My WIP: “When In Doubt – Freshman Year” : Chapter 5

“When In Doubt” banner, created on Canva.com, I don’t own any of the images included, and can remove per owner’s requests

Here is the fifth chapter to add to my sneak peak of my work in progress about six young adults who all meet their freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. In this chapter, you meet student athlete/scholar Madison Parker, who’s going to learn that balancing all that, plus a social life, isn’t as easy as she’d like it to be!

Also be sure to head over to my page dedicated to this project at the top menu of the website! It’s labelled as WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or if you don’t feel like scrolling, just click the link HERE

Hope you enjoy!


Chapter 5:

One day Madison Parker was going to change the world, and if fate didn’t make it so, she would have absolutely no problem taking it into her own hands. She knew life didn’t toss you more than a huge mess of curveballs—she’s had plenty thrown her way—so she always reminded herself to never hold her breath and wait for something to come to her; she needed to take it for herself if she wanted it enough.

Walking out of the Johnson Fieldhouse, the athletic center on the southernmost part of the University of Wisconsin-Stout campus, Madison heaved a sigh that eased the tightness in her chest. She stopped for a moment to enjoy the beautiful late-summer day. Sure, it was a bit outside of the normal hustle and bustle that made up her home city of Chicago, but she had to admit she liked the quieter, small town feel of the campus infused into the small, midwestern town of Menomonie. If she can thrive in Chi-Town, surely she would be just fine in small town, Wisconsin USA. 

Growing up in in one of Chicago’s oldest and nicest neighborhoods, Beverly, Madison lived right in the middle of the action of the Southside, but never felt like it was ever totally unsafe, and she’s always been used to a close-knit, diverse community that her hometown gave her while growing up, and with the Metra nearby, she could be deep within the Windy City in a matter of minutes with her friends, and get into (not) too much trouble.

Madison was always busy putting high expectations on herself in whatever she did: being in the top one percent of her graduating class, speech team, yearbook committee, and even being a two-sport athlete with a few records she proudly left behind in her final year back home.  

She supposed she could’ve gone anywhere for school, but what she didn’t bother telling her friends back home was how UW-Stout probably had one of the most affordable art programs in the midwest. Money wasn’t necessarily tight, but Madison could tell how they were worried how they’d be able to afford to send her off to school and not fall into the deep, dark hole that was student debt. Thankfully with her organization and ability to pay attention to even the microscopically-sized details, she’d been able to find enough scholarships that almost entirely financially backed her years as an undergrad.

Thinking about her mom, Madison sighed again with a sharp pang shooting straight through her chest. She hadn’t expected to already miss her family on just her second day of college; she even wished her obnoxious little turd of a brother, Dante, was around even though he stole a pair of her underwear to use as a slingshot the night before they left, or left her crude messages on her vanity mirror with her tubes of lipstick. It was a huge shock to her when her mother and baby brother helped move her into her dorm the day before and left before it’d fully hit her. She’d always had her family nearby whether she was home or out spending her hard earned money on the latest handbag from Michael Kors on Michigan Avenue, but now she was on her own for the first time ever. She wouldn’t be able to sit in her dining room and enjoy her mom’s amazing cooking everyday after school; she’d have to rely on the cafeteria or the Memorial Student Center; and there was no way it was going to be the same. 

A small group of three upperclassmen guys walked by along the sidewalk, and Madison warmed under their appreciative looks as they passed by. With how much her outfit cost and how long she took in getting ready that morning, she knew she looked good.

As she drew closer to her new home for the next two semesters, HKMC, Madison heard someone playing music from plus movement on the sand volleyball court also caught her eye, and she saw Heather Gracie with two seriously good looking guys practicing sets to each other. Heather put her hair up in a high ponytail and laughed at something the darker haired guy said, but the blond one was especially some serious eye candy, Madison had to admit. She watched him take his shirt off, appreciating the way the sun brightened his golden skin and made the dips and planes of his muscles even more pronounced. She was a sucker for a decent pair of abs. 

Oh my goodness, Madison mentally chastised herself. Girl, stop drooling before they catch you staring! 

She waltzed inside the side entrance of the dorm to get up to the third floor of Milnes and Chinnock. Checking her smartphone and to see a Snapchat from Lindsay, Madison opened it up to see her new friends were in Mandy and Ali’s room.

It still surprised her how quickly she’d met the other girls, who were thankfully all on the same floor as her. It was only the second day at school and it seemed like everyone has already paired off into little groups; maybe they formed meaningful relationships, or maybe it was more out of pure convenience to latch onto the closest people who have anything in common with out of fear of being alone, being looked down upon in some way. Madison liked to think the former on her situation: the girls approached her immediately after that extremely long and awkward floor meeting and formed their little inner circle. 

When Madison walked into the room, Mandy was curling Lindsay’s hair to give it some beachy waves while Ali sat in their red suede loveseat, watching The Walking Dead on a large TV. 

Madison smirked at Mandy’s disgusted look as a group of zombies began to tear open some poor, screaming victim like a feeding frenzy. It was never her thing either, but Madison could appreciate the amount of detail the costume department put into making a show about a zombie apocalypse look so realistic. 

Lindsay looked like she also wanted to protest, but just remained quiet and simply did her best to ignore the gory scene on the TV screen, and perked up when she noticed Madison in the doorway. 

“Ohmygosh, Mads, how’s it going? We missed you at breakfast earlier.”

“Hey Linds, sorry about that, but I was in a meeting.” Madison sat down next to Ali. “I’m joining the Track team.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you played sports,” Mandy said without looking away from Lindsay’s hair. 

“Do you play any?” Madison asked.

 “Hmm, not really, they’ve never been my scene, but all the more power to you. What position are you on, anyways?”

Madison chuckled. “I’m just a runner, so sprints and relays are my thing.”

“Huh, that makes sense considering how great your legs look,” Ali said.

Lindsay grinned at her friend. “Right?! I was just saying how bangin’ Madison’s body is. Like, she totally has better legs than Rihanna ever did.”

Mandy bemusedly rolled her eyes while still working on Lindsay’s hair. “Yes Mads, you could totally be working a runway if modelings on your radar.”

“Well, my only runway right now is the synthetic rubber of my lane on the track field, but feel free to keep these facts rolling, I am high-key all for it!” Madison sat up straighter and straightened her designer blouse. “Actually, speaking of sports, I saw Heather with some really cute guys down on the court. Anyone interested to go join?”

Lindsay and Mandy both acted like they hadn’t heard her., but both jumped when someone’s scream blasted from the TV.

Mandy groaned. “God Ali, seriously?…how can you watch that crap?”

“What? This is entertaining as hell! Plus, Daryl’s one of the best characters in TV history,” Ali responded, her eyes barely leaving the screen.

Lindsay played with the ends of a few strands of hair. “She’s always been into these kind of shows. She’s defs going to, like, make us watch all her favorite horror movies once it gets closer towards Halloween too.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Ali sat up. “Actually, count me in, Madison, Heather seemed pretty legit yesterday.”

