Week 13 Report: 4 Ways Beta Readers Can Save Your Novel

cat-reading

by Kyle Royse

Congratulations on making it this far. If you’ve been following the blog from the start then you should have a healthy chunk of your novel down on the page, and it should feel good. Real Good. If you’ve joined us somewhere along the way, welcome, and keep writing. Actually, keep writing in either case. No, keep writing in any case. It’s the only way you’ll ever finish.

In all honesty, I had really been contemplating giving up on my novel. I’m sure that at least a few of you have had the same thought crossing your mind. Sometimes you’ll read over something you wrote five minutes prior, two weeks prior, or everything you’ve put into your novel up until this point, and you’ll hate it. This is normal. More normal than you might think. This is why I’m going to share with you the ways that beta readers helped to save my novel.

Overview

This past week those of us inside the fishbowl, Beta Group 2 specifically, had the pleasure of sharing our thoughts with our group members about their writing. If you’ve been part of a writing workshop before then you will know roughly what went on, but there is something different between reading someone’s short story, essay, or poem and reading a 20-40 page chunk of someone’s novel.

When workshopping a shorter piece of writing you’ll likely hear people comment on sentence level issues, interpretations of particular lines, talk of word choices, and thoughts on the piece as a cohesive whole. This is not what we discussed.

When taking a look at a chunk of a novel you’ll want to comment of the plot, the character development, the tone, and the strengths of the piece. It requires that you keep in mind this chunk is just that, a chunk. Sweat the small stuff later. Big picture ideas are ideal topics of discussion. Now that you know how he process worked, I’ll share how it saved my novel.

4. Beta Readers Will Find Your Plot Holes

If you’ve ever lived in an area that experiences all four seasons in their full glory, then you know that Old Man Winter and his shiver-inducing winds will find every crack and crevice in your house, and you’ll be left looking for plastic wrap, tape, and if you’re lucky enough to have one, an infrared thermometer.

Beta readers are like the infrared thermometer. It isn’t exactly necessary that you have them, but they sure do help help to find the gaps much sooner. Sometimes they’re the only way you’ll find the leak. Heck, some beta readers might even be handy with plastic wrap and tape.

3. Beta Readers Will Know Where You Need Work

Anyone that has ever taken standardized test has probably had this same thought: “I know I’m bad at Algebra, but which problems am I missing?” (I’m assuming that everyone is as bad as math as I am) Sometimes you’ll know that you’ve made a mistake on an equation, but you won’t know where you went wrong, and standardized tests only care that you’re in the bottom 20th percentile.

Beta readers are like a kind Algebra tutor in this case, and your eyes are like the standardized tests. You know that your dialogue doesn’t seem quite right, but you don’t know what the issue is. Beta readers can tell you that your punctuation is in the wrong spot, you don’t need the italics, and dogs can’t talk, like ever, not just that 4 out of 5 writers are better than you.

2. Beta Readers Can Give You Fresh Perspectives

Imagine that every day for the last five years you’ve ate a grilled cheese sandwich and Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup for lunch. Yeah, you like it and it’s what you’ve come to know, but then one day your significant other swaps out the Campbell’s for Progresso Tomato Basil, and you from that moment on you can never look back again. You’ve been blown away by the unique taste, it’s a complete revelation.

Beta readers can be like your significant other in this situation. There’s even a good chance that this is literally your situation. Fresh eyes can lead to ideas that you would’ve never imagined, like adding basil to tomato soup or combining two similar characters into one.

1. Beta Readers Can Literally Save Your Novel

This is the most powerful way in which a beta reader has helped to save my novel. No, not by running into a burning house and cradling it through the smoke and flames, but not too far from it.

During the portion of Beta Group 2’s meeting where my group partners were discussing my novel Cathy asked if I planned on pursuing the project until the end. I thought about the possibility of dousing my pages in kerosene telling ghost stories around it while it burned.  I replied without hesitation. “No. I kind of hate it.” She then let me know that she thought it would be a real shame to give up.

I was mad and defeated because my novel had developed a mind of its own. It wasn’t the novel I had originally envisioned. It was a rebellious teenager. I just didn’t realize that I was this teenager’s parent, a smothering parent at that. I didn’t realize that if I loosened up a bit, it would likely become something better than I had originally planned.

Some of that realization came from the workshop itself. Some of it came from a long walk. The rest came from an email that shared this link regarding the very topic of finishing a novel. I hope it will help some of you as you continue your journey as well.

Takeaways

  • Keep writing until you’ve finished
  • Beta readers can find issues and keep you going
  • Don’t give up, keep pushing
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