The Pen is Mightier than the Chain Saw
Offering the Paint Brush
Our discussion today is about clean-up editing and preparing for beta reading. We’ll start with an analogy, then go off on a tangent.
Our brains are wired to think in terms of analogies, at least mine is. Analogy is defined as a “comparison between two things for purposes of explanation or clarification.” Whenever I come across a new concept, I compare it to something I already know, looking for similarities and differences. I add that concept to my knowledge as another layer, and hope that my knowledge will continue to grow.
Recently two things hit my brain at the same time, and the boys in the basement went to work. When I woke at my typical 2:00 am hypomanic insomniac moment, the time the boys usually let me know what they’ve come up with, I discovered they had been working on something I had not assigned to them—cleaning up the forest trail and preparing my rough draft for beta reading. Two wildly different things, right? I was surprised, but I listened.
I had just finished the rough draft of my WIP, and was hurrying to get it ready for beta readers, so they could work on it during spring break. I had also just surveyed the mess in the forest trail behind our house. The February snow had finally melted, and I could see what I had to clean up.
The boys argued that cleaning up the trail was a good analogy to pre-beta editing. The small branches that could be tossed to the side were similar to easy fixes, spelling and punctuation. Larger branches that needed a cut or two with the chainsaw so they could be moved were similar to larger fixes such as sentence structure and better word choices.
The big branches that needed to be cut up and stacked for firewood were like scenes and paragraphs that needed to be reworked. And finally, the entire trees that had fallen on the trail during the winter, and would require a tractor and chain, lots of cutting, and then splitting, were like whole scenes and chapters that needed to be removed.
On the addition (vs. removal) side, “washouts,” where heavy rain had removed dirt and part of the trail, requiring front-end loader work with the tractor to borrow dirt from elsewhere, were like plot holes in the story that needed new scenes or chapters.
Well, I agreed with them, and thought maybe this could be a subject for a blog post, looking for analogies for our editing. But something told me it wasn’t significant enough. There wasn’t enough meat on that bone.
As I was finishing the preparation for beta reading, I had some new thoughts, even without help from the boys. And this is the tangent we’ll explore today.
But, before we depart on our tangent, I want to reference a great article on beta reading, “15 Questions for Your Beta Readers.” This article can be found in the archives of this blog site, but here’s a link. The author, Jodie Renner, is an editor and former blogger here at TKZ. Other great posts on beta reading can be found by using the search box at the top right.
So, now for the tangent. In my final preparations for uploading my manuscript to the beta reading site (https://betabooks.co) I realized that I didn’t have to work so hard. I could ask the beta readers to do some of the work for me. Actually, I came up with some ideas to motivate the beta readers to read and comment. We’ll call them “Tom Sawyer Paint Brush Techniques.”
- Chapter Titles. I know thrillers don’t usually have chapter names, but in middle-grade fantasy the readers expect some imaginative and creative titles. I usually don’t name chapters until my rough draft is finished, using the chapter name prior to that only as a reminder to me of what is in that chapter. On previous books, where I thought I had chosen good titles, some of the beta readers had better ideas, and let me know. So, this time, as I began to brain storm, I suddenly realized, why name the chapters? Let the beta readers come up with some name suggestions.
- Dangling Plot Threads – the gun above the mantle that has been shown, but not fired. I discovered a thread I had placed but never used, a broken necklace left behind by a victim when she was sucked into an alternate world. I was preparing to remove all evidence of my dementia, when I realized, why not challenge the betas to find a way to use that broken amulet?
- Secondary Characters of Borderline Significance. I was about to remove all traces of a secondary character, a dog, that had emotional value, but questionable plot significance. By now, the lights were coming on in this old brain, and I asked, why don’t we give the betas a vote? To stay or not to stay.
I realize I will receive some advice I don’t agree with. That’s always the case with beta reading, but with a few simple questions, I might get more options, and will learn what is popular with potential readers. And most importantly, can we make the beta reading experience more interesting by engaging the reader in helping create the story, enough that the reader will agree to read the next book. (Or even read previous books.)
So now, Dear Reader and Dear Writer, it’s your turn:
- Do you use beta readers in your editing process?
- How do you pick the readers, and how many is the ideal number?
- What questions, beyond what Jodie proposed in her article, do you ask of your readers?
- What ideas have you discovered (or even thought of today) for motivating beta readers (beyond the thank-you and rewards at the end of the process)?
- And if you want to share some better analogies for the editing process, comparisons better than my lame “cleaning up the trail” analogy, I’m sure my boys in the basement won’t be offended. They may even refer it up to the “girls in the attic.”