Toolkit: Beta Readers Mull It Over
Beta readers are a blessing to all writers. My beta readers helped me see things I never would have from my myopic standpoint. How many times can I reread my work before it transforms into a continuous blur of words and punctuation? The answer: frighteningly few.
In short, I need my beta readers like an astronaut needs oxygen. So, to make their job easier, I created a short list of what I would like them to look for while they MULL over my manuscript.
Tell me when I reveal too much. I need to know when I repeat myself. For example, if a certain phrase is overused, or if I persist in explaining what motivates a particular character one too many times it becomes too much. Also, if there is little variety in my scene setting, I would like the opportunity to make a change and induce more interest. You, as the reader, will sense when there is too much of something when you feel bored or uninterested. There will also be times when I articulate facts that you already inferred. That is a case of giving too much information. When I do this, I upset the symbiosis between author and reader, something I never want to do.
I have taken you someplace that you just can’t go because it doesn’t make sense to you. These are the things that really pull you out of a story. Maybe my main character runs away but you never saw anything that makes that action plausible. Or, I have created a character who does something contrary to their usual tendencies and have given you no good reason to go along with it. As a reader, it is expected that you do not understand everything instantly. But, you should be okay with that. In other words, I have given you just cause to suspend your disbelief. If I haven’t it is important to fix.
This concept is trickier. Of course, I can’t give you all the answers at the beginning of a story or there would be no reason for you to read it (or for me to write it). But there can be times that I give you so very little that you lose interest and stop reading. Like the trail of breadcrumbs that Gretel left behind, there should be enough tasty bits to create a path. You should feel slightly hungry so you move forward, hoping to have your craving satisfied. Different readers have varying tolerances for knowledge parceling but it is crucial that you speak up if you feel deprived.
As you MULL over my manuscript, other thoughts may occur to you and, of course, they should be expressed. But, I have found, that the three concepts outlined above are those most critical to creating a satisfying story.