The Diary of A Beta Reader: A Guest Post by Sara Marschand

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Guest blogger Sara Marschand explains her thought processes while she beta reads. A beta reader is often the first or second set of eyes a manuscript gets. Their purpose is to spot holes in a manuscript and communicate to a writer, who maybe a little myopic, that changes need to be made. 

For the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of beta reading for many authors.

Much of my feedback highlights awkward sentence flags and unclear story parts. Sometimes it’s a setting that can’t be visualized, other times it may be a whole scene that doesn’t fit the narrative.

Logical errors are the easiest to spot. One author described a tiny cabin that two inhabitants lived tightly in. The next scene featured and armed militia crowding in for a sword fight. Plus, the heroine escaped everyone’s notice as she snuck out a secret back exit. Not likely!

Another author switched back and forth between night and day a couple times in a scene. The author had missed a couple words in editing that changed the clarity of the entire section.

But what goes on in the mind of your beta reader?

This is a snapshot of a year in the life of me, a beta reader. I tackled two works. The authors at different points in their careers.

Diary of a Beta Reader by Sara Marschand

Need questions to ask of your beta readers? Click here!

March

A new paranormal romance arrived. I love urban fantasy mixed with romance, so I can’t wait to dive in! It’s the author’s first book.

Prologue

Action at the beginning. Good start. I’m a huge fan of destruction. The author is overly fond of exclamation points, though. I will gently suggest she doesn’t need quite so many. I’ll have to wait and see if the prologue is relevant to the story.

Chapter 1

And now, I have whiplash. What the heidi-ho did the action- packed prologue have to do with this vapid girl’s POV?

Some of the actions are hard to envision, but I can help with that.

The cool fairy names totally fit the genre. I like them, and I’ll let the author know.

The writing style feels like YA, but why are they all wearing spiked heels?

Chapter 2

Hmm. This author makes a lot of grammatical errors. I’m not an editor, but there are so many, I can’t help but to comment on a few. After all, these could be typos.

Based on the language and simplicity of the sentences this must be YA or mid grade. I thought I was getting a book for adults, but moving on!

Chapter 3

Nope. These errors are definitely not typos. I know I got this pre-editor, but did the author even try to make it readable? Maybe I’ll send her a link to a good grammar book. For grins, I ran this chapter through the Hemingway app— second grade reading level. No wonder my intelligence feels insulted. This is beyond my ability as a beta reader to suggest fixes for, but I really, really, hope she has an editor.

Chapter 4

The characters roll their eyes too much. Another easy fix.

That paragraph was the best yet. If I highlight the excellent passages, she’ll know what works. I’m glad I found something redeeming amongst the choppy sentences.

This is clearly a novice author, but hopefully I can give her something to build her craft. I see a lot of thesis “telling” statements followed with the “showing” sentences. If she can delete those tells, the quality of writing will be improved.

Chapter 6

Holy exclamation points, Batman !!!!!!

These characters all walk and talk the same. I can’t figure out the hierarchy of the fantasy creatures. It seems like age and wisdom mean nothing, but it goes against norms of the genre.

Chapter 13

A pornographic content warning would have been appreciated. Adult audience confirmed. Erotica is not my typical genre. I would not have agreed to read this because of my inability to judge the content properly. Ironically, this is the highest quality writing in the book, except for the choice of words. I’m fairly sure the romance community never describes body parts in the terms used here.

Chapter Who Cares. Lost count.

The agony!  I quit !!! With lots of exclamation points and missing apostrophes!!!  I will never beta read again. Why did I sacrifice a weekend for twenty bucks? I regret my life choices. I read 80k of something the author should have said was an Alpha read and full of shocking content. I spent another four 4 hours summarizing my feedback where I gently wrote a paragraph on why this author should seek an editor.

The paranormal romance beta left me shell-shocked. A content warning flag should have been applied, and if I hadn’t been paid, I would have sent it back after chapter one due to sloppy writing. I could not, would not, take another beta for several months after that grueling read. I even quit the beta reading service I belonged to. I read only published and polished works until an author I’d worked with before asked for me to give feedback on her sequel. The first book was epic in length for the rates I charged, but I loved the story, so I agreed to the second installment.

“Beta reading perk: finding out what happens before anyone else.”

— Sara Marschand

August

The Word document arrived!

It’s been a while since book one. The author made significant changes after the book one beta. I’m really glad she gave me the final version, otherwise I’d be lost. Still, I have both versions swirling around in my head so I’ll review my notes and the changes. I want to get to the new book—stat!   

I don’t expect any nasty surprises. A book refined this far allows me to look at the broad strokes of the story. I’ll provide comments on little things that cause bumps in the read, but I’m looking forward to digging into the overarching plot and character development.

Prologue:

Symmetrical with book one. It’s a teaser for sure, but I like it. The tie-in to the climax works perfectly.