Oh right, I could I forget she’s going to be there? Madison rolled her eyes. “Mhmm, yeah…totally.”

Ali’s eyebrow rose. “Please try to hold in your enthusiasm on that. What’s your problem? She say something to you?”

Madison huffed. “Not at all, but I’m not exactly high on anyone who so obviously doesn’t want to be around us.”

Mandy’s green eyes flashed as she looked over. “Seriously though! She was a total bitch to us at the MSC for no reason at all, and was actually so rude even though we invited her to come with us.”

Ali scoffed. “You weren’t any better, Mandy.”

“Hey, I was only giving back what she was dishing out in the first place. If someone is going to be an asshole to me when I don’t deserve it, I’m gonna call a bitch out on it.”

Madison nodded. “Exactly! Ain’t nobody got time for that unjustified bitchy behavior for absolutely no reason.”

Lindsay pursed her lips and her baby blue eyes were wide as she remained silent in her seat.  

Ali frowned. “Okay, then why suggest that we go out and join her?”

“Because I wouldn’t mind showing her up after putting up with her BS,” Madison shot back with a neck roll. If Heather Gracie wanted to start drama on the first day on campus, Madison swore she had no problem with some retaliation to show she was more than capable of ending it.

“Maybe she’s just shy? Being quiet doesn’t automatically mean someone is being bitchy, you know?”

Madison rolled her eyes. “Alright fine, you’ve got a point Ali, so maybe let’s go down and join in and start over then?”

“We should go for a little bit,” Mandy announced after a short pause. “After all, according to Madison there are cute boys, and I didn’t break up with my ex over the summer to just stay inside and just spend time with my girls.”

Lindsay just continued to smile and remain silent, but her smile seemed more forced. 

Madison nodded at her. “Sorry Linds, I know she’s your roommate and all, but even you can admit she was being pretty ratchet towards us for no apparent reason.” 

Lindsay’s smile finally dropped and she looked down at the floor. “I guess, but maybe it’s like Ali said and she’s just shy?”

Mandy scoffed. “I doubt it…a girl who looks like a younger and hotter Jessica Simpson should have absolutely no problem with self-confidence.”

Mandy finished the last few strands of Lindsay’s hair before putting her curling iron away. Ali got up and stripped down without any warning, not caring one bit that her door to the hallway was still wide open while she changed in front of her closet. 

“Holy Shit, Ali!” Madison feigned shock and shielded her eyes. “Warn a girl before deciding to let it all fall out!”

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it baby,” Ali shot back with a wink. She decided on one of her faded black concert tees’ with the sleeves cut out with some with some well-worn cutoff denim shorts. 

Mandy playfully poked Ali right in the chest before closing the door and changing into some workout gear. “Well, at least volleyball doesn’t have any gross, nasty AF zombies lurking around.”

Nope, just ex boyfriends apparently…

The four of them walked down to the court, and Madison couldn’t believe what was happening before her: Mandy had just called out the incredibly gorgeous blonde guy, who they all learned was named Jared, admitting he’s the guy she broke up with over the summer. Normally, Madison couldn’t help but live for the amount of drama that was happening before her eyes—it felt like she was inside one of her favorite tv shows, Gossip Girl—but it is so different when it happens in real life.

Did Mandy know beforehand that her ex went to the same school as her? Maybe she was hoping to run into him like this; she certainly seemed to be eating it up how much shaken he obviously was about it, but if she did know about him, why wouldn’t she share the news with any of her friends? Sure, they’ve only known each other just under twenty-four hours, but something felt off about all this. 

Everyone is dead silent, eyebrows all shot to the sky along with eyes darting back and forth, anticipating what could possibly happen next, or who would speak up first.

Heather cleared her throat after regaining some composure. “Well, obviously I don’t know the whole story here, but I’m shooting down any drama starting right now. We’re just here to play some volleyball, so if you want to join in, feel free, but otherwise you can go if you’re just here to start shit.” She turned back towards a glowering Jared. “What do you say?”

Jared pouted a little bit while not meeting anyone’s eyes, but reluctantly nodded his head with a gaze that almost looked like respect. “I’m here to play some volleyball.” 

Heather gave him a small smile as he patted her on the shoulder before jogging back towards the game, and Madison couldn’t help but sneak a peak at his retreating form. 

Heather turned back towards her and the other girls and crossed her arms. “Like I said, you’re all more than welcome to join in too. Just no drama.”

Madison wanted to shoot back some retort, considering the cold shoulder Heather gave them the day before, but her new friend beat her to the punch. 

Mandy tilted her head with a seemingly sincere smile. “There’s absolutely nothing to worry about, we’re all only here to play some games, that’s all.”

“Yep, playing games alright,” Heather muttered under her breath.

Madison couldn’t help but smirk at that, plus Heather’s sour expression as Mandy strutted right past her just made it even more hilarious. She had to give the blonde some credit though: she mean’t business when she actually spoke up, and she definitely noticed Mandy’s absolutely scandalized expression at Heather’s warning. Things were getting very interesting between the two of them.  

Lindsay walked forward next and smiled extra wide. “Thanks for letting us join, roomy! I bet we’ll all have loads of fun.”

Heather’s expression warmed, because how could anyone be cruel towards someone like Lindsay, who always has a bright smile? “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you earlier. Honestly, I didn’t know if you and the girls would want to play or not.”

Lindsay waved her off. “Oh it is, like, so not a big deal! We made it, we’re all here now, so the real fun can begin.” 

Madison noted how Lindsay practically bounced straight over to Mandy’s side on the court, all while Jared made sure to stay as physically far away from them as possible as if they had the swine flu everyone freaked out about not too long ago.

Madison stayed behind with Ali, who shared a look with her before clearing her throat to catch Heather’s attention. 

Ali shot her a nod. “You know Heather, you’re alright. You don’t stand for bullshit, and I’ve got mad respect for that.”

Madison wanted to say so much more, not nearly as complimenting as her friend, but nodded her head in agreement to play along. For now. “I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty sure Mandy’s not used to having anyone actually stand up to her like that. It takes a real boss-bitch to make that sort of power play.”

Heather whole body remained taut like she was expecting them to pounce at a moment’s notice, but she shrugged a shoulder nonetheless. “It’s no big deal, I just don’t want stupid drama when it’s only our second day here is all.”

Hmmm, then what was your issue with us in the MSC yesterday? Madison wondered. 

“I hear ya, and like I said, I can respect that. On that note, I say lets play already.” Madison felt Ali’s gaze land on her with a knowing smirk. “Right Mads?”

Madison frowned. “Of course, what’s with the look?”

“Oh nothing, don’t think so much about it.” Ali turned regarded Heather once again with a raised brow. “Well if you want to join us, there’s that free movie playing tonight on the quad. I know Mandy will be there, but she’s actually not as bad as you probably think.”

Heather laughed under her breath. “I’ll think about it.”

Madison continued to eye her down, and the two shared a look before Heather decided to turn around and rejoin the game. 

