Tag Archives: workshop

Deborah Ratliff: The Better Beta

Recently, in the Writers Unite! Facebook group, a member asked a question about the process of finding a responsible beta to review their work. Another member commented that she was reluctant to be a beta reader for fear of being too harsh. This article addresses both of those issues and we hope brings some clarity to the beta reader process. It’s a valuable resource for a writer but needs to be effective.

The Better Beta

By Deborah Ratliff

“Who wants to beta my novel?”

How many times have you seen this question posted in an online writing group? Often, and with good reason, as beta readers provide a valuable service. They are the buffer between your best friend who loves your story and the editor who could tear it apart.

Along with finding a qualified beta, the question of determining the expectations of the relationship between author and beta is important. Confusion over the responsibilities often keeps both the writer from seeking a beta and a potential beta from offering their services.

A beta reader most often will be someone who either reads or writes in your genre or is willing to learn the nuances of the genre to provide proper feedback. They are usually unpaid participants who enjoy helping writers and usually not trained in editing or story development. They provide feedback on plot, characters, narrative, dialogue, and continuity. The beta is judging the readability and plausibility of the story for the general reader.

Choosing a beta or group of betas to read your manuscript can be daunting. As stated above, finding betas in your target audience is ideal, but someone with experience in offering feedback can be equally as effective. Most online writing groups on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and writing groups on the Internet, are ready sources for finding suitable betas. Websites such as Writing.com or Goodreads.com have beta-reader sites, and there are several Facebook groups including Writers Unite! and Beta Readers and Critiques that offer beta readers. If you are familiar with and trust these sites, you should start your search there. 

When you request a beta, the question posed at the beginning of the article should be more definitive. Ask, instead, would anyone be willing to beta my 84,000-word fantasy manuscript. By clarifying the genre and length upfront, you will receive responses more attuned to your needs.

Also, ask potential betas about their experience. Have they reviewed manuscripts before in this genre, and what do they like about it? What time frame do they usually take to provide feedback? Once you feel comfortable with one or more betas, provide them with an edited manuscript. The manuscript does not need to be perfect, but respect the beta by giving them a readable one.

One of the ways to achieve your goals of what you as a writer need to know about your manuscript is to send a list of questions to the beta pointing out the areas of interest you have.

Your questions can include the following:

  •  Did the opening of the book hold your attention? If not, why?
  • Was the main character relatable? Did you feel a connection to the character and his plight from the beginning?
  •  Were the characters believable? If not, what suggestions do you have to make them believable? Were there too many characters to keep track of while reading?
  • Were the setting of the story and the descriptions interesting and clear?
  • Was the narrative concise and understandable? Was there a good balance between narrative and dialog?
  • Did the dialog seem natural and appropriate for the genre and period?
  • Were there any confusing passages? If so, why were they confusing? Did the story lag at any point? Explain. Were there any consistencies in the storyline or timeframe?
  • Were the tension and conflict in the story, as well as the ending, satisfying?
  • Was the story a fit for the genre?
  •  Were there any obvious grammatical errors? Spelling, punctuation, or grammar. (Remember most betas do not check for these errors but will note what they find if you request it. Do not expect the beta to offer suggestions or corrections. That is the job of your editor.)

The beta reader also has responsibilities. A lot of the author’s time and soul has gone into the creation of the manuscript sent.

Beta readers should do the following:

  • There are several areas of review that a beta should follow when reviewing a manuscript. If the author supplies questions, address those, as well as any discrepancies found. (See link at the end of the article for a comprehensive list of beta reader duties.)
  • Be honest. Beta reviews are not the time to spew platitudes. If something is wrong, bring it to the author’s attention.
  • Be specific. Vague feedback is ineffective. Give a thorough explanation of what you felt was wrong.
  • Meet the deadline agreed to between the author and beta. If you cannot meet the author’s needs, do not accept the assignment.
  • Be respectful. Pointing out errors to an author can be difficult, but if you explain your reasons in a courteous and straightforward manner, the author will accept the feedback positively. Also, always mention the good things that you have found in the story, mentioning positives, followed by the negatives. We all make mistakes, but a little nice goes a long way.

