Beta Reader, Proofreaders and Copy Editors

This post is the thirty-third in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

In the process of editing your novel, you may want to turn it others to help you polish your story. Today I am going to discuss beta readers, proofreaders, and copy editors.

Beta Reader

Related imageWhat is a beta reader?

A beta reader is someone who reads a work of fiction with a critical eye before it is released to the public. They may catch spelling, grammar, characterization, and continuity errors. Unlike editors, these people are usually unpaid and often see your work in a rough state.

The term beta reader comes from the software industry where “beta” testers try out software before a major release to the public in order to identify problems.

Why use a beta reader?

Many authors like to use beta readers to improve the quality of their work before submitting it for professional editing and critique. Beta readers may question why a character does or does not do something. They may catch errors such as a change of location (the fight takes place in a bar but is later told to have taken place at the school), the way a character is dressed (a blue shirt all of a sudden is red) or which characters are in the room at the time (Charles may have left for work but then appears in a scene at home).

The fact is that as authors, we are so close to our own manuscripts that we cannot see them objectively. Things that are clear in our mind, may not come across the same way to others reading it. We may leave out vital steps in an explanation and not realize it since we know what we mean. Beta readers allow you to fine tune and polish your work before presenting it to the world.

How to find a beta reader?

There are websites that provide directories of beta readers broken down by genre. Or you can post on writing forums that you are looking for a beta reader or even post on your own blog.

Of course, you can also find a beta reader in your family or from your fan base but be warned their comments may not totally be objective.

Finding a good beta reader – one who reads your genre and is of your target market in terms of age, gender and interest – can be a lot of work but worth it. You need someone who will tell you the truth without worrying about hurting your feelings. Writers typically make good beta readers as they understand the writing/creative process.

To use a beta reader, you need a “thick skin” to be able to hear negative feedback, absorb it, learn from it and apply changes derived from it.

Proofreader

Image result for proofreaderA proofreader is someone who looks over your manuscript for grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes. A proofreader should see your manuscript AFTER all the editing and after beta readers have made their suggestions (and you have made all your changes). Basically, they should see your manuscript when it is ready for publication. Their job is NOT to make revisions but to make corrections.

In the world of publishing paper books, a proofreader was one of the last to review the book. They would be looking at the final copy as it would print. If there were too many end-of-line hyphens in a row or a blank section break at the top of a page, they would correct those and other esthetic issues in addition to checking grammar and spelling.

Nowadays, as software improves, the need for someone to proofread for spelling and grammar errors diminishes and you may want to use grammar software such as Grammerly or WhiteSmoke. These are comprehensive grammar checking programs but of course no software can completely replace having someone proof your work. (I will discuss these programs in more detail in a future post.)

Many proofreaders charge by the hour while others charge by the word. Copy editors also usually offer proofreading as part of their services.

Copy Editor

Related imageWhile proofreading is done at the end, an editor may work over long periods of time with a writer until the manuscript is perfected. It is a much more involved process that can take months. And while some may argue editing also refers to finding typos and grammar errors, editing involves one major factor that proofreading does not: content.

A copy editor reads your work and makes corrections so it follows the conventions of good writing. They can find flaws in your story or help you flesh out a sub-plot.  They refine word choices and make sure the manuscript’s syntax is smooth. The copy editor may suggest reorganizing, recommend changes to chapter titles and call out lapses in logic or sequential slip-ups. They will ensure continuity through chapters and ensure dialog is believable.

If employing both, use an editor first and then the proofreader afterwards.  Editors may charge by the hour, by the page or even by the word.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

#32 – Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

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Omitting unnecessary words in your novel

This post is the thirty-second in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

As you work on tightening your writing, you need to remove unnecessary word and delete or change words that you might use too often. Often you don’t even realize you are using these words.

Unnecessary words

I will have to say the word I use often that is not necessary is the word “that.” Now there is nothing wrong with this word, but often it can be cut without any loss of meaning to the sentence.

