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Veronica Mars Fanfic Resource Journal
Articles on Writing
How to Beta Read 
24th-Jul-2005 10:46 pm
by sinaddict, edited by herowlness


Beta reading is essentially proofreading another author's fanfic before he or she posts it anywhere to catch any spelling, grammar, style, or canon errors, and to give the author feedback on what you liked and disliked about the story.

The term beta reading comes from beta testing, a practice that computer software developers use to make sure there aren't any bugs or design flaws in their programs. Beta reading, often shortened to betaing, is a huge help in improving a writer's skills, but it takes time and effort to do properly. On average, each chapter you beta will take you about half an hour to do, depending on the length.

Good betaing requires you to be able to be completely honest with the author. If you're afraid of hurting his or her feelings, then chances are you should pass on betaing the story because you won't be helping the author to just tell him or her, "Great, I hope you write more soon".

However, you need to be tactful about your opinions, even with the worst flaws in the story. Don't tell the author that his or her story is completely awful and no amount of betaing will fix it, even if that happens to be true. If you feel like there's no potential in the story, go through and try to find at least one thing that makes the story a little bit better, and use that to open your suggestions with.

You should always make suggestions when betaing; never change things in the story and send it back to the author expecting them to use your new version. The only things you can get away with changing are obvious spelling and grammar errors (misspelled character names or wrong punctuation). Anything that is a matter of preference should be left up to the author, because, after all, it is their story.

Only beta stories that you would read for fun. You'll find that it's much easier to beta something when you enjoy reading it.

Following is a list of what to look for when you're beta-reading.

1. Point of View

Is the point of view the story is told in consistent? If the story is written in first person or third person limited, is the reader aware of only what the viewpoint character is aware of?

2. Characterization

Are the characters acting believably in the situations that the author has placed them in? If not, are their actions/thoughts explained in a way that makes their actions plausible?

Do the characters sound the way they would on the show? (For example, Weevil shouldn't sound like he belongs at Torrey Pines with the 09'ers, and Celeste likely won't be using teenage slang.) Is their dialogue believable in the words they use and how they speak? If not, is there a believable reason why?

3. Dialogue

Does the dialogue flow naturally and sound like something real people would say? Or, does the dialogue sound unnaturally stiff and formal for the characters speaking it? Are there any "information dumps" where characters spout off monologues of information that doesn't move the plot forward or add to the story in some way?

4. Word Choice

Do the words the author uses really add to the story? Are the adjectives used to describe things setting the right tone for the story, or do they sound strange in the context of the story (such as a romance using a lot of synonyms for anger in a love scene)?

5. Plot

Do the scenes/sections of the story progress the plot forward? Are there sections of the story that don't really add anything to the plot? Does the story move forward at a logical pace with direction showing in the writing?

6. Scene Structure

Are the scenes constructed so that there's a clear beginning, middle, and end to each one that doesn't leave the reader wondering why something ends abruptly or drags on incessantly? Is there a purpose for the scene being in the story (it adds something to the plot or characterization), or is it just there to fill space?

7. Transitions

Are the bridges between POV and scene changes short, clear, and unobtrusive, or do they catch your attention and pull you out of the story? Can you tell when the POV or scene has changed, or do you find yourself wondering when it happened and why you didn't notice it?

8. Description

Is the description in the story dumped in laundry-list style clumps, or is it sprinkled throughout the scene? Does the description add to the characterization or setting? Does it create mental images for the reader?

9. Canon

Unless the story is AU or futuristic, it should follow the show canon as closely as possible. Are there any obvious errors (I.E. Celeste and Lianne being the best of friends, Mac or Weevil or Wallace being an 09'er, etc.)?

10. Spelling and Grammar

Are the character's names spelled correctly? Are homophones misused (they're, their, there; to, too; who's, whose)?

11. Passive and Active Voice

Does the author use passive verbs? If so, those sentences could be rewritten using passive verbs so that active verbs are used.

12. What You Liked

Always work in what you think could be improved with what you liked about the story. Nobody wants to read three pages of things that their story needs to be improved on without any mention of anything positive regarding the story.

Of course, for more suggestions about what to look for when you're beta reading - or even just offering up constructive criticism - check out the other articles tha have already been posted or that are yet to come!
31st-Jan-2006 04:33 pm (UTC)
Mmm. Beta. Question though, do you know of anywhere to score some fic-betas?
31st-Jan-2006 04:37 pm (UTC)
Check out the Willing to Beta and Wanting a Beta threads in vm_betas, or the beta thread at veronicamarsfic ... or any other VM Fic community that has a beta thread. :)
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