The Beta Reading process: Not as terrifying as I thought

I am not  formally trained in writing fiction. That is the most important thing I’ve had to factor into my preparations to publish. I have easily read over a hundred fantasy novels in my day. I’ve covered all the classics and newcomers to the fantasy genre, and as I reader I feel quite well versed.  My only writing, however, over the last ten years has been in the form of academic papers or incident reports full of legalize and people trying to bomb other people over nothing (and everything).

As interesting the world we have created for Disorder of War may be, and as likeable the characters may have ended up, nobody wants to read my first draft drivel. I have been aware of that from the beginning, and have been lucky in access to a group of English majors and professionals competent and generous enough to provide useful  feedback.

Initially I was concerned that friends would not give critical feedback, and the whole Beta Reading process would only amount to some polite “Great story!” comments and very little for me to work with.

Luckily, I was very wrong. My Beta Readers are very comfortable in our friendships apparently, and have provided pages and pages up feedback, recommendations, and corrections. In total I have gone through at least six revisions of the manuscript and will probably go through two or three more before it gets sent off to the editor.

Probably the most exciting part of the process has been interacting with the Beta Readers on character development. This is the area of fiction writing about which I am the most self-conscious, and yet it was incredibly fascinating and encouraging to hear the readers talk about characters as individuals who they care about and have become invested in. It is definitely important though, to give specific guidelines to Beta Readers and make it clear that they should hold no punches- even if you’re hesitant. I found Jami Gold’s website a very useful resource and sent his Beta Reader form around as a guide. Giving specific examples of types of useful feedback seems especially productive for those who have never Beta Read in the past.

I will dedicate a whole blog post to this, but I consider writing a character in the image of a real person is a huge no no. The characters my wife and I create are based on our experiences with real people, but not the people themselves. Somehow though, the amalgamations of different personalities we have formed our characters with have ended up as very clearly defined individuals in our minds. My goal now is to communicate who they are and what their experiences have been, and my Beta Readers have more than arisen to task of helping me do that. Thank you all!

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