Having been an actor, and a wearer of acid wash jeans for far too long after their heyday, I am not unaccustomed to public humiliation in the name of artistic expression.
For those coming in late:
Diary of a Play #1: Script’s Just Got Real
Diary of a Play #2: Five Go On An Adventure
Diary of a Play #3: I’m Gonna First Draft Forever
Putting a work-in-progress up for first appraisal changes your perspective.
You start viewing it from the eyes of the reader. Suddenly, all the assumptions you’ve made while too close to the work as writer become evident.
The odd phrasings, the waffling, those jokes that frankly only amuse yourself.
What if you’ve been deluded these past days/weeks/months/years/lifetime and have just written a confusing mess? And now you want to put it on public display?
Howls of derisive laughter, Bruce. What the hell are you thinking?
You question your judgement, your worth, your career choices, your shampoo.
It’s at this point that any negative word might crush your work, snuffed out before its chance to crawl, let alone walk.
Hence, no sane writer should bung their stuff out for appraisal without having had a trusted alpha reader give it a once-over sanity check.
Choosing an Alpha Reader – Who Not to Consider
- Your mum – While there’s nothing wrong with a bit of coddling, your ma-ma is never going to say a bad word against you, besides about the state of your house when she visits unexpectedly. That delighted look she has when reading your stuff? She made that same face the first time you filled your nappy/diaper.
- Your partner, significant other, or beneficial friend – Apart from a shopping trip to Ikea, nothing puts pressure on a relationship more than asking for “an honest opinion” on something to which you’ve devoted heart, soul, and significant amounts of time you would otherwise have spent together. “This is what you’ve been fobbing me off to do?!”
- That ex you’ve remained friends with, but is basically biding their time to crush you and your delicate passion project underfoot like a bug, twisting their shoe, laughing maniacally of “Revenge! Revenge at last!” – Probably a bit self-explanatory this one. By the way, hi Helen!
Choosing an Alpha Reader – Traits to Look For
- The ability to give good clear, constructive feedback – not too gentle, not too harsh. Someone in the comfortable middle, like a good well-simmered bowl of porridge. Perhaps covered in honey.
- Are good wide-ranging readers – if the TV guide was the last thing they’ve read since high school (and even that was some toilet wall graffiti), then perhaps you should look elsewhere. Is this something they would want to read or see?
- They can acknowledge the genre you write – your alpha reader should be familiar with the goals of your particular work, and the general tone and tropes of that genre.
e.g, “It’s good, but when do the hobbits with vorpal swords come into it?” isn’t that useful for a contemplative contemporary drama.
- Should be vaguely in your target audience – just to confirm you’re in the ballpark. The net can be spread wider for more diverse opinions with beta readers. In this coming case, the Blak Yak Theatre Committee.
Having found a trusted alpha reader, next comes their feedback.
The Good: Thumbs up. You are emboldened as your ideas connect, the story works, the characters are confirmed as engaging. Most importantly, they want to know what happens next. You are not quite the hack you thought you were.
The Bad: Inevitably, some things don’t work. The story slows or sags in places. The hobbit with the vorpal sword in scene seven seems out of place. All of this is useful. It might be stuff your gut has hinted at, but needed this external validation to make clear. Feedback is energising – get editing!
The Ugly: Calls aren’t returned, emails unaswered.
A distant, haunted look when you finally corner your alpha reader.
They didn’t know such things lurked in your head. The word “depraved” crops up a few times. Should transgressive fiction be quite that transgressive? It was a rom-com? Oh.
Yeah, okay, perhaps we should take a break from catching up.
Oh well, at least writing is cheaper than therapy.
And so, the first draft nears completion.
Thumbs up from the alpha reader for Act One, and they’re even still talking to me.
Off it went to the Theatre Committee for appraisal.
Act Two slowly, begrudgingly, taking final shape.
Now, about that May … June … July deadline …
Next time: You shalt have Questions. You shalt have Excuses.
You shalt have Decisions when the feedback boat comes in.
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