Writing: a professional’s opinion on my story

Despite having poor luck on any kind of giveaways, I had entered one for a professional beta read of my current draft. With a twist of luck, just as I managed to find beta readers (I talked about it in my monthly ‘report’), I actually won – leading me to think how I might handle feedback from four sources, each with different pacing and approach. At the end of the previous month (Friday 30.8.), I’ve received the report file – but as I was preparing for the next day’s hike, actually looking on it had to wait for two days. So, what is a professional’s opinion on my story?

The report

The bad

The result were way more pleasant than I expected. I knew ‘show, not tell’ is something I still need to work on, so I was not surprised by the poor result here – and I am already remaking some of the scenes. The second category of issues I know is dialogue-based – I am a loner, after all.

And finally, the third issue – pacing (to which the engagement is also tied): some of it can be improved by removing some weak scenes or reworking them to be more engaging (and, in the process, show more than tell) and some by cutting lengthy passages. Most of those weak scenes are actually in the first half, which is a warning: great plot twists later in the story won’t matter if the reader gives up before reaching them.

The mixed

Barring flaws coming from the abovementioned, there were a few places where the following comments (which I am not posting for spoiler reasons) pointed some elements I’ve done ‘selectively well’ – I am told to have done good job on some descriptions (which surprised me as I had a lot of doubt in that regard) but not the same level of attention is given to everything (which is something I’ll need to work on in the next draft as well).

Pacing of combat scenes was told to have some issues, though I believe most of them fall under the above: too much telling over showing and drawn-out passages, something I am giving a look these days, especially in the first half of the story. In some cases, adding/increasing the sense of challenge/difficulty is also needed.

And, finally, repeated phrases. I’ll need to add some diversity to how I describe some things.

The good

It seems that, after discarding two concepts, I nailed the opening on the third try – though there will be some minor changes to it. Similar comment is also given regarding the ending (and hints for book two). Likewise, the passages showing the differences between father, mother, and son (which I worked hard on during the fourth/fifth draft) got me some praises. And, finally…

I had to black out some parts for spoiler reasons

Despite being someone who had not yet forged a truly close bond with anyone (outside of my family), it seems I’ve done a good job on Tyr’eshal’s personal and emotional development even though the base on which I’ve built it were closer to my own dreams/wishes/hopes than reality/experience.

As for point three and the trolls: the most-used concepts of trolls are either brute-like (such as the one in Harry Potter) – which goes far too close to my approach to an ogre, and the stone-like (such as in Witcher 3) which strays far too close to what I classify as an elemental. Hence, I took inspiration from WarCraft’s take on trolls while trying to add some personal spin to it.

The hints

So, the report gives me some hints on where I should focus my attention. Even though it’s a professional beta reader, what I need to do is to keep in mind that it’s still an opinion when it comes to plot/enjoyment – and I should keep it in mind when I put all the beta feedback together. A professional, however, should know more about some ‘mechanical’ issues such as flow, sentence structure, clarity (especially in case of PoV shifts/potential head-hopping), and obvious overuse of telling instead of showing.

I know well that a scene one reader finds well-done can be seen as a weak by another reason and those potential contradictions are what’ll test me the most when it comes to future edits.

The next steps

As I said in the end-of-month post, I’m already working on giving some scenes an overhaul to show more than tell, and writing the scenes so the PoV is closer to the character, so to say. I’m adding some scenes that should give more insight into character development or fill some blank/blurry spots and removing scenes that bring little to the table (though they’ll go into the archive and I might show them later as a bonus content).

Descriptions are also an issue: I swing between detailed (for aspects of the story I’ve given a lot of thought) and minimalistic when it comes to things of lower importance. I’ve talked about why too much or not enough detail bears risks – and I need to make sure the final version won’t suffer the negatives of both ends of the spectrum.

In times like the beta stage of a book (more so a debut), when a writer needs to cull the flaws and thus expects the stage to be mostly about dealing with all the screw-ups, it’s good to also be shown the positive parts. However, it’s even more important to not overestimate the good part of the feedback.

To close this off: I might believe the trickiest part of a beta feedback – especially if given for a whole book at once instead of by parts – is to analyze it and determine where to focus my attention.

Thus, I’ll welcome your comments: feel free to share your experience with betas and how you analyze what they tell you (and how you act on it).

3 thoughts on “Writing: a professional’s opinion on my story

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