First draft to final

Said | Apr 08 2014

It’s so easy, as a reader, to almost believe that what you hold in your hands is roughly what came out of the author’s mind when they first sat down at the computer. If you think about it at all, possibly the extent of the polishing you envision is a couple passes to tidy up language and typos. (At least, that’s about how I used to view it.)

Those of you reading this who are writers will of course laugh at this naivety. (I laugh at past-me’s naivety regularly.) Most books go through many drafts, and the final product may, in some cases, bear only a passing resemblance to the original. I’m thinking here of Marissa Meyer, in particular; in her summary of stats on her most recent book, Cress, she states that only 13.6% of the words in her second draft were actually carried over from the first draft (her third draft managed to keep an improved 62% of the second).

The amount of overhaul involved in the revision stage depends on the author’s writing style and the particular story, of course. Marissa drafts fast and puts her energy into the revision stages. I’m the opposite; I draft slowly and try to make sure I’m building reasonably strong arcs from the first so I don’t have to spend as much time in revisions. Depending on my story, I’d estimate 80% of my first draft gets carried into my second, and 90% of my second makes it into my third.

There’s no right or wrong way, of course; it’s a personal style choice. For writers starting out, though, it can be a little daunting. Even in my earliest books I took my time drafting, and when I got to the revision stage I felt like I wasn’t making enough changes. I remember wishing I had some idea what the finished copies of published authors’ books had looked like in a first draft, so I’d know if what I was doing was right.

A couple years ago, Maggie Stiefvater posted just such an exercise on her blog, comparing her first draft to her final for her excellent book The Scorpio Races. Some of it hardly changed at all. Some of it changed a lot.

After Maggie posted hers, twelve other authors joined in, sharing their before-and-afters. The many different entries show just how different each writer’s process is. Maggie listed all the contributors in two posts, here and here. Authors such as Kiersten White, Brenna Yovanoff, Melissa Marr, and Gayle Forman share their processes.

If you’re a reader, these posts are enlightening, offering a new appreciation for what goes into producing the story you’re reading (and possibly a fascinating insight into how your favorite stories may have changed). As a writer, I hope they’ll be not only interesting, but also helpfully instructive. This was the sort of thing I would have loved to have when I was starting out with writing, to see why authors make the changes they do during revisions and just how extensive (or not) they may be.

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Shipping characters

Said | Mar 11 2014

One of my favourite shows on TV at the moment is Arrow, now in its second season. I’ve shipped Olicity before I even knew Olicity was a thing. The Oliver/Felicity shippers have become such a huge proportion of the Arrow fandom that Olicity has kind of taken over a lot of fan response to the show. Poor Stephen Amell (and probably the others associated with the show, too) has to deal with a constant barrage of “When are you gonna kiss Felicity??” on his Facebook page and Q&As.

We invest a lot of energy in rooting for fictional couples to hook up. I follow a few Arrow-themed blogs on Tumblr, and half the posts there are about Olicity. So much of the fanart for BBC’s Sherlock involves Johnlock (Sherlock/John). When I see fanfic for these fandoms, it’s inevitably around these pairings. Many of them are really long, and very well-written. Someone has put a lot of time into creating these things.

Why do we do this? What drives us to ship characters to this degree? We certainly don’t do it with real-life people; at most we tend to think “They’d make a cute couple” and leave it at that. (Perhaps because if we started making fanart of them together, or writing pages-long stories about the things they’d do in the bedroom, they’d get a restraining order.)

I think of some of the pairings I ship. Oliver/Felicity in Arrow. Sherlock/Molly in Sherlock. Arya/Gendry in Game of Thrones. In books, Karou/Ziri of Days of Blood & Starlight, Alina/Sturmhond of Siege & Storm, or Cinder/Kai of Cinder. What is it about these particular pairings? Obviously I like the potential love interest as an individual, but beyond that, I think it has something to do with a perceived chemistry between the two characters. It’s especially easy to pick up on in television, where body language factors in, but in fiction, too, in the characters’ actions toward and around the other person.

Perhaps when we ship characters, it’s because finding that chemistry in the real-world isn’t easy, and it’s an affirmation that two people with such a connection can find each other and end up with each other. Maybe it’s an opportunity to vicariously enjoy that thrill of finding the person you were meant to be with. It helps us to believe it may happen to us, if we’re still waiting, or a chance to relive it if we’ve already found that person.