Characters:

There is so much good with this story, but my job is to find the holes. The major characters are just as I remember them, but one minor character bugs me. The male protagonist goes out of his way to keep the minor player alive, and ends up out of character as a result. The protagonist would never behave this way, and it’s too early in the book to have a major character development. The minor character needs to die. He’s got too much dangling plot potential to keep alive if those ideas won’t be pursued.

Two awesome second tier characters deserve a spin off or at least a short story. I’d love to see them on a caper together.

Romance:

This book has less romance than the first, but the opportunities exist. Where’s all the love?

Pace:

Four chapters in the space dock go on FOREVER. I started skimming when I got really bored. It’s basically four chapters of a character complaining about his aches and pains and wallowing in self-pity. Most of this material is repetitive, and it’s a departure from the feel of the rest of the book. Nix this. Please. A paragraph of this would be plenty. This could be a great place to insert a few hints about the end, though.

Dialogue:

Too much cursing. I enjoy a good swear, but not when it detracts from characterization. Multiple characters are using the exact same verbiage, and I’d like to see more differentiation.

Conclusion:

I fixed a few typos because I couldn’t help myself. There are still a number of junk words, which could be removed for conciseness, but I love this book. I’m so happy the author lets me read her works.

The harshest of my direct thoughts never made it into my feedback verbatim, but I did find polite ways to share them and encourage the author as best I could. Author 1 needed to work on her craft more before the story could be addressed. It was a hard read that made me much more selective in the works I’ve taken since. Author 2 and I had an established relationship. Other than a few typos, the copy was clean. I was able to focus on her overall story and plot twists that didn’t work. The author took my feedback graciously and even discussed potential changes afterward. A character died, thanks to me. So many authors take your feedback and you never hear from them again, but this author values my input.

The moral of the story: Give your beta reader the most highly edited work you can and let them be part of the process. The feedback you get will be deeper when their time is time spent reading the story and not fighting fixable errors. I beta read because I love helping authors shape the best story they can.


 

Description: Six Ways To Tone It Down And Make Your Story Stronger

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Description can be overdone like Girl Scout cookies, sunny days and reality television.

In our fiction writing, description can play a key role. It can make the details of the story come alive vividly. Good description engrosses the reader in the story. But like fine wine, news in an election year, and most pork products, if you have too much description, you may regret it.

Many times writers get a little too excited with their descriptions of the people, places and things in their story.

As much as I loved the beauty and genius of Les Miserables, I totally skimmed through dozens of pages describing the sewer systems of Paris. With apologies to Victor Hugo, he could have cut that description and the story would have been just fine.

Take a lesson from Monsieur Hugo: When you are drafting your manuscript, and you get to the part where you really want to get into detail, consider these six things first.

Description: Six Ways To Tone It Down And Make Your Story Stronger by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelist

Description May Be A Kill-Worth Darling.  If you’ve spent years and years on your manuscript, it is easy to get too attached to details. Are you obsessed with your  world-building? The heroine’s eyes? The arrangement of the house? The description may be slowing down your pacing. You may be boring the reader. Your description may need to be toned down to make it stronger.

Description may be overrated. Authors are often in love with their own poetic words. To the reader, description is much like seasoning in a main dish. Good detail enhances what is featured, not substitute for it. If you think you have too much detail, take it out, read it aloud, and judge which version is stronger. And if you suspect that you are a little too attached to those purdy words you wrote, you’re in good company.

“In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”C.S. Lewis, Letters to Children

Description can be spread out.  Your character can show details in their actions.  Put in the descriptions into the dialogue. When your character bolts through the door, maybe she needs to knock over that Ming vase. When her lover goes after her, confused, have him run his hands through his raven black hair. By sprinkling specifics in the actions of the character, you are making it more palatable to the reader.

Description can be tied to narrative voice. Your point of view character tells the story. Weigh carefully how much he or she would notice in their world. Certain personality types notice detail. Some don’t care a bit about it. Generally speaking, a female character will soak up their environment much more than a male one. Generally speaking, a sensitive character will pay extra attention to an environment. A colder one may not.  Reread your manuscript with this in mind and see how you can make things more consistent.

“For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else.” — Stephen King

Description is stronger with the right noun. The more specific you are with your nouns, the clearer the picture can be for your reader. A Douglas fir is a more vivid picture than a tree. Keep your pacing consistent by choosing the right noun.

Do You Have Too Much Description? By Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelists

Description is even stronger with the right verb.  For the same reason, a precise, active verb carries the weight of a sentence and creates an interesting picture. Search for weaker verbs: is, was, are, had, has, have, walk, said, went, etc. Then, substitute stronger, more clear verbs. And while this task does sound tedious, it would be worth it to go back and make the sentences stronger.

There are no original plots, so writers must depend on the details to make a story interesting and readable. As you revise your story, keep these suggestions about description in mind.

And go easy on the Cheese Doodles, you might regret it later.


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Living With My Old Friend Laziness

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I hate laziness. And yet it’s an old friend of mine.  

Lazy slouches in the corner and asks me to go get it a drink.

 It sneaks out of simple requests, claiming that it’s just too tired. It claims that everything will get done, but when the inspiration hits, or when that condition is just right, or when it feels like it.

