5 Tips For Reading Your Own Work

As you might know, I do some voice acting for the Folk Tale Audio Drama Anansi Storytime where I’ve been everything from a narrator, to (many) Goddesses, to a turtle. Plus, as a writer, looking for an agent, I’m dreaming of that day when people show up to listen to me read my own work (as terrifying as that is).

So, when I see panels on ‘reading your own work’ at conventions, I like to show up and see what else I can pick up. (See here)

Usually, they’re workshops. This year, at Balticon, the session was more of a panel, with a round or so of audience participation at the end. But I learned a LOT of things specific to reading your own work that I didn’t already know.

Here are my top 5 tips for reading from your own manuscript at an author reading.

Girl, hugging her knees, sitting at the edge of a cliff with mountains in the background.

Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

1. Pick a scene with action, dialogue, and stop on a cliff-hanger

I’d always imagined that you needed to start your reading at the beginning of the book, otherwise you’d surely confuse the readers!

In truth – no matter how your novel actually starts though, when you’re reading for an audience, you want something active that isn’t too full of introspective!

Although, you still want the scene to focus on the main (or one of the main) protagonists.

Girl smiling at herself in the mirror. Orange blouse, brown hair.

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

2. Rehearse

So often, writers (and audiences) believe that since you wrote it, you should know your novel forwards and backward.

But, even if you aren’t a writer, can you remember a joke you made 3 months ago? With the exact wording? Probably not.

I promise it isn’t the marker of a ‘fake’ writer or someone who’s ‘not meant to do this’. Most authors practice.

After several read-throughs, you’ll get to know how many pages will typically take you to the 1-minute mark, the 5-minute mark, or the 20-minute mark, whichever length of reading you’re preparing for.

Make sure to give yourself a little extra script if you need to be sure to fill the time. Nerves and a live audience make most people speed up, no matter how much they’ve practiced.

Feel free to give an intro and talk about the book and yourself and the story — not telling the backstory — but selling yourself and the novel! You don’t have to just read your story during a reading.

Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

3. Print it out and mark it up

A lot of authors print that scene out in the big font, so they don’t lose their place and mark it all up.

Put in pauses, when you raise your pitch, and when you lower your volume.

Highlight the different characters’ dialogue in different colors!

Whatever you need to make the reading more exciting to listen to.

4. Be EXPRESSIVE!

Use multiple voices! (Those ones you just highlighted in different colors)

Use over-exaggerated faces! (If you commit, so will your audience.)

E-nun-ci-ate! Make sure that you don’t turn your story into a mumble.

5 Bic pens fanned out. Green, black, pink, blue, and red.

All of my Bic editing pens. I meant to color code but haven’t really been doing that. Just using different colors for different things.

5. Don’t be afraid to EDIT THE SCENE

Wait. What?

I was stunned and yet it seemed so obvious when they mentioned this tip. I’d always imagined half the audience having the scenes memorized and ready to ding you if you misspoke a single sentence. But that’s not who you’re reading to!

This audience wants you to succeed. They showed up ready to be entertained and to have the experience of the words being spoken by the writer. To have something fresh and new!

If you’ve ever been to a concert, which is more exciting? A set playlist where everything is by the books and they wait exactly 90 seconds of applause before coming out for the ‘surprise encore’.  Or a band with a huge song list, picking and choosing which song they feel like tonight, with a more organic feel?

The audience is there for your take on it: the sound of foreshadowing in your voice, the excitement of the scene, the wrinkled nose in a character’s disgust at kiwi (what can I say, some characters have no taste!).

So make it easy for them to love your reading.

Cut the dialogue tags — especially if you’re using voices.

Do you have asides and mentions of side plots that aren’t relevant for this scene? CUT THEM!

Do you head-jump a lot and don’t have a full reading’s worth from one character’s point-of-view? Clip them together!

Make the scene as stand-alone as you can — except for that cliffhanger ending and leave ’em with your number buy links.


balticon52Banner

These notes were taken from the #Balticon52 panel “Reading Your Own Work”. The panelists were Dave Robison, Starla Huchton, Valerie J. Mikles, Steven Howell Wilson, and moderated by Erin Kazmark.

 

If there’s a topic you’d love for me to talk about, feel free to comment below or email me at morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com

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#20 Query Corner: ‘MARTIANS, EXES, AND REBELS’

Welcome to:

logo5

Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

[MARTIANS, EXES, AND REBELS] is an SF romance.