“Well, that was reassuring,” Madison muttered once Heather was out of earshot. 

Ali groaned. “Don’t be such a hater, Mads. Let’s go see those legs of yours in action.” 

Ali smacked Madison right on her behind while jogging away before Madison even had a change to retaliate. 

Madison couldn’t help but laugh to herself before noticing the small group of four sitting over at the picnic table. Eden Harrington and Jenna Nguyen sat at a picnic table with two guys whom Madison hadn’t seen before. One was tall, slim, and very obviously flamboyantly gay, while the other seemed much quieter, and judging by how everyone but him giggled uncontrollably, the only sober one of the four. Madison cringed and hoped none of the RA’s came out and caught them in the act, because they weren’t even trying to be subtle about it by now. They continued to pass a water bottle amongst each other.  

Eden noticed Madison staring, and she smiled and waved with an exuberance of excitement that usually came with someone who was incredibly drunk and saw someone they knew. “Heeeeyyya roomy!”

Totally busted, Madison reluctantly waved back and hoped her cringing grimace was perfectly hidden by the smile she popped onto her face. Yep, her and Eden were roommates, and they couldn’t be any more different from each other. She was already in countdown mode when the housing department would allow them to put in requests to switch rooms, then maybe she and Lindsay could switch while maybe Heather and Eden could move in together. 

Madison tied her dark, long hair up into an artfully messy bun that rested on the top of her head as she turned away and finally joined the game, ignoring her roommates pleas to come join her.


Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell


My WIP: “When In Doubt – Freshman Year” : Chapter 1

“When In Doubt” banner, created on Canva.com, I don’t own any of the images included, and can remove per owner’s requests

Anyone who knows me, or visits this blog on more than one occasion, (hopefully) knows about this work in progress story that I’ve been working on-and-off for two years now. It’s going to be a coming of age story starring six young adults as they traverse through their years at a small, midwestern college, and slowly but surely become their own kind of chosen family.

I want the story to show themes of acceptance, finding yourself, personal growth, mental health, love in many forms (friendship, romantic, self, etc.), and consequences of the choices we make. It’s loosely based off my years at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, which have been the most influential and memorable years of my short life so far. I think it’s a story worth telling, and hopefully it can help someone who needs a story like this to land in their hands one day!

As I’m working away on my next draft of this project in both writing and editing, I thought I’d share a sneak peak of my story by sharing the first six chapters that introduce my six main characters: Matt, Eden, Jared, Madison, Luke, and Heather. By no means are these chapters I’m releasing fully completed, and they are subject to change as time moves forward, but why not share a little tidbit of what I’ve been working on to anyone interested in reading?

Be sure to check out my page dedicated to the development of this passion project of mine: you can find it on the top menu of my blog under WHEN IN DOUBT (WIP BOOK SERIES), or just click the link HERE! You can meet my main characters, listen to the Spotify playlist, follow the Pinterest board, and read about the process of this project so far and see how it’s developed over the last couple of years! Meanwhile, below is my current Chapter 1, which follows my character: Matt Anderson

Hope you enjoy!


Chapter 1: Matt

“Look honey, there’s the sign!”

Nineteen-year old Matt Anderson glanced up from his iPhone at his mother’s words and glanced out his window from the backseat of the family SUV. His dark eyes caught a blue highway sign that read “UW-Stout: Exit 41,” and his gut twisted and it became to breathe. His heartbeat accelerated like he’d just downed two cans of Redbull back-to-back.

Matt was moments away from officially beginning his Freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. 

Matt’s mother turned in her seat until she faced him with that scrunched eyebrow look almost every parent has for their child. “Have you talked to your roommate about what you’re all bringing? He knows you’re bringing the futon, right? When was the last time you two talked anyways? Are you sure you grabbed everything you’ll need?” 

Holding in a groan from the rapid-fire questioning with a deep yawn, Matt ran his hands down his face and flashed a sheepish smile while removing one of his earbuds. “Mom, I’m pretty sure asking me if I have everything isn’t going to make a difference when we’re literally driving up the exit, but I’m sure I’ll be fine.” 

“I know, but I’ve never sent a child off to college before.” Her voice went thick with the warning of falling tears. “Well, at least there’s a Walmart in case you think of anything later on….Oh! What about a fan?”

Matt hung his head in mock defeat. “Yes, mom…you were literally right next to as I bought one at Target last week.”

Matt’s dad chuckled as his mom rolled her eyes, once again faced forward.  

“Okay Mr. On Top Of It All, I guess you’ve got it all figured out,” she replied. “Take it easy on me, this day is going to be hard for me. I’ve never sent my child off to college before.” 

Matt grimaced and leaned back in his seat, guilt now seeping in along with every emotion he was already feeling. He knew his mom has been all over the place helping him in all the prep work over the summer with packing, finalizing tuition payment plans, dorm assignments, and orientation. She’s always been a helicopter parent merely because she just cared so much, and Matt had to remind himself to lay off every now and then; it wasn’t a bad thing to have a parent that cared. 

Amongst his own jumble of nerves mixed with excitement over starting college, he sometimes forgot that he’d also be saying goodbye to his parents while he was “leaving the nest” as his grandpa put it, and would truly be on his own for the first time in his life. It both exhilarated and terrified him. 

Back home, Matt felt like he’d never fully fit in anywhere or with anyone amongst his graduating class. It didn’t help how he was in the largest class to ever roll through Eagan High School with 753 students at his graduation ceremony; there were people sitting next to him whom he’d never even seen before until that moment. Either way, they’d grabbed their diplomas all the same as he did, ready to move onto the next chapter of their lives. 

He’d had some friends to grab half-off appetizers at Applebees with after the Friday night football games, or to even just sit with in the cafeteria every day during his lunch period, but always felt like he’d never been fully integrated into any clique or group. He always felt like that loner always on the outside looking in, the character always hanging out in the back of everyone else’s center-stage life in the spotlight.

College was more than just that for him; it was an opportunity that he’d been patiently waiting for. He was no longer going to be the background character, he was going to start over and become a different version of himself, an enhanced version of himself. He was going to be more outspoken, he was going to make friends, he was going to go to parties and get drunk for the first time, he was going to make amazing memories and maybe—just maybe—feel like he belonged somewhere for once. Those were the goals he’d set for himself, but whether he could actually pull it off while getting over his searing anxiety about not knowing anyone else in an entirely new setting was another story. With the opportunity of a fresh start, he was also completely alone with no support system and absolutely no familiarity to help him along the way.  

As quietly as he could so his parents wouldn’t notice, Matt took a deep breath to attempt rid himself of the sudden tightness in his chest and the pounding of his heartbeat that made it difficult to breathe. Freaking out before he even stepped out of the car wasn’t going to help with any of his aspirations. 

