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Received Asks: How Did You Pick the Name You Create Under and What Influenced that Decision?

A collaboratively written post by multiple members of Duck Prints Press. The input of every individual author has been used and lightly edited with permission and credited in the way they’ve requested.

Two days ago, a member of Duck Prints Press posed the following questions to our blogging team:

  • Whether you publish under a pen name or your given name, what factored into your decision to use one or the other?
  • Was personal safety the primary reason behind deciding to use a pen name, or were there other reasons? 
  • If you use your given name, do you feel safe? 
  • What’s your advice for [creators] who are thinking about publishing original [work]? 

A number of us replied, and we all felt that the compiled responses would make a good post to share, as “whether or not to use a pen name” is a recurring question we often get in-server, and is likely one many of y’all out there thinking of publishing your original work have pondered as well. 

Do you publish under a pen name or use your given name, and what factors influenced your decision to use one or the other?

@arialerendeair: I publish under a pseudonym and always will! I decided to go with names that riff off my fanfic name (Aria Lerendeair) – Aria L. Deair (for non-erotica) and Aria D. Leren (for erotica) because I’ve built a community and wanted it to be a bit of an in-joke when they find/buy my content. If someone were to find the story organically – they might get the name reference, they might not. It’s a fun way to create not-separation between the names and have one for the different genres! 

B. T. Fish: I (try to) stay anonymous aside from necessary contracts because of personal safety as regards certain family members. I honestly don’t worry about strangers knowing who I am, but if I am aiming for anonymity I have to commit.

Annabeth Lynch: I use a pen name, but I plan on taking at least the first name as my legal name when possible. I won’t share that or my pen name with my family because 1) they don’t know I write, and I’m not content to share that with them at all, and 2) I don’t want them to know I’m queer. They likely wouldn’t be hellish about it but I would certainly be mocked. Also, now I live in the south and while I live in a liberal section because of the nearby colleges, the place I want to move after my husband’s schooling is ~liberal~ in a vague way but definitely not as good as where I am now. It’s one reason why I’m hesitant to try and get my books in bookstores that might want in-person events.

Dei Walker: I went with a pen name for the erotica I wrote for DPP (and I’ll keep with that), but the first name holds a link with my real name in some ways. My husband’s a teacher at a fairly prestigious private school, and there’s a degree of “yeah my wife writes smut” that’s okay with colleagues but isn’t okay if the parents find out about it if they use search engines to learn more about me.

Willa Blythe: I chose to use a pen name. One, my real name is kind of weirdly spelled and I don’t actually even use my first name because it is a very popular name from the 80s that my parents left a letter out of… I go by my middle name but I spell it differently than what’s on my birth certificate, and I’ve gone by this name since I was 18. Everyone in my life knows me as (NAME) save my family, and they know I go by that. It’s not a nickname, it’s my name, and that’s fine. 

Anonymous: I decided to use a pen name for two reasons: 1) my name is incomprehensible to English speakers – not only is it hard to pronounce, but it also uses special characters; 2) I’m a primary teacher in a small town where gossip goes wild (for example, when I decided to go part-time so I have more time for writing it was going around that I was pregnant ) so I don’t want anyone to find out that I’m queer and write queer romance. There are idiots out there who wouldn’t want me to teach their kids because of that. I eventually came up with a pen name that is a word play on my legal name so it still feels like me, and the people I want to know would recognize it as me but strangers are unlikely to make the connection.

Nina Waters ( @unforth ): I publish under a pen name because people always mispronounce my last name and my understanding is that it’s better to make a pen name people can pronounce. Back when I was still considering trad pub, I was planning to use multiple pen names so I could write across genres. Nina Waters was gonna be spec fic and romance, but I love historical drama type stuff too and like. Those sell better with a male name on them? So I was gonna use either C. P. Houck (so, my actual initials and last name) or Charles (or maybe Chuck) P. Houck, since Charles is a family name (my uncle, my grandfather, and my great grandfather on my dad’s side are all Charles’s). That all said, when I decided to go the small Press creation route instead, there was basically no way to keep my real name out of things since as the owner I have to put it on all official paperwork, which means it’s filed with the government and a matter of public record. Since anyone could access it, there didn’t seem to be much point in keeping it a secret/separate. 

Was personal safety the primary reason behind deciding to use a pen name? What other reasons influenced your decisions?

(some authors included their answers to this in their replies above)

Nina Waters: Not really, though I did originally concoct the Nina Waters name for a really silly version of personal safety? I was writing a thing based on my unrequited feelings for someone and I obviously couldn’t put that under my real name without risking them figuring it out, so I needed a pen name. I never did finish that project lmao and now I would never bother but the pen name stuck. 

arialerendeair: Part of [why I use a pen name] is because I was doxxed (and received threats) from a non-writing community almost a decade ago. I’m not afraid of attaching my real name to my works – I’m proud of them! But with the very real possibility of that happening again at some point in the future, I didn’t want to risk it!

Willa Blythe: There was an additional reason that using a pen name was important to me, though. When I wrote fan fiction, I was the victim of a targeted hate campaign aimed at people who wrote fanfiction about a certain character. I wrote fic that I loved and I stayed in my corner, but I got aggressive and hateful messages constantly about not only myself but also my young son, for the crime of choosing to write about a young man of color instead of the overwhelmingly popular white m/m ship in that fandom. It was alarming, especially when people I didn’t know sent me messages about my workplace and my movements there. Prior to that, I’d been pretty open online. I’m not now. I take doxxing very seriously. My son’s safety, but also my own and my roommate’s, are of huge importance. I write about things people don’t love: complicated queer relationships, critiques of capitalism and white supremacy, critiques of religion and spiritual practices, etc. I have to do what is necessary to create distance between my real life, my fandom life, and my writing life. That said… I’ve done more to separate my fandom and writing identities than my real and writing identities, for a variety of reasons. It’s complicated, but as much as I love fandom, it does breed a certain kind of entitlement that my personal friends and family just don’t have.

If you use your given name, do you feel safe?

@owlishintergalactic: My wife and I had a huge conversation about the implications of me writing under my wallet name. I am quite politically involved in the Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education sectors in my county and state. This is a sector where being openly LGBTQ can cause problems with a particular subset of parents and voters. Yet, we don’t believe we should have to hide who we are and that we are LGBTQ – like many other parents in our state. We decided, in the end, that since I don’t write anything more racy than “mature,” it makes sense to build my platform using my real name. My writing is a part of me. It is a part of my advocacy. It’s my profession. But it is a risk, and it’s mitigated some because I live in one of the most open and inclusive communities in the US. For the most part, though, I do almost all of my online work under a variation of Owlish because it creates a layer of protection between me and the internet masses who don’t always have the best intentions.

Nina Waters: I. uh. Mostly? I definitely worry about it. I’ve been thinking about getting a P. O. Box for the business so I at least don’t have to use my real address all the time too. I worry that if someone took offense to the kind of work I do, they could go after my children, and that scares the crap out of me. In retrospect I wish I’d worked a little harder to keep my identities separate, but they were already mostly merged by the time I had kids and I’d have had to completely restart with new screen names and everything, so it felt like it was already too late by the time the business became public.

What’s your advice for [creators] who are thinking about publishing original [work]?

Nina Waters: The advice I give to people in the Press is if they’re even a LITTLE unsure, they should use a pen name. At any time when they decide they’re comfortable they can always switch to using their real name, but once the genie’s out of the bottle there’s no putting it back.

arialerendeair: There are a great many reasons to choose to use a pseud! For your own personal reasons, for reasons involving your spouse, your family, your activism work, because the internet is a scary place sometimes and many grew up in the web safety diligence era. If you are picking up a pseud for any reason at all – great! They can be fun, they can be punny, (is it a coincidence that D is the middle initial for my pseud that I write erotica under? Nope!) and they can be a chance to reinvent yourself for an audience that doesn’t know you yet. There’s a power in being able to shape a persona – and sometimes it’s fun to grab that and see where it leads!

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Do you – yes, you, the person reading this! – use a pen name for publishing your art, fiction, or other types of creations? Have you kept your fandom, creation, and meatspace selves separate? We’d love to hear your answers to the above questions, so feel free to comment and weigh in!

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Have a question? Feel free to drop us an ask any time!

Want to support what we do and get access to extras and behind-the-scenes information? Back us on Patreon or ko-fi!

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Wondering What We’re Working On?

Well, wonder no more!

