JM holds a Masters of Communications Culture from Ryerson and York Universities, as well as a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts from Brock University and a minor in Classical Mythology. She specializes in fanthropology: the study of media audiences and fans.
She also appears in several documentaries and radio shows speaking on this topic.
JM is also a professionally trained actor, voice actor, an award-winning vocalist, and a published poet and science fiction author.
A proudly out bisexual, Jessie Franklin was supposed to be going on vacation to celebrate her graduation. Instead, she’s pulled from what should have been a watery grave by an intriguing British Naval Captain– the only issue? It’s 1805! Stuck in Regency-era England, Jessie is left with no choice but to enter into the services of the Captain’s sister as a maid and companion in return for what shelter her new employer can provide. She resigns herself to a life of quiet servitude, and forever hiding her sexuality.
But she didn’t count on the sister being Margaret Goodenough – the world famous authoress whose yet-to-be-completed novel was the first lesbian kiss in the history of British Literature, and a clever woman. Clever enough to know her new servant has a secret. Now Jessie is caught. Margaret’s own perception of her place in society is transforming, the text of her novel is slowly changing, and Margaret herself is finally unafraid to embrace her own desires – and Jessie. Jessie must tread the tenuous line between finding her own happiness in a world where she is alone, and accidentally changing the course of history.
One of the most invaluable resources a writer can ever have is a second pair of eyes.
Called a beta reader (like a beta-tester in programming), a secondary reader, or sometimes just a straight up editor, having someone else read through your work is an invaluable step in the editing process.
This is important because while writing a story, writers live very deeply within them. We can be blind to all sorts of mistakes – little ones like typos, or big ones like failing to close a plot gap, or to make a Chekov’s Gun payoff, or changes to a character’s appearance, or simply forgetting to write a whole chapter. I’ve done all of these things. It’s easier to miss than you’d expect, because you think you’ve done the thing and when you re-read the story, you can easily see what you intended to put on the page, instead of what you really did put on it.
Of course, putting a story away for awhile and coming back to it with fresh eyes is a great way to find errors and ensure the book you’re working on reads as intended, it’s still easy to miss things, or to assume something works when it doesn’t. Afterall, it’s nearly impossible to be fully objective about writing we ourselves put on the page.
To this end, that second pair of eyes is a vital part of the process of turning a first draft into something professional and legible. Especially if you want to make sure that characters come off the way you intend them to, twists happen at the right moment and the right pace, and nothing is too predictable or too gonzo or simply doesn’t make any sense.
Secondary/Beta readers are also great because they may clock onto something that you missed – an opportunity to explore a way to tell the story better, or introduce a twist, or broaden something that they say in the book but you didn’t realize you’d put there.
The number of times I’ve said “Oh my gosh, I didn’t mean to put that in there, but that’s a much better idea than what I was going to do!” is nearly obscene. ~_^
And the truth of it is that as much as people would like to believe we are special and talented enough to be above needing those second set of eyes, not one of us is. Not a single writer.
So, I usually run my books/short stories/screenplays/(and sometimes even my fanfics) through three to five levels of secondary readers, depending on the intended use of the story:
A friend/someone from my writing circle who likes my work
Why? This is someone who’s read a lot of my work and knows my patterns and habits, both good and bad, and help me spot them and work with them. This is
A friend/someone from my writing circle who hasn’t read much of my work or doesn’t often read in this genre.
Why? Because someone who likes my work, or loves the genre I’m writing in, may be blind to the flaws of the story that come from me leaning too heavily on genre tropes or my own habits.
>>This is where I generally take the feedback from these folks and go do a re-write or a second draft.
Why? This is someone whose sole job it is to find errors, both structurally and/or line-by-line (depending on which kind of editor you’re working with), and help you as a writer improve both the manuscript and your craft. They’re trained professional storytellers.
If the book is already contracted, then this person generally goes last on my list, because it’s the editor at the house that’s going to be working on it and carrying it through to the end of the project. I’ll give it to my agent before this editor to get her feedback.
If this is a book I’m self-publishing, then I skip my agent as she’s not working with me on this particular project, and hire a freelance editor to work with me.
If the book isn’t already contracted and I am giving it to my agent to shop, then I usually work with a freelance editor in some capacity at this point to give it a look-over before it goes to my agent so I’m certain that the version going out to houses for consideration is the best that it can be.
>>Another draft usually goes here.
Why? She is the Queen Of Finding Typos. She won’t comment much on the story, but boy howdy if I spell something wrong her eyes go right to it!
>>Another another draft goes here.
Why? Because she knows what’s saleable and marketable, and she might ask me to make changes to make the book easier to sell.
