Beta Reader Group discussion

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Beta Reader Checklist

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message 1: by Dakota (last edited Oct 02, 2016 06:55PM) (new)

Dakota Rayne | 118 comments Mod
Here is a checklist I fount that might be helpful for those of you doing beta reads (for the first time or not) as well as those looking to have a beta reader go through your work. It is by no means inclusive or my own work, however it does seem to hit on all the main points. Feel free to use this to send to beta reader or to use when beta reading.

READABILITY:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Does any part of the story drag?
Are there parts that you skipped to get to ‘the good part’?
Do I over-inform (info-dump) anywhere?
Did you understand every phrase / term I used?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
STEAMY BITS:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Do any of the love scenes seem overly cliché?
Were the love scenes too fast, too slow, or too frequent?
Did you have to reread any part of the love scenes to understand who was doing what?
Did any action in the love scene make you cringe?
Did it make you hot?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
FLOW:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Does one scene lead logically into the next?
Do the scenes flow smoothly from one action to the next, or did they jump as though something was skipped?
Is there enough downtime between intense scenes to allow it to build to the next?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
THE WORLD
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Can you see every action clearly while reading?
If you went there in real life, would you recognize the places?
Did you have to reread any part of the action sequences to understand who was doing what?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DIALOGUE:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Does the Dialogue sound realistic for the individual characters?
Could you see what the characters were doing while talking?
Could you see where the characters were while talking?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHARACTERS:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Could you see what each character looked like clearly?
Do their actions and reactions seem logical and realistic?
Could you feel the emotions between the characters?
Does the story stay focused on my main character?
Were any of my characters too much of a jerk or too aggressive?
Were any of my characters whiny, wimpy, or overly dramatic?
Are any of my characters too stereotypical?
Who did you like best and WHY?
Who did you hate and WHY?
Who got on your nerves and WHY?
Do any of the characters get in the way of the STORY?


message 2: by Rod (new)

Rod Baker | 100 comments Thanks, interesting list—have emailed to my critique group.....but....wondered why male characters seemed not to have the possibility of being too overbearing or strong....after all, most of the trouble spots in the world are run by "Strong Men" ie control freaks....and what if the female characters were bitches or bimbos? Maybe that's okay isn't it...unless this can only happen in real life but shouldn't be written about?

rodbakerbooks.com


message 3: by Dakota (new)

Dakota Rayne | 118 comments Mod
Rod wrote: "Thanks, interesting list—have emailed to my critique group.....but....wondered why male characters seemed not to have the possibility of being too overbearing or strong....after all, most of the tr..."

good catch. I'll edit that. Like I said, it is a copy from someone else.


message 4: by Kevis (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments This is terrific. I've always stressed how important it is for authors to provide their own questions to beta readers to help make the process go smoother. I generally tailor my questions to my individual projects. But your list will be a big help to those who haven't seen or used one before. Great job, Dakota. The members of this group are in good hands with you around.


message 5: by Dakota (new)

Dakota Rayne | 118 comments Mod
Kevis wrote: "This is terrific. I've always stressed how important it is for authors to provide their own questions to beta readers to help make the process go smoother. I generally tailor my questions to my ind..."

Thanks. I tend to do the same, depending on the reader. But hopefully this is general enough for a good start. suggestions are always accepted


message 6: by Kevis (last edited Sep 21, 2016 07:59PM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments Dakota wrote: "Kevis wrote: "This is terrific. I've always stressed how important it is for authors to provide their own questions to beta readers to help make the process go smoother. I generally tailor my quest..."

The only other suggestion I would make right now is for anyone reading this thread to be mindful of not just which questions they ask, but also how many. I've been told by some beta readers that they don't like it when they get too many questions.

With that said, if your story mandates that many follow up questions be asked, you should either let the reader know up front, or don't get upset if they skip some of your questions if your questionnairre turns into a book report.


message 7: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Thijssen (RachelThijssen) | 122 comments I'd like to share a few (funny and helpful) videos about/for Critique partners and Beta readers. It could be helpful!

Getting the Most Out of your Beta readers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMMyt...

How to be a Good Critique partner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_UkJK...

How to be a Good Beta reader: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJc4P...

