Category Archives: #WriteTip
When I first started writing, I didn’t understand what beta readers were. I’d read fan fiction and there would be a note from the author thanking their beta readers. It seemed unnecessary to me, or at least more tedious than it was worth. However, since I started taking writing more seriously, my opinion has completely changed. Beta readers are the most important part of this process. I will never again try to publish something without submitting to beta readers.
What is a Beta Reader?
Beta readers are people who read your book when you think it’s ready. You can do this before or after editing (I have seen people do it both ways). I typically do it after editing because often the beta readers get distracted by all of the typos and can’t focus fully on the story.
Beta readers are NOT editors. They may also be skilled editors, but that is not what they are doing when they read your book. They are only supposed to read your story and help you perfect the story itself.
Who Should Be a Beta Reader?
Assembling your beta reading team is up to you, but there are several things to keep in mind.
- You must be open to critique. Commit to making the story the best it can possibly be. It’s your baby and you owe it to your story to do what is best for the novel, not protect your ego. You may hear feedback you aren’t going to like. Someone might hate a character, or suggest you delete an entire arc of plot. They may say things that inadvertently hurt your feelings. It is important to remember that they represent your potential readers. You don’t have to accept every single thing they say, but you should at least be listening.
- Your book is not published yet, so choose someone you trust. A despicable human being might take your manuscript and publish it as their own. You could probably fight that and win, but it’s best to just avoid it. Even then, it may be a good idea to back up the authenticity of your work. Any timestamped material would help you with this. One way to do that is to print it and mail it to yourself. The post office timestamps the envelope.
- Choose people who will honestly criticize. You want people who will like your story, but you also need feedback. If everyone who reads it is just going to tell you it’s awesome (or awful) without offering any input, your book won’t be as perfect as it can be.
- Choose people who would like your genre. Don’t beg a hard sci-fi reader to read your romance novel. They aren’t going to enjoy it or even appreciate it properly, so they won’t give you meaningful feedback. They also won’t have a great understanding of what the story should be like, or the experience reading your genre you need them to have.
- Choose varying levels of readership. I have several layers of readers.
- The first people I submit my novel to will be the easy-to-please readers who will mostly tell me they love it. They can help me find the major flaws but not much else, and that’s fine. I know the novel is worth pursuing if it makes it past them. Family members may be good choices.
- The next people I submit the novel to will be people who don’t really want to hurt my feelings, but who read and write in my genre. They will help me fine tune mechanical devices and pinpoint necessary/unnecessary passages. They will critique the structure of my story as well as the plot. These are typically my closer writing friends.
- The last set of people I submit to will be readers/writers in my genre who are also writers and have no interest sparing my feelings. They are usually more removed friends who are incredibly picky about what they read and know exactly what to look for.
- Finally, after I have taken the first three beta readers into account and made necessary changes, I have a final set of readers that represent the broader fan base. Basically, I want to make sure I can please 5-10 readers and determine if the first three readers were too unique. A fluke. This is an added layer from me, as not doing this the first time led to me publishing a slightly disappointing scene in my first book.
How Many Beta Readers Do I Need?
As few or as many as you want, really. The more you ask, though, the longer you will have to wait to be finished. Reading your book might take a long time. However, if you don’t choose enough people, you might not get enough feedback.
What Should They Look For?
Beta Readers should be helping you shine up your story. Ask them to focus on muddy/unclear parts, point out what they love and what they hate, and especially flag what confuses them.
I linked this blog post on our blog, but am quoting it here:
1. At what point did you feel like “Ah, now the story has really begun!”
2. What were the points where you found yourself skimming?
3. Which setting in the book was clearest to you as you were reading it? Which do you remember the best?
4. Which character would you most like to meet and get to know?
5. What was the most suspenseful moment in the book?
6. If you had to pick one character to get rid of, who would you axe?
7. Was there a situation in the novel that reminded you of something in your own life?
8. Where did you stop reading, the first time you cracked open the manuscript? (Can show you where your first dull part is, and help you fix your pacing.)