Living With My Old Friend Laziness

I check laziness’s work. This underside has been neglected. The corner was cut here, and here and here too. And this is the wrong technique, not what I asked. I should know better than to ask for more.

Lazy complains about the job that he is doing. Lazy sits and ponders all the ways we should find a short cut. Then lazy makes a big show over what little effort has been made.

Laziness may appear attractive, but work gives satisfaction. –Anne Frank

He makes excuse after excuse. Then I think about my relationship with lazy and I wonder, have I ever seen it give its best? Have I ever seen it actually break a sweat? Have I ever seen it work to completion on a job?  

Laziness is often in me. I’ve had it rub off on me, and I hear its whining come out of my mouth. 

When I see these streaks of lazy in me, I grow angry and bitter. I resist taking responsibility for my failure.  I faint with fake weakness and confess I’m just not up to much more. Oh poor me! 

Laziness doesn’t know this: that there is great satisfaction in doing your best. 

I’ve trained my own laziness with the whip and chair of small rewards.  I’ve pushed my own laziness just a little harder and been so pleased with the results that I pushed even more. When laziness uses excuses to get out of work, I just plug my ears and hand over the mop and the broom. 

My own lazy is getting better and better about taking orders. In fact, my own lazy has discarded the excuses, the sneakiness, the denial. It’s far from perfect, but my own lazy now has muscles that are toned up. It has a new motivation about it. I can actually leave my lazy alone with a job and it will get done. 

I reward it by calling it a new name. My laziness is now called diligence. I don’t even recognize it. 

The job is done. We worked hard together. Now we can enjoy the fruit of our labor. 

As you make plans for change in 2017, think about how you can prod your laziness into action. 

Think about how damaging and unproductive it would be to drag your excuses into the New Year. 

Think about how much more you could accomplish if diligence worked beside you.

But don’t just think, do. 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Wasting Time: Seven Hard Questions To Ask Yourself

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“Don’t waste your time chasing things that will never be beneficial to your future.”
April Mae Monterrosa

Are you wasting your time? Now that you are safely nestled into the routine of a New Year, it’s time to be honest about how you’d like this untouched calendar to be filled. You may have regret over how 2016 turned out for you and a possible repeat of regrets gives you the willies.

Instead of waiting to see what happens, ask yourself these tough questions about how you spend your time.

7 Hard Questions To Ask Yourself About Wasting Time by Katharine Grubb

1. Are Your Priorities A Mess?

This is what it may look like: You want to be that person that everyone comes to for help so you never say no. Your calendar is bursting, you’re not getting enough sleep and you may feel like doing anything for yourself is selfish. This wastes your time because you’ve filled your calendar with stuff you don’t want to do in the first place.

The deeper problem could be that you have boundary issues. You’ve never respected your own boundaries, so you let others walk all over you. You may think that this is the way to keep everyone happy, but it’s only making you aimless and exhausted.

The solution could be:  look for ways to say no, or at least limit some responsibilities. You could also take an inventory of how you spend your time and eliminate those tasks that don’t bring you joy. You could practice saying no to others and get a trusted friend to encourage you to be steadfast in your boundaries. You may also want to read BOUNDARIES by Cloud and Townsend. Saying no now can prevent wasting time later.

2. Are You Wasting Time Waiting For The Greatest Idea Ever?

This is what it may look like:   you think that the Harry Potter series just settled in J.K. Rowling’s mind and you think that your successful future novel will appear much the same way. You may not understand that ideas are cheap and that only the ones with hard work behind them go anywhere. You may also have a unrealistic expectation of what creativity really is. This wastes your time because you could have been writing all this time, working a lame idea into a blockbuster.

The deeper problem could be that: you don’t want to do the work, you may falesly think that a discarded idea is a sign of failure or you just think that success in the arts should be easy.

The solution could be: learning all you can about the struggle authors face in creating things. It could be disciplining yourself for 10 minutes a day and just writing to show yourself you do want to do the work. You may also want to watch this video by Elizabeth Gilbert or read Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. Working on your ideas, even for 10 minutes, can prevent wasting time later.

3. Are You Wasting Time by Micromanaging?

This is what it may look like:  You say that you want help, but the idea of delegating responsibility makes you stabby. Instead, you take responsibilities from others, to make sure it gets done correctly. Or you may waste a lot of emotional energy micromanaging the habits of others because you don’t think they’ll succeed. This wastes your time because your control freak tendencies will crowd out what’s really important (and they may damage relationships in the process.)

The deeper problem could be that you have a lot of fear in your life. You have unresolved anxiety. You are trying to control everything because if you don’t, you believe the worst will happen.

The solution could be: that you need to talk to a mental health professional, if for no other reason than to get some insight on what is worth fretting over and what is not. You may want to try delegating (and not micromanaging) small things once a week and reminding yourself that the world didn’t end if it turned out differently from what you expected. You may also try reading The Power of Surrender by Judith Orloff. Learning to delegate and expecting others to help can definitely prevent wasting time later.