A week ago (Sunday, August 28th, 2022) we held our second-ever all-server meeting – a now-monthly event inaugurated in July, where everyone involved with Duck Prints Press (authors, artists, designers, ko-fi/Patreon monthly backers, etc.) is invited to jump into a channel on our Discord, listen to some updates on our current projects and upcoming plans, and ask questions, comment, make suggestions, and generally get more involved! At the meeting, many people indicated that they wanted a better idea of what the Press staff are actually doing, on a day-to-day basis, and @hermit-writes (WordPress) suggested it would be easy for us to set up a public-facing Trello board, especially because we already use Trello to do most of our behind-the-scenes task organization/management. We opened that up to a general vote and the response was overwhelming, YES WE WANT TO KNOW! So, with Hermit’s help, the thing is now done – and y’all can see too!

As part of Duck Prints Press’s ongoing commitment to transparency, we present you: a Trello board listing what we’re working on and project status, available for everyone to see!

This Trello board includes all of our current projects and short-term plans (roughly the next quarter-or-so), and the status of individual tasks associated with the project. You do not need a Trello account to view it. We expect to add a calendar component to it too (transferring our existing, rather bare-bones, Google Calendar into the Trello so that everything is in one place). We encourage you to take a peek and keep an eye on what we’re up to and how we’re progressing!

As always, we’re here to provide information to our contributors, staff, readership, curious public, really everyone involved in the Press in anyway – so always feel free to let us know if you have questions, comments, feedback, etc.

(and – want to support what we do? we heart our monthly supporters on ko-fi and Patreon, and we’d love to have you, yes YOU, on board too!)

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Planning Using the Three-Act Structure: Dystopian Novels

This is the third in a series of posts about the Three-Act structure, written by guest blogger Annabeth Lynch. Part 1: Romance Novels. Part 2: Mystery Novels.

It’s time for another crash course in writing! This time, we’ll be discussing the outline of a dystopian book. Ernest Hemingway gave my favorite description of being an author: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” So set up that typewriter and let’s start bleeding.

Before we begin breaking down this structure as it applies specifically to dystopian stories, a little background on the three-act structure. I’ve written about this structure as it applies to romance and mystery. Most Western novels are written with this structure, which is separated into three sections. First, the beginning, aptly named the Setup, is the first 25% of the story. The second act is called the Confrontation, taking up half the story, 25%-75%. The last quarter of the story, from 75% to 100%, is the Resolution. This is the novel in its most basic form. It’s a good measure of how the story needs to progress, but there’s a lot of wiggle room in such a broad system. Also, what should happen in each of these sections varies by genre, hence this series of posts. This time, we’re going to break down the acts into plot points and show approximately which events should go in each section when you’re writing a dystopian story.

Dystopian novels usually clock in at 60,000 to 120,000 words, so we’ll base the word count on the average, which is 90,000. Though dystopian novels are often turned into series, for simplicity’s sake we’ll work with the idea that this novel is a stand-alone. This same structure can be used on a larger scale for a series if desired, though – just recalculate the word counts appropriately.

The Setup

This act is about laying the foundation of the novel. This is where your hook should be, right at the beginning. Additionally, the reader should get a glimpse of the main character(s) in their average life and develop a baseline understanding of how the world works. In a dystopian novel, some aspect of society or the world is exaggerated and therefore causing problems for the characters. The main two causes of a dystopia are a man-made disaster or a natural disaster or descent of society. Readers will want to know what caused your specific dystopia to come about and how these events have affected the populous.

At the 12% mark (approximately 10,800 words in), the inciting incident should occur. After the world is established in the reader’s head, it’s time to introduce the crux of the plot. In dystopian books, because this subgenre can be used in multiple larger genres (like sci-fi or fantasy) there’s a lot of room to work with different types of stories you can tell. Regardless of which direction you choose to write in, the inciting incident should affect all the main characters and function as a call to action that they will undoubtedly rise to –  whether because they want to incite change or because there’s no other option left to them.

By 20% (18,000 words) of the way in, all the important characters should have been introduced. This goal is a little flexible because worldbuilding takes a little longer in dystopian novels, but you shouldn’t take much longer than this. The other characters will need the remaining word count to really make an impact on the plot! You don’t want to run the risk of a seeming deus-ex-machina solution by waiting to introduce a crucial character only at the critical moment.

The Setup ends at 25% (22,500 words), when the first major plot point should occur. This is where the story starts to pick up and the heroes’ journey begins. They embark on their mission or escape their bonds, or they’ve learned some hint about how to fix the world, or they or someone they know comes down with the illness plaguing the world – whatever needs to happen to move them into the next stage of the story.

The Confrontation

This is the meat of the story. It makes up roughly half of the whole novel and includes most of the build-up. Now is the time to ratchet up the tension and help the reader get their bearings in the developing story situation. This part will contain most of the important plot points except the three C’s (more on those later) since, in dystopian stories, the first act is will usually be focused on world- and character-building.

At about 37% (33,300 words) is the first pinch point, and is also usually a good excuse to give a little more backstory. Anything that connects the main character(s) to the main “problem” of the story should be brought up. Were they present when the military rolled through to institute a police state? Was their mother instrumental in the creation of the disease? What does the state of the world now mean to them, and what do they plan to do about it? Clear up some of the past for the readers!

50% (45,000 words) is the midpoint. As in most genres, this is the time for a false high or a false low. A false high would be a point in the story when it looks as though the journey is coming to end, when the characters appear on the verge of being victorious and winning the day only to be crushed under the weight of finding out they’re only halfway done. On the flip side, a false low would be when all looks hopeless until they find something or someone that will help them rise up and take their victory.

Around 62% (55,800 words) comes the second pinch point. This can take a few different forms. It could be another chance for you to reveal the backstory, like a flashback, or, if – for example – you’re writing a romantic subplot, this could be a moment that brings the couple together and increases intimacy. This pinch point should mainly further the secondary plot, whatever thing(s) your character(s) is struggling with beyond the main conflict.

The end of act two comes with the second plot point at 75% (67,500 words). This is when the stakes are raised to an all-time high. We’re approaching the end now and the characters should feel the pressure. Unfortunately for them, this is also when things should go sideways. The worst possible thing happens, but it doesn’t deter them (at least, not for long).

The Resolution

We’re almost done, and you’ve reached the action-packed, fast-paced part of the book. This is where the three C’s I mentioned earlier come in. The C’s stand for Crisis, Climax, and Conclusion.

The Crisis kicks off at roughly the 87% point (78,300 words) of the story. Having overcome the problems from the second plot point that ended the Confrontation, the characters are thrust once again into danger, whether by circumstance or by their own actions. This is also when they often learn a life lesson that will be important to overcoming their adversaries.

The turnaround from the Crisis to the Climax is quick, coming in at 90% (81,000 words). The big showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist, who is usually the perpetrator of the problem(s) plaguing the world. A large chunk of the book should be taken up by this fight, with guns blazing and all the new technology introduced in this world brought out to play.

When reading the Conclusion (the final few thousand words), readers will want to know how the world is after the perpetrator of the suffering has been removed from the picture. This can also be an epilogue if you prefer a more in-depth look at where the characters are now.

And that’s the whole book! The three-act structure outline for a dystopian story has more room for interpretation/changes because it can be applied across multiple genres and scenarios, but that just makes it more fun! Remember that while this is a general guide, you are who makes your book. No one can write the same thing the exact same way you would, and that’s what makes it special. Until next time, happy bleeding!

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How the Disney Method Can Help Your Writing Process

A guest blog post by Mitchan!

Do you have problems beginning that new story percolating in your head? Are you feeling afflicted with writer’s block? Are you stuck on a scene with no idea how to move forward? Do you feel that your current ideas are stale and trite? Perhaps the Disney method can help you!

If you work in business or design, you might have heard of it before. The Walt Disney method is a creative strategy designed to find and develop unconventional ideas. While inspired by the way Walt Disney worked, the method itself was proposed by Robert Dilts in 1994.

In the Walt Disney method, the creator divides thmself into three separate roles: the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic. These three roles must work separately in three stages: 

First, the Dreamer brainstorms ideas in a focused way. The more the better. No limits or restraint. There are no “bad”, “stupid”, or “impossible” ideas; you can embrace the crazy and the stupid as much as you want. It’s still a focused brainstorm: you’re dreaming for an objective, say, a new amusement park attraction, ways to get your characters out of a pinch, the funniest and/or most character-focused problems you can add to your story… anything you need ideas for. 

