From bulldozing to interior decorating: beta readers are your friend

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Having a dozen or so characters hollering over each other at the top of their lungs, can, believe or not (of course you believe me!), be a wee bit disconcerting.

Not to mention confusing, perplexing, irritating, and noisy.

There are main characters voicing their own opinions on how their story should go, would-be lovers screeching that they don’t belong together, evil doers shouting at the awful plans I make them complete, and drunk soldiers (who happen to be brothers) trying to hit on me.

Loving and knowing them while maintaining sanity is the easy part.

Turning their life into a story is something entirely different.

Basically, after I wrote my first draft and let it sit for a couple months I demolished the whole thing. Rented a bulldozer, destroyed it, then set the ruins on the fire and scattered the ashes into the gaping opening of an active volcano. I’m waiting for it to erupt any day now so I can sweep up those ashes and dispose of them in an underwater cave, which I will then blow up with dynamite.

I can’t start rebuilding right away. Planning, measurements, and permits are needed before construction can begin. Instead, I’m planning on the interior decorating, the types of flowers that will sit in the flower vases on the coffee table in my library. You can’t build a house that way, and you certainly shouldn’t be trying to write a book that way.

It’s good to have an image in your head of what the details are going to be, but focus on the overall structure and safety first.

So I need to stop focusing on the personal lives of my characters, step back, and look at the bigger picture. It doesn’t matter if it’s gorgeously painted and adorned on the inside if the outside is a crooked, leaky, lopsided mess.

Setting aside the decorating utensils is hard, but finding the bigger purpose requires more immediate attention. Make sure the walls are straight and the angles square.

At times like this it’s good to have a second brain. Or even a third one. Odds are that someone — a relative or friend — is reading the nasty, raw, unedited gibberish that your fingers are hammering out. They are the unfortunate beta testers that dominate your physical world (the non-physical one being dominated by dragons, sorcerers, and such).

You must pick their brain. Ask opinions, point out your own weaknesses, and wonder aloud how they might be fixable. It helps if they’re an aspiring writer as well as reader. Just rambling on about plot and character relationships might assist in de-tangling of tangled thoughts, and the other person can jump in with a “What if…” or “It would be cool if…”

Ifs are your friend. Ifs make the day brighter, the night less hazy, the marshes less boggy.

I’m fortunate enough to have two extra brains to pick, to muse with. I recently spent the majority of a day with one of my beta readers, swapping ideas and wonderments about the other’s work-in-progress. It was insightful, productive, and I can now set aside the cloth I had been saving for curtain colour-choosing.

My two  beta readers are very different. One is an avid fantasy-reader, dreamer, writer, and tree-lover. Like me. When we brainstorm together everything seems more fantastical, and my story, which began more of a historical fiction rather than fantasy, takes a lean towards the magical side of life.

Bubbly now that I have a loose purpose, I confront the my other beta reader with the developments to the plot. She reads fantasy, but it’s not her favourite genre, and she is stubbornly hoping that I can rebuild with the remnants of that blown-up underwater cave. She disagrees with the new structure but acknowledges her bias and ascents that it is, after all, my story.

So I take both readers’ offerings into account, with my own preference (of course) within clear sight. Essentially I’m writing this story for me and no one else, but I love hearing feedback from my b-readers, I love debating with them on aspects of this world, the needs and wants of the population, the secret motives of characters, and the overall flavour of the story.

The foundation has been re-laid, and construction can finally begin.

This isn’t 100% accurate…Or maybe it is. It might change my structure, in which you’ll  probably just be a nameless soldier who is slaughtered. No worries on your part, then. 😉

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4 thoughts on “From bulldozing to interior decorating: beta readers are your friend

  1. fairypoppin

    Hello again Libby,

    Half a hour ago,I was watched show on child beauty pageants- I think it is called toddlers, and tiars and tantrums or turning tricks…twas named something like that…?

    Then I checked my emails….and read your blog.

    And something I read caught my eye- I couldn’t help but think about that in relation to what I had just watched…

    “So I need to stop focusing on the personal lives of my characters, step back, and look at the bigger picture. It doesn’t matter if it’s gorgeously painted and adorned on the inside if the outside is a crooked, leaky, lopsided mess.”

    And I THOUGHT JUST THE OPPOSITE ABOUT SOME OF THE GIRLS I was watching-and their VERY COMPETITIVE Mothers…..

    … doesn’t matter if it’s gorgeously painted and adorned on the OUTSIDE, if the INSIDE
    is a crooked, leaky, lopsided mess…..God Forbid…

    I’m not staying that pageants are a completely bad thing-but there needs to be limits. Dressing a 3 year old up in provacative clothing is NEVER okay in my humble opinion…be great if these girls and their Mums could work at improving what is WITHIN these children/young ladies.

    • Ach, I agree with you 100%! It would be interesting to see how these girls turn out later in life. Mother-killers? Their lives are degraded! They wouldn’t be able to have ‘normal’ friends, and their fellow victims are seen as competition… It’s cruel, IMO,and ditto a thousand times on working on the inside, rather than the outside. That itself would make a more interesting reality show.
      Fortunately my stories can’t become complaining, whining brats. Or I hope so, anyway!!
      Thanks for stopping by, Sonia! 🙂

      • fairypoppin

        We are soooo on the same page here….it is one thing to realise your own dreams through your children-and even that isn’t a great idea-but stage mothers? DING DING DING! Time for your therapist Ladies….😊

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