4. Are You Wasting Time Worrying About What Others Think?

This is what it may look like: If they say you’re good, smart, beautiful, clever or wise, then you’re good smart, beautiful, clever or wise. You may use things like blog visits or Facebook likes to feel better about yourself. You may be looking for outside affirmation from a publisher or a reader or an editor, but you also may find that it’s not always satisfying once you get it. This wastes your time because instead of moving forward with a project, you keep looking behind and around you to get approval.

The deeper problem could be that: you are really insecure with who you are. You may not fully value yourself. You can’t appreciate your own awesome and this may stem from previous bad influences in your life who convinced you what they were saying was true.

The solution could be: that you talk to a professional mental health worker and be up front about your feelings of inadequacy. Keep a running list of your strengths and your achievements to remind yourself of your awesome. Consider saying positive things to yourself daily to get your focus off the approval of others. You may also want to read: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. Being confident in yourself is a great engine revver. If you worry less about what others think, you can prevent wasting time later.

5. Are You Wasting Time Ignoring The Real You?

 This is what it may look like:  you don’t think that creatives are practical people, or your first responsibility is to those around you, or dreams are for the weak. You’re ignoring your true self. You are busy doing something because it’s practical or expected or secure. You may feel you’re too old, too experienced, too committed to being one way, that you can’t possibly change. This wastes your time because life really is short! You get only one chance and you are worth pursuing your dreams.

The deeper problem could be that: you’re in a rut. You have settled for a so-so, dissatisfied life because you don’t think there are any options for you. You may also be crippled by fear to try something new.

The solution could be: that you get honest about what would really make you full of joy and provide meaning for your life. You may also want to talk to someone who has made a change in their life so they can encourage you. You may also want to read: Living An Inspired Life: Your Ultimate Calling by Dr. Wayne Dwyer. You don’t want to come to the end of your life regretted you wasted it.

6. Are you afraid of failure?

This is what it may look like: you can’t remember your past successes, you only remember that time you tried and failed. You have people in your life who remember your failures. This wastes your time because fear is a paralyzer. Your fear may keep you from taking any action at all.

The deeper problem could be that: you’ve put far too much importance on the mistakes you made or the non-successes. You’ve allowed your past to define you.

The solution could be: go to someone who truly loves you and tell them what you’ve been thinking. Allow them to remind you of where you have succeeded. Make a list of all of your accomplishments and your strengths and think about them. Pay attention to times you make mistakes during the day and affirm yourself with “I am not the equivalent of my mistakes”. Consider talking to a mental health worker and maybe reading this book: Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Mistakes by John C. Maxwell. We’re all going to fail. Acknowledging and accepting this can prevent wasting time later.

7. Are You Wasting Time on Negative Thoughts?

This is what it may look like: your inner voice is on an endless loop of “you’re no good.” “This goof is just like you.”  “Who do you think you are?” “Why are you even bothering?” “You’ll never amount to much.” If your confidence is shaken, you won’t be able to do much at all. And that will waste your time.

The deeper problem could be: those messages have been put there by someone else in your life. It could also be that you’ve never practiced disciplining those thoughts. Or maybe you need to show someone the door.

The solution could be: paying close attention to what you tell yourself and responding nine positive things for one negative. It could also be keeping a positivity journal or surrounding yourself with people who bring out the best in you. And, surprise! I’m going to suggest talking to a mental health professional about this too. You could also read this book: Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance At Work by Shawn Achor. Breaking this habit will make all the difference in your life and can prevent wasting time later.

2017 can only be awesome if you make it that way.

Don’t be afraid to ask yourself these tough questions, address the deeper problems and find good solutions.

The next twelve months are a gift. Don’t waste them.


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread and a comedian wannabe. She is also the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. She also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

The Weekly Apple to Apples Drabble! Submit Your Entry Below!

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This is the place for a weekly flash fiction contest!

The Apples To Apples Drabble! 

Apples to Apple Drabble Flash Fiction Contest by 10 Minute Novelists

The Rules: 

  1. Write a drabble. A drabble is a 100 word story, with beginning, middle and end. A drabble can be any genre. Make it exactly 100 words. You can do it. That’s what adjectives and adverbs are for.
  2. Include each of the three Apples To Apples cards in the photo. All three. Not two. Not four. ALL THREE. New cards are chosen every week.
  3. Paste your drabble into the comments below. Then share this with your friends. The more comments you get on your entry, the more likely you are to win!
  4. Absolutely no links, screen shots or salesy type of behavior in the content entry. 
  5. Winners are chosen by the amount of positive response they get. Comments like, “This is great!” or “How funny!” or “Good job!” are the kinds of things that will be counted. Negative comments like, “this contest sucks” or “the rest of the entries are losers” or “WTF?” will be unapproved. The author of this blog reserves the right to unapprove or block any content that is suspected of originating from trolls. In the event of a tie, winners will be chosen by this method.
  6. Limit 3 entries per person. If you’re having fun, come back next Friday.
  7. Contest is open from 5:00 AM EST every Friday and closes down the following Sunday night at midnight.
  8. Winning entries will be announced on the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group page the following Monday. The entry will also be published in the monthly digital newsletter, 10 Minute Novelists Insider. 
  9. All entries must contain no profanity, no graphic violence or erotica and no hate speech. Entries that do not abide by this rule will not be approved. Consistent abuse of this rule will warrant a blocked user.

