Ode to the Beta readers

So you’ve finished the first draft of your novel and are wondering what to do with the 70,000 to 90,000 words or more you have poured hours of time into. Well editing it is one important next step because there are bound to be spelling errors, typos, the always dreaded missing words and characters who appear where they’re not supposed to be.

However it’s just as important is to find people, often called Beta readers, who will read the draft with a critical eye. Not only will they point out the faux pas noted above, the good ones will have lots of questions and ideas that can make your story much better.

The last thing you need at this point are readers who will only tell you the story is wonderful and they loved it. Baloney. It’s just a first draft; it can be improved in many ways.

You’re really blessed if you have Beta readers who not only have the ability to spot the obvious mistakes but also the background to pick out your faulty assumptions and unlikely conclusions and tell you what’s wrong. Their comments and suggestions can generate plenty of ideas to enhance the plot of your story. This is an adult process that doesn’t require bruised egos.

Example. In one story, I have an artificial intelligence who has long wished to possess a sense of smell. It finally receives that ability while it is being rebuilt following a serious accident. In the original draft, the human who oversaw the rebuild takes deep breaths trying to convince the A.I. to mimic him and discover its new sense. A Beta reader pointed that sniffing was the way people and animals used their nose to check the world around them. The story was fixed making it more plausible in the process.

Other readers have pointed out technology errors or events that are unlikely to have occurred. Never reject those suggestions without thinking through how they could improve the story.

Sometimes a Beta reader will simply misunderstand part of your story. However, you should still consider rewording it because if that reader didn’t comprehend your sentence, paragraph or page, odds are good other readers won’t either. You don’t want the people who buy your book to be put off by sections that don’t make sense to them.

Remember that it will take the Beta readers time to review your work and make notes. It’s best to provide them with a paper copy that has plenty of room for jotting down ideas. While they’re doing that, work on another story so by the time you return to the draft that has been reviewed, it will be fresh in your mind.

When your book is published, make sure you give credit to your Beta readers. The big name authors do that because they know how much they depend on the close attention their Beta readers pay to making the story as good as it can be. There may be only one byline on the cover but a lot of people have contributed to make the book as interesting as it can be. 

Memories of another refugee crisis

The news photos and television footage of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada brought back personal memories of another influx of people from a different war torn region of the world.

Back in 1980 my parents were part of a community effort in Brantford, Ont. to bring in families of Vietnamese boat people. They found homes, clothes and the other amenities of life for the newcomers who arrived with very little. In time, the newcomers became active members of the community. The son of one couple took engineering with my son at Western University. Others have done well in businesses they started in the city.

When the Brantford delegation picked up their families at Pearson Airport and drove them to Brantford, there weren’t any politicians present making it into a photo op. What they undertook was practically unheard of back then although I remember Hungarians coming to Canada and Brantford in the aftermath of the failed Hungarian revolution in the 1950s.

What my parents and thousands of Canadians across the country did enabled 100,000 Vietnamese to come to Canada. We’re a better country for it.

Years earlier, Mum and Dad brought a young man from Antigua and put him through two years of high school, university and teacher’s college. In the process Vernon became a member of the family and went on to become a school principal in Brantford.

When Dad was in his final years became at times despondent about the ravages of old age, my siblings and I looked for ways to cheer him up. One that worked was asking him how many people in the world had white, black and Asian kids who called them Grandpa. Dad thought about it briefly and with a big smile, decided he might be unique.

One of the Vietnamese who arrived later was a small man named Sun. The Vietnamese called my Dad Father. Pop would always greet Sun by saying his name in a loud voice to which Sun would reply Father. Dad loved to imagine people nearby trying to figure out how there could be a connection between the two.

I’m sure that Mum and Dad and other now mostly departed folks who worked to bring the Vietnamese to Brantford would have felt especially gratified when groups representing Vietnamese Canadians raised funds to help Syrian refugees settle in Canada.

My parents and their friends did what they did because it was the right thing to do. Just as bringing the Syrians to Canada and the other groups in the years since the arrival of Vietnamese was.

Teaser: Chapter 1 of my next book

I’m posting Chapter 1 of A Biot’s Odyssey, the sequel to Humanity’s Saving Grace. The story is set 30 years after the first book and tells the story of the Biots’ efforts to recognize themselves as a species equal to the humans and Beings and to save two other species from annihilation by an insane artificial intelligence.

In the coming weeks I will post chapter 1 of my science fiction story By Intelligent Design, my science fantasy story Ultimate Wizard and my fantasy piece The Circle.

Hope you enjoy.

Alex

The writer’s marathon

The final days of November are stressful for writers who take on the annual challenge of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It’s an international event held every November and attracts more than 100,000 writers who try to turn the story in their heads or on stacks of notes into at least a 50,000 word manuscript. That works out to writing about 1,700 words a day.

About 10% are successful. However most of the rest have still achieved the main goal of NaNoWriMo—cobbling together the first draft of what might be a published novel after a lot more work. That is the true beauty of NaNoing along with meeting other writers if you participate in the local write-ins and other events. You can learn a lot more about it at www.nanowrimo.org.

Starting with the first words, the writer is striving to pull the story out of his or her head onto the computer screen (with regular backups) without stopping to edit or revise. Save that for December. The main lesson is once you start a story, keeping writing until you have run out of ideas. Wring the cloth as dry as you can. That applies any time you’re writing a new story.

Someone once compared writing to building a house. The latter usually requires scaffolding for the trades to work from. When the house is finished, the scaffolding is removed. Not all the words, ideas, events and characters of a first draft survive revising and editing. They may disappear completely having served their purpose of moving the story along. Or they may emerge bigger and brighter.

I started four stories by participating in NaNo and hopefully two at least will be published in 2016—By Intelligent Design and Ultimate Wizard.

If you ever thought about writing a book, NaNo is probably the best way to try. It will lead to other writers and local authors’ groups.  Maybe someday your own book will be published.

Welcome!

Welcome to my web page. I have separate pages about my novels and myself. For information on my freelance journalism work, book reviews, life events that impress me, suggestions for writers, attempts to improve my golf or my efforts to build scale models, then keep reading below!