Letting it Sit – Becoming My Own Beta Reader

I’m currently continuing my revision map edit of Aramon Daughters, the sixth book in the Kovenlore Chronicles. The entire experience, including two recent problem chapters, prove to me, yet again, that letting a story sit for a while gives me fresh eyes, thus making me my own beta reader.

In my case, this is easy to accomplish because I’ve a considerable number of books to cycle through, if I want.

If I’m disciplined, I become the ultimate beta reader who…

  • Knows as much about writing as I do.
  • Provides brutally honest, but constructive, criticism.
  • Understands Ontyre worldbuilding.
  • Possesses an equally strong desire for each revision to improve.
  • Is always prompt with her feedback.

In many ways, my self-discipline flows from my childhood. I was the youngest of three children by over six years, yet my mother expected me to behave as did the other two. Rather than reprimand me if I failed, she’d let my brother chastise me and remain silent.

In response, my maturing anxiety drove me to anticipate and be fast and efficient. Despite the grim origins those traits share, they also became useful skills — and left me with a clock obsession. I pay attention to how long it takes me to do virtually everything.

It took me a long time to recognize all that, and to see the advantages.

The Ontyre Story Universe. Chart: CA Hawthorne ©October 2022

The Ontyre Story Universe. Chart: CA Hawthorne ©October 2022

After drafting Trust in the Forgotten, Book 1, back in 2016, I knew it needed to sit and that too many writers failed to do so. When returning to a novel there should be regular surprises, moments when I say, “Oh wow, I forgot about this.”

The most efficient approach was to spend that time on other projects. So, I drafted — a lot. Not just novels, but also short stories and later novella’s. I knew that eventually this would translate into ample editing to rotate through.

Case in point: I haven’t edited Trust in the Forgotten since January 2022.

There are extenuating circumstances there, though. I spent months last year developing my editing plan. Then, a personal tragedy in October pushed aside my plans. Editing Aramon Daughters was supposed to have happened last November.

Life happens. I’m flexible.

Fresh eyes turning me into my own beta reader happened in two classic examples mere days ago. When I drafted the revision map for the novel last spring I was baffled as to what the problem was with the two chapters that happened to be back to back.

Time changed everything. In both cases I knew what was needed to fix them in a few minutes.

In the first case, a chapter already running too long somehow felt underdeveloped. It seemed a contradiction. How could a chapter that needed more already have too much?

The answer was in the first 650 words. I have to say, I loved all of those 650 words. It was mostly clever, snappy dialogue. I was really proud of it, but it was a darling. It served no purpose except to showcase dialogue.

Riparia Tarnabeth Dellbane. Picture: CA Hawthorne

Riparia Tarnabeth Dellbane. Picture: CA Hawthorne

I cut it (and saved it elsewhere).

All of a sudden, I could enhance what remained, which led to the chapter unfolding as it should. That led to the revelation at the end that should’ve been there all along, but I’d been too consumed with the growing length to realize.

The second chapter had the opposite problem, which is fascinating. It was two characters going from A to B. On the way, early, there’s some vital dialogue. After that, though, it was some unusually good visuals (for me), but little else. The second half of an already extremely short chapter was hollow.

I’d set the stage beautifully, but failed to send out actors with a script. I realized it was the perfect place to add additional depth and setup the midpoint. In addition, what happens in that setting is misinterpreted by both characters. In a moment of irony, that misinterpretation hints one character’s growth and the others decline, thus foreshadowing the events that dominate the novel’s second half.

I’ll finish this run through Book 6 soon and then do the same to Wrath of Purpose, Book 7. I want to be sure there are no other series changes I need to make to the other books. At that point, I’ll be ready for serious edits on Trust in the Forgotten for the first time.

In many ways, I’m already preparing because I’m collecting notes in my  Book Changes file. The writing in poor Book 1 needs improved and I can’t wait!


About Christina Anne Hawthorne

Alive and well in the Rocky Mountains. I'm a fantasy writer who also dabbles in poetry, short stories, and map making. My Ontyre tales are an alternative fantasy experience, the stories rich in mystery, adventure, and romance. Alternative fantasy? Not quite steampunk. Not quite gothic. In truth, the real magic is in those who discover what's within.
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