1. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    When your test readers disagree ...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cutecat22, Jun 22, 2015.

    Test readers, Beta readers - what do you do when they can't agree?

    Not that they talk to each other, they only know of each other through me and don't know that they are all my test readers but I recently sent them all a particular section. Two of them came back to me saying they felt nothing for the character and asked questions which had nothing to do with the actual section (although, those questions will be answered in another section) yet the other two testers, came back saying the section was full of emotion and parts brought them to tears. (which is what I wanted).

    The thing is, in the past, all four have always been roughly on the same path when they've read my work, this is the first time there's been a split of such a large magnitude.

    I'm not sure what to do and it's slightly put me on the back foot. I know I have the final decision on whether to keep the section, change it or delete it but have you ever been in a similar situation and if so, what did you do?

    Thanks x
     
  2. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    If the split is that close, I'd trust my gut.
     
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  3. EmptySoul
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    EmptySoul Active Member

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    I would actually ask if two of the readers are more of skimmers than readers. Some people read every single word and some just glide through the work. Is this possible?
     
  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I think when it comes to characters, some people are just more prone to get connected to certain ones than others. A character might remind someone of their loving mother, while for whatever reason remind someone else of their clingy ex, and color their feelings about the character accordingly. So it can be tricky.

    In a case like this I'd ask your betas why they feel the way they do - someone might've missed something or it might at least give you some insight into why they all reacted the way you did, if it was just something half of them had a particular emotion tie to or maybe the other two were reading it in a hurry, while distracted, not getting the emotional impact because of their mood or whatever.

    You ultimately can't please everyone, but you can make sure you're doing your best. If there was a misstep somewhere on your part that can be 'fixed', talking to your betas in more detail or going back over what they've said already should make it come it come to light. Otherwise, I'd second Niall and say trust your gut.
     
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  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    This is tough. I'm on another few sites and the chapter-by-chapter critiques can be varied. I've found myself odd one out saying - I don't think this adds up while a lot of others are saying cool. In the end you have to really look over what they're saying before dismissing it and taking into context whose saying it.

    When I said it doesn't add up I had read all eighteen chapters, a few who said cool - had only read the chapter they were critiquing. Little things like that are going to make certain advice suspect. Maybe even me, reading all 18 chapters makes my advice suspect. That I'm tougher on the story than need be.

    Ask yourself questions about the critiquers & critiques-
    Are they jumping the gun or are their questions revealing that something that needs to be addressed and can't be delayed for another scene? Is anything they say legit?
    Talk to them in detail. I've gotten into conversations with several writers about their stories to clear up opinions. I never minded more questions as long as the author was open to a discussion and not defensive.
     
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  6. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    One said she felt no connection because the character in question, started out in book one (published) as a bit of a young, bad guy. Even though in book two, he redeems himself, she just felt nothing for him.

    Another one was more interested in the fact that there was no mention of his technical computer knowledge prior to this section yet in this section, he spent lots of time talking about the technical side of a computer program he was writing for his sister's business. In truth, we find out about his qualifications earlier on in the book but I haven't actually written that part yet.

    The other two, felt the emotional connection as not only is the character embarking on a new love life, he was responsible for the death of his sisters unborn baby. His actions were not intentional (it's complicated, he was under threat to do it) and it took him a long time to get himself back onto the right track to being accepted back into his sister's family, but during this section, the new girlfriend admits she's falling in love with him but is holding back because she's frightened that she will always be looking over her shoulder. (She works for the sister and knows exactly what the guy did).

    So in an emotional part, he tells her exactly why he did what he did. A form of self preservation.

    This coupled with the fact that I know what happens to him (and his girlfriend) later in the book, makes for an emotional read.

    Two of the testers got it, two totally missed it.
     
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  7. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    It has made me question myself in terms of have I concentrated too much on a technical side of this character, but that question did come from a tester who was more into the sex side of the two mc's, not the life of this character who's made his way from incidental character up the ladder to one step underneath main character.

    It's also brought to light that I do need to ensure that I drip feed certain aspects of this character's like (like when he got his qualifications) somewhere in this story before this section happens.

    I do appreciate that my testers don't just say cool, that's kinda no good. It just really confused me that they were so far apart in their comments.
     
  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    It happens. One writer whose story I'm reading is going through a bit of the same thing. I told him/her to just take the advice that is going to make your story better. Don't get too caught up in pleasing the readers. One minute they like something, the next they're bored. Some are fed up with the characters, some adore them. Some are just waiting for the sex scenes - ;). They're unpredictable. Trust your instincts and your story. Whatever will make it stronger is the best advice to take.
     
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  9. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I am teh newb and do not have experience with what you are facing. However.

    If all my beta readers agreed all the time I would be a bit concerned. I may be missing the point, but I see your experience as a good thing.

    I have only tried betaing one item. Only have 2 readers. Both enjoyed it, only one had a critique to make. I was already having similar concerns with the sentences in question, so it was encouraging to get that feedback.