Getting off the exit off I-94 East, the three of them arrived in the small town of Menomonie, which was going to be Matt’s official new home for the next ten months. Right off the exit was a large handful of the usual fast-food joints like McDonalds, Wendys, and Arby’s, along with several gas stations, motels, car repair shops, and a large Marketplace grocery store. It was all along one main road, and Matt watched as they drove down a hill towards a large body of water amongst the trees.

Next was large bridge overlooking a large lake that was actually reservoir on the Red Cedar River, with the small town of Menomonie wrapping along the shore off in the distance. 

The UW-Stout campus also immediately appeared on the other side with several red-brick buildings that made up the northern end of the campus that smoothly transitioned into the downtown with plenty of small shops, restaurants, and cafés. There were of course a large amount of bars that were surely to be filled to the brim every weekend. 

The UW-Stout clocktower dominated the skyline, and Matt glimpsed the feather at the peak with the sun beaming almost directly behind, giving the whole tower an angelic, ethereal glow. It was what was showcased on all the fliers, pamphlets, and even the website; it was like this town’s version of the St. Louis arch, the Golden Gate Bridge, or even the Empire State Building.   

There was a line of cars forming down Broadway Street, and they followed until they reached the southern end of campus, where it seemed all the newly incoming freshman and their families were being directed into the massive parking lot of the Johnson Fieldhouse, the campus athletic facility. 

Color-coded cones were everywhere, and they directed cars where to go, along with numerous groups of young people with matching colored shirts and wide smiles helping guide everyone along. 

After about twenty minutes, Matt and his parents pulled up to the first station with a welcoming committee of overly-cheerful girls in front of enormous cork-boards that had sets of keys next to a bunch of numbers. They asked Matt what dorm he was in and what room he was in, gave him his room keys along with a gift bag before before instructing his dad to specifically follow the green cones over towards the freshman dorms.

“Wow, I must say I’m impressed with how organized this all is,” Matt’s mom commented afterwards as his dad drove forward. She turned down the country radio station, and Matt inwardly had to scoff; why did people have to turn down the radio when they were close to their destination? Like somehow it was going to help them understand the directions better.

Matt leans forward between his parents to look out the windshield. “Yeah, it’s almost like they’ve done this sort of thing before.”

His mother turns to him with a smarmy grin. “You know, I didn’t see a single Chipotle anywhere around here. Are you sure you’re going to be able to survive here without your daily fix?”

Matt now made sure to scoff out loud. “Yeah, asking me as we’re literally about to move into my dorm is some great timing there, mom, but I think I’ll be fine. If not, I’ll just be sure to make friends with someone who has a car.”

“Smart thinking,” Matt’s father said as he caught a group of students with matching green shirts all waving them over towards a specific parking spot. 

As soon as the SUV parked, Matt and his parents got out and were greeted by the students while they all offered to help gather up all of his large bins of belongings, his suitcases full of clothes, the futon folded up in the trunk. Much to him and his parent’s relief, they would assist them in helping carry it all up to his room on the third floor.

Matt gazed up at the red-brick dormitory with the landscaped concrete walkway leading up towards glass doors of the main lobby. It was named HKMC for the four halls it was comprised of: Keith, Hansen, Milnes, and his specific hall: Chinnock. It branched off to the right of the main lobby and was paired with Milnes, which was specifically a girl’s dorm.

Matt’s mother immediately made herself comfortable and carried just a bedside lamp while walking alongside the students carrying Matt’s heavier items. 

“I can’t tell you how relieved we are that you guys are all here to help out! I don’t know how these two would’ve done it all by themselves.” His mom laughed like she’d just told the world’s funniest joke while gesturing back towards Matt and his father, who were both highly unamused as they both carried something in their hands. She turned to the closest student. “How was this all organized anyways?”

A tall, athletic girl with a high ponytail flashed Matt’s mom a polite smile over the suitcase in her arms. “We’re the Track and Field team. Stout has it set up that all the athletic teams arrive here a few days early to help out with freshman move-in day.”

She nodded towards the next dorm down the street with more student-athletes in different shirts were helping other families. “Each team is assigned a dorm and helps everyone move in. It’s supposed to be a part of the ‘Freshman Experience.’”

Matt’s mom’s face lit up. “What a great idea! Matt, you should think about joining a team while you’re here. It’ll help keep you in good shape.”

Matt buried himself behind his suitcase in response. He pointedly ignored the several pairs of eyes now on him, especially the older guys with cutoff workout tanks, charming smiles, facial hair, and shredded arms. He cursed himself under his breath at how much his face burned. 

The inside of HKMC certainly didn’t help cool things down either. There was no central air-conditioning, so after just one trip up the stairwell to the third floor, everyone broke out in a sweat. Matt had at least remembered to bring two fans with him, but maybe he should’ve urged his parents to splurge on the window AC-unit the university offered for an extra hundred dollars. He wondered if it was worth bringing it up as he wiped his forehead with his free arm.

The group stopped in front of Chinnock 316, Matt’s assigned room, and he fumbled with his keys as once again all eyes landed on him. He made sure to not pay attention to a particularly attractive guy lift up his shirt to wipe the sweat off his brow, and finally opened the door to an empty dorm room, the shades pulled tight to darken the room in shadows.

“Looks like we beat your roommate here,” Matt’s mother commented while everyone piled in. 

While the members of the track team unloaded everything, Matt wanted to snap some snarky remark like “no shit, mom,” but instead responded with a low grunt as he set down his backpack.   

Back during his orientation in the spring, Matt check-marked the box to let the UW-Stout Housing Department match him with a random roommate, which is never a good gamble, but what choice did he really have? Once July came, they’d emailed him saying he was paired with someone named “Thomas Thornfield.” 

Immediately logging onto Facebook and scrolling through his profile, Matt had deducted that they wouldn’t become friends based off how little they seemingly had in common. Thomas was a total gamer (not that there was anything wrong with that), but Matt always preferred to read a book or catch up on whatever wrestling show he missed that week. Nonetheless, Matt had started a message thread so they could introduce each other and figure out who’d bring what when it came time to move into their dorm together. They’d be living in an eleven-by-fifteen foot room together for the next ten months, they might as well try to get along with each other.

Once everything was inside the cramped space, the track athletes all said their goodbyes as they walked out the door to go back and help out the next family moving in. Matt’s mom immediately sprang into her house-cleaning mode. 

“Alright honey, I will put away your clothes if you and your father want to adjust the bed and move the futon,” Matt’s mother said. The air in the room was warm and stuffy, so she pulled the shades and opened the window to try and get some airflow inside, then all three began the arduous task of unpacking everything he brought. 

Not even five minutes passed when Matt’s mother sat down at his desk chair and pulled a bottled water out of her purse while him and his father attempted to lower the lofted bed down a peg or two. They weren’t sure if the bars were completely back inside the slots, so Matt tested it out by climbing up top, and it’d seemed secure enough at the time. It was a little bit wobbly, but who knew how old the bed frames were anyways? 

“So, how do you feel, college man?” His mother asked while she remained seated. “Has it hit you quite yet?”

Matt pinched his shirt and aired himself out. “I feel winded to be completely honest, but that just might be because, you know, I’m actually putting stuff away.” 

