I finished beta reading for my friend I told you about in an earlier post, and it amazes me how much I have learned about my craft in the process. Believe it or not, this was my first beta read/critique outside of flash fiction and short stories on Scribophile, and even that hasn’t happened for a long time. I’ve critiqued a bunch of them, but I had never done a beta reading for a book. Even though I knew how important it is for writers to read the work of others who are also on the same experience level, I had never tried it. The reason was that I was too afraid of making a mistake in my critique/review and ultimately be a hindrance to the fellow writer. I mean, can you imagine if you’ve written something you were very proud of, have a trusty beta reader tell you that you should murder your darling, then have an editor or someone else more experienced than both you and the beta tell you that you should add it back? What would that say about the beta’s worth as a writer?
Point of the matter is that we learn to identify what to avoid in our own work by seeing it in someone else’s. For example, I know what exposition is, I’ve read a hundred articles and posts about it, and yet, if you were to ask me to identify it in my current project (Through Stranger Eyes), I’d most likely fail to find every single instance of it in my work. As I was reading my friend’s work, I came across a small section where I was certain beyond any doubt (in my mind at least – remember, I’m still a newbie) that what I was reading was pure exposition that slowed things down and was unrelated to the story, the plot, and the characters. I immediately made a note of it, so my friend would notice it and choose whether he wanted it in or not. As I was writing the comment to the side, it occurred to me that I had included an almost identical piece in my work. So I turned to my novel, found the page, and there it was. I had read this part of my story well over ten times, nine of which were pure edit rounds. And there it was, staring at me. It never crossed my mind that I had consciously chosen to keep it, because I failed to identify it as an expository piece that slowed things down, just as it was the case with my friend’s plot. If I hadn’t beta read, I would have never spotted it and I would have given my betas a less-than-acceptable story to read. Maybe they’d point it out to me, maybe they wouldn’t notice it or consider a big deal, maybe they’d be afraid of hurting my feelings by pointing it out. But I bet an agent or a publisher would see it and judge my work based on it.
I’m not going to go over on how many more sections like that or other problems I spotted in my works thanks to my friend’s novel. Suffice to say they were plenty.
Dear betas, when the time comes, you’ll be receiving a somewhat tighter and slightly fewer-in-words novel. Thank my friend for that 😉