Working with his ex is the only way for Jack to stop the Martian rebels from destroying the colony. Now, if only he could find her.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

This sounds like a fun, adventure romp! I love the politics and exes.
– You’re falling into the standard habit of summarizing all the action high-points
– Remember to give us the main character’s wants, goals, and obstacles

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear [Agent Lastname],

Jack’s former lover Ellen walks back into his life seeking his help, not his heart. After they prevent delivery of an unregistered nuclear weapon to the Martian rebellion, Ellen disappears. To find her Jack must confront rebel assassins, Ellen’s new love interest, inexorable orbital mechanics and an AI programmed to stop him, hoping to rekindle their relationship and save the Martian settlement. [This reads like a blurb — a teaser. We need to give the main character a voice and motivations.]

[Summary]

[Bio]

 

Sincerely,

Q20


My Revision:

 Dear Ms/Mr Agent,

When Jack’s former lover Ellen shows up, he’s more than happy to help her prevent the delivery of an unregistered nuclear weapon to the Martian rebellion. But, then she disappears again.

As he searches for her, Jack confronts rebel assassins, Ellen’s new lover, and an AI programmed to stop him. If Jack can’t find her in time, not only will he be unable to rekindle their romance, but the rebels might destroy the Martian settlement, once and for all. [Here’s what’s at stake!]

TITLE is an X,000-word science-fiction romance that should appeal to fans of [Something] or [Other].

I write from [a place]. When not writing, you can find me [doing the thing] or [the other thing].

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Q20


Now we’ve got the inciting incident, the main character’s drive, and all the things that stand in his way. Let’s see if agents like the sound of it!

Best of luck to Q20!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!

 

The Washington Capitals WON the Stanley Cup

I know, I know, this is a writing blog and I’m not a huge sports fan. But I’ve been casually following hockey, especially the ‘Caps’ since 2002.

How I Got Into Hockey

That was the year my boyfriend at the time played through 3 seasons of video game hockey. I napped some, I read some, and I watched some.

I liked the game. They played a lot of games, but not like 5 days a week, so you could keep up with it (looking at you, baseball). It was fast-paced, stoppage of play was rare (looking at you, football), low-scoring (looking at you, basketball), but scores did happen (looking at you, soccer), and physical! where FIGHTS were allowed (so long as they didn’t get out of hand).

I mean, a sport where you’ve got to hold the other guy’s jersey, or their skates will slide them out of reach when you go for a punch? The absurdity of it appealed to me. Plus, if the fight didn’t get too out of hand, it was just a 5 minute time-out penalty.

Plus? The game didn’t work without real teamwork. At least not at that level.

Although, after video game hockey? When I actually saw the REAL Caps play, I was confused that all the best players WEREN’T on their team. And where was the cross-checking champion, Hrothgar?

But as time went on, I haven’t lived in a place with cable since 2008, so I just hadn’t watched a lot of games.

For years, I considered myself the biggest Caps fan that never watched a game.

In the last couple years, I’ve started to watch their games.

Last year? My old job gave us the last-minute opportunity to watch a game live, from a box. It was an awesome experience and completely solidified my love of the sport and the team.

capitals_bench_283423275618529

Washington Capitals vs the Vegas Knights

Last night, for the FIRST TIME IN FRANCHISE HISTORY (i.e. since the team was created), the Caps won The Stanley Cup, making them, (at least until next year), the top team in the world.

In hockey, for the play-offs, it’s a series of ‘best out of 7’ games. And their last series was against the Vegas Knights, a brand new ‘expansion’ team, made from taking players from other teams.

Shout out to the Knights – The fact that a brand new team, especially in a sport that is all about teamwork, made it not only to the playoffs, but to the finals was INCREDIBLE. According to announcers, it’s basically unheard of in any sport.

One more thing. The Knight’s goal tender? Their goalie is Marc-André Fleury, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and a major reason the Caps hadn’t made it to the Stanley Cup finals, especially in 2016 and 2017.

We started off with a loss against the Knights. But then, we came back. And entered in game 5, with a 3-1 lead. One more game and we would win the championship.

We’re DC fans, we know our teams are incredible at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. We were scared to believe, fearful that our hope would doom us.

Then last night, around 11:30 pm, during game 5 of the series, we won the Stanley Cup! Watching the players take a lap with the cup, watching their joy, their tears, and the way they came together as a family was heartwarming and endearing.

