Tips for Betas

 

Often times, people are confused about what, exactly a beta reader is, and how beta reading differs from proof-reading, which is basically just checking for spelling, grammar, etc.

If you are a beta reader, this list includes many of the most important things that a story should be checked for before you hand it back to the author with your suggestions. Obviously you want to be nice, but if there is an issue with a story, you are not doing the author any favors by ignoring it or limiting your feedback to cheerleading. Be positive and encouraging, but be honest!

If you are an author, this is a handy list to check through before sending it off to a beta. And yes, even referring to the list, you do still need a beta reader, as we're often so close to our own stories we don't see them the way other people do. If an editor/archive manager has “dinged” you for an issue your beta reader brought up, it's time to start listening to your beta; likewise, if they got you on several issues in one story, or the same issue over and over again in multiple stories, and your beta never mentioned it, it's time to find a new beta. Sorry, not to be mean about it, but they're not helping you! When a beta, editor, or archive manager gives you good advice, try to learn from it and apply it to your future writing.

It may look like a lot of hoops to jump through for something that's supposed to be a hobby, but Honeybee and Aquarius feel that the minimum standards should be set kind of high for a privately-owned archive; while most of us start off writing for our own pleasure, by posting a story for public consumption you are asking other people to give up their time to read it, so doing your best and working with a beta reader should be a priority, no matter how experienced or “good” you are.

 

  1. Plot - Did what happened in the story make sense? Was it believable? Did the pacing of the events match what was happening? Did everything get resolved, or were you left hanging?

  2. Setting/Description - Did the author paint the scene for you, so you knew many of the elements of the setting as though it were a video playing in your head? Were the descriptions adequate for you to visualize what was going on?

  3. Characterization/Dialogue - If canon characters were used, did their portrayals ring true? Could you see those folks from the show acting that way, talking that way? If you replace the characters' names with something generic, would they still sound like the people they're supposed to represent, or do you now find they could be “anybody”? If the author invented some original characters, did they fit in with the canon characters, become a part of the Enterprise universe for you? Did the interactions among the characters SOUND like a real conversation? Could you hear their dialogue; did you even find yourself taking on one of the roles and speaking that person's words aloud?

  4. Tone/Genre - If this piece was written to a specific genre, for example, angst, drama, mystery, action, or humor, did it meet your expectations for that genre? Did the tone match the genre? Was it "just enough", or excessive? If angst or drama, did it make you cry or cause you to become introspective? If humor, did you laugh out loud? If a mystery, was it suspenseful? Did the action leave you on the edge of your seat?

  5. Imagery/Language Expression - Did the author use words artfully? Was the wording appropriate? Were descriptive passages painted so well you stopped for a minute and let your mind take it all in, creating the scene in your head? Conversely, was the prose maybe a little too “purple”--does the diction seem confusing or over-complicated, when simple would've made a bolder statement?

  6. Pacing – Does the author get so caught up in back story that it takes too long to get to the “point”? Does the action drag? Conversely, does there seem to be too much going on all at once? Does the piece just kind of meander without really “going anywhere”? Is there too much rehashing from an episode and not enough learning anything new about the characters or their world as a result of those events? Is the author unnecessarily repeating the same information between dialogue and narrative?

  7. The Mary Sue/Gary Stu Litmus Test – While this can be a little subjective, asking yourself these questions can often shed light on whether or not the story is a victim of a Mary Sue, and therefore whether or not others will want to read it. “He” and “she” will be used interchangeably here, because both male and female characters can exhibit these qualities.

    If an original character, check for the following clichés: unusually young to have her job/position, possibly a younger relative or protégé of one of the canon characters; does she seem to be an overly-idealized character taking on a large role in the story, who wins every fight/always gets her man/gets away with everything/whatever; exotic name/hair color/eye color for the race they're supposed to be; mystical or superhuman powers not representative of what's established for her race; exotic pets, possessions, or origins; a gratuitously tragic past. Note: one or two of these these items alone does not automatically mean the character is a Mary Sue, but it does beg a closer look, and perhaps a suggestion to the author to make it a little more relatable.

    If a canon character, is he grossly out of character with no apparent explanation (like Alien Disease of the Week, drugs, or Freak Transporter Accident); would the characters simply never be in a particular situation by nature of who they are? For both original and canon characters, does she seem not humanized/challenged enough to be relatable or interesting? Do other characters appear to be made to look bad in order to make him look good?

    Overall, did you come to the story hoping to find compelling characters with engaging problems, but you walked away feeling like you've just read the author's wish-fulfillment or cheap therapy?

  8. Language Mechanics - Did the author check carefully for spelling, capitalization, punctuation and other grammatical errors? Is the diction (word choice) correct? Is there correct usage of similar words like to/two/too, your/you're, etc.?

  9. Overall Effect - What was your gut level feeling about this work? How it it make you feel? Did you immediately want to find something else by this author to read?