This week’s cards!

The Apples To Apples Drabble! A Flash Fiction Contest!

Good luck!


 

Six Big Reasons No One Is Laughing At Your Comedy

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Is this thing on?

Why aren’t readers laughing? Why isn’t your comedy working?

You get a ton of likes and LOLs on your Facebook posts. Your tweets have been re-tweeted dozens of times. People are always picking themselves up off the floor when they are with you, but when it comes to writing comedy, you may only hear crickets.

Six Big Reasons No One Is Laughing At Your Comedy

Six Big Reasons Why No One Is Laughing At Your Humorous Writing

1. You may not understand the nature of comedy.

This sounds absurd in a way, who studies comedy? We’ve all laughed, we’ve all told jokes, we’ve all repeated anecdotes and received various forms of happy feedback. And even an LOL on Facebook isn’t a true indication that you understand what’s funny. I hate to break this to you, but you just may have gotten lucky a few times. Comedy is harder than you think.

Comedy, according to this theory, comes from benign violations. According to the Humor Research Lab in Boulder, Colorado (this is a very real place with very real studies) humor comes from the Benign Violation Theory.

Benign Violation Theory for Comedy
This is math, a Venn diagram to be exact, and who would have thought math was funny? Certainly not me.

Humor comes from the unusual.  That means that there’s a twist somewhere in the things that you have written. The joke, the visual image, the phrase outside the scope of normal or predicted. A funny punch line is a violation to the normal and the expected. YES, you’re saying to yourself. You’ve violated right and left, you’ve violated so many times that you’ve hurt yourself. But this is the other half of the coin: the violation must be benign. That means that the thing you said that was just a little bit off was not in the position to hurt, offend or cause pain for the listener or the reader. The best comedy is when the listener or the reader doesn’t think that the joke is on them.

Two cannibals were eating a clown. One said, “does this taste funny to you?”

Let’s look at the above joke. Is this a violation? Yes! We all believe that cannibalism is outside the scope of normal. And a clown! Clowns are comedy gold. Haven’t you wondered how they tasted? The punch line “does this taste funny to you” is a pun! And whole package, the set-up and the punchline is right smack in the dab of a benign violation. It’s funny!

It’s also benign. This joke is outside the scope of normal. But the average listener is certainly not hurt nor offended. It’s benign because none of us are cannibals and only a few of us are clowns. We can laugh safely because the oddity of this mental image is odd, but not offensive. Because it meets both of these requirements safely, it can be funny, and it is!

2. You may not know what’s benign.

 In your comedy antics, you may have crossed a line maybe not even knowing it. Your audience won’t laugh because your “violation” may not benign to them. You may have clowns in your audience. Worse, you may have cannibals with a tendency to retaliate. Yikes! This is often why some humor writers or joke tellers fall flat. They don’t have enough of a violation and they aren’t safely in the place of benignity. (That’s really a word. I didn’t just make it up to sound smart!)

The solution to this is to know your audience. If your objective is to get the attention of a particular group of people, then you should look at your words — no matter how funny — as a chance for connection. Funny people are often welcoming and attractive! You want people to want to laugh at you. The least you could do for this relationship — which could be a fickle one — is to look for common ground.

3. You may have the wrong agenda.

A benign violation may not work for you because in your heart of hearts, you don’t want to be benign! You want to get people riled up! You want them to be offended! I would argue that if you call yourself a humorist, a comedy writer, a joke teller, a stand-up comedian, if you  brand yourself as someone that is associated with humor and you deliberately choose not to be benign, then you are setting yourself up for failure. To promise one thing and deliver another is the fastest route disappointing or alienating your audience. This is especially important if you are just starting out in your career. Don’t look for ways to offend, incite or antagonize if you want to be seen as fun.

4. You may play it safe on the wrong things.

A few years ago on The Last Man Standing I saw a stand-up comedian hopeful enter a room to meet a nun. (This sounds like the set-up for a joke, doesn’t it?) His task was to get the nun to laugh so he could move on to the next level. Now, if he were humor savvy, he would have realized that because this woman took her faith very seriously that her definitions of what was funny would be vastly different from what a typical club goer would have. If he had been humor savvy, he would have said something that from her viewpoint, something that would have not just been a violation, but a benign one, then he would have had a loyal fan. He could have made fun of Protestants, priests, or people who had not taken a vow of poverty.

But that’s not what he did. Here he is, with five minutes to make a nun laugh and what does he do? He tells her the dirtiest, most sexually explicit jokes he had in his arsenal. Did she laugh? Nope. The more he talked, the more offended and upset she got. The more he talked, the more she crossed her arms and frowned. Now, he probably thought it was funny — telling dirty jokes to a nun!  He chose to lean heavily on the violation part of humor, which was probably something he was comfortable with,  and ignore the benign part and it cost him dearly.