Congratulations to the Washington Capitals on a hard won victory!

800px-stanly_cup_in_hockey_hall_of_fame_28may_200829

 

Tips For Sustaining Tension In Your Writing

Last week, I talked about giving characters agency, but that’s not all editors and agents request. Another thing they ask for is ‘tension’. If the reader doesn’t have a reason to care what happens next, you’ve lost your tension.

Wait. Before we get any further, I need to clarify:

Why ‘Conflict’ Doesn’t Always Mean ‘Tension’

You hear a lot about how stories need to start off with ‘conflict’, but that’s not quite true. What your story needs is tension.

A fight or chase scene can provide conflict, but it’s really just an unsubtle way of giving your readers tension they can understand. And you have to be sure it’s actively forwarding the plot!

If you’ve ever seen Matrix 2, think about the opening fight scene–that went on and on and on.

I’m an easy audience– I don’t typically critique while watching, I want to buy into the world and the story, and I’m very invested in even the cheesiest of movies. Plus? I have a well-honed startle reflex.

Before the 10-minute mark, I couldn’t sit on the edge of my seat any longer. I sat back, took a sip of my soda, and waiting for the fighting to finish so we could start the plot.

So, with that caveat, let’s talk about the:

Goats with locked horns.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Types of Tension

  1. Fights
  2. Arguments
  3. Deadlines
  4. Curiosity (but not true confusion or you’ve lost your reader)
  5. “Disquiet-itude”* – where something is a little off
  6. Unanswered questions
    • Romantic questions! Will they or won’t they?
    • Mystery questions! Who was the real killer?
  7. The list goes on and on…
Person holding a blue ballpoint pen writing.

Photo by picjumbo.com on Pexels.com

Ways To Add Tension

Most of these should be familiar, but I’d be remiss if I left them out.

  1. Get into the scene as late as possible, and get out as soon as the scene’s main character has made a decision about the next action.
    • In Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings, there’s a scene that showed Daenerys after the council decided against her, raging against them. And the scene ends when Daenerys decides what to do next — before letting the reader/viewer in on the plan.
  2. Fight scenes aren’t tense by themselves – the stakes they’re fighting for are what adds the tension.
  3. Hinting is better than showing – think about horror movies.
  4. The Main Character Wants something
  5. The Main Character is invested in something
    • Emotionally, physically, financially -> it doesn’t matter what combination of these three, but you know it’s the character’s weak point
  6. The Scenery – use word choice to set up the tension
    • Have your metaphors say more than just the comparison
    • Look at your verb choice. Is there something more precise that sets the mood?
  7. The five senses
    • Building on the scenery, have the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches enhance the tension and mood
  8.  Contrast
    • Is everyone else tense, except for one character? What do the rest of the characters know that your one character doesn’t know?
    • Is your character tense when everyone else is relaxed? What does your character know that the rest don’t know?
  9. Have something be obvious to the reader, that the main character doesn’t react to as expected.
  10. Proximity – both time and distance affect tension
  11. Pacing – Shorter chapters. Shorter sentences. More action.
A hammock overlooks the water.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Ways To Lower Tension

Well, other than playing with the things above, (in a reverse way), there are things that writers do that lower tension, either intentionally or not.

  1. Writers often start with setting the scene chapters before the true story starts
  2. Writers fulfill the reader’s expectations, with no twists
  3. Humor – there’s a reason gallows humor exists. If you guessed “breaking the tension” in real life, you’d be right.

Conclusion

Remember, you want to keep the tension in your story to compel the reader onwards, but as with any genre, sustaining high tension is exhausting. You need to give the readers (and characters) time to process the plot.

By playing with the levels and types of tension in your story, you can make a story that your reader just can’t walk away from.


These notes come from the Balticon 52 panel, “Sustaining Tension in Your Writing”, featuring writers/panelists David Walton, Gail Martin, Scott Andrews, and moderated by Mark VanName.

 

* Scott Andrews’s word

#19 Query Corner: ‘THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION’

Welcome to:

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Morgan’s Query Corner:

Answering Your Query Quandaries

THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION is a YA historical fiction.

When Chiara’s father, the general who led the Knights to victory in the Crusade, is murdered, it seems a Grim Reaper is to blame. If she can’t find the Reaper in time, all of Christendom is at stake.

NOTE: If you submit your query to me (morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.

