Want me to review or edit a book? Drop me an email – jadewritesbooks [at] gmail [dot] com with your information!
I’m based in the UK, and work on GMT/BST.
Want me to review or edit a book? Drop me an email – jadewritesbooks [at] gmail [dot] com with your information!
I’m based in the UK, and work on GMT/BST.
I recently ran a poll on Twitter and asked what day people might like the writing advice posted – “Just post them please!” won the vote, closely followed by Thurs and Friday, so – here I am posting! The first thing I want to discuss in this craft series is starting chapters. But I must say, writing and craft advice is not uniquely mine. There are plenty of resources, posts, and books which might crossover with the advice I give.
The difference is… it’s my point of view, and my way of putting things. Who knows, maybe I’ll pick up on something else? XD If you want to learn what I’ve learned from writing my own books and editing others’, keep reading!
So imagine your blurb interested a reader or an agent, they picked up your book, and now they’re going to devour it. Last thing you want is for them to be confused as they read through and end up throwing it at the wall.
The more manuscripts I’ve read, the more I’ve realised there are 5 things readers expect when starting a new chapter:
It may seem obvious that’s the case. But over the last year or two of editing both indie and potentially-traditionally published novels, I’ve come across multiple manuscripts which don’t set-up their chapters with all, sometimes any, of the above. There’s literally nothing apart from someone walking into an office, or reflecting on information they received in the last scene, with no perspective on what we as a reader are supposed to be experiencing right now until Annie comes in with a coffee on page 5.
It can take only a few words to a sentence to help ground your readers and push the story along, but it’s obvious when these things are omitted. My personal mantra is that readers love asking “what’s going to happen next?!” rather than “what tf is going on?”.
You don’t want to unintentionally frustrate your audience. It could cause them to stop reading for a while, or simply DNF and pick up something else entirely.
So it might be handy to have a checklist, or just to run through when you’re revising, that you’ve covered all if not most of these when you’re beginning a new chapter (or even a scene, tbh, but let’s go with chapter for now!)
1. Whose POV are we in?
There have been several instances where I’ve gone into a client’s chapter and had about 3 pages of description, events and history, without knowing whose perspective we’re in til they talk to someone.
If you have named headers this isn’t too much of a problem, but whether you’re in first person or third, the voice should still include something either distinctive or personal to ground us in your character’s perspective, and allow us to experience this portion of the story squarely through their eyes.
It would be incredibly jarring to think we’re still in Jonathan’s head only to realise we’re in Catherine’s later on.
2. Where are we?
Readers need to know where they are in a story, or else it can be disorientating. For example, if we were in a bell tower at the end of the last chapter, and the next continues as though nothing’s changed with no description of the place (white room issues, but I might touch on that in future), then readers could presume we’re still in the bell tower, until suddenly Catherine stops in front of a cafe on the blinding streets of Paris.
Describing the look of a place adds to feeling, the POV, and the mood. It can also allude to how much time’s passed, so you can encompass a LOT just by grounding the chapter in a location.
Does describing place have to be pages long? Nope. Does it sometimes suck to spend hours thinking of a prettier word for “blue”? Yes. But if you create that grounding sense of ‘in the hotel room’, ‘in her car’, or ‘in front of the seven gates of hell’, we’ll at least have something to go off.
3. What’s the atmosphere? How are readers supposed to feel?
Reading should create a feeling. Whether that’s intentional frustration, shock, absolute cute-and-fluffies for the characters, it’s all up to you. But discovering the mood through action or dialogue of the characters will heighten this. For instance, you’ve established place, setting and POV – Catherine’s POV in the press office of her job at noon the next day, for example.
“This is horseshit.” Gerry threw the newspaper on to the oak desk in front of him. A dozen pairs of eyes glanced between each other, as if daring someone to speak. Catherine kept her hands on her lap, fingers curled into the hem of her shirt.
Hopefully, from this very quick example, you get the fact that not only is Gerry someone they fear, but there’s anxiety there – anticipation of what he might do next. Concern, even, that speaking out of turn will get them shot down.
You can do it with anything — romance, horror, comedy, but as long as we know the surrounding atmosphere and how the character’s reacting to it, it’ll spark an emotion from the reader and hopefully invite them to carry on.
4. How much time has passed since the last chapter?
This not only serves to progress the plot, but also orient readers again. Some chapters may have one continuous action, from ending on a “Behind you!” and starting the next chapter with the big reveal, to leaving the ending on a poignant moment and starting when the character’s had time to reflect, or rest, or travel to that important place.
