Friday, October 20, 2017

Becoming the Beta Reader

I've volunteered to act as a Beta reader and wanted to dig up the critique rules I was given in an old writing workshop. I found a blog post from May, 2014 instead. The thoughts on feedback and editing are still good. Here it is:

Constructive Criticism and Magic

I don’t think of constructive criticism as an oxymoron. Constructive comments as a term might sound less harsh. Better yet, feedback. Whatever you call it, it is invaluable for a writer seeking to improve skills and a story.

Writers need not fear revisions and rewrites. That’s where the magic happens.

I’ve recently gathered the confidence to let my novel out to a few trusted readers with the instruction, request actually, to give me comments and feedback.

Now, I have to wait and fret. I’ve spent the better part of four years building up to this point. If the consensus is totally negative, what can I do? Start completely over after investing so much? That will hurt. I’ve heard of writers doing just that. They put a bad manuscript in a drawer and go on to the next something else. Sadder, but wiser.

I suppose I could move on the next project. Check out writing websites for ideas. But I’d rather not. I still have high hopes for my Bishop Hill novel. I’d rather have constructive comments and ideas on how to make it better, to continue working within the framework of what I have already built.

When I took part in a novel writing workshop through the Midwest Writing Center in 2012, I had to come up with 30 pages of manuscript to share with the dozen other writers. I felt lucky to have those pages ready to go. Some of the other writers didn’t.

Amy Parker, a writer from Iowa City, led the group through the workshop process and set up these guidelines for us:

·        Read twice: first for pleasure, as with a “magazine read” and look for first impressions; second as a writer who marks up the manuscript to indicate the passages that delight, that confuse, that pose questions. In short, fill in the margins with comments.

·        Write a one page letter to the author. She wanted us to describe the story, what happens, and where we thought it was going. Readers can pick up on things the author may not have intended. We need to know what worked for the reader, what moved them, what they admired.

The goal was to get at what confused the reader. Where the story needed development, gaps filled, inconsistencies fixed, language clarified. What scenes that could be compressed or summaries that could be amped up.

I don’t expect my readers to go through a whole novel twice, but I am hoping for good suggestions for the next rewrite. After all, magic is a good thing.

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