Example from my book Destiny

He only hoped they were right and that slipping the scepter back into the High Council archives would be as easy as Coy thought. – deleted

She began with one the Histories that mentioned King Rupert.  – left in

Another author once commented that he often mentioned his characters taking breaths. “I took a breath and plunged into the forest.” As he noted, breathing should be a given and was only interesting when the character stopped doing it.

Words Used Too Often

Sometimes what you need to do to tighten your writing is to look at your word choices. I found in one my novels that in my first draft, my characters “nod” a lot.

Here are few other words that other authors have said they feel they use too much.

Stare

Just

But

Some

Felt

Gasp

Shrug

Quite

Truly

Definitely

Extremely

Additionally, you can usually delete “really,” “pretty,” and “very” as these are unnecessary modifiers.

This brings me to adverbs which I touched about last week. These are often redundant, or you can replace many adverbs and verbs with a single stronger verb.

Example: Coy closed the door angrily.

Rewrite: Coy slammed the door shut.

I typically search for about 40 different words that I think are unnecessary or that I feel I might use too often, which could even include the names of my characters. The easiest way to do this is to use the “Find” feature on your Word Processing program. On one of my novels, I ended up cutting about 2000 words just by doing this.

Cutting out excess words is just one step in editing your novel. Rest assured as you cut out words and tighten your prose, you are improving your story.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

#31 – Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

Picking Stronger Words and Watching out for Homonyms

This post is the thirty-first in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Last week, I wrote about the different drafts of your novel. And somewhere in there, you are going to evaluate the words you selected. You may want to consider replacing some of the verbs with stronger ones. And because there are many similar words, you will want to make sure you are using the “correct” word.

Stronger Words

Image result for strong arm clipartIf you aren’t sure about what I mean by stronger words, here is a simple example.

Sample sentence

Ben got a bag of chips from the shelf.

Stronger word choice:

Ben grabbed a bag of chips from the shelf.

Yes, both sentences are very similar. But the key is that in the second example you learn how Ben got the bag. The word “grab” means to “seize something quickly.” When the word “grabbed” is used, you know that not only did Ben get a bag of chips, but you understand how he did it.

So when picking stronger words, you are trying to choose words that give the reader more information. Instead of talking loudly, you shout. Instead of hitting hard, you wallop and instead of smile smugly, you smirk.

Take a look at this example:

Seething with anger, Sarah took the book from him. She walked out the door, closing it loudly as she left.

Stronger word choices:

Sarah snatched the book out of his hand. She stomped out the door, slamming it behind her.

The second example gives a clearer picture of what happened. You know by her actions that Sarah is either angry or annoyed.

In the second half of the first example, instead of picking a strong verb, an adverb was used. As a writer, using the occasional adverb is fine but in reality, you should aim to use strong verbs (as in the second example.) The use of a lot of adverbs shows lazy writing.

Quick grammar refresher: An adverb modifies a verb, adjective or other adverbs. They answer the question where, when, how and to what extent. You don’t have to eliminate all adverbs but if an adverb can easily be eliminated without change the meaning of the passage, then it should be removed.

Of course, though sometimes a stronger verb will work better, there are times when a simple word is fine. Characters can walk. They don’t always have to stomp, dash, hurry, shuffle, scurry or whatever.

You want to pick the best word for the scene. This doesn’t mean you need a big, fancy or unusual word. It means picking the right word to say the right thing in just the right way. It doesn’t mean rushing to a thesaurus to sprinkle your book with synonyms when a simpler word will do.

As you revise your draft, examine your word choices. You might ask yourself, “Is this really what I mean?” or “Is there a better word to convey this so my readers will understand what is happening?”  Finding words that capture your meaning and convey it to your readers is challenging. But you can tighten up your writing by making sure you are picking strong words.

Homonyms

The English language is filled with homonyms – words that are spelled and pronounced the same way but mean different things (example #1) or can be words that are spelled differently and mean different things but are pronounced the same (example #2). It is this second example that you have to watch out for in your writing. And you cannot count on grammar checking programs or even proofreaders to catch these mistakes every time.

