Missives from the Word Mines – Rise of the Beta Reader

If I’m going to be honest, this NaNoWriMo has been a bit of a bust. Not a total failure, by any means—I have an additional seven thousand words that I would not have otherwise written—but it was certainly not the glorious return to my fighting fit from March and April that I was hoping for.

One terrifically intriguing thing has arisen from this NaNoWriMo, however. Two of my friends have completed novels, as of relatively recently. Being of the generally attentive sort, I have been invited to give both novels a read and provide any input I may have regarding… Well, basically anything. Structure, characterization, worldbuilding, whether using that much lube is wasteful, etc.

Historically, beta reading has been a difficult task for me. It’s not that I don’t want to do it. It’s mostly a reluctance to level the full, scorching force of my critical gaze—a merciless thing, much like the Eye of Sauron, or like Nyarlathotep’s manifestation as the Three-Lobed Burning Eye—on something written by someone who I know and rather like. And believe me, I do have to rather like a person to agree to beta read for them. It’s simply not worth the effort, otherwise.

I feel like it’s becoming easier, though, as time goes on. I’ve been making decent headway on one of the two novels that I mentioned, and I like to imagine, in the wee hours of the morning, that I am helping that manuscript evolve in some small (or perhaps not so small) way. This may be due to the fact that a significant portion of my day job is copyediting official documents that damned well better be Goddamn slick when they go out to the customer, otherwise I have not fully earned my forthcoming pay packet. A few years of that will start to make a dent in even the most reticent of editors, once it becomes evident that people and relationships don’t simply self-destruct from something as relatively benign as commentary and copyediting.

So! That is the state of things for me. How about you lot? Anybody done beta reading before? How did you approach it? Were you The Wolf (my default setting), or did you find yourself being somewhat more merciful? Let me know in the comments! I’m dreadfully curious.