When selecting betas for your manuscript, selecting a few readers is wise. You may write both short stories and novels and wish to have betas who may prefer one or the other. Also, if you are a prolific writer, you may want to rotate your betas.

One thing as a writer that you do need to remember is not to confuse yourself with too many opinions. It could take time to find the right beta who communicates well and understands your work. Sorting out the opinions of several people can complicate your corrections, especially if the betas differ in the things they like and don’t like about your work.

When people are offering their services for free, as most beta readers do, the outcomes are not always what you hope. The good thing is that the vast majority of beta readers are doing it for the pleasure of reading new stories and helping authors and are responsible.

Resources:

This beta reader checklist is from Goodreads Community Forum and is quite comprehensive. https://www.geads.com/topioodrc/show/18274464-beta-reader-checklist

Writers Unite! on Facebook: A list of WU! members willing to beta and the genres they prefer can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/permalink/1039706383049526/

WU! On “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk”

If you missed Writers Unite! on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Friday here is the podcast of the segment. Join host Paul W. Reeves and WU! Admin Deborah Ratliff as they discuss the topic, Book Reviews.

Book Reviews

If you would like to listen to “Dr. Paul” in its entirety (and it’s a lot of fun), you listen to this podcast of Friday’s show.

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk Friday October 11,2019

WU! Workshop: Drabble Me This!

WU! Workshop

NEW PROJECT!

DRABBLE ME THIS!

In addition to our Write the Story project, we thought it would be fun to do something that is one of the best exercises you can do to hone your writing skills. The Drabble.

A drabble is a piece of fiction that is exactly one hundred words in length. The purpose of the drabble is to tell a complete story within limited words which encourages word choice, conciseness, and editing skills.

Drabble Me This is a monthly contest. Each Saturday of the month, we will post a single word prompt on our FACEBOOK group, Writers Unite! Members will write a 100-word story. During the week, all members will have the opportunity to “LIKE” an entry. The weekly contests will end on Friday nights, a tally taken, and the post removed. The next week’s post will go up the following Saturday morning. At the end of the month, we will post the winning  Drabbles from each week plus an Admin choice on the WU! Blog and share the post across our platforms. 

A quick history of the Drabble:  

The term itself comes from Monty Python’s 1971 Big Red Book, which declared the drabble a word game in which two to four players compete to be the first to write a novel.

Drabbles emerged within British science fiction fandom in the 1980s; the Birmingham University SF society is credited as being the organization that set the length at 100 words.

(From folklore.com)

The Drabble Me This Rules:

  • Every Saturday morning, the admins will post a single word prompt.
  • Members may submit only one 100-word drabble based on the word prompt per week. Word count must be one hundred words or entry will be deleted.
  • All members may vote by using the LIKE button only. (The other reaction emojis are invalid.)
  • On Friday night, an admin will tally the votes, the submissions saved on Google drive, and the post removed.
  • This procedure will continue each Saturday during the month.
  •  At the first of the following month, we will post the highest vote-getter from each week and an Admin choice on the Writers Unite! blog and share across our platforms. 

Please Note: 

Science Fiction Today and Characterizations of the Genre

Science Fiction Today

Science fiction can be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology.”
— Isaac Asimov

From the early days of pulp science fiction, the 1920s and 1930s saw the popularity of science fiction begin in earnest with Philip Francis Nowlan’s first Buck Rogers story, Armageddon 2419 published in 1928. In 1937, John W. Campbell was named editor of Astounding Science Fiction and thus began what many consider the Golden Age of Science Fiction. There is a debate on how long that Golden Age lasted, some feel into the 1950s, but there is no debate that the novels from that era stand today as classics in the world of science fiction.

Among those classics, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series followed over the years by the dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, an exploration of the future evolution of humans, and Robert Heinlein’s military sci-fi novel Starship Troopers.