Example #1

Image result for homonyms

Example #2

Image result for homonyms

Here are some examples using the correct word and then followed by the often-misused word and the definitions of the two.

Harold’s face twitched with a nervous tic.

tic – a periodic spasm

tick – a small bloodsucking arachnid or perhaps the sharp, recurring click (as of a clock)

The wording piqued my interest.

Pique – aroused or excited

Peaked – to be at the maximum (interest has peaked and will probably soon decline)

Two vases of flowers stood on either side of the altar.

Altar -the structure in a place of worship

Alter – to change something

She wore a two carat diamond.

Carat – unite of weight for jewels

Caret – a small wedged-shaped mark (^) used by editors to indicate where text should be inserted

She grabbed a box of stationery.

Stationery – writing materials

Stationary – not moving

Donna always sticks to her principles.

Principle – code of conduct

Principal – (noun) the leader of a school or main sum of money owed on a loan  OR (adjective) describes something that is prominent or important (our principal concern)

His office was little more than a cubicle.

Cubicle – a small partitioned space

Cubical – shaped like a cube with six equal square sides

My husband believed in giving his staff free rein.

Rein – to guide (or in this case to give complete freedom)

Reign – to rule as a sovereign power

Rain – water falling to earth or a continuous descent or inflicting of anything (a rain of blows)

The car has dual air bags.

Dual – two

Duel – a contest between two people

The new curtains complemented the room nicely.

Complemented – went well with, enhanced

Complimented – to give a praise

Registration fees may be waived for low income families.

Waived – voluntarily forgo something

Waved – flapping up and down

The police arrived at the grisly scene.

Grisly – gruesome, ghastly

Grizzly – having hair that is gray

She felt as if she had been put through the wringer.

Wringer- a devise for wringing something out, squeezing it dry

Ringer – a person or thing that makes a ringing noise

His lawsuit claimed there had been a breach of contract.

Breach – violation

Breech – bottom or back end of something (a breech birth)

There are MANY other words – too many to list here – that often get mixed up. When in doubt, use the dictionary to double check that you are using the correct word.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

#30 – Your Second Draft and Beyond

 

Your Second Draft and Beyond

This post is the thirtieth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Now every author approaches their second draft different. For me, this is a time to check the consistency and where I can amend the story either by trimming it, fleshing it out or developing subplots.

To do this, I cannot stop on every page to fix and worry over every word. That will come later. To begin, I need to read through the first draft without stopping to correct every flaw. Yes, I may add a missing word or fix a spelling error, but I try not to get into re-writing at this stage. I want to read it straight through first. As I read, I am making notes of areas that need work, whether it be adding something, deleting the scene or polishing. I am checking the timeline and looking for consistency in travel time or character behavior.

Now once I have read through and made my notes, my second draft isn’t done until I go back and make all those changes. For me, the second draft is about re-writing, expanding and cutting scenes. Descriptions are added to bring the story and characters to life. Scenes that don’t advance the story are deleted – even if they are well-written or your favorite. Don’t worry about cutting words. It isn’t about how long your story is. It is about writing a good, compelling story.

Sometimes you will re-work an area once or twice. And sometimes it will take many more tries until you get it right. (Ernest Hemingway admitted to rewriting the final words A Farewell to Arms, his wartime masterpiece, 39 times before he was satisfied.)

This part of editing where you take away and add to the story can be very messy, and you may need to be ruthless, but it will make your story better, stronger.

It may take many read-throughs to finish this stage (which depending on how you count them could be considered additional drafts.) If you do multiple readings, you should take a break between each one. This will allow you to view your novel with “fresh eyes” and will help you catch more things that need to be changed. That break can be a few days or even a week or more.

When done with this draft, you may be ready to send your story to a beta reader. But they will undoubtedly have their opinions which you may feel the need to heed. That will mean more editing and adjusting of your story.

