Monday, November 1, 2010

Better At BETAing

I've had the privilege of beta reading a lot lately. Some really good stories (you know who you are)!

If someone had asked me to read their manuscript two years ago, I would have sucked at it. BIG TIME. But I've grown as a writer, and as a reader.

I think it happens naturally. The more you write (and read), the better you become.

And the better you are at spotting when something is askew. In other's writing. Not necessarily your own (my critique group can attest to that).

Here's where I've improved. I can spot and assess:

*The use of stronger verbs to replace adverbs/adjectives.

He put the piece of paper in his pocket forcefully.

OR, He stuffed the paper in his pocket.

*Does the story flow?

Did the author follow-up on what they said in another chapter?

Does the story drag b/c the MC does nothing to further the plot--he wakes up, stares out the window, eats breakfast (with no internal or external dialogue related to the story)?

*Is the speech and voice age-appropriate?

A fine line exists there (in YA and MG) and it's sometimes hard to know where to land.

For example (from my own first draft mess), would a teen boy say, "With time and persistence I started feeling something..."

OR, "After awhile I sorta started feeling something...I guess."

Show, don't tell?

Another tough one. I still struggle with this (until someone points it out).

I was disappointed.

OR, My shoulders sagged. OR, My face fell.

*Are there cliff hangers ( or provocative sentences) at chapter endings?

This makes the reader want to turn the page.

For example, one of my chapters ends with a question: Can ghosts flatten tires? Hopefully the reader will want to read on, to see if they in fact, can.

*The book's opening sentence/paragraph/page:

Is it provocative enough that the reader will want to continue?

Did the author make a compelling-enough promise to the reader (about the story's conflict/message) that they want to see it fulfilled?

This is by far, the hardest task a writer has, and I struggle with it myself.

Beth Revis's book ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (to be released in 2011) had the best first page (and chapter) I've ever read. Man, I cannot WAIT to read that book.

Daddy said, “Let Mom go first.”

Mom wanted me to go first. I think it was because she was afraid that
after they were contained and frozen, I’d walk away, return to life rather
than consign myself to that cold, clear box.

But Daddy insisted.

You can read the rest of her first chapter, HERE!

How are you at BETAing?


Matthew MacNish said...

Ah yes, I read that chapter. Absolutely stunning.

You make several other good points here too, thanks Christina!

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Yeah, I'm BETAing. Hah. I agree. The more I read others work, the more I can see in theirs and in my own work. It really is a growing process.

Shannon said...

Good morning, Christina.

I wish I had more time to Beta read. I did a little a few months ago and loved it, but schedule just don't have much wiggle room. Lame.

Looks like you've learned a lot! =)

Oh, stop over at my blog when you get a chance. I have something for you. ;)


Stephanie Faris said...

What better way to strengthen your writing than to read, read, read? I've noticed the more I've written, the less pleasurable reading has become for me. I find myself not only not enjoying poorly written books, but being unable to tolerate them. Now I know WHY I don't enjoy a book...and that takes the ignorance out of it! But when I do stumble upon a good book, that makes it even more powerful. The goal for me is to find that book that humbles me as a writer and makes me realize there are some authors who make me feel like I'll never master all of this. When I find a book like that, which is one or two times a year, I can't put that book down.

Sharlene T. said...

Nothing is more frustrating than finding an error, after you've edited a gazillion times -- and, it's a glaring error! How could you miss it? It was right there, the whole time! Grrrr. But, I definitely agree that the more you read, the better your own writing becomes...

Kelly Bryson said...

Beta reading is definately an acquired skill. I'm not amazing at the line editing (I think someone keeps changing the rules for commas;), but getting decent at the "substantial edit"- pacing, plot, character, flow. Now if I could only get it done in my own manuscript!

Lindsay said...

I agree that the more you read for others, the better you become at your own writing. I know I've learnt so much from Beta reading and CP's than I ever thought possible. Their awesome writing makes me want to do better. :)

Stina said...

I love beta-ing now that I'm getting better at it. Now I don't feel so bad when the pace of someone's project slows and I have to point it out to them. Before, I would keep it to myself, reminding myself it's subjective. That might be so, but it's still important for the writer to know where you started losing interest.

Melissa Gill said...

I think I've gotten much better at beta reading, the more I've written and especially the more I've read on craft. I will never be good at line editing, because I get too caught up in the story for one, but mainly because I stink at commas, and spelling.

Stefanie Wass said...


You are a wonderful beta reader!
But now I'm looking for reader #2! Anybody out there willing to give my middle grade manuscript a look? I'm willing to beta read for you as well. Christina thinks I'm ready to query soon, but before I take the leap, I want another opinion. I know most of you are YA folks, but if you're interested in reading middle grade,I'd love to hear from you: THANKS!

Emy Shin said...

I think I've gotten better at beta-reading, too, but I still need to be less afraid of offending when I critique. :)

Felicity Grace Terry said...

As you rightfully say the more you do something the better you get at it. Thanks for some extremely interesting points.

Meredith said...

It's so much easier to critique other people's work than my own! Love this advice :)

Tahereh said...

so true! thanks for the tips!! :D

Melissa said...

I've never even tried to Betaread... I'll probably majorly suck..... Sounds like you've improved on a lot through this journey.

I do agree with you though, that growing as writers/readers comes with time and happens organically. You can't force this kind of thing.

Lourie said...

You have to tell me what MG is, it's the only one I couldn't figure out. Now onto the meat of my comment....every time you post these little tidbits I say to myself, "You must get your writings back onto this computer. They are sitting on hubby's laptop like a lame duck.

Maddy said...

I can very much relate to what you're saying in photograohy terms. Before becoming serious about it, I would see a pretty picture and think "Oh! Pretty picture!" Now, I can determine the photographer's intent with the picture based on different element! And just like a book, a photo (if done write) can tell any entire story with just one shot!

Liz Mays said...

I'm not even writing a book and this was completely fascinating to me.

Natascha said...

Never beta'd before. I would really like to once I get a couple projects out of the way. Anyone who needs a critique should head over to I haven't submitted anything to the blog, but it would be a great place to find someone to Beta!

Sherrie Petersen said...

I was terrified the first time I did it, mainly because I was worried about hurting someone's feelings. But I've worked as an editor in the past and I actually enjoy it very much. Sadly, it's far easier for me to see what needs work in someone else's story than it is to figure out what's wrong with mine!

Little Ms J said...

Wow, stud. I am so not there. I get an over all "feel" and can write up a summary of where I think things fell apart, went well, whatever, but I suck at picking out grammatical flaws. So, whenEVER I finish my book I will be coming your way, sister!

Rachel Harris said...

I'm getting better spotting these in others writing and hopefully my own. Great targeted list for points to look for though when reading for others. Thanks!

Laura Pauling said...

When I beta, I try and look for the story structure and where the story might be sagging or feels a bit slow. Those were great tips for betaing!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Brilliant post! I am bookmarking this forever! :-)