Monday, February 06, 2012

Why We Need Beta Readers

Beta readers, of course, read what the Alpha dog (the writer) has written with a critical eye to catch any major kinks in the story - grammar, characterization, plot, or otherwise. Since I cycle through my manuscript from the beginning as I write (I reread and edit and then take a flying leap forward by writing the next scene, then repeat the process) I often catch my own missteps.

But I don't see them all because, as I make changes in one part of the story, I get so engrossed in the process I don't notice how that change affects other scenes. The more I immerse myself in my writing, the more opportunity for minor flubs that fresh eyes will likely catch right away.

Here's one I found recently from my forthcoming serial novella, Worm (and if I hadn't I'm certain my beta readers would have):

Robyn stifled a cry and Worm swung around. Jake, waving a bottle of Jim Bean, was standing in the hall. He'd emerged from Worm's bedroom in a stupor. The man's dirty blond hair scraped his bare shoulders and a pair of boxers sagged around his waist. He blinked a few times, adjusting to the hallway's 100 watts. Jake put the bottle to his lips, took a swig, then wiped his forearm across his three day stubble.
Jake stepped back a few paces, reached behind him and pulled out a gun that had been wedged between his belt and back. The Glock waved wildly in syncopation with Jake's unsteady rocking. "I'm tellin' you. You make a move against me boy, and I'll stick this down your..."

Wha...? The guy pulled a gun from his belted underwear? Oops, no. My first draft had Jake simply showing up drunk and all hell breaks loose, he pulls a gun, etc., etc. On my second edit cycle I knew I needed Jake in the house, so he comes out of the bedroom in his boxers. But I'd forgotten that the first draft Jake was clothed. Here's the revision:

Jake stepped back a few paces and, temporarily disappearing into the darkened bedroom, reemerged with a gun. The Glock waved wildly in syncopation with Jake's unsteady rocking.

Okay, maybe not as exciting as whipping the gun out from behind his back, but a bit more realistic, don't you think? That's just one example. I have others - and so do you. That's why we need beta readers. Anyone want to testify?


  1. There's always the ol' characters-changing-names-mid-draft problem. Or, more likely with fantasy, characters'-names-changing-spelling-because-someone-got-lazy-as-a-typist.

    I very much depend on my betas. They don't have the same set of biases as me, and they catch almost all my typos. It's an honor to beta back on some of their fabulous writing.

    (FWIW personally I'd have had Jake come stumbling out bare-chested, but with his dusty jeans on, the .22 pistol shoved in the waistband of the pants that he had all-too-evidently slept in. Gentlemen who slouch around other people's houses getting soused don't usually have the wherewithal to buy Glocks, seems to me, but then I don't know who Jake is and you do.)

  2. Ooh, good thought on Jake and jeans. He's Worm's "stepdad" (Worm's mom is Robyn, her boyfriend from when Worm was younger, but they did manage to marry barely, lol) Jake is waking up from a drunken stupor after having beaten up Robyn. Worm is in the middle of a conversation with Robyn when Jake stumbles into the hall and interrupts them and goes ballistic.

    At any rate, appreciate the perspective. I'll share another faux pas tomorrow. :)

  3. Heh - that was the setup I pictured, but thought maybe it was my mining town background coloring my thinking.

    Wouldn't Jake have to pee first thing? Give Worm a bit of warning.

    (Sorry, I can't help myself. I'll stop now.)

  4. lol, no he doesn't have to pee, he's been drinking his whole life and has learned out to hold it. :)

  5. Yep. I hear all the time that Beta readers really help. I don't use them though.

    I get confused. Agree with every crit, even the contradictory ones. It's very sad.

    I soldier on alone.

  6. That's the disadvantage of critiques - everyone's an expert! lol Soldiering on alone helps avoid that problem, for sure. Follow your own inner compass. Unless it's broken.

  7. *laughs* which way is north by north east, again?


Keep it clean and positive. (And sorry about the word verification, but the spmb*ts are out in full force!)