Beta Readers – Round 3

Please keep in mind that the below blog piece is only based on my experience, and is not meant to be professional advice.

(Sorry for the day-late update…misplaced my blog draft on the wrong computer and I didn’t feel like re-writing it last night!)

Another month gone by, another beta reader’s feedback to wrap my head around!

In actuality, there weren’t nearly as many comments as I expected.  There were no glaring character flaws like the last beta reader found, nor any need to re-write entire scenes, or change the outcome of certain events.  Most of my edits this round have been based on clarity and fixing several scenes that were considered ‘pseudo-suspense’ – or obvious elements explained too late, or not at all.

The most obvious examples of pseudo-suspense are when characters say things like, “I’ll tell you later”, “You’ll find out soon enough”, or other expressions that convey the same vague message.  What I’ve learned is that if there isn’t an issue with having an event explained in the current situation, then it’s best to have the event explained rather than delayed for the sake of unnecessary suspense.

For example:

Jonny: “Why are you hooking up that bomb now?”

Brad: “You’ll see.”

Here, it’s fairly obvious why someone wants to activate a bomb, so there is no need to drag this conversation out or ‘save it for later’.

Jonny: “Why are you hooking up that bomb now?”

Brad: “I’m timing it for when the terrorists cross the bridge at noon.”

The second conversation not only makes the situation clearer to the reader, but opens a whole new set of dialogue, and considerations for the author to undertake when writing the scene.  (How did Brad know about the terrorists crossing the bridge at noon?  Why does he want to blow up the terrorists?  How will Jonny react?  Etc.)

There will be situations when the context is less obvious – for example, during torture scenes (“What are you going to do with that?”), when someone is kidnapped (“Where are you taking me?”), surprising someone (“Why are you buying so many balloons?”), etc. – which can be fine if kept in moderation.  But when too many of these pseudo-suspense moments build, it can be frustrating for the reader, particularly when there are too many chapters or scenes between the question and the reveal.

To edit scenes like this, remember the balance between being too vague and too obvious, and that the line between vague and obvious is usually dependent on the characters.  For example:

Jonny: “Why are you hooking up that bomb now?”

Brad: “Well, the bomb needs to explode at noon, so I’m hooking it up with a timer.  When the terrorists cross the bridge, it will blow them sky high.”

Here, again, Jonny already knows that bombs are meant to explode, what timers are for, and that it will blow the terrorists sky high, so he doesn’t need this information.  (Just as a side note, I had lots of these types of conversations before sending it off to my first beta reader!)

Conversations in passing can be another point of pseudo-suspense.  Adding a bit of extra dialogue will help open up the world, even if brief.

Jonny: “Did you hear Vicki is taking her family to Hawaii this year?”

Brad: “Who cares about Vicki?  Getting those C4s is more important.”

Here, a new character, Vicki, is introduced.  Instead of having Brad brush off the conversation, expand on it a little to ‘open up’ the situation to the reader:

Jonny: “Did you hear Vicki is taking her family to Hawaii this year?”

Brad: “I’m surprised she didn’t cancel.  It’s not safe there.  I still miss Roger.”

Jonny: “Yeah, well, Roger was caught, and she’s smarter than he is.  I think she’ll be okay.”

Brad: “Maybe, but we should get back to how we’re going to get those two dozen C4s.”

This lets the reader know that there are other things going on in the world, and presents a potential for conflict or character building.  It does not have to be long-winded or detailed, but enough to let the reader know that the situation (Vicki, and her family vacation in Hawaii, what happened to Roger) will, at some point, play a significant role later in the story.  As long as the conversation boosts the plot forward, it’s worth considering to add clarification to the novel so long as the point expanded upon (sooner rather than later, ideally).

My next – and final – step in beta reading is to have two people read the novel at the same time.  It’s fascinating how different readers take away different elements from the same novel, but until now I’ve done the beta reading in ‘tiers’.  Now it’s time to see how two different people react to the same version.

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