Depending on whether the book is contracted or is going to be shopped around, it will go to my agent either third or last.
While securing Editors and Agents may not be the easiest thing, there’s lots of information out there on how to do it, so I’m going to skip straight to talking about where to find those friends/people in your writing community who are likely fellow writers and can act as your beta readers/secondary readers/extra set of eyes. And you, of course, for theirs.
Did you take writing classes with any friends? Do you have people in your life who just love to read and do so a lot?
Have you met any other writers online, via blogs, or communities, or contests, or sites like Archive of Our Own or Wattpad?
Have you cultivated a group of fellow writers you can ask?
Is someone in your family in creative writing, or teaching, or journalism?
Do you have family members who love to read and can be helpful but objective about your writing?
Local Writer Community
Check out local writing contests, bulletin boards at libraries or campuses or bookstores
Does your school have a writing or book club?
Attend book launches to meet a wide variety of authors, not just the one launching – we usually go and support one another.
You can also meet fellow writers in the crowd at literary festivals, or conventions.
Is there a local social group – like a local horror writers association, or a monthly meetup for a group, like a YA Author’s Pub Night?
Does the writer’s union/collective in your area have nights open for non-members, or if you are a member, socialization nights?
Online Writer Community
Check author websites and FaceBook pages to see if they foster a community of writers or hold contests, like Miss Snark’s First Victim or Gail Carriger.
Join your local NaNoWriMo Forum on the website, and follow their social media accounts. Many have a forum where you can post your search for a beta, and answer someone else’s.
Check out the forums and community boards surrounding your favourite conventions, fandoms, or fiction archives.
Does your local writer’s union/collective have an online community, facebook group, or posting board where you can search for betas?
Classes. Schools, and Courses
Take a course or after-school or community class in writing. You’ll make friends and find great support there.
Professional Editors / Betas
Consider hiring a professional to give your book a read at some point, because their job is literally to make your book better. And they have the education and skills to catch a lot of what you may miss or be unaware of.
In the end, no matter how you choose to find a Beta Reader, I cannot recommend one highly enough. And keep in mind that it is expected that their service will be reciprocal (unless you’ve hired a professional); if they read your book, at some point they are probably going to ask you to read theirs and offer critique and feedback in return. Be prepared to support and help them in the same way.
The Writing community is an awesome one, and we’re all ready to help one another succeed!
Got a question about the craft or business of writing? Ask it here.
Occasionally, I have the great joy of opening up my email and finding a beautiful, heartfelt letter from a reader who has found my work and really connected with it. This letter came from a reader who has given me permission to share it. Please excuse me while I go die of happiness and sob a little bit.
I am 65 years old. I am a woman. I have never written to an author before. I read Tolkien’s books in high school -as they were published the US .I had to wait a year between the books
I re-read them every year of my life. Well, the hobbit and the Lord of the Rings!
I’ve also read as many others as possible, the Simarillion, etc. my son introduced me (reticently,lol)to George R R Martin’s books years ago. During major surgeries I became the oldest asoiaf geek,podcasts,reddit,etc.,rereads…
I read Piers Anthony’s books as they came out. I found you as I was looking for reviews on Xanth, again re-reads due to surgery..tho I have my paperbacks of the entire series I’m no longer able to reread them because the print is too small… And many of them aren’t available on Kindle. I was a feminist. I was involved in civil rights .my friends and I worked so women could work and it would be okay .I experienced sexual harassment before there were laws against it.
I worked as a psychologist in an all-male maximum-security prison for 30 years . I also had a private practice.
As a result of reading your Xanth comments and review, i just finished your book ,the untold tales. I sit here in tears because my whole life I’ve been waiting for the fantasy writer you are… .A women as a complex,realistic,strong protagonist ,gay characters as just strong characters. I read your book in one sitting today, well, sitting and driving ( thank you for having this voice enabled )…I remain committed to the old Kindle keyboard,because I have had one for over 17 yrs…
I have no means to thank you enough for what you’re doing except to continue to buy everything you are writing!!! Sometimes magic happens.. I’ve had such a sense that what WE fought for-the right for women to have careers AND families,to be acknowledged NOT as sexual objects, the protections afforded by sexual harassment laws,and the right not to be held PERSONALLY RESONSIBLE [sic] for their own rape & be victimized during prosecution,to be GAY AND PROUD (instead of suiciding as one of my best friends did in 1975,rather than ‘shame’his family)…. I was married to a black man for 28 years. now our biracial sons, 25 and 30 are experiencing unprecedented (for them)) harassment from random law enforcement…. and one of them is a law student at Stanford …
I have just been feeling overwhelmed by rampant cultural darkness. Your book gave me HOPE!!!and I mean this.I hope YOU realize how ABSOLUTELY important your work is.
for me today , your writing was the candle in the darkness of current politics, racism and sexism that I needed. in addition reading your blogs and those of other young women, I see hope that the work that we did will be carried on. That the walls that are trying to be erected in this election are NOT going to be completed .
