Note: This post is not about an Elven Prince. It simply made me laugh, plus the dude can act. What’s not to love. 🙂
My Summer Reading
Last summer a writer friend took up my offer to beta read her novel. I hadn’t done this for a long time and my nerves were showing.
Worried I’d do a poor job I wondered why I offered to begin with but a promise is a promise.
I didn’t tell her my concerns. My hope was that my ability was fine. It was nothing more than nerves. My biggest concern was my writer’s mind. What if I took ownership?
What if I couldn’t do it?
Beta Reading and other failures
There is a thing that I call the switch. It’s the ability to turn the writing portion of my mind off and see the story the way the author meant for it to be. One of the tricks to beta reading is to trust the author.
But what if I couldn’t find the switch?
After reading the first chapter I saw a problem. It wasn’t her story or her writing. I loved the idea and her writing was strong. The problem was me. I found myself taking the pen out of her hand and making her story my own.
I began to see her characters in my writer’s mind. I wanted to make them my own and place them in my voice instead of hers.
I continued for three chapters until I forced myself to stop. I came back to it later in the day and read my notes. Immediately I was angry.
The suggestions I gave were the type of notes I would have written to myself had it been my own work. I could already tell the type of characters I wanted her to create and the direction of the story I wanted her to go.
But this was her work, not mine. I was not beta reading, I was creating.
I gave myself a few days to think it over. I made her a promise but what if it was a promise I couldn’t keep?
Three days later I tried again.
Finding the Switch
The mind is a mysterious piece of magic and the magic I had hoped to find at the beginning finally found its way to the surface.
Somehow in those three days I found the switch. Her characters were no longer mine. I wasn’t trying to force her story in my direction. I was now able to read through the eyes of a reader and help the way a beta reader should.
Soon I was able to spot weak areas that needed strengthening. Suggest where depth and explanation lacked but most of all single out scenes that were perfect.
I quickly learned that the author needs to know what is working as much as what isn’t. Looking back one of the surprising things that I learned was how to improve my own writing.
How to improve by Beta Reading
When I think beta reader I think of assisting the author not the other way around. But in many ways her scenes helped me.
In some of her scenes I was curious how she would write her characters in or out of certain situations. In some cases I was certain she had painted herself in a corner only to realize she did it for a reason.
Jennifer’s style taught me to entertain in ways I hadn’t thought of before. Her way of writing allowed me to see story telling in a different light.
Talking to her afterwards she mentioned how reading and critiquing strengthens our own writing. I always knew that but I was unaware how much.
Now I do.
Finding time to Beta Read
A long time ago I worked in a fancy restaurant where the chef had a favorite saying – Always add flavor.
In a writer’s world we have one too: Always learn.
Beta reading not only helps the author it helps us, the reader. Find time to do this. For me I did a chapter a day during lunch and as you can see it was a perfect match.
Thank you Jennifer for a fun and rewarding experience.