Connections and Beta Reading

10372903_785769518121244_5951835746202887627_oA while ago I offered to be a beta reader for a friend of a friend. I had given feedback on several books though these consisted of haphazard replies rather than a streamlined critique. In any event I thought I was ready to tackle a formal beta reading. Note to self, no matter how much planning goes into it writing the first draft is not a good time to beta read. The reason why I offered is because I think feedback prior to publication is valuable. Be prepared to set aside a bit of time, it is not the same as reading for the sake of enjoyment. You get to answer questions, and make comments at the end so it is worth taking notes.

Ask Questions

Beta reading is best done with a genre that interests you, find out the basics such as the word count, either a blurb or synopsis, and a few basic details like the first chapter. After all this is a story you are going to become familiar with and it helps if you like the style. To be honest I was not sure what I had gotten myself into, it was a big commitment and I was not sure how much I would pick up or be able to comment on.

Take Notes

My greatest concern from the moment I began was how fair I could be, and would the comments be amicably received. Not everyone wants to hear something constructive, I use that word because I think there is a distinct difference between constructive and negative feedback. Constructive feedback is about providing a balance and an explanation. I find it just as important to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses to create a clearer picture for the author.

Be Honest

Honesty is best but if something really does not work explain why. It is a fantastic effort for anyone to complete a manuscript even in draft stage. A great many hours have been spent, and it is worth holding onto that thought when providing comments. Also, be honest about what you can and cannot do. I shy away from grammar, but my strength is the overall story and its rhythm. I have spent too much time away from writing my first draft, though I am thankful to assist as others have done for me.

Thoughtful Dialogue

SML_dragon_logo_BlackGreenThe young lady sighed as the dragon began entering the room. ‘Get your head out of the doorway,’ she snapped. Dragons like dialogue can be rather difficult to contain, and have the potential to wreak havoc in the story. The best advice I received is to restrict the use of dialogue. Like any writing tool it needs to serve a purpose, no idle chit chat will do. There is an art to refining the speech of characters and I have a tendency to use far too much in the first draft. I cannot help it sometimes I just need to get it out there to move the story forward.

The Back Story

Take care to weed out the back ground and extra information from your dialogue. If it sounds boring or gives too much away it can do more harm than good when left in. You may find yourself delving into the character’s lives rather than focusing on the events that take place. I find it helps to bring out a little about who the characters are and the choices they make. This can be said with few words, the less the better.

When Dialogue Counts

Like any writing tool choose when you want to use it, and take the time to think about how it changes the scene. Dialogue needs to make an entrance, or convey a message that could otherwise not be described. Just as the dragon misjudging the size of the door is not the best way to make an entrance. It could make for a great deal of fun though. Dialogue can work well for highlighting a misunderstanding when there is more than one opinion. Just as the dragon had not thought about how to get out of the doorway, and somehow managed to damage the walls as it left. No dialogue is needed to describe the aftermath for the scene, well maybe one word. Even dragons know they are in trouble when someone shouts their name. After all, I am still having fun with speech and choosing the right moments.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat strange substance that fills in the gaps and trickles through to give depth to the story can be rewarding. Atmosphere is like a fine balancing act between giving enough detail, and too much that would detract from the story. I am guilty of not providing enough detail with my first draft. This is where it is helpful to know your weakness when writing.


It can be great to write down ideas as you think of them, yet this can little room for all those other bits. It is a learning process, and one that is good to get feedback on. It is easy for the writer to imagine the world as the story moves along. In addition there needs to be enough detail intertwined in the story to pull the reader along. Like little bread crumbs or corner stones that hold the picture together igniting the senses and the imagination.


Story telling is as much about creating an image as it is a journey, evoking memories of places, colours and smells, light and dark. The atmosphere assists with filling the reader with a believable world to step into from one page to the next. If you have spent a great deal of time creating the back story and world building this is where all the hard work can make a world of difference. This is not the time to go into massive detailed explanations which can remove the suspense and mystery from the story. Rather it has to do with enhancing the scenes and bringing them to life.


This is an area that I am still working on, much like a work in progress. Finding the elusive middle ground somewhere between the action sequence and the background. Where the journey and the experience are well grounded in the created world, yet the world remains part of the background. If there is too much background this can stall the story, yet it needs to be there in glimpses shining through and marking the way. Safe to say it is going to take me a while to get the hang of it, especially in the first draft. Thank goodness for editing.

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