I find this author and youtuber very helpful. Hopefully you agree with me! :)

Rachel.


message 8: by Gin (new)

Gin Westcott (GinWestcott) | 3 comments Thanks for posting those links Rachel! She is funny and very helpful.


message 9: by Nathan (last edited Oct 01, 2016 01:06PM) (new)

Nathan | 1 comments This is an excellent resource! Thank you for sharing it. I included it with a batch of emails I sent out to beta readers yesterday in hopes it would improve the quality of feedback.

In the past, I found that beta readers were very enthusiastic to start reading, but once they were done, a few of them struggled to articulate their thoughts. By giving them this questionnaire, I'm hoping they will have a much clearer idea of what information I'd like them to share with me.

I do want to mention a couple of things:

- On the second question under READABILITY, their should be there

- On the second question under FLOW, actions should be the singular action


message 10: by Dakota (new)

Dakota Rayne | 118 comments Mod
Thanks for catching the grammar. I will fix. Happy you found it useful!


message 11: by Gin (new)

Gin Westcott (GinWestcott) | 3 comments Dakota wrote: "Here is a checklist I fount that might be helpful for those of you doing beta reads (for the first time or not) as well as those looking to have a beta reader go through your work. It is by no mean..."

Great questions! Thanks so much for posting those.


message 12: by Persephone (new)

Persephone (Petticoatbetty) | 1 comments A good beta will also watch for words that are overused.
Actions that are heavily repeated that writers sometimes miss, especially in long works.
They'll catch name mixups, personality 'glitches' where the character takes on mannerisms of another character.
They will catch the writer's speech tics.
They will also point out hooks and mention whether or not it works for them.

A good question:
Is there any place in the dialogue where the writer could 'show' more? -- This is particularly important for writers that overuse adverbs and speech tags.

Keep in mind that an ideal beta would be in your target audience, but if they are a professional, they should be able to place themselves in those shoes and tell you at least a little bit about what you can expect from your target.

They should also point out their favorite parts so that the writer can better establish what they are doing right. Likewise with their least favorite parts and an explanation as to why those parts felt off.

If they are a paid professional, such as I am, they won't mind filling out a questionnaire and they won't price gouge either. Also, they won't mind doing a review after the book is published or limited marketing (social media share) if the book is exceptional in their opinion. Or maybe that's just me.

Either way, this is a great list. <3 Thanks!


message 13: by Dana (new)

Dana Christy | 16 comments Very helpful. I like this list. Thank again!!


message 14: by Nat (new)

Nat Kennedy | 55 comments It is a nice list. Good reminder of what to look for on a deeper level. Thanks for sharing.


message 15: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Umbaugh | 350 comments Thanks Dakota, an excellent list! I would like to add that as a professional editor and beta reader, I encourage writers to be specific about spots in the manuscript that they fell may be lacking. Editing is very much about tailoring the editing assistance to the level, genre and proficiency of the writing as well as goals of the writer.

Some of you on this forum might appreciate this. I recently edited two very different manuscripts. The first needed a lot of basic writing help so I identified the problems and "fed" the writer the tools to fix the problem. He was disappointed and felt like I did not "like" his manuscript. The point of beta reading and editing is not necessarily to "like" the book, IMO.

The other writer was quite different. Hers was a very polished draft with virtually no problems and I did in fact "like" it very much. Yet, she was disappointed because she wanted to talk about issues such as structure and flow when in fact the architecture and pace of the book was almost perfect.

It's all about expectations. After I read that all important sample, I become very clear about what I can offer to "polish" the manuscript.

Sharon


message 16: by Denise (new)

Denise Marques (denise-leitao) | 24 comments Good list. But I disagree with one point:

Could you see what each character looked like clearly?

I personally don't like to describe characters. Jane Austen didn't either. To this day, we'll never know what color Elizabeth's famous eyes are... And we have no clue what Mr. Darcy looks like either. I don't think physical description is important or necessary, it depends on taste.

Other questions are good. I like it that this questionnaire is simple


message 17: by Sheri (new)

Sheri | 2 comments Denise, great point...I do the same...without much description of physical attributes...
Sheri

Denise wrote: "Good list. But I disagree with one point:

Could you see what each character looked like clearly?

