Art Is Never Finished: AKA beta-reading round two

You know that feeling when you’ve quoted a phrase for years, but then something happens that gives you a much deeper understanding of it?

If you’ve kept up with me here or on Instagram, you may have seen me talk about my adventure with beta-reading over the last year or so (holy crap it’s been that long how did that happen). If not, to catch you up in a sentence, I made structural changes to my current WIP due to the initial round of beta-reading feedback, and wanted another set of eyeballs to make sure I hadn’t completely missed the mark. (If you want to read about my experiment, can read about it here.)

That second-round feedback has returned over the past couple months, and I’m starting the final round of revisions before querying.

How do I know this will be the final round?

Well.

The manuscript is far from perfect, it’s true. It’s been an incredible learning process to re-envision this story, and to embark on a thorough beta-reading journey to help me see my blind spots for this story. I honestly think I’m a better storyteller than I was even a few months ago. But the reality is, I’m never going to please everyone. No matter what I do, there will be readers who dislike parts of my story (or the whole thing).

But instead of torturing myself trying to please everyone, or falling into a continuous loop of I’m better now let’s try one more time, or throwing up my hands in defeat, I found a whole new meaning in this quote:

Thus my initial question. Because it hit me, that barring a few clarification points I’m fixing, feedback is telling me that most of what I want to show in this story is coming through.

Yes, a few years from now, I’ll probably know how to do it better. Yes, there’s always another reader, another perspective, another opinion to help me see the story in a new light.

But what’s the point if the story is never going to actually be in the world?

People are enjoying my story. They’re wanting more.

And THAT is the whole point.

So, my manuscript is ready for the next step. Or maybe more accurately, I’m ready for the next step. I’m happy with what my story is saying, I’m content with its flaws, and it’s time to “abandon” this phase for the next.

But it made me wonder if others have experienced this: knowing that a “flaw” exists in their story and keeping it anyway. I’m sure someone with better skills will disagree with me, but I even think that addressing my manuscripts “flaws” might end up fundamentally changing parts of the story in a way I would hate.

So, in case anyone is interested and just for fun, I thought I’d share what I’m intentionally leaving in my manuscript and why. There are about three main things.

The beginning is slow to build.

Weeeell. That’s because I’m telling a really big story. The ironic thing is I initially started this manuscript with the deliberate challenge of never telling the reader anything until they absolutely needed it. As my betas can probably attest, I seriously hang on to the mystery for a while. But there is still a lot of set up for this story.

That’s not to say I’m spending paragraphs upon paragraphs of exposition. More that the character has to make things happen in a situation where she has very little control, with a lot of different factors, and it takes a minute to get that momentum going.

This problem actually came up after the first round of beta-reading, and I have thoroughly changed or taken out as much as I possibly can without taking out subplots entirely. If I end up going the traditional publishing route, I will probably have to fight about keeping some of those subplots in there, but I have all of them for a reason. I will challenge them to find a subplot that can be removed without fundamentally changing the story. (Caveat: yes, I will be doing one more pass to see what else I can condense or change.)

This leads to number 2.

There are a lot of threads to this story.

This and the above go hand in hand. I have a lot of elements in this story. Surviving trauma. Dealing with heavy-handed, even abusive parents. Negotiating friendship as you drift apart. Found family, and acceptance. Carving your own path in the world. Finding unintended consequences when you do.

I think the trick here is to weave these all together in an engaging way. Because, the point is, as long as you keep the reader reading. I think I… mostly succeed, and I’m working on tightening this up and pulling these together in this last revision.

Again, a shoutout to all my beta-readers who are forcing me (they’re not forcing; you know what I mean) to push myself and rethink what I can.

My main character is both childish and mature

I know that’s a complaint in the YA community, that the teenagers act like adults. (My book isn’t YA, to be clear, though there’s a lot of coming-of-age elements.) My MC is like 20. She’s going to make reckless decisions where we as readers can see the consequences coming a mile away. She’s also the product of trauma, which can regress someone at times. But, hand in hand with that, there’s a maturity that comes from being forced to grow up quickly. She’s also very self aware and book-smart.

So. All of this is to say I’ve made things really hard on myself and have given her a childlike sense of curiosity and wonder that’s constantly at odds with a weary cynicism. At this point, whenever someone says they can’t quite get a sense of her age, my response is “yes.”

I can hear the rebuttals already. Yes, the reader has to be grounded or they’ll get confused and won’t enjoy the story. I’m tweaking a couple things here and there to hopefully get this across better. And it’s true I’ve probably invested a little too much of myself in this character to see her clearly.

But I’m okay with that. 😉

Because my manuscript will never be “finished.” I’ve done all I can with the skillset and perspective I have now. So, I’m going to abandon it to the world, and come what may, good and bad.

So. Your thoughts? Tell me I’m not alone in intentionally keeping these “flaws”!

About R. K. Brainerd

I've been writing since my pre-teens, mostly in the realm of fantasy and sci-fi. Taking interesting concepts and dropping complex characters into fantastical worlds is my jam. I also raise dairy goats and herd cats, the evidence of which can be found on my Instagram. Welcome to the adventure. View all posts by R. K. Brainerd

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