Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Please Welcome Author Marsha Ward

I "met" Marsha on the Sweet Saturday Samples blog hop, where she regularly posts samples from her wonderful historical novels. I love reading her stories of the American pioneer days. They're full of the strength and resolve of those who settled in the western part of the continental United States. In addition to posting her samples, she often stops at everyone else's blogs, reading and responding to our offerings. She often dispenses great advice for making our writing stronger.

Last Saturday, author Marsha Ward celebrated the release of her fourth novel in the Owen Family Saga, Spinster’s Folly. She’s my guest today, telling us one step in her novel creation process. Welcome, Marsha!


Like many writers, I rely on beta readers to evaluate my novel manuscripts. This choice list of people includes ordinary readers, writers at all levels, and those wonderful author friends you cultivate carefully so you can trade manuscripts with them for critiques. I usually go over a finished manuscript at least twice before I let anyone appraise it. But with my third novel, Trail of Storms, I was trying to meet a deadline, so what I sent out was pure, unadulterated first draft dreck. Scary!

I believe that when I’m asking for a favor, it’s incumbent upon me to make it as easy as possible for the favor-giver to help me. For that reason, I provide a sort of tip sheet as to what I’m looking for in their critique, especially if my beta reader hasn’t read my previous novels, or is unfamiliar with my genre.

The following is from the tip sheet I sent to volunteers on that occasion. It includes my “off the top of my head,” and oftentimes, “in no particular order,” concerns. It also alerts my critiquers to the fact that they’re not simply reading for pleasure. I didn’t want them to dash off a note at the end saying, “This is good.” I needed to know why it’s good or not, so I was specific about my expectations. It seemed to work wonderfully well, and I got very detailed responses.

Thank you for agreeing to read and critique my manuscript. I'm anxious to know what you think about it.

When you want to make a comment, suggestion, or correction, please go ahead and do so, using whatever method suits you best, such as colored font, bracketed notes, or Word’s Track Changes editing tool.

The spelling and grammar have been gone through pretty well. I still find a few words that should have been deleted when I substituted something else. If I mess up, please let me know! I use colloquial language from time to time, but not every time. In other words, not every "g" will be missing from the end of "going". That is okay, so don't worry about that if it doesn't irritate you. If it does, say so!

If you find anything in particular that you like, go ahead and tell me that. If the story carries you forward so thoroughly that you forget you're suppose to be editing, let me know that. On the other hand, if the novel is merely so-so, I have to know that, as well.

These are the major things I'm hoping you will find and mark:

Repetitious use of words that are likely to hit the reader over the head—words like "fresh," or "journey," or "enough" showing up twice in the same paragraph or in successive/close paragraphs.

Consistency: Do I capitalize Daughter or Sister/Sis when used as a form of address throughout, or did I drop to lowercase in some instances along the line? Robert should always be driving a mule team. His hair is brown and he wears a beard, as does James. However, James's hair is black; Jessica, George, and Hardy are blondes or blonds; the other characters' hair is unknown as to color. The dog should be brown. Note the possessive form of James's name. I always use the "apostrophe s" convention. He rides either a black mare or a sorrel gelding, but I may not have mentioned the sorrel's neutered state. That's okay. If his horse is a gray or a palomino, I'm in trouble. I don't believe I specified horse color for other prominent characters.

Sections that drag.

Consistent character motivations: I've changed a few things, and might not have caught every build-up that goes with them. If anything puzzles you, mark it!

Characters doing or saying things that are out-of-character for them.

Over-explanations of the same thing to various people, or one character telling another about a past occurrence more than one time. It doesn't count if new information is imparted, but please note any concerns.

Places where I avoided writing a scene that should be there, or failed to expand a scanty scene. Or wrote a scene that has no point in furthering the story.

Story strings left hanging at the end.

Which is akin to this: Characters dropped on their faces when more of their story should be told. I sometimes forget about the dog, but I didn't see any point in killing it off just to get rid of it, so it should be there from time to time, especially since it appears to be transferring loyalty. Where is the baby in tense scenes? Should someone be throwing up?

Too much development of minor characters.

Padding that appears to be solely to boost word count. Trite or passive construction. Unnecessarily pounding a point home. Drecky conversations, cliches, and stupid stuff.

I really should make this mish-mash into a formal document, but it worked at the time. Perhaps if I ever have spare time, I will create an all-purpose form to which I can add specifics. Like I’m going to find spare time lying around on the ground! Wish me luck!


I certainly understand about lack of spare time! Thanks for visiting today, Marsha! Spinster's Folly can be found at your favorite ebook distributor.

Marsha can be found  at her blog, Writer in the Pines, at http://marshaward.blogspot.com/.


  1. Very interesting reading tips, Marsha! You know I'm a fan, and now I see why! You've got your craft down to a science.