6 Wishes Beta Readers Want You To Know

6 Wishes Beta Readers Want You to Know

We love our alpha and beta readers. Where would we be without them? I asked a few larger writing groups (Fiction Writing is the size of a city, just over 93,000 members) what the most common problems they saw when they alpha or beta read. I learned a lot from their answers and now I’m going to share them with you.

Believe it or not, a lot of writers often don’t know the difference between what a beta and an alpha reader is, so let’s clarify that one before we begin.

Alpha Reader

An alpha reader (aka the first reader) is usually someone close to you, such as a friend or family member. You would send them your manuscript in the earliest drafts, and long before you would send it to a beta. Their job is to guide further revisions by picking out problems in your draft. They tell you what works and what doesn’t, hopefully in the nicest way possible. They look at big-picture problems, such as plot, character, and structure. You may redraft several times after their feedback.

Beta Reader

After you’ve redrafted the appropriate number of times (until you cannot pick out any problems and have addressed the ones alpha readers pointed out) and self-edited, you send it off to a beta reader. You usually send it to betas right before your final draft, and it’ll be their input that you include in your (hopefully) final draft. They look at the big, polished picture with specific criteria in mind for feedback. They often look for what isn’t going to work for the reader and why it won’t work. Beta readers vary in skill set.

  • Note- the third phase is an ARC. ARC stands for Advanced Review Copy. These readers mainly write a review on it. At this phase, the manuscript is a published book and the writer isn’t looking for feedback to make changes.

The moment you’ve been waiting for…

6 Wishes from your betas.

Photo by Steven Williams

Self-Edits

I cannot stress the importance of self-edits enough, and as one of the top answers, neither can your betas. Now, we’ve all heard the adage “you’re too close to your writing”, but some writers take this to mean they don’t have to self-edit. As lovely as having a magic elf do the boring parts (and free at that), it doesn’t work that way. In our current world, it’s important now more than ever to self-edit.

  • Check out The Writer and their awesome tips for self-editing.

Under self-edits, here are the common problems:

  1. Dialogue punctuation
  2. Run on sentences
  3. Shifting verb tenses
  4. Passive voice
  5. Grammar
  6. Prose
  7. Too many adverbs

The author wanting Beta readers after they have finished 1 chapter or less.
They need to understand no one can properly Beta read an unfinished manuscript.
Also, the first draft is not a finished novel. It is the author telling themselves the story. No novel is finshed until it had been rewritten rewritten, rewritten ect, ect, ect over and over again until the author has the novel they started to write. When they can no longer change a word, then, maybe, its ready for Beta readers. But usually not.
I suggest all authors put the novel away while they write another novel. When that novel is as perfect as the author can make it, then the author can go back to first novel and reread it. If they still can’t change a word, then they ask for Beta readers.

-Bernadette C.

Characters

Going back to another set of posts I wrote, it’s important to know your characters. Go back to the beginning and write biographies for each of your main characters. Figure out their personality and make their pasts the reason for their flaws and strengths. Each of them will be different based on where they came from and what their childhoods were like.

Under characters, here are the main problems:

  1. Unrealistic character behavior
  2. Perfect characters
  3. Identical characters

I beta read a lot of romance, or at least stories with a romance sub. One thing I see too much are lovers who really need to have it out over something major, but instead the author decides to let them have a peaceful and loving bonding session or date. Like, no, that needs to come AFTER you’ve cleared the air, if you manage to clear the air without hating each other. Basically, any unrealistic behavior makes me twitch. There was at least one time I mentioned this to the author and they shrugged it off. deep sigh

-Fatima S.

POV

There are several points of views you can choose from, and you don’t have to stick to just one. What you should do is avoid head-hopping. Never, ever, ever switch POV in the middle of a scene. This means your characters won’t know what other characters think. They could make an educated guess, but unless they’re mind readers, stick to your initial character. Always use a scene break or chapter break when changing POV.

Dialogue

Photo by 수안 최

Have you heard of talking head syndrome? This is what your betas mean when referencing dialogue problems (aside from dialogue punctuation). You have a whole lot of dialogue and very few movements. This is a good time to show character quirks. That being said, avoid stage direction dialogue. Find your balance. Check out my post on dialogue and body language.

Story Issues

This is a broad category, but so important, as each of these will make or break your story.

In most of beta reading I did, the problem was that the action started too early or too late. We can get the personality of a mc in few pages, no need to write 3 chapter of introduction. On the other hand, too much action without context seem pointless, and it can be very confusing especially when many characters are evolved 

– Laurence Beaudry. Visit her at her blog.
  1. Pacing (big one. Refer to my Dramatic Structure post for help)
  2. Plot manipulation
  3. Structure (Dramatic Structure post again)
  4. Over-explaining (not trusting your readers)
  5. Cliches
  6. Lack of creativity (there may not be a whole lot of original ideas out there, but you can certainly add your own flavor)
  7. Not doing enough research on the topic (this was a BIG one)

{A problem is} action that happens because the writer needs it to happen for the plot and not because it is the logical progression of the character’s motivation.