During this time the first attempt to separate science fiction from fantasy began when Hugo Gernsback, at the time editor of Amazing Stories used the name scientifiction to describe the genre. He defined the term as “…a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision…

Notable authors such as John W. Campbell J, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, and others added their own opinion to Gernsback’s definition over the years. One point all of these authors agreed on was that the basis of science fiction is scientific theory and technology. Robert Heinlein’s term ‘speculative fiction’ written in a 1947 essay has remained the term most used to this day. The attempt to redefine the genre never completely took hold although speculative fiction is still being used.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a new term arose. New Wave Science Fiction was used to describe a more literary and artistic feel to a sci-fi novel. Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris dealt with human limitations. In 1965, Frank Herbert introduced an incredibly complex and intricate future society in the amazing novel, Dune. Phillip K. Dick, whose novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? spawned the film, Blade Runner. These years also saw an explosion of social and feminist science fiction as exemplified by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The last forty years of science fiction has introduced us to a myriad of sub-genres such as steampunk and cyberpunk as seen in Neuromancer, William Gibson’s first novel published in 1984. Themes such as the environment, the Internet, biotechnology, nanotechnology, post-apocalyptic worlds, and the increasing list of sub-genres like steampunk, biopunk, and others have opened the genre to new horizons.

The most recent trends in science fiction discussed at Speculate, the Speculative Writers Festival in 2019 were as follows.

  • Climate Fiction – Dealing with climate change
  • New Space Opera – A grander, more technology-based and character-driven version of the old Space Opera.
  • Generation Ship – Where original colonists and their descendants travel on slower spaceships. A recognition of the vastness of space and that faster-than-light speed is impossible.
  • Gender-Focused – As we see in our society now, the question of gender fluidity is central to the story.

In reviewing the amazing and innovative stories that form the history of science fiction, it is evident that from the beginnings of Buck Rogers to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, science fiction continues to evolve with compelling stories to tell.

Common Characteristics of Science Fiction

While there are many aspects of science fiction that are shared with other genres, there are some characteristics that are unique to the genre. These identifiers should be present in the story.

1.       Time Frame – This is the one area where there is some flexibility. While most science fiction is set in the future, a sci-fi story can be set in the present or in the past but other identifying characteristics must be present.

2.       Advanced Technology – In the early days of science fiction, advanced technology while imaginative was not as difficult to create. In present day, technology advances at an exponential rate. It is considerably more difficult to imagine technology for advanced civilizations and stay ahead of current tech. Consider the tech, computers, communication, spaceships, ground transports, etc. that you want your characters and those they encounter will have, and be consistent.

3.       Worlds and world-building – Probably the most formidable and most exciting aspect of writing sci-fi is alien world building. Some authors spend weeks building and creating their worlds. When you are presenting a futuristic Earth or an alien world and civilization, pay attention to detail. Think about how your characters will live, eat, breathe, and what kind of clothing and transport they will have. Every detail is important and will add depth and reality to your story.

4.       Characters Creating a cast of characters for your story can be as much fun as world building. As we know from some favorite movies, there is no limit to the imagination. Again, pay attention to detail. How they breathe, ambulate, dress, communicate, and appear.

5.       Plausibility – This is possibly one of the most important characteristics of your writing. Remember that your reader has one frame of reference, the current world they live in. You need to keep your worlds, characters, and technology within a scope that most of your readers can understand. This does not preclude you from being innovative, but always remember to be plausible. Another thing to remember is to allow your characters to live in this world—nothing that you provide them with, from weapons to transport should surprise them. It should be normal. These guidelines apply to all genres except for fantasy where you can suspend belief. Which is a good thing if you are writing science-fiction fantasy.

Writing science fiction is challenging and exciting. Pay attention to these aspects of the genre and have fun!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is divider-2.png

We will be covering world building, character development, and plots in upcoming articles.

Resources

Asimov, “How Easy to See the Future!”, Natural History, 1975

Asimov, Isaac (1980). In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954–1978. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. chapter 24. ISBN 978-0-385-15544-1.

