How do you know what to take and what to leave?

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sierramcconnell
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How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by sierramcconnell » September 12th, 2010, 8:05 pm

With betas.

You see, I have ran this baby by many betas. None have said anything about it being confusing where they're at or that I needed to add detail. In fact, I get praised about the amount of detail (sometimes told in spots that there may be too much! XD).

But one beta finally finished their work and said at the end of it, that they felt a little confused at parts. As if they weren't sure where they were at. This was a first for me as they've never mentioned it through the book.

They have also mentioned a couple other things about characters not explaining things, but I've pointed it out to them where they have and they've gone, "Oh, right, sorry, missed it, maybe make it more clear?"

It's in a sentence with them explaining, "I'm doing this for this reason". How could I make it clearer?

So I'm confused. No one else has brought up these problems. I have loved their help with commas (I used to be a comma whore, but I was trained out of using them and now I barely do. XD So I had to be trained back.) but now I'm questioning these other things that I don't agree with them on.

Where do I draw the line? Is this one of those "you can't make everyone happy" things? They still said they would recommend the book to others though...so I guess it wasn't that bad. XD
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by HillaryJ » September 13th, 2010, 12:11 am

If you've ever been in a book group or even an English class where you discuss whole books, you'll notice that it's very rare for all or even the majority of readers to have the same experience when they read. Everyone comes to the text with different expectations, experiences and - honestly - reading abilities. It's the same with BETA readers. You might be able to put together a panel more similar than in a classroom or book club setting, but each will understand, appreciate and be troubled by the book in distinct ways.

What you need to do is figure out which of the concerns might be legitimate and whether any of the suggestions would improve the story. Do three out of four have trouble understanding a key concept? Do half find an important aspect of a main character unconvincing? Is an important clue too obvious or too obscure for your readers to appreciate how a mystery unravels?

You are the author, the owner, of the work. But if you want it to be read and read widely, do review the areas of concern. You may not end up changing anything. You may clear up a few spots or ease a few transitions. You may surgically extract and then painstakingly reinsert a subplot to time it better. Do remember to always politely thank your BETAs for their time and energy, no matter how valuable you think their comments.
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by polymath » September 13th, 2010, 12:44 am

I've encountered the comment "Oh, right, sorry, missed it, maybe make it more clear?" in workshops, actually, at least once for every narrative on the hot seat. After its numerous repetitions I came to an appreciation for what it means. The reader-critiquer didn't notice it while reading. He or she skipped over it and therefore didn't find it meaningful enough to hold his or her attention, either the entire narrative of the scene in question. Now, it might mean the reader isn't equipped to appreciate its significance or it isn't set up sufficiently, either way they missed it because it didn't contribute at the moment it was intended to. When something like that is anticipated by set up, repetition, prepositioning, or foreshadowing it's not missed at the moment it matters to a protagonist and therefore readers, especially general readers who are precious readers as the most common determinant of larger audience expectations.
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by Regan Leigh » September 13th, 2010, 1:13 am

The only real advice I think I can offer you is to take some time away from the beta comments and feedback. Give yourself space and take a break from that particular book for a short while. Maybe work on something else and then return to it with a clear head.

I had ten...TEN beta readers at one time. Talk about mixed reviews. ;) I started by making a list of things they all seemed to agree on. After working on those issues, I then took a break before considering the conflicting comments.
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by sierramcconnell » September 13th, 2010, 8:49 am

Usually when I get everyone saying the same thing about one part, I'll change it, because I know it needs it. Or I get a feeling about it. I've usually been spot on about "I know they're going to say I need to change this" and then I get it back with them saying I need to change something. It's been so perfect that way.

And this is so contrary to what everyone else was saying that I was completely befuddled. She didn't say anything before. It's like...very confusing. She said that at one point she had no idea they were going to the Second Heaven until they were in the sky. But I mentioned it several times before that.

On the way to the airship hanger, the angels mention it. The mention the stars aligning. They mention Nanyael will probably head that way. They mention that's where the flood waters were kept.

There's a whole paragraph on it.

And then she says, I didn't even know they were in the sky until later.

Here's the paragraph:

The ship took to the sky with all the grace of a living bird. It was as if Stephen truly did know how to read the skies and her many moods. He called every updraft and downdraft as well as the thermal pockets with a precision that frightened Carmine. Stephen’s focus was such that his eyes were trained ahead and his hands pointed with quickened movements. Everyone followed him without question as the ship rode forward. Though they were only six strong, they were an able crew.

It states it clearly at the beginning.

She also said that she didn't understand why two characters were doing what they were doing, when...

“I’m not gonna let Sariel die in vain and I’m not gonna let y’go ta Hell.”

and

“For the love of instruments…” Nanyael breathed in and tried to calm himself. “Serenius, have you not figured it out? They were never intended to be family. They were a holding trust. They were meant to carry my key more safely than a treasure box or safe.”

They explain it clearly. When I point it out she goes, "Oh, sorry, must have missed it, I was tired."

