Thursday, January 12, 2012

Critiques and Process IV: What Do You Need in Alpha Readers?

Everyone swears that the best critiques come from other writers. For most part this is a truism, with some exceptions.

To determine what you need in Alpha readers (the people who read your roughest draft) you need to determine what you are looking for, and how you work. You have to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses in writing. Then you have to know your pace and what you are better at fixing first.

I take a top-down approach because it’s easiest to fix the big stuff first and then the small stuff. This means separating my alpha and beta groups and asking them to look for different things.

Since this passage is about Alpha Readers, I’ll focus on what I need from this first group.

The Top:

This is the big stuff: plot, character, setting.

I need people to look for the big stuff, and ignore the little stuff. My experience with the majority of writer-feedback is that my groups have always been very good at the little stuff, but not so keen on the big picture things. Sometimes, this is because writers spend a lot of time on their ideas, and some can be uncomfortable critiquing the stuff they know you’ve spent ages developing. So they stick to grammar, sentence structure, word choice, scene clarity, what passages may or may not be needed for the sake of the chapter.

All of these things are fairly picky. They are very useful, but they are not The Top Stuff.

Some of my questions for the very top are these:

Are there any spots where there is so much back story you want to skip a paragraph or are bored by it?

Are there any spots where the characters do things that you feel is “unlike them” and if so where?

Are there any spots where the dialogue feels forced and if so where?

Are there any redundant scenes, discussions, descriptions?

Are you led into the story and the characters in a way that makes you feel that you develop an understanding of the world? & are there any spots where particular descriptions, characters, scenes could be expanded upon to give you a better idea of what is going on? Where are these passages?

Then I give a list of key concepts and terms that I need to get across and ask the reader to define them. This is so I know that I have built the world in a manner the reader can identify with and understand.

So my Alpha Readers by this requirement, should be readers. I need people who can disregard typos (as you can probably notice from this blog that I am prone to mistakes) and concentrate on the big picture stuff.

I am still creating the checklist.

Benefits to being able to have writers do this for you is that you probably won’t have to create a checklist to “teach” your readers how to critique. However, that depends on who you have around you, what their critiquing skills and weaknesses are. I love my writer friends and colleagues, but they happen to be better with the small stuff causing me to look elsewhere for my alpha readers.


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