We need to know if the character has had time to come to terms with what’s just happened to them or what they’ve learned or whether they’re still in the thick of the action. If you have a time limit, as well, such as “Must stop bomb before it goes off in 24 hours”, it’s handy to know just how close our characters are to the wire.
It’s also helpful if you’re doing some sort of travelling fantasy, where they have to walk a long time to get to the next plot poi… I mean, the next big adventure. Or if you have a non-linear timeline, or a historical and modern switching scenes. Timing is good.
5. What does the character want?
This easily ties in with point 3 on atmosphere, but it’s basically what the character is wanting, and what they’re doing at the start which might accomplish that want. Writing a letter to someone? Coming home soaking wet after a long day? Looking at their watch cause their date hasn’t turned up yet?
Wants can change through the course of the chaptre, sure. But all the above really boils down to this – we have a good idea of where we’re heading if we see the character doing something, or what their intention is. Are they off to meet someone fresh and fancy, are they struggling to function at work after drinking a liquor store the night before?
Using the example in point 3, it could be that Catherine wants to talk to her boss about an article she wants to write, but he’s in such a bad mood she’s terrified to do it in this seriously bad, very-not-ideal moment. And on seeing him in a temper, she decides to delay her question — or even go ahead and complete the article without his green light.
Establishing a want can take up to a page sometimes, that’s fine. You can spend more time on your character. But when readers don’t really know the point of a character’s actions, they’ll likely be confused, or worse; Just… not care.
With all this in mind, it might seem overwhelming or a daunting task to fulfil them all, but I’d encourage you to go and read some of your favourite books. See how they incorporate those five elements over the course of the first or second pages of that chapter. Do you recognise which elements have been fulfilled? Did they combine some into a single sentence, even?
Sometimes a few, and not all, are necessary to start a chapter but you’ll be on much better footing if you can incorporate most of them.
I also want to say, this advice isn’t something I’ve read in a book and it’s NOT a rule! It’s a very soft guideline that you are welcome to follow if you want some grounding for how to start chapters in your writing day. Because let’s be honest – starting is the hardest part.
Have a manuscript you’d like editing? Find out more about my services at Cover to Cover Edits
Thanks to Angie Thomas, a much-needed and celebrated voice in contemporary YA fiction, the subject of tagging authors in readers’ reviews has exploded over the last few days.
Why is it such a big deal? Well, there’s a lot of back and forth between those for and those against tagging authors in reviews, especially when it comes to sharing negative ones.
Those for argue that they want to help an author they enjoyed, and expect the author to show gratitude that they’re spreading the word about their work. Consensus also seems to be that even negative reviews have a place in being brought to the author’s attention.
Those against argue that as soon as the book’s published, it’s no longer the author’s, really – it’s the reader’s. And any review the reader wants to share should stay amongst those it’s actually meant for.
As for my side of the fence, I am AGAINST tagging authors in negative reviews. With positive reviews I can see both sides, I understand why someone might want to show the author how much they squealed over that person’s work and how much it meant to them.
But in my eyes, nobody needs to be going about their day, only to get the “ding!” notification and see that they’ve been dragged about something in a novel they spent years working on.
I’ll try and explain why tagging an author in a bad review is not only in bad taste on the reviewer’s half but also unproductive.
Number one is that there’s only so many people’s feedback an author can listen to and implement in their work. For example, here I took “Planet of the Apes”:
Reviewer #1: Loved the romance but wish there were less monkeys.
Author: Right…. romance but less monkeys… got it.
Reviewer #2: LOVED THE MONKEYS. All the monkeys. Maybe include lemurs next time? Less of the romance, though.
Author: Oh….. so more… monkeys?
Reviewer #3: EVERYTHING WAS PERFECT AND I ADORED IT. WOULDN’T CHANGE A THING!
Author: …….. so don’t change the monkeys?
Reviewer #4: This was a garbage fire, DNF’d at 20%.
Author: *grabs bottle of wine*
Authors cannot possibly please every single reader. While one reader might have an issue with the writing, another won’t even notice it and simply enjoy the story. While one might love the protagonist, another might hate them with a passion.
It’s understandable, then, that authors primarily write for themselves (or they should, because it’s damn hard to write for people whose reaction you can’t predict), and hope it resonates with their audience. Since the book is published, there’s a good chance it already resonated with an agent, an editor, their aquisitions team, and more editors who then worked to get it to the best possible version of itself before it hits shelves.