    Can you leave the section and move on, then return to it later, once more of the character story and story in general are filled in?
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2015
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  10. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Thanks, guys. It's good to know I'm not on my own in this.

    xx
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If you use test readers, and they do usually agree, you need more varied (or more honest) test readers. The whole point is to get diverse perspectives.
     
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I've gotten to know my critique group members quite well over time so I know who to listen most to, who to ignore and when to ignore even the best critic because the genre I'm writing in isn't his favorite. But usually even when I'm not sure about the advice, there is something in it that is a clue.

    Rather than worrying about two liking and two not, try to see what the complaints and compliments are. Look more narrowly rather than at the whole piece.

    You say, "felt nothing for the character and asked questions which had nothing to do with the actual section (although, those questions will be answered in another section)."

    Not enough info is a common critique issue when you present an excerpt. I always take heed of the complaint, even though much of the time it is because they aren't reading the whole book at once. If I think the concern is answered somewhere else, then problem solved.

    Felt nothing for the character is another matter. We feel for our characters, they're ours. But the reader is more objective than the writer when it comes to feeling for a character.

    You have to keep reminding yourself (or at least I do) that the writer has so much more information than the reader.

    Consider taking a step back and looking at the specific issues. Something about the technical things the character does in the section isn't clicking. Is it boring? Not moving the story forward?

    You want the reader connected to the character regardless of previous books. Does he need more development? Are you relying too much on a previous book?

    Do the things you plan to reveal later need to be revealed sooner? Or maybe foreshadowed?
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2015
  13. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I definitely need to spend more time (and pages) into developing this character, I knew I would have to do this in my current WIP, the section I'm talking about was the first step in that development. I can see now that I need to have my MC's mention more about him in the run up to this part.

    Book one focused heavily on one set of MC's as the story was about how/why they got together and how they overcame problems thrown at them. There were other characters, more in the background, but with the WIP, these other characters have come more to the foreground so although I know I need to spend time on them, I don't want them to completely take over the main thrust of the storyline. The trouble in, all these characters come together in some way, shape or form which allows the main upheaval to happen. Without each one of them doing their bit, the main upheaval wouldn't happen, or at least, wouldn't be enough of an upheaval.

    I did put the section to one side to work on another one which did help me to re-asses things. Sometimes, I think I think too much. I'm taking my daughter to London this weekend for a break away (Harry Potter Studios here we come) so maybe I can also use the time to step away from the story and let it brew for a while.

    That was the beauty of book one, it had been sat in my head for 25 years, I knew where it was going. This follow up has only been milling around for two years so I don't have the answers yet ...

    xx
     
  14. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    What Cogito said. For starters, make sure you can really trust your test readers. I usually avoid using friends or family in any of my test reads. You don't want people who will spare your feelings. You want the people that will really rip into the story, even the parts that may feel very personal to you.

    But even if you get the perfect test readers, plenty of time they will disagree with one another. That's why it is good to have a break period after your initial Alpha-versions. If you go write something else for a few months, you can come back with fresh eyes and see which of the test readers comments now resonates with you.
     
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Interesting. This might be the most important thing for you to pay attention to.

    That's half of your betas (thus far) who missed something important, apparently.

    There is always the possibility they were just skimming and are careless readers. But if an important point has been missed by some of your readers, you should probably go back and strengthen that point a bit. If it's just a mention of some important clue that can easily get missed, do more than just mention it. Strengthen it in some way. Give us a couple of sentences about it, or come up with an unforgettable image connected to it, that the readers will notice and remember. It's tricky to do this, if you're trying not to give away your intentions too soon, so maybe make it look like a red herring.

    A character sees a certain make of car drive past. This reminds the character of an argument he used to have with his mother about her favourite old car. Give us a sentence or two about the conflict with mother, which fixes the event AND the make of car in the reader's mind—but for the 'wrong' reason. The story, it turns out, is not about the character's relationship with his mother at all, although this can be a useful character tag. Seeing the car drive past is actually important because it's a vital clue as to when the murderer drove away from the scene of the crime. When it comes up again, the reader will remember it, because of the argument with mother. They might not, if you just mentioned it as a car driving past.

    Of course you will know that all readers won't like or love your stories. As others on this thread have pointed out, they will all have personal reasons for this. BUT if a reader points out a problem, I'd certainly pay attention to it. See what you can do to address the problem, to make it easier for your reader, without making major changes to your story simply to accomodate personal tastes. If your reader dislikes your main character because he used to be a bad boy and she doesn't like bad boys—even reformed ones—then maybe you need to make his original 'bad boy' a more sympathetic one. You don't have to change anything he does, but maybe make his motivations more understandable, via his internal thoughts and feelings. Maybe he hates what he's doing and wants to change, but feels he can't. If you can get this idea across, your bad boy hater might soften towards him. This kind of thing.

