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Posts Tagged ‘stories’

Using Beta Readers

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Earlier this week, I received a two-part question:  Who are beta readers, and why should I be using them?

Beta readers are people who read early versions of your manuscript.  In general, they should be in your target market (e.g., if, like me, you’re writing a book in the fantasy genre, your beta readers will tend to read lots of fantasy).

Their job is to:

  • read your entire work
  • let you know what parts they found boring, unnecessary, confusing, or conflicting
  • look for specific problems that you’re curious about (consistent characters, believable sequence of events, etc.)
  • give you an overall rating of your book…ideally, “I would recommend this to a friend”

Note that beta readers are not critique partners.  It’s unlikely that they’re writers, or have knowledge of how to construct a story.  However, they are likely to “know good work when they see it”.

You should use beta readers when you think your book is nearing its final form.  For example, I am nearly finished with my novel, so I plan to use some beta readers starting in mid-February.  If you still have major revisions planned for your work, you probably should not be using beta readers.

With any beta reader, you should always set expectations up front.  I plan to send the following guidelines to my beta readers.

Thank you for agreeing to be a beta reader for my current novel.  Since this is a work in progress, I am looking for your feedback on the following items:

  • Did you stay engaged in the book?
  • Were the characters interesting enough to hold your attention?
  • Were there any parts that seemed long and/or boring?  If so, where?
  • Who was your favorite character?  Was there a reason you liked him or her?
  • Was there anything that made you think: “There’s no way that would happen!”?  If so, please describe.
  • Would you recommend this book to a friend?  If so, could you describe the person you would recommend this to (no names please)?

In this case, I value honesty more than my feelings.  We can still be friends even if you hate this book.

What other questions would you ask?  Do you disagree with this approach?  Have you used beta readers successfully?  Share your experiences below!

How Do I Make My Story Longer?

Monday, January 18th, 2010

From time to time, I am asked for general strategies to make a manuscript or short story longer, without boring the reader.

The writers who ask this question aren’t trying just to increase the word count of their manuscript, but instead feel like their story is missing something. However, these writers aren’t sure how to coax the additional details from their story.

I usually suggest rereading your story with your readers in mind. As a reader, what am I likely to find interesting next? Are there opportunities for adding a bit more backstory to help your readers understand why a particular character makes a specific decision?

Look at your plot. Is there any missing time? How does a reader know what’s happened?

Is there an interesting character you’d like to spend more time with? Go ahead and do so…after all, it’s your story.

Finally, sometimes your story has just come to its natural end. If you feel that you’ve done all you can to improve your story, then it may be time to submit your manuscript to an editing service (such as the editing service here at WritAnon) or a set of beta readers to get their take on the story.

Editing services or beta readers can often help you find holes in your plot or identify opportunities to further explore an interesting character or concept.

What other ideas do you have to make your story longer, without making it boring? Comment below!

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