  • Instead of sitting down and writing or typing your ideas, walk around and record yourself saying your ideas out loud. Speak without pause for 5 or 10 minutes. Look above the horizon to stimulate your creative brain. Some business websites recommend setting up different rooms for each stage of the process, so why not try a change of space? Go outside or to a room different from the one you usually work in. 

Once you’ve got loads of ideas, it’s the Realist’s turn. The job of the Realist is to look at the Dreamer’s ideas and think: How do we make them possible? The Realist doesn’t say “No”. It’s not the Realist’s job to say whether an idea is bad or won’t work. In this role, you must assume anything is possible and limit yourself to asking: How can I execute this? For our amusement park example, the Realist would select and bring in specialists who could make plans to turn a crazy idea into a real ride. 

  • Listen to the recording you made in the previous step. Without discarding any ideas, start with the most interesting or promising ones, and develop them. Write a rough draft or the details of what would happen in a scene. Do the necessary research. Reorganize scenes as needed. Try working on a whiteboard with markers and post-its: a place where you can stand up and look at your ideas in front of you. 

Once you have a solid proposal, or in a writer’s case, a complete first draft, the Critic comes in. The Critic’s job is to detect and correct flaws, mistakes, and risks (something crucial if you’re making an amusement park ride!). This is the moment to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work, what stays and what goes. 

  • Sit down with the printed-out draft on the desk, where you can look down at it, and use a red pen to mark places that need re-working or any contradictions in the narrative. Tighten the phrasing and clear up confusing details. Clean up the draft.

The stages then repeat as needed: for more ideas, go back to the Dreamer, then develop them, then edit again. 

The changes in position help to change your own perspective on the work, to dream or execute or evaluate more objectively. 

You probably already do something similar in your writing process: you have an idea, make an outline, write a first draft, then a second, a third and fourth and so on. You have alpha and beta readers who help brainstorm ideas, develop them, and correct the draft.  

Personally, the most helpful takeaway of this model is the neat separation of the roles. The Dreamer and the Critic cannot work in the same stage: criticism stifles creativity. When I’m outlining, brainstorming, or writing a rough draft, it helps me to keep this in mind. If I find myself getting judgmental about my story, I take a deep breath and tell the Critic to shut the fuck up. Whenever I’m blocked, I’ve found it often comes from me being too critical in a stage of the process when I need to be dreaming or just executing. 

Of course, the three roles are equally important in the creative process. Without the Dreamer we wouldn’t have new ideas; without the realist we would never do anything with them; without the Critic the work wouldn’t be as clean and clear as it can be. 

I have used this method before to write a stand-up comedy routine, which requires a lot of crazy ideas and well-developed set-ups and punchlines, but it can work for any creative needs. I have also applied the brainstorming method to develop the heist in my upcoming story in She Wears the Midnight Crown, as well as to think up character-based conflicts for previous fanfiction and original stories.

As with any other strategy or method, it’s up to you to try it, use what works for you and discard what doesn’t. I hope this can help you if you’re stuck, or at least inspires you to try something different! 

Have you ever used the Walt Disney method? How was your experience? Would you do anything differently? Are there any other methods that work better for you that you’d like to recommend? Let us know! 

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How to Ask for Feedback on Your Writing

A guest post by B. T. Fish (@fishwritesfic).

It can be daunting to ask for feedback on our work. Past negative experiences, horror stories from friends, fear of people disliking something we’ve worked so hard on, uncertainty about what to input to ask for, and many other factors can make it seem easier to write our stories alone rather than show them to another person. 

Once you understand how to ask for feedback, however, sharing your works-in-progress can become a valuable tool for gathering information and honing your craft. So if you’re struggling with your work in progress, hoping to publish or publicize your story in some way, or are looking to develop your writerly skills, read on to learn how to ask for the right feedback for your needs!

How to ask for feedback

First, and most importantly: You don’t need to ask for feedback. Whether you ask for input depends on your individual writing, editing, and publishing goals. This post starts at the point of assuming you’ve already decided that you’d like feedback, but are hesitant or struggling for whatever reason. Here are some tips on getting the type of feedback you’d like – feedback that helps you move forward armed with useful information.

1. Be specific

Do not let people guess what you want. They will guess wrong. 

Even experienced editors need to be given some directions so they can focus on the aspect(s) of the story that you’re concerned about. For example, if they give suggestions on a story element you’d thought was fine, but offer no comments about dialog which you’re afraid sounds stilted, you may end up feeling more anxious than before. So when soliciting feedback on your work, tell your reader exactly what type of feedback/information you’re looking for, and ask them not to color outside those lines unless you allow it. Your questions will help your readers focus their energy and give you feedback you can actually use. (More on what types of feedback or aspects of the story you may want to consider is later in this post!)

If your work is being edited for publication, this rule changes slightly since your editor will also be applying their own suggestions to help get your story ready for their particular outlet, but you’re still welcome to ask any additional questions and request feedback on the things you’re worried about! 

2. Think about what stage your story is at

Different stages of writing need different types of feedback. Too nitpicky early on, and you might waste effort polishing passages that don’t make it to the final story—and it’s easier to fix big-picture issues earlier in the writing process. A good rule of thumb is to start broad at first, and get progressively more specific as the story takes shape.

Early-stage: When you’re still brainstorming ideas and working on your first draft. Early-stage readers (often called alpha readers) are there to help you understand how your story is coming across but not to give value judgments.

Some example questions to ask early-stage readers:

  • Characterization: What are your impressions of the main character(s)? Who do you think they are, what are their motivations? What do you find interesting or cliche about them?
  • Worldbuilding/Setting: What is most interesting/surprising/confusing to you about this world? What is important to the people in this society? How is this world similar to or different from yours? 
  • Mood/Tone: Does it feel funny, dark, matter-of-fact, poignant, exciting? What parts make it feel that way? Is the narrator’s tone matter-of-fact, dramatic, funny, and does it feel jarring to read?
  • Plot: What do you think this story is about? What do you expect to happen next based on what you’ve read so far?
  • Sensitivity: If you’re familiar with the disability/job/experience described in this story, how well did it reflect your experience? Where did it fall short? What sorts of details would be more appropriate or accurate to include?
  • In General: What confused you? What excited you? What wasn’t as interesting? What made you want to read more?

Early-stage feedback is for collecting impressions, finding out what people are interested in, confused by, what they think the story is about, etc. This is important information for you as a writer as you aim to assess whether your writing is faithfully conveying your ideas. If people generally have the wrong impression about something that you thought was obvious, that could be an indication that you need to rework that part of the story to make the important details more clear. 

If solicited before you’ve completed your manuscript first draft, early-stage feedback can also give you ideas for how to move forward. If people are excited by a certain theme, you might decide to emphasize that theme. If they all expect the same thing to happen next, you might do something to subvert those expectations—or play into them—or, if it’s not at all what you had in mind, tone down the hints leading to that conclusion.

If you want reliable feedback, it’s often better to keep your questions general and avoid spoilers. For example, if you’re trying to figure out “does the reveal about Character A work?” and you directly ask that, your early-stage reader will already be clued in and on the look out specifically for that, so you won’t get a clear idea of what a reader who isn’t “primed” would read. 

 However, if you want to ask your reader for more specific or technical advice at this stage, be ready to share more so they can better help you (e.g. the story concept, where you’re at in the writing process, what unanswered questions you still have about the world, the characters, and the plot). You can always wait and share this information after they’ve read the passage if you don’t want to spoil their reading.

Middle-stage: Once you’re sure that your story’s most basic aspects are sound, try asking more technical questions about story structure, pacing, tone, and characterization. You don’t need to give much context; instead, see what the readers understood from the story itself. This helps ensure that your writing is clear and accurate to your intentions.

