There are many things that a beta reader can help a writer with and all of us have different things to offer. For me, the feedback varies from writer to writer.
There are some standard things that I look for.
I find it’s important to quote directly from the manuscript so the writer knows exactly the line/area that the beta reader is talking about. I usually put that in parenthesis (because double quoting irks me and I don’t have a good reason) and add the page number. Most of the time, I don’t put the paragraph and line, I just start the quote on the line that it’s on but I’m sure it’s just a form of laziness.
I like descriptions that are to the point and not overly long-winded. I only comment on this if I feel like I’m not seeing anything or it’s too much. If it becomes daunting I mention it but a lot of times that stuff is writing style and some readers like it more than I do.
There are some cases where the descriptions change at different points in the story or an item changes form (for instance, a three ring binder to a published book). These things are crucial and a lot of writers miss these small changes in their work somewhere if they are reworking a whole element of their story.
Any time that I have to reread anything I tell the writer. Anything at all.
Point of View
This is a big one that I look for. There are times when the narration shifts suddenly.
I’ve seen character voices change as well or they react in a way that doesn’t make sense to me. Sometimes writers mean to do this one but my role as a beta reader isn’t to write the book just share my observations. The writer does whatever they need to do on their end. There are times when it’s turned out brilliant in a way that I didn’t see because I only receive three chapters at a time.
Shifting tense is an issue near and dear to my heart. It’s one of the hardest things that I struggle with as a writer so I am keenly aware of when I see it in other works.
There are also times when I’ve noticed another strange phenomenon. The characters are thinking in the past tense along with the narration. I tend to be a bigger fan of present tense when characters are thinking. I think that’s because I don’t think in the past tense unless I’m remembering something. This usually stands out in text for me.
If limitations are set on anything in your world (magic comes to mind here) don’t let that shift either. It hurts reader trust and suspended belief in the story.
I’ve seen an area of the world move from down the street to across an ocean.
I’ve seen a character that passes out every time they use magic to nothing happening at all, without an explanation.
There have also been characters that suddenly can do a piece of magic that they never displayed before and it just so happens to get them out of a tight situation. One of the questions that I ask when this happens is, “If they could do that the whole time, why do you need a story?” This doesn’t apply to transformations. Explain those if it happens.
There has also been a character injury that miraculously heals and suddenly they can move around normally and fight those bad guys. That’s not realistic. Unless there’s some kind of magic tea or super power that heals them up quick.
Also noticed a time when a piece of technology could do A and B. But in the story suddenly it could do C too. Why can it do that? Was it an upgrade or is this the same device? This doesn’t really apply to ancient artifacts for the most part though… those things tend to be unpredictable and mysterious. If it is something like that, convey to the reader a few times that we don’t know the full scope of it’s capability.
There are times when things get dialogue heavy or when the dialogue doesn’t serve a purpose. This mistake is extremely common. Unlike real life where we have many conversations that don’t mean much to our story dialogue in a story should always further it.
Breaking up dialogue isn’t as hard as it may seem initially. Action and description go far in this department.
Most manuscripts have a couple of these and I don’t feel the urge to explain what a plot hole is here. I just look for them.
Anytime a character is introduced I give my impressions of them along with whether or not they left an impression.
If I like them or connect to them better than the protagonist, I mention that as well. Readers usually have a sense for the writers favorite characters.
Interactions also come up at times when it’s something endearing or that I’m excited about. I also mention my favorite characters and the ones that I don’t like. Hopefully my reactions, generally, are what the writer is looking for. Remember, you can’t always like everybody.
End of Chapter Questions
I actually mentioned this in another post: Reading Chapter Breaks
To me, this section of my feedback is incredibly important. The writer should always think about the direction that they are leading the character in and make sure betas are asking the right questions for your story. Questions that you will be answering later on.
I’m usually not an editor. I don’t mention grammar and spelling issues that I see. Nor do I mention typos. This is a whole different process.
Sometimes I read the book a second time to see what I think of the revisions. Usually during that time I tend to offer things when I notice them.
It still isn’t a professional edit but it’s nice to have a little bit of manuscript clean up if the novel is getting a second reading from me. And that’s a whole different post. Even though, I can offer some editorial advice, I definitely believe that editors should be a separate process.
I’m sure there are things that I’m missing on this list of what I look for but it’s a good start. This blog is all about my observations so I will probably have posts that expand on these items from time to time. With that said, I hope that seeing what kind of feedback I give helps someone else out there.