Premature Beta Readers

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Laurence, Aug 12, 2018.

  1. Laurence

    Laurence Grandmaster

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    My current WIP is my first serious attempt at a novel. It's a trilogy that I've world built and plotted pretty deeply and I'm now at the end of the first chapter.

    I edited this first chapter as I went along. I know that's super naughty but I'm trying to figure out what kinda writing I'm about, as I'm new to the whole thing. I'll be trying to fly through the rest of the manuscript, quite content with what I've got so far.

    How do you guys feel about having beta readers (forum and/or local friends) read your first chapter? Do you think it's a help or a hinderance?

    I know as it's my first novel it'll likely be nasty anyway, but I think some feedback on writing style and whether I've built any intrigue in the story or characters so far could give me confidence or put me on the right tracks for the rest of the draft.
     
  2. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    Yes, no, maybe.

    I think the answer will depend on at least three things:

    1. The type of criticism/critique/reaction you receive.
    2. Your likely reaction to these; or, your intended reaction.
    3. What you want to gain from having others read your work at such an early stage in both, the specific work and your career/life as a writer.
    Broad sorts of reviews—"It's great!" and "It sucks!"—are going to be useless. The point is for you to keep writing, and also for you to gain some useful benefit from those reviews. Someone who tells you it's great, and that's it, may bolster your ego, but that kind of broad positive response isn't going to help you improve your writing for the rest of the chapters. Someone who tells you it sucks could very well tank your ego and put up a major roadblock for you. You can work around this potential by maybe having other writers look at it while requesting specific input about things like tension, description/imagery, dialogue, or whatever.

    How do you intend to react to the review of your work? How are you likely to react, regardless of intention? If you start out seeking mostly an answer to "Do I continue writing or give up?" then obviously, don't put it out there for others to read, heh. The answer to that question is already "Yes." [Edit: I.e., Continue writing.] If you think your likely reaction to criticism is to spiral into depression, or to give up, then I'd say don't let others read it yet.

    If you are seeking an answer to the question, "Do I continue to write like this (dialogue, description, whatever)?" then maybe going into it is an OK thing, since whatever answer you discover or determine for yourself might be good to get you into an early process of experimenting and/or improving your writing for the following chapters. On the other hand, if you think the criticism could be overwhelming, leaving you confused about what to do to "improve" things, then I'd say don't let others read it. The point is to not invite opportunities for finding an excuse to give up, heh. This depends a lot on how you go into it, what you bring into that process.

    What do you want to gain from the process? If it's simply encouragement, I'd say your best bet is to not do it. You need practice far more than you need encouragement; if you become discouraged by reviews, chances are that you might stop writing and lose the practice that writing the whole thing would give you. If you want specific advice for improving specific things, and you ask for this, and you actually receive this (lots of and's there), then maybe it's worth doing.

    All that said, there's nothing inherently wrong in finding readers for early chapters. At the same time, there's nothing inherently right in not seeking early feedback, heh. In my opinion, at least.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018
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  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I agree with fifthview. I have a group of writing partners, not beta readers, for early drafts. They get the writing process and understand how much early drafts can change. We usually stick to only positive comments in early drafts, saving any major edits for later on, when we start to really understand where the story is going.

    I think having friends/family read early drafts is a hinderence, and only leads to frustration. My personal policy is my first draft is a “closed door” draft. I write it like no one is ever going to read it. Often times, even though I’m a plotter, I don’t exactly know where my story is going and the first draft is simply me telling myself the story. Letting people read it ruins the process for me because then I start to worry about things that shouldn’t come until later, which I end up having to “kill” in later drafts anyway.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2018
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  4. Laurence

    Laurence Grandmaster

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    Thanks so much Fifth and Helio. From what you’ve both said I’m pretty confident I’ll go ahead and do one show then hold off until the whole thing’s done.

    I’m really into the writing process atm and am a graphic designer so very much used to (and fine with) criticism if it pushes me in the right direction.

