Tips for beta reviewers

Things to look for and say when evaluating a piece of writing

Some tips for how to reply in writing or hold a live conversation if you’re invited to participate as a beta reviewer of fiction in progress.

Are the characters believable?

  • Is their language natural or stilted?
  • Their dialog convincing or pretentious?

Can you follow the flow of the story?

  • Do there appear to be smooth transitions between paragraphs and/or sections of the manuscript?
  • Or does the narrative skip from one topic to another? Can you follow the flow of the story?

Is the language alive?

  • Colorful? Does it have rhythm?
  • Are there too many short, choppy sentences?
  • Too many long, drawn-out sentences?
  • Does the writer use strong, vivid verbs?
  • Or is the prose loaded with adverbs that modify weak, nondescriptive verbs?
    Example verbs: was, is, were, are, be, had, have

Character movement?

  • Something most new writers have a problem with is getting their characters to and from places and on and off the telephone. They seem to think that we readers need to “see” all that activity in detail, when in fact it’s usually boring and interrupts the flow of the story.
  • Get your characters on and offstage and into and out of their phone conversations as simply as possible.

Be as specific as possible when commenting on someone’s writing.

  • “I like this because …”
    “I would like this better if …”
  • When you know something’s wrong, but you don’t know quite what or where the problem is, try to isolate the general area and call it to the writer’s attention.

One editor uses a shorthand phrase that covers a lot of editorial ground: IDGI.
This stands for “I don’t get it.”
If the writer agrees with this approach, write this beside an opaque or confusing phrase or sentence or paragraph. Enclosed the phrase in brackets. The writer can then take another look at the word or passage and try to clarify it.

This can also work in group discussion as a way to call attention to a problem even if the reviewer is not sure what’s wrong. It can signal the writer that there’s a problem—at least for one person—and that he or she (or members of the group working together) should try and resolve it.

—This post is an anonymous contribution from an editor friend, prepared originally for a high school writing class.

Reviewing a manuscript

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