Because the nun not only refused to laugh, but grew angry at his attempt, he lost the round. If he were a fool, he would have blamed the nun for being humorless. But he should have blamed himself. His nationally televised opportunity was dependent on being savvy responder to his audience. He did everything but that. I wonder if he regrets it. I wonder if he’s learned.

5. You may also lose a lot in translation.

This is a grim reality. Just because you are funny at the water cooler and at the family reunion doesn’t mean that you can capture those same reactions in writing. Comedy is not universally the same across various mediums. This may seem obvious to you, but then it may not. The most successful comedians, comic and humor writers know where they are the strongest. Some write situation comedy, some write stand-up, some write newspaper columns and someone has to put the jokes on the Laffy Taffy wrappers, right? If you are finding the jump from telling funny jokes to writing funny pieces to be too difficult and you’re getting unfavorable results, it may be that you just shouldn’t go there. Play to your strengths. It feels a lot better when people are laughing.

6. You may cut corners, using puns, profanity or catchphrases instead of inventive wit. 

This is my least favorite form of comedy and it’s going to be tough for me to create a clear argument for this one: but the most common types of comedy are take-offs, references, puns or the attachment of a catchphrase to a common thought or meme. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Humor of this nature is a far cry from thoughtful, well-sculpted wit. Those self-appointed “comedians” who shout-out to The Most Interesting Man In The World aren’t looking for substantial material (and may risk copyright issues).

Instead, they are going for the cheap laugh, the predictable laugh with dated and trendy material. Anyone can slap together the latest internet meme or rewrite the words to a popular song. It takes real talent and commitment to the art of comedy to consistently write jokes and sustain a solid reputation. If you are a hit among friends with your “are you telling me?” graphics and your photoshopped dancing Nicolas Cages, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t expect to move into the world of professional comedy writing unless you can up your game.

What does this have to do with writing?

Humor writers are not stand-up comedians. We also don’t have the luxury of being in the same room with our readers, listening for their snickers and guffaws. We often don’t get feedback from what we read. You really can’t know what’s funny unless you understand your audience. Therefore, the bar is raised pretty high in humor writing. As a result, good comedy and humor writers have a lot to think about.

This is where the hard work comes in. You need to figure this out.

To sum up, to really be funny, you need to spend time narrowing down your typical reader — your market — so that you can set yourself up for the best communication and success. You may also need to study your material for its benign violations, understand that humor is tough to write and requires nuance and delicacy. Most importantly, you need to work extraordinarily hard to be seen as original. Originality is gold in the comedy world, not stealing ideas from others.

You can kill. Now work hard for it.


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

How Storytelling Makes Me A Stronger Writer

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By Christine Hennebury, 10 Minute Novelist 

            Once upon a time, there was a writer who was invited to host a storytelling circle. She knew that she couldn’t bring any of her written work to read aloud, instead she was going to have to combine her writing and acting skills with her love of reading and learn how to TELL a story…

            At the time, I thought that storytelling and story writing were very different skills. Since then, I have learned that when your need to communicate is powered by story, it is possible to use your skills in one type of story sharing to enhance your skills in the other. 

How Being A Storyteller Makes Me A Stronger Writer

Here are some ways that I bring my storytelling powers into my writing:

1)      Get to the heart of your story

When I’m telling a story aloud to an audience, it’s a dynamic thing. I have to be pretty flexible with content and length so I can respond to changes in audience, location, or run time. The key to that flexibility is in knowing the heart of my story – the basic truth of the tale I’m telling.

When I get down to the heart of a written story, it gives me the same flexibility – no matter how much I have to edit the story for content or length, I can still preserve what I wanted to say.

 2)      Picture it, Baby

Storytellers rarely memorize stories, instead they ‘learn’ them.  I create a sort of visual storyline in my head – not unlike a film directors’ storyboards. Whether I choose to get very detailed or just sketch out the basics, the images are all in there for me to use. 

I find the same thing to be useful for my writing – as long as I have a mental image of the scene I am describing, I don’t have to describe all of it. Knowing what *else* is there, even if I don’t include it, makes the rest of my description richer. And this applies equally well to action scenes, character motivation, or scenery.

3)      Know your turning points

 Every story I tell has specific turning points and I make a conscious decision about how to either build toward them or step back and let them reveal themselves. I emphasize (or reveal) them by my choices to spend time on description or to get into the characters’ heads.

I do the same with my writing – choosing to move quickly from point to point or rolling things out slowly to build the tension.

4)      Use Your Own Voice

 Storytellers take great pride in making a story their own. So even if every teller on the program was telling the story of Little Red Riding Hood, each tale would have different wording, different emphasis, and different details. And you would probably enjoy each story as a fresh experience.

I bring that knowledge to my writing – people may have read a similar story before but they haven’t read MY version.  So, I try to power my stories (written and told) with my own voice  – emphasizing what I think is the heart of the story, and illustrating, through word choice and focus, what I think the important details are.

