Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dream Beta Reader

I am freakish in that I enjoy feedback on my writing.  Not the usual, "Oh my, are you sure you're not Harper Lee's daughter?" malarkey when I just read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time this past week (an appalling admission I know) but rather the honest, hard hitting, and valuable type of feedback that is a rare but treasured gift.

I was recently the recipient of such a review and I'm still giddy over it's generosity.

A few months ago I distributed the first three chapters of my novel The Child Clare to several select individuals. They were "select" in that they did not roll their eyes or cough nervously when I asked for their input.  Some were friends and a couple were relatives. One, a valued blog buddy in Ireland, did an excellent job of helping me see how a non-American audience might view my work.

 All of my readers returned comments and suggestions but surprisingly, the individual who knew me least, or so I thought at the time, returned the most extensive and useful review/critique. In fact, her input was spread over several detailed pages. One page of comments and suggestions for every page of text for just my first chapter. She continues to work on chapters two and three.

Before I go any father let me make one thing absolutely Dingle Crystal clear. I will not, under any circumstances, threats of harm or promises of cash share the name of my Dream Beta Reader. She is mine and mine alone and you may not have her and to further protect her anonymity she will from this sentence forward be known only as Scarlet.

Because Scarlet is one groovy name, that's why.

Now Scarlet and I go way back. We were good friends in high school, we swooned over many a Neil Diamond record, yes...I said record. Then we grew up and lost touch. About a year ago we connected again on Facebook and the rest is Dream Beta Reader (DBR) history.

I will admit when I first peaked inside the package she sent and viewed my first chapter slashed up in crimson, I thought there had been a serious vegetable cutting incident in her kitchen. But when I realized the red blotches actually spelled words...I calmed myself.

I put the document away for a few days, not unlike a present you receive wrapped in gold paper and a cream velvet ribbon, too striking to ruin by opening. I wanted to have plenty of time to really absorb it's contents. Finally, I took that time and a cold beer and settled in to read her comments.

I was not disappointed. Scarlet was tuned in and serious about my characters from page one. She held me accountable for actions I promised or even implied a character would take and did not let up until I followed through. She was akin to a hog with a scone.

An example: In the very beginning, my protagonist reminds herself to touch up her lipstick before meeting her escort, and yet it was several pages before I returned to that detail. Scarlet picked up on that right away. Did my character forget the lipstick? Why had she not yet applied the lipstick? Did I forget the lipstick? WHAT HAPPENED TO THE LIPSTICK?!

It was this intense concentration, this demand for detail and follow-through that makes Scarlet shine as a DBR. She maintained this level of involved scrutiny throughout chapter one and made me quickly realize, she would not suffer fools and I best up my game.

Like the final page of Anne Enright's book The Gathering, I was borderline weepy to see Ms. Beta Readers comments come to an end. But I worked through that grief and the next day I began incorporating several of her suggestion in my, dare-I-say-it, sixth revision of The Child Clare. My preferred editing spot is now a damp piece of musky earth under our rural mailbox where I write and wait for DBR's wisdom on chapters two and three to arrive.

Thankfully it is summer here in Central Illinois and our rural mailbox is free of snowdrifts.


  1. She sounds like a dream beta reader Donna - I never noticed that with the lipstick. I read very fast which isn't a good thing when you are supposed to be looking out for detail!
    I look forward to hearing more about the novel's progress. I've started one now too - Am doing a 'perfect farm wife' funny book but have finally figured out the layout and structure for a novel I've had in my head for years so am going to try and do it a chapter a month and see how it goes! Have a good weekend, my writing blogging buddy ;)

    1. Lorna, I so loved your "Would You Marry a Farmer" , I can only imagine how funny your perfect farm wife book would be. Keep up the hard work and so will I. All we've got is time right? And cooking, raising kids, sorting calves...

    2. All we need is time too xx

  2. I'm always on the lookout for updates on your author blog, so I was happy to find one. What a treasure your beta reader is. I can see how this can make the difference between a good story and an excellent one. Probably especially for fiction, which I doubt I could pull off. Still, there's good advice for all writers here.

    1. Thanks Leigh. It's a goal of mine to post here more frequently, in fact I plan to do another RIGHT NOW. My Beta Reader is indeed a gem, she just sent me reviews of two more chapters of my novel and I can't wait to see how she has ripped into me, I mean I can't wait to rip into them. Well, someone is going to get ripped.