I personally don't like to describe characters. Jane Austen didn't either. To this day, we'll neve..."



message 18: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Umbaugh | 350 comments I'm with the less is better folks. As an editor, I often read descriptions of characters that seem forced. Descriptions work best when braided with some action in the scene. And consider the purpose of the description. Does it really matter what color her eyes are, the length of hair and her height? I don't ever recall reading a novel and wondering what a character looked like. In fact, if there is little or no description, the void simply feeds my imagination and I can fill in the blanks. Part of the fun of reading!

Sharon
The Writer's Reader
https://thewritersreader.wordpress.com


message 19: by Kevis (last edited Feb 21, 2017 02:28PM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments Sharon wrote: "Does it really matter what color her eyes are, the length of hair and her height?"

I think the more visual you are the less you probably need all of that extraneous description. However, some readers, like myself, enjoy reading rich descriptions of characters. I think this is especially true when you're writing characters who have exotic features.

Similarly, I also think it's a cop out when a writer says his or her books feature diverse characters and never mention what they look like. That's more like an attempt to have their cake and eat it too.

But I think, like anything else, it's how the writer handles description that makes it enticing or distracting.


message 20: by Sharon (last edited Feb 21, 2017 04:28PM) (new)

Sharon Umbaugh | 350 comments I agree that rich descriptions are a treat for the reader. But writing about hair, height and eye color as if obligatory make me want to quit reading.


message 21: by Vance (last edited Feb 28, 2017 11:28AM) (new)

Vance Huxley | 28 comments That beta list, and another I received, are actually quite helpful to writers as well. After all, we understand exactly what is happening, but might not be telling you :-)

Not every reader needs rich description (or I'd be in trouble). After all, I'm not always sure what their eye or even hair colour is unless I have to decide.
But as my beta and editor keep telling me, characters need some sort of identifier so they stand out as an individual.
Sometimes there are a lot of named characters in my books so the names themselves blur into each other. (Not to me, which is why I need betas and editors). Then I have to find a characteristic, physical or perhaps a mannerism, to tag them with.


message 22: by Denise (new)

Denise Marques (denise-leitao) | 24 comments Vance wrote: "

Not every reader needs r..."


Well, I agree. And I agree that sometimes just a tidbit of physical information or mannerism can help the reader identify a character or distinguish one character from another. OTOH, if you have two characters that are so similar that they might be confused, perhaps one of them is one too many? I don't know. I think in some cases two or more similar characters have a purpose.

I'll go back to Jane Austen, just because her writing lacks even the minimum physical identifiers. I think Pride and Prejudice is a well-written novel. For anyone who's read it, can you distinguish each of the Bennet sisters? I'd say yes.
The difference is done through personality. We don't get a single physical description of any of them. But then yes, of course, there's some slight stereotyping in the sisters.

Perhaps this question should be replaced by something like:

-Were the characters distinguishable from each other? (which is actually a very good question)
- Did you get a good sense of what the main characters were like?

I think they make more sense.


message 23: by Kevis (last edited Mar 01, 2017 05:27AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments I've read books, especially from younger writers, who go nuts with describing height and color and clothing to the detriment of their pacing and overall story. I think if you're well read you know to avoid overdoing the physical description of your characters (or at least not letting it become overbearing). But many younger writers (as well as some older ones) are influenced, perhaps too much, by TV and movies and think they need to put all the visual cues they enjoy on screen into their story to bring their characters to life. As others have mentioned in this thread, effective characterization and character development would be more suitable (and less tiring to read). But as I mentioned before, sometimes, those rich descriptions can really enhance a story if handled with care.


message 24: by Jessica (new)

Jessica | 115 comments I didn't put physical description in mine at first, but then readers were demanding to know what they looked like :( I'm usually sparse on the details, so finding a good balance is difficult.


Roughseasinthemed | 263 comments Jessica wrote: "I didn't put physical description in mine at first, but then readers were demanding to know what they looked like :( I'm usually sparse on the details, so finding a good balance is difficult."

Be wary of that. Not your fault if readers lack imagination.


message 26: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 714 comments I second that! Don't be pushed around by your betas. Only if there appears to be a consensus (more than 50% (and at least 3)) is it even worth investigating. Unless, of course, you feel the suggestion makes your story stronger. Now, if you get 10 people who loved your story, except for one segment (that you love), then the literary gods are speaking and you should be very careful about ignoring them ;-)


message 27: by Kevis (last edited Mar 01, 2017 06:55AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments Jessica wrote: "I didn't put physical description in mine at first, but then readers were demanding to know what they looked like :( I'm usually sparse on the details, so finding a good balance is difficult."

