I’ve begun to receive fairly regular requests to alpha/beta read some stories and it worried me a tad. I am well aware that critical analysis of one’s work can be a touchy subject – I know my favourite beta reader has suffered some silent treatment from me as I sulked about the things he said about my magnificent creations, so I was a little concerned about exposing myself to the receiving end of the process. Ultimately, I decided that my passion for writing and desire to help and support others on their journey to publication was worth the potential silent treatment (or worse) that I may get from those I read for.
So now I have taken the plunge (and suffered my first bout of silent treatment) I thought I’d write about what I will look at when being an alpha or beta reader.
- The First Line. – The first line in a story should be the first ‘hook’ to encourage your readers to keep reading. It needs to be engaging and, more importantly, it needs to be relevant to the story. There are many different ways to write a great first line, as Joe Bunting explains in his excellent article ‘7 Keys To Write The Perfect First Line’
- Continuity. – The longer your work, the more difficult it is to keep up with what your characters have been saying and doing, where they have been going and why they have been behaving a certain way. I’m sure we have all seen examples of continuity errors on TV and in movies, I’m sure many people have found them in books too. I once wrote a story where I described a character as wearing leggings and then later on in the same scene mentioned a tattoo that could be seen through the slit in her skirt. I’d changed what my character was wearing halfway through a scene and not noticed. A beta reader pointed it out to me. These things might seem small and insignificant sometimes, but they can pull a reader out of the little world you are conjuring up for them and they will escape from the thrall you, as a writer, work so hard to develop. For information on how to avoid the more common continuity errors, check out this post on continuity by author A J Humpage.
- Pacing. – The pace of your story should ebb and flow depending on what is happening in your story at the time. If your story is too slow throughout, your readers will become bored and may abandon the story altogether. If your story is paced too fast, they may wind up feeling mentally exhausted at the end and this could put them off reading more of your work. I will look at sentence length and regularity and whether your action and connecting scenes are paced appropriately to allow the readers to get swept along in the right places, but also allowed time to reflect on what they have read. For more information on effective pacing, check out this Readers Digest post.
- Repetition. – Repetition in literature is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it can help to really underline a particular message. Most of the time, however, it’s insignificant words which are repeated all the time. When words are repeated, we often notice the repeated word… (See what I did there?) It can drag a reader out of their story and back into the real world. That is not where you want them. You want to create an atmosphere around your readers so they almost forget that they are reading words and instead find themselves in this strange kind of reading trance where they can see the story unfolding around them. For more information on repetition, check out this post by Fiction Editor Beth Hill.
Hopefully these links will be useful to you and will help reduce the number of things I or any other alpha/beta readers will pick up on.