Thursday, May 15, 2014

Do You Use Beta Readers (extra pairs of eyes on your manuscript)?

My question for you is regarding 'beta readers.' I have found that as your story evolves as you write organically, minor things may change, and there may be inconsistencies that can be overlooked. Example, John Smith is a vegan. Later in the story, after several rewrites, he takes his wife out for BBQ dinner because it is pivotal to the newly written scene. While minor within the crux of the story, to the reader it would seem like a billboard (with them asking, how did the author miss this?).

So do you use beta readers? If so, how many are in your pool? And do you take their advice? Seems that everyone has an opinion of how they would have written the story. But I feel if I completely entertain their ideas, it is no longer my story.

This question brings several issues to mind for me—internal consistency, self-editing, and working with the advice of beta readers and editors.

First, you’re absolutely right that snags such as the one you listed regarding the vegan who ends up taking his wife out for BBQ would jar readers and knock them out of the story. As I edit scenes and shape new ones, I often find myself going back to make sure that I’ve tackled those kinds of glitches.

Still, mistakes can creep in. I remember one character who appeared in several of my Patrick Bowers novels being in his mid-seventies in one book and then about a decade younger in the next book. Oops. Since it was a mistake that spanned two books it was easier to miss. But still, astute readers might have noticed it if they read the books within a close time frame.

Second, self-editing. The first and most important eyes you will have on your manuscript are your own. Catching those minor glitches and mistakes is ultimately your job, no matter how many editors and readers you may have. To make sure I’ve caught those, I need to read through the whole book, usually in one day to make sure all of it is fresh in my mind.

With my latest suspense novel BLUR, I noticed that one character was listed as a wide receiver, and then later as a tight end. No readers or editors caught this and it was only on my final pass through the book that I noticed it. Don’t rely on anyone else to fact check. Readers will always blame you, and rightly so, if they find mistakes.

Finally, readers and editors. I do my best to take their comments and queries to heart, but I don’t make all the changes they suggest. Often they don’t realize that you’ve thought about the same idea months ago and discarded it because of the context or the movement of the story.

I usually give them a list of specific things I’d like them to look for in the book. For example, I give one copy to someone in law enforcement and have him look at the cop lingo, things like that. I usually choose someone to look at story flow, another at grammar, and so on.

This is your baby and, just like having a baby of your own, you’ll get lots of advice about how to raise it. In the end, you have to take all of it with a grain of salt and raise your child your way.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Story Trumps Structure Is Now Available

I am pleased to announce that my book 
on the craft of novel writing
Story Trumps Structure 
is now available. 
For more information, please visit 

Don't Limit Your Fiction—Liberate It

All too often, following the “rules” of writing can constrict rather than inspire you. With Story Trumps Structure, you can shed those rules—about three-act structure, rising action, outlining, and more—to craft your most powerful, emotional, and gripping stories.

Award-winning novelist Steven James explains how to trust the narrative process to make your story believable, compelling, and engaging, and debunks the common myths that hold writers back from creating their best work.

• Ditch your outline and learn to write organically.
• Set up promises for readers—and deliver on them.
• Discover how to craft a satisfying climax.
• Master the subtleties of characterization.
• Add mind-blowing twists to your fiction.

When you focus on what lies at the heart of story—tension, desire, crisis, escalation, struggle, discovery—rather than plot templates and formulas, you’ll begin to break out of the box and write fiction that resonates with your readers. Story Trumps Structure will transform the way you think about stories and the way you write them, forever.


“Steven James is the best teacher I’ve ever worked with. I’ve been keenly awaiting Story Trumps Structure since I first heard it was coming out. Like Steven’s lectures, the book is an invaluable resource for aspiring authors and published novelists alike.”
—Robert Dugoni, New York Times best-selling author of The Jury Master