Friday, June 4, 2010

Beta Series 2: Evolution

welcome to part two of the writer/beta cross-over blog series extravaganza!
i’m providing the writer’s perspective. even more fascinating is the beta’s side of the story.

UPDATE: Gem’s blog is going into semi-retirement, so her original posts on this series are now copied and pasted at the end of each of my own posts. (in other words, we saved you some time clicking around the internet, and you can now read the whole story here.)

picking up where we left off yesterday...

Building a relationship

i eagerly fired off the first half of the revised manuscript to Gem. i sent her everything i’d already rewritten, and that’s when the beta system took on a life of its own. emails became less formal, as we tossed ideas back and forth. the correspondence evolved from long thought-out messages to more of a conversation. (though the emails were still long. we are wordy girls!) Gem suggested writing exercises to help develop character motivation. i would fire back a revised paragraph (is this better?), and so on...

at one point, we had sent so many emails (more than 100!) that my gmail hit the fritz, and i had to start a new mail thread.
of course, not all of those emails were about Butter anymore. they moved from this story to writing and publishing in general and finally, to life at large. we were getting to know each other as people, not just writers.

Honesty and trust

i think that getting-to-know-you part is important, because it helps build trust and gives betas the freedom to be honest. and i needed Gem’s honesty, as we were getting to the tough part of the manuscript.

Gem helped identify where the story slumped, and as a result – i cut entire chapters and built new ones from scratch. I had never overhauled a story like that, because i’m one of those writers that’s too attached to her manuscript to “kill her babies” (i hate that expression, by the way – but it’s often used by writers to refer to having the strength to cut good scenes or writing that don’t help the overall story.)
i know, without a doubt, that i would not have cut the soup kitchen scene (sorry, mom! i know it was your fave) and would not have added the bucket list chapter if not for Gem.

the trust was also important, because i knew if Gem was that honest with her crits, that she was also honest with her praise. it made the positive comments even more flattering and helped me identify threads that were working throughout the story and that i should include in the new ending.

and the ending would be the most critical part – of both the book AND the beta relationship...

(to be continued)

and now from Gem's beta perspective:

Beta Series Part 2 – More Please!

Well, that was hardly a suspenseful ending as this wouldn’t be a mini-series if EJ hadn’t sent me more chapters. The same day as sending over my first three chapter notes, I received chapter 4-17. I was so excited and she was very complimentary about my notes. Phew! Very relived person this end I can tell you.

And so to the middling part of the beta reading process – see EJ’s blog for the writers perspective.

It’s always great to get over that awkward politeness with a new beta/writer relationship. You initially start emails with ‘I’m sorry’, ‘I hope you don’t mind me mentioning’, ‘I hate to say’ etc. But then you get to the moment when the other person knows you well enough to understand the way you mean the comments and your emails become much more informal.

For a writer, doing a revise and resubmit often means moving chapters around which can lead to timeline and world building confusions, so this was something I kept a close eye out for as well as looking for the particular points that EJ’s Agent Almost wanted changing. Sometimes my comments would be about character motivations and asking to get inside the character head a little bit more. Sometimes they would be about jarring sentences and bits I didn’t understand. And often times my comments would be ‘OMG, this section is awesome’.

This brings me to a good point. While, it is important to point out in an honest way any negatives, it is also important to comment on the awesome. I described my feelings as a reader when a section made me teary-eyed, or angry, or shocked. I hope that this helped EJ to see which parts really resonated with me – it can be hard to see the emotion with your own work.

EJ was always great at thanking me immediately for comments and saying how helpful I was being. I know from experience that this isn’t always the case as some writers can take things to heart, so it was great to know that she appreciated my time and that I was actually helping.

We really hit our stride once we got to chapters 12-17 and we bounced back and forth over one hundred emails over the whole process – and these weren’t short emails, neither of us can write a sort email! Were they all about ‘Butter’? Of course not. We got to know each other, chatted about vacations, discussed Grey’s Anatomy, celebrated and commiserated the up’s and down’s of publishing and advised each other when one of us had an attack of the crazies (a common writers ailment).

And so we neared the end of Butter’s journey. This was where the major revisions took place. I read up to the climax and then waited patiently for my last few chapters.

Continues tomorrow.


Ellen said...

“kill her babies” - I prefer "murder your darlings" ;) same thing <.< it just sounds more poetic and emo to me, when I'm chopping my favorite scenes to bits...

erinjade said...

oh yes, i like that better too! sounds much less literal.