- Surface stuff: missing words, simple typos and spelling errors.
- Simple mechanics: I have a low tolerance for grammatical errors. I have a lower tolerance for complacency about making them.
- Word choice and language precision: choosing the proper word, phrase, and image is key to strengthening a sentence, a scene ... and sometimes, I do not think that word means what you think it means. I mark clichés and things that just sound off to me.
- Unintended repetition: I mark words, phrases, and dialogue tags if they occur more than once in the same chapter or ... if they bug me.
- Sentence construction and flow: Variation is lovely, and precision is essential. A present participial phrase (if indefinite) must reflect simultaneous action, for example. I'll mark awkward/clunky constructions, flabby prose, say-nothing sentences.
- Scene: it had better be necessary and multifunctional (e.g., not just to show me more about a character, but showing me more about the character while moving the plot forward). I might comment on length if it feels draggy or redundant and suggest a way to trim or rearrange so the scene is tighter. Sometimes I suggest deleting scenes altogether.
- Backstory: only when it's needed, and no more than is essential ... but enough so I can understand what the heck is going on. I comment on the timing and extent of the backstory.
- Setting: Must. Have. Sense. Of. Place. But it must be integrated into the story so the pace is preserved.
- Dialogue: stilted, redundant, boring and purposeless, cover for info-dump, inconsistency in vocabulary/voice/pattern of speech, or anything that just doesn't sound like natural conversation will get marked.
- Characterization: consistency within the character and with the character arc, including intensity of emotion, inner thoughts, mannerisms and other external behaviors, and relationships with other characters. If there are child characters ... I will comment on whether that child's behavior and language is consistent with what I know of child development. And if there is psychopathology or trauma, I will address it both from a technical perspective and a story perspective. For good or ill, I will describe how I feel about the character at any given point.
- Plot arc: I will comment on general plausibility and tension, and identify things that seem illogical or inconsistent (plot holes). I might make predictions for what I think will happen so the writer can see how I'm understanding and interpreting the story--and so the writer can get a sense of how predictable the story is.
naïve).Now ... as I mentioned, I've had various reactions to my crits. Some were met with gratitude, and a few were met with radio silence or defensiveness. It was an important lesson: writers have different goals and needs, and different betas serve different purposes (you all probably knew that already).
There are lots of reasons writers seek beta-readers:
- Simple validation--they just need someone to tell them they're good
- Encouragement--they need gentle suggestions and a ton of positive feedback
- Tell-me-if-I'm-crazy or genre questions--they need someone to honestly tell them if an idea is crap (JD does this one for me all the time) or to help them decide the genre of the piece
- General impression/overall style--more of a broad review of theme, voice, style, plot, and/or characters/relationships
- Specific questions/expert review--review of smaller-scope issues like making sure something is correct from a technical perspective
- Getting the piece ready for agent or editor eyes--this would be the no-holds-barred crit
Which brings me to: BETA, know thyself (no such thing as being all things to all writers)
Followed closely by: Writer, know THYself (if you don't, you're going to get frustrated. Or hurt.)
|I'll tell you where to shove |
that red pen ...
What kind of beta are you? What do you do well, and when are you not the best fit for a writer?
What are you looking for in a critique, and why? Do you have different beta-readers for different stages of your process, or who have different purposes? What makes you trust your beta(s)? What makes that relationship work?
On the Sisterhood front: be sure to check out Deb Salisbury's post on her writing goals for 2011!