His mother’s smile dropped. “Watch your step, son.” 

Matt raised his hands in surrender and apologized. “I guess I’m just nervous since I literally don’t know anyone here or have any idea what’s going to happen, you know?” 

Some warmth returned to his mother’s expression. “I know, and it’s completely normal to feel that way, but remember how you’ve been saying how you’ve been ready for this?”

“Yeah, that’s because I just needed to get the hell—,” Matt mumbled another quick apology “,—heck out of Eagan, because it sucked for me back there.” 

“Well, and I could tell you were miserable, but now you’re here, and can finally start over. You can have a fresh start like I bet you’ve always wanted.”

It was freaky how sometimes it felt like his mother could read his mind, because that’s exactly what he’s been been excited for since he’d started applying for schools about a year ago. Sure, the thought of having to meet an entirely new group of people was also terrifying, but it couldn’t have been worse than how he’d had it back home where someone’s reputation was pretty much set ever since elementary school. 

Before he knew it, Matt was all moved in. His half of the dorm room was already feeling like his cramped and tiny new home. He stood with his parents in the middle of the room as they all took it in. 

His mom’s eyes started to well up with tears. “Well, it looks like this is it…I can’t believe my son is about to begin his college career!” 

Matt’s mom embraced him with her shoulders shaking, and he moaned despite everything. If someone else cried around him, it’d only mean he’d start crying too, and he couldn’t be known as the guy on his floor who cried while hugging his mom as soon as he moved in.

His father chuckled off to the side. “You’re fine, he’ll be home for Thanksgiving.” 

His mom gasped. “But that’s so far away, what will I do with myself until then?”

Matt struggled to disentangle himself from her surprisingly firm embrace. “You know you have another child, right? His name is Bryce?”

His mother scoffed even while her eyes welled up. “Oh please, we all know he’d rather be out smoking god knows what with his friends.” They all laughed at that as she let him go. 

“You could always just come home with another random dog like you did before,” Matt suggested. 

His father hmmpthd. “Yeah, that’s not happening ever again.”

His mother laughed. “Agreed, that was a onetime deal.” She turned back to Matt with a sad smile. “But can you at least call every now and then so I can hear your voice, please?”

Matt slowly grinned down at his mom with a warmth in his chest, an ache he hadn’t expected started to . “Of course I will, you know I will.”

His mother’s shoulder’s sagged in relief. “Alright, well we promised your grandparents we’d meet them for lunch back in the cities afterwards, so we better get going before traffic becomes a total nightmare.”

Matt shifted his weight with his hands in his pockets. “Okay, I can probably finish off the rest of the unpacking and see what else is going around campus.” 

“We love you, my son,” his mother’s eyes started to well up with tears again. “We are so proud of you, and we know you’ll have the time of your life while you’re here.” 

Matt felt pressure behind his eyes and had to look away, so he turned toward his dad, who wore a cheeky little grin.

His dad patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t only call when you need money, okay?”

Matt snorted but retuned his smile. “I’ll do my best.”

His parents said their final goodbyes, and once they walked out that doorway and disappeared down the hallway was when it finally hit Matt square in the chest so hard that it was like the wind got knocked out from him.

He was truly on his own for the first time ever. He wouldn’t come home to a home cooked meal almost every night, he’d have to finally figure out how to do his own laundry, and he’d have to remind himself to finish his homework and set his alarm for the next morning. 

Before, he’d always complained about wanting to move out and not have to deal with constant nagging, but now he questioned whether he was truly ready for it all.

~ ~ ~

The sun by now was high in the sky and the weather couldn’t be more perfect on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. The UW-Stout campus was alive with all the other newly incoming freshman moving into their dorms while saying goodbye to their loved ones; the mixed feelings of anxiousness, uncertainty, but mostly excitement was absolutely contagious and practically hummed in the air.

Matt decided to put in his earbuds to add some rhythm to his step while he took a stroll through the lively campus to soak it all in. It sure beat twiddling his thumbs while sitting alone in his room. The final straw was how he’d actually considered walking around the floor and introducing himself to the other guys while they moved in to try and get over his shyness, but that immediately drew a big, fat NOPE from his inner voice of reason. 

He’d never admitted it to anyone before, but he secretly enjoyed making playlists for just about everything: his favorite books, or even just for sleep, relaxing and rainy days, when he was down and depressed, and even upbeat and happy. He’d even made one for this day. 

As he walked across the quad between the dorms and the nearby dining hall, he had some rhythm to his step with bands like Yellowcard, Third Eye Blind, and Hot Chelle Rae.

As he passed by North Hall, Matt noticed the football team was out front helping others move in. All of the athletes wore their navy-blue and black Blue Devils jerseys, and Matt wondered if he’d ever make it to a game at some point during the season. It’d feel weird since instead of being under the Friday night lights, their games would be at noon the next morning. 

One particularly handsome player with a perfect smile and hair said something to a group of his teammates, causing them all to bust out in laughter. One shared some intricate handshake with him while a couple of girls smiled in appreciation before whispering to each other, the sway of their hips in short, cutoff denim even more noticeable than before.

Matt watched it all unfold before he regarded himself and dejectedly noted his un-styled short brown hair, t-shirt, worn out sneakers, and cargo shorts combo. That, along with his semi husky figure, convinced him that he was probably never going to be like Mr. Alpha over there anytime soon if ever. 

Half an hour later, he returned back to his room to find his roommate, Thomas, was already moved into his side of the room. He was seated at his desk with noise cancelling headphones over his ears with an attached mouthpiece, and he was playing some shooting game on his laptop. He slammed his hands on the desk causing Matt to jump. 

Thomas repeated himself to whomever he was playing with while continuously pounding away at his keyboard. “C’mon man! You gotta look behind you, or that asshole will just keep fucking us up!”

After standing there for about five minutes or five years, Matt feigned a cough and exaggerated his movements, to which Thomas finally glanced up and noticed him for the first time. His thick spectacles caught a flash of light coming from the window. “Oh, hey man! I just gotta finish this level real quick, then I’ll be done.” 

Matt nodded, but Thomas was already back to his game before he could even respond. With a deep sigh, Matt slumped down onto his futon underneath his bed. In between more cussing and pounding keys, he heard Thomas mutter, “Nah man, my roommate just walked in, so we gotta chat for a sec.” 

Well, this is off to a great start, Matt thought to himself.

While he continued to wait, he silently took in the other side of the room his new roommate took over. Back in their Facebook messages, Thomas had insisted he’d bring his own TV and PlayStation, both of which were already set up on a cheap looking stand most likely from some old relative underneath his own lofted bed. Shoved up against it were enormous semi-clear storage bins full of wrinkled clothes, tangled cords, and multiple wireless controllers with another filled with snacks like instant ramen, hot chocolate packets, protein bars, Cheetos, Capri Sun juice boxes, and double-stuffed Oreos.

