Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Watchmen

My good friend the Film Nut asked me to do a guest piece on the movie, The Watchmen. You can view it here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Beta Readers - A Final Word

Maybe one of the biggest challenges regarding beta readers is where to find them. If you are one of those people who do not know any other writers, or if the writers you do know don't like the type of fiction that you write, finding a beta can be difficult.

For those who are in that situation, let me offer you two websites where you can find betas. For free!

The first is an organization called the Critters Writers Workshop. Run by Dr. Andrew Burt, science fiction author and former president of the SFWA, Critters is an online forum for science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers who are looking to have their fiction peer-edited by other writers. Many, although not all, of the writers have had their work published. A few are considered 'professional'; that is, they meet the standards of professionals as outlined by the the SFWA or the HWA.

Critters uses very strict guidelines on how this exchange of critiques takes place. Writers must critique a certain number of stories (generally, one per week) in order to have their own work reviewed. Additionally, there are rules on behavior and conduct.

I've used Critters for years and have found it to be an extremely helpful resource. I highly recommend it.

Another source for finding beta readers is at the Absolute Write Water Cooler. The advantage of Absolute Write is that it covers all types of writing, not just the speculative fiction markets. Also, those looking to have their writing reviewed are not compelled to write critiques in return. The arrangements for beta reading are worked out by the authors themselves.

Whether you are a newbie or a grizzled writing veteran, beta readers offer an invaluable service in making your writing as good as it can possibly be. I encourage everyone to look into what beta readers offer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beta Readers: Part Two

I'm sure that everyone understand the importance of having a beta reader look over your work. Now I want to discuss the importance of being a beta reader.

Making comments on someone else's work will help you improve your own writing. Why? Well, by critically reading another's work, you are forced to pay attention to details that you might otherwise gloss over. Most of us read for pleasure, but reading as a beta goes much deeper than that. Beta reading forces you to consider the craft of writing by analyzing things such as style, plot, setting, dialogue and character.

Even if you are so new to writing that you haven't even sharpened your way through your first pencil, you should consider becoming a beta reader. If you are unsure how to begin, here are some suggestions that may help:

- Never be rude or condescending! Even if you are pointing out flaws in another's writing, you can do so in a polite, constructive manner. It doesn't matter how many years you have been writing or how many publishing credits you have; we are all in the process of learning the craft. Ruthlessly tearing down another writer's work is unforgivable.

- Be sure to give praise as well as criticism. Every bit of fiction has at least one good thing in it. If you can't find something to compliment, then you didn't look hard enough.

- Read the work several times, giving yourself time between readings to think about the story.

- Learn from other writers' mistakes. If you see something that the writer did terribly wrong, make sure to avoid that mistake in your own writing. Similarly, if you really did like something, try to figure out what made it work and then apply that skill to your work.

- Make your comments specific. No writer was ever helped by a criticism that simply said, "I didn't like your main character." Ask yourself why didn't you like that character? How might he be improved?

Over the years, I have learned as much from being a beta reader as I have from having a beta reader look over my work. Having the eye of an editor is crucial for any writer. Becoming a beta reader is one step towards that skill

Monday, March 9, 2009

Beta Readers: Part One

First off, what - exactly - is a beta reader?

A beta reader is simply a person who is willing to carefully read an unpublished work of fiction and offer constructive criticism. In writing, the beta fiction is what lies between the rough draft (the alpha manuscript) and the finished product that is submitted to the publisher. When submitting a work to a beta reader, it is the writer's responsibility to polish her manuscript as much as she can. The beta reader should be reading a complete work (that is, there should be an ending!)

Beta readers are very valuable people. Often, they can point out plot holes that you've missed or catch a misplaced or missing word. They can tell you if your characters seem realistic and if your dialogue sounds natural. Almost always, beta readers are writers themselves, so they are accustomed to thinking about such things as plot, setting, voice, and tension. They can correctly use terms like, 'speech tags' and 'protagonist'. You might have a family member or close, supportive friend who is willing to read your work, but oftentimes they do not make the best beta readers. Not only will they want to spare your feelings by telling you that your work is 'good' (even if it isn't), but they might not know exactly how you should improve your story.

My husband, for example, is an avid reader and a thoughtful, intelligent person. However, he is not a writer and is therefore a terrible beta reader; he simply can't tell me what the problems in my stories are. Having him try to advise me on writing would be like me trying to advise an auto mechanic on how to fix my car. Since I know nothing about cars, all I can do is tell them that I hear a clunking sound or feel a hesitation when I step on the gas. I certainly can't tell them were to start looking for the problem or how to fix it!

So, if you aren't already doing this, I strongly suggest that you find a beta reader. In my next post, I will tell you of some excellent online sources for beta readers as well as give advice on how to become a beta reader yourself.