Quoted in [1993] in: Stableford, Brian; Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (1993). “Definitions of SF”. In Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter. Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. London: Orbit/Little, Brown and Company. pp. 311–314. ISBN 978-1-85723-124-3.

Roberts, Adam (2000). Science Fiction. New York: Routledge. pp. 85–90. ISBN 978-0-415-19204-0.

Sammon, Paul M. (1996). Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner. London: Orion Media. p. 49. ISBN 0-06-105314-7.

Spivack, Charlotte (1984). Ursula K. Le Guin (1st ed.). Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Twayne Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8057-7393-4.,pp=44–50

http://www.dirkstrasser.com/dirks-blog/current-trends-in-science-fiction

The Genre of Science Fiction: The Beginning

The Beginnings of Science Fiction

Merriam-Webster defines the genre of science fiction as fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component.

This is a prime example of a technically correct definition but does not represent the scope and excitement of the science fiction genre. There is so much more to this fantastic genre, and the many directions science fiction stories can take.

The term is relatively modern. An article by H. Bruce Franklin on the Rutgers University website states that the word scientist was not used until 1840, and the term science fiction first appeared in 1841 in “A Little Earnest Book upon a Great Old Subject” written by William Wilson. Wilson writes: “Science-Fiction, in which the revealed truths of Science may be given interwoven with a pleasing story which may itself be poetical and true.”  A more lyrical definition of science fiction.

Often intertwined with the fantasy which is often called impossible, science fiction falls into the possible or probable realm. Although a modern genre, travel to far-off worlds (granted far off in the Mediterranean) was depicted in Greek writings, but it was not until Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” that science fiction began to emerge. As the dime novels of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century became popular, the genre became hugely popular and the genre took on a less-than-desirable label as “vulgar and puerile.” 

Fortunately, as we know, the science fiction genre has evolved into a respected and popular genre. In coming articles, we will look at other aspects of the genre from world building to character development.

Attached is a list of the numerous sub-genres of science fiction. As science-fiction writing grew in popularity, authors began to incorporate other genres into the realm of science fiction. The advent of self-publishing added additional opportunities to break out of the traditional publishing guidelines for the genre and create unique works.

The Sub-genres of Science Fiction

The world of science fiction is literally epic and incredibly complex. The genre can be divided into dozens of subgenres, each with their own unique themes and attributes. Any one science fiction story can cross the boundaries of several of these subgenres, or even break off into its own cult category. Charting the entire universe of sci-fi subgenres would therefore be impossible, but here are some of its most heavily populated worlds.

HARD SCIENCE FICTION

Science fiction in which science and technology take center stage, or in which scientific concepts are explained in detail. hard SF is typically concept heavy, and attempts to provide scientific realism, often at the expense of character development and plot.

SOFT SCIENCE FICTION

Science fiction in which science and technology take a back seat to character-driven plots. In soft SF, the how is much less important than the why.

MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION

Science fiction with a distinctly military theme. Characters are usually members of a military organization, and the plot will generally revolve around a war and/or military conflict. Duty, honor, heroism and other military clichés are par for the course.

ROBOT FICTION

Fiction in which the science of robotics is a central theme, typically relating to work of Isaac Asimov and the ideas advanced in his Robot series.

SOCIAL SCIENCE FICTION

Fiction in which future societies are extrapolated, explained and often criticized, usually for the purpose of social satire. The social sciences are the over-riding theme in this type of fiction; however, science and technology will usually play a central role in the structure of the extrapolated society.

Some writers of social science fiction choose to label their work as ‘speculative fiction’, perhaps to avoid the stigma attached to science fiction, and especially when science and technology are not central to the plot (see ‘Speculative Fiction’).

SPACE OPERA

Space opera is one of the more confusing and ill-defined terms that the genre has to offer. It typically refers to long-running science fiction series with continuing story arcs. These are usually set in space (or involve travel between two or more planets), have a large number of recurring characters and focus on large-scale (or “epic”) fictional events, such as galactic wars.

Recurring themes in space opera include politics, imperialism, colonialism, war, space exploration, heroism and rebellion.