9. What was the last book you read, before this? And what did you think of it? (This can put their comments in context in surprising ways, when you find out what their general interests are. It might surprise you.)
10. Finish this sentence: “I kept reading because…”
Lastly, thank your beta readers for their help. The work they do for you is incredibly important to the success of your novel.
Special thanks to all of my friends and beta readers, even the ones who upset me. I try to keep my frustration to myself. Feeling angry is often just my gut reaction to the work that has to go into a story to fix it. That’s just me raging in general that I messed up, not me getting angry at anyone in particular.
Because honestly, the work that ACHILLEA needed (and still needs) to prepare it for publication was daunting and exhausting, but it is going to be worth it when it is finished, I promise!
Thanks for reading!
Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!
This is now part four of a series about how I write stories. You can find previous posts here:
In this one, we’re going to discuss a few tips for how to strengthen your work. This one kind of assumes you know what you’re working on and what you want to achieve.
Remember, this is just a discussion of things that I do. You should pursue your own way. My way is not the only way nor is even perhaps correct.
Embrace Your Style
The way that I write is character-driven. In this style of writing, the focus is on character development and relationships between them more than anything. I’m not out to create a generic, lovable, relatable hero to attain glory in a magnificent plot. I’m not attempting to pursue a classic tale of good vs. evil. I’m not particularly poetic. I’m no good at spinning a mystery. I don’t have the patience for sweeping setting and excruciating detail.
When I write, I want you to know the people I write about. I want you to feel for them. I want them to hurt you, and I want you to get excited, bite your fingertips, throw the book in frustration, and cry.
For me, the plot is a vehicle.
There will likely be plenty of writers who don’t like the way that I write or say that I don’t know what I’m talking about…and that’s fine with me. I write because I like it, and because my readers like what I do. This is my distinct style.
“Great chapter, each one makes me feel so many different emotions and is sooo addicting.” -Reader, on one of my fanfics
Could I improve? Of course. I always aim to do so. But I don’t believe my style will change because so far, it hasn’t. Every piece I write is strong in character emotion and not overly focused on worldbuilding (this, I am working on). I know my strengths and weaknesses and I have areas I am working to improve.
But for this blog entry, I’m going to try to tell you how to do what I’ve just described. How do you hurt a reader?
For starters, you make your characters real. Make them human. Give them flaws and aspirations, fears and secrets. I could go on for months about character creation alone, but to pull off a character your readers can never forget, you have to make them unique and possessing of a powerful personality–not an overbearing one…just deep and complex.
Real people fuck up. Kind of a lot, actually. Characters shouldn’t always have a full understanding of every situation and how their words and actions are going to affect those around them.
Real people can be wrong. Characters that always know exactly what is going on or exactly what a person meant by what they said are boring.
Real people don’t miraculously have the answers. Knowing exactly what to do in every single situation is simply not feasible.
People don’t all talk with the same cadence. Everyone has their own style, whether they’re loud and boisterous, unable to keep their mouths shut, shy and quiet, formal, or crass.
Make your characters interesting and readers will be drawn to them for different reasons. Don’t aim to make every character likable. I don’t like everybody, for example. You probably don’t either. Hell, I don’t even like half the people I meet. If someone is completely irritated by one of your characters, so be it. So your character is annoying. At least your reader feels something for them, even if they are just counting pages until he or she dies.
Prepare for Death
Character death is marvelously fun. But in order for a death to be meaningful, you have to prepare your reader for it.
And I don’t mean prepare as in, let’s soften the blow so the reader is ready for this.
I mean quite the opposite. Let’s make this really hurt. And to do that, it takes a little bit of lead up. Don’t kill a character right away (unless that’s how your story starts, of course). Spend some time developing that character. Give the reader time to get to know them, to love them, to care about them.
And then off the character.
Better yet, leave that character’s story slightly incomplete. Like, maybe they were on their way to fulfill their life’s dream and now will never get to, like telling someone they were sorry or that he or she loved that person.
Make it slow. Don’t kill them off too suddenly. Give it time to sink into the reader so they have time to freak out properly, wondering if you are really doing this to them.