Certainly for me, one of the most satisfying moments in a lot of the books I read is when the characters I ship do finally recognize their chemistry and connection. That first kiss. It really is a reward all of its own, isn’t it? Like, nevermind saving the world, anyone can do that. But two people who were meant to be together? THIS is worth reading for.

(For the record, I like for the world to be saved, too. But sometimes it’s hard to tell which is the ice cream sundae and which is the cherry on top.)

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lisha cauthen

Tech Yourself: 6 iPhone Apps That Will Put You In Your Story

Said | Feb 27 2014


bat cat

Your suspicions are correct. The above picture has nothing to do with anything. I just like it.

iPhone apps for writers aren’t all markdowns and note-catchers. Today we’re looking at 6 apps to help authors broaden their thinking.



Say, you plan to write a story/novel about a kid lost in the wilderness, only your feet have never touched bare earth. Don’t let that stop you!

survival guide icon


Based on the Military Survival Guide, this app covers shelters, obtaining potable water, food, weapons, strategies pertinent to particular topographies, and the psychology of survival. Make sure you’ve covered all the bases in your novel. Useful in real life too.



outdoors america gps


Street, satellite and topographic maps let you plan the best setting for your story.





Scenario number two: Your main character hunts serial killers. Sure, it’s been done. But not like YOU’LL do it.

psychopedia iphone app icon


Look up mini-bios of serial killers by name, country, chronology or number of victims. With a mugshot. Also, large list of unsolved serial murders. Great for surveying MOs quickly.



micro-expression trainer iphone app icon


Want to tell if someone’s lying? Train to recognize those tiny facial clues that will let you know how the suspect really feels. Good for fine-tuning facial description. Gotta admit, I have always noticed micro-expressions on my own, before they were ever discovered as a thing. I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING.




You daintier writers out there might like to give your character a volunteer job at the zoo. Here’s how to get the feel of working around animals.

pocket penguins iphone app icon


One of the first apps I ever downloaded, so you know about my priorities. The California Academy of Sciences has three livecams on the penguin exhibit. Also, watch the biologist answer crowd questions during appointed times. I COULD WATCH THIS ALL DANGITY DAY.



pocket zoo with live animal cams iphone app icon


Currently there are 32 livecams on this sucker, but not gonna lie. They don’t all always work all the time. Nevertheless, pretty nifty when they do. Right now the app is tiger-heavy, but also hippopotami, manatee–right this very second there’s a diver in the tank–elephants, beaver, gorilla…and much, much more. Also a list of animals with static photos and a sound sample. OKAY IT’S JUST FUN, TOO.



I don’t publish app prices, as they are tremendously subject to change. But most of these apps are free. Look to the app store to help with setting, character description and other elements of your story that you can’t get from Wikipedia.

headdesk gif


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Pamela K Witte

Getting Personal! Gate Crashers’ Author Interviews

Said | Feb 25 2014

If isn’t personal what the heck is it?

Author Interviews That Rock

Ink & Angst’s very own…

Elle Cosimano

and her debut YA mystery thriller!


Available for Pre Order Now!

Click the pics for Awesome LinksNearly Gone

Check out the spine-tingling blurb!

Bones meets Fringe in a big, dark, scary, brilliantly-plotted urban thriller that will leave you guessing until the very end

Nearly Boswell knows how to keep secrets. Living in a DC trailer park, she knows better than to share anything that would make her a target with her classmates. Like her mother’s job as an exotic dancer, her obsession with the personal ads, and especially the emotions she can taste when she brushes against someone’s skin. But when a serial killer goes on a killing spree and starts attacking students, leaving cryptic ads in the newspaper that only Nearly can decipher, she confides in the one person she shouldn’t trust: the new guy at school–a reformed bad boy working undercover for the police, doing surveillance. . . on her.

   Nearly might be the one person who can put all the clues together, and if she doesn’t figure it all out soon–she’ll be next.

Now, meet Elle!

Interview time! 

It’s all in the details, right, Elle? What kinds of research/exploration have you gone through to prepare yourself for writing a murder mystery/thriller?

I think research is probably the coolest part of what I do. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the Writers’ Police Academy in both 2012 and 2013. This year, I’ve had the opportunity to tour the Northern Lab of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science in preparation for writing NEARLY LOST (the sequel, releasing in 2015). This was incredibly exciting, because this is the same lab where Nearly becomes an intern in book 2. Just recently, I had the privilege of doing a 4-hour ride-along with a deputy from the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office. And next August, I’m registered to attend a week-long hands-on forensic science work-shop sponsored by Sirchie.