    To be honest it’ll probably just be my girlfriend, a writer friend of mine and Mythic Scribes that I request feedback from. I’ll try to figure out the exact questions to ask at this stage.

    I suppose the main thing I want to know is whether my initial characters and introduction to the main arc is at all intriguing and whether my writing is at all readable, since I’m a total novice.
     
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  5. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Dark Lord

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    There are many approaches. There is the finish the book camp, then there are people like me. I wrote and rewrote and tweaked my opening few chapters multiple times over years until I had the writing where I thought wanted it. Why so long? Because I would let it set in the figurative drawer for months without looking at, which gave me fresh eyes for a read. I had a business and life, so it was easy to let it go a while, LOL. Once I more or less had the writing livable to my rather finicky standards, I finished the book.

    But, I also had those early chapters out to see what other people thought. If you've the strength to both take and decline advice (and advice from other writers can be a serious give and take) then by all means let people see different versions.
     
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  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    They talked about beta readers on Writing Excuses one time, and it was amusing because each of them did something completely different.

    For me, I cringe at the thought of doing a "rough draft," of writing scenes or chapters that have to be thrown out, of writing something that I know is terrible. Whatever works for you, and what one person calls a rough draft may be different than what I'm referring to, and all that .... but to me, the notion of working on a garbage draft feels all wrong, and I try to give everything my best. My first draft of any scene is usually pretty strong.

    So by the time I give it to a beta reader, I'm mostly looking for a couple of issues. The first, I can be too subtle about things, which can cause clarity problems ("by the time I got to here I forgot about this thing beforehand..." <- I get this one surprisingly a lot.). The second, there are always a few places where I got lazy or whatever and didn't "develop the moment" as well as I'd like to, so I'm looking for indications of where those places might be. Finally, I'm always looking for places where the flow could be improved, and thankfully those have been getting fewer over the years.

    I've found that I'm initially distrusting of other types of comments, even if I eventually end up using them.
     
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  7. Laurence

    Laurence Grandmaster

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    Heard the ep!

    Your first point totally resonates with me. As I know my story so well I’m always worried about being too on the nose but I think I overcompensate.

    What exactly do you mean by building the moment?
     
  8. DylanRS

    DylanRS Apprentice

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    Fascinating thread so far. If there's anyone who's hesitated on pulling the trigger with a reply, I'd love to read more about your approaches to early and late feedback. If there's a place or places where I can find more on the subject (here or on the web), I'd also be grateful for a recommendation.
     
  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I don't think I have much to add to what's been said already, but I can share my experience of asking for feedback on one of my first pieces of "serious writing," here: https://mythicscribes.com/community/threads/conversation-feedback-request-386-words.8970/

    This is from five years ago, and the scene I'm asking for feedback on is from the fourth chapter in my first ever novel. I didn't read through it all again now, but I remember the feeling I had at the time. People poked and prodded at things I hadn't thought of and hadn't asked about. I remember being kind of happy with the scene, and I just wanted a few pointers on some details. Instead, I got the entire thing torn apart.

    Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit there, but it did feel like it.

    I had to try and get over that in order to learn though. Some of the feedback I didn't even understand, and some of it had to be explained to me multiple times - in that thread and in others.

    The one thing that I kept telling myself was that the people providing feedback were trying to help. They weren't putting in the time and effort of critiquing my writing just to try and make me feel bad. So I had to try and ask and learn and eventually piece things together. Getting feedback can be pretty rough, but I think it's worth it.
     
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  10. Laurence

    Laurence Grandmaster

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    All in all do you feel that process helped or hindered your overall success and/or enjoyment of writing that novel?
     
