Friday, March 29, 2013

Experimenting With Beta Readers

I'm writing a YA paranormal romance type thing. More of a mystery than a thriller (read, PG not R, and light on the romance). Since I'm a middle school Language Arts teacher and I've been told I write fairly natural/believable dialog, I thought I'd give this genre a shot. So what better readers to give feedback than middle grade and high school girls - my target audience! I recruited 4 students to help me out.

The results are mixed. Two readers are basically done after two chapters. My story, dead on arrival. Starts out too slow. No murder or betrayal or super weird paranormal activity. That's the good stuff, nowadays, I guess. The other two are hanging in there with me because they assume the "good stuff" is on the way. I'm gonna have to disappoint them, I think. Oh, they like my dialog (two sisters and a dad) and the set up is okay so far (dead mom trying to communicate with her family), but, well, you know, 'what's going to happen'?

Um, isn't that what the rest of the book is supposed to do? Answer the questions and tension that the first two or three chapters set up? I know I'm not a "10" like Natalie Babbitt or Lois Lowry, but I think even they would have trouble with today's audience. I'm reading Tuck Everlasting (Babbit) to my 6th graders and the opening is so lyrical and rhythmic...and slow...that I had students almost bail. And if they were to read The Giver (Lowry) on their own, I doubt half of them would finish it. Sigh. 

It seems that much modern written story telling is trying to mimic the first 9 minutes of television - hook 'em before the commercial break otherwise you've lost a consumer. I'm afraid many of these classic MG novels (even though they are on the shortish side) are in danger of being ignored because they don't have the "good stuff" screaming for attention on the opening page.

So what will I do? Well, I'll take into account what my young beta readers are telling me. But on the other hand, I kinda have a different definition of what makes for good stuff in a novel. Things that give the shocking elements like murder and betrayal and weird paranormal activity their context...things like plot and characterization and, oh yeah, theme.

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