And when you are done perfecting the story, the timeline, and the characters, it is time for the third draft. This one is about polishing. It is aboutImage result for delete key perfecting word choices, deleting words, tightening scenes even more and of course proofreading. I have a revision outline that I use at this stage and will share that in the upcoming weeks. But before I get to that, I spend time removing unnecessary words (next week’s topic) and removing or changing words that I use too often. (This is where the “Find” feature of Microsoft Word comes in handy.)

This is also where you can look at dialogue tags or to see if you use your character’s name too often. (I have the habit of using their names a lot in my first draft.)

You could send it to a beta reader (possibly again) at this point or you can simply step back from your work. Take a break. Work on something else or do some pre-release publicity. Then come back and do one final (or we hope final) read-through where you will can deem it ready for publishing. I also suggest reading your book aloud (either yourself or by having the computer do it for you.) You can catch missing words and make sure dialogue flows and is natural.

Now this is just a sample of how my work typically goes. Depending on the author, it can take many more drafts based on how much work needs to be done and what you consider a “draft.” Just as there is no “right” way to write a novel, each of us will have a different number of “drafts.” All that matters is that you take the time to polish and perfect your work BEFORE you publish it.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

#29 – Finishing your First Draft

Finishing your First Draft

This post is the twenty-ninth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

If you have followed all the lessons, hopefully, you are done (or close to being done) with your first draft of your novel. Congratulations. But you are far from being done…What you have written is nowhere near ready for publishing.

Many first drafts tend to be just writers getting their story ideas down on paper. It may be rough or wordy, but at least the basic plot and characters are there. Now how well written this draft is can depend on many things. If you developed your world and characters or you outlined your story, you may be in pretty good shape.

But some authors consider the first draft a “junk” or “vomit” draft. This is for the people who just type to get something down but didn’t do a lot of planning. They type whatever comes to mind and don’t worry about plot holes or complete sentences. These authors often toss this first draft and start over.

Now whether you outlined or just wrote, you need to be prepared that you will throw out some of what you have written. Great scenes may get cut. Even minor characters may have to go. Your word count may dwindle as tighten up your wording, but it also may grow as you expand on other areas, ideas or descriptions. A lot of things will change as you shape your story into a publishable work.

Personally, I find the “junk” draft idea a complete waste of time. Why spend all that time and throw it away? My method of writing my first draft involves writing and editing the content at the same time. This method can make the first draft take longer but it means less work of rewriting in the second or third draft. This method isn’t for everyone, but I thought I would put it out there for those of you who are still working on the first draft or haven’t begun to write.

First Drafts – Editing as You Write

Instead of waiting until the first draft is finished to begin editing, I edit as I go. Every few chapters, I have someone else read them and make suggestions. In my case, that person is my husband.

So here is how it works. I write a few chapters. I re-read them and make sure that the general idea of what I want is there. Then I give those chapters to my husband to read while I continue writing.

My husband will jot down areas that don’t make sense or areas in need of improvement. His favorite question is “why?” He loves to understand the character motivation for their actions. I then take his comments and go through making any simple corrections. Anything that is going to take some more thought or work, I make notes at that section (highlighting the comments so I can find them again). When I have time (i.e. I get writers block or can’t get motivated to work), I go back and start changing the story based on what he noted.

I find it helpful to do this as I write because it allows me to ensure the story is going in the right direction. It saves me from having to re-write entire sections or from throwing out pages of my novel that no longer match my goal.

Using this method means that by the time I am done with my first draft, my story really has been gone over at least twice. Instead of my second read through being one where I cut out scenes, I use it as a time to tighten up my novel with less to rework. So in other words, I am probably doing drafts one and two at the same time.

Of course, to use this method, you must find someone willing to work with you, all the while realizing that what they are reading is a work in progress. Whatever they read now may or may not make it into the final novel. They also must be willing to give you critical comments and you need to be able to take their criticism and suggestions. It isn’t an easy method. It is kind of like having a Beta Reader in the early stage rather than when you think you are done. (More on Beta Readers in a future blog.)

