First of all, what is a beta? A beta or beta reader, is someone who checks over your fan fiction for spelling, grammatical and characterization errors. They also check for consistency in your story. For example, do you spell the hero’s name two different ways? Were they in the mess hall in one part of the scene and in the hangar bay in another part of the same scene?
The importance of being beta-ed:
peeple like to reed storys that are well ritten it makes it easier on them when u use the write punctuation too.
All right, it’s a little extreme, but I’ve seen stuff that’s nearly this bad posted on various fan sites and personal blogs. I have a BA in English. My plans, before becoming a wife and mother, were to become an editor for a big New York or Boston house. What I’m saying is that I may be a bit more particular than your average reader.
That does not mean, however, that the average reader won’t catch grammar gaffs or the misuse of homonyms—to them, these mistakes will just “look” or “sound” off and your story will make them uncomfortable. Uncomfortable readers stop reading. I once read a similar thing about manners—good manners are nearly invisible but make the guest feel welcome.
As I mentioned in my last blog, my first attempts at writing went largely un-beta-ed. That was because I didn’t really know any better, nor did I know anyone who could provide this service for me. Luckily, with my background, the grammar and spelling issues were few and far between, at least to the untrained eye. When I began writing a longer piece, I looked for and found two wonderful betas—one who was great at catching story inconsistencies and characterization issues and one who was my grammar goddess. Those two eventually disappeared, reclaimed by “real life”, but I soon found another.
I am proud to say that my current beta is her chapter’s president of the Romance Writers of America. She has written articles on writing fan fiction, as well as on general writing issues and has had a short story published in a romance anthology. Jen has taught me a lot over the past two years of our internet acquaintance. She has taught me about POV, dialogue tags and keeping the story tight. It’s Jen I have to thank for urging me to join RWA, as well as my local chapter. Soon, I will be taking Jen’s advice when it comes to getting myself a local crit partner; when I do, you will hear all about what I learn from that experience.
Asking for help is not a bad thing. Like I said, I have a BA in English. I think I know how to write pretty well. That doesn't mean that I know everything or that I can't, on occasion, miss things. After reading our own works over and over and then over again, our mind tends to fill in the mistakes. A good beta is not afraid to let you know that they have no clue what you're writing about, since sometimes we can write things that make sense in our heads (where we have the whole scene laid out), but do not make a lick of sense on the page without more scene setting.
So, what's the long and short of this whole thing? All right, it's a little too late for the short, but anyway... If you are going to write anything that others may see, have someone knowledgeable run a second pair of eyes over it. You just might get the chance to thank them for saving your from looking a bit stupid.