    There will be things you can't or won't alter, but beware of dismissing a beta's comments too soon. If they flag up a problem, do give it some attention, and see if there is some way you can erase the problem without pulling vital threads out of your story.

    I know people will say 'oh, not ME,' but I do sense that some writers (not you, @cutecat22 OP!) give their stories to beta readers as some sort of challenge. You WILL like my story, Beta Reader...but if you don't like it, well, tough. There is something wrong with YOU. I've told you all that stuff you missed, but you refuse to admit it. In fact, it's all spelled out in detail in my earlier book, which you haven't even read, so what do you know? I'll just go find somebody who knows how to read, and who recognises my genius.

    To some extent, finding the people who recognise your genius is how you build a picture of your target audience. But unless you KNOW your beta reader is a poor reader, you should pay attention to what they say, especially when it's a negative observation. They are having a problem with your writing. It may be an incurable problem, down to personal preference. But if there is a way to bring them on board without compromising your story or style, why not do it?

    ..............

    One thing I'd like to add. If you give somebody an unfinished piece to critique, the only thing they can really critique is your style—and to some extent, where they think the story might be going. However, they WILL critique your snippet without having the whole picture. They'll get hung up on missing details they haven't got yet, and assume it's a flaw in your writing that they've been left out.

    This is not a sign that you're doing anything wrong. It's just a sign that you haven't given them all of your story. It's very common for them to critique it as if you have.

    Unless you have grave doubts about your style, I'd finish a piece before giving it to a beta reader. Only then will they be able to give you meaningful feedback on the story itself.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    @jannert always says it better than I do:
     
  17. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Did you cut and paste from my email? ;)
     
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  18. drifter265
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    drifter265 Banned

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    I've never had test readers but if I had a situation like yours I would ask why they felt the way they did. Maybe your readers who didn't feel anything for your section were more into action/thriller type of stuff and your readers who did get it were more into romance or literary. It's all about perspective and you have to ask yourself what kind of book you want yours to be. These are actual readers and you have to be okay with the people who didn't feel anything for your book because when it's out in the real world there's going to be so much more people who won't feel anything either. That's just reality. A lot of people don't like Harry Potter. Be thankful that you even got one emotional response for your section you gave to readers because that's not easy to do and out in the real world that small amount of people that may really like your book may be all that you'll need. But if you want your book to be more diverse and likable to a larger audience, and maybe having to sacrifice the emotional stuff in the process, then you have to listen to your readers who didn't like your section or didn't get it and tweak more to what they find enjoyable. If you don't want to do that, then I don't know what to tell you. It's ultimately your book. YOU have to like it. To get other people to like it is an entirely different beast and we're all here just struggling how to do that.
     
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  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Having beta'd for many years, and having betas for many years, I'd say the important thing is to know your betas. You have to know how they read, what they've written, how they critique, etc. And personally, I want beta's who are in it for the long haul. And unless I'm having trouble with a particular part, I've never sent snippets/partials out for critique. Context is very important - as you've seen with your disparate comments - and I spent far more time explaining the context of snippets than I did dealing with meaningful comments. It just wasn't worth it. I'm seeing this same thing in your posts - you've dealt with A in another part they haven't seen, you haven't written yet, that comes later... Kinda wasted your time and theirs, didn't it?
     
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  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Also, if "Two of the testers got it, two totally missed it," that's valuable information. It could mean two of your test readers are dumb as a sack of rocks, but more likely you failed to communicate "it" as clearly as you intended.

    The smart thing is to assume it was your failure, not theirs. Of the two possibilities,it's the one you have control over. Reread your piece, looking to misinterpret the words. You will find places that are ambiguous or vague, and decide if some of those should be adjusted.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015
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  21. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    All advice greatly received and yes, I think part of the problem is that it was a snippet from mid way through so there were bound to be questions of "hang on, when did he do that?" and "has he already been there?"

    I know the questions are answered at some stage but obviously, the testers don't.

    I'm going to carry on writing it, (150k words in, I couldn't stop now even if I wanted to) fill in the blanks and get the first half together before I next send it out.

    Incidentally, my testers are made up of LF, someone I've known about 11 years. I used to live a few miles from her but since the move, I now live 123 miles away from her but we still talk every day. JW, is a professional auditor and report/standards writer. I've only known her four years but I went to school with her husband. They've now divorced and I got her in the settlement :) She's also my editor. JG is a friend in the North who runs a business. She openly admits that she only read my first book (in paperback) because I was a friend and wasn't expecting much as it was self published, half way through, she messaged me in tears and called me every name under the sun for hurting my characters and making her take such an emotional ride. And JM is my second cousin. She lives all the way down in Devon and although we went to the same school, we were not aware of our family connection until I got in touch with my biological dad just 8 years ago. She's so much like me it's uncanny.

    JW and JG were the one's who did not get the section.
    xx
     

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