O_O

So now I'm really confused. How much clearer do I write it? Or do I just not say anything and take the word of the other betas that it's okay because they didn't say anything?
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by Sommer Leigh » September 13th, 2010, 8:57 am

Maybe look at the spots this beta was confused about and if they are very important to the understanding of the story, run it past your other betas and see if they had any trouble with it. Maybe they didn't mention it but did have some confusion. If they got it just fine, I wouldn't worry about it. Not everyone will read the same way.
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by polymath » September 13th, 2010, 1:01 pm

The excerpts show difficulties with show and tell, exposition, narrative distance, and author surrogacy's self-efficacy and self-idealization every struggling writer suffers. My eyes glossed over reading the excerpts, short as they are. I'm imagining what an entire novel of the same might be like. I expect there's drama in there, but if reader rapport isn't engaged or is spoiled by unsettled narrative point of view--especially narrative distance, it's unlikely to hold its own. Tired is a polite euphemism for bored, and not too uncommonly a nonconcsious metaphoric substitution for an actual sensation.

Presuming Stephen is the scene's viewpoint character, this sentence illustrates the difficulties: "Stephen’s focus was such that his eyes were trained ahead and his hands pointed with quickened movements."

The sentence tells details directly to readers, which is exposition (detail reporting) and diegesis (narrator reporting directly to readers, the dreaded Tell of narrative arts).

"Stephen's" cues an overt narrator reporting Stephen's actions but not as is a best practice for overt narrators by expressing commentary on Stephen's actions.

"Focus" cues a looking action that's an external observation of Stephen; therefore, overt narrator reporting. Readers can be confused by unsettled narrative point of view from an overt narrator reporting when a narrative tries to close in narrative distance with a viewpoint character. Who's intended to be the reader surrogate readers accompany most closely through a narrative or a scene? is the nonconscious question raised in readers' minds by unsettled narrative point of view.

"Was such that" is sophisticated language, what Strunk and White call wool-gathering terms, and which is author surrogate reporting the narrator reporting the viewpoint character's actions, three degrees of separation in narrative distance from the viewpoint character's self-reporting.

"His eyes were trained" is a grammatically awkward construction from combining past progressive verb "were" with past tense (narrative arts' present-past tense) "trained." Past progressive verb constructions combine was or were and a progressive or gerund verb ending with ing, i.e., were training.

"With quickened movements" is an adverb complement clause run in post-action by conjunction word "with" modifying verb "pointed." "Quickened" is a verb used in that instance as an adjective. Both grammatically awkward.

Closing in in narrative distance with a viewpoint character seems to be an intent of the excerpts; therefore, one method for doing so is to assume readers are already cued in on who is the viewpoint character of the scene or ought to be by a scene's opening sentence. Then de re pronouns serve as viewpoint character sentence subjects rather than proper noun uses. De re meaning of the thing. De re pronouns metaphorically estrange narrators by substituting covert third-person narrator reporting for first-person viewpoint character self-reporting, resulting in the closest narrative distance desirable and possible in third person. De re pronouns include personal pronouns, gender marked, singular or numbered, or neutered: he, his, him, she, her, hers, they, their, theirs, it, its, etc.

Example sentence recast for illustration purposes in estranged third-person narrator, viewpoint character self-reporting;
//His eyes trained on the sky, his hands jabbed toward updrafts.//

If in first-person self-reporting it would read //My eyes trained on the sky, my hands jabbed toward updrafts.// Which demonstrates how the narrator of the first recasting isn't entirely estranged, which can be a good effect for covert narrator reporting, but not for first-person narrator reporting, which is invariably an overt narrator. The issue is reporting seeing actions when for a best practice, regardless of narrator person, reporting the actual visual sensations creates closer narrative distance. In other words, showing what Stephen sees instead of telling what his seeing actions are. Narrator reporting what Stephen senses, sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, feels, thinks, closes in on narrative distance and obviates any need for reporting nonconscious actions like looking.
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by sierramcconnell » September 13th, 2010, 2:14 pm

I'm sorry, but half the time when you talk I can't understand it! The words are too big and my brain craps out half way through. @_@

And for the record, I'm often told I'm far too descriptive and purple. So taking these out of context are not good examples. Don't pick them apart if you haven't read the entire 110,000 word novel.
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by polymath » September 13th, 2010, 2:20 pm

I did kind of let loose with a howitzer battery barage. From your frustrations with your beta readers I thought you were ready to know what they could not express. I am editor second after reader, and writer third except when engaged in that delightfully excruciating slow form of reading and editing while writing a draft.
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by sierramcconnell » September 13th, 2010, 2:32 pm

I think you misunderstand my purpose then. I want a novel that normal people can read. Not something for people of super high intelligence who need a dictionary and a collective of encylopedias. Because honestly, I had to read your post three times to get a lick of sense from it.

From the way you talk I imagine you like Nigel Bottomtooth, or something...

And if you don't know who that is, then that's sad. You need more laughter. XD

I feel like I should go and eat scones and have some tea. It just, wow. You're far too advanced and brushy with that language theory. This is a forum, not a language class. And I wasn't asking what was missed, I was asking if I should listen to what they said since no one else brought it up. No one, out of the list of betas I've had from first draft to now has ever mentioned it. When betas mention something more than once or mention something I feel needs changing, I change it.

