Week 11 Report: Prepare for Beta Readers (And write write write)

writers-blockBy Ani Johnson

We have left the stages of lectures and discussions and hit the home stretch. The realization that we need a lot of pages, and possibly not enough words to fit those pages.

With all the partials getting turned in soon, we discovered just what we need to work on this week, which I think ended up being different for every person in the fishbowl. And will probably be different for those of you outside it.

Overview

Have you been writing? Did you find the place you need to write? I sure hope so. Sometimes you need to realize that your writing time is the most important part of your novel. This week we start Beta Groups, and I’m the second story we’ll be critiquing. While most, if not all but me, in our class are handing off the start of a novel, I’ve continued one that I have been working on for a while. I started “Part 2” of it this semester, and it’s all coming together today.

This is the moment where I think you need to learn to appreciate having a beta reader who will know your work from start to finish. I discovered that there was a lot of exposition in Part 1 of my novel, and I don’t know if I got it all in a synopsis.

I would highly suggest taking the time to write your own synopsis for your story. It makes you look at the really important parts of a novel – I had to pick and choose what was important, so that I didn’t overwhelm my beta group with pages. I needed 20 to 40 pages of Part 2 – the synopsis of Part 1 couldn’t count for any of them!

Readings

If you find a beta reader who is also a writer, give them the courtesy of being their beta reader too. There were two more stories I read that will be sharing critique time with me, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. They aren’t polished – but neither is mine. However, reading someone else’s work has given me a chance to think “Oh yeah, this needs work… And I do that too, I should remember to work on that.”

I think reading rough drafts of other authors probably help me in my writing as much as reading published books.

Learning Activity

Take a look at the genre you like to write. Personally, I love creating Fantasy. I’m a world builder – I think in big pictures. Working with my beta group – all of us creating fantastical and not of this world stories – has been an interesting experience, because it is really rare that you find a classroom that actually has that happen. For the most part, you get paired up with whoever.

When searching for beta readers, and fellow writers, find those who have a similar genre to yours. They understand the tropes, the clichés, and the problems of your writing more than someone who writes a different genre.

No offense to my writer friends who don’t write fantasy, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to dump world building into a story when you don’t have to do it very often.

Takeaways

  • Find a beta group
  • If possible, those beta readers should be on a similar genre to your writing.
  • Remember to return the favor and be willing to be a Beta Reader for someone else.
  • Try writing a synopsis for your story to see where the important information is.
  • Let your beta readers start from the beginning – not Part 2.

What I learned

  1. I think, once my story is complete, I need to find friends who would be willing to be beta readers. I am dubious of how well of a critique I can receive when I’m missing major character developments from part 1.
  2. Having a novel being critiqued is a lot more nerve wracking than any critique I’ve been through yet.
  3. Beta Readers who are also writers is great, because I can share the really bad writing days with them.

To Do for Week 11: Write, Write, Write

beta-reader kittenYou may have noticed that I didn’t do a “To Do” post for last week. That’s because last week was Fall Break at Ball State. We didn’t have class on Tuesday, and on Thursday, students turned in their Reverse Storyboard project. I passed out “The Publishing Packet,” which you only get in full if you take my class for realz. Sorry.

This week, students get what I call “Studio Time.” It’s almost time to share our novels with others!

Inside:

T 10/29

  • Week 10 Blog Post Due: Chelsea Jackman

Th 10/31

  • Weekly Words #10 (last one): due Sunday, 11/3 at 5 PM. Focus: None. Write what you want.

  • Due : Packet from Group 1: 1.)Jacket Copy, 2.) 20-40 page “chunk” of the manuscript and 3.) Outline/Storyboard. Put in your groups Google Doc Folder. This should be ONE DOCUMENT, not three.

I’ve broken the students into three groups based on what kind of novel they’re writing.