If Nearly were to give our readers a piece of advice, what would it be?

There’s always a solution. Sometimes, you have to think outside the box.

If you were to hop on the back of a motorcycle, what kind would it be, who would be driving and where would you go? 

I’d go back in time 25 yrs. I was 15 yrs old, on the back of my dad’s Ultra Classic Harley Dresser. We were flying, doing about 100 miles an hour over the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. I was completely alive.

How do you get into the head of the cops?

I don’t. Nearly narrates her own story (told in 1st person POV), so once I start writing, I can truly only be inside her head. I know all my characters. I know every cop. Every confidential informant. Every suspect. But the story isn’t told from their point of view, so I can only observe them – their actions, reactions – through Nearly’s eyes.

When you’re not writing, what is the most fulfilling thing you do? 

I love spending time with my kids. We divide our time between our home in Northern VA and a palapa (a thatch roof open-air home) in the Mayan Riviera. We live simply there, mostly outdoors. I love to watch them play on the beach and find creatures in the tidal pools. I love to watch them ride bikes with their friends, and rescue baby sea turtles after a hatch. I love watching them just be kids.

Do you listen to tunes while you write?   

Yes. Actually, NEARLY GONE evolved from one scene that came to me while I listened to the same song on repeat during my commute to and from work. When I couldn’t get it out of my head (the scene, that is) I started writing, and part of that process included a play list for each character. 

If you could transport yourself into your book, where would you go/who would you be?  

This is a really tough one, because Nearly lives in a trailer park. Her neighborhood is a pretty tough place to grow up, and her primary goal is to find a way out. If I were dropped into my own story, I could see myself choosing to be someone like Lonny, the neighborhood dealer. Or someone like Reece, a confidential informant for the police (a narc). They’re both survivors. It’s a touch choice, which character I would choose to be if I had to… which path I would take to survive an environment like theirs, and I’m grateful that choice would only have to be an imaginary one for me. A lot of teens aren’t so lucky. This is a choice some of them make in the real world every day. 

What is the best piece of writing advice you were ever given?

When I first started writing, I was a terrible over-writer. My agent gave me simple and perfect advice that made me re-examine the way I approach the page. She said, “Trust your prose. You don’t need a lot of words, Elle. You only need the right ones.” 

Do you belong to any cool writerly groups on or off line?

Absolutely. I’m actively involved in both The Lucky 13s and OneFour KidLit debut groups. I’m a member of SCBWI, International Thriller Writers, Sisters In Crime, and Mystery Writers of America. And I’m a blog contributor here at Ink & Angst and at Sleuths, Spies, and Alibies. But my favorite and most valuable writing group is my critique group. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

OneFour KidLitSleuths spies_Banner_2012





Check out Elle’s Tweets!

Visit Elle’s Facebook

 And there you have it! Personal and Real with Elle Cosimano! Thanks for the super-cool, insightful interview, Elle! 

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Reading speeds and speed reading

Said | Feb 11 2014

I was reading a book recently that opened rather slowly. I found myself dragging along through it, the dozen pages I read feeling like they took longer than they should have. But then I reached a spot where the action picked up, and suddenly the pages were flying by. Part of it was that I was more engaged in the story and therefore less aware of the passage of time, of course. But when I stepped back and actually became conscious of it, my actual reading speed had increased dramatically as well; my eyes were fairly tripping over themselves to get to the next sentence and find out what happened.

Which got me thinking about reading speeds and speed reading. Staples has a nifty online tool that measures your reading speed and comprehension. It’s very basic and takes only about 30 seconds to complete, but it returns your reading speed in words per minute and plots it on a graph relative to other benchmarks.

When I’m reading for pleasure, my default pace is about 250 words per minute – I tend to read lazily, closer to speaking pace. But when I want to – such as when I’m reading a particularly tense section, or if I’m trying to get through something quickly – I can bump that up to as much as 600 words per minute. The average speed across all adults is about 300 wpm. So-called speed-readers apparently read at 1000-1500 wpm. (The speed-reading champion is reported to have read at 4700 wpm, but that’s just crazy.) Business professionals and others who have to do a lot of reading as part of their jobs may read at about 600 wpm.