Make it resonate. Refer back to the character or bring up things that remind people of them for a long time to come. Break your other characters with this death. Make this death count. Let chaos reign.
Complete the cycle. Let the grieving happen. The anger. And the healing.
Rhythm & Pacing
Certain types of scenery will have a certain ‘feel.’ I try to capture this with the word choice and rhythm. Sometimes, I use longer, flowing sentences (word people will tell you that long sentences are bad). Sometimes, I go shorter. There are occasions when the sentence calls for angry, clamoring words like crash, slam, and crunch. When the situation is softer, use softer words like whisper, brush, and press.
Certain scenes also need a certain pace. When we’re in the middle of the action, we should get to the point. This isn’t an anime. We can’t take time out to rehash a backstory. Actions are often rushed, chaotic, confusing, and high-intensity. By contrast, a seduction would take more time. The pacing should be more drawn out, slow, and rife with sensations.
You should always consider the reader. Is what you have written and the way you have written it going to be an invitation to skim the words? Or do you have them riveted?
I am also a huge fan of the one-line sentence. This would be a sentence that is given its own paragraph to stand out and have more impact. This is about as close as I get to poetry.
The months slid past, a continuous cycle of the same old shit. Fighting, planning, predicting, being wrong, patching up wounds and moving on. In time, she almost had herself convinced she’d dreamed it up, sliding back and forth between both opinions as often as the sun set in the west and rose again in the east. He either kissed her or hadn’t. He either loved her or didn’t. She either dreamed it, or it was gorgeously real.
Of course, she couldn’t just ask. What if it wasn’t real?
What if it was?
Chapters should be as long or as short as required to complete the concept. A good rule of thumb is for a chapter to be the proper length to finish in a single sitting. I shoot for between 1500-5000 words per chapter, which is 6-20 pages in a paperback novel.
Every chapter should be like a mini book, with its own conflict, climax, and resolution. It should feel like a satisfying endpoint that wraps up the chapter.
If possible, you should try to leave it on a cliffhanger. If you can get the reader to convince themselves that they have to read one more chapter, you’ve succeeded.
One of the hardest things is detaching yourself from a fragile ego. Somewhere along the way you start to question your own writing.
- What if this offends someone?
- What will people think of me if I write this?
- What if my family/friends read this?
- Can I really let anyone read this?
- Is this too dark?
- Should I shy away from this fucked up thing?
- Is this too bold?
Forget all of that.
Now, let’s walk that back a little bit. Because you don’t want to be completely offensive. But if your character is offensive because your character is an asshole, let that go. If your character is offensive because you secretly wish to offend someone and you’re living vicariously through a character, you have a different problem entirely.
But don’t shy away from what the book needs, even if it takes you down dark and twisted rabbit holes. You don’t have to publish it if you’re concerned…but if your book has a direction it’s pulling, you should at least indulge it just to see.
I once wrote an erotica fan fiction (yes, me.). It was a bit on the darker side and a bit on the controversial side, and when I mentioned it in conversation on the internet one day, I got shredded by a troll on Tumblr. I almost trashed it. A couple months later I got brave and just posted the whole fucking thing.
I wrote up a big ol’ disclaimer. 5000 words of explaining myself. And then I trashed the disclaimer and instead wrote this:
Got ripped apart on Tumblr by a vicious troll while I was writing this and got cold feet. I wrote it in October and am only posting it now.
I wrote a 5000 word disclaimer, then discarded it.
My final verdict on me writing this: there was a story in my heart that needed to be told. I told it. You don’t have to read it, but I DID have to write it.
Flames will be deleted and I won’t respond to them.
Any questions, feel free to ask them.
That said: excessive trigger warnings… you’ve been warned.
If they hate it, they hate it! I had to write it!
And it quickly soared to my number 2 story, only a runner up because the #1 story is 3 years older than it is and had a lot of time to rack up views. I get the best, most heartfelt, fervent feedback from it.
Because there are things we don’t talk about…but that doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t want to.
Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!