  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    As for the novel itself, I really can't say. What I can say is that I think the novel would have been a lot better had I written it today, I can't say if the feedback I received there had a big part in that or not. The actual information and advice I got is very basic and it's available in various different forms all over the internet. I've written articles about it myself in recent years.
    It did impact my enjoyment of my writing for a while, but I got over that, and I did finish the novel (140k words, and the second half significantly better than the first).
    The plan is to rewrite the novel as a multi-part novella series once I'm done with Lost Dogs.

    What it did do was teach me about receiving feedback. I had to learn to separate criticism of my work from criticism of me. If someone tells me my storytelling is bad or that my writing is bad, that doesn't mean that I'm a bad person. I think that's valuable, but it's also pretty rough. It's the kind of thing that makes perfect sense on a logical level, but which can be really hard to accept on a personal level when it involves something you've put a lot of time and effort into.
     
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  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Here's a moment from my Ladybug fanfiction to show you what I'm talking about. It's a big moment that I didn't develop properly, and it's already published on AO3, so I don't expect that I'll fix it.

    The overall scene that this is part of progresses great and does everything it's supposed to. But right here, in this one little spot, Marinette just learned that someone she knows was injured, and she doesn't respond to it much at all. At the time I told myself that it would distract from the scene, that I wanted readers to react to it on their own (they did), and that I didn't want it to look like the injured character was going to play a bigger part in the fanfic than he is. But the cost is that the MC looks out of character for not responding much, and that was a mistake. I didn't "develop the moment" properly.

    In other words, nothing is wrong, something is just missing from the scene, which makes it a problem that's easy to overlook.
     
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  13. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    OP: I'm probably unusual in my approach since I work radically different than is advised. So, guess what I'm saying is, take my opinions/thoughts with a hefty grain of salt because not every approach works for every writer.

    Once upon a time, I used beta readers and critique partners. As time went on and I grew more comfortable in my craft and finally was able to understand my voice, I stopped. This is going to sound ridiculous but I'm an artist, first of all. I've known many artists--from those who paint to those who create pottery and jewelry and everything else in between. NONE of them ask others for their opinion. One gal I know who has work in galleries just does her thing, doesn't ask anyone advise (although she studied at a professional college and devotes a lot of time to her craft). Over the years, I started to gain an understanding of what I was doing with my work, where I was taking it, what my voice sounded like, what sorts of themes I wrote about, and the direction I wanted for my work.

    What kind of writer am I? I asked. And although it took a long time I can finally say that I know the answer to that. It will evolve, of course. My craft will continue maturing and aging the same way I do.

    It finally came down to this: no one understands my work better than I do, and no one can connect with my work better than the readers INTENDED for that work.

    So I decided, screw it. I'm not going to use beta readers anymore. It used to be that I relied heavily upon other people's opinions and it confused me. I kept having to redo scenes and redo scenes and redo scenes. My stories were never good enough, something was always missing, and what worked for one reader didn't work for the other. Most of the authors I know rely on beta readers. I don't use them at all anymore. I stopped caring what people who didn't normally read my genre thought. A lot of authors I know have beta readers who read in their genre. I haven't gotten there yet and I'm not sure if I will. Why? Because every reader is different. Books are works of art, whether some people like to admit that or not. And art is subjective. The reviews on my books, which are spread out across multiple platforms because I'm wide, reflect this reality. There are readers who despise my work. There are others who love it. There are others in between. Because of this I didn't want to bother with betas anymore.

    Everyone is going to have a different opinion of your work. My whole thing now is to just write the story in my head, the one in my heart. My books are tropey and I read a lot in my genre, so I understand it well. I've been writing fiction for a long time and while I value the opinions of others once the books are published (yes, I read my reviews and try to learn from them) during the drafting process, I block everyone and everything else out. Me, and only me, are allowed to create that book. Just something for you to consider.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2018
  14. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    DemesnedenoirDemesnedenoir and Chessie2Chessie2 point at the way a writer learns simply by writing more. You'll be a pretty good critic of your own work, probably a better critic once you reach the final chapter than you were when you finished your first chapter, especially with your first attempt at long fiction. Also, as Chessie points out, your voice is not something others can develop for you. So the benefit you receive from criticism of your first attempts may not solve anything for you.