Authors write with the understanding nobody reads the same book. That’s why readers have different favourite characters, or favourite scenes in novels, it’s why some didn’t gel with the plot, or writing, or concept, where others might not be able to get enough of it all. It’s totally fine to have a different opinion, and to discuss it or post it on platforms other readers can see and make judgement calls for themselves.
With all this in mind — why would a singular reader believe tagging an author in their 1* or 2* negatively aspected review, think it is justifed? That the author must read it, and understand that their opinion should be included amongst the editors, agents, and publishers who helped get the book out?
I’ve seen it reasoned that the tagging-reviewer wants to help the author – that in some way their review might assist the author in understanding where they could do better in future. That they only want to help, and so they want the author to read the criticisms they had personally with the novel.
In some cases criticism is justified – harmful represenation, problematic plot, glorification of things which shouldn’t be glorified – this is 100% necessary to voice because it could have a bigger impact than the readership. Books influence society, because they’re a form of art. Society consumes art. And I believe all art forms should not only be accessible and enjoyed, but critiqued so that we can learn from it.
Though… let’s say there’s nothing serious to point out about a book, such as a harmful racial stereotype or glorifying an abusive relationship, and that the tagging-reviewer simply disagrees with a plot point or character arc. Again, it’s not really clear why the reviewer would find it necessary to inform the author of their opinion where there is **nothing the author can do about it**. The book is out. In the world. In people’s hands. And if the author enjoys writing dystopias about primates taking over the planet, as long as there’s an audience who wants it, they will continue to write it.
It’s likely the publishers, agents, editors, will pick up on anything consistently pointed out in reviews and feed it back to the author to improve on in future. We all make mistakes, it’s how we learn. Authors want to get better at their craft.
But believing a singular opinion needs to be given directly to the author – who at the point of seeing the tag might be having a bad day, may be struggling, wondering if this is the career for them, even if they’ve had 15 books already published because **anxiety and imposter syndrome is a thing** – is not considerate. It’s entitled.
Do you want the author to notice your (negative) opinion? Ask yourself why. If it isn’t to engage in a discussion about something harmful, why do you want to tell the author you didn’t like their book? Chances are if you didn’t like it, you’re simply not the audience for it. I’m personally not a fan of Justin Bieber’s back catalogue but I wouldn’t tag him in my 1* review of how “Baby” got stuck in my head too many times.
Plus, the whole thing is just plain tacky, I mean… come on. You wouldn’t like it if you posted some artwork online, or simply did your day job, and someone came along with a huge red ‘F’ and stuck it on your forehead, declaring to the world that they, a person, did not like The Thing You Created.
So before there’s any more debate about why it’s justified, I would like people to think why they feel the author should be grateful they took the time to include them in their distribution of a bad review.
They should be grateful the author wrote the book at all. Art is necessary, now more than ever. And we should be showing our support and kindness for creating in a world of destruction.
Editing services:Cover to Cover Edits
Emily A. Duncan’s debut novel, WICKED SAINTS (Wednesday Books; April 2, 2019), is one of the most highly anticipated YA fantasy novels of 2019.
Seriously, I’ve been hearing about it EVERYWHERE.
Set in an Eastern European inspired world, this Joan-of-Arc-esque debut finds Nadya, a peasant girl who can speak to the gods, working with a deadly adversary to end the centuries-long war and assassinate the mad king. Nadya must save her people without destroying herself in a brutal realm of blood magic and sinister players. When she finds herself intertwined in a forbidden romance, it threatens to destroy everything she’s worked towards and tip the scales between dark and light.
I was lucky enough to have three questions ready for Emily about the book!
This feels like a story yeeeears in the making. What was the first spark or seed of story that came to you, and how did it become Wicked Saints?
It was years in the making! I got the first little nudge of a story when I was halfway through college, procrastinating on a paper by playing Skyrim. There was something about the atmosphere that really got under my skin. I didn’t manage to write a full draft of the book until I was in grad school, years later.
Which type of scene is, or which in Wicked Saints was, your favourite to write?
Literally any scene where Nadya and Malachiasz are fighting is my favorite to write. Their dialogue is so much fun, they’re so much fun to write together. I especially like when they’re arguing about theology because they have such wildly opposite beliefs.
As a debut author, what’s your favourite part of the whole writing and publishing process so far?
