Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In Praise of the Beta Reader

In a recent conversation it was mentioned that writing can be lonely work. I would argue that writing is not necessarily lonely work, but it IS of necessity solitary work. I know. Semantics. But what can I say? This is an important distinction to a person like me, who loves solitude as much as she loves a good party. I don't feel particularly lonely when in the process of writing.

There is a point in the process when interactions with other humanoid-type creatures are required. No creative project comes to fruition and gains an audience (no matter what size) in a vacuum. I'm talking about the point when I am done with that first draft (and the obligatory first round of self-edits so as not to completely embarrass myself with the next part). I refer, of course, to the point where a manuscript must be presented to the Almighty Beta Reader.

I am strongly indebted to my Beta Readers. That first set of eyes to view a nascent piece of work will catch mistakes that as the author I can't see because I'm too close to the piece. This is true for things like grammar and typos (typing yams instead of yawns, for example) as well as content, consistency, structure and plot holes. A fresh set of eyes on the work at the right stage of the process can be the difference between a story that works and a story that fails. Ultimately, the beta reader tells the author what is not on the page but that should be. (Sometimes, it turns out to be the reverse of that statement, but you get the point.) The main thrust of this is that birthing a story requires help. A writer's community has an importance that is often overlooked. Okay, so that community isn't awake at 3am writhing in sweat-soaked dreams about whether or not you have made the right word choice, but the community will offer you a towel with which to wipe your sweaty forehead, and possibly a glass of water with which to replenish your fluids.

For a first draft, I can't let anyone have input until it is finished. It's just the way it seems to work for me, personally. If you are a writer who is a planner that might not be the case. You already have your story and all of its components firmed up, so that if a comment wants to derail your plot, you have no worries and it may provide food for thought rather than set your story spinning in directions it never wanted to go.

I'm more of an exploratory writer when it comes to a first draft. I have to know what the story is about and where I'm headed with a piece but I count on the writing to reveal the details as I go, which is why I'm so protective of the first draft process. Until I am certain of the fictional landscape and its characters feedback can actually hurt the process of creation. So, know what kind of writer you are and where in the process it is safe to show the invaluable beta reader.  But we all need those readers.

For those of you who've helped me along the way, I would like to say thank you, and please enjoy a river of chocolate and waterfall of wine from me to you.

One thing I'd like to mention when it comes to presenting work to your beta-reader is that it can be highly beneficial to you and the saint who has offered to spend time looking at your Not-Ready-For-Public-Eyeballs work to let that person know what your questions are regarding that work. I don't always know where a story is lacking, but usually there are a few areas I have concern about. I like to let my beta-reader(s) know about those areas of concern. Help the beta-reader help you, I say. (Okay, so really that's the first time I have said that, but you get the point.)

So, who else out there has praise for beta-readers, or has been a beta-reader and wants some praise? Or has a few thoughts they'd like to share on the topic? Talk to me. I'll be lurking.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say Something