14th April, 2011: Ludmila beta

I’m deep in revisions on Ludmila, My Love at the moment. I’ve found this period of tweaking – which hopefully I will get done by the end of the month – requires a totally different mindset to regular editing.

When you edit, you read and correct, read and correct, RE-read and correct, improving the work as you go. The changes from draft 0 to 1 are the most major, obviously, and from then on it is a gradual process of polishing.

The “beta edit” is different. Here you have comments, corrections and questions from a number of different people. Now you have to check each individual one, and assess them before making a decision. For typos, missing words, or other such obvious things, that’s easy. But other times the comment may be far more complex.

In this situation, several things have to be considered – has the writer (ie, me) screwed up or left something out; has the beta-reader misunderstood or misinterpreted what was written, and if so, is that their fault, or my fault? Have all the beta readers picked up on the same thing, or is it just a one person?

Through Empire State, I accepted about 50% of beta reader comments, and so far it looks to be the same for Ludmila. Of the rejected corrections/suggestions, half again are down to personal taste (where, for example, the writer and the reader disagree on specific wording of a passage), and the other half are more about misinterpretation. Misinterpretation by the reader requires careful checking, otherwise you fall into the trap of “My god, how can you NOT know what I mean?” (never a healthy position for any writer!). But of the misinterpretations that are ignored, it’s usually because the beta reader has been reading too closely and has missed cues or statements, leading to confusion later. When reading a book for pleasure, the reading is faster and cues and their reveals are read in quick succession, with no confusion. That’s just the nature of reading critically versus reading for pleasure.

Of course, when more than one beta reader spots the same problem, then something really does need fixing!

All of this make the beta edit a time consuming process. Even a single question mark on a single word can take a long time to untangle – just yesterday, in a scene which features the hero, Ida, wandering around a disused section of the space station Coast City, there was such a query about Ida hearing a sound. This took the best part of a half hour to fix, as I had to figure out where the missing cue was (and is was missing, in this case) and how to insert it without totally screwing up the structure of the scene.

But Act One is done. Three more, and 17 days, to go.