  1. Students in Beta Group 1 are mostly working on novels that are Fantastical, not of our world.
  2. Students in Beta Group 2 are mostly working on novels that are Realism or Satire. We have a thriller, a memoir, a historical baseball novel, a satire, etc.
  3. Students in Beta Group 3 are mostly working on novels that set in our world, but have some sort of Supernatural or Paranormal or Sci-Fi element to them.

Starting next week, I will be meeting with each Beta Group during class time. The other two groups will use class time to write, write, write.

Starting next week, I will be reading over 100 pages a week.

In most workshops, the work comes at the teacher and fellow students at a manageable rate. Students get lots of feedback, but they don’t write as much. In this class, we don’t do all-class workshop so that students can write more. I haven’t been commenting on their Weekly Words, but now, I will be commenting on their Partials.

Basically, I do the “Reading-and-Responding-to-Student-Work” part of my job in an intense, three-week period rather than spread out over the course of the semester.

Outside:

From this point on, there are no themes or topics. The “content” portion of the class is done.

In a sense, you’re sort of on your own at this point, but you will continue to hear from the students in the class, and I do have some advice for you.

Decide right now: do you want

a.) to just keep writing?

b.) do you want to share your novel with others?

If the answer is A

Good for you. Keep it up. See ya later.

If the Answer is B

If the answer is B, then start compartmentalizing your writing time. Differentiate between DRAFTING NEW PAGES and REVISING THE BEGINNING. Don’t stop writing your way into the book.

Find your beta readers.

One advantage of showing your work to others is that if the conversation goes well, you’ll feel fired up to keep going. Also: fixing the foundation of your novel might prevent the whole thing from collapsing. But if the conversation goes badly, you might feel discouraged. It’s up to you. If you decide to show your work to others, make it clear that you are not looking for a thorough critique. You’re looking for encouragement. This is not the time to rip anybody to shreds.

Give your beta readers the following:

  • Jacket copy
  • a 20-40 page chunk of your manuscript, preferably the first 20-40 pages.
  • outline or synopsis of what’s to come

The following exercise on how to write jacket copy is adapted from James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure. Feel free to do this exercise even if you picked A. It’s a fun way to remind yourself what your novel is about.

Prompts

  1. Name of the lead character:
  2. What the lead does for a living or how they might be described:
  3. What is the disturbance in Act 1, the first thing that disturbs the status quo and creates reader interest? Might also be called a plot point or inciting incident:
  4. What is the doorway of no return? What thrusts the character forward, creates a sense that something must inevitably happen, kicks the character out of the status quo into Act II, hurtling toward the end?
  5. What or who is opposing the lead?
  6. Why are they opposed? What’s at stake for each?
  7. What is the story question? What question does the reader have on his or her mind that keeps them reading in order to find out the answer?
  8. How do you feel when you read these pages? Sad? Engrossed? Angry? Curious? Creeped out? Enchanted?

Template

Paragraph 1

Lead character’s name and current situation.

_______ is _________________ who _________________________. (Remember, jacket copy is always written in present tense!) Keep this to paragraph to 1 or 2 sentences that describe the character’s background and situation.

Paragraph 2

Start with the word Suddenly or But when. Tell the reader what the major turning point, the disturbance is. What the first doorway is. What’s going to thrust the Lead into Act II of the book.  Describe Act II in 1 or 2 sentences.

Paragraph 3

Begin the last paragraph with the word Now and make it an action sentence, like Now Brad must struggle with the harrowing mystery of his family legacy. Or, begin with the word Will, and write a few story questions: Will Mary claim what’s rightly hers? Or will she be stopped by forces she can’t see or identify? And will it hurt the ones she loves? Make sure the last paragraph describes the reading experience the reader can expect. “Readers will feel ____ as they embark on/as they finish this novel.”

Have fun with these! It’s totally okay to ham it up. They aren’t something you will ever write yourself (publishers write jacket copy) but it’s a fun way to have other people tell you what they think your book is about. Also: you don’t have to know the end in order to write the jacket copy.