STEAMPUNK

Steampunk merges the science fiction genre with alternate history and the design aesthetic of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. It is a literary genre, a style of dress and an artistic movement all rolled into one.

The basic idea behind steampunk is the introduction of modern (or futuristic) concepts and technologies into an earlier setting, or vice versa. It focuses largely on ‘the age of steam’ and the perceived inventiveness of industrial engineers. In a steampunk timeline, for example, computers may have been invented several centuries earlier and used alongside, or even powered by, steam engines.

Since the 1980s steampunk has grown beyond a simple literary genre and expanded into a large-scale artistic and cultural movement. Central to this movement is the belief that 19th Century literature (the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells in particular), technology and fashion was more aesthetically appealing, and ultimately more durable than those produced by today’s ‘throw-away’ culture.

CYBERPUNK

Fiction relating to the science of cybernetics, which views nature as a series of interconnecting mechanical systems. Specifically, cyberpunk deals with the link between biology and computer technology and explores humanity’s changing relationship with computer systems. Virtual reality, prosthetics, cyborgs, and internet fraud are all part of the cyberpunk niche, and usually go hand-in-hand with social decline.

BIOPUNK

Biopunk is similar to cyberpunk, except that it focuses on the use of bio-technology and genetic engineering rather than computer technology. Genetic manipulation, body modification and eugenics are all common themes in biopunk literature, as are social decline and political repression.

NANOPUNK

Nanopunk is closely related to cyberpunk and biopunk but focuses mainly on the use of microscopic machinery (or nanotechnology).

SUPERHERO FICTION

Opinion varies on whether or not stories about superheroes belong to the science fiction or fantasy genres. Personally, I’ve always felt that this type of literature (and media) belongs in a genre of its own, having its own set of rules, themes and characteristics. The level of scientific realism employed by such a work can affect the degree to which it is ‘accepted’ into the genre. Generally speaking, however, superhero fiction is thought to be a sci-fi subgenre, whether we like it or not.

VOYAGES EXTRAORDINAIRES

Jules Verne used this term to categorize his works, long before the term ‘science fiction’ was coined. It means “extraordinary voyages” and says as much about the exploratory format of his stories as it does about the fantastical ideas they contained. Today, the term may be attached to works that are directly inspired by Verne, or which follow the same format and imbue the same spirit of adventure.

SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE

This label was widely used before the term ‘science fiction’ was coined. It generally refers to the works of early British sci-fi writers, such as H.G. Wells.

GOTHIC SCIENCE FICTION

A blurring of the line between science fiction and gothic fiction. Gothic science fiction often takes conventional gothic concepts (mythology, magic, monsters, etc.) and attempts to explain them scientifically. A good example of this would be vampirism explained as a rare blood disease.

MUNDANE SCIENCE FICTION

Science fiction using only currently available or ‘achievable’ technology. This usually discounts faster-than-light travel. The aim is to create realism and explore science fiction ideas that are a little closer to home, such as the colonization of worlds in our own solar system.

Mundane science fiction is as much a movement as it is a genre and recognizes the huge impact that science fiction has on our society. It aims to promote a more realistic view of our universe to avoid future disillusionment. It is hoped that this will lead to a greater appreciation of the natural wonders and abundant resources that exist on our own world, and those close by.

SCI-FI/HORROR

Works that bridge the boundaries of both the science fiction and horror genres.

SCI-FI/COMEDY

Science fiction that is humorous in nature.

SCI-FI/FANTASY (OR ‘SCIENCE FANTASY’)

Works that bridge the boundaries of both the science fiction and fantasy genres. Concepts traditionally belonging to science fiction (space travel, robots, etc.) appear alongside those usually associated with fantasy (magic, mythology, etc.)

APOCALYPTIC SCIENCE FICTION

Fiction concerning a cataclysmic event, typically ending in the decline of the human race, human extinction, societal upheaval, or the total destruction of the Earth itself.

POST-APOCALYPTIC FICTION

Fiction set in the aftermath of a cataclysmic event, in which the world, and human civilization, has been radically altered. Post-apocalyptic landscapes are typically grim, with survivors facing multiple dangers, such as violence, starvation, radiation, extreme weather, and even mutants.