Some example questions to ask middle-stage readers:

  • Characterization: How does the main character come across to you at the beginning of the story? Have your impressions changed by the end, and why? What moments made you empathize with them? Do their actions feel justified? If not, what parts felt contradictory or confusing? What are your favorite and least favorite parts of them?
  • Worldbuilding/Setting: How does the setting affect the way you understand or think about this story? What details made you feel like you were really immersed in the world? What details or descriptions pulled you out of the world? What felt confusing or contradictory? What felt especially meaningful or cool? Did anything feel random, inconsistent, pointless, irrelevant or unnecessary? 
  • Mood/Tone: Is the narrator’s tone flowery or lyrical? Matter-of-fact? Is the mood (the feeling you get from the story) dark, funny, tense? Where does it shift, and do any of the shifts feel jarring?
  • Plot: Does the story feel ‘finished’ at the end? If not, what do you feel is missing? What unanswered questions are you left with? Are there any storylines that you wished you could have read more of? What parts did you want to skip or skim? 
  • Sensitivity: Same as for early-stage readers If you’re familiar with the disability/job/experience described in this story, how well did it reflect your experience? Where did it fall short? What sorts of details would be more appropriate or accurate to include?
  • In General: Same questions as early-stage, but also: what themes or motifs did you notice in the story?

The goal of these questions is to get more technical feedback; looking at the whole story, what works well, what is missing, and what takes away from the story’s success? These more specific questions can help you in your revisions as you decide what to elaborate on, rewrite, or cut.

Late-stage: After a few rounds of edits, you might be ready for a beta reader. In fanfiction circles, a beta reader is an all-rounder who helps with everything from brainstorming to proofreading, but here I’m referring to the person who reads your story before publication to give you one last chance for edits before sharing with the general public.

If you’re at this stage, you can ask many of the same questions as for early and mid-stage feedback, but also let your reader get more into the weeds about thematic elements, contradictions in characterization, plot holes, and details about the world that still seem inconsistent or confusing. Ask them to be picky; the story is all there, this is your chance to make sure it hangs together.

Spelling and Grammar Feedback: Once you’re sure your project tells the story you want to tell, you may solicit an editor to give you feedback on Spelling and Grammar (SPAG). It’s equally important to make sure this person is clear on what aspects of the story they’re supposed to focus on, and you should specify if you want their input at all on conceptual aspects of the story or if you’d prefer them to focus on clarity, proper grammar, spelling, and the other technical components of the story.

3. Choose your readers carefully

As important as the questions you ask is who you’re asking them of. Will this person respect your boundaries and only give the feedback you request? Will they be honest with you and non-judgmental toward your writing? Close friends and family can often seem like convenient, ready-made readers. However, unless you’ve worked with them before and know how they’ll behave, proceed with caution. People who are too close to you might be too gentle because they want to make you happy, or they might ignore your boundaries because they think they know what you need better than you do or that those boundaries apply only to strangers. If someone, because of their relationship to you, is going to give responses you can’t trust, don’t ask them. 

Great readers are often other writers. Join writing groups (Eventbrite, Meetup, NaNoWriMo regional groups, and local writing cooperatives are good places to start), writing courses (my personal favorite is the International Writers’ Collective, and Clarion is also widely popular and well respected, but also look for courses near you!), and reach out to people whose fanfiction or original writing you admire. It can seem scary to contact people out of the blue, but these are all people with the same hobby as you, and even if they’re too busy to work with you they’ll be happy to know you appreciate their writing!

You can offer to trade feedback, too. Trading feedback is a great way to build your skills twice as fast – as you learn to give critique, you can also better learn how to apply critical reading skills to your own writing. 

4. Ask for help from multiple people

Spreading out the job of giving feedback can make the job easier on your readers. It can also mitigate the sometimes intense emotions that come with getting feedback. If no single person is commenting on everything, then you won’t feel as burdened by any one person’s opinions.

Some areas you could ask different people for help with include:

Brainstorming: If you have a friend whose ideas complement yours, ask them if they have time to talk stories with you! All ideas are good ideas when you’re brainstorming.

Developmental edits: Developmental editors can listen to where you want your story to go, see where it’s at now, and help you cross that sometimes-frightening gap between the two. Some editors are trained in this, but a trusted writing friend who has editing experience can also be a huge help with developmental edits.

General Story Comprehension: Check that your story makes sense (and if not, where/why/how it went wrong). The example questions under the early-stage and middle-stage feedback stages are great for your general-comprehension readers.

Characterization: Although you have an idea of who your characters are, does that come across to your readers? Ask someone who loves characterization to help!

Sensitivity readers and/or subject matter experts: When writing about an experience, location, or type of character that you’re not familiar with, try finding people who’ve lived that experience to check whether your descriptions resonate with them.

Beta reading: Ask someone who reads voraciously to go through the whole story and make note of all their unanswered questions, plot holes they spot, things they loved, things that were confusing, etc.

Proofreaders: Your beautiful grammar nerds. If you’re working with a publisher, your editor will likely do a proofread. If you’re self-publishing, don’t skip this step! Editing software can help but won’t capture all of those stray en-dashes where an em-dash should be. 

5. Remember feedback is a tool, not a prescription

When you get your feedback, don’t panic! It’s for you to use as you wish, and most writers only act on a small part of the feedback they receive.

You can use your reader feedback in unexpected ways. For example, if someone says that they really wanted to see more of a side plot, that may convince you to develop it more. However, if you didn’t want them to care so much and think it’s detracting from the main story, you could cut it and save it for its own story.

Additionally, there is no rule that says you have to ask for feedback for every story or stage of your writing process. If you’re writing a short story that you feel confident about, you might only want a quick round of feedback at the end. If you’re doing a long, multi-chapter piece, you might do a mix of early and middle-stage feedback for different sections of the story. One story might come so easily that it feels like it’s writing itself while the next needs lots of extra help. 

This is all normal. You’re not losing your touch if you need more input on certain stories; every story is unique.

6. It’s Okay to Ask for Only Praise

Normalize the writing cheerleader! As someone who has both given and received writer cheerleading, I truly don’t know how I wrote before discovering this. It’s less structured and has more emotional investment than other types of feedback, so is a bigger commitment for your reader. If you want a writing cheerleader, explain to your reader what you’re hoping for and ask them if this is help they’d be comfortable with providing. 

A writing cheerleader will shower you with praise, poke you for updates, and generally be your emotional-support reader. If you’re struggling to get words on the page or have been feeling down about your writing, they can make the difference between finishing your story and never touching it again. But even if your writing life is mostly smooth sailing, it’s still valid to want to find a reader who’s excited to read what you send them and who gives you unmitigated love in return. Let them boost your ego; you can be critical once the draft is written. No matter how cringey it may seem at first, the joy is infectious, and it works.

The Feedback You Never Knew You Needed

Before you start asking for feedback, you may wonder why anyone bothers exposing themselves to potential criticism. And even after this becomes a normal part of your practice, you will sometimes get feedback that doesn’t help or reflects the reader more than the writer.

So why ask for feedback?

Beyond developing your critical reading skills and learning more about your own writing, feedback can teach you about people: how they think, what they notice, what makes them care. It helps you understand how other people experience the things you write so you can start writing in those ways more deliberately. It can also help you learn to manage your “preciousness” about your own writing—when you let other people dissect your work, even if they’re not making value judgments, there’s going to be some discomfort. Learning to push through that for the sake of growth is like developing a superpower. You’ll start seeing your writing as the medium through which you communicate with your readers and developing ways to do that even more effectively.

Do you need to ask for feedback? Absolutely not. But if you’ve decided you want feedback and you learn to ask, accurately and clearly, for the kind of feedback you want, it can be incredibly useful, and—dare I say it?—fun.

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Planning Using the Three-Act Structure: Mystery Novels

This is the second in a series of posts about the Three-Act structure, written by guest blogger Annabeth Lynch. You can read the first post, Romance Novels, here.

Writing can be a difficult undertaking. Like most anything that’s worth doing, it’ll test your skills and determination. Ernest Hemingway gave my favorite description of being an author:  “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It’s beneficial to have a game plan to help you move along, even if you’re a pantser like me.

Are you ready to bleed? Good. Let’s start with the breakdown of the three-act structure. It basically separates the story into the beginning, the middle, and the end. They’re formally known as the Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution. The Setup takes the first quarter up to the first 25% of the full story length, the Confrontation is the middle half from 25% of the total word count to about 75%, and the Resolution makes up the last quarter, from about the 75% point to the end at 100%. This is a Western story composition, a typical structure across genres. I’ve already made a post about this structure in relation to the romance genre here, but though it follows the same rules, the plot points are different. What follows are the basic guidelines for a mystery novel, including the approximate word count at each milestone. Mystery novels are typically 80,000 to 90,000 and we’ll be working based on an expected word count of 90,000.

