I've sung from the rooftops (okay, not literally, but you don't want to hear me sing) about the pure awesome that are my critique groups. What I've learned is that each beta reader tends to focus on different elements when critiquing, and I need them ALL. Everyone thinks differently, so it's important to have more than one set of eyes on your work. Here are a few of the awesome roles my critique partners have played:
1) Plot Hole Locator. When I handed over my initial draft to one of my critiquers, I was pretty confident that I didn't have any plot holes big enough to drive a truck through. However, to my shock and dismay, this reader found several that would accommodate a mid-size sedan. Not to mention the multitude of pin-prick sized ones that had me smacking myself in the head like "Why didn't I see that?"
2) Word Girl. I'm not being sexist here--it's just that all my betas are female. Feel free to insert word guy if it applies to you. She highlights words that I've apparently used like five times within two paragraphs. My first time through, I took out so many 'justs' and 'thats' it was ridiculous. She's also great at dialogue and knows when it sounds real versus not. Last but not least, she catches overuse of certain things, like, I don't know, em dashes. *cough* *cough* Moving on...
3) Character Arc/Motivation 'Keeping it Real' girl. This is when someone notices that a scene (or entire chapter) isn't in line with the character or didn't fit with their overall motivation and move the story forward. This is more of a big-picture type reader and I can't tell you how valuable it is to have one of these peeps as a crit partner. She also notices when a scene is too passive versus active, and I've learned a ton from her.
4) Beta Who Pushes You Over the Edge. This one has pushed me to the edge of my writing sanity. She's not afraid to highlight an entire scene and say "you've already proven you can write well, redo this" or tell me that an entire subplot doesn't work and "redo it." Of course, she balances that with random comments about adding "mad space monkey sex" so I'm laughing through my tears. And when she tells me a chapter is awesome, I know it's pretty darn good. It's because of her that I re-wrote the entire second half of the book (because I knew in my gut she was right, not because I love re-writing books I thought I'd already finished). The task seemed so intimidating and daunting--sort of like Nemo and the ring of fire--but once I did it, I was really happy with the results.
Of course, my beta readers don't only fall into one of the above categories--they touch on all areas, but they each have strengths in specific areas that combine into an awesome group of critique peeps. I'm so lucky to have such smart, amazing women as part of my writing journey. And the one non-technical role I think we all fill for each other is: CHEERLEADER. We're always there to give each other support and encouragement, and at the end of the day, this is what I value most of all. Thank you ladies!
What about you? Any roles I missed that beta readers/critique partners play in your writing life?