Sunday, August 02, 2015

Alpha Readers - Literary EMTs

I’m done with the current draft of my novel.  Pretty much.  Almost.  I’m THIIIIS Close to finishing it.  I actually have all the words down in my word palette, a document I use for trying out and redoing scenes.  I just have to put them all together into a chapter and I’ll be done.  
Except for the epilogue.  I have to write that too.  (Sigh...).  
I’ve noticed a hesitancy, I guess you’d call it, as I’ve worked on this last bit of the novel.  It’s not be writer’s block.  I’ve had words in my head.  I’ve put them on the screen.  I’ve rewritten them.  I’ve gone on to the next set of words.  Pretty much the same process I’ve always followed.  
But as I’ve reached the end of this phase of the project, I have noticed a resistance.  At first I thought it was a form of perfectionism.  Wanting to make sure I finished it off just right.  But that I don’t think that’s the case.  I know that this isn’t the final draft.  It’s really the first complete draft.  The one completed after the rough draft where everything has been brought in line and its ready for the next step.  
Which means, it’s time to have this thing read by someone else, to tell me if it sucks or not.  
There are two types of readers a writer needs to cultivate to assist him or her in their work.  Alpha readers and Beta readers.  Beta readers is the more well known term for someone reading a writer’s work.  This is the set of readers that reads the piece and lets the writer know where some tweaking is needed.  
(Sigh...).  It’s not the prospect of having someone tell me that this chunk of words I’ve been working on for the past several years sucks that I find so daunting.  First off, I don’t think it sucks.  I enjoy working on the story.  I enjoy reading it after I polished up a scene and put it in its place.  There’s very little suckiness in these pages.  I’m sure of that.   
There are places where it can be improved, I’m sure.  And some of those places I know are hidden to me because of how long I’ve been working on.  Assumptions overlooked.  Scenes not connected properly because of how much time has passed between writing one scene and its follow up.  This I get.  I need a new eye to go over it and point these things out to me so I can clean them up.  
The issue is finding people to do this and at the appropriate stage.  
Short stories are pretty easy.  It usually doesn’t take that much time to read it from start to finish, and the number of hidden places that need reworking are quite small.  Asking someone to spend an hour or so, at best, to read a shorter work is not that burdensome.  It usually doesn’t take that much feedback to get what I’m looking for.  
Novels are different.  They’re bigger.  The rough draft of my novel was over two hundred seventeen thousand words.  The current draft is several tens of thousands of words more compact, but it is numbered in the hundreds of thousands range.  Asking someone to take up the task of reading something like this is much bigger favor.  
I can hope that what I’ve written is so awesomely good that they’ll thank me for the opportunity to read it first.  I’m not going to count on that prospect though.  I’d sooner quit my job right after buying I was SURE was the winning lottery ticket.  
There is also the type of reader I’m looking for right now.  And the type I’ll need to have later.  What I need now are Alpha Readers.  Later, I’ll be looking for Beta Readers.  
Alpha Readers are, as the name implies, people who will read the draft first.  Earlier in the process.  They are getting a much more clunky and chunky version of the story as compared with the final product.  Taking a disaster metaphor, they are the EMTs that arrive on the scene and triage the victim, determining what treatment is needed to keep the subject alive.  They are much more likely to come upon a messy, disorganized scene, where bits and pieces might be strewn all over the place, some of which may be need to be put on ice so they can be reattached to the body later, for everything to make sense.  
Beta Readers get the victim after he’s been stabilized.  These are the doctors and nurses at the hospital.  The emergency past, they give the orders for long-term care.  
From a writer’s standpoint, the Alpha Readers look at the messy, bloody manuscript and tell you where its about to fail, where the life of the story isn’t being sustained, so you can go in and take care of these major wounds right away.  The Beta Reader provides more general assistance, telling you what didn’t quite make sense, where the story lagged, and what they thought happened and why (as opposed to the story in your head that you tried to get on paper).  
My hesitation in finishing the novel was due to my resistance to idea of approaching someone and asking them to take up the responsibility of being an Alpha Reader.  It comes from a self-reliance I was raised to possess.  If there was a device I could employ to switch of my recollection of my story so I could read it again as if for the first time, I would do it.  I would write down my feedback, flip the switch back to its original position and then rewrite the story.  
Side Note: I am recalling a story I read, years ago, whose title I’ve forgotten, where a writer finishes a piece of work that he knows is a masterpiece.  Disappointed that he can experience the discovery of reading it for the first time, as his readers will, he has himself cloned and then kills himself so at least his clone, the closest person he can make to himself, will have that pleasure.  I kinda get that story now.  
In order to finish the story, I have recruited some Alpha Readers.  All three of them are members of an online writing group I used to participate in.  All three know my work.  All three are published writers.  They’ve read and critiqued my short stories for me and given me terrific feedback.  They also have very different points of view when it comes to writing and story telling that will give me a very broad range of feedback.  
I have agreed to feed them.  In Spokane, during WorldCon, if they attend.  In other ways I will determine if they cannot.  I hereby, formally agree to be their Alpha Reader as well, in the future, should I be called upon to do so.  And, if...  When my novel is published, I promise to include their names in the dedication.  I think it’ll go something like...
To Ann, Jo and Russ.  You were my literary EMTs who helped get my story off life support.  You have my thanks.  
There.  With that, I’ll pull the patient out of the rubble and hand it off to them.  


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