The Beta's Bible
I've recently taken on some new fiction archiving challenges, and part
that task involves finding new Beta Readers. A Beta reader is not
who just wants to read new fic before anyone else, they are an editor.
brave souls have made it their mission to help writers throughout the
slaughter Mary Sues, make their written work look nothing like a
and make even the most unlikely of pairings seem the most natural thing
the world. What? Huh? You may be asking. I have no idea what that means
how to do it, but I really want to be a/use a Beta Reader. Well,
this a How To Beta Guide. I present the Beta's Bible.
***Note: If you are unsure what the terms in this essay such as Beta,
fanon, etc. I suggest reading Fanfic Terms for Newbies.***
Step One: Be clear on what your writer is looking for.
If you are a writer sending a piece of fiction to a beta reader be
your message what you are asking them to look for. If you are unsure
characters are speaking in voices that are true to canon ask your
opinion. If you aren't sure your timeline works ask your beta to help
check canon against the real world. If you aren't sure if your love
are steamy ask your beta to give you a tummy tingle rating. If the
doesn't ask specific questions it makes the beta's job that much more
difficult when knowing what to look for.
Step Two: Be clear on how Beta and Writer will convey changes to the
The clearest way I have found of editing text is to use both asterisks,
strikethrough text, and bold print to mark where changes have been
comments inserted. Here is an example:
Original Text: Angel stood beside Spike so that he sould see what held
intrest so hard.
Edited Text: Angel stood beside Spike so that he could see what held
interest. ***This flows better with fewer words***
By making changes that are not only easy to see, but easy to edit out
couple of keystrokes the beta can communicate with the writer not only
changes made, but also why they were made.
Step Three: Spell & Grammar Check .
While it seems this would be the last thing a writer does before
story to a beta reader many don't. It should therefore be the first
beta does. Many times I will run a story through a spellchecker before
even read the story, and if I find a more than reasonable amount of
I will usually send it back to the writer unbeta'd and ask them to take
second look before resending it. This may seem a bit harsh but I
that if a writer does not care about his or her own stories enough to
it a second glance they should not attempt to publish it. The only
to this would be if a writer specifically informed me that they did not
a spell check function on their computer, which I find hard to believe,
I know does sometimes happen.
Step Four: Make sure the story doesn't look like wall art.
Many writers don't realize that while their style may seem ingenious
original to them few readers want to wear a decoder ring while reading
fiction. If a story is full of enough asterisks and semicolons to be
confused for modern art there should be some editing done. Here is an
***OH MY GOD*** Angel thought. This is getting hot; way hot; really
((He fanned himself)) ***Whew!*** he thought as the steam rolled off
Of course this is a slightly exaggerated example, but it is not far off
many pieces I have seen. There are few excuses in the English language
not using simple quote marks to note speech or thoughts. Italics and
letters are almost never justified and are just hard on the eyes. Other
punctuation marks need to be kept in check, and that is where the beta
reader can often play a pivotal part. Don't be afraid to put periods in
where the author may have gotten carried away. Also don't be afraid to
a piece of work back to an author suggesting they remove << and ((
or others used to denote perspective or voice. An important piece of
information to remember when editing and writing is that if you are
constantly having to come up with identifiers, or adding `Angel said',
`Spike said' to every sentence your character's voice may not be coming
through clear enough.
Step Five: If it walks like a Mary Sue and talks like a Mary Sue kill
A Mary Sue is the bane of fandom. Mary Sue is the original character
odd name and super skills that befriends the canon characters and is
in every way, or so annoying that she must be killed. While Mary Sue
male this is usually not the case. There are writers who are very
bringing believable, even likeable original characters into a story as
background or a necessary part of a story. There are also writers who
pull every trick of fanon in the book to make an original character
to a canon character, by mystical or improbable means, and then have
character martyred or placed into the story just to attack other canon
characters. The beta reader's job when it comes to Mary Sues is not to
placate the writer, but to bring their characters back to reality. The
should urge their writer to not make original characters perfect or
but to make them feel essential to the ensemble of the story, not
The beta must not be afraid to be honest with their writer as well. If
are rolling your eyes while beta reading every other reader will do the
same, it is your job to save the rest of the world from that fate. It
be your mission in every story you read, save the world from eye
Step Six: Get rid of the 'Yeah Right' Factor.
