Writing Process

Beta Reader, Better Writer.

Recently I was asked to become a beta reader for a friend on-line.  I jumped at the opportunity, but at the same time was uncertain on what exactly a beta reader was.  I soon discovered it was just a fancy way of saying ‘critique partner’!

I’ve critiqued before, but not enough to confidently voice my own opinions onto other people’s work (and thus I’m still quite hesitant on getting my own work critiqued).  Pushing such thoughts aside, I threw myself into the task, and felt a bit like a teacher with the red pen.  In the end, I believed I analysed the work the best I could within a tight schedule (this was between assignments) and throughout the process, I thought of my own works in progress.

Here’s how becoming a beta reader helped me analyse my own writing:

  • Are my characters actions and reactions plausible?  Are they more than just cardboard cutouts?
  • Could the setting be somewhere else or does the setting actually fit into the story?  Two of my novels are set in two different suburbs of western Sydney– is this evident within each of these novels?
  • Plot development – does it flow easily from one chapter to the next?  Is it plausible?
  • Do I have enough description to help maintain an understanding of the characters surroundings?  Do I have an even balance between description and plot, so that the reader isn’t bogged down with too much description?
  • Is there an even balance between dialogue and narrative?  Does each characters dialogue sound authentic?

I’m now becoming more confident in being a beta reader and plan to have my own work critiqued in the not-too-distant future.  I’ve come to learn that becoming a beta reader can help make me become a better writer.

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Writing Process

Stuck on Character? Interview Your Protagonist.

Recently, I’ve gone back to working on my first YA novel.  I have had a long journey with this novel (five years to be exact), continually tinkering with it, simply because the novel hasn’t been good enough for me as an author to send out.  I was continually changing viewpoint, never completely satisfied, and I couldn’t understand why.

After having kept some distance from this novel, I could always look at it with fresh eyes.  Sometimes, however, as authors, we can still be too close to our work.  We need a different set of eyes to tell us what we can’t see.  I was told by an expert through a critique that the protagonist of this novel was ‘not quite there yet’.  My main character obviously needed more work.  The only way to go about it was by simply asking questions.

I made a list of all the characters within the novel, including minor ones and began interviewing them.  As I worked on this technique, I found myself getting inside their heads more and discovering what made them tick.  Along the way, I discovered that the second most important character within the novel was crying to be heard.  The best way I found for me to do that is to write in first person.  I began writing her words, continually asking her questions along the way.  By doing so, I wondered if she would become my new protagonist, however, my entire story would change, and that was not the story I intended to write.

By using this technique, I discovered new things about some of the minor characters, helping to add more conflict to the plot.  All that remains now is to use the same approach on my protagonist.   I’ll just have to ask the right questions.