That's the trick. To find the balance. There are many reasons writers don't describe their characters. Sometimes it's because they want the reader to dress the character themselves. Other times it's out of pure laziness and can be a dead giveaway that the writer doesn't know his character very well. So again, it may not be necessary to describe a character in detail. On the other hand, writers can't expect readers to do their job for them just because they want to skimp on the details or think they're being avante garde by withholding this information.


message 28: by Kevis (last edited Mar 01, 2017 07:06AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments A perfect example of how avoiding describing your characters can hurt your story is if you introduce a major character in the beginning of your book who is a blonde, but isn't described as such. Then suddenly halfway through the story, someone references that this character is a "dumb blonde", who the reader previously envisioned as a brunette because he wasn't told. That's bad storytelling and no amount of Jane Austen didn't describe her characters will get you off the hook. Our primary sense is visual, so it's not hard to imagine that readers are going to want to be visually stimulated while reading your story. Not bothering to describe your characters is fine. But not when it ruins the reading experience.


message 29: by Denise (new)

Denise Marques (denise-leitao) | 24 comments Kevis wrote: "A perfect example of how avoiding describing your characters can hurt your story is if you introduce a major character in the beginning of your book who is a blonde, but isn't described as such. Th..."

But that's not avoiding a character description, that's having a character physical detail revealed too late. If there's description, it should come when the character is introduced.


message 30: by Kevis (last edited Mar 01, 2017 07:42AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments Denise wrote: "But that's not avoiding a character description, that's having a character physical detail revealed too late. If there's description, it should come when the character is introduced."

Maybe I'm confused, but I thought part of the discussion involved whether or not to use physical description to help identify a character as the question was previously asked: "Does it really matter what color her eyes are, the length of hair and her height?"

I agree with most of the points made by others about using behavior and mannerism to distinguish character. I was simply referring to any claim that you shouldn't describe your character's looks in any detail. Or more specifically, the pointless of it because it's supposedly not necessary to give your character's physical description.


message 31: by Denise (new)

Denise Marques (denise-leitao) | 24 comments I was just pointing that the issue when a character is revealed to be blond too late is the late reveal, not the lack of physical description, because in this case there is a physical description, even if very small. In this case, the physical characteristic is important for characterization, so it should be present.

You mentioned my comment about Jane Austen. Well, if Mr. Darcy had been revealed as having dark or light hair midway through the novel, that would be bad writing, but that's not the case. There's no description whatsoever. Still, characters are well rounded and distinguishable from each other, and I think that it's the most important thing, even if not easy.


message 32: by Kevis (last edited Mar 01, 2017 08:16AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments Denise wrote: "I was just pointing that the issue when a character is revealed to be blond too late is the late reveal, not the lack of physical description, because in this case there is a physical description, even if very small. In this case, the physical characteristic is important for characterization, so it should be present."

Just to be clear. I'm not being a contrarian just for the sake of. In fact, I don't think I'm in disagreement with anything said in this thread except the downplaying of the effectiveness of using physical description to help identify your character. It can be a useful tool to enrich a story when done right. When done poorly, it definitely is a drag on what could otherwise be a good read. But your point with how well Jane Austen handled her characters without describing their physical traits is a good one.


message 33: by Denise (new)

Denise Marques (denise-leitao) | 24 comments I agree.

I think that the most important thing is to have distinguishable and ideally remarkable characters. Can physical descriptions help achieve that? Sure, when well done. Can characters be remarkable without physical description? Sure, when well written.

I think the beta reading checklist can be used for self editing, and it might be used by beginner writers. I don't want them to think they have to include head-to-toe descriptions, cause they are usually awful when done as some kind of obligation. But yes, there must be a way for readers to identify characters, and usually, a physical detail helps, but it's different from describing the character in detail. Still, sometimes detailed descriptions can be cool, especially if the characters have some kind of remarkable physical appearance. So it really depends.


message 34: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 714 comments And it also depends on the reader to pay enough attention to remember description. In one case, a beta complained that she had imagined a character (who happened to be blonde) as white-skinned. She is tanned. At first I thought I'd inadvertently left out that attribute when I initially describe the character. However, I mentioned it twice.

