“Bitter Days” Goes to Beta

Let the Beta Readers Begin!I just sent my latest story, “Bitter Days,” to my beta readers. Many thanks to those members of the Loudoun Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers who volunteered to be beta readers. The story is 14,500 words, so it’s solidly in novelette territory. It’s Episode 1 in the Pageeda & Scuffee serial, which I’m projecting to run for five episodes (for this first “season”). This series is, in turn, part of a larger canvas that I’m working on called The Thousand Kingdoms.

Here’s my elevator pitch for the story:

Somebody once said: “Our enemies define us.”

A young homeless girl, raised on the streets of a grim fantasy city by her older sister, vows revenge when her sister is seized by the Nazi-like religious cult that is steadily taking over the kingdom.

She’s so overmatched by her enemy, she has no choice but to become extraordinary. Anything less is unacceptable.

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14 Comments

  1. Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:40 PM | Permalink

    Argh. I’ve decided that it’s nerve-wracking waiting for the beta reviews to come in. This is where you find out whether your story works anywhere close to the way that you wanted it to work.

  2. Posted November 23, 2014 at 9:40 PM | Permalink

    Many thanks to Chris Alderman for being the first to return a beta review.

  3. Posted November 26, 2014 at 4:22 PM | Permalink

    Many thanks to Donna Royston for being the second to return a beta review. And what a marvelously detailed, and exceedingly useful, review it was.

  4. Posted December 6, 2014 at 5:11 PM | Permalink

    Thank you to Bill Krieger for his penetrating beta review of my story. Much appreciated.

  5. Posted December 13, 2014 at 11:20 PM | Permalink

    A special thanks to Nathan Lazarus for his thorough beta review of the story. It’s amazing how beta reviews (Nathan’s as well as the other ones) show you just how much work needs to be done to get up to the necessary professional level.

    It also seems to be clear to me that the fixes that this story needs are all going to push the story out of novelette range and into novella territory.

  6. Posted December 14, 2014 at 3:13 PM | Permalink

    Also, a very nice thank you to Lou Lamoureux, author of Recalled to Duty, for his beta review of “Bitter Days.”

    And to John D. Dwight, who not only gave me a filled out questionnaire, but also detailed notes AND a statistical analysis of the story beats for my novelette. He rated each story beat on Conflict, Humanity, Urgency and Mystery (and tracked the page numbers for each beat). Then he graphed each category.

    What resulted was a truly fascinating exploration of the functional structure of the story. The Mystery graph rises throughout the story. The Humanity line shows peaks where the storyline tugs most forcefully at the heartstrings. The Conflict line shows a peak for each conflict scene in the story, with the largest peak for the climax (which seems satisfyingly healthy for a story). The Urgency line peaks when the main character gets enough information to take the next necessary action in her quest to rescue her sister.

    The beat-by-beat analysis and the graphs were very, very cool. Definitely an interesting analysis technique.

  7. Posted December 15, 2014 at 9:13 PM | Permalink

    And more kudos to Tam Dang for her beta review. Much appreciated.

    This makes SEVEN beta reviews so far, which is just awesome. All of you, I don’t know if you realize just how helpful this is to a writer.

  8. Posted December 15, 2014 at 9:26 PM | Permalink

    Everybody, I’ve been blessed to have received SEVEN beta reviews so far. All from people who spent a great deal of their time to help me as a writer by reading my story, taking notes, answering my questionnaire and being thoroughly honest about their impressions. It’s all very, very, very much appreciated.

    Now, honestly, I think this is enough to help me figure out where I need to go. If you’re almost done with your beta review, yes, by all means, take some more time and finish it (if you want to) — I’d love to hear your perspective.

    But if you meant to, but haven’t really started, well, look, maybe it’s better to wait until the next story, or to do a beta review for somebody else. ‘Cause I appreciate the help, but I also want to be respectful of the time and effort put forth on my behalf by my fellow writers.

    Thanks!!!

  9. Posted December 23, 2014 at 12:28 PM | Permalink

    Many thanks to Michael Raymond for his late-breaking but extremely detailed beta review. Quite frankly, I think Mike, who is more of a literary writer, gave me the finest insights into how to reach all of the emotional nuances that the story needs to hit for maximum impact.

    EIGHT beta reviews. Totally awesome!

  10. Posted January 4, 2015 at 5:14 PM | Permalink

    Got a late-breaking Beta Review from Mary Ellen Gavin today, so thank you very much for reviewing my story.

  11. Posted January 5, 2015 at 12:09 PM | Permalink

    Here’s the email I sent out to all of my reviewers with the collated results:

    Everybody,

    I want to thank everybody for being so supportive by participating in the Beta Review for my story, “Bitter Days.” What all of you provided me with is pretty much a remarkable, three-dimensional view of what did and didn’t work in my story. Clearly, there’s some work to be done, particularly with the ending. On the other hand, the bones of the story appear to be solid and *most* of it’s working mostly as I envisioned (except that pesky ending).

    Anyway, I collated everybody’s questionnaire answers and selected comments from the story text into a single, unified document (with my responses to many of the comments in red). Since we’re all writers here, I thought you might be interested in seeing the “big picture.” Now, I’m NOT asking you to do anything with this. You don’t even need to read it or anything. I mean, it’s 41 pages of comments (or about 15K words). But since you were all involved in the process, I thought it only fair to give you the opportunity to see the end result.

    This unified doc is basically my list of story elements that need to be addressed in the story. Then, as a second pass, I’ll be addressing the editorial-level comments from those who critiqued the text of the story (that was optional, but many thanks to those who did that, as well).

    Again, thank you, one and all, for your help. “It really does take a village to support a writer.”

    — Dave —

    P.S. – And a special thank you to Tam “Cooking oil doesn’t burn” Dang for the most devastating and useful comment of all. It’s also given me the key to how I’m going to recast the end of the story to hopefully fix the majority of the problems that people have with the ending.

  12. Posted January 5, 2015 at 2:32 PM | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this, David! I read through everyone’s comments and they are fascinating.

  13. Posted January 5, 2015 at 10:15 PM | Permalink

    Hi Donna,

    That’s why I sent out the Unified Questionnaire and Comments. Since all of you are writers and have either gone through Beta Reviews before (Lou), are going through a Beta Review now (Bill) or are likely to do one in the future, I thought you might appreciate seeing the same “big picture” that I was getting.

    For me, I think there were really three factors that made this Beta Review so successful in helping me:

    1. All of you. You all did some great and honest analysis of how the story worked (or didn’t work) for you. And I really do appreciate all of the effort you put in. I like how none of you pulled any punches.

    2. The Questionnaire – I think having detailed questions about the story helped to focus a lot of the commentary on specific issues that could be problematic. To me, having a questionnaire to accompany any Beta Review is the strongest recommendation I can put forth.

    3. The Story – The story had already gone through:

          A. First Draft
          B. Group Critiques of all chapters
          C. Second Draft (to deal with all critique issues except story structure changes)
          D. Third Draft (structure changes and final polish)

    So the story was the best that I knew how to do. Period. Dave to the max. And THEN all of you pointed out more flaws than I had ever expected. And, as you might guess, that was a huge learning experience, too.

    — Dave —

  14. Posted January 6, 2015 at 1:33 PM | Permalink

    Cool. I got a really late-breaking Beta Review today, from Shae Megale. This is also interesting, because she’s 19, and thus certainly in one the middle of one of my audiences for the story.

    The story was designed to be YA-compatible, i.e. – I would have liked it as a 13-year-old, but it doesn’t fit the conventional mold for YA.

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