I thought as a country we had become a kinder gentler place ,but when I started reading live chats,seeing the use of the N-word &the c-word I was truly shocked. my younger son said mom where’ve you been for 10 years…. We fought hard for women not to be treated as sex objects -while the old white men promoting music videos continue reinforce women as disposable,and african -americans as thugs…the absence of people of color on tv,etc.
I’m not nuts. I didn’t mean to write a dissertation,lol! . I just want to say thank you and tell you again YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE!!!
If you’d like to send me a letter, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A young writer reached out to me on Instagram last month looking for some guidance when it comes to Character Development. She said that she was afraid that she spent a lot of time describing what her characters were doing at any given moment, but was failing to reveal why they were doing the thing, and what they were feeling when they did it.
This can be a problem for a lot of writers, especially those who aren’t thinking critically about the underlying layers and motivations of emotion in the scene they’re writing. Books, after all, serve only one real purpose – to tell a story that makes you feel something. The peril of simply reciting a character’s actions instead of revealing to the audience how they feel while they do them is real.
And because humans sympathize with others so strongly, the overarching way to make a reader feel something about a book is to share with your readership what the characters themselves are feeling in the moment. You need to provide readers with the opportunities to experience the emotion in tandem, and to watch those characters learn, evolve emotionally, and grow as people as the adventure happens.
Now, that’s not to say you have to drown the prose in blunt, obvious phrases like “I’m sad,” or “I’m so angry at you right now!” Novels are still, overwhelmingly, more successful when they can show and not tell.
I mean, I liked Lord of the RIngs okay when I read it, but ultimately I found it very boring as a story as it was a recitation of actions and histories and descriptions, with little to no glimpses into Frodo’s thoughts and feelings on the Quest. I couldn’t feel the weight of the ring digging the chain into his neck, I didn’t thirst with Frodo when he was parched, didn’t understand how bone-tired he was as he snuck through Mordor. I didn’t glory in the sun of the Shire on his face or the grass of the meadow below Weathertop on his feet.
But then Peter Jackson gave us this:
And yes, I am aware that this is a film, and a picture is worth a thousand words. But there’s feeling in these screencaptures, even as they’re static. In both of them you’ll note that Frodo is sitting down, resting, mind far away and leaning back on something.
But he’s not at all feeling the same thing, and his posture, body language, where he’s looking, what he’s holding, and how he’s reacting to the environment around him all gives the viewers a clue to what is happening to him internally.
And writers – lucky us! – have to do the same, but, you know, with letters instead of pictures.
When writing a scene, here are some points to keep in mind:
What is the Character FEELING in that moment?
What is their overriding emotion in this scene?
And what does that emotion motivate them to do, or not do?
What is the Character HIDING from those around them?
What secrets do they want to keep. Is it something dire?
How does holding that secret make them feel?
Is this secret distracting them from what’s happening? Are they paying attention?
What is the Character REVEALING Accidentally to those around them
If they’re hiding something, are they giving it away? Are they a good liar? How does that affect their body language? Can others tell?
What happens when the others around your character understand what they’re trying to hide?
If they’re not intentionally hiding something, they may still be giving clues away to something else – what do they looking, what are they wearing, how are they moving? What’s on their clothes? Think Sherlock here – and keep in mind, who in the rest of the group can read those clues, and how accuratly?
What is the Character REVEALING On Purpose to those around them
If they have a secret, are they hoping others will figure it out? Are they helping other figure it out?
Are they sharing information some other way, besides talking?
Are they actively sharing the info, or passively?
How does that affect the ACTIONS of the Character in that moment
Taking all the above into the account, what does the character do, where do they move, what actions do they make as a result?
(For example – if they are lying to their mother, would they go sit at the table directly beside her? Or stand further away? Why make that choice? To what advantage to them?)
How does that affect the BODY LANGUAGE of the Character in that moment
Are they excited? Bouncing on toes? Throwing hands in the air?
Are they exhausted, slouched against a wall or another person, struggling to stay upright?
Do they look guilty? Or are they cool as a cucumber about a secret they’re keeping?
How does that affect the PHYSICAL FORM Of the Character in that moment
What does guilt feel like? Squirming on the inside, heavy with shame, a headache?
What does happiness feel like? Lighter than air, the urge to dance?
What does hunger feel like? Curled in on stomach, weak, cold from lack of calories to burn, sleepy.