The Setup

This is where you lay the groundwork for your novel. As always, it should begin with your hook–the situation or goal that lures in your readers. After that, it’s time to begin your world and character building. Here you should establish the baseline for your world, anything that makes it different from the real world, and the reader should also get a feel for your character(s) and their routine. This part sets the tone for the rest of the book.

At the 12% mark (10,800 words in) is the inciting incident. In mystery novels, this will be the crime that will be investigated–the call to action that your amateur or professional sleuth will undoubtedly rise to. Whether they accept it right off the bat or after careful consideration, it shouldn’t take much longer than this point for them to decide to take action.

By 20% of the way in (18,000 words), all important characters should be introduced. As this is a mystery book, they don’t need to be introduced directly–the reader just needs to know they exist. For example, if you don’t want the antagonist to be someone that is actively on the page, that’s fine, but the reader must know that they exist, even if only as a mysterious “someone” committing the crime. Of course, it can also be someone that already has a name and has shown up in the protagonist’s life!

The first major plot point comes around 25% (22,500 words) into the book, at the end of the Setup. This is where the stakes are raised and the case starts to become personal to the protagonist. Whether it’s something small, like the antagonist goading them, or big, like a friend falling victim, it needs to be something that will cause the protagonist to feel closer to the investigation and throw more of themselves into it.

The Confrontation

This act is most of the book and includes almost all of the build-up and a fair amount of the action. This is the meat of the story. Tension and suspense are going to be thick here; now is not the time to skimp on detail. Senses are going to be your best friends during this section; your readers are going to want to feel like they are also solving this crime. Does the protagonist have goosebumps? Is the hair on the back of their neck standing up? The readers want to know it all!

At about 37% (33,300 words) is the first pinch point. This is usually when another person falls victim to the antagonist, but it can also be a good place for a look into the antagonist’s life. Perhaps we see a glimpse of them or get a piece of information about them as a person. Either way, one of the bigger clues should be dropped here, bringing the main character(s) one step closer to solving the mystery.

50% (45,000 words) is the midpoint. This is when your false high or false low comes in. A false high makes it look like the protagonist is going to be victorious and solve the case, but it turns out to have been misleading and they are back to square one. False lows are the opposite, making it seem like there’s no hope of ever catching the criminal just before they make a breakthrough in the case. In addition, this is typically when we discover the antagonist’s reason(s) for committing these heinous crimes and what motivates them.

Around 62% (55,800 words) comes the second pinch point. Here is another chance to get a look at the person committing the crime(s), whether through another victim or because the main character has gained more understanding or insight. This is also a good time for any development in an internal plot or goal for your protagonist, or for character growth that will ultimately help them solve the case.

The second plot point comes into play at 75% (67,500 words), or the end of act two. This raises the stakes of the plot to their peak. This is usually the part where we see the main character recommitting to solving the case (especially if they were discouraged by the false low or the high stakes). It should become clear at this point that the protagonist is going to have to confront (see what I did there?) the antagonist and possibly they should start plotting out how they will go about it. The plan usually doesn’t go as expected, but that’s a problem for the next part.

The Resolution

You’re getting close to the end now! This part is action-packed and, for the most part, fast-paced. Things are going to be falling into place, and setting up for a good ending. This section is comprised of the three C’s: Crisis, Climax, and Conclusion.

The Crisis kicks off at 87% (approximately 78,300 words). Now is when the big questions that have been posed throughout the story are answered. Will the antagonist win and get away with it all? Will the protagonist do what it takes to win? Are they strong enough to face what must be done? This is also when the main character figures out their overarching problems and learns the life lesson that the Setup posed.

The Climax comes quickly after the crisis, at 90% (81,000 words). All the clues should fall into place to reveal the culprit, and the showdown between the protagonist and antagonist finally occurs. Usually, there’s a moment where the main character looks to be beaten by the villain, with no hope to escape. There are many ways this can be solved–cleverness on the part of the protagonist, or rescue by close friends, or even teaming up with potential or past victims. However you go about it, it should be satisfying and connect to the core of the story lesson, goal, and the life issues previously introduced, such as the character embracing themselves or trusting others.

By the end, readers are looking for a view of how life is now that the criminal has been stopped. Conclusions often offer a glimpse of how the main character is doing and, most importantly, whether justice was served or if the antagonist weaseled out of it (which is often the case in multi-book series). This can also be an epilogue if you’re partial to them.

You did it! That’s the whole book!

I hope this is helpful for anyone struggling with the bones of a mystery story. Remember, this is just a general guide and you can modify/edit/reject any parts of this that you don’t like. You make your story interesting and unique! Don’t underestimate the power of your own input. Until next time, happy bleeding!

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Planning Using the Three-Act Structure: Romance Novels

This is the first in a series of posts about the Three-Act structure, written by guest blogger Annabeth Lynch. You can read the second post in the series, Mystery Novels, here.

Writing a book can be daunting. Ernest Hemingway gave my favorite description of being an author: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It’s a big project that takes a lot of determination, especially if your goal is to write to meet a fast-paced challenge like NaNoWriMo. It’s beneficial to have a game plan to help you move along, even if you’re a pantser like me. 

An understanding of the three-act novel structure can really help with basic planning. This structure breaks a story up into three primary sections: the beginning, middle, and end. Usually, the first act is called the Setup, the second act is the Confrontation, and the third and final act is the Resolution. The Setup is the first 25% of the story, the Confrontation is the middle 25%-75%, and the Resolution is the last quarter, 75%-100%. Across all genres, most stories follow this structure, which makes it a great plan to follow, but there are a lot of details that just knowing the names and approximate lengths of the acts doesn’t cover. Especially, the common landmarks that mark the transitions between the acts are often different between genres. In this article – the first in a series discussing how to apply the three-act novel structure to different genres – we’ll go over the more in-depth structure of a romance novel (which are usually approximately 90,000 words long). For simplicity’s sake, this will be written as if the romance only involves two parties (e.g., isn’t poly and/or harem and/or reverse harem) and that the development and advancement of the relationship is the main plot.

Act 1: The Setup

This act lays the groundwork for the novel. It should, of course, start with your story hook – the situation or goal that will draw your readers into the story. Then, proceed with your world and character building. We should see your character(s) in their normal life, get a baseline of how the world works if the story includes fantasy or science fiction elements, and see their routine.

By the 12% mark (approximately 10,800 words into a 90,000-word novel), the main couple should have had their meet-cute (or meet-ugly) and reacted accordingly. This can result in them deciding to pursue the relationship or rejecting it, whichever your story calls for. This should directly cause them to accept or reject the call, e.g. wanting or not wanting the relationship.

20% into the book (approximately 18,000 words in) is typically the latest a main character should be introduced. Any character who is important to the plot should be actively involved in the story by this point. They need time to work their magic too!

The 25% mark – the end of the Setup act (approximately 22,500 words in) – is when the first plot point is introduced. This is where the couple is essentially “stuck” together. One or more major events that change their lives will, by this point, also cause them (often force them, if they’re antagonistic initially) to need to spend more time together, furthering both the “main” arc of the plot and their romance/relationship. The reason they are spending time together will serve as an important element for the second act, so it will need to be a consistent reason to meet up.

Act 2: The Confrontation

This is the meat of the story. Over the following 45,000 words (roughly half of the entire story by length) is when the romantic tension builds. The couple spends increasing amounts of time together, growing closer and building mutual trust. Doubts about each other and/or the relationship and/or the problem introduced at the end of the Setup and will lead to the final conflict should also grow in proportion.

Around 37% of the way through (approximately 33,300 words in) is the first “pinch point” of the story. This is where there should be a scene that builds intimacy. It could be something physical and discrete, such as a first kiss, or something more interpersonal, such as a demonstration of the increasing trust between the characters. Whatever occurs, it changes the way the prospective romantic partners see each other and takes them deeper into the relationship. This is an important plot point and shouldn’t be overlooked.

50% (approximately 45,000 words in) is the story’s midpoint. Congratulate yourself on making it this far! Now is the time to up the stakes. This is usually accomplished by bringing the characters to a false high or false low. A false high makes it look like the couple are on their way to a “happily ever after,” whereas a false low threatens that the characters may never end up together. Regardless, the result is that your characters do some introspection or get advice that causes them to decide what they really want in terms of the relationship, and how that does and will influence the daily life we got a glimpse of during the Setup.