-Vanessa W. Connect with her at Storm Dance Publication

Last But Not Least…

Arguing With Your Beta

I know we know our stories. We’ve worked hard on them. They’re our babies, and for someone to just not get them…it’s enough to close down the feedback department and go on the defensive. You don’t have to take every piece of advice your beta, or even alpha, reader gives to you, but you’d be smart to at least consider all of it.

While it’s possible that your beta missed the point you were trying to make, it’s also possible you, as the writer, weren’t clear. Or overly clear. Or it just doesn’t fit the rest of the story. There are a million reasons you could argue with your beta, but they didn’t read your entire piece just to argue with you. They honestly want to see you and your book do well. It helps to evaluate your level of skill compared to theirs. Maybe you have more. Maybe they have more.

Either way, thank them and move on. You have a book to finish.

Almost all of these should be fixed before it reaches the beta reader. They wish to give you the best feedback they possibly can, but can only do that if the piece has a nice, shiny finish on it. They want to make sure you can give your work one last coat before sending it out to the world.

  • With all that said, it’s important for beta or alphas readers to let a writer know if they are unable to finish a manuscript. A note saying “I think you wanted an alpha reader” should suffice. I think if writers self-edit and follow the rest of the tips, they will see a decline in beta readers who do not finish.

Comment down below if you enjoyed this little study and want to see more of them. Happy reading and writing!

K. L. Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU, with a minor in Psychology. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.
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The Final Act (AKA The Ending)

You may question why I’m beginning at the end. After all, there can be thousands of words that come before the Third Act. Ask yourself, though, have you ever watched a decent movie but found that the ending was less than memorable? What did that do to your overall experience? You probably remembered less of the good middle, because the whole experience was tainted by the unsatisfying ending.

This was always an interest of mine. I compare it to why we remember the bad times more than we remember the good times. In simple terms, it’s because good and bad feelings are processed through different hemispheres. It takes more out of us to analyze the negative experiences, so, naturally, we focus on those.

The Recency Effect

Photo by Evie S.

The recency effect has to do with the order of information presented. The more recent the information, the more weight it holds. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus came up with the Serial Position Effect. It consists of the Recency Effect and the Primacy Effect. That is, we will remember the beginning and the ending the most.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that most of your work can be crap, and as long as you have a great beginning and ending, you did your job. I’m pointing out why it’s so important that your ending (and beginning) is up to par.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dig into the final act of your story.

The Makings of a Good Ending

Because novels are longer than short stories or flash fiction, I’m going to focus on those. Parts of this post will touch upon all endings, and I’ll try to point out where to draw the line. The final act usually occurs around the 75% mark of your story. You don’t have much time here, roughly 25%, but the good news is, you’ve had time in the first 75% to set up what’s about to go down.

Imagine this: The final act has just begun. For the sake of clarity, we’re going to start with the second plot point, which usually launches the final act. (Many writers will argue that it’s either at the beginning of the final act or the end of the previous act).

So. Here are the points you want to hit.

  1. The Second Plot Point
  2. The Climactic Sequence
  3. The Climax
  4. The Resolution

The Second Plot Point

The Second Point usually occurs somewhere between the 75% mark and the 90% mark, depending on where it’s needed in your story. It’s all about the final piece of the puzzle and it is usually considered a low point for your protagonist. This plot point will be the transition into your final act from the middle of the story.

Keep in mind that no new information or characters should enter after this point unless you’ve put the pieces in beforehand, which is foreshadowing.

Whatever happens here must make your protagonist change their game face again, from fight mode to resolution mode. (Note: they’ll still need to be in fight mode to get through the coming pages, but they now have what it takes to truly end the conflict, unlike before.)

The Climactic Sequence

The climactic sequence is a series of scenes that start after the second plot point and include the climax. These aren’t just any scenes, but rather scenes that ratchet up the tension more than you have so far in your work.

The sequence is three moments you must include. The moment of recovery, usually coming right after the second plot point, the confrontation, and the climax.

The moment of recovery

This scene is important for authenticity. Readers likely won’t believe your protag’s actions are “for real” if they’ve just hit their low point but launch right into the climax. So, then, we have the moment where your protag regroups and feels the losses. If you’ve done a good job, we’re feeling the loss that the protag should be feeling. We want to feel it together, so don’t cheat us out of that.

