Revisions and revisions: A never-ending cycle

Happy Easter, my friends! As I mentioned in my last blog post, revisions for the next draft of The Thieves of Traska are currently underway. It’s been a little tricky to find time to write and edit now that I’m working 30-40 hours a week at the patisserie. I’m still rearranging a few things so I can write every day and (try) to blog every week. I think aiming for a blog post on Mondays will work better. Fingers crossed!

A week ago, I had no idea how I was going to revise Thieves. I had a list of problems, courtesy of my beta readers, and a vague idea of what would fix them. But I also had a list of responses that I wasn’t sure what to do about:

  • “The chapters feel too short.”
  • “I’m not sure why Garrison sticks around.”
  • “It doesn’t feel like anything connects to a bigger scheme.”
  • “Not enough really happens in the beginning to compel me forward.”
  • “The pacing is too slow.”

Alright, redistributing where the chapters begin and end wasn’t too hard. I wrote out all the events on my whiteboard and figured out where it made the most sense to put breaks. That left a few blanks to fill in, but I’d figure that out later.

More than a few blanks, since the picture I took before erasing my board is a little fuzzy in spots. (Spoilers all over that board.)

Why does Garrison stick with Claire? According to enough of my readers, it had to be because he has a crush on her. Since that is not the real reason, I need to tweak his dialogue in places so that it becomes clear. I’m still bouncing ideas off of people on how to make it make sense.

Those last three comments drove me crazy. Nothing connects to a larger plot?! Nothing happens in the beginning?! What is wrong with the pacing?!

Asking my readers didn’t offer any clear answers. It wasn’t until I started poking around at what other people said about the pacing in YA books that I got to the heart of the problem.

Everyone in The Thieves of Traska has a personal goal driving them forward. It’s great for their motivation, but it’s not enough for the story. There’s no common goal any of them are working toward together that relates to the overall plot. Sounds like a pretty big thing to be missing from a sixth draft, right? But it’s not entirely missing. There are plenty of little actions that could be connected to something greater if I just add that central point.

So what do you add to The Thieves of Traska to make all the petty crimes Claire commits connect to a bigger picture? Why not some sort of heist? Sure! Now the revisions will include a heist.

What about the lack of events in the beginning, and the slow pace? That one was trickier to figure out. It’s not so much that nothing is happening; the stakes just aren’t high enough in what does happen. For example: when Claire and Garrison are on the road to Traska, one of the highlights of the trip is when they’re attacked by bandits. That’s exciting! But buried beneath a lot of uneventful walking.

Now, instead of mutually deciding to journey together, I have Garrison unaware that Claire is following him. These revisions help build up to the solution to the “why does Garrison stick around” problem. And, by adding the risk of discovery, the stakes are just a little bit higher.

It’s not such a boring walk anymore, is it? If I take the same approach to every chapter, perhaps the pacing problem will be fixed, as well.

Call for beta readers: The Thieves of Traska Draft 6

This is it, my friends: the official call for beta readers. Last time we were here, I was absolutely terrified. Only one friend had read most of The Thieves of Traska by that point. If my readers didn’t like the story, I might have spent a significant amount of time crying and maybe given up on it altogether.

But my readers liked it. Some even loved it.

For the second time, I ask for volunteers. The Thieves of Traska now has nearly 300 pages, and more than 86,000 words.

If you want to be a beta reader…

  • Comment on this post, tweet at me, or email me at Amanda (at) ajswitz (dot) com by Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017
  • Specify your preferred format for reading (Microsoft Word document, PDF, .mobi, etc.)*
  • Please briefly explain your interest in being a beta reader

*NOTE

If you provided feedback on Draft 4 last year, you are eligible to receive a professionally printed and bound copy of Draft 6. The number of printed copies I order will be based on the number requested. If you would like to receive a printed copy, please notify me no later than Jan. 15, 2017.

Beta readers should prepare to provide a thorough, honest critique beyond “good,” “bad,” or “x/5 stars.” To avoid interfering with your reading process, I will save specific questions until after you’ve finished reading.

For a brief description of the story, check out the new Books tab on the top of the site!

2017 brings beta copies of The Thieves of Traska!

