René Penn

Aspiring author writing about the journey.

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6 Questions to Ask Beta-Readers

Curious to know what to ask beta-readers? I was, too. I had toiled over my novel manuscript, rewrote it, and then sent it off to beta-readers—I released the baby bird. I knew the manuscript had flaws, but I needed confirmation on what the flaws were and how to tackle them. I needed validation and maybe a hug.

An article about what a beta-reader is, and how to work with them.

Sending out that draft to beta-readers was the first time it had been seen by anyone other than me. Was my novel just creative, nonsensical dribble, or was there something good there? Something likeable and interesting?jon-tyson-518780-unsplash

I fretted as I waited to hear back from my first beta-reader. I thought: I should’ve done this and that differently. I should have given the main character a different personality. I should just start over. I have a dribble draft!

During lunch with one of my beta-readers, who is a dear friend, I was nervous to receive feedback. I kind of regressed to my 6 year-old self—I was very close to crawling under the table. What was I so nervous about? This was the moment I had been waiting for. I should’ve been excited not nervous.

Thank goodness, I matured to my current age—or thereabouts—and asked some “beta-reader questions.” I wish I had the following list printed out, so I could’ve been more organized. But that’s life. Lesson learned.

Here are 6 questions to ask beta-readers:

  • Pacing?

Is it too fast, too slow?

  • Plot?
Is there too much going on? Not enough? Are there things missing? Is anything not believable?
  • Characterization?

Do you like the characters? Are they believable? Stereotypical? Are there things about them that you think are missing?

  • Points-of-View?
I switch between different points-of-view. Is it too much? Does it work/not work?
  • Dialogue?

Is it believable? Does the dialogue of each character match their personality?

  • World-Building?

Do you feel immersed in this imaginary world? Is it believable? Does it feel contrived, or are the details too sparse to believe?

Still looking for more questions to ask beta-readers? Check this out.

I got some great feedback from my first beta-reader, including some of these paraphrased nuggets.

  • “I wanted to know more about what the main character was thinking.”
My writer translation: I need to add more of the character’s internal thoughts. Intersperse more of it between dialogue.
  • “I know what the secondary characters want to accomplish, but I’m not as sure about the main character.”
My writer translation: The main character’s goal isn’t clear. Ouch! I need to go back to the basics, work on a character sketch, clarify her goal, and rework her sections. Those changes may also help the first bullet above, with increasing the character’s internal thoughts.
  • “When the main character was talking to her lady’s maid, I felt like they were discussing things that they would have already known.”
My writer translation: I was over-explaining—perhaps I need to look for instances where I need to do more “show don’t tell.”
  • “I think there are ways to incorporate more humor. I remember you said that you wanted it to be a funny book. I think you accomplish that more with the secondary characters, but not as much with the main one.”
Writer translation: The tone isn’t exactly right. It’s not consistent. Again, the main character is soggy.
I received some positive beta-reader feedback, too. But obviously, I have some work to do.
How do you work with your beta-readers? What kinds of questions do you ask them?

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He “Said.” But What If He Scowled?

my_tweet-4The word “said” seems like such an innocuous word. But when you’re writing a book, those “said” uses really start to stick out.  Now Novel talks about dialogue tags and mentions that other words for “said” can indicate emotion, tone, and volume. How many times do we see the word “said” in a novel? It varies, obviously. But out of curiosity, I pulled a few books from my shelf and did a quick “said” count for their first 25 pages.


  • Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen—12 “said” count
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert—11 “said” count (including one “saying”)
  • The Human Stain, Phlip Roth—14 “said”/”saying”/”say” count

For my manuscript, the “said” count is 22 by page 25. Seems a little high based on the three books above. During my third draft, I am going to work on lowering this number. Below is a short list of words that can be used to replace “said.”

  • muttered
  • scoffed
  • continued
  • pointed out
  • pronounced
  • cut in
  • nodded
  • asked
  • remarked
  • sobbed
  • murmured
  • quipped
  • suggested
  • replied
  • relented
  • chortled
  • answered
  • added
  • shot back
  • exclaimed
  • frowned
  • spoke up
  • put in
  • echoed
  • interjected
  • amended
  • admitted
  • scolded
  • mused
  • pressed
  • returned
  • admonished
  • announced
  • repeated
  • scowled
  • explained

Looking for a longer list of words to use other than said—one that’s like 300 words long? Check out this article. Another option for “said” is to describe facial expressions.

What have you done to rise above, or tone down, the he “said,” she “said” in your novel?