    That said, I still think that early criticism could help, maybe in situations where your inner critic knows something is wrong but you can't quite place your finger on it.

    But maybe certain types of criticism, attention paid to certain things, will be less important at the early stage than much later in the process. For instance, attention paid to formatting, syntax, grammar, or word choice, or your choice of descriptors/description, imagery, or the issue of clarity that DevorDevor mentioned. Fixing these issue can come later in later drafts—I know my first drafts typically suck, heh, and a lot of authors have very rough first drafts—and by the time you have a completed first draft, you'll probably have improved somewhat in these areas already and be better able to judge your own work.

    I'd still hold the door open for useful early criticism, but keep in mind that the most significant weight falls on yourself, not on those early critics, and have faith that you'll improve naturally the more you write.
     
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  15. Laurence

    Laurence Grandmaster

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    I think I’m a fairly good self critic, having done what feels like a ton of research over the last couple years in podcasts / forums etc. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always had to do this in my day job as a designer so hopefully I at least have the right attitude towards self criticism.

    I think if there’s anything for me to gain it’ll be in knowing that my style of pacing and sentence structure is workable. I actually feel like I’m recognising my own voice already so it’d be nice to know if it’s a good one.

    I’d also like to be aware of any annoying rookie mistakes that I can avoid before they become habit. Finally I’d like to know if my hook introduces an interesting premise or whether I’ve just gone way overboard in making the first chapter a hook or an info dump.
     
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  16. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I guess, the only way to answer your question is to do it. Post it... here, or other places, show your friends and family... see what they say. Then decide if it was helpful or not, or if you would do it again next time. You might find it very helpful.... or you might find it a little bit helpful, or you might hate them all for a while before realizing they were right, or you might say, "Hmmmmmm..... won't do that again."

    But at the end of the day, I guess you need to figure out your own process for yourself. If RIGHT NOW on your writing journey you think it would be helpful, then do it.
     
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  17. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    This is something I have begun to experience recently. As I've become more used to the novella format, I feel like I also have a better understanding of it - specifically with regards to pacing and structure. It could of course be that I'm just sharpening my skill in writing Svrtnsse-stories, but then that's kind of the point. It's not for everyone, but hopefully it'll be for someone.
     
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  18. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I just think there comes a point in time when you have to trust your voice and gut above anyone else. That varies author to author, but I think it's possible for everyone to get there.
     
  19. pmmg

    pmmg Dark Lord

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    Sorry, did not read all the comments, but the ones I did I feel I must differ with. I vote against letting others see an early first chapter, and usually give this advice to new writers. I believe in writing it till its done and then letting others see it. If you get reviews on the earlier chapter, the most likely result is an endless process of editing early chapters and never completing the work.

    I further vote against getting feedback on a first chapter, if its all you have to present, because first chapters are always the worst ones. They have all the hard work to do of introducing everything, and getting the story rolling, and do not have to accomplished flow that later chapters do. So, if you want feedback on where you are as a writer, I would suggest picking middle chapters for that.

    It is true, that if you are in the habit of writing novels, and you don't write them quickly, your path to feedback is much slower. And so you will have to hold on to that dream of presenting it for a long long time (and along with it the questions of is this good enough?). A faster path to feedback is the write short stories, hone up some skills and then hit the novel again. But, short stories are not like novels, they are a slightly different skill. Not one, though, that a writer cannot recognize and adjust for.

    You have already said you are editing as you are going, I would take that as a red flag and advise against seeking feedback at this time. Just my advice.
     
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  20. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I absolutely agree with this. You are where you are, OP, and so whatever you feel in your gut would work best for you right now is what would likely be best. The rest of us can only give you opinions and options but ultimately we're at different stages altogether.
     
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