Wow. Feels like it’s been forever since I last blogged. You’re not mistaken, it has been. I haven’t been wasting the days, however. I finished the initial edits on Through the Reflection Pond and sent it out to betas, hence, this blog post. I have some friends who don’t believe in betas. I’m not entirely sure if that’s because they’re AFRAID to have someone critique their work, if they’re too PROUD, or they just don’t understand the absolute beauty of a beta. That’s right, my wonderful betas, you are beautiful to me.
Here’s the list, in no particular order.
10. Repetition – We all do it. There are words and phrases that are our “go to” items. YOU know what yours are, just as I know mine. For Through the Reflection Pond, I used “heaving” (Seriously? Heaving. What an awful word.) and “yank” in every other sentence. I went back and edited those annoying little buggers out, but what about the words and phrases I missed because the writing seemed otherwise smooth? Enter, the beta.
9. Repetition, revisited – see what I did there? We like to say things twice, mostly because we write like we talk, ESPECIALLY if you’re writing in first person. Especially, then. I don’t catch every one of these because it sounds like a flowing conversation in my head. Thank you, thank you betas, for catching my rambling.
8. World building – Inside our heads we know exactly what everything and everyone looks like. Our readers don’t. So when we say he had green hair, we know that we really meant, his curling locks fell to his waist in a tumbling cascade if shimmering emerald. The reader, who only read, his hair is green, quite possibly believes that he has a Marge Simpson fro the color of strained peas. Betas read, betas get lost, betas comment on the confusion, problem solved.
7. He said, she said – If you’re like me (now) you try to cut out as many dialogue tags as possible. They’re nothing words used only to direct the reader. Sometimes in our merciless hacking, we remove too many tags and end up with pages and pages of back and forth dialogue that leaves the reader reeling. Dialogue should flow smoothly, the tags lending direction when scenes grow long. Betas can help identify not only too many, but also too few tags.
6. What do you mean I have no plot? – It’s happened to all of us. We’re reading along happily and all of a sudden, bam! We’ve stumbled right into a gaping plot hole and broken 37 bones. Wait, what? And this is an edited and published work? WHOA. How did the author, editor, and publisher miss this? Answer: We’re not perfect. We make mistakes. The more eyes you have on a manuscript, the more likely it is that plot holes will be found.
5. New ideas – Each of us is unique and views the world based on the experiences we’ve had. The reaction we have to words affects us differently, and so, we will have different ideas, questions, and input. So when we read a dramatic scene, our questions as to where the story is headed will be different. Often times betas will ask me questions that I hadn’t even considered, which leads to new scenes and chapters.
4. Fact checking – In light of the election tomorrow, let’s talk about the facts. We are not all-knowing. I know Google is great, but sometimes we get it wrong. Having a variety of betas helps us identify factual errors. A young person may be able to fix teenage dialogue, and older person may pick up on an era faux pas. Like I said before, we’re not perfect. Maybe you’re terrible at history and think WWI happened in 2001. Maybe you don’t know when the iPod was created. Little facts like that can make you look hugely idiotic if you get them wrong. Let me emphasize HUGELY.
3. Because you aren’t alone – Writing is a very solitary job. We sit at our computers and bang out novels, visit worlds richer than our own, filled with interesting people and concepts, yet most of us are socially inept. Recluses. But I want you to ask yourself, WHY do you write? Is it because you want people to read it? Because you want to share? Because you can’t stand the thought of your stories going unheeded inside of you? Then, may I also ask, why the heck can’t you share it with a beta?
2. YOU ARE NOT PERFECT!!!!! – I decided this needed its own number, because it’s so important for writers, especially those that are new, to realize. Writers often have huge egos. We write, and it feels great. We read it, it sounds amazing. But what sounds awesome to us may be awful to someone else. Maybe you’re a rambler, and you go on and on about stuff no one cares about. Maybe you use stilted dialogue that makes no sense. Maybe you have no clue how to world build. If you decide to indie publish, let me encourage you to find a beta reader and an editor. Your work needs it and your readers will thank you. After all, you’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. Authors who have dozens of books published are not perfect. FAMOUS AUTHORS USE BETAS. You are not famous. You are not published. You are not perfect. Get help. PLEASE. Indie is the new black, but because the writing is usually unedited and unbetaed, it’s HORRENDOUS to read. I can’t stress this enough. Please. Please. Please. There are great stories out there buried in junky words.
1. It will make you a better writer – Writing is dynamic. The more we do it, the better we get. Now think seriously about this, in order to learn and become better, we need someone to tell us what we are doing wrong. (Please refer back the #2 if you’ve already forgotten.) Betas are not all-knowing, but if you find good ones, they want to help you become a better writer. That’s what I want when I beta. It’s not about tearing someone apart, it’s about helping, enriching, encouraging. We never stop learning and if you don’t see a huge improvement in your writing every time you finish a work, you’re doing something wrong.
Now for the disclaimer – Betas do not know everything, and the best part is, you’re still the author. You still own the work. You can take or leave their advice, it’s completely up to you. Some people are afraid they’ll lose their “voice” in all the beta suggestions. But why would that ever happen? Here’s an example.
The original work: Mark hated bees.
The beta suggestion: Bees were the bane of Mark’s existence. He’d never gotten over the awful allergic reaction he’d had.
Your change: Ever since the terrible allergic reaction, Mark hated bees.
You don’t have to accept everything. You can take a suggestion you like and work it into your own, but I can guarantee the right beta will make your manuscript shine.
All the best,