ZOMBIE FICTION

While zombie fiction is also claimed by the horror and fantasy genres, it is sometimes considered to be science fiction at its core. An individual zombie story may fall into any one or more of these categories, depending on its content and theme. However, most zombie fiction falls under the ‘post-apocalyptic’ heading (taking place during or after a ‘zombie apocalypse’) and can therefore be categorized as sci-fi (if not sci-fi-horror).

ALIEN INVASION

Fiction in which aliens attempt to invade the Earth, either through military conquest, political subversion, or a campaign of mass extermination.

ALIEN CONSPIRACY

Fiction in which the existence of alien life, or a government’s interaction with alien intelligences, has been hidden from public knowledge.

TIME TRAVEL

Science fiction in which the character/characters travel into the past or future. This often merges with the ‘alternate history’ and ‘parallel worlds’ subgenres.

ALTERNATE HISTORY

Although not strictly sci-fi, this is a branch of the speculative fiction tree that frequently converges with the ‘social science fiction’, ‘time travel’ and ‘parallel worlds’ subgenres of science fiction. Alternate history stories are set in a world in which history has taken a different course. Often, a single event is identified as the beginning of this change; the assassination of Hitler, for example.

PARALLEL WORLDS

Fiction concerning travel to parallel universes, in which the world is slightly different from our own. The theory of parallel universes states that there are an infinite number of these alternate worlds. The traditional way to visit them is via a wormhole (or ‘Einstein-Rosen bridge’).

LOST WORLDS

Essentially a continuation of Jules Verne’s ‘voyage extraordinaires’, this is more a story-telling format than it is a genre. It concerns voyages to forgotten lands (islands, lost continents, isolated jungles, etc.) and the discovery therein of scientific wonders (living dinosaurs, ancient technology, the secret of Atlantis, etc.).

DYSTOPIAN FICTION

Dystopian fiction deals with political repression and police states. A dystopian society is one in which freedoms are limited and conventional morality has been in some way perverted. This is the opposite of a utopian society. The flagship work in this subgenre is undoubtedly George Orwell’s 1984.

SPACE WESTERN

Science fiction in which a future space-borne society portrayed as being like that of the American West. The comparison may be literal, with astronauts wearing cowboy hats and sporting Colt revolvers; or figurative, depicting a lawless society of traders and pioneers.

RETRO FUTURISM

Retro futurism does for 1950s American pulp science fiction what Steampunk does for the works of Verne and Wells. It is an attempt to recapture the spirit of (or parody) ‘the golden age of science fiction.’

RECURSIVE SCIENCE FICTION

In the words of author Mike Resnick, this is “science fiction about science fiction.” More precisely, it is science fiction in which there are multiple references to other sci-fi works, or which attempts to examine, parody, or pay homage to existing science fiction works (or the genre itself).

SPECULATIVE FICTION

Speculative fiction is an umbrella term, encompassing the larger genres of science fiction, fantasy, supernatural fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, alternate history, and horror. Writers of social science fiction often refer to their work as speculative fiction, perhaps to avoid the stigma attached to science fiction.

SLIPSTREAM

A post-modern crossover, where elements of science fiction, speculative fiction and/or fantasy merge with contemporary and mainstream literature. This is a highly dubious genre, which may or may not fall under the greater science fiction umbrella. Sometimes defined as the indefinable it may or may not exist, according to some critics, who see it as a kind of homeless shelter for those works that cannot be easily classified. Slipstream’s tendency toward the absurd is sometimes seen to be at odds with mainstream science fiction.

Please note, this list of science fiction subgenres are from a blog called Sci-fi Ideas. It is the most contemporary list that I could find, but remember genres are mergeable, but to classify as science fiction, keep sci-fi to the forefront.

Resources

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/science%20fiction

http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~hbf/sfhist.html

http://www.scifiideas.com/writing-2/writing-advice/a-guide-to-science-fiction-subgenres/

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.)