Is your constructive criticism helpful as a beta reader?
Constructive Criticism Vs. Unhelpful Opinions
As I writer, I achieve the highest level of anxiety when it’s time to share my written work with other people. I pray that everyone likes it and sings its praises to everyone they know. Unfortunately, that is not realistic. Not everyone will like your work, but everyone who reads it will have an opinion about it.
I like having beta readers to critique my work and offer their opinion. It’s important to have an outside perspective to help you see things that you wouldn’t consider on your own. Beta readers help you spot inconsistencies in the plot, likability of characters, and maybe a grammar issue or two.
As a beta reader, how do you know what will be helpful to the reader and what is purely your personal opinion? Let’s discover the difference.
Constructive Criticism is a helpful comment that will improve the story and its characters. As a writer, you can choose to accept this comment and make the changes in the next draft, or decide that you don’t want to take your book in that direction.
Here’s an example of constructive criticism:
“In chapter three, you start a relationship between the main character and her father. After finishing the book, I noticed that the father is rarely mentioned after that and nothing between them is resolved. You should either take out his character or develop that relationship more.”
Now, depending on the reader, your criticism may not be as detailed as this. The reader may just ask “where the heck did the father go?” The point is that this piece of criticism is helpful. It brings notice to a major flaw in the story and encourages the writer to fix it with some advice.
Other comments of constructive criticism include:
-The beginning was a little slow, but it really picked up when that guy was murdered. Consider adding more action sooner.
-I liked your main character, but does she seem a little mean at times? That could be uncharacteristic.
-I wish the ending had a little more action to build up to the climax. That would have made it hit home for me more strongly.
It’s helpful for readers to say why something should be changed or why it fell short for them. If you don’t explain how you felt or why you came to this conclusion, you may be giving the writer an unhelpful opinion. We’ll discuss that in the next section.
Everyone is entitled to have an opinion. You deserve to speak your mind and share what you think of something. But as a beta reader, telling some opinions to the writer may not help them improve the novel for the general public.
Here are a few examples of unhelpful opinions:
“I don’t like mystery stories.”
If you don’t like them, don’t agree to beta read for this genre. It’s important for writers to tell their readers what they’re getting into when they’re searching for betas. If you have all the information and you don’t want to read that type of story, it’s okay to say no.
“I hate that character.”
It’s okay to hate a character, but why? Tell the writer what made them so unlikable for you. You don’t have to offer extensive suggestions on how to fix it. But provide an answer that stills opens a doorway for improvement. Then it’s the writer’s job to decide if that is just your personal opinion or if something needs to change.
“This story sucks.”
I shouldn’t have to explain why that comment is unhelpful and not constructive. If you don’t like a story, fine, but at least give a reason so the writer isn’t killing themselves trying to figure out how to improve the story with no leads to go on.
Be A Helpful Beta
When you’re a beta reader, your job is to help the writer make the story as enjoyable as possible for others with your feedback. It’s not helpful to be straight up cruel without backing your opinions with a solid reason. Think about what you wanted out of the story and how to explain yourself in a way that will give the writer a chance to improve.
Important Note: Scrutinizing a writer’s published book does not help them improve unless your comments are about their skills/style and not the book itself. They can’t change what’s already published!
Writers will make mistakes, and they’re looking to you for honest opinions. It will be hard for them to hear, but as long as you present it well, they will listen to you and consider your thoughts before taking action.
Inform Your Betas
As a writer, you have a responsibility to your beta readers. They can’t read minds. Give them a list of questions to consider, tell them what to expect from the story without giving away spoilers, and ask clarification on their comments. If you don’t know what you’re expecting from your beta readers, then they won’t know what to offer you.
Writers, take the time to have a conversation without getting defensive about the feedback. Betas, know what feedback will be useful and what is just a plain insult that is based on your opinion and not something they can change. If we can both understand this, a quality writer/beta reader relationship will be born.
Thank you for reading this! Share your comments and questions below.
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