[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]

Overall Impression:

I’ve seen reapers and crusade stories, but not together. Great innovation and solid base to your query. There are a few things I’d tweak:
– There’s a lot of backstory
– The format is a little too casual
– Unless your self-published work has excellent sales, it’s typically best not to mention it

Original:

[my comments are in blue/italics/brackets]

Dear xxxx,

How are you today? [Not needed.]

Deus Vult! In the year 1099, the Knights return victoriously from the 1ST crusade, but their anxiety is on the rise as their General’s soul has been abducted by the Grim Reaper himself. [Backstory] No Knight is brave enough to look into the murder of their general but his daughter, 16-year-old strong and independent Chiara, take up the responsibility.

Eventually, with the help of the 14-year-old chemist named Marlon Shellbeth and his shady allies, she discovers that the Reaper was none other than Silas Fatimid, the deposed King of Jerusalem who killed the general as an act of revenge on the Christian faith. He plans to end his revenge by killing the Pope but his attack is intercepted by the heroes at the last moment. [Nice!]

‘THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION’ is a ??,000-word YA historical fiction in an era of religious blindness where science was condemned as witchcraft. Inspired by the medieval European lore the book revolves around real-life characters and events of the first Crusade. It is a tale of betrayal, family and adventure, which I believe would be enjoyed by those loved Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson Series’, Jeri Westerson’s ‘Crispin Guest Series’ and BBC’s family drama ‘Merlin’.

I, [Q19], am a writer at [X, Y, and Z]. I self-published my crime thriller titled ‘[TITLE]’ at the age of 15 in the year 2017. I’d be honoured you would represent my book.

The sample pages continue below, Upon your command, I’m prepared to send you the full manuscript.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work for representation. Eagerly awaiting your response, {Name}

Good Fortune, 

Q19


My Revision:

Dear Ms/r Agent Name, 

When her father, the General, is murdered after returning from the first crusade, 16-year-old Chiara knows a Grim Reaper was responsible. With no Knight willing to investigate, Chiara coerces Marlon Shellbeth, an apprentice chemist into helping her.

Signs point to Silas Fatimid, the deposed King of Jerusalem, but that’s not all Chiara uncovers. If Chiara can’t stop Salas’s plot to murder the pope, all of Christendom may be sent into chaos.

‘THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION’ is a ??,000-word YA historical fiction in an era of religious blindness where science was condemned as witchcraft. Inspired by the medieval European lore the book revolves around real-life characters and events of the first Crusade. It is a tale of betrayal, family, and adventure, which I believe would be enjoyed by those loved Rick Riordan’s ‘Percy Jackson Series’, Jeri Westerson’s ‘Crispin Guest Series’ and BBC’s family drama ‘Merlin’.

I am a writer at [X, Y, and Z]. I self-published my crime thriller titled ‘A Teaspoon of Death’ [Cut this unless the sales did really well.]. I’d be honoured you would represent my book.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work for representation.

Good Fortune,

Q19

 


Another person took a go at Q19’s query — with more familiarity with the actual novel. Here’s their take.

Dear [Mr/Ms Agent],

When her father, General Troddenham, is murdered on the way home from the first crusade, 16-year-old Chiara knows a Grim Reaper is responsible. With no Knight willing to investigate the murder, Chiara takes it upon herself to discover the Reaper’s identity and bring her father back from the dead.

With the help of Marlon Shellbeth, a shady apprentice chemist, Chiara learns the Reaper was Silas Fatimid, the deposed King of Jerusalem. But that’s not all she uncovers. The Reaper’s quest for revenge is far from over, and if Chiara can’t stop him, not only will her father be lost forever, but Silas Fatimid will take his bloodthirsty vengeance all the way to the Pope.

‘THE REAPER’S REDEMPTION’ is a ??,000-word YA historical fiction set in an era of religious blindness where science was condemned as witchcraft. Inspired by medieval European lore, the book involves real-life characters and events of the first Crusade. It is a tale of betrayal, family and adventure, a YA parallel to Jeri Westerson’s ‘Crispin Guest Series’. It would appeal to fans of the BBC’s family drama ‘Merlin’.

I am a writer at [X, Y, and Z].

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work for representation.

Good Fortune,

Q19

Whose take did you like best? Any changes you’d make?

Best of luck to Q19!


And for the rest of you out there?
Best of luck in the query trenches!