And lastly, why is the Character doing that particular ACTION at that particular time
If you’re adding actions just to add actions, sit back and think of how natural they are. Would that character actually do that thing, at that time, with everything else around them happening the way it is?
Stillness is also a choice, and it can be a powerful character-revealer, depending on how you use it.
Let’s do an exercise:
Go back to the moments where you character is DOING and not FEELING. Put a pin in them – flag it, highlight it, print it out and put an actual pin in it, whatever works for you. Then, when you’ve found several moments that need fleshing out… step away from the keyboard.
And act it out.
Say what your character is saying. Do what they are doing. And above all, trying to feel what they are feeling.
The first time through, do it exactly as your character is doing it; copy what they say and each action precisely. Mark the places where what they’re doing or saying feels stiff, awkward, or forced. It likely is.
The second time through, pay attention to those awkward moments, and try doing them a new way. Get into your character’s head and improvise; ball your fists, kiss the back of your hand if there’s a smooch, punch a pillow, pace, jump, use your body the way you really would if you really were this person in this actual situation. Make that cup of tea or take down that bowl from the cabinet.
Try to access the emotions of the character – and then pay attention to how those emotions affect your body.
When you want to cry, what happens? The back of your eyes burn, there a lump in your throat, your chest feels tight, your chin starts to shake, your nose runs.
When you’re elated, what happens? Your blood feels fizzy, your heart beats fast, you bounce and hop on your feet, your head feels light, you’re giddy and giggle, your hands flutter. You can’t focus on just one thing.
When you’re furious, what happens? You slam doors, to grunt and huff, you punch the air, you stab your finger in someone’s face, your face flushes, your hands shake.
These physical reactions to emotion are a human universal, and moreover they show the emotion the character is feeling rather than tell it. It’s like a cheat-code to getting your reader to understand what the people they’re reading about are feeling, are going through, without having to outright say that they’re sad, or elated, or furious.
When you reach the end of the scene, make notes on what you changed. Then run through it as many times as you need to find the right balance.
And then sit down to the keyboard and make those changes. I’m certain you’ll find the scene much stronger. The more you do this exercise, the easier it will get. Soon you won’t have to stand up to do it at all, you’ll remember that this is stuff you have to add into the prose and will do it as you write – practice, after all, makes perfect.
If this exercise doesn’t work for you personally as a writer, then try to find another way to access this emotional reality of your character as you’re working on the scene. Remember, emotion is the driving force of all action. What you feel dictates – or drives – what you do, and how and why you do it. This is no less true for made-up people.
And as always, I advocate that each writer try to get out of their PJs and away from a keyboard and take an acting class or two. In highschool? SIgn up for drama classes or join the club. Outside of school? Audition at a community theatre, or do evening improv classes. If you’re not up for public acting, read books on acting techniques, character motivation, and performance. Something, anything that helps you access the understanding that physical gesture is born of motivation, which is driven by feeling, which can reveal character. And then practice it.
Or watch movies, see what the actors do – how do they make you understand so clearly what they’re feeling, and why? And then practice describing that.
I promise, it will help you become a better writer.
There are also some great resource out there to help you understand how character drives motivation, which drives feeling, which drives action:
There’s a saying in the military which is also particularly apt for the publishing business: “Hurry Up And Wait”.
It means things can happen in an instant, all of a sudden, and need your attention now now now, and when the rush is done you just… wait.
After a weekend flurry of emails back and forth, contract slinging and review, negotiations, and finally signing, I had to wait two whole months to announce this deal!
Back in November, I had a meeting with a television writer who had come to me to discuss the rights for The Skylark’s Saga . She’d read the first book (as well as some of my other work) and saw great potential for the tale to be translated into an older-teen/YA aged animated series, rather like The Dragon Prince or She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, but aimed at a slightly older audience.
We met in a pub and talked about all of her ideas for the series, and with my agent, hashed out things like compensation, deadlines, and contracts.
And I have been sitting on this news since then!
So what does this mean? Basically, a shopping agreement is not a dramatic adaptation option. The studio Alpaca VS Llama has secured the rights to make a package of materials based on The Skylark’s Saga – treatment documents, series outline, character designs and illustrations, and a pilot script – for an animated series to take to production houses and networks. They ‘pitch’ this idea, and if someone picks it up, then it becomes an option.
Right now, I’m working with studio head Elize Morgan to fill in her questions about the backstories of characters and the worldbuilding (yes, she’s got book #2 already… no, I can’t share it with you yet. 😉 ) and from there she’s going to start working with an illustrator to figure out the best way to mock up our beloved characters.
I’m extremely flattered by AvL’s interest in the series, and wish Elize all the best when she heads out to start sharing the world of the Skylark with potential studios and channels.