There's only so much you can do, one way or another, to capture the reader's attention. Either you have it or you don't, and today there are so many other distractions it is a wonder that anyone actually buys and reads books any longer.


message 35: by Kevis (last edited Mar 01, 2017 09:14AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments Keith wrote: "And it also depends on the reader to pay enough attention to remember description. In one case, a beta complained that she had imagined a character (who happened to be blonde) as white-skinned. She is tanned."

I haven't read your story, so I can't speak to what details are present that may or may not have contributed to the reader's confusion. But if I was reading a book that says a character is blonde with tanned skin, I would think that mean she's white. Because the last time I checked, white women with blonde hair who spend a lot of time in the sun get tans.


message 36: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 714 comments The reader thought she had white skin.


message 37: by Kevis (last edited Mar 01, 2017 09:15AM) (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments Keith wrote: "The reader thought she had white skin."

I don't want to de-rail this thread. But if you're saying the reader didn't realize the character had a tan even though you mentioned it more than once, then I get your beef. But if you're saying this character isn't white, then that would be something else entirely. Because the average person is always going to think blonde = white woman with golden hair. Your character having a tan wouldn't change the fact that she has white skin (if that's what you're saying).


message 38: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 714 comments The character is a blonde Brazilian. To me, that makes the situation worse, since Brazilians are known for their darker skin.

However, as it pertains to this thread, it's almost irrelevant to the story what color character's skin or hair is. I never describe her height or eyes, for instance, but do describe her body in some detail since it's relevant to the plot.

Anyway, my point is, even if you are diligent at giving a description and don't deviate, people may still not be paying attention when they read that section, so all for naught.


message 39: by Kevis (new)

Kevis Hendrickson (KevisHendrickson) | 130 comments Keith wrote: "The character is a blonde Brazilian. To me, that makes the situation worse, since Brazilians are known for their darker skin.

However, as it pertains to this thread, it's almost irrelevant to the ..."


Understood. Thanks for clearing it up for me.


message 40: by Sharon (last edited Mar 02, 2017 07:59PM) (new)

Sharon Umbaugh | 350 comments Vance, I tend to agree with you. Characters will stick in my mind because of what the characters do (type of work etc.), how they feel, how they act and respond in the world, what they feel far more than a character identified by physical description alone. Now, what about age? I like to have a general idea of age but that's not always necessary. As an editor, I often trip over the cliches about age especially when a character is identified as "older." Older than who?

Sharon
The Writer's Reader
https://thewritersreader.wordpress.com


message 41: by Dakota (new)

Dakota Rayne | 118 comments Mod
Hey there- this is a good discussion. I didn't expect anyone to comment on the questions. I think whatever works for the story is good, in regards to characters. The question was one that I found online and each writer/author could use all or none of the questions when working with or as a beta. It may be relevant in certain situations, just like the other questions, like "I didn't know the character had pointed ears until halfway through the book and that was important" but one could also answer the character appearance questions with "I didn't know what they looked like but the story worked really well without it because the other characteristics of the character really shined and I could picture the character even without the physical description." Either way, it may be good feedback for the writer as a talking point. I enjoyed reading everyone's discussion. But know these questions are up to interpretation, need, etc. and that every writer has their own views which may not align to the suggestions above.


message 42: by A.J. (new)

A.J. Sendall (AJSendall) | 5 comments Thanks for this useful resource. The only thing I'd add is a question about how the reader felt when they finished the story. Satisfied, confused, cheated, relieved?


message 43: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Umbaugh | 350 comments Absolutely! How readers feels at the end of the book can totally determine the opinion of the novel. Haven't we all read a novel and felt disappointed at the end, therefore felt it was a waste of time?

SU


message 44: by Matthew (new)

Matthew Bass | 2 comments Thanks so much! As a new author this is very helpful. I spent several hours coming up with a list similar to this list over the weekend - I could have spent that time starting novel #2. I have to remember to check here first before I go off and reinvent the wheel.


message 45: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie (xdestin82x) | 9 comments Thanks for this list! I can add things to my own to cover anything I missed


message 46: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Umbaugh | 350 comments Useful tip of the day. Don't write very short sentences after or between dialogue, such as, "he frowned" or "he grinned" as an attempt to convey emotion. It's great to show feeling but elaborate more or else the reading will seem choppy.

SU
The Writers Reader
https://thewritersreader.wordpress.com


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