I’ve been writing 2017 instead of 2016 on my notes since mid-November. Finally, that can stop being a mistake. Happy New Year, everyone! We have a few exciting announcements to start the year off.

First: I quietly finished inputting the edits I received from beta readers early last year. Even though no one said extensive edits were needed, they happened. Since readers last saw Draft 4, eight chapters have been added, and more than 30,000 words.

Draft 4, Draft 6, beta copy, comparison
A few more edits than I meant to make.

Your positive feedback assured me that I’m not half bad at this whole writing thing. There was also an unexpected side effect: I rewrote the plot for the rest of the series. You’ve all helped me make this a story worth reading.

Our second announcement: now that Draft 6 is complete, I need another set of beta readers! Anyone interested in reviewing a digital copy is welcome to comment here, shout out to me on social media, or email me (amanda AT ajswitz DOT com) at your convenience. I’ll be posting an official call for beta readers next week.

Besides having more content, this draft is special. It is, perhaps, THE DRAFT. The one that will be submitted to agents and publishers. Of course, there are sure to be more edits. But The Thieves of Traska might just be ready to seek publication.

And that brings me to the third announcement. A limited number of print and bound copies of The Thieves of Traska, Draft 6, will be ordered this month. Certain readers (some who read the previous draft, some who haven’t read any of it) have difficulty reading the story as a book when it’s not in book form. For some, a print version — that isn’t a 300-page stack of copy paper — would be most convenient.

A photo posted by Amanda Surowitz (@ajswitzy) on

That’s a daunting read for anyone.

A friend brought another use for these printed copies to my attention when I asked for help formatting the text. Potentially, this could appeal to agents and publishers and help get me published. Whether or not it helps, I will share what I learn in later blog posts.

This is an out of pocket expense for me. Due to the cost, there won’t be an open call for requests for a printed copy. Only those who provided feedback on the previous draft are eligible to request the printed copy of Draft 6. For my overseas readers, have no fear about your own eligibility. One copy is already destined for the UK. International shipping is not a concern.

As this year is already off to an exciting and productive start, let me once again wish you all a happy 2017!

Giveaway: Celebrating August milestones!

August has been a month of milestones for me, and I want to celebrate them with an excerpt and a small giveaway. Some of these might not seem like a big deal at first. But after adding up all these little things, I can’t help but feel proud.

At the beginning of the month, I hit my one-year mark at my first post-college job. About a week ago, The Thieves of Traska broke 80,000 words, making it the longest and most complete novel I’ve ever drafted. Yesterday, I earned my 400th follower on Twitter. Before I started using the social media platform seriously two months ago, that number constantly hovered around 160. Next week, I register for my first graduate class.

As you can see, August has been very productive! To celebrate, I’m giving away a little bag of goodies.

Giveaway prizes

August Milestone giveaway prize gallery
1 Thieves of Traska tote, 1 leather-bound notebook with unlined parchment paper, 2 lined Moleskines with custom artwork on covers. Cat not included.

How to enter

Simple: Leave a comment on any of this month’s blog posts.

As long as your comment is a little more thought-out than “Here is my entry comment,” your name will be entered into the pool. Really want to beat out the competition? You can have your name entered up to 5 times by posting a relevant comment on each blog post. Entries will be accepted until 5 p.m. EST on Wednesday, September 7.

Once all entries are in, Bianca will randomly select a winner. Video of her selection process will be posted the evening of September 7.

August Milestone giveaway judge
Bianca insisted on selecting the winner. She’s very persuasive.

With the rules out of the way, enjoy this sneak peek at The Thieves of Traska! And happy commenting!

From The Thieves of Traska

august milestone excerpt

Yo-yo characters: Back and forth in development

While backing up the current draft of The Thieves of Traska, I found the backups for some earlier drafts. I skimmed through, old scenes making me nostalgic and, sometimes, embarrassed. So much of the story and each character has changed. But I was surprised to find places where I’d gone back and forth on my revisions.

Mostly, I can’t seem to decide how friendly I want characters to be with one another. One character in particular, the Messenger, is getting whiplash from his revisions. He has always been mysterious and a little scary. Then I gave him some charming lines and he became a friend to Claire and a trustworthy superior.