They’ll likely question themselves before deciding to continue on. In the real world, we would. Loss, the thing that has them questioning if they can take anymore, will also be a factor into deciding to continue forward to the confrontation

After the moment of recovery, your protag’s will is renewed because of the information they now possess. They’re sick of the antag’s crap and want to get back to their life, one way or another. They’ve come too far to turn back or run away.

The confrontation.

This is where you’ll want your protag to take on any baddie you’ve put in their way before getting to the Big Bad. They’ll use the skills they’ve acquired along the way to do this, but it won’t be easy. You’ll want to raise tensions as much as possible, Twists are common here. It’s fine to use allies to help, but in the climax, your protag can’t cop-out. They have to be the one to defeat the antag (or be defeated, but it’s on them, and only them at that point).

The Climax

This is where the battle comes to a close, but not after your protag has won or failed. The climax is often just a single moment that the conclusion of the book will depend on. It could be something dramatic as a sword fight, but it doesn’t need to be. As long as you fulfill the promises you made along the way. Keep in mind that this moment couldn’t have happened before. It is only now that your protag could defeat the antag because of that key piece of information.

The Resolution

Let me begin by stating that not all stories have a resolution. That is, the stories can end right after the climax. This isn’t always advised, but it depends on your story and type of story. Sometimes nothing more needs to be said. Sometimes, there is no more room (assuming you did a bang-up job resolving things that needed resolving previously). In the circumstances that you do need a resolution, don’t drag it out. Tie up the loose ends (usually subplots), get your hero out of trouble, whatever it is you need to do to complete the story.

This shouldn’t take more than a few pages, though those few pages should be important to the story.

There you have it, the final act. What are some of your favorite climactic sequences you’ve read, watched, or wrote? Leave a comment below and don’t forget to follow!

Dramatic Structure

You may be surprised to learn that story-telling is one of the keys to our human evolution. Story-telling, brought on by our ability for cognitive thinking and ever-changing technology, is special to our species alone. We have a great need to understand the world around us, to make sense of tragedies and ill-luck. We started telling stories long before there was written word.

I’d like to offer up a study that you can read about here, which, though more research does need to be done, shows a correlation between story-tellers and their survival. It’s an interesting read. The researchers, led by anthropologist Daniel Smith, began his work by conducting a study of forager cultures in Thailand, Malaysia, Africa, and other small communities.

So, how does this connect to the Dramatic Structure, the real reason you’ve visited this post? Let’s take a look at what Dramatic Structure is:

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said the play should imitate a single whole action. “A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end”. This goes for every story, regardless of form. There are several types of structures writers choose, but they all have this in common: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

In the coming weeks, I’ll take a look at the 3 act structure and each of its point’s timings. Keep in mind that these coming posts can be applied to any structure you choose.

But why do we love stories so much? Believe it or not, it’s because we love being part of a community. Every human, despite what they tell other people and themselves (much like the Character’s Lie we’ll get into later), we all want to belong. Story-telling is unifying. It takes place in every culture in the world. It binds us together.

Your Brain On Stories

Photo by Robina Weermeijer

Our brains recognize patterns in stories, including the instinctual moments we know something should be happening. We connect stories to our own experiences, trying to find meaning through their words to something we can’t quite understand yet in our lives.

Your brain lights up when you hear or read a story because it’s triggering different parts of your sensories. It invokes cognitive thoughts, you form opinions, come up with ideas, and make connections. A good story influences us one way or another.

Notice I say good. A good story will incite feelings in you, provoke your thoughts, light up your brain. It can only do that if we can connect to it on a human level (even when the story has little to do with humans, since we have a habit of personifying everything). To write a good story, as mentioned, you have to have a beginning, middle, and end. No matter if it’s a short story or an epic, our minds need these three factors to connect to it.

Let’s take a look at what a beginning, middle, and end entail. Keep in mind that length does figure into which points you hit, but those in italics are the ones you want to aim for.

Hitting the points:

  1. Normal world (Status Quo) Beginning
  2. Inciting incident
  3. Key event
  4. First Plot Point
  5. First Pinch Point
  6. Mid PointMiddle
  7. Second Pinch Pt
  8. Second Plot Point
  9. Climax
  10. ResolutionEnd

You’ll find rising and falling action throughout the structure. Our brains will know when something is naturally supposed to happen. Imagine structure as the Golden Gate Bridge.

Photo by Chris Brignola

Think of the rising and falling action as the cables on the bridge. They rise, they fall. Some points are higher than others. It has to be this way to keep the structure of the bridge stable. It’s the same thing with stories. To keep the structure stable, we must have rising and falling action.

There you have it! Dramatic Structure in a nutshell. Tell me in the comments below some of the best books, plays, or what-have-you that you have had the pleasure to experience with great dramatic structure!