I’ve submitted my sci-fi novel, StarFire Dragons, to several beta readers and their feedback has been exceedingly helpful. Beta readers are readers who look for loopholes, point out spots that are confusing, comment on whether the pace is too slow or too fast, suggest ideas for plot movement or character improvement, and so on. Beta readers do not edit for grammar, punctuation, or spelling (unless they want to).
In many cases, several people pointed out the same issues. This was helpful because it showed me something really needed to be fixed. In other cases, only one person pointed out a certain issue. This was also helpful because sometimes it was just something that other readers missed. Here are the most common issues people found in my science fiction story.
Action or No Action
Chapter 1 starts out with action. Some of my readers loved this while others did not. The ones who loved it said it really hooked them to get into the action. The ones who didn’t pointed out that a story should start with scene and character introductions. In other words, start the first chapter in the protagonist’s normal world. I can see how this would be important, but I am at a loss as to how to hook the reader with a normal situation. Also, I decided to rewrite the first chapter and present it to new beta readers and was told it was too boring.
Obviously, this is a case where I’ve received conflicting information. I can either decide to just please one set of readers or I can see if I can try to find a way to please both. The way to please both would be to show J.D.’s normal world, but in an exciting way that hooks the reader. Thoughts?
Too Many Characters at Once
This is another one where I received conflicting information. Some beta readers said I introduced too many characters at once while other beta readers wanted more information on each of the characters as they are introduced. A suggestion to fix this problem would be to only vaguely introduce the characters in chapter 1, then add to their characteristics as the story progresses. Thoughts?
Some of my beta readers said I gave too much detail while others said I gave too little. I think this is more of a reader preference than it is an issue. The readers who said I gave too much said a close-third point of view doesn’t justify lots of detail. They also said that today’s readers can easily fill in the blanks. The readers who said I gave too little felt the characters were too faceless. They said they couldn’t feel the scene as well because it was never described.
While I myself prefer to fill in the blanks, many people prefer more detail. So my choice is between not giving enough detail to readers who like detail or giving too much detail to readers who don’t like detail. I choose to give more detail. And perhaps to avoid giving too much detail, I should try to be brief but very descriptive about the detail. I should try to convey emotions with the detail. And I should try to convey the detail using other senses besides sight.
A few beta readers did not like Mik Calloway’s character. They said he was too cliché for a bad guy. I agree. I’m not very good at writing bad guys. I’ve decided to fix it by making him a little more personable. Although we still hate him, it will help us understand him better if I provide a better explanation as to why he hates Tredons so much. Any other ideas?
The Connection Scene
Many of my readers felt that the scene where Jori cried in J.D.’s arms really hit the spot. But one beta reader said it felt forced. The situation forced Jori to warm up to him rather than it happening organically. I kinda see the point. I tried to make it show organically when Jori was upset that J.D. called him a brat. This, to me, showed that Jori actually cared about what J.D. thought of him. So, I think I can expand on this a little more so that when the connection scene does come, it doesn’t come across as too fake.
I tend to write very formally. And as such, my sentences tend to be about the same size and the same structure. This was noticed by a few of my beta readers who are aware that sentence lengths should vary because it helps with the story pacing. Short and choppy sentences can indicate a fast paced scene while longer sentences can help provide the pacing for slower scenes.
Better Character Dialogue
Many of my beta readers pointed out that all my characters talk the same. This is not at all realistic, especially in a futuristic world where the races and cultures are even more diverse. I tried adding a different way of speaking for Lt. Jenna Stein, but it turned out to be more confusing for people. So I need to think of a way to make my characters speak differently without trying to write out annoying accents since today’s readers don’t like reading accents.
There are a few ways I can vary the way a character speaks without writing annoying accents: different sentence structures, different sentence lengths, different words, odd speech habits, swear words (which I succeeded at with Terk), jargon, characters who repeat themselves, characters who over- or under-explain, and probably many more I haven’t thought of.
I plan on keeping Stein’s use of the word “be” the same even though some of my beta readers were thrown by it. I think they were thrown because Stein was the only one who talked differently. If I make other characters talk differently, it may not be as noticeable. I plan on having Lt. Chandly use more jargon. Lt. Commander Bracht seems like a guy who would speak shorter sentences. The captain as well, but he always speaks much more formally than Bracht. Some other character may use the word “um” a lot. I’m still deciding on others.
Weak Main Character
A few of my beta readers felt J.D. was too weak of a character. One beta reader specifically said that Jori seems to be a much better developed character than any of the others and it would really make the story better if J.D. and perhaps even Captain Arden were just as compelling. I agree. I keep trying to make J.D. more interesting, but for some reason I am having a hard time. Suggestions?
Almost every single one of my readers thought this story had the feel of Star Trek. This was intended because I thought it would make it easier for readers to relate to the setting. But it turns out that many of my readers was annoyed by this, especially since some characters, like Bracht, were too similar. They wanted to see a different world with different people. While I don’t want to deviate too much from the world I’ve created, I do understand the need to be a little different. Thoughts?
One person said I used the word “said” too much and should use other more creative tags. Unfortunately, though, I’ve heard that using a bunch creative tags is a weak and novice way of writing. A better way to fix the problem of too many people saying this and that is to use action before or after a sentence in order to tell the reader who is speaking. For example: The captain raised his eyebrow. “Are you sure you want to do this?” Another example: J.D. scratched his chin. “No. Probably not.”
One beta reader felt the story should end at chapter 30 because it left the reader hanging and inspired them to read the next book. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when a book leaves me hanging. I tried to inspire the reader to read the next book in the series at the very end, chapter 33, but I’m not sure I did a good enough job. I need to work on the ending so that it concludes the first book but still inspires readers to read the second book.
While I may not be fixing every point or taking every bit of advice given, everything my beta readers shared with me was helpful. The best thing about the feedback I received from every single one of my beta readers is that they really liked the story. This gives me a lot of hope and inspires me to perfect it as much as possible. Thank you, everyone for any tips and feedback you’ve provided. ❤