At 62% (approximately 55,800 words in) the second pinch point comes into play. Events at the second pinch point more often are driven by internal forces/feelings/reflection – a look into the mind of the main characters as they struggle with the circumstances around their relationship. They have to overcome their own preconceptions to earn their love story. If you choose a false high, the other shoe should drop and separate them. Whenever things give them pause, though, the characters’ issues should resolve by them finding their way back to each other.

The end of act two, the Confrontation, comes at the 75% mark (approximately 67,500 words in) with the second major plot development. This will be a point when the stakes reach an all-time high. All the simmering conflict should boil over, and the worst possible thing(s) happens. This is often a breakup, where it looks like the couple will never end up together. Trust is broken and their differences appear unfixable due to one or both of them rejecting their true feelings.

Act 3: The Resolution

During this act is when all the questions that have been raised throughout the book are answered, and the couple comes together again. I like to call this act the “triple C’s”, the Crisis, the Climax, and the Conclusion.

The crisis comes at about the 87% mark (approximately 78,300 words in). Your characters work through their feelings and decide if the relationship is worth the effort (this is a romance novel: they’ll decide that it is). They’ll face their own flaws and learn a life lesson, which will usually also give them the answer to their current non-relationship problems.

There’s a quick turnaround between the crisis and the climax, which should come at about 90% into the book (approximately 81,000 words in). Often, this involves a grand gesture by one member of the pairing toward the other, but that isn’t required. Either way, this is the point in the story when one of them admits their love for the other. Readers will be on the edge of their seats, waiting to see if they get back together.

By the ending, the characters have decided to be together and the readers want the “happily ever after” or “happy for now” ending. Conclusions often include a snapshot of their future, a hint of how they’re doing together, and how they’ve put in the work to achieve their dreams (both in terms of the relationship and any external goals introduced earlier in the book). This can sometimes be an epilogue as well.

And you’re done! That’s the whole book!

I hope this helps anyone struggling with developing and/or utilizing a basic framework suitable for structuring a romance novel. This is a general guide, but don’t be afraid to mix it up and make it yours. Remember, you make your story special, unique, and engaging!

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Writing Quick Tips: Em Dashes + Spaces

This post was written in reply to an ask received on Tumblr. The ask:

Thank you for the quotation marks + punctuation post! That’s one of the top trouble areas I see when I beta read. (Understandable—there are tons of possibilities/rules.) I noticed in the em dashes section, example 2, there are no spaces between the dialogue and em dashes. Is that a hard-and-fast rule, or does it depend on preference/style guide? This is something I utilize in my writing so I would love to know if I’m getting it right, or if it’s simply a matter of being consistent. Thanks again!

The answer:

Ah! Yeah, whether to put spaces is a choice. Some places use hair spaces, some thin spaces, some non-breaking spaces, some full spaces. Duck Prints Press opts for no spaces around em dashes in most cases.* Out of curiosity, I just checked CMoS—while I couldn’t find a place that explicitly said “do it this way”…well, in all their examples of em dash use, they do NOT put spaces around the em dashes, so I’d say that at least in CMoS the most grammatically correct usage would be to not put spaces on either side of the em dash.

*In most cases = virtually always in narrative, one major exception in dialog. When we use an em dash to denote interruption, sometimes there will be a full space after.

Ex. 1: “No matter where you go—no matter what you do—I’ll always be here for you.”

Explanation: this is a usage of an em dash that mirrors em dash usage in regular narrative text—essentially a form of parenthetical/aside—so it gets em dashes with no spaces.

Ex. 2: “I just said don’t—”

Explanation: this is the end of the quoted dialog. It would be heckin’ weird to put a space between the em dash and the closing quotation mark.

Ex. 3: “Why don’t—why don’t we just not?”

Explanation: this is self-interruption but the sentence that continues is the same as/part of the same sentence that was interrupted, so we don’t use a space. Our intention is to denote that the part before and after the em dash are still part of the same, like, context/concept. It’s the continuation of the same idea.

Ex. 4: “Look, I just— Don’t start with me, okay!”

Explanation: here’s the case where we use a space (our space case? lmao). It’s self-interruption, but when the the speaker resumes, it’s neither a parenthetical aside nor a continuation of the same sentence. It’s a brand new sentence. To help make that clear, we use a space there (and a capital letter.

Bonus—Ex. 5: Just as he was about to speak, I cut in— “Don’t say it!”

Explanation: this is about the only case I can think of where I’d use a space after an em dash in narrative/descriptive text, and it’s also to make interruption clear. Stylistically, a lot of writers will never even use this kind of phrasing, but it’s a permissible stylistic choice to write narrative interruption this way, and when people opt to do it, we do put a space between the end of the description and the start of the dialog, for the same reason as in Ex. 4—it’s a new sentence and it’s clearer with the space.

Contrast with: Just as he started to speak—”I already know,” I expected he’d say—I interrupted him and said, “Don’t say it.”

In this one, though there is a dialog piece/quoted material within the em dashes, it IS a parenthetical aside, so there’s no space.

Bonus—Ex. 6: “Whatever you do”—he waggled a finger in my face—”don’t go in the forest.”

Explanation: when an action is inserted in the middle of dialog, it’s essentially a parenthetical aside, just it’s a non-dialog parenthetical shoved into a dialog chunk, so it follows the same rules as an em dash aside would in other cases—so no spaces.

Again, this is one of those areas where there’s no hard-and-fast rule, and I’d expect different Press’ internal style guides to handle this em dash + space usage in different ways, but this is how I’ve opted to handle it, as lead editor at Duck Prints Press.

(the key, in the end, is consistency—if you pick one way and always do it that way, I doubt anyone is gonna give you shit, though you should expect that if you then submit that to a Press, the Press will edit it to match their preferred style to ensure uniformity within and across their publications).

Thank you so much for sending an ask! It’s always exciting when we actually get editing/writing asks. As a reminder, y’all, anyone reading this, always feel free to send us questions like this! We are grammar pedants and we are only to happy to be pedantic on whatever SPAG topic you’d like to know more about!

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Writing Quick Tips: Quotation Marks + Punctuation

There are numerous quirky quotation mark placement + punctuation rules. For the common cases, such as basic dialog, most people know what to do, but we often see people get the less common cases incorrect, so we’ve put together a quick guide to help out!

Note that this post is written according to standard US English usage. The rules are different for other English dialects!

BasicPunctuation + Quotation Marks in Dialog:

When writing dialog, the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks in the vast majority of cases. (Almost always, but I know if I say “always” someone will find an exception, ‘cause there’s always an exception, because English, why?)

Ex. 1: “Thank you,” she said.

Ex. 2: “Thank you.” She reached out and shook my hand.

Ex. 3: “Thank you!” she said.

Ex. 4: “Thank you?” she said uncertainly.

Ex. 5: “Thank you…” she muttered.

Ex. 6: “Thank y—” A loud pop interrupted her.

Essentially: If the punctuation is part of what’s being said (is demonstrating some aspect of how the dialog has been said) then it goes inside the quotation marks. (The most common exception relates to em dashes—more on that below!)

IntermediatePunctuation + Quotation Marks in Narrative Text:

In narrative/descriptive text, the placement of punctuation depends on two factors:

a. Which punctuation is in question

b. The nature of the text within the quotation marks.

The basic rules are (this is paraphrased from CMoS 17th Ed.):

Periods: always inside the quotation marks

Ex.: The art of repairing cracked pottery with gold is called “kintsugi.”

Commas: always inside the quotation marks

Ex.: The art of repairing cracked pottery with gold is called “kintsugi,” and the practice originated in Japan.

Semi-colon: always outside the quotation marks

Ex.: The art of repairing cracked pottery with gold is called “kintsugi”; it is also called “kintsukuroi.”

Colon: always outside the quotation marks

Ex.: Other materials can be used for the art of repairing cracked pottery with gold, usually called “kintsugi”: silver and platinum are also sometimes utilized.

Question Marks: depends on what is in quotes. If the quoted material includes the question mark, then it goes inside of the quotes; otherwise, it goes outside the quotation marks.

Ex. 1: Is the art of repairing cracked pottery with gold called “kintsugi”?

Explanation: “kintsugi” isn’t a question, the entire phrase is the question, so the question mark goes outside the quotation marks.

Ex. 2: The article is entitled “Do you have questions about repairing cracked pottery with gold?”

Explanation: the title of the article is itself a question—the question mark is part of the quoted material, and therefore goes inside the quotation marks.

Exclamation Points: work the same way as Question Marks.

