A while back there was a coffeehouse chat where the topic of Beta Readers came up, and I recently saw THIS THREAD which kinda tread over similar ground. Because of this I figured I would share the form I give to people who beta read for me in order to help ensure I get useful feedback. This isn’t 100% mine, some of it I’ve pulled together from different sources online and then altered to suit my tastes. Feel free to use this as a template for yourself, or rip it off entirely, or whatever. Really this is just intended to be a resource everyone can use.
[QUOTE]The goal of sharing this early copy of the story is to get a reader’s perspective on the quality of the story. Below you will find a list of things I would like you to specifically consider as you read, and would appreciate if you took the time to answer them all. Because I would like to get your answers in a single document I suggest waiting to answer them until you are finished reading, however there is no reason you cannot answer them as you go along (or even take notes as you progress).
If you have any thoughts or comments as you are reading I am interested in hearing what you have to say, so don’t hesitate to either speak with me or send me an email. The same goes for any questions you may have. Moreover, if you have additional comments you feel are not covered feel free to provide them alongside your answers. It is entirely possible there is something I haven’t considered so any thoughts you have will be helpful.
When giving critique, either positive or negative, the more specific you can be the better. Simply saying you do not like the villain as a character is not very helpful. Focus on things like why you disliked something or how you think it can be improved. Using the villain example, it would be better to say you dislike him because he is cartoonishly evil because he wants to blow up the world for no discernible reason.
Keep in mind that I am not looking for validation, but rather asking for honest input on if the story is good. If you honestly like everything then great, however if there are things you dislike it does not help me if you do not share them. I promise to not get defensive and consider all commentary. Also, because I am writing this with the hopes of attracting a wider audience it is necessary for me to consider commentary from several people (all with very different or conflicting perspectives), so changes will generally only be made in the cases where there appears to be some consensus. Try to remember that your focus should be overall critique, not proofreading. If there is a particular mistake you see frequently make note and let me know (there is a question dealing with that). Although I appreciate any proofreading you may be willing to do for me, at this stage I am more interested in the overall story, its structure, and enjoyability.
Finally, I understand that reading this for me is a huge favor. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and giving me some of your time. It is greatly appreciated.[/QUOTE]
This is just a preamble that is intended to help explain what I am looking for. The most important paragraph is that second one from the end—the big one. In my experience a lot of beta readers are reluctant to point out things they dislike because they are worried they will hurt your feelings or worried you will fight with them. One big rule I have for myself is that I do not argue with what my beta readers tell me, even if I disagree. At most I may ask questions to try and better understand WHY they disliked it, or try to find out how they think it could have been better written. Arguing with beta readers is a good way to scare them away from helping you again.
[ul][li]Did you enjoy the story?[/li]
[li]Is the voice unique, fresh, or interesting?[/li]
[li]Does the story deliver on the promise of it’s premise and opening scenes?[/li]
[li]Was the ending satisfying? Does it make you interested in reading more?[/li][/ul]
These are the “Big Picture” questions. Unless you get favorable responses here, the rest is meaningless. One thing to keep in mind, especially with the first question in this section, is that there is a measure of taste here. I intentionally show my books to people who have tastes outside the genre I write in specifically because I want a wider range of opinions. Take that into account if they say they dislike the book. Some people may just not like the genre you are writing in.
[ul][li]Was the Opening Compelling? If not, what was missing?[/li]
[li]Did you quickly get a feel for when and where the story was taking place?[/li]
[li]Does the story feel like it begins in the proper spot?[/li][/ul]
Second most important section. Most people will read a few pages of a book before they buy it. This is especially true of digital books, where a person may be able to get up to 10% of it as a free sample. It doesn’t matter if your book is amazing after the first 100 pages, most people will give up looooong before then. These questions help make sure there aren’t problems with how you are trying to start the book.
[b]Characterization & Motivation[/b]
[ul][li]Could you relate to the main characters?[/li]
[li]Did you feel like you came to know them?[/li]
[li]Were the characters believable and enjoyable to read?[/li]
[li]Which characters (if any) do you feel need more development time?[/li]
[li]Did you get confused by who’s who among the characters? Are there too many/few?[/li]
[li]Did you find the names confusing?[/li]
[li]Do their motivations seem believable and not contrived?[/li]
[li]Are the secondary characters well-rounded and interesting, or do they seem unnecessary?[/li]
[li]Are the relationships between the characters believable and compelling?[/li]
[li]Were there characters you felt could be more interesting or likable?[/li]
[li]Do they seem three-dimensional and well rounded?[/li][/ul]
Third block, but another important section. Stories are about characters, and you want good ones. Again, these should be favorable responses. I am especially concerned with making sure that people have a clear idea of who the characters are, and know what is going on with them. To that end I want to be sure the names are not confusing, that they seem like different people, and so forth. Probably the most important question in this block, however, is if the reader relates to the main character. If you get a negative answer there, something is most likely profoundly wrong with your story (even if your character is supposed to be strange).
