Hello, Realmers! Today at Realm Central we’re going to discuss one of the most important steps toward the production of my novel, Realm. Beta reading.
A couple years ago, a friend and I shared the opinion that writing group critiques would be more beneficial if the person critiquing had knowledge of the storyline from start to finish. That sounded like a tall order, especially if the work in progress (hereafter WIP) was a novel, but the idea made sense.
Many times, we had experienced the request for/suggestion of more backstory, dialog, character development, and character arcs from someone in the writing group. These were all valid requests and suggestions, but they were made based on the assumption that none of this existed within the story.
Please don’t hear me say that critiques supplied in writing groups are of no value. That is not the case at all. However, when a writer’s only option is to present 1500 words to one chapter (a generous quantity of writing) because of time constraints, many of the critiques supplied and questions asked could have been satisfied if the reviewer only remembered that he/she was being shown a mere sliver of the WIP and that many of his/her questions were probably already addressed.
Another issue contributing to this dilemma was the fact that the reviewer probably didn’t see the initial pages of the WIP, or he/she would have had foundational knowledge prior to critiquing. Also, when you consider the inconsistency with which members attend a writing group and that they often have no control over which WIPs they’ll review, well, you see how ineffective this process can be.
I’ve witnessed too many writers waste his/her allotted review time explaining all this away. There is, however, a major benefit to attending writing groups, and I’d like to point that out now. Make—great—connections.
If you’re going to succeed as a writer, you need people you can lean on during the entire process, and some of the most important ones will be your beta readers. Beta readers may start as your friends, but eventually, they’re going to need to be more. You need to find people who can be objective and strong, people you can trust and with whom you’ve established a solid relationship. Equally important is the fact that you must be this type of beta reader in return.
May I suggest that you make a connection and enter an agreement with one person who will become your primary beta reader. For me, this is the person mentioned at the beginning of the post. We made the commitment to read each other’s work from beginning to end thus eliminating many of the usual requests and suggestions.
The perspective we brought to each other’s WIP was enhanced by the fact that we read and wrote in different genres with different expectations for both as well as by life experiences in general. This immediately drove our critiques to the heart of our respective WIPs, eliminating all the writing small talk and allowing us to focus on any major concerns that needed to be addressed.
Side Note: Remember that trading whole manuscripts for beta reading requires both partners to have similar availability; to agree upon how long you’ll take to read and critique; to decide when, where, and how often you’ll meet; and to decide what type of critique is expected.
Then I sent Realm thought a round of secondary beta readers. I started with my non-reading reader, who prefers non-fiction when he does read. I knew that if I could snag and hold his attention, I had written something worthwhile. Because he read for different reasons, his unique perspective caught many details that were crucial to producing a great novel.
Next was a couple I knew would view Realm through a unique perception based on their own pursuits, and that was exactly what I needed. They recognized the overarching themes within Realm, proof that my storyline was intact, as well as found the small mistakes that required fixing.
Lastly, and this is where some people may disagree with me, I let my mother read Realm. Yes, Mom loves everything I write . . . until she doesn’t, and then she’s brutally honest. I can’t say how allowing your family members to read your WIP will go, but I know that if my mother doesn’t like it, understand it, or agree with what I’ve written, she’ll make me hash it out with her until I convince her the writing needs to be present and help her understand why. We don’t always part in agreement, but my editing is better because of the interaction.
This was my process for taking Realm from the roughest of rough drafts to a manuscript with which I was comfortable handing off to my editor. I sincerely hope these same people, especially my primary beta reader, will be available for my next novel. I also hope I’ll make many more connections for any future WIPs because the ultimate goal isn’t only to have my manuscripts edited. It’s to make lasting relationships.