Ex. 1: I just learned that the art of repairing cracked pottery with gold is called “kintsugi”!

Ex. 2: The article is entitled “Everything you ever wanted to know about ‘kintsugi’ but hadn’t thought to ask!”

Em Dash: depends on what is in the quotes. If the purpose of the em dash is to denote that the words themselves are being interrupted, the em dash goes inside the quotation marks. If the purpose of the em dash is to mark that a specific action (sans dialog tag!) is interrupting the dialog, then the em dashes go outside. (Sorry this is a little challenging to describe, hopefully the examples help make it clear.)

Ex. 1: “The art of repairing cracked pottery with gold is called—” She broke off when she saw I was holding up a sign that said “kintsugi,” indicating that I already knew.

Explanation: the dialog itself is what is breaking off—in this case because the speaker is being interrupted—so the em dash goes inside the quotation marks.

Ex. 2: “The art of repairing cracked pottery with gold”—she held up a beautiful bowl that appeared to have once been broken, a tracery of gleaming gilding showing where the fault lines once were—“is called ‘kintsugi.’”

Explanation: when an action is interjected into the middle of a line of dialog, the em dashes go on the outside of the quotes.

Ex. 3: “The art of repairing cracked pottery with gold,” she explained as she held up a beautiful bowl, “is called ‘kintsugi.’”

Explanation: this instance has a dialog tag, so commas are used instead of em dashes. The first comma goes within the quotation marks, the second outside.

AdvancedPunctuation + Nested Quotation Marks in Dialog:

Sometimes, a character quotes something they’ve heard. In cases like this, the writer needs to use nested quotation marks (in standard US English, that’s double quotes “” for the first “layer” of dialog and single quotes ‘’ for the second “layer”). The relationship of the punctuation to the nested quote depends on what’s being said. When the dialog is nested, where the punctuation goes follows the same rules as in the “Intermediate—Punctuation + Quotation Marks in Narrative Text” section just above.

Ex. 1: “Did she say ‘Thank you’?” she asked.

Ex. 2: “Did he say ‘Thank you’ to you?” she asked

Ex. 3: “Did he say ‘Thank you,’ or did he say ‘tanks for you’?” she asked

Ex. 4: “How dare he say ‘Thank you’!” she exclaimed.

Ex. 5: “He said ‘Thank you,’” she replied.

Ex. 6: “He said ‘Thank you,’ I think?” she replied.

Ex. 7: “He said ‘Thanks’ and also ‘good luck.’” She nodded as she explained.

Ex. 8: “Actually, he said ‘Thanks!’” she replied.

Ex. 9: “Actually, he asked ‘Should I thank them?’” she replied.

Other Uses of Quotation Marks

Quotation marks can also be used when identifying the titles of works, scare quotes, defining words in foreign languages, etc. Regardless of the uses, the above rules about punctuation placement apply.

So, now you know. 😀

Go forth and Write All The Things!

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How to Read Manhua on Bilibili: Legal, Free, and in English

This is a repost of a tutorial I wrote for a fandom art side blog I run on Tumblr. As it’s fairly fandom-general and goes into a lot of detail on ways that readers can access original queer manhua (Chinese comic) titles for free, we feel that it’s of wide enough interest to be relevant to the Duck Prints Press blogs, too. It includes information on accessing Bilibili and some specific titles I’ve enjoyed that I thought might be a good starting place for someone interested in reading manhua this way.


In my posts on this blog, I keep sharing screen caps from manhua I’ve read on Bilibili, along with the link to read it yourself, but I know:

This blog doesn’t have all that many followers.

It’s one thing for me to post the link and quite another for people to realize just how easy this is to do.

Considering how often I see English-speaking MXTX/c-novel/c-drama/donghua fandom peeps screaming and begging for more content, I’m now begging you in return:

STOP SLEEPING ON THE BILIBILI APP!

If you want more danmei content, fully legal, entirely free, already translated, you literally c.a.n.n.o.t. do better than using the Bilibili app to read manhua. That’s not to say this is a perfect method – their translations are…um…wanting sometimes? (Shout out to the four pages in a row I recently read where someone broke in to a residence and every time the breaker-inner was mentioned they were called “the intrud”) But it’s still ALL THERE, FOR US, ANYTIME, and the more eyes the manhua in the apps gets, the more content we’ll get, so please, PLEASE, if you’re out there thirsting for danmei content, DO THIS.

Wondering how?

Well, I’ve got you covered.

WAY 1: The Bilibili Manhua Website

I know I said “get the app” but honestly you don’t even need an app to do this! You can read on Bilibili using any web browser.

The website is Bilibilicomics.com.

It looks like this: 

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Yes, you’re reading that right: there’s an entire section of BL.

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There’s also an entire section of GL!

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There are 38 titles in GL and 121 titles, yes ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY ONE titles, in BL.

AND there’s het stuff, and non-romance stuff too!

New episodes general come out weekly or biweekly, though a few things are daily. The website is often a few chapters ahead of the app (which I actually didn’t realize until just now – Chapter 55 of Legend of Exorcism, for example, came out today on the app, but it lists 60 episodes as available on the website. Which, considering the cliffhanger I just read… *eyes emoji*…though apparently in other cases there are more chapters on the app than on the website, so ymmv.)

The best-known title available (again: FOR FREE. OFFICIALLY. LEGALLY. IN ENGLISH) is Tian Guan Ci Fu. When you go to a specific title’s page, you get this…

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…and reading it is as simple as selecting the chapter you want, clicking it, and et voila! Just scroll down and read to your heart’s content!!

NOTE: SOME CHAPTERS WILL HAVE WAIT TIMES. More on this shortly.

WAY 2: The Bilibili App for Android

I personally have been reading primarily from the Android app, since I have a Samsung Galaxy phone and a lot of time sprawled on my couch while my kids watch cartoons.

You can download the app from the Play store – here’s a link, for what that’s worth.

It looks, essentially, like this (I’m logged in so mine looks a little different than non-logged-in, I made an account even tho you don’t actually need one):

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If you don’t want to make an account, you don’t have to. If you choose to, as you see it’ll try to guess what other titles you might like. tbh I have no idea how good these recommendations may be; I’m still reading/catching up on the specific titles I wanted to read so I haven’t had to try their recommendations yet. But, there’s definitely some stuff that looks interesting (that top middle one definitely looks up my alley…)

You can also “favorite” things (again: EVEN WITHOUT AN ACCOUNT) and it’ll store them in your library and make a red dot (like you can see on the above screen cap) when something has an update you haven’t read yet. For example, here’s my Favorite list, which helps me keep track of what I’m reading and enjoying (or, well, in one case I’m more “wtfing” than “enjoying” but hey that still counts).

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There’s even a weird, like, “dress up” side game??? So like, every chapter you read there’s a chance the app will drop a “card” and you can use the cards to dress your avatar up, and there’s a whole crafting system built in? It’s. A little odd. But, considering I recently quit my Love Nikki addiction after 3+ years, it’s nice to get a small hit of pointless dress up.

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Yes, my avatar is currently wearing San Lang’s shirt.

The point is, again: this app is free to download, and incredibly easy to use, and even has a fun pointless side game.

BUT. There is one “but” here. See the Coins: 0 Top Up right below my randomly assigned username?

There is an optional pay system. What does it do? It reduces wait times.

Some titles, but not ALL, have a “built in delay” that kicks in at some point. On some, it seems to start when you’re “within 5 chapters of the most recent” (that’s what’s happened with Global Examination and TGCF, for example). For others, it seems to be arbitrary – for A Single Strike of Shimmering Frost, it kicked in at chapter 40 even tho there are, like, 80 something chapters up. Regardless, it always works the same.

The system functions using wait times, and it has 5 tiers that are always the same.

Tier 1: You must wait one minute before you can read the next chapter. This tier is rarely an issue; the count down sometimes (but not always??? it’s weird) starts when you start a new chapter, and it almost always takes more than one minute to read a full chapter, so this tier is often “satisfied” before you even get to the next chapter.

Tier 2: You must wait six minutes before you can read the next chapter.

Tier 3: You must wait one hour before you can read the next chapter.

Tier 4: You must wait six hours before you can read the next chapter.

Tier 5: You must wait twenty-four hours before you can read the next chapter.

