Creating a story takes time, patience, a lot of chocolate (in my case anyway), and the help of beta readers. I’m building a structure that must possess to qualities: withstand scrutiny and be aesthetically pleasing. The process involves different tools at various stages, much like building a house requires different tools for each stage. I know many say don’t let anyone read your first draft. I can’t write a first draft without input from one person. I need someone who reads like I read, who loves similar stories, who will have frank discussions about foundation issues, and who will send a text message at midnight that says, “I’m still waiting for those next chapters.” (Thank you Mandy). We know the first draft is raw, laughable really, but I need to know I am clearing the land, laying a good foundation. Do the characters have life? Is the premise strong enough to hold a story? Am I creating a place that provides an escape? This is not the time to fuss over this verb or that verb. I change only the things discussed.
Generating my second draft requires me to bring out specific supplies, hammers, saws, drills, nails and bolts. I must sacrifice some sweat, tears, and words. I cut out silly metaphors. Dialogue is made sharper, more real. Deeper character development appears. For instance, my character who loves flowers is revealed in later drafts to be an artist. Plot lines that no longer serve the story well are tossed in the dumpster. This is the time to quibble over verbs (my nails and bolts that strengthen, hold). My goal is to have more depth (the frame, walls, insulation), but at least 10% fewer words. I can stand alone here. No input from outsiders until this draft is complete. My eyes are focused on the big picture.
The consecutive drafts I need my betas (inspectors). I need them to tell me if my house has a wiring problem (i.e., redundant phrases, details missed while attending to bigger things). I need someone to see the writing as well as the story. Both are essential . . . for me anyway. This is not the time for nice talk. Not now. If you don’t like something, say so. If you have a question about a plot line, speak up. If the pacing seems off, point it out. Below you will see what I did to my 3rd draft and what one beta readers offered.
Granted she’s not a writer. But as a writer, I know slashes and scribbles mean things aren’t strong enough. Inspectors come out and ensure the integrity of the foundation, initial structure, plumbing, and wiring. A story needs the same set of critical eyes. Imagine what would happen if a house inspector came out and said, “That wiring over there”—points to wires sizzling and sparking—“you might want to do something about that. Just a suggestion.” I’m thinking that kind of talk will result in a house that burns down, or at the very least, it won’t pass final inspection.
If you’re a writer, choose your betas wisely and let them do their job. If you are an inspector, understand your importance, do your job. It takes a team of people to build the great (or just good) story.