Seeing the book go from an idea, to hundreds of scattered word documents, to a completed, physical object, is so wild to me. It’s amazing. It’s a real book now! I also love getting messages from readers, and seeing which of the three main characters people latch onto.
Thank you so much to Emily for taking the time to answer not only my questions, but all the other bloggers who offered their Q’s!
I have an Excerpt here, which somehow won’t play by pasting — so you might have to you know, download it and read it 70 times?
If you’re going to pick up Wicked Saints, you want a handy hint as to how to pronounce the characters’ names. There’s a Pronunciation Guide – yes it’s amazing – ready for you to download below.
Annnnd I guess I should show you where to buy the book, right?
Read more about Emily:
EMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science
from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through
interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video
games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.
Since it’s the first day of spring (in this hemisphere!), discuss books that remind you of spring, or genres you reach for in the spring, or books you plan on reading this spring!
Like Sam, T5W organiser, I also consider March – May as Spring. I know it’s not technically correct, but that’s how it feels in England.
I don’t really have “spring” books or books that make me feel springy, simply because I mostly delve into Fantasy which never seems to have seasons other than winter or summer.
Today I wanted to focus on my physical TBR pile, however there is one book on here that I can’t help but wanna devour immediately:
The only new release I’m putting on this list. I have it pre-ordered and I’m so excited!
TRAIL OF LIGHTNING
I started to read this, then trailed off because I was too cold / ill / had to read Leviathan Wakes so I could watch the Expanse. But it’s definitely an atmospheric start and I can’t wait to continue.
This one’s apparently a slow starter, and not as fast paced as the first two, but it’s definitely a series I want to continue reading if only for Bobbie and Avasarala alone.
I got this from the library and it’s due back on the 6th April so…. quick??
I’ve had this since Christmas, and I really wanted to read it when it was warm cause I get the feeling it’s gonna creep me out
Discuss some of your favorite characters that you feel would share your Hogwarts house. These don’t need to be Houses that have been confirmed by the author; this is in your opinion 🙂
My house is – SLYTHERIN
(Big surprise, right? You can pick your jaw up off the floor now)
I love this house. It gets a bad rep, because of the dickheads pooled into it — not like there weren’t any bad eggs in other houses, riiiight? – but Reggie Black and Merlin were good kids imo so it goes to show ambition isn’t that bad!
That being said… here’s my top 5 delicious Slytherin characters
CHRISJEN AVASARALA from the Expanse series
She’s possibly my favourite in the entire Expanse series right now, if not one of my fave characters EVER, but she doesn’t swear half as much in the TV show as she does in the books (where is my delightfully sweary old lady who calls high ranking officials fucking bobble-heads?!?!)
She’s perceptive, cunning, wise, plays the long game and strategizes to within an inch of her life. She isn’t beyond playing the ‘weak old lady’ to get what she wants and she covets knowledge. Yeah she could be Ravenclaw, but she is one SNEAKY motherfudger who is ruthless and efficient. She has a sailor mouth and absolute love for her husband that makes me melt, but that never gets in the way of what she has to do.
I aspire to be like her.
ZOYA NAZYALENSKY from Grisha series
If Ambition had a face it would be Zoya. She’s loyal, of course, brave, intelligent, but overall we saw her ambition really flourish in King of Scars. She has dreams of reaching the heights of what a throne could provide her, being a feared Grisha, teaching those who discriminate and ridicule Grisha a lesson. She has FIERCE power and she’s not afraid to use it.
That to me, is an incredible Slytherin.
VICTOR VALE from Vicious & Vengeful
This guy somehow makes hearts melt even though he’s probably a sociopath and doesn’t give a shit about killing people BUT — it’s his loyalty, and his ambition that makes me believe I can’t NOT put him on this list. Soon as he finds a family that’s it. They’re his now and he’ll do whatever he can to protect them.
HOLLAND from Darker Shade of Magic series
A morally ambiguous character, Holland wanted only to save his London from magical extinction. His past was just heartbreaking, and even though he was a pawn of the Dane Twins for years, he never lost the desire to grab at power if it would give him what he wanted.
MIA CORVERE from Nevernight series
To avenge her family Mia went to assassin school.
She plays one hell of a long game to get to the truth, isn’t above using seduction and sex to get whatever she wants, and has killed to reach the top. She’s also deliciously dark, with some magic inside her that we’ve only just started to see.
Like Reggie Black, though, she still has very strong principles, and she holds a grudge like no business.