 My voice is part of the strength of my stories, and your voice is what powers yours.

5)      Let the audience pull the story out

I always practice my stories before I go to perform but I don’t always know *how* I’m going to tell them. Once I get up on the stage, it becomes less about what I put out there and more about what the audience pulls out of my brain.

 The details I share, my phrasing, and the things I emphasize change based on whether I am talking to a group of toddlers or a group of business owners. I find details and themes that they will relate to, and I bring those out in my telling.

 Now, obviously, when writing, I don’t want to cater to my audience to the detriment of my story, but I do let my knowledge of my readers ‘pull’ the story out so I can be sure I will connect with them. 

6)      Perspective is Key

 Since every story potentially has many points of view, one of the first decisions I make as a teller is to choose whose story I am telling. Is this the tale of a little girl lost in the woods? The tale of a fed-up wolf who can barely find any food because the humans keep encroaching? Or is it the story of a grandmother who will do anything to protect her granddaughter? Obviously the decision will alter how the story is told – even if the basic storyline remains the same.

In writing, I take the same approach – choosing who is sharing the story and what they notice and what they would want the reader to know. What details put them in the best light? What motivates them to act?

 When you choose a perspective, it will affect the language you use, the things you choose to emphasize and the audience that you will reach but, since perspective moves a story from the general to the specific, your story will be stronger for it.

 7) Remember the point of the story

 Stories serve a variety of purposes – they entertain, they inform, they provide warning, they educate, they help build community, and they strengthen cultural ties. So, I like to remind myself that storytelling and story writing is serious business, that I am doing important work.

The same is true for you. You don’t have to be intimidated by the importance of the work, since every story serves one of those purposes, but it helps your story if you know which purpose you are serving.

Just keep writing and get those stories out into the world!

…And all of the storytellers and all of the story writers lived happily ever after with their ideas and their words.

 

Christine Hennebury’s img_5173storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her story skills have improved significantly since then. She makes up stories, shares stories, and helps people shape their life stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.  Find out more about her storyfying at christinehennebury.com or mombie.com.

How To Dream Big And Work Small, Even in 10 Minute Increments

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How can I think of small increments when I see the year’s calendar before me?

My mental map is 7 spaces wide and 52 spaces long (Minus three days!) and it’s pretty intimidating! It spans before me, each empty space is full of potential and hope.

I used to tremble at the thought of a new year.

I used to be fearful for all the changes that could take place or the milestones that I would cross, or the decisions I would have to make.

Maybe it’s because I’m older and many of my life’s milestones are behind me. Or maybe it’s because I’m wiser and I know what I can and can’t handle.

How can 2017 give me something that can destroy me?  How can I meet my writing goals with all those blank days staring me in the face?

How To Dream Big And Work Small, Even in 10 Minute Increments

I’m not going to let fear dominate my blank calendar.

This means a lack of confidence, a lack of discipline and a lack of motivation  has to stay in 2016.  I have to be aware of what triggers me and avoid it. This means I have to stop panic before it overcomes me. 

I’m not going to let my blank calendar be ruled by this lack. 

This means that I’m going to create doable, manageable plans for each week and each month and tackle them one word at a time. I can’t manage 365 days, but I can manage those 10 minute increments.

I’m not going to let my blank calendar be ruled by foolishness. 

This means I’m not going to waste excessive time on mindless activities.  I’m not going to trust my childish impulses.  This means I’ll set my timer and keep myself focused. For each of these successful 10 minute increments, I’ll remember how good it feels to achieve my goals. That feeling will inspire me to set the timer again. 

I’m not going to let my blank calendar be ruled by laziness. 

This means I’m not going to justify my lack of discipline.  I’m not going to be satisfied with figurative flab in my life. This means I choose order and self-discipline. Days and weeks and months of 10 minute increments piled up on top of each other is pretty inspiring. I want to make them all count. 

I’m not going to let stress dominate my blank calendar. 

This means I’m not going to overcommit my time. I’m going to lower my expectations in certain things. This means I’m going to focus on people more and tasks less. I take it 10 minutes at a time. 

I have nothing to be afraid of.

I’m also going to learn the lessons from other years: 

  • Stop comparing myself to others and what they accomplish
  • I’ll silence the inner editor so I can go faster
  • Stop focusing on what is overwhelming and start with what I know
  • Understand that not every 10 minutes is going to be kittens and rainbows.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration. Meet it at the computer.
  • Use story outlines to help.
  •  I’ll make small daily goals, because every little bit counts
  • Don’t let bad days stop me.

What’s on your calendar?

What would you love to say about your 2017 this time next year?

What choices can you make to start off right?


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. 

Top Eight Things Future Best-Selling Authors Are Doing Right Now

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Someday in the future, maybe five years, maybe ten years, maybe twenty years from now, the best-seller lists will name authors that no one has heard of now.

Those future best-selling authors don’t spring up out of nowhere, they’re alive and breathing as we speak. They’re out there, right now, getting kids ready for school, driving to the day job or composing another blog post.

