Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Beta Reader: Why You Need One
Remember when we used to write posts to help you with your writing? It seems like it's time. I know it's not as much fun as talking about Han and Leia's sex lives, but hopefully it will at least prove useful to those of you who are writing, especially since so many people have been writing lately which is a great thing!
All right, some of you may be wondering, what is a beta reader? It's our fancy fanfiction term for editor, basically. It's someone you hand your story off to that will proof read it for you and tell you if there are any typoes, grammatical errors, or even characterizations or story elements that are off if that's what you want them for.
Here's a tip: you need one. I need one. We all need one to give our stories a look before we post them. The smartest and best writers still have someone edit for them and still might misspell something or put a period where there should be a semi colon from time to time or use the same word three times in one sentence without noticing. The best, most capable writers make mistakes that they don't see themselves and it's important to have someone read what you are writing to make sure that you aren't making any.
Why is it important? Well, obviously first and foremost, you want what you post to be error-free. Second, these mistakes are often distracting and take you out of the story. I've seen plenty of stories where the writing itself is pretty good and I'm pulled in by the plot but it is maddening how many typos or punctuation errors or whatever are sprinkled throughout. It can drastically change your opinion of a story you otherwise might absolutely love.
We all make mistakes in our writing from time to time. Seriously, I might have pointed something out to someone ten times in their stories and then for some reason I'll do it myself in what I'm writing and someone will have to then point that out to me. Another common issue I have is using the same word multiple times in a paragraph instead of varying. It's one of those things you just might not notice when looking at it yourself. It just might require a second set of eyes.
When I first started writing, I didn't get why I needed a beta reader. Way back when I wrote my first stories, which was long before they were published, I was going to have them posted on one of the now-defunct Han and Leia sites that went under before my story got put up. They hooked me up with a beta reader who went through my story and corrected all kinds of stuff. To be honest, if you've never done that before, it's a bit tough to handle at first. Yes, it can make you feel stupid, but you have to remember that making mistakes in your writing doesn't make you an idiot. Making the same mistake over and over and over again after someone has repeatedly told you the correct way to do it might make you kind of an idiot. Okay, just kidding.
The point is, it is all supposed to be a learning experience. I know that once I got over my initial reaction, which was mostly, "Wow, I really suck at this if I make this many mistakes!" I was able to sit back and absorb the feedback and let it make me a better writer. I was doing some things that I would never have realized I was doing "wrong" and I'm so glad that someone pointed them out so I could work on them and not do them anymore. Some simple, like punctuation, but also things to make my writing better. One of my major problems was not varying my sentence structure, so it read very stilted and got boring after a while. I don't have to worry about doing that anymore.
The beta reader can be as involved as you want them to be as well. If you just want them to check and make sure it's all grammatically correct and the punctuation is where it needs to be, then tell them that. But they can also tell you if your characterizations are good or if certain things within the plot make sense or whatever. Obviously getting someone that involved requires finding a friend you trust with that sort of thing, and it's not something everyone needs, but it can be helpful if you need it. At bare minimum though, just have someone edit for grammar and such.
How do you find such a person? Well, there are options. I think there is a beta reader section on ff.net where you can find someone and contact them there. If someone you have met on here you think would be helpful you can contact them. Or another friend you know and trust. Just make sure the person you're asking actually knows what they're talking about. I've read things that include thanking a beta reader that are still riddled with typos, so be picky. If you're fourteen and you're writing your fourteen-year old friend might not be the authority on grammar that you believe them to be. That's not to say that anyone that young is incapable, just make sure you pick someone who knows what they're talking about.
So let someone proof read your story before you post. It's not a ton of extra effort and just makes sure that what you post won't be distractingly full of mistakes. Yes, I've stopped reading stories when I see too many typos. It has to be a lot for me to do that, but it does happen. It just tells me that the person didn't put any real effort in. Don't be impatient and just throw it up there. Make your story the best it can be! It's okay to need help!