Honorable mentions: Kaz Brekker, Ronan Lynch, Eli Ever, The Darkling
I may go off on a few of these.
1. Tamlin / Rhys from the Court Of series.
HEAR ME OUT
Tamlin, obviously is a controlling and brutish mess who deserves to die in a gruesome way.
Rhys is charming, charismatic and lovely – until he gets fucking jealous and posessive as well in the third book and the novella which (augh) came out.
The signs are there for both of these men, and while Tamlin is no doubt the worst of them, Rhys isn’t that much better if you look deeper in later novels.
2. Mal (whatever his last name is, i dunno and to be frank – do not care) from the Grisha series
But also his behaviour in book 2 was the shittiest, stompiest crap I’ve seen. He said he loved Alina, and yet he went off flirting and kissing other women as soon as he felt left out because she was going through a tough time, and then had the gall to be offended when Alina flirted with the ever-handsome, Beautiful Book Husband Nikolai.
He was just a mess. I didn’t like him at all, and I didn’t like that ending with him.
I don’t know what even ZOYA saw in him for a one time thing, beacuse she can do miles better.
3. Jessica Bertram and Richard Mayhew in Neverwhere
These two are as bad as each other – she’s up herself, neurotic and controlling, and to be honest Richard doesn’t have a spine, he just flops about without any cause until Door shows up who gives him a purpose in his life.
4. Serena in Vicious
Eli and Serena… well. Serena obviously would have been difficult to break up with, being that she could control people with a word and stop them doing things, but that is precisely why I would have said no thanks.
5. Eizabeth Keene in Blacklist
Elizabeth is…. maybe one of the most inconsistent, unlikable, stroppy, backflippingly emotional range of a gnat’s penis of a character I’ve seen on TV.
Every episode it’s like she switches from one endgame to the next, I love him, hate him, suspicious of him, respect him, “I want to know the truth!” *then suddenly doesnt*
This has happened every single series with her spy husband Tom Keene, and has continued after his death.
I hate her. With a passion. Elizabeth is meant to be a doting new mum, who faked her OWN death to get away from her criminal mastermind father, yet after her hubbo died she left her baby with the mother in law, whom neither of them knew very well – because she’s also a sodding semi-criminal – and then flounced off to get revenge on the father who might not be her father but she loves him but maybe she doesn’t and oh christ on a bike
Even Liz’s husband got this treatment from her, back in the early seasons, and I have no idea why anyone, anywhere, respects her or likes her at all.
WRITE BETTER WOMEN, TV PEOPLE.
WRITE. BETTER. WOMEN.
(Honorable mentions: Ross Geller, Nick from Gone Girl, Rishi out of Dimple Met Rishi)
To be clear, this is just what I’m planning to read, not all are new releases of 2019.
But I enjoy the aspect of potentially having 5* reads before I even get to them. (King of Scars was going to be on this list but then I read it and it ended up not being 5* so just goes to show what I know!)
LET’S GET STARTED.
I need. To know. WHAT. HAPPENS.
Jay Kristoff rarely disappoints, and as long as we don’t get pages of gladiator fighting in this one I’ll be happy.
I’ve had this on my radar for about 7 months now, and the cover alone is beautiful. But it was the concept and the first page that made me want to read more of this. I can’t see many reviews of it anywhere, certainly not from friends, but I have a feeling I’ll enjoy it.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
This has been HYPED so I’m keen to see if it lives up to it for me, but I do think that it’s going to effect me the same. Six of Crows as hyped, I reckon this will be the same.
The Fever King
I, er – read this once before cause I was lucky enough to be in PitchWars 2017 with Victoria. It’s gone through some revisions since, but I have no doubt it’s still got the magic that I felt the first time reading it.
Same as above, I was in PW17 with Layne and – damn. I don’t go for first person POV often but this was gritty, it had me gripped – and I’m sure it will again. I can’t wait to get my hands on this.
Serpent and Dove
Wow, PW17 gets everywhere — I didn’t read Shelby’s MS – I know I have to break the curve somehow – but from what friends are saying (and from what I know of Shelby) it’s deserving of the hype. I can’t wait!
This book will be illustrated by the author Cat Scully as well! While I know Cat, I haven’t had chance to read this prior and to be honest I don’t want spoilers! I want to be entertained by this weird, spooky girl.
Hunting Prince Dracula
I adored the first book and I’ve no doubt I’ll adore the second!