If you’re just starting out using Beta Readers or if you’re starting a new genre and have collected a new set of Beta Readers, deciphering their comments might pose a bit of a challenge.
Today we’re going to look at when a beta readers says:
- I’m not quite ‘feeling’ this character.
- Why is he/she so [insert emotion here]?
- I don’t believe this character would act this way.
- What’s with the over-the-top reaction with this character?
First off, you know something’s up with your character. Above all else, what appears to be happening is your reader doesn’t see what’s happening as “ringing true.”
How do you make sure this poor character’s actions, reactions and behaviour ring true?
By making sure the reader knows enough about why he’s reacting a certain way to allow the moment to be believable.
I work on these types of comments two ways:
- Analyze the scene (connected scenes) in question and see where I might not be clear enough.
- Analyze my character arc – make sure that enough hints have been given to support what’s happening at any given time.
Now, that’s not to say that you have a two-dimensional character and you need to re-work everything about them. If it’s just a scene or two in the scope of the entire manuscript, you just need to flush out one or two particular traits to allow the scene(s) in question to make sense with the character you’ve built up to that point.
For point 1 – consider what you expect the reader to know by this point and then back track to see if you set this information up strong enough in the earlier scenes to support it. Maybe something’s missing or maybe you’re not hinting strong enough clues. Really break down the sequence of events leading up to the moment in question and try to look at it from a different perspective.
For point 2 – either return to your character sheets (the pages of notes you initially made on the background of this character) and note for yourself when and where certain key pieces of information come out; then compare those points to your character’s behaviour and see if they align. Or draft a new sheet based on what you’ve written (or one for the first time if this isn’t a tool you usually use). By asking yourself the hard questions about this character’s past, present, and general motivations you will begin to see where you’ve let certain information slip and perhaps not given or shown enough of another trait or reason behind a reaction.
A few questions to ponder:
- Why is he/she so [insert emotion]?
- How does his/her interpretation of the past affect understanding or personal reaction in this moment?
- What kind of relationship does he/she have with their family?
- What’s his/her secret? Does he/she ever reveal it to anyone other than the reader?
- What drives/motivates him/her? Why?
- What was his/her worst and best day ever? Why?
- What does this character want and why is/isn’t he/she getting it?
- What secret is his/she keeping for someone else?
Now, that’s not to say that the answers to these questions will immediately solve your problem with reader believability in that moment that’s not quite ringing true, but they will start you thinking about how you’re handling the answers to these questions throughout your manuscript and will likely spark an idea for how you can clarify his/her intent/reaction/emotion in the scene(s) in question.