Jul 01 2014

Learn from Anonymous Beta Readers #writetip

Special thanks to:

Tony, Elliot, Keryn, Cab, Brie, Nicki, Dan, Chris, Pepper, Lianne, Seth, Chris, Rachel, and S.


I am grateful for the opportunity to have witnessed a feedback session done by a group of strangers. It is very interesting to learn how some minds perceive a story.



What I learned:


1- Not everyone can follow a set up. “Previously on *insert tv show name here*” does not work as well in writing. A paragraph that looks like this will not work for everyone:

      1. exciting action
      2. location, reason for current action
      3. crucial information that is foreshadowing or flashback
      4. subtle setting hint, intriguing reason to read on


2- It is very, very, very important to mix up sentence length. This mix up is not enough.

bad length image

– Do not use a 20+ word sentence in the first paragraph.

– Never have multiple 20+ word sentences in the same paragraph.


3- One joke is not enough. Just because a scene is high energy and life-or-death does not mean it doesn’t need humor. And it has to be humor that people will get- it has to be obvious.


4- Be careful of point of view. Even when in third person omniscient, the audience sometimes can’t follow knowing what’s going in the heads of multiple characters.


5- Describe people and places with less adjectives. Even if the audience has never met the people and has never been to the world, and that which is described is important to the story and reveals crucial information, somehow it has to be revealed with less adjectives. BUT, don’t use more words to do this. Also, don’t offer this information right away- some people can’t handle being given a clear picture of the setting and what is at stake. Knowing where and who up front confuses some readers.

Challenge! Using fewer than 50 words and no adjectives, tell someone who has never seen a city what a skyscraper is, how to get to an observation deck, and how to locate the person pictured. No one else will have the hair color that day, but be sure once again to NOT use an adjective to describe it. Originated on the blog of J Lenni Dorner, Learn from Anonymous Beta Readers post.

Leave your entry, or a link to your entry, in the comment section for this post. The best will be selected later.


6- Related to point 5, the revelation must be smooth. Don’t just drop the anchor, but lower it slow as a slug. Who the characters are, where they are, what they are doing, and why the reader should care all needs to be laid out, but it can’t be all given at once. Sticking the information inside the action doesn’t make it smooth. In fact, don’t put information in with action, because people can’t understand that. It also can’t jump in with dialog tags, because that will really throw the audience.


7- Stay focused.


8- Use more dialog. Perhaps mostly dialog.


9- If the character has to deal with two things at once, the audience may get confused. Even if one of what the character is dealing with is the entire reason the character is dealing with the second thing, some readers will still get confused.


– Tolkin was able to have Frodo pause to fight a monster while on the way to get rid of the ring. The fact that the audience was able to figure that out and follow along is a miracle.

– The fact that children were able to follow along as Harry dealt with horcruxes in order to get to face Voldermort is a wonder.


Be that level of talented if your main character has to deal with more than one problem at a time.


10- Exposition is evil. No matter how relevant and important it is to the story, it’s evil.

definition of exposition

(For another view, see the “When to tell” section of the hyper-linked article.)


11- Relationships matter most. Also, not everyone can gather the relationship between two characters.

-For example, if the main character is a fire fighter, and goes in to a burning building to rescue the only person trapped in the building, not all readers will understand the relationship. (Person who rescues people in burning buildings + person who is trapped in a burning building.) Be sure to paint the picture very clearly. Spell it out. Even when some readers see a person rushing in to a fire, holding a fire axe, and being referred to as a firefighter– they STILL might not know or correctly assume that this character is a firefighter.


firefighter image


12- If you tell the reader the main character is fighting a fire in a building that is falling down, then show the fire, then show the building falling down, then show the fire some more… some readers will still have no idea what the main character is fighting. “The fire fighter walked through the blaze into the burning building,” is not clear enough for all readers to figure out.


13- Make rescue scenes more intense.


14- Keep situations very simple.

-Simpler than a firefighter going in to a burning building to save someone, and having to deal with some related fire drama in order to make the save.


15- Be cleverly concise.


16- Stick with the bounds of the genre of your story. People will be glad you did.



not everyone will like you


  1. Great advice! One tip I keep wanting to scream at new authors when I’m reading, “Don’t confuse the reader!” That’s HUGE. Writers seem to think if it’s all clear later, that’s fine, and it is–as long as the reader isn’t so confused at the beginning that she tosses the book aside. Mystery is one thing–confusion is another. People don’t seem to understand the difference!
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    1. Or writers over-estimate the intelligence of readers.

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