In the fifth draft, he’s changing back to something closer to his original self. It suits his role as Claire’s superior; he is now someone she respects, but doesn’t always like. Their relationship is friendly when they agree, and professional when they don’t.

character quote-the messenger
He also now has the most popular quotes among those I’ve shared on Twitter.

Even though this change means I have to cut some scenes I loved, I think they were still necessary to write. Exploring the Messenger’s personal side and making him a friend to Claire showed me the parts of him that I like. He’s more than just an ominous figure that tends to deliver bad news.

Where did his sense of morality develop? What grey areas make him struggle between duty and desire, and why? I know everything he sacrificed to get to where he is now. Most of that backstory won’t make it back onto the page—at least not in this draft—but all of the Messenger’s actions reflect on it.

The Messenger isn’t the first character to sidetrack me with his personal story. Pages in my notebook hold detailed explorations of how certain characters met. I’ve scribbled some conversations that happen during the events of the book, but never make it to the reader. So many tangent scenes that reveal the depths of certain relationships have been cut.

So why go through all that effort if none of it ends up on the page? Because it all builds character.

Overcomplicating the story with little things

Even though that world-building workshop I attended was weeks ago, I keep flipping back to those notes. All the little things that help make a fictional world immersive are overwhelming to establish. You go one leaf at a time, adding to the story’s branches until you make a tree.

But at what point do those details overcomplicate things?

After sitting with the fourth draft of The Thieves of Traska for a few months, my brother finally finished reading. One of his notes said it’s difficult to remember each character and which side they are on. He’s the only one to make this comment, but I still looked for what might be complicating things for him.

Instead, I ended up noticing all the nuances of the world I created. As I continue editing, those nuances increase. And it all makes me wonder if I’ve created something immersive, or indecipherable.

There’s the currency, the predominant religion of the region, linguistic differences in dialect. Now, clothing details indicate social status. Building decorations offer peeks at the city’s culture. References to architectural maintenance imply the environment’s effect on the story’s main location.

All of these details add more stones to the city of Traska. As of the  new chapter I’m drafting, an entirely new street appears. With every little detail I add after every read-through, my fictional world gets bigger.

Do all these little things serve the story in any way? Certainly.

As Claire tries to blend into the city, she becomes more conscientious of how appearance affects her treatment depending on where she is. The city’s decorative ironwork provides a useful grip for our wall-climbing thief. The people fixing the city are a tool for someone looking to send a message.

There is a balance to find between inundating a reader with details and tossing them into a bland new world. Am I the only one who can’t see the forest for the trees? Or are there truly too many little things getting in the way of a reader’s enjoyment of the story?

Perhaps these are the details that will help readers like my brother better distinguish between and remember the different characters. Or maybe they are forgettable and all but useless. Whichever it is, I hope to find out when I send the fifth draft to the next round of beta readers.

The Thieves of Traska giveaway, take 2

Earlier this year, I wanted to host a giveaway to celebrate my progress with The Thieves of Traska. It was really exciting to send the fourth draft to some volunteers and see how the story went over. I haven’t received responses from everyone yet, but what I have gotten is wonderfully positive.

Thank you everyone for the feedback you have given me. I know there is still work to be done, but I’m grateful that you not only liked the story, but also had some brilliant ideas on how to make it even better.

But this giveaway isn’t just to celebrate The Thieves of Traska. I’m also celebrating my acceptance into grad school. In a few short years, I’ll have my M.F.A. in writing! I won’t start class until the fall, but it’s crazy to think how fast it will happen.

In addition to the prizes I had already collected earlier this year, I’ve been adding a few more. Here’s a peek at a test I did during the making of some new prizes:The Thieves of Traska giveaway prints

Hurray for printmaking! As much as I love painting, I’m starting to wonder if these types of prints fit the story better.

Anyhow, the giveaway to celebrate all this will happen toward the end of June/beginning of July. In the meantime, I’ll be kicking the dust off my blog and poking awake my sleepy readers. I’ve let The Thieves of Traska simmer on my back burner while I’ve been grinding out the first draft of The Raiders of Vaskegon (which recently hit 31,000 words!), but now it’s time dive into the wonderful feedback I’ve received and get to editing.

For you, readers, this means more excerpts, character profiles, peeks at my notes, glimpses of the comments I’ve received, and more. If you see something you like and want to read more about, let me know!