After my best friend recently agreed to be my newest and latest beta-reader and critiquer I realized that I needed to compose a list of questions for her to answer after she’d read my stories. I initially intended to only have 10 questions, five related to the Plot and Pacing of the Story, and another five related to the Characters. However after about an hour, the question list grew: first 10, then 12, and finally 16 question long. Today, I thought I would share the first half of my newly developed list of Beta-Reader/Critiquer questions. I hope that they look as well-thought out now, as they did to my half-asleep brain when I wrote them in the wee hours of the morning earlier this week.
* * *
#1. OVERALL, WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE STORY?
I ask this question first mainly because I hate suspense and like getting the news, be it good or bad, as fast as I can, as soon as a can. After this point I ask questions that dig deeper and find out why the reader did or didn’t like the story, but for me, the overall rating always comes first.
#2. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE STORY? WHY?
Now into the meat of the questions: Finding out where your reader liked the story the most is a valuable tool. Since everybody is different, their favorite parts will be different. Your favorite part might be scene three, while you reader fell in love with scene-eight. Once you know where your reader’s favorite parts are, you can sometimes improve on them and make them even better.
#3. WHAT WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE PART OF THE STORY? WHY?
Finding out what your reading DOESN’T like about your story is also valuable tool. It allows you to take a step out of yourself and double-check that you don’t have any poor or flat scenes or chapters.
#4. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE PLOT/STORYLINE?
This is one of those questions that can be either very encouraging, or very discouraging, but needs to be asked either way. Because, really, that perfectly epic idea about the swashbuckling adventurous down-on-his luck pirate who struck it rich when found a golden-horned unicorn adrift at sea in a life-boat, and then had to subsequently defend his new steed from killer ninja-monkey pirates with no weapon but an oar might not be as good as you originally thought it was.
#5. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE STORY’S PACING? WAS IT TOO FAST? TOO SLOW? JUST RIGHT?
Pacing is a double-edged sword. Too fast can kill, too slow can kill. Your reader can offer priceless information on where your story falls in the pacing spectrum. ALWAYS include a question about pacing.
#6. IF YOU COULD ADD ANYTHING TO THE STORY, WHAT WOULD IT BE? HOW WOULD YOU ADD IT?
As Writers, we have to admit we can be pretty thick skulled at times. maybes it’s the long hours, or caffeine overdose, or just a plain honest mistake, but sometimes we can miss the most obvious ideas. We’ve all sat in the movie theaters, or sat reading the pages of a book and thought “Oh, this story would be sooooo much better if…” That’s why this is such a good question to ask. A reader is detached from the whole writing process and they can sometimes see the things that we can’t. A fair warning though, sometimes it can be humiliatingly hilarious when a beta-reader suggests something and all you can say is “Duh! Why didn’t I think of that?”
#7. IF YOU COULD TAKE AWAY ANYTHING FROM THE STORY, WHAT WOULD IT BE? HOW WOULD YOU TAKE IT AWAY?
Same reasoning as above, only in reverse. Since readers are detached they can clearly see what should be removed that would make the story that much better.
#8. DID YOU FEEL THERE WERE ANY QUESTIONS THE STORY RAISED, BUT NEVER ANSWERED?
No reader should close a book and ask themselves “How was that scene relevant?” Sometimes as authors we get carried away with details and ideas but never return to them to connect the dots. If you have any unanswered questions raised by events or actions in your story, either A) answer the questions, or B) eliminate the questions.
* * *
Next time I will cover my questions relating to Characters, so please stay tuned for: 16 Questions To Get The Most Out of Your Beta-Readers: Part-II