But they haven't. And they waited until the end of the book. They've also said I need to change all the names of the characters because they're too hard to remember. You know, all those Watchers names. Too many start with A.

OMG the Watchers are BIBILICAL. You can't change that!
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by J. T. SHEA » September 13th, 2010, 2:39 pm

Interesting that I took Carmine, not Stephen, to be the viewpoint character in the paragraph excerpt.

Of course, nobody can make everybody happy, though if we make everybody unhappy, there may be a problem. Reading is not an exact science. If only one reader has a certain reaction, they are neither right nor wrong.

The excerpts read awkwardly for me, BUT I obviously cannot judge them in the context of the overall story, where their style and diction may be appropriate. The idea certainly sounds interesting.

I don't know who Nigel Bottomtooth is either. Which may indeed be sad...

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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by J. T. SHEA » September 13th, 2010, 2:54 pm

My dear young lady, I just used that new-fangled Google thingy to check on Nigel Bottomtooth, but I still don't know who he is! Though it seems he lives in some place called Oregon, wherever that may be. Anyway, we've never been introduced.

Scones and tea? Excellent idea!

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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by sierramcconnell » September 13th, 2010, 2:55 pm

Carmine is the viewpoint character, JT! :3

It may be slightly awkward because I haven't completely edited that part yet. It's in Chapter Thirteen, and I'm on Twelve. I'm on my sixth run through though. And it's from the viewpoint of a thirteen-year-old boy who's a genius at mechanicals. They're about to go to war against his great ancestor, a Watcher, who has one of their companions as a possible hostage. And they're riding in an airship toward the Second Heaven.

Aw...Bottomtooth is from Family Guy. He's the overly Christian, rich British guy. XD

...but looking him up on You Tube they're saying his name is James. Huh, I could have sworn on TBS they always said his name was Nigel...Weird!

(Maybe I'm confusing him with Nigel Thornberry... XD)

(And I'm not that young, I'm going to be 29 on Friday! XD)
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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by hulbertsfriend » September 13th, 2010, 3:03 pm

Your question comes down to the importance you attach to a beta reader. Are you thinking of the reader as a peer or an editor?
For what it's worth, I find peer review extremely helpful, as long as I keep in mind that the creative mind of my peers may lie elsewhere. My subject may not be right up a peer's alley, yet they put their best foot forward, offering insight.

The advice I gravitate to is:

1\ Re-statements - have I said the same thing more than once in a para or chapter.

2\ confusion - if something confuses or isn't stated clearly. Controlled response to confusion comments may have to do with lack of context. If I have only given a few chapters to a beta, instead of the entire MS, I have to judge what may be missing from their decision making paradym. Am I skewing opinion by lack of available context?

Beta readers are fantastic for peer review and getting over the trepidation of others seeing your work. They are good for the ego to a varying degree.

There has to be a line drawn for advice your willing to accept as fact. Beta readers are not professional editors which I'm sure you know. If you have a beta that will give you the high and low moments, that's great. Some here are extremely knowledgeable, Ink and Polymath to name but a few. I pay close attention to their observations, even when I had to look up the terms they used. :-)

I like your writing style. Don't be so quick to run from a Literary tag.

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Re: How do you know what to take and what to leave?

Post by polymath » September 13th, 2010, 3:28 pm

I know of several Nigel Bottomtooths, which one, regardless, doesn't have my writing voice, creative nor expository. My voices are unique products of independent study, investigation, application, training, and education in Standard Written English and creative writing principles, hard, hard efforts that began with a first step into unknown but knowable principles of writing territory. Sure, I know my audiences' capacities for understanding and frequently fail on that account to reach them, but creative writing discussions of complex topics are neither easy to comprehend nor express without learning, knowing, and using the complex lexicons of writing. I don't respond with language suggested for a narrative. I save that for my creative works. I respond in language for effectively discussing writing as has been practiced since time immemorial.

Consider me the screening reader at XYZ publishers who's got six million manuscripts to evaluate in one career lifetime. Imagine that, a writer empathically in the shoes of a screening reader. One sentence and I'm reaching for a form rejection slip that says no thank you. I might read a few hundred words before its fate is signed and sealed. The statistical odds I'll read all the way through are one in ten thousand. The odds are one in one twenty thousand I'll bump a manuscript upstairs for acquisition consideration.

I have evaluated thousands of manuscripts, many at authonomy, many published. Each and every one of the authonomys has the same issues I remarked upon previously, and more. I don't think it serves any struggling writer to write the same way as every other hopelessly desparate to get published struggling writer.

There's at least ten million English language book-length manuscripts vying for 100,000 publication slots per year. The percentage of competitors is heavily weighted to creative works vying for a few thousand publication slots, maybe ten thousand fiction and twenty thousand nonfiction with several million competitors in each category. I suspect the other 9,900,000, at least 20,000 at authonomy, two out of 40,000 have thus far been picked up by HarperCollins, are mired in resistance to the hard work of breaking through the veils separating creation and publication.
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