Physically, Thomas was a bigger guy sort of similar to Matt’s body type, but he seemed more like someone who put personal hygiene pretty low on his list of priorities: his black hair stood up in random spots, there was some odd odor that definitely hadn’t been there before he’d moved in, and his fingernails desperately needed to be trimmed. A chill ran down Matt’s spine as he imagined the sound of  something scraping across a chalkboard.

Were they going to have to talk about these issues, or should Matt just stay silent and let it all slide? He had absolutely no idea.

Somehow, he didn’t imagine his freshman year starting of quite like this…


Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell


Daily Writing Challenge #8

Welcome back readers! Just another day in the pandemic that we’re all going through, but my motivation today is that I have Savoy’s pizza preordered and so I excited knowing I have a great dinner on the way! Here’s todays Daily Challenge prompt below, based off the image of a bonfire with friends:



On a late August afternoon, Matt walked through the back fenced door into the small backyard, and smiled to himself at all the faces already sitting around a lit bonfire pit. Peter, Tony, and the three other guys they were living with had all sent out a mass text telling everyone who was back at school to come over to their place and have a reunion, and Matt had no idea so many of his friends had returned. 

Eden was the first to notice him walking, so she squealed with joy and rose up out of her lawn chair. Her blunt bangs bouncing in tune with the clap of her flip flops, Matt’s mood continued to rise as she jogged over to wrap him up into one of her signature bear hugs. 

“Oh my goodness! It’s so great to see you, Matt!” Eden gave him a peck on the cheek, and everyone else’s greeting could be heard over the crackling of the fire. “Come, come! Sit next to me, I’m sure we can pull up a chair somewhere.”

“Right here, bud.” Peter gestured to a chair he’d grabbed that’d been resting against the house. “Happy to see you, can I get you a beer?”

“No, I’m fine, but thank you.” Matt sat down and smiled around the fire. “I missed you guys, it’s great to be back.”

Jared grinned from across the circle. “You look like you got plenty of sun, Bedbreaker.”

Matt chuckled. “That’s what being a lifeguard will do to you.”

“So that’s why you’re so blond.”

Madison flipped her long hair over her shoulder as she peered over while sipping on a WhiteClaw. “No way, he totally got some highlights.” She got up to get a closer look at Matt’s scalp, and he squirmed in his seat when she made a satisfied noise in her throat. “I knew it.”

Matt groaned. “Nice to see you too, Mads.”

“Love you, boo.” Madison tossed him an air-kiss before she went back to her chair next to Jared, who’s grin only widened.

“Don’t worry, I think you look pretty neat,” Eden said with a wink.

“I see it now,” Peter said. “But you look good, bud.”

“Well, now that my hair has gotten enough attention, how about we change the subject,” Matt suggested. “Like, favorite summer memory?”  


I know, I know… it’s not much to go off of. I used some familiar characters I’ve created from my “When In Doubt” project (check it all out above on the main menu), and believe me, there were plenty of similar scenes like the image above when I went to college.

I thought some small plot or conflict would come to me as I started writing, but it just didn’t happen, so I can admit that today’s daily wasn’t all that much of a success. It happens, and I told myself that I’d post the less successful days on here too to maybe show others that not every day is a successful writing day, and there’s nothing wrong with that! To be honest, I’ve been working on my 2nd Draft of my WIP, and my focus was more on that.

Danielle, my cowriter and friend doing these daily’s with me, and I have another prompt for our next short story, and I should have it written later tonight and posted soon!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell


Daily Writing Challenge #1

Hello all you cool cats and kittens, Nick Goodsell here, and like many of you, I am sick of this pandemic that’s taken the world by storm. I’m not going to be yet another person droning on about it, so I’m already going to leave it at that…

Writing has been a huge coping mechanism for me during these crazy times, and has been a great way to not only distract myself, but enjoy the act of creating something for myself, and maybe even someone else can enjoy or be inspired by. A friend and me were talking about stories and the “Choices” role playing app, and discussing my “When in Doubt” WIP when we came up with the idea to do a fun activity of doing daily writing challenges based off a prompt we switch off and personally select. Since this is my personal blog and want to include more writing projects besides just book reviews and fancasts, I thought I’d post mine on here and share with whoever happens upon them!

My friend, Danielle, selected the first prompt and she selected this image to write a short piece about:

Not sure who the artist is, I’d of course credit them if I knew, but the landscape of the shadowy city mixed with old and new gave me an idea of a steampunk-like heist story involving a small group of rogues who need to steal a powerful, magical item from a corrupt Commandant in order to save their city and return their world back to its former glory.

Without further ado, here’s my excerpt:

“The Heist”

This world may be shrouded in darkness, it may be in the creeping shadows that are filled with the unknown faces of soulless, roaring monsters, but no more. Tonight, they’d put an end to it all. 

For too long has the Lord Commandant kept the Alkalian Shield in this world, and for too long has it been a parasite, and has sucked the life from this world in which was once a grand oasis, but now lay in dark and the edge of total annihilation. Paranoia, fear, and chaos have taken over with a brutalistic pull of the trigger, with a twist of cap off a blackhole grenade, and the city of Alpatuan has become the centerpiece for the horror of what everything this world has become. The poster city of desperation, carnage, and near extinction. 

From a nondescript roof of a small factory in the heart of the city, five figures hid in the shadows of its smoke stacks, completely unseen as they watched the streets below while ash continued to fall from the black sky like snow. 

Andrian, a mercenary and the captain of their small rebel crew, narrowed his eyes as he watched three of the totalitarianistic officers corner a woman who was walking completely alone. They were supposed to be the keepers of peace and order, the presence of safety and protection against the crime that was rampant, yet there they were cornering some poor, innocent soul into an alleyway to rob her of whatever she had, and to possibly commit even worse crimes.  

He took a deep breath to keep himself in place once the screaming began. He hates what his home has become.

“Easy, Captain.” 

Andrain turned to Elthea, the shapeshifting assassin who’s head slightly turned his way, and gave her a gruff nod. “I know the plan.”

Her eyes narrowed, but Elthea looked back towards her sector while the others remained stoic and silent at their posts. 

Andrian’s hazel eyes traveled over her lithe form and noted how she’d gone with her darker skin, long ebony hair, and elongated elven ears for the expert hearing she’d need for their mission. She’d widened her hips since the last time he’d seen her, and memories of last night and their night of wicked passion came rushing back to him and caused his blood to flow to all areas of his body. It was a swift, stolen act in the back storage room while they’d all been resting for the task ahead, but lords had it been absolutely thrilling and absolutely mind altering. All three times. 

Andrian swallowed as he told himself that if they survived this night, they’d have to do a couple repeat performances. When he was sure she wouldn’t notice, Andrian squatted in his position to subtly adjust himself without moving his hands from his semi-automatic bronze rifle. 

“Captain, suspicious movement on my end,” Rokanathon, his Skyphos spymaster, warned him from the edge of the roof. With his grey feathered wings, and the winged Skyphos people’s ability to stay as stiff as stone for periods of time, he was a gargoyle as he watched over his section of the city. 

