Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, February 02, 2007

Guest Blog: Helping My Helpers Help Me

by Marsha Ward
Author of The Man from Shenandoah, Ride to Raton, and the soon-to-be-released Trail of Storms

Like many writers, I rely on beta readers to evaluate my novel manuscripts. This choice list of people includes ordinary readers, writers at all levels, and those wonderful author friends you cultivate carefully so you can trade manuscripts with them for critiques. I usually go over a manuscript at least twice before I let anyone appraise it. This time, I was under a bit of a time crunch, so what I sent out was pure, unadulterated first draft dreck. Scary!

I believe that when I’m asking for a favor, it’s incumbent upon me to make it as easy as possible for the favor-giver to help me. For that reason, I provide a sort of tip sheet as to what I’m looking for in their critique, especially if my beta reader hasn’t read my previous novels, or is unfamiliar with my genre.

The following is from the tip sheet I sent to Kerry and others when they volunteered to take a look at my forthcoming novel, Trail of Storms. It includes my concerns off the top of my head, and oftentimes, in no particular order, but it alerts my critiquers to the fact that they’re not simply reading for pleasure. I don’t want them to dash off a note at the end saying, “This is good.” I need to know why it’s good or not, so I’m specific about my expectations.

Thank you for agreeing to read and critique my book. I'm anxious to know what you think about it. When you want to make a comment, suggestion, or correction, please go ahead and do so, using whatever method suits you best, such as colored font, bracketed notes, or some other Word editing convention like 'track changes' or those little embedded notes I haven't learned how to create yet.

I think the spelling and grammar have been gone through pretty well. I still find a few words that should have been deleted when I substituted something else. If I mess up, please let me know! I use colloquial language from time to time, but not every time. In other words, not every "g" will be missing from the end of "going". That is okay, so don't worry about that if it doesn't irritate you. If it does, say so!

If you find anything in particular that you like, go ahead and tell me that. If the story carries you forward so thoroughly that you forget you're suppose to be editing, let me know that. On the other hand, if the novel is merely so-so, I have to know that, as well.

These are the major things I'm hoping you will find and mark:
Repetitious use of words that are likely to hit the reader over the head--words like "fresh," or "journey," or "enough" showing up twice in the same paragraph or successive/close paragraphs.

Consistency: Do I capitalize Daughter or Sister/Sis when used as a form of address throughout, or did I drop to lowercase in some instances along the line? Robert should always be driving a mule team. His hair is brown and he wears a beard, as does James. (etc)

Sections that drag.

Consistent character motivations: I've changed a few things, and might not have caught every build-up that goes with them. If anything puzzles you, mark it!

Characters doing or saying things that are out-of-character for them.

Over-explanations of the same thing to various people, or one character telling another about a past occurrence more than one time. It doesn't count if new information is imparted, but please note any concerns.

Places where I avoided writing a scene that should be there, or failed to expand a scanty scene. Or wrote a scene that has no point in furthering the story.

Story strings left hanging at the end. Which is akin to this: Characters dropped on their faces when more of their story should be told.

Too much development of minor characters.

Padding that appears to be solely to boost word count. Trite or passive construction. Unnecessarily pounding a point home. Drecky conversations, cliches, and stupid stuff.

If any part of this tip sheet is of use to you as a writer, please feel free to borrow it. That will make my guest blog worthwhile.

Do you send a note to your beta readers along with your manuscript? What do you tell or ask them for? Are you more organized and use a nifty form? Share it!

Over the course of years of freelancing and editing for four different LDS-oriented newspapers, Marsha Ward has amassed more than 900 publication credits including articles, columns, poems, short stories, and novels. Marsha is active in LDStorymakers and is the founder of American Night Writers, an association of hundreds of LDS women writers nationwide. Her web site is here and she participates in two blogs: Writer in the Pines and ANWA Founder & Friends.


At 2/02/2007 3:51 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Here's the list of questions I sent out with my latest manuscript (I don't have a standard list or a form that I use every time).

Does the beginning hook you? Do you want to keep reading?
Is there any point in the manuscript at which you found yourself getting bored or feeling like things were dragging?
Does the suspense build throughout?
Is the ending satisfying?
Did the characters feel real and interesting?
Were plot events believable?
Was the story clear or were there points where you got confused?
And anything else you want to tell me.

I don't ask my readers to actually write down answers to these questions--they're just a prompt to help the reader spot problems.

Great blog, Marsha! Thanks for hopping by the Frog Bog!

At 2/02/2007 6:07 PM, Blogger FHL said...

Marsha: in Word, it's under the Insert menu, Comment. Lets you insert an extensive comment (or a short one) but only leaves behind a short tag. Then you can hover over the tag and see the whole comment. In Print Layout (for me, at least) it displays the whole comment off in the right margin.

Track changes is a wonderful thing, particularly when you have several different people editing the same document. It was a lifesaver in the online classes I took where I, umm, discriminated against certain people who had less of a firm grasp on grammar. (Or, as they put it once, less grammicable.)

At 2/05/2007 12:13 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

Stephanie, that's an excellent list of questions. Do you mind if I use it next time?

It was fun to find myself in the Frog Bog. Thanks for inviting me, Kerry!

At 2/05/2007 12:15 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...

fhl, thanks for the instructions. I finally can make those neat little notes! I can even tell others how to use them. I appreciate your help.

At 2/05/2007 1:00 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Marsha, absolutely, you're welcome to use my list of questions! Glad they're helpful.


Post a Comment

<< Home