So how many drafts does that take?

As you are reading this, you may wonder how many more drafts your novel will go through before it is publishable. There is no correct answer. It takes as many as it takes. Some authors do three drafts, some do five or seven and some do many more.

Some of this depends on what you consider to be a “draft.” Obviously, your first draft is everything you write down as the basis of your story. It is done when the story is complete. (Some authors consider their outline their first draft.) After your first full-written draft, there will be drafts to fix structure/plot, story arcs, grammar, word choices, tightening copy, corrections from Beta Readers and more.

If pressed for an answer, I would say you are going to have three to five drafts.

Draft One – Writing out your story

Draft Two/Three – Fixing consistency and plot problems. Making sure sub-plots work and scenes are necessary.

After this point, you might consider sending it to a Beta Reader. (You can do this again and again if you want – depending on how many issues your Beta Reader finds.)

Draft Four – Make Beta Reader Changes & removing wordiness and polishing writing. (This is where I also might use my Revision Outline which will come up in the next few weeks.)

Draft Five – Final Read Through

Now as I said, this is just an outline, a guess, a suggestion of drafts but what you need for your novel will depend on many things – your writing style, the type of book you are writing, your amount of experience and more.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

#28 – Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

Fantasy Novel Writing – World Building, Dragons, Magic and More

This post is the twenty-eighth in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

I am a fantasy author. Over the years, I have written numerous posts about writing a fantasy novel. Today, I wanted to highlight a few things that a fantasy author might want to consider before they begin writing their story. At the end of this post, I will list links to two of my fantasy post recaps.

World building

Fantasy novels can be set anywhere. While there is nothing wrong with setting your story here on Earth, you can always create your own world. In this case, you would be in control of everything – the names of cities, geography, culture, religion, systems of magic, history, creatures and more.

If you are going to create your own world. It is best you do so BEFORE you begin writing. You need to be familiar with your world so that the details remain consistent and logical throughout your novel.

Now don’t take designing your own world lightly. It is a lot of work – more work than your reader will ever see. But this work will pay off. You will create a world that your characters live in and have your readers believing it.

Dragons & other creatures

Many fantasy novels contain mythical creatures. I love dragons, so they have appeared in every one of my novels. Since these are imaginary beasts, you have the creativity to do whatever you want. They can be small, large, friendly, menacing, have magical powers or even the ability to speak. You can portray them as a snake-like creature like a Chinese dragon or a lizard-like beast with huge bat-like wings. They can be evil and hinder your protagonist’s moves or they can be a friend. Feel free to go against the norm. After all, you are only limited by your own imagination.

In addition to dragons, you can populate your world with any sort of creature you want. And why stick to unicorns, fairies, elves, griffins or vampires when you can create your own unique creation. One way to create a new creature would be to combine attributes from other mythical creatures. Or you can just decide what the creature needs to do in the story and let your imagination run wild.

But a word of warning – don’t go around creating creatures or throwing mythical creatures into your story just to do that. As with everything, the creatures need to serve a purpose whether it is to delay your protagonist or help your antagonist.

Creating believable magic

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Magic can show up in any genre – not just fantasy. And while magic can certainly enhance a story, you need to make sure it is believable. You need to clearly define what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story.

You as the writer get to decide what the limits will be. If the magic is an innate talent, the amount of magic one can perform can be based on the physical or mental strength of the user. It could be restricted by the person’s knowledge or imagination. Or perhaps energy is taken from the spell-caster to power the spell itself so performing magic drains the user. Or maybe the person draws on magical fields, and once those fields are depleted no magic can be performed in that area. Along the same lines, maybe there are magical lines running through the ground and magic is strongest when you are standing on or near one of the magical focal points.