Future best-sellers also working on their craft. They’re hard at work, making the most of the time they have to create the art that someday will be acknowledged by the world.

Top Eight Things Future Best-Selling Authors Are Doing Right Now by Katharine Grubb

What exactly are they doing then?

They probably write every day. If they don’t, then at least they write regularly. They treat their art with respect and understand that it takes a lot of practice to be excellent. The most successful authors of the future aren’t afraid to put in the hours to achieve their dreams.

They take their social media seriously. The future best-sellers understand that engaging with others on social media is important. Social media connections aren’t as important as writing, but it is important to meet reader after reader, to learn the ins and outs of various media platforms, and to update it regularly. The publishing teams behind these authors will be more enthusiastic  about supporting these future successes because they’re active now.

They’re reading craft books. If they’re not reading craft books, future best-selling authors are reading craft blogs, or taking classes or looking for ways to improve their art. Future best-sellers understand that there’s always something to learn and they’re looking for as much wisdom from the world of writing as they can. This diligence will show up in their art. They’re counting on it.

They aren’t afraid of criticism. Tomorrow’s best selling authors are sitting in critique groups today asking for feedback. They are pondering word choice, point-of-view, how many adverbs are too many and which dialog tags to drop. Future best-sellers are willing to listen to other authors around them and make necessary changes. A  writer who can’t handle constructive criticism won’t go far in this industry, and certainly will have trouble becoming a future best-seller.

What else do they do?

They’re learning how to be organized. Future best-selling authors take care of business well. Even though this may not come naturally for them, they keep good records. Successful writers need to file taxes, track expenses and stay on top of invoices. If you are a writer and you aren’t willing to take care of the business end of things, you probably can’t hope to be nothing more than a hobbyist.

They don’t make excuses. The best-selling authors of the future make writing a high priority. They don’t wait for “inspiration to strike” or “the perfect two hours”.  These writers push themselves when they don’t feel like writing, when the words don’t come or when their confidence is shot. This willingness to override excuses gives them a perseverance that often separate the professional from the amateur.

They are accessible to their readers.  I’m not a prognosticator, but I’d guess that in five, ten or twenty years the book market will be even more saturated. That means that it will be all the harder for writers to stand out. One of the ways that they can is to engage with readers now. A wise author builds relationships with their readers and in the future, these readers may turn into raving fans.

They don’t dwell on failure. Every single one of us is going to fail, that’s a given. But the most successful of us will look at our failures as opportunities to learn and become stronger. Future bestsellers will have a history of ups and downs, piles of rejection letters, embarrassing anecdotes, and spelling mistakes. But the best of us will refuse to let those failures become our identity.

Future best-sellers are all unique and have their own figurative and literal stories to tell.

Some future best-sellers will have to write thirty books before their big national break. Others will break-out with the second or third book. Some will become commercial hits. Others will find notoriety in more critical circles.  But all of them worked hard, all of them overcame obstacles and all of them weren’t afraid to learn.

I may never be a world-wide best-seller, but even if I’m not, I’m going to do everything on this list. My goal isn’t fame nor fortune, it’s being the best writer I can be.

Are you a future best-seller? Do you know what it takes to get there?

Apples to Apples Drabble! A Weekly Flash Fiction Contest! Submit Your Entry!

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This is the place for a weekly flash fiction contest!

The Apples To Apples Drabble! 

Apples to Apple Drabble Flash Fiction Contest by 10 Minute Novelists

 

The Rules: 

  1. Write a drabble. A drabble is a 100 word story, with beginning, middle and end. A drabble can be any genre. Make it exactly 100 words. You can do it. That’s what adjectives and adverbs are for.
  2. Include each of the three Apples To Apples cards in the photo. All three. Not two. Not four. ALL THREE. New cards are chosen every week.
  3. Paste your drabble into the comments below. Then share this with your friends. The more comments you get on your entry, the more you can win!
  4. Absolutely no links, screen shots or salesy type of behavior in the content entry. 
  5. Winners are chosen by the amount of positive response they get. Comments like, “This is great!” or “How funny!” or “Good job!” are the kinds of things that will be counted. Negative comments like, “this contest sucks” or “the rest of the entries are losers” or “WTF?” will be unapproved. The author of this blog reserves the right to unapprove or block any content that is suspected of originating from trolls. In the event of a tie, winners will be chosen by this method. 
  6. Limit 3 entries per person. If you’re having fun, come back next Friday.
  7. Contest is open from 5:00 AM EST every Friday and closes down the following Sunday night at midnight.
  8. Winning entries will be announced on the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group page the following Monday. The entry will also be published in the monthly digital newsletter, 10 Minute Novelists Insider. Want to subscribe to The Insider? Click here!
  9. All entries must contain no profanity, no graphic violence or erotica and no hate speech. Entries that do not abide by this rule will not be approved. Consistent abuse of this rule will warrant a blocked user.

This week’s cards!

Apples To Apples Drabble Cards 10 Minute Novelists

 

Good luck! 


I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community.