The act of reading is composed of three steps, repeated over and over until we reach the end of the text: fixation, or pausing the eye on a word(s); saccade, or the act of moving the eye to the next word(s); and comprehension, the pause the brain requires to understand the words/phrase. It takes a third to half a second to complete a full set of steps. This is one part of what determines our reading speed. (More on this in a moment.)

The other thing that encourages us to read at a slower pace is called “subvocalization”. It refers to the way we actually pronounce the words silently in our mind the way we would if we were reading out loud. We are, in both senses of the phrase, reading to ourselves. Although we tend to read a bit faster than the average speed of speech (around 175 wpm), the addition of tone and inflection to the words in our mind keeps our brain from processing the words more quickly.

One technique of speed reading, then, is to eliminate the subvocalization. Instead of viewing the word and mentally pronouncing it as you comprehend it, you view it, comprehend it, and move on to the next before your brain can pronounce it. Something that has been thought to possibly help with this is tracing your finger (or a pen or some other pointer) along the line of text as you read; this forces your eye to move at a constant pace across the text and doesn’t allow your brain time to pause to pronounce the words.

Once subvocalization is eliminated, this allows for a second component of speed reading called chunking. The brain is capable of grouping objects into a single object that is understandable as a whole at a quick glance. This is most clearly seen in counting. For instance, you will recognize this in a fraction of a second as five dots, without actually having to count each dot:


The same principle can be applied to text. We already do it at a word level, seeing specific letter groupings as a whole word without having to look at each letter individually. As an easy extension of this, determiners such as “the” or “a” can be lumped with the noun to which they refer, so the brain can recognize “the horse” with a single comprehensive moment, rather than processing “the” and “horse” separately. However, allowing the eye to view, and the brain to process, multiple complex words at once will also speed up your reading speed. Take, for instance, the following sentence:

The quick    brown fox    jumped over    the lazy dog.

I’ve inserted extra spaces to emphasize the word groupings, but you might notice that your eye takes in “brown fox” as a single unit when you glance at it. If you only have to repeat the fixation-comprehension-saccade cycle four times when reading this sentence, instead of nine, your overall reading speed will roughly double. The more words you’re able to take in and comprehend at once, the faster you’re able to read.

Like anything, this takes practice, but with practice you can regularly improve. Think of all the books you can get through if you’re reading twice as fast as you do now! At 250 words per minute, it would take me about 6 hours of straight reading to finish a 90,000 word novel. Because six hours is a long time to sit in one spot, it tends to take me an entire day to finish off a novel of this length, as I’m regularly up to make tea, or lunch, or walk the dogs, etc. However, if, with practice, I managed to maintain my 600 wpm pace for an entire book, I could read that same 90,000 word novel in about 2.5 hours – much easier to do in a single sitting!

And this might be the best part – just imagine the dent you could finally make in that ever-growing To-Be-Read pile…..

Incidentally, and as an aside, I was curious about how fast agents read since they have to do a lot of reading as part of their job. My agent, Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary, was nice enough to humour me with a few answers. Here’s her response:

Manuscripts [requested/read per week]: anywhere between 2 & 8, depending on whether I’m focusing on queries or backlogged submissions that week and whether I’m just reading or editing. If I am just reading a new client work, I usually save that for the weekend or evenings. If I am doing edits that’s something I will work on during the work day. I think I read slightly faster than average–although I also think some agents will stop when they feel themselves disengage with a manuscript and I try to read to the end always. (Unless it’s truly terrible or there’s a glaring problem apparent early that I know I can’t or don’t want to fix.) If I am literally not doing anything else (I often switch back and forth between tasks) I can get through a whole manuscript of that length in a day. Again, if I am editing, that number probably triples. If I had to pick an average number, I would say I probably read 4 a week, on average.

I took the [Staples' reading speed] test and got 309 words per minute, which was 24% faster than the national average. However, the first time I read way faster and failed the little test–but I do think that’s more indicative of the way I read as an agent anyway. Now, as an English major, I slowed it down for comprehension, and when I edit I think I read like that too, but if I’m just trying to get the flavor of a manuscript, I go with that faster, less critical style of reading.

However, I also think it’s important to add that how fast an agent reads is only one part of the picture. Sometimes I will go back and re-read. Sometimes the phone won’t stop ringing or co-workers are feeling extra chatty. Sometimes I struggle to get through something. Sometimes I spend all day doing queries/e-mails and only read a manuscript for an hour or two. Every day is different and every agent is VASTLY different.

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