of people who would buy your book. For my first book, The Minstrel’s Tale, along with a few trusted friends, I had twenty-five fifth graders and their teacher as Beta readers. Score!

Beta readers also make great proofreaders. With so many eyes on the page, almost every mistake you make will come to light. Almost.

Now that your manuscript has been through all of that, it’s ready for either submission to a publishing house or, after several more rounds of proof reading, ready to be formatted for self-publishing. Which brings us to Team B.

If you’re going with a publisher, you’ll have to work with the team they’ve already set up for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to learn to do it yourself or find someone to help you format your work, design the cover, and proof the final work looking at EVERYTHING.

Ask writer’s groups in your area for references. Before sending anyone money, check out predators and editors at for scammers.

Oh, and one other thing, remember to thank those who assisted you in your acknowledgements before finally publishing. Although your name will be emblazoned upon the cover, remember, your soon-to-be-published work is a team accomplishment.

Stay tuned: next Sunday, I’ll post the tools I use to communicate with my teams.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Managing Your Muse Part 4: Spreadsheets

Long, long ago I had to take a training class on how to use spreadsheets. Understanding how they worked was one of my biggest challenges; using a word processor came much easier for me. I prefer words to numbers and always have.
Now, I use them frequently, but my spreadsheets for fiction are filled with words. No math allowed. (Okay, that’s a lie. I do use them to track royalties.)
While spreadsheets aren’t strictly necessary; for someone like me, who can’t read her own handwriting after a week or so, they can be quite helpful. I also find them easier to change and to quickly locate, besides they are much neater than my scribbled notebooks.
If your novel features more than two characters, you will find you’ll need something to keep continuity in your story. Seriously, if your character’s eyes change from blue to green, you need a better reason to offer your readers than “I forgot.”
It’s easy to create a simple character spreadsheet. I know authors with more of a tech background who make some amazing character sheets complete with photos. If you have the skills and the time, go for it; I prefer a more minimalist approach.
Across the top, I type my character names, keeping my primary characters in the first few positions, and secondary characters further to the right. Down the left side, I list attributes such as physical features, where they are from, what they like, what they don’t, etc. Then I fill in the boxes, creating characters out of bits and bytes.
This link will give you an example of how detailed you can make your own sheets.
But wait there’s more!
Ever wonder how authors are able to weave subplots into their story? I did too, until I learned a way that made sense to me and, Voila! Another use for spreadsheets in fiction is born: keeping track of plot points and subplots. Again, you don’t need a spreadsheet, you can use a hand drawn chart, which is what I did at first, but those easier-to-read and quicker-to-find issues pop up again.
If you don’t understand the terminology I use in the example below, I highly encourage you to watch Dan Wells five part series on Story Structure on YouTube.
Sorry, I can’t let you can’t peek at mine; it would spoil the story. However, the YouTube link I provided above, gives a great example from the movie, The Matrix.
In your spreadsheet, along the top, place the names of your main plot and subplots. For example; Action, Character, Romance, & Betrayal. Down the left side, list your plot points. Hook, plot turn 1, pinch, mid-point, pinch 2, plot turn, & resolution. As you begin to fill in the boxes, you will see where the subplots, can be threaded through your main plot in a way that makes sense. You’ll be able to watch your character arc build, and you’ll know you’ve given the reader the hints and foreshadowing needed for fair twists and surprises.
Basically, it’s a simple chart, but using it to keep my story architecture in place, allows me to keep track of each scene-block without them crumbling down around me into a jumbled mess.
When you are finished creating your charts, put them in a folder on your desktop  so you can get to them when you need them. You can also print them out and hang them near your desk.
Your critique partners, editors, and readers will thank you for keeping the continuity in your storyline and praise your ability to skillfully pull together your subplots into a cohesive tale.
Oh, and don’t forget to create a spreadsheet to keep track of your royalties. Uncle Sam will appreciate it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Managing Your Muse Part 3 PowerPoint

Managing Your Muse
Part 3


After many years of creating sales and training presentations, I’ve discovered how to use PowerPoint as a power tool for visualization and motivation for my novel, Pangaea.

When I wrote The Minstrel’s Tale, I had the somewhat spooky assistance of the actor, Patrick Stewart’s voice in my head. His voice was that of my main character, Amos Questerly, the minstrel, and he often simply dictated what I should write. I really never saw Amos in my mind, but his voice made him real to me. I knew him as well as a blind person knows someone they may have never seen with their eyes, but nonetheless knows intimately.

I guess that makes me an ‘auditory author’ instead of a ‘visual’ one. I tend to hear my characters instead of seeing them. Don’t get me wrong, I get a general sense of what my characters look like and what their setting is like, but unlike some of my favorite authors, I don’t really see it in my head very well. Instead of blind, maybe extremely near-sighted is a more apt description of my handicap.

This auditory method worked well for me in The Minstrel’s Tale. It took place on Earth. We all know what Earth looks like, so I didn’t really need to see it to tell my tale.

Pangaea is another story. It’s a make-believe world. I had to create it. I needed a tool to allow me to visualize a world that did not exist and channeling Tolkien and J.K. Rowling didn’t seem to work.

I truly wish I could share my slideshow with you, but there are simply too many images still under copyright for me to do that. But worry not! I can explain it how you can build your own.

I knew what I wanted the world of Pangaea to be, but had no visual reference to wrap my mind around. This is a world which exists only in my imagination yet I could only grasp wispy images of what it would look like. I needed something more concrete, something I would be able to describe to my readers so we shared the same vision.

Pangaea is an advanced civilization who has learned to use magic. To get an idea of what I was trying to describe, think Star Trek meets Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

I searched for alien architecture and landscape images in Google and found a few which came close to what I wanted. Then I delved further looking for elven architecture images and discovered more paintings and pictures I could use. Although none really captured exactly what I was going for, they allowed me to meld and merge ideas into what I did want. I was beginning to see Pangaea!

I saved these into a PowerPoint slide show and made that my screen saver. Now whenever I pass by my open laptop, Pangaea beckons me to return. Talk about motivation!

This worked so well, I took it a step further. I searched for images of my fictional characters. Of course, I didn’t find them exactly, but I did hit on a few close enough and, with a bit of imagination, I was able to really see my characters. I added these to my PowerPoint slide show as well.

 The most exciting thing was when I discovered two very different pictures of a certain actress. Although this woman didn’t really look like my main character, these two images together, captured my heroine’s character arc perfectly!

I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it was to see the before and after of her right there on my laptop.
By using Powerpoint in this way, it was if I was given a prescriptive pair of author glasses. Now, not only can I hear my characters but I can see them. I can see their world, their homes, their clothing. I can see it all!

Even if you don’t need a pair of PowerPoint glasses, the motivation factor alone is worth the effort of creating your own slideshow. We all know the hardest part of writing a novel is putting our butt in the chair. When your world calls to you from a silent screen, it’s a bit harder to ignore.

My only advice is that you not try to search for exact images. You probably won’t find them anyway and you can waste a lot of valuable writing time sorting through all Google has to offer. Find something close enough, and then add a liberal dose of your own imagination to make it fit.