If the magic is acquired through studying incantations and spells, then magic might be limited to what spells that person has learned or the wizard’s access to those rare and exotic books. Perhaps each magic user has a certain allotment of spells that they are allowed to use and when they have used them up, no more magic. Or perhaps the use of magic creates a “sound” that other sorcerers can hear, so your character has to be selective of when and where they perform their magic.

The possibilities of how you limit magic in your novel are endless. But you do need to establish your rules of magic BEFORE you begin writing so that your story builds off the character interaction and not the easy use of magic to solve the problems.

Be as detailed as you want and work with the idea that your reader may never know all these “rules” but know that by establishing your magical system you are creating a more believable magic and a more believable plot.

If you want to read more about writing a fantasy novel, check out my Fantasy Novel Recap (covers fight scenes, magical battles, poisons as well as naming places) or Fantasy Novel Recap, part 2 (covers food, travel, weapons, myths, Gods, and fantasy without cliché).

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés

#27 – Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

Novel Writing – Endings and Epilogues

This post is the twenty-seventh in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

Every story must end. At some point after your story’s climax, your characters will return to their regular lives. Before that there may be some fallout from the climax as the consequences of your character’s choices are played out.

But knowing exactly where to stop your story and what you want the last words to be are not always easy. Here are some tips to ending your novel.

  • Ensure the ending makes sense. Don’t cheat and suddenly have everything work out fine. Your ending doesn’t have to be happy (unless you are writing a romance novel in which case there often is a Happily Ever After). The ending does have to fit appropriately to the rest of the story. The reader will feel robbed or tricked with anything that doesn’t make sense.
  • Don’t be predictable. Even with a HEA ending, you don’t have to be predictable. There should be more than one possible ending for a book. Try to keep your reader guessing what will happen up until the end. (But re-read the point above. Twists in the plot are fine, as long as they make sense and aren’t simply tricks.)
  • Ensure that you do wrap up any loose ends or subplots to your story. Every question you placed in your reader’s mind should be addressed even if the answer is to say the character will address it later (after the book ends).
  • Don’t introduce new characters or subplots at the end – even if you are writing a trilogy or series. Any appearances toward the end of the book need to have been foreshadowed, referenced or already in play.
  • If possible, you can link your final words to events in your opener as a tie-back, or you can create a feeling that your final words hearken to an earlier moment in the story.

Deciding how to end your book and what the final words on the page will be can be a daunting task. The bottom line is that the ending of your book is what the reader is going to remember. Yes, the opening scene must draw them in but a satisfying ending is going to be what gets you that good review or word of mouth recommendation.

Epilogue

If you have loose ends to tie up that don’t fit into the last chapter, you might consider an epilogue.

Romance novels often include an epilogue of what happened to the characters at a later point in their lives, whether it is several months, a year or perhaps even a number of years later.

Epilogues are NOT final chapters. They are meant to cap off the story, giving it the final piece of finality. Here are some reasons for an epilogue.

  • Provide closure – This is where you can add some details that might have diluted the climax if they had been included in the body of the novel. This might be especially true if a major character dies or when the fate of the characters is not clearly depicted.
  • Gives us the happily ever after – This is where you find out what happened to the main characters sometime down the road. This is where you might read of the wedding or the birth of a baby in a romance novel. Or you find out what happened to Harry Potter and his friends nineteen years down the road.
  • Set up a sequel – If your story is over, but you can’t just let go of these characters, perhaps you will write another book. You can close the first book out in the final chapter and then use the epilogue to pique reader’s interest in the next episode.

Should you write an epilogue? Only you, the author, can decide that. But generally, the answer is no book needs an epilogue. If the information is crucial to the story, then include it in the actual story.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

#21 – Keeping things realistic in your novel

#22 – Establishing Writing Goals and Developing Good Writing Habits

#23 – Using the five senses and passive voice in your novel

#24 – The benefit of research in fiction writing

#25 – Novella or Novel, Trilogy or Series – decisions for writers

#26 – Avoiding Plot and Character Clichés