Training your reader

Posted: January 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

Somebody, I think it was Orson Scott Card, once explained the importance of training up your alpha reader. You need that person, who first reads and dissects your story, to be ruthless, analytical, but also encouraging. You need them to know your strengths and weaknesses, to understand something about what makes a good story, to examine their own reactions to the text and understand what triggered them.

For me, Mrs K. is the alpha reader. Every story I write I pass to her, and receive it back covered in scrawled criticisms and the odd smiley face. It works well. She’s excited to read the things that have crawled out of my mind, and I get quick, consistent feedback. Over time, as she’s got more experienced at critiquing, she’s been giving me more and better feedback. Detailed explanations of where the story gets dull or why a character doesn’t work, often expanded upon in a lengthy conversation when she hands the manuscript back.

This is making my writing life more challenging, though in a good way. Before, I could address her criticisms by tweaking the odd sentence here and there, or adding a bit of emotion. Now, I regularly find myself returning to the fundamental structure of the story in order to make use of her critique. It’s a longer, more laborious editorial process, and one I haven’t yet adjusted to, but it is having better results.

A word of warning though about training up your alpha reader. This experience has made Mrs K. a more incisive, critical reader. Unfortunately, it has also spoiled her enjoyment of some books. Apparently it’s harder to accept bad writing when you’ve been working to weed it out. I think it’s for the best, but given her taste for vampire romance she’s not so sure.

  1. everwalker says:

    Tell her to read Sunshine by Robin McKinley. That’s good vampire romance. 😉

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