Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beta and Critique Readers

Over the years, I've been part of several writing groups, ranging from informal gatherings where the topic of writing just happened to come up, to NaNoWriMo groups, to critique groups.  I've shared my work, and read others' work and given feedback.  If there's one thing I've learned, all beta readers/crit partners are NOT created equal.  Here are some of the characters I've run into:*

- The Published Writer.  You've probably run into him at some point.  He's had a short story published in an ezine.  Or he wrote a novel that was published by a small press.  Whatever it is, he has decided that he is talented.  Very talented.  So talented, in fact, that you, an unpublished writer, could never measure up to him.  Your writing will never be as good as his, because your work is not published.  Like his.  Did I mention that he takes every chance he gets to remind you that he is published.

- The Emphatic Realist.  This fellow writer doesn't quite grasp the concept of the suspension of disbelief.  At all.  He can't figure out why you've insisted on ignoring a particular historical figure in your historical romance, even though it would not do anything to further the plot.  He demands historical accuracy!  And that plane you have in chapter three - that style of plane has two rows of seats, not three.  Obviously, you haven't done enough research.

- The Genre Snob.  He doesn't read anything but one genre.  The romantic drivel you've written is completely mindless, as far as he is concerned.  And the YA project?  Why you're wasting your time on such a pathetic genre is beyond him.  Sure, it's okay for what it is, but it's not much.  Trying to get this guy to like anything that isn't in his genre is like trying to make my dog eat... umm... okay, that metaphor doesn't work.  It's like trying to get a shark to swim backwards.

- The Insecure Crank.  He doesn't think that his writing is any good.  To see your writing, which is (theoretically) good, just irritates him.  He doesn't like the thought of someone being better than him, and he will find every little error possible in your work.  He will find errors that don't exist.  He will find flaws in every character and setting.  He will find tiny plotholes and blow them into gaping chasms.  Because he thinks his work is no good, he will not let yours be good either.

Of course, not all critique partners or beta readers are one of these folks!  I have met amazing readers, people I trust to read anything I write, and to give me honest feedback.

- The Read-Everything Partner.  He will read absolutely everything that is written.  Genre, length, style - it doesn't matter.  He has a preferred genre, of course, but he won't ignore a story just because it's not his favorite style.  His best line? "It's not something I'd pick out on my own, but I liked it."

- The Grammar Snob.  He knows the English language inside and out.  He knows where each and every punctuation mark belongs.  He may not be able to correct flaws in your character arc, but he will make sure that your final draft is polished to a high sheen.

- The Gentle Let-Down.  Your story sucks.  The characters are one-dimensional.  You have no arc.  Your plot has holes that a Mack truck can drive through.  But he can still point out the good things, like your ability to place a semi-colon in just the right place, and make you feel better about having churned out a big ol' pile of crap.

*All genders have been made male for the purposes of masking identities.  If you happen to recognize yourself in one of these readers, chances are good that I'm not actually talking about you personally.  But hopefully, you recognize yourself as one of the awesome ones!


M.J. Fifield said...

I've attended a couple of writers' groups in my area and every time, it's me and a group of old ladies writing their memoirs. They've all been very sweet though.

imakailah said...

Because I'm a bitter hag, I loved that all the characters were men :) But my personal favorite is the published writer, ick. Get over yourself, sir. =/

Im the grammar freak. bleh. You make enough F's in high school, you wise up. lol