Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

I Make Authors Cry: Why Betas Should Be Brutal

As most of you know, I am much older than the average Harry Potter fan. (No, I'm not telling you how much older. I'm definitely older than most of you reading this.)

I also came into the fandom late. In fact, I had never read any of the books, and I had only seen the first two movies, when DH came out. So I was sort of vaguely aware of what Harry Potter was about, but dismissed it as an overhyped kid's series. However, on a whim, I decided that since the series was supposed to be "over," I might as well read it and see what all the fuss was about. I read all seven books over the course of a few weeks.

Obviously, I loved them, which is why you're now reading this.

So then I did something else I'd never done before, for any series I'd been a fan of previously: I went looking for fan fiction.

Of course, I used Google, so of course, the first place I found was


A few days later, after my eyes had stopped bleeding, I decided to go back and try again. Yes, I'm persistent. And a glutton for punishment.

Surely, I thought, a million monkeys banging on word processors must have produced something redeemable?


Inverarity Learns How to Leave Concrit

Now, here's something else I did when I first starting reading fan fiction: I left reviews. And I was mean.

I mean, really, really mean. Because I honestly couldn't believe that people would actually write something this crappy and then post it in public. I thought these "authors" were trolls, trying to spam with crap they came up with between masturbation sessions. So I would leave reviews saying things like, "You write like a dyslexic cat. Please learn to spell," and "Were you having an acid trip when you wrote this? I mean, seriously, Snape and Hermione!?"

Oddly enough, most authors did not respond well to that.

(In my defense, I also did not realize, initially, that more often than not, I was flaming thirteen-year-old girls. I knew nothing about fan fiction, okay?)

I got over my habit of flaming crapfics, and learned to just hit the back button if something was truly godawful. But I still, to this day, insist on putting the crit in "concrit." (I just try to emphasize the con part as well.)

So, there's this one story... I won't name it or link to it, because it would be unfair to the author. It's actually the first full length fan fiction I ever read. I found it by searching for complete, novel-length stories (figuring someone who's actually written 200,000+ words must be at least a passable writer -- ah, my youthful naivete!). I read the first story, and now I am reading the sequel, which the author is still updating periodically.

The thing is, it's really not very good.

It stars a woobified Snape, an emo!Harry, and Snape's OC sister. Yeah.

But it is, well, passably written, and like I said, it's the first full length fan fiction I ever read, and so I have an irrational affection for it. Even though it drags interminably, the characters are OOC most of the time, and I am going to look like the little guy in that picture above if I have to read "unfathomable gaze" and "curtain of black hair" one more time.

Did I mention woobie!Snape, emo!Harry, and Snape's OC sister? Yeah.

But because I like the story, I leave reviews. Often lengthy, detailed reviews – the kind of reviews I love to receive. And I pick at things, I criticize the story and the characterization, and I point out when essentially nothing has happened for the last four chapters!

Oddly enough, the author did not respond well to that.

At first she seemed to like the fact that I was reviewing her story, but eventually I got a PM from her telling me, basically, that I was mean and all of her other readers thought I was mean, and if I was going to keep being mean, I should stop leaving reviews.

(This author, by the way, is not a thirteen-year-old girl. She's a grown woman.)

Now, some of you (who know me on the MNFF forums), are probably nodding your heads, because yeah, I have apparently brought a few authors close to tears there, too.

You know what? If your objective in writing fan fiction is just to have people go "Squeee!DracoandGinnyaresocute!Squeee!" over your story, fine, but if you're actually soliciting reviews and concrit, well, I assume you want honest criticism. And I'm being nice on MNFF, because I know most of the authors are young.

Even if you're the best author in the world, you need an editor, and not just someone who catches your typos, but someone who will brutally pick apart everything you write, including the 'and's and 'the's.

I would argue that Rowling really needed a meaner editor for her last two books.

Inverarity Gets Concrited

Getting back to me: I wrote Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle in about six months, never showed it to anyone until I was done, and then went and posted it on My only editor, beta, and proofreader was me.

(Also, I posted all twenty-nine chapters at once. Like I said, I knew nothing about the fan fiction community, or how fast new HP stories scroll on I would have gotten a lot more readers from the start if I'd known to post a chapter at a time and space them out. Oh, well.)

I still think AQATTC is a good book. It's the first full-length novel I've ever written, and I'm quite proud of it, and I'm going to keep writing AQ stories. But I knew even when I finished it that it wasn't perfect. There were some things I would change if I were to go back and rewrite it.

Same with Hogwarts Houses Divided, except moreso, because unlike AQATTC, HHD wasn't finished when I started posting it. I knew where I was going with the story, but I was still writing a few chapters ahead of the most recently posted one as I put it online. It was an interesting experience – a very different way to write – and I may do the same thing when I write the sequel. But because I couldn't go back and change things in earlier chapters when I realized I'd written myself into a corner in a later one, there are, well, some rough spots. Nonetheless, I'm proud of HHD, too. But like AQATTC, nobody betaed it but me.

When I wrote Alexandra Quick and the Lands Below, I had two betas, and I credit them with the fact that AQATLB was, in my opinion, much better than AQATTC.

Those betas, btw, were hermoinejean7, who is a young genius who's going to grow up and take over the world, and the inestimable swissmarg, whom some of you probably know as Swiss Miss, one of the moderators on FictionAlley.

swissmarg has kindly agreed to beta AQATDR as well. (Don't even think about it, hermoinejean7! I've seen your current workload; I'm not adding to it.)

But, more pairs of eyes are good, and I really want a second person who's brutally honest and willing to tear apart what I write, so I don't have any embarrassing plot holes or character flaws that weren't intended. I even briefly considered posting rough drafts here to invite people to pick at them; problem is, I'm just not comfortable releasing my writing to the general public until I'm more or less satisfied that it won't embarrass me.

And then, to my great fortune, I happened to "come out" as a fan fiction writer to a friend of mine, and I gave him a link to my fics. And he began leaving really long, really detailed, really critical reviews of AQATTC. An author's dream! And now, to my great fortune and yours, he's agreed to beta AQATDR as well.

To see what I mean, check out Alexandra Quick and the Thorn Circle on, and see the recent reviews left by Miles2goB4Isleep.

(I didn't ask him to write such comprehensive reviews, btw. He just decided to do it as a favor to me.)

Do his reviews seem harsh at times? Keep in mind, he liked both AQ stories, a lot. But he has poked more holes in my story and characterization than even I was aware of. It's much more evident now that Alexandra, in book one, really was teetering dangerously on the edge of Mary Sue-dom, and that several of my characters (Dean Grimm and Larry Albo in particular) were almost ruined by some bad writing decisions I made. And I see much more clearly why some people don't like Alexandra at all.

That's the kind of critique a writer who really wants to improve should covet. Critique from someone who will be brutally honest. Someone who isn't afraid to make you cry.

(Don't worry; no one's made me cry. Yet. We'll see after swissmarg and Miles2goB4Isleep get through with my rough draft of AQATDR...)

Current AQATDR Word Count: 81181. Maybe not a lot of progress, but in fairness, I've also rewritten nearly an entire chapter since the last word count.
Tags: alexandra quick, aqatdr, writing

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