The Eyes Have It–Or Do They?

diana-with-boa-2

Her eyes flew across the room.

His eyes dropped to her chest.

These two examples are typical detached body parts I see in written literature, more often than not, from beginners. I don’t know about you, but for me, not only am I jerked out of the reading, but I feel like I’m reading a Frankenstein-like horror tale when reading these phrases in a story.

The word that should be used is gaze, not eyes.

Even then does one’s gaze fly? No. Instead, a gaze moves across the room.

Can his gaze drop to her chest? Yes.

What’s the difference, you ask?

In the latter example, the gaze is moving downward, so drop is appropriate. In the former, flying is reserved for planes, birds, kites, and clouds. While our gazes move, they don’t fly. They move across, forward as in looking farther forward across the room or down the road, down, up, just as our bodies move forward, up, down, etc. Since we can’t fly, having a gaze fly doesn’t really work.

Bottom line: This stylistic issue is a detail, and the little details matter. I’ve heard and read where some say that they’re okay with this usage of eyes, saying that eyes and gazes do the same thing. Eyes do gaze. but eyes cannot fly across the room, not unless you take them out of the body and toss them. Literally.

To me, these awkward, unattached body parts jerk me out of the story and if I’m jerked out of it too many times, especially in quick succession, I’ll stop reading not only the book and probably the author, as well.

Was I ever guilty of this awkward style of writing? In the beginning, yes I was, until someone pointed it out to me. Thus began my exchange of gaze for those disembodied eyes. My goal is to always improve my writing, create my own style.

Are there stylistic moves I make that others might disagree with? Most certainly, but I know why I’m making those moves and I do so with purpose. That’s a topic for another blog.

In this particular case, in my opinion, the eyes don’t have it.

A strong, steady gaze from across the room will capture me every time.

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When is a Book Ready for a Beta Reader?

I gave a presentation recently, “Self-Editing Made Easier,” to a group of writers who are at varying levels regarding their careers: some are new writers, just finishing the first draft of their first book; a few have multiple books out; a few are traditionally published; and a few going the self- or indie-publishing route.

I was asked, “At what point in my writing, should I give my material to a beta reader?”

My initial response was, when the writing is polished. Discussion followed as to what polished meant. That answer was easy: when it’s ready to send to an agent or publisher, or for the self-published, when the writer believes it is ready to be published.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about my response of when to involve a beta reader, and I began thinking about my own critique group and the readings we do for each other versus the manuscripts I give to my beta readers.

If I could go back to that meeting, here’s what my response would be now:  Whatever you want that beta read to be; whatever you want to get out of them reading your work.

To that end, I think there are two types of beta reads.

Organizational Beta Read

The writer believes there are no more holes, that the characters are likable and believable.

Overall, the job of a beta reader here is to:

  • Find plot holes – where events or the order of events just don’t make sense.
  • Determine if the main characters are likable/unlikable, as the case may be, and to tell the writer why or why not.
  • Point out areas of muddy or unclear meaning. Simply put, some scenes need clarification or more details in order to make sense.
  • Determine if there is too much or not enough backstory if this is a book in a continuing series.

Often readers will discover an author with a later book in the series, not knowing the history of the character up until this time. Consequently, it is the writer’s job to provide just enough of that backstory so that the reader can understand the character’s motives and wounds, but not so much that the reader is bored. That means backstory must be trickled in here and there, like bread crumbs leading the way out of the forest for Hansel and Gretel; but in this case, the bread crumbs lead the way backward into the earlier stories for the reader.

With this particular beta read, there is no focus on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This type of beta read is often performed in a critique group. The writers want to know early on in the writing before they have polished the writing, if the plot and characters are working. Often, the readers are getting chapters as they are written, because for these writers, it is easier to change the plot here, learning that something does work, rather than making coming back and making major changes once the draft is completed.

The crucial part here is that the writer must tell the readers up front not to worry about the grammatical errors. Instead, they are to be ignored.

Also, before the reading occurs, the writer needs to provide these readers with a short list of problem areas, where the writer already knows that there is a problem.

In most cases, this Organizational Beta Read is just that—a read to spotlight the plot and characterization—and nothing more.

Polished Copy Beta Read

This is the manuscript that has been polished by the writer. Supposedly, all errors have been removed, sentences rewritten, best word choices made, consistent character traits, hair, eye color, and the spelling of their names. Everything is correct and everything makes sense.

The goal for this beta reader is to find any error, any hole, anything that doesn’t make sense.

In conclusion, a beta read can be and should be anything you, as a writer, want it to be. Regardless if the manuscript is a first draft, a polished draft, or a draft in between, clearly communicate what you want from your beta reader.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a beta reader than to discover after the reading 1) that they should have been looking for something in particular, or 2) that they didn’t need to read it as a polished draft when in fact it was a first draft.

So, when is a writing ready for a beta reader?

Answer: Whenever you’re needing feedback. Just be sure to indicate what kind of feedback you’re seeking.