[b]Plot & Conflict[/b]
[ul][li]Were you able to identify the internal and external conflicts the main characters encountered?[/li]
[li]Do the conflicts feel organic and believable (arising out of characterization and circumstance)?[/li]
[li]Was there enough conflict and tension to hold your interest?[/li]
[li]Did characters react to events in a plausible, realistic, or believable way?[/li][/ul]
This is shorter than the previous block, which might surprise some people, but I feel that plot is secondary to characterization. Indeed, I believe that plot should be driven by characterization. Most of what I want to know here is to make sure the reader was able to follow the story’s events. Take special note of that last question, because if you get a negative answer there it indicates you may have characters behaving out of character simply to advance the plot, or it may mean that you simply haven’t explained a character’s motives sufficiently.
[ul][li]At what point did you first stop reading? Why?[/li]
[li]Which parts do you feel should be expanded or elaborated upon?[/li]
[li]Were there points where the story lagged or bored you? Where and why?[/li]
[li]Which parts should be compressed or deleted altogether?[/li]
[li]Did the ending of chapters make you want to continue reading?[/li]
[li]Is the story free of info dumps?[/li]
[li]Do scenes progress in a rational, easy to follow manner?[/li]
[li]Does the story feel too long/short?[/li][/ul]
This entire section exists because it is something I feel like I have a problem with. Sometimes I’ll have redundant scenes, or scenes that accomplish nothing, or even scenes that are too short because I’m trying to rush the story to its end. IMO the first question in this section is the most important. If they stopped reading very quickly then you may have a problem. If they stopped reading because they are bored you DEFINITELY have a problem.
[QUOTE]Setting & World Building
[ul][li]Did the setting interest you?[/li]
[li]Are there ways you feel the descriptions could be improved to be more vivid?[/li]
[li]Do the details included enhance rather than detract from the story?[/li][/ul]
This is a minor point for me, but I care about it just the same. My main concern is that the setting and world evoke clear images to the reader. Personally I tend to try and keep descriptions from becoming too in-depth, trusting the reader to fill in the blanks, so I’m always worried I need to add more detail.
[ul][li]Did the dialogue sound natural and reasonable for the story, not stilted or overly narrative? Why?[/li]
[li]Does the dialogue move the story forward and/or reveal the characters?[/li]
[li]Do the characters have distinct voices that remain consistent? If not, which ones?[/li]
[li]Was there an appropriate balance of dialogue to narrative? If not, why? Where?[/li][/ul]
My stories tend to have a lot of dialogue, and I work very hard to make it good. That said, I am always on guard for useless dialogue that should be skipped over or summed up instead. Because I love writing conversations so much I actually have that last question just to make sure I’m not going overboard.
[ul][li]Did you notice any obvious, repeating grammar, spelling, capitalization, or punctuation errors?[/li]
[li]Were there any words or phrases you felt were overused and detracted from the writing? If so, what?[/li]
[li]Did you notice inconsistencies in time sequences, places, character details, or anything else?[/li]
[li]Was the writing transparent, allowing you to focus on the story?[/li]
[li]Is the tone appropriate and consistent for the story?[/li]
[li]Is the point of view (and changes) handled appropriately and consistently?[/li]
[li]Does the writing style fit the genre? If not, why?[/li][/ul]
This entire block is sort of a check on how close the story is to being done, and comes the closest to the nitty gritty of how writing is done. Here I am looking for if I am making common mistakes, or if I have verbal ticks, plot holes, and so forth. Probably my biggest concerns is if the writing is transparent. I don’t like it when my readers sit there and think about how cleverly I was writing. I want them to forget they are reading at all. Bad responses here let me know where I should focus my efforts for future drafts.
[b]Additional Questions for Comment[/b]
[ul][li]Were there any parts that confused or frustrated you? Which parts, and why?[/li]
[li]Which scenes/paragraphs/lines did you really like? Why?[/li]
[li]If you had to describe the story’s genre, what would you call it?[/li]
[li]Does it feel like a good fit for that genre?[/li]
[li]Who are your favorite—and least favorite—characters and why?[/li]
[li]What aspects to you find especially likable and unlikable about the protagonists?[/li]
[li]What three things worked best for you?[/li]
[li]What three things worked the worst?[/li]
[li]Do you like the title?[/li][/ul]
This is just general questions I have that don’t fit into another category. Some of this is just so I know how to categorize the story if/when I publish. Some of it is so I know what my strengths and weaknesses are. And of course I definitely want to know if I have a good title, since that is the second thing a reader will notice about a book (the first is the cover).