Beta readers are so important (also known as ‘peer reviewers’ in there screenwriting world)! Many thanks to screenwriter and novelist Keith Ndenga Kinambuga today. He’s written a great article about what we can learn from beta readers. Be sure to check out his books at the bottom of the post. Don’t forget too you’re welcome to look for beta readers and peer reviewers in The B2W Facebook group, that’s one of the primary purposes of the group. Enjoy!
All About Beta Readers
One of the toughest things for anyone to accept is criticism. It is especially tough for the createive because the judge is normally the public. Fortunately or unfortunately, this is what s/he needs to overcome in order to improve their work.
It took a while for me to embrace this, but I can now confidently say that I am in my moment of Zen. I welcome criticism whether it’s good or bad. The beauty of embracing it is that you learn how to sift the real from the fake, the genuine from the haters. Here is what I’ve learnt from my Beta Readers (the hardcore, no-holds-barred fans who read my manuscript just before release):
1) Don’t give excuses
When something wrong is pointed out, do not try to defend it. Take five, meditate on it then decide on the way forward. An immediate response only shuts down your reader and will most likely come off as childish. Your beta reader always has your draft in mind. MORE: 5 Ways To Use Feedback Effectively
2) Be visual
The best compliments I’ve had about my writing is that the visual description is ‘immersive’. However, one beta reader told me, ‘It’s great for the big moments, but distracting for the casual.‘ In other words, I needed to tone it down just a wee bit.
In my first novel, I tried my best to keep the balance but in the second, it was a deliberate act. To create ‘word pictures’, use paragraphs that concentrate on the five senses. I personally break it down to what a character sees, smells, hears, touches, tastes. MORE: 5 Top Tips On Visuals For Your Novel From Hollywood Blockbusters
3) Tone down the ‘foolosophy’
As a self-publisher, sometimes I get requests from other writers who want to me to read their own drafts. In this case, I’m the beta reader!
The common weakness I see from newbies (and a few with experience) is explaining how the character views the world philosophically rather than visually. This is fine in some cases but when overdone, it can subject a reader to a boring rant on personal viewpoints. Compare these two paragraphs:
He hated her and her idiotic thoughts. Instead of making decisions about her life on her own she relied on others. He would have taken the six-figure salary job on offer in a heartbeat. Didn’t she know jobless youth are suffering?
Her questioning eyes bore through him. “Well, what do you think? Should I take the job?”
He studied the piece of paper, a typed job contract. The number of zeros on the salary offer seemed to snake on forever. A blank space sat eagerly next to her name. His jaw pumped, bile rising.
He sneered and grabbed a pen from his lapel. “If you won’t sign it, I will.”
The two snippets are communicating a similar message but which one is more appealing? I bet you’ll choose the second simply because it’s more visual. The visual aspect adds drama and characterisation. Explaining thought processes too much like the first slows the story down. MORE: 8 Ways To Jump Start Your Novel’s Description
4) Give them credit
I always include my beta readers in the acknowledgement section. Without their honest opinion, I would be trapped in a bubble. MORE: 3 Important Beta Readers You Just Have To Impress
BIO: Keith Ndenga Kinambuga’s screenplays have aired all over Africa. He’s blogged short stories and is now publishing novels. His home is Kenya and every word he writes echoes a strong local influence with universal thoughts. Check out his two novels I’m Not A Black Widow But I Spin Webs and The Black Algorithm (available on pre-order) on Amazon HERE.