I have one beta reader


That would be my long-suffering agent.

While I’ve been going through Man Bites World, polishing it up, she’s been reading the first draft.* Yesterday, her notes arrived just as I finished my morning revision, and I read through them all.

Well, once the pouting and foot-stamping was over, I have to admit that they’re damn good notes. Almost all of them either make the work more commercial without cheating on the intent of the book, or they address elements that I’ve been uncertain about.

Mainly, they deal with unifying the book. Currently, there’s a “front plot” and a “back plot.” I’ve tried this before, but not in a long-form story that will ever see the light of day. It follows the two-antagonist[2] rule [3], but in this instance the first plot problem that the protagonist faces (ie: the “front plot”) eventually turns out to be caused by a plot problem (the “back plot”) which doesn’t appear until past the mid-point and is so much more important that it overshadows the front plot.

I hope I can make it work this time.

Anyway, the two plots are connected–which they need to be–but the connection is too tenuous. I need to make them more of a web than a strand; the disparate character goals make the novel too diffuse, at least until the last 70 pages or so, when it all dovetails.

Most of the other notes she’s given me are straight-forward enough: punching up this or that character, clarifying a relationship, hanging on to so-and-so’s essential appeal. There are also a few moments that break the tone. I’ll have another look at those.

There’s only one note that genuinely troubles me. One of the notes I got on Game of Cages was “too many secondary characters”–and I don’t mean that I got it once. I revised and combined and trimmed that book, but pretty much every set of notes included something like “I’d forgotten X by the time she reappeared.”

So, in writing MBW, I needed to a) delineate the secondary characters better[4] and b) have fewer secondary characters. Which I thought I did, but garsh, there’s that note again. I believe I need to start making character lists for books like mine, to gauge the point at with no amount of a) can make up for a failure to b).

Anyway, I’m on my lunch break, which means it’s time to take out my (paper) notebook and copy down her notes in my own words. I have lists to make and graphs to draw. Fun!

[1] Which means she’s been enduring my weird, semi-random paragraph constructions and word repetitions. Embarrassing for me, but I think it will help make me more conscious of the way I lay out my sentences as I write. I learn well through shame.

[2] Or more, obviously.

[3] Which I learned by watching endless episodes of DR. WHO.

[4] But god, I thought I already did this. I work really, really hard on this every time.

2 thoughts on “I have one beta reader

  1. After finishing a draft one of the things I always do is go through and look to see if I can merge characters. And when you can it seems to usually pay off — they become more memorable, got more stuff going on, and you get a better feel for them.

  2. This morning I joked with my wife that, if I get rid of characters, I my not have enough corpses to tell the story.

    The first two books take place in small towns (the second smaller than the first) so I needed to have a number of people (I thought).

    With this third one, it’s mainly about a circle of friends/ex-friends, so I thought I had it mostly contained. Apparently, I was wrong.

    I’ll be making a list of every plot/thematic point each character creates. If I can merge, I will. And for my next book I’ll be on a strict supporting-cast diet.

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