I found this article on tumblr and thought it pretty much summed up the outline I give my own beta readers. Let me know what you think, if you have anything to add, or whether you’d like me to post a few more practical writing posts. Good luck with your own beta readers!
Did a writing friend ask you to read what they’ve written so far? And do you want to help them make it better? When you talk to them about their writing, here are some pointers.
Read through the draft twice. The first time, just read. Don’t mark anything, don’t edit anything. The second time you can write down your thoughts. You need to know where they’re going before you understand what they did and how they can improve.
Either print it out and write in the margins, or use a comments feature to make observations about specific sections throughout the story.
When finished, type up a page of “in general” sort of commentary. I usually write a paragraph of basic plot summary and a paragraph of analysis.
In your commentary, tell them WHY:
- I love it.
- I like Lilly.
- George was boring.
- I didn’t understand it.
- I love your description. The way you used the senses gave me a beautiful sense of the waterfall she described.
- I like Lilly because of how proud she is, even if she can get a bit arrogant at times.
- I didn’t care for George. I think it was because his dialogue felt a bit flat and forced.
- I got confused when you started explaining the government systems.
Basically, get specific:
The more specific, the better. Telling them it’s bad or good doesn’t benefit anyone. Tell them WHY. I like Lilly BECAUSE. George was boring BECAUSE. This will give the writer something to focus on when they go back for revision. If you don’t know why you don’t like a certain element, spend a bit of time trying to figure out at least something they can work on.
Pair the good with the bad:
Good writers know their strengths and their weaknesses! If you really like a certain line, section, character, etc, let them know! Telling them what they’re doing well is just as helpful as telling them what still needs work. Some writers might not realize that their strength is in their dialogue, or their description, or whatever. If you tell them “I like your dialogue,” it will let them know to keep doing what they’re doing in dialogue. If you only say bad things about their draft, they’re likely to respond by shutting out your advice or giving up entirely.
A much-loved phrase by workshops is about the “missed opportunities.” Such as, “We need more of this character’s past to understand his current actions. You have a chance to expand on this character’s backstory at the beginning of chapter three.”
That said, don’t sugarcoat everything. Be honest. But don’t be unnecessarily cruel about it or they’ll think you’re just being mean. This is especially true for writers who aren’t experienced in getting constructive feedback and don’t know how to handle the things they don’t want to hear.
Some ideas of things you can comment on:
- Character motivations
- Favorite lines
- Word choice
- World building
- Writing style
And much, much more!