Andrian’s dirty thoughts flashed from his mind, and he flipped the dark locks of hair that had fallen over his eyes back, and crept over to whatever Rokanathon was reporting about without making a sound. All the others became tense, but no one still made a sound as Andrian peered over his spymaster’s large, tucked in right wing. Sure enough, the figure they’d been waiting for maneuvered through the foggy streets; avoiding contact with anyone as their midnight violet cloak stirred in the air around them. 

Andrian scratched his lightly stubbled chin with satisfaction as he witnessed the glowing object the figure carried preciously in their gloved hands. “Good work, Ro.”

Without looking away, he signaled for Elthea, and like she was made of the mist of the early dawn, she was right at his side, her lavender eyes now also trailing who was soon to be her latest acquisition. 

Andrian couldn’t help but give her a teasing bump of his shoulder. “Think you can handle ‘em?”

He could sense her eyes narrow at him, but also knew her lips quirked up into a smirk that would’ve sent chills down his spine if he could see it for himself. The air was stolen from his lungs when one of her needle-like knives appeared at his throat, and the scent of rainfall when it lingered on stone mixed with sea mist intoxicated his senses.  

“I think you of all people know that I’ve got it covered,” she said along his ear, and he tried his damndest not to shiver at the breath he felt lace along his throat. She wasn’t about to have him lose control in front of everyone else, even if she was obviously enjoying watching him squirm. 

Andrian dared to gaze into her eyes, and was both aroused and terrified of the devilish amusement lit in her heated gaze. “Then the plan’s all in motion.” He signaled to all the others to move into the next phase of their heist. “Let’s move.”

That’s all I’ve got for now! What do you think? Feel free to join in and create your own work based off this prompt, we could form some sort of writers community and help each other out!

If not that, if you want to get more into writing, I recommend going out and finding your own prompts and/or writing inspirations to keep those juices flowing! It’s a fun activity to try everyday, and who knows, maybe you’ll find the next Harry Potter in your work

Thanks for reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

15 Questions to Ask Someone Who’d Just Read Your Novel

Image created with canva.com

So, you’ve finished the first draft of whatever piece of literature you may have written: a novel, screenplay, memoir, biography, self-help, or erotic fanfiction that you feel brave enough to share outside of Tumblr or An Archive of Our Own…first off, I want to tell you congratulations!! You’ve just accomplished something major that not everyone else can claim to have done, and that deserves to be rewarded. I say, go for that extra slice of chocolate cake, eat that gigantic plate of carbolicious pasta, have a whole bottle of wine, sleep in or whatever you prefer to do when you treat yo’self!

***Act responsibly, of course!***

One thing you absolutely should do is take a step back and separate yourself from your draft and give your mind a mental vacation. A few days to a week, maybe two, is the best amount, but honestly it’s up to you!

After the celebration is complete and you’re ready to get back to work with a fresh pair of eyes and rejuvenated mind, you can then start editing. One great method of doing that is to gather a small batch of people called “Beta Readers.” For those that are not familiar with the term, they’re basically a small group of people—similar to a focus group—who read your work and give you feedback on how it is: what works and what doesn’t, are there major plot holes, and what the overall impression of your words look like for someone other than yourself. They can give valuable perspective from an outside source, and give a whole new perspective to make your work even an even stronger piece of literature.

Going about gathering those readers is also important. Ryan J. Pelton wrote a similar article to this topic on writingcooperative.com—the link is HERE—but for those that want to stay loyal to my URL, he gives some guidelines on who would be a great candidate:

  1. Beta Readers shouldn’t be writers, if possible…basically, it’s a tricky spot because each writer has their own voice, their own method of how things work with written word, and it’s likely they’d focus too much on switching things around to however they’d write it. Beta Readers shouldn’t be correcting grammar (unless it’s a universal no-no); they’re to help figure out story flow, character impressions and development, pacing, and plot. Grammar is something you’ll worry about later!
  2. Only choose 1-2 Beta Readers…Everyone reads at a different pace and interprets the words differently. Ryan also uses the quote: too many cooks in the kitchen to help emphasize the point that too many people at a time giving feedback could be counter productive. I gave my five beta readers two months to look my draft over (which may or may not be more than enough time), and you want to make sure you’re selected readers you trust will actually do it and give honest, constructive criticism. Imagine my disappointment when the two months passed, and I get back to my some of my readers on their progress, and I either get some of them didn’t actually read it or the greatest response ever: “It was good.”…that’s it.

For this article, I focused more on the types of questions to ask if you’d written a piece of fiction over a piece of nonfiction like a memoir, biography, or self-help title. You really want to leave the questions open-ended so you don’t just get “Yes” or “No” answers, as those don’t really help. There are also plenty of other questions you may want to ask your readers that pertain to specific components of your story, and that’s totally okay! Go with that gut feeling, I am all about that journey for you. Just remember, you also don’t want to overwhelm your readers with too many questions, so I’d probably stick to twenty questions maximum; the twenty questions are entirely up to you on whatever answers you seek.

Below is the list of questions (in no particular order) that seemed to be broad enough to cover all the main aspects of what the Beta Reader is supposed to look for:

“At what point did you feel like the story had really begun?”

This question is about when they sat down and started reading, and you want to know where it was when they’d first gone “Awh yeah, now it’s getting good!” What was that first initial part that was (hopefully) early on in the story that really pushed it along and raises the call to action. Ideally, the introduction to the main conflict of the story should be introduced within the first 1-3 chapters, and I’ve had some fellow readers even say they give a book only the first twenty-five pages to grab their attention, and they’ll toss it aside if they aren’t interested by then…so if need be, get to the point!

“What parts did you find yourself skimming over?”

Basically, what were the boring parts? What parts seemed slower to the overall story, and if possible, how can you make them better? Maybe you don’t even need them at all, and could probably axe it from your story entirely. If you’re an artist, you’ve probably heard the phrase “kill your darlings,” which means to not get too attached and be prepared to trim off anything that needs to be. One suggestion that I’d like to give is to not actually delete any parts you decide to omit from your story, but instead to cut and paste them into a separate document–you never know if you might actually need them later on in the same project, or a different one!

“Was the overall premise of the story exciting enough?”

Did the conflict seem big enough? Are the stakes high enough? Is the conflict something the main character(s) absolutely can’t walk away from? If not, maybe you need to go back and rethink a few things about the plot…Think about Frodo and his task of taking the one ring to Mordor in order to destroy it before Sauron can fully return to power! Think about Harry Potter needing to defeat Voldemort in order to save the world. Your premise doesn’t necessarily need to be end of the world level of excitement, but it does need to be big enough to be a story worth telling.

“Did the conflict(s) your main character(s) deal with seem big enough or relatable at all?”

