I am often asked to beta read or critique an author’s manuscript or partial manuscript, and I am usually happy to do this. A beta reader is a person who reads a manuscript with a critical eye and with the intention to improve the content of the work in progress. This is the general aim of a critique as well, though sometimes there are other functions involved with critique partners. It is generally good for an author to have at least a few beta readers, and several critique partners, simply because it can be difficult for writers to be critical of their own work. Beta readers and critique partners help writers to see issues that the author can’t see. Authors must trust their beta readers and critique partners to have their best interest at hart. It can take time to develop these relationships but it is worth the effort. Both beta readers and critique partners must be honest and tactful when expressing their opinions. To get a rounded response of your pages, it is recommended that you have a few readers and if you receive multiple critiques which point to the same issue or problem then it is clear that the author has an issues with this portion of their work.
For example, a writer may have a character’s motivation clearly in their mind, and know exactly why character A is doing action C, but they might not have expressed that motivation as clearly on the page as they think they have, and because the author has everything so clearly in their mind, can’t see that they haven’t expressed the motivation well. The result is that the character’s actions don’t make sense to the reader. Fiction has to make sense. Beta readers and critique partners make sure that your words and ideas do make sense.
When I beta read a full manuscript, my aim is to read quickly just as I would any novel I purchased. As I read though, I ask myself questions: Who are these characters? Do the characters’ motivations make sense? Why is this action taking place? Is it necessary? Why is this section of information here? There are myriad other questions that come up as I turn each page (I always critique on paper). Each work is different and will have different questions come to mind. I make notes as I read so that I can write up suggestions for improvement when I return the manuscript to the author.
When I critique a chapter for someone, I ask similar questions, but I may focus on specific issues or tiny details. Short critiques, for me, are much more in depth most of the time. I will read the chapter several times over several days. This allows my subconscious to pick up on things that I might not consider for the initial read. I will read for clunky sentence structure and suggest changes that could make the sentence more fluid. I will also read the pages out loud so that I can hear the words on the page. This may be the most critical aspect of critiquing a shorter section of work.
Sometimes writing up a critique is quite difficult. There may be significant issues with the story which will need structure changes or a significant rewrite and the author may be resistant. Perhaps they have been working on their novel for 10 years, or some other circumstance. No critique partner wants to cause hurt feelings, but you do have to be honest with what you think works and what does not work. Just be as tactful as possible and explain why you feel the way you do. If you just don’t generally read the genre that the author is working in, say so. You may not know the details of a particular genre, but you can still know a good story when you read one, and see things the author can’t.
If you need beta readers or critique partners, start looking for them. If you have them already, cherish them. Beta readers and critique partners spend hours of their time making you a better writer. It is a win-win scenario for everyone.