I initially thought this system functioned as “once you reach Tier 5, you’re just stuck there and can only read a chapter a day” but it’s turned out that’s not the case – A Single Strike of Shimmering Frost having 40+ semi-locked chapters has given me the chance to actually test this a bit. In fact, what happens is:

The first time you hit a “wait delay” chapter, it puts you at Tier 1 and you have to wait a minute. The next chapter, you up to Tier 2, the next to Tier 3, then Tier 4, then Tier 5…and then it cycles back to Tier 1. So, with a little care and planning (which I almost always fail at) I can time reading something with many wait-delayed chapters such that I can read 5 chapters in one day, then I have to wait a full day, then I can read 5 more chapters.

Here’s how it looks when you’ve done your waiting in purgatory and can now read on…

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…and here’s how it looks when the sad trombones play…

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Now, I mentioned I’d circle back to the coins? THE TIME HAS COME! Because, look – for 17 coins, you can read on instantly!! Alternatively, if you’re willing to share on social media, you can also skip (I have no if that’s something you can do over and over, or just once, cause I haven’t tried – you can skip the wait time once for free). This begs the question, then…is 17 coins a lot?

And the answer is…

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…eh not really, no. Ten bucks will get you the ability to pay 17 coins many, many times (58, to be precise), but honestly? I haven’t spent a penny yet and I’ve caught up on 7 different titles and am steadily reading through two more (one of which hasn’t had wait times kick in yet, I just can only read so fast).

All of which is to say: yes, there’s a pay system, and tbh, I’m probably going to throw them a few bucks not because I care about the wait times but because I’m getting so much enjoyment out of reading these titles and I want to support them a little (I also bought the print version of the TGCF vol. 1 and will likely buy the other volumes, and I once-upon-a-time paid to watch TGCF s. 1 streaming as they came out). With a little patience there is absolutely zero call for spending even one penny to read as much of this cornucopia as you want.

WAY 3: Download the Bilibili App on Apple

I don’t have access to an iPhone and don’t feel like grabbing my tablet rn and I’ve hit the Tumblr image limit anyway, but the Apple app looks about the same as the Android app, and you can download it HERE.

Basically: use the website, or download the app for whichever platform you’re using, and READ, READ, READ!

So, what is there to read?

I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED!

I’ve been reading on the app pretty regularly for like two months (prior to that I was only reading TGCF, and only when I remembered, which was rarely), but I’m juggling a lot AND reading other stuff too so I am far from having explored the wide range of options. I can, however, highlight a few I think are likely to be of interest to a danmei-reading audience. Note that of these, I’ve only read the novels for TGCF, TYQHM, and Daomu Biji, which means that I only know as far as the manhuas have covered for the rest – I haven’t read farther than that yet. 

A. Tian Guan Ci Fu by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. The one, the only – this is the official manhua with art by Starember. It tells the story of newly ascended god Xie Lian trying to navigate the intricacies of the heavenly bureaucracy, figure out his place in the world, and understand why a sexy guy in red keeps showing up in his life. (Worst synopsis ever award goes to: ME!). The English translation is currently on episode 77, which has Xie Lian and Hua Cheng in the gambler’s den. A volume just ended, which means it’s on hiatus temporarily – there’s usually a month or two break between volumes – so it’ll be back soon!

B. Global Examination by Mu Su Li. Based on the book Global University Entrance Examination, featuring art by E Zi. Global Examination is a story set in a dystopian near-future about a world where groups of people are randomly selected (read: kidnapped and forced) to participate in an “exam” where they have to answer extremely complex puzzles. If they succeed, they get to live and become one of the people who administer the exam. If they fail, they die. Despite the premise sounding dark, it’s really not been so bad and I’m reassured it won’t become so. The story itself focuses on You Huo, a recently selected examinee with amnesia, the other people in his examinee group, and Examiner 001, who clearly has some kind of history with You Huo. If only he didn’t also have amnesia, we might even know what that history is…

C. Dinghai Fusheng Records and Legend of Exorcism, both based on the books of the same names written by Fei Tian Ye Xiang. The art for Dinghai Fusheng Records is by Qianerbai (who has also done a lot of work for the Mo Dao Zu Shi audio drama) and Legend of Exorcism, it’s by Warp. These stories are set in the same ‘verse, at least several hundred years apart; it’s a xianxia high-fantasy setting, and the main enemies are demons (…or are they? dun dun duuuun). Dinghai Fusheng Records takes place, chronologically, first, and occurs a couple hundred years after a calamity caused all qi to fade from the world – there are only mortals, and no one can cultivate. It follows Chen Xing, a young man born with a gift, as he seeks his protector – Xiang Shu – and others, and they encounter (surprise!) unspeakable evil. Legend of Exorcism takes place in the “future” of Dinghai Fusheng Records, and focuses on Kong Hongjun, a half-demon boy who has received a summons to join the Exorcism Department, as he explores the mortal world for the first time and gets to know the others who have summoned to join the Department, especially the mortal leader Li Jinglong.

D. Daomu Biji titles, originally by Nanpai Sanshu. There are two DMBJ titles on Bilibili right now, though both only have a few chapters, and the website lists them as “on hiatus.” I’ve read them both, and am not entirely sure what’s up with one especially, but… Grave Robbers’ Chronicles starts where Book 1 starts, with changes of course but it’s quite recognizable as the initial “Wu Xie is brought a silk scroll and gets curious” plot line. The Grave Robbers’ Chronicles Seven Dreams is…odder…and as far as I can tell is an alternate canon/AU which starts with a “what if” of “what if the Zhang’s were incredibly abusive, raised child!Zhang Qiling themselves, and Wu Xie and he met as kids.” It’s. Um. Extremely weird. But I’m still hoping they’ll release more than 9 chapters, if only because I’m curious.

E. A Single Strike of Shimmering Frost, based on the novel A Sword of Frost by Yu Xiao Lanshan. This one opens with the Prince Ji Yanran approaching Sect Master Yun Yifeng, who runs a sect of spies and information collectors, to ask for help finding an item that has been stolen from the palace. In exchange, he promises to give Yun Yifeng the cure to an ailment that plagues him. Problem 1: he doesn’t actually have this cure. Problem 2: everywhere they go people start dying. Problem 3: catching feels for the pretty Sect Master. Despite having the trappings of xianxia, this story has actually thus far been a sequence of murder mysteries with politics-related causes.

F. Saved the Public Enemy By Mistake by Liu Muqiao. If this is based on a novel, I haven’t been able to track it down. It’s xianxia; demon immortal cultivator Liu Jianghe shows up, nearly dead, on the doorstep of Lu Jiu. Not knowing who he is, Lu Jiu saves him, and finds a mess of politics on his doorstep…but nothing is actually how it seems, there’s amnesia and hidden back stories galore, there’s a heavy side plot of sword lesbians, and honestly I’ve read like 50 chapters I’m still a little lost but the art is pretty and I really need to read the reveal on the the two MCs history together so I’m sticking with it. Warning that it’s got a fair amount of blood and gore.

G. Those Years in Quest of Honor Mine by Man Man He Qi Duo. A historical (non-cultivation) setting focused on politics, machinations, and the long history and deep love between Zhong Wan – former top-scorer on the national exam who lost his position when his adopted father was accused of treason – and Yu She, of dubious parentage and believed by most people to be the bastard son of the Emperor. I loved the book for this, and finding out that the manhua was on Bilibili is a lot of what drove me to download the app.

So – that’s everything I’m currently reading: 6 titles inspired by explicitly BL danmei titles, 2 based on other books I like that aren’t BL, and 1 BL that just looked interesting and my taste.

There’s SO MUCH MORE, seriously. I’m going to be reading on this app for months and still finding more, I’m positive of it.

But unforth, I hear you say, there’s some other manhua I want to read! What about Mo Dao Zu Shi? What about Erha? Are those on Bilibili? Can I read them? And the answer, sadly, is no. Those two are published by Kuaikan, which does not offer free legal English translations at this time. But! I am holding out hope that if the audience for Bilibili grows, other manhua publishers will see the profitability in emulating them. I cannot guarantee that anything we do will result in this happening, but I do feel pretty confident that if we don’t read with the options currently available, we sure ain’t likely to get more options.

SO. GO FORTH. READ THE THINGS I’VE MENTIONED. READ OTHER THINGS. COME BACK AND TELL ME WHAT YOU LOVED SO I HAVE SOME IDEA WHAT TO READ NEXT.

PLEASE.

I’m begging. GO READ MANHUA!!!

RIGHT NOW.

ON BILIBILI.