Besides the outer conflict, there’s also the inner conflict that your character is dealing with as well that’s a driving force for the whole story. Maybe they’re just looking for an adventure, or maybe they seek acknowledgement or glory from everyone, or maybe it’s to come to terms and move on from a past trauma, or it’s falling in love; it could be anything! What does your character want more than anything, and what are they willing to do to get it? Also, is their desire relatable in any way? Is it a desire anyone else could have in their own life, even if it’s not the same as the Beta Reader’s? If you have a main cast of multiple main characters: if their story arc doesn’t seem strong enough, if their development doesn’t seem strong enough, should they even be a main character? Maybe they’re better served as a minor character instead.

“Which characters(s) felt the most fleshed out, and who wasn’t?”

Obviously, some characters are going to receive more attention than others, especially if you have a cast of multiple main characters. For my WIP, I have a cast of six characters as my main cast, and I will say: it’s tricky… I relate to some of my characters more than others, and it does show in the writing with how in-depth you are able to get with their inner turmoil and their overall story arc. Do they have their own personality, or does it blend too much with someone else, and your readers may even get the two confused.

“Were there any moments in the story that felt really confusing?”

When you’re writing a scene in your story or maybe it’s just describing a person, place, or object, you may have a clear image in your head of what it all looks like. Unfortunately, no one is a mind reader–at least as far as I’m aware of–and they might not actually understand what you’re saying or trying to get across. Or, maybe you got some facts mixed up, or you screwed up a name somewhere, and need to go back and fix it. Maybe a character did something that’s completely against what they represent or it was so out of the blue, maybe rethink it if it’s purely for shock value.

“What were your thoughts on the pacing of the story?”

For this question, it’s all about how well your story flows. Is it really choppy and inconsistent, or do the scenes transition really well together? Is there a definite beginning, middle, and end? Does the tension rise as you read further along? With that, are the stakes continuing to rise and is the character being put in more confrontations that they can’t simply walk away from?

“At what point(s) in the story did you start to care about the main character(s), if at all?”

It’s referred to as the “Saving the Cat” in the story, but what it means is was there a specific moment in the story that really showed the characters moral code in a simple moment. If they’re being chased, would they take a longer route to avoid running over the little old lady across the street, or would they not care? Would they stop to save the cat stuck up in a tree, or would they say “screw you, beast, I’m out!” It’s usually how the character reacts to a certain situation that shows what kind of person they are, and the main character(s) need to be likeable to some degree, whether they’re the hero, the antagonist, or even the villain.

“Was the storyline too predictable?”

Maybe your story needs a few more levels of excitement to boost it up, or some major plot twists that no one could see coming. It would still need to make sense for the sake of the story, but readers need a delicate balance between what is expected to happen, and something that comes along that they’d never experienced before or never would’ve expected to happen. Maybe a character experiences a major betrayal from someone they’d trusted most of their life? Maybe a belief or myth that everyone had believed true for thousands of years turned out to be a lie? Maybe the villain turns out to be the father? Maybe someone’s gay? Be sure to add some foreshadowing moments so it’s not completely out of the blue, but to also add some sizzle to that steak!

“Did the characters sound like actual people with their dialogue?”

You’d want to go back and check your dialogue by reading it out loud and checking how well it sounds and flows together. I’m guilty of doing this, but characters can’t say lines while they laugh, snort, yawn, etc… It doesn’t make sense, and it’s an amateurish move in any sort of writing. Also, consider how each character sounds in the sense of their own voice. Not everyone talks the same way, and can use different words, dialects, or phrases to describe the same thing. Each character needs their own specific voice/vocabulary to help stand out amongst everyone else.

“How was the setting? Was it too descriptive or not descriptive enough in some areas?”

Going back to the question of whether something was really confusing in the story, the setting could be a specific component that may need to be edited. It may have made sense to you, but you want to make sure others can understand the image you’re trying to paint in their heads as to the location(s) your characters are in the story. Like Goldilocks and the three bears, you need to be just right in the amount of descriptions you give about the place. No one wants to read half a page of what the coffee shop looks like; they can fill in the blanks to a certain degree, and really, you should mainly stick to whatever is within the setting that pertains to the story. You want to sprinkle out little tidbits as the scene moves along, or even wait until the characters return another time to describe something. All in all, avoid info dumps but give your readers something to work with too.

“Did it feel like the main character(s)’s story arc had a strong enough beginning, middle, and end?”

Your character’s arc needs to somewhere to start, how it furthers along as the plot thickens and they have choices to make, and to have some sort of resolution towards the end. If it’s a series, maybe some part of its conclusion doesn’t happen right away, but a small chunk of it definitely does as every book within a series needs to have it’s own storyline within–Think about the Harry Potter books and how each one has it’s own journey or quest that Harry, Ron, and Hermoine work through everytime they return to Hogwarts. They deal with the sorcerer’s stone, then the chamber in the next one, and so forth as it all pertains to ultimately defeating Voldemort in the grand scheme of things. It helps to have an idea of how the story arc will end from the very beginning when you initially start writing the story, that way you’ll have knowledge of the direction the story arc is going and won’t drift off it’s path.

“If you had to get rid of at least one character, who would you take out from the cast, and why?”

You love all your characters, you don’t want to kill any of your darlings, but maybe your story is too long, or there’s just too many scenes that are filler and don’t need to be there. If their story arc isn’t strong enough, if their conflict isn’t strong enough, or they just don’t really serve much of a purpose at all except for maybe being another sidekick to the main character, maybe consider that a character should just be taken out of the story. Reminder: don’t just delete everything! Cut, paste, and store into a separate document somewhere because you never know if you’ll use that material elsewhere!

“What was the most exciting/suspenseful part of the story for you?”

You’re looking for criticism on plenty of what doesn’t work for your story, but you should also be aware of what DOES work for your story. Maybe you’re really good at writing sex scenes, or battles, or weaving between different character’s perspectives, or something else. That’s great, and you should also look into why whatever it is that works well in your writing, and remember it for future projects. Don’t fix something what isn’t broken, and it’ll even help make it easier on what components you should focus on in your writing from now on.

“What was the last book you’d read?”

This seems like a random addition, but it’s more for the Beta Reader themselves because how they critique your work can be heavily influenced by what they normally read, or even the last title they’ve read. Maybe they’re on a vampire binge, or maybe they’re looking for the next fantasy series to forget about the travesty that was season 8 of Game of Thrones, or they’re really into contemporary romance/erotica, or they’re not even into fiction at all, and instead love to read about subjects of history or political science. This can help you get a little intel into where your reader’s mindset is at when they’re looking through your work.


So there you have it, some help for anyone who feels a little lost on what exactly to do after you’ve finished writing your novel!

Look for feedback and gain some insight into where you need to go next, and honestly, remember to take whatever a Beta Reader says with a grain of salt. What they suggest may only pertain to their needs as a reader, and they only really offer another set of eyes on your work. They may be onto something or maybe they’re not; I’d at least take a closer look into whatever they’ve pointed out and give it some more thought, but ultimately it’s YOU that makes the final call! It’s YOUR work that YOU created!

Be proud, and be happy that you created something that took a lot of time and effort to do!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell