Annie On Writing

January 24, 2015

Beta Readers makes books (and words) better

There are a number terms being bandied around  writing camps and unless you are brazen enough to admit you don’t know what one might be, you may be in the same situation I was a few years ago when my Facebook page was full of requests from other writers for a beta reader.

What does a beta reader?

A beta reader is someone who isn’t familiar with your storyline and perhaps unrelated to your work as a whole. They are occasionally willing volunteers, but more often than not, a paid professional who are happy to read your flash, excerpt or finished novel an give you honest feedback on specific concerns you have about it. They might be another author or an editor; but most importantly, they are an avid reader of the genre you write in.

Why would I you need one?

When a writer crease a character and event or a scene, they become intimate with every nuance. When an author writes a story, they know what message they are attempting to communicate. However, this doesn’t mean that they have been able to convey it clearly to a reader.  Even when it is read back, its quite possible that the real meaning is still not shared in the way the author meant it to.

A beta reader will read your work with no preconceptions of character or plot and let you know what is clear and what is not.

Beta readers make your words better

A beta reader is best sourced through social media or networking and be someone who would be amongst your target audience.  After approaching your beta reader, supply them with a list of issues or challenges you may have with plot, character or scene setting. After a read through, they will help identify the problems and work with you with their feedback on ways to solve them

A beta reader is the person who can shine a new light or perspective on an aspect of your story which has troubled you, or seemed glitchy; but you had failed to find a solution to it. They can assist with questions to deepen possibilities or opportunities for a character or event to demonstrate the point you are trying to make.

Get the best out of your beta reader

In order to get the most out of your beta reader, you must be clear in what feedback you need from them. Vague instructions will only garner vague suggestions or commentary.  A beta reader is able to assist you in developing a character through pointed questions, so that it comes across to the reader in the way you had meant it.

The most valued beta readers will look at your work critically and be specific with their feedback. They will provide notes on your story with quotes or passages which need exploring further and tightening to give clearer meanings.

Most beta readers will provide a short feedback note, but the best will be one who is willing to work with you further and assist in improving the story.

However, once this type of back and forth feedback, improvement and honing comes into it, you wander into the realms of manuscript appraisals. The intention is exactly the same; but the feedback and work invoked with this professional is at a deeper level.

They pull no punches and not only are well connected with agents and publishing houses, but will give you a lot to think about and work on to improve your work. Professional manuscript assessors can be sourced through accredited writers and author societies.

What they are and what they are not

A beta reader does not take the place of an editor and is not expected to correct structural, grammatical or spelling errors. Very often a beta reader is sourced before your work is completed or is sent the rawest of first drafts for their initial feedback. This is in direct contrast to the use of an editor who assists with completed drafts, or manuscript assessors who look at a finished and edited piece. One of the most important things about a beta reader, especially if they are a volunteer, is to treat them with kindness and gratitude; not taking their feedback personally and offer to assist them in a similar way in the future.

Beta readers play an extremely important part in the revision and expansion stage of your writing. Once it passes the beta test, and you’ve completed it to the best of your ability, its now time to find an editor; and start the revision process again.

This article was first published over at Todays Author

January 12, 2015

Flash Fizzle or Sizzle?

Filed under: Articles from Today's Author,Writing Tips — Annie Evett @ 11:48 pm

Flash Fiction can be one of the most enjoyable forms to read as while it doesn’t require a great time commitment to read it initially, themes and messages remain with you for longer.

As a writer of flash, however, the very elements which make it accessible to our fast paced world, make it challenging to write. Instead of the luxury of thousands of words to convey a setting, the deeper motivations of a character or the intricacies of an emotion, an entire story with well-rounded developed characters must be captured in under 10000 words. Flash fiction with clichéd and two dimensional characters will fizzle and be discarded.

The elements of good writing do not change, regardless of word count; however there is a harder line to toe when it comes to flash fiction.

Make every word count.

With absolutely no room for padding, flash fictions must be the trimmed down, toned sister of a short story. Text must be to the point, vivid and explode from the page. A good rule of editing a flash fiction to ‘cut the fat’, would be to delete all adverbs, discard “then” and bin anything that doesn’t immedialty add to the precise event the story is trying to convey.

Start in the middle

When you begin to write, it’s a good tip to begin in the middle of the event or incident and write around it. As you edit, you may decide to start the story somewhere along the timeline you are creating so that it has more impact. By beginning to write in the middle, you take away the distraction of having to set the scene and go ‘straight for the jugular’. 

Limit your characters

With a limited word count, so to must your host of character be selective. You don’t have time to build character or set scenes, so even their names must signify baits or foreshadow events.

The story arc still applies.

Be it novel, novella or flash fiction, your tale must still follow a story arc involving an event with a major obstacle to overcome ending with a resolution.

A twist in the tale is what flash is all about.

Although the isn’t a rule, most readers expect to be surprised and have something to think about after they have finished reading. The best flash fiction stories are ones that the reader immediately reads again, to pick up on the clues which lead to the twist at the end. Elements of shock or added humour will hold a reader’s attention for longer.

This article first appeared over at Todays Author

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