Many writers are propagators of what I like to call "Yeah Right"
These are stories that involve male pregnancy, characters spontaneously
changing gender, all problems being solved by portals or spells that
the most untrained layman could perform. People, we need to put a stop
this. I know it's hard when you just really think the evil vampires
have a cuddly baby to show them the errors of their ways. I know it's
when you have never had anal sex to write a male slash scene, but for
love of all things that make readers go vomit in the night do not turn
into a woman just so you are more comfortable writing the sex scenes!
the beta reader's job to tell the writer that the story is making them
"Yeah Right" out loud. If Xander picks up a book and banishes a
year old demon and then turns to Willow and says "I don't know what all
fuss was about?" drop a building on his head, because it's just not
happening. If Spike starts craving pickles and cherry garcia rinse your
mouth out with soap for writing it and then send some chocolate to your
reader so they can wash the taste of this vileness out of their mouth.
harsh? It should be. This stuff must end. It just must. I have to go
Step Seven: If they Bash, bash back.
Much in the same way that "Yeah Right" fic damages the reader's palate
fic of all kinds, character bashing fic brings the writer down to an
lower place. Character bashing is immature and I won't tolerate it at
my sites, even in jest, and neither should anyone else. You don't have
like a character but bashing fic is the lowest of the low and 99% of
time the most unreadable of the unreadable and I expect those listed as
betas to rid the world of badfic, not encourage it. There is a
from omitting a character from your writing because you do not write
her well and going out of your way to kill, torture, or just insult a
character you aren't fond of. We all have characters that grate our
I'm sure canon writer's do, but a true sign of weakness in a writer is
not even attempt to make an unliked character fit into a story. Making
a bitch or Riley a doof or Giles a fop might be funny to you, but to
readers it may not be, and if you alienate your reader from the getgo
won't be back for more. It shows more skill, not to mention class, when
writer tackles a character that may not have been their favorite and
out with a scene, or entire story, that gives an appreciation of that
character warts and all. It is the beta's job to know the difference
good spirited humor and a BWP (bashing without plot).
Step Eight: Ask for the back story.
If a beta receives a story with a note that read something like "Angel
human, Spike was never a vampire" just say no. Stories like this have
nothing to do with fandom, they are original fiction using the same
possibly likeness as characters from the Whedonverse, but they are not
characters readers know and love. It is unfair for writers to cheat the
reader out of the back story and it is cruel for beta readers to
this sort of writing. If a writer wants Angel human make him shanshu or
his blood with that of a mohra demon, and don't do it in three
For a drastic character change of this magnitude it must feel earned or
reader will feel like they have been burned. Beta readers are there to
flesh out the details that writers may have laid out clearly in their
but haven't taken the time to share in the story. Ask questions, make
suggestions, and get the writer back on track, that's the power of the
The challenge here is making sure that the back story doesn't become
pages of exposition before any action starts. Most readers of fan
have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the show and don't need to be
that Buffy was called to be a vampire slayer and had a tragic love with
Angel who sired Drusilla who turned Spike who had a passionate affair
Spike before he went to the store to get a six pack of beer and watch
Passions reruns on soapnet. This is the difference between back story
matters and exposition that doesn't. If there is a point that makes
story AU but isn't integral to the story just put a short note in the
header, For Example: "This story takes place after everyone's memory of
Connor was erased, that is why there is no mention of him" or "This is
would have happened if Cordelia's spell to get rid of the Host's mojo
season four wouldn't have worked". A simple line or two can make your
catch on without a lengthy exposition.
Step Nine: Send the story back with suggestions.
If a writer receives a story back with a comment that says "Perfect" or
anything like it, get another beta. If there are no suggestions, no
how good of a writer you think you are fire that beta and send an email
the site where you got their name and let them know. The job of a beta
help make it better, and every story can be better. Whether it is
as simple as "you missed a period" or "I thought Angel was wearing a
shirt when he left" there is always a suggestion to be made, a question
be raised, a way to flesh out a character or edit dialog that has
word salad (ie random quotes from different episodes used just because
writer was too lazy to come up with something original). If you are
as a beta what suggestions you should make just take notes on your
as you read. If you think a passage works well, has good imagery, or
characters are right on tell the writer, but if you question anything
being true to canon or character make a note or suggest the writer read
of the many character essays available on the web.
Step Ten: Rewrite and resend.
It is always a good idea for writers to send their edited copy back to
beta. I personally love reading some of the explanations of why a
interprets a character's actions a certain way, or why they put them in
certain place in time, or even why they chose one word over another. I
that the best writer/beta relationships are those that have open lines
communication. Your writer should not feel threatened by your comments,
they should know that you will be honest and even brutal if necessary.
writer and beta are satisfied that the story has been edited as best
can then submit it to archives and get it read. Please, I'm begging
the edit, share your experience, communicate with your beta so that the
time you send a story you have good relationship and know what the
looking for and what can be gained. Then send your beta a goody box.
Everyone loves a goody box.
The authors own nothing. Joss, UPN, WB, etc. own Buffy, the show, the characters, the places, and the backstory. The authors own any original plots.