My Revision Process, Or: Questions to Ask Your Beta

by - April 05, 2020

Revision is my least favorite part of the writing process, but I think it's the most important one. Revision feels like pulling teeth, but it also means filling cavities and aligning your jaw. Basically, it turns your lump of a novel into a beautiful, useful, polished one.

Revising is insanely difficult, and it's better done with company. But unless your beta is a professional editor or has tons of experience, then they probably don't know what to look for outside of gut instincts. Help yourself and your beta by asking them the right questions!

Basic questions to ask your beta during revision

Image by Hannah Grace

Now, there are two types of revisions: major edits and minor edits. I'll start with the major stuff.

Q1. How is my pacing?

Pacing obviously depends on your writing style, category, and genre. A thriller would be more fast-paced than a literary novel. YA books tend to be fast-paced and easier to consume. But at the end of the day, you should follow the natural pacing that fits your story. Ask your beta if she thinks the scenes are happening too slow, or too fast, or if there are weird time jumps in between. You shouldn't bore your reader with five chapters of plain description, but at the same time, you shouldn't speed through the plot so fast that they don't have time to breathe or remember which character is which.

When rereading some of your favorite books, analyze them and figure out how the author paces their plot.

Q2. Does my protagonist have a believable goal/motivation? What is it?

Protagonists don't have to be likeable, but they have to be believable. A story is one big obstacle course. The protagonist's goal is the finish line. Sure... we know they have to win... by why? Why can't they just give up halfway through and go home? Why did they start in the first place? The best protagonists are the ones that feel like real life people and not just props to propel the plot forward. You make them seem real by giving them believable motives (even if they might change throughout the story). And while we could do broad strokes like: of course the Chosen One has to save the world! It's her responsibility! That's quite bland, isn't it? Give your protagonist a more personal reason, something that the reader can personally understand and even empathize with.

Q3. Can you identify my main conflict? Is it interesting enough?

You can't have a story without conflict, so make sure you choose a good one. But more importantly, make sure that it's identifiable. Conflicts can go deeper than the usual hero vs villain. Sometimes the protagonist has an internal conflict, or struggles with their own values, or even fights with their allies. The character should have a personal stake in the conflict, because if not, then why are they even fighting it? This might be obvious to you but it might not be obvious to your readers, so be sure to ask your beta if they can make out the proper reasons.

Q4. Did you understand my worldbuilding? Do you have any questions about the universe?

I mean, this can go one of two ways. Either you don't have enough worldbuilding so your reader is bored and/or confused, or you have too much at once and the reader is overwhelmed. If you lack worldbuilding then this question will help your beta figure out what else you need to answer. If your worldbuilding is too complex or info-dumpy, then your beta will probably tell you which parts were confusing.

Q5. Does the main couple have chemistry? Who do you ship?

Okay, this one only applies if you have a romance. We all hate instalove and ships with no chemistry and blah, blah, blah... but it's very easy to fall into the trap of writing a mediocre love story. On one hand, your beta can help you flesh out your main couple's romance even more, so that it's more believable and easier to root for. On the other hand, it might help you realize that there's a better ship that makes more sense, and would be more satisfying than who you originally intended would end up together. Romance is just as much about character growth as it is to entertain, so make sure that your love story is meaningful.

Q6. Did you find any part dragging?

Sometimes an intense plot needs time to breathe. And sometimes a story is meant to be languorous and serene. But too much of a good thing is bad, and you don't want to bore your readers. Better to ask this to a beta who really enjoys your work, so at least you'll know what's actually dragging and what's not just difference in taste. 

Q7. Do you want to know what happens next? Were you hooked from Chapter One?

Why does someone finish reading a book? Because they want to know what happens next! This advice applies more to writers like me who want to query their work. Unfortunately, we're in the publishing age of immediate consumption. Agents and editors want to be hooked in by the first chapter, the first five pages, the first sentence. And I know what you're thinking because I'm thinking it too. That's unfair. But if you think about it... as readers we are the same. Have you ever picked up an interesting looking novel at the bookstore or library, read the first chapter, and then decided whether or not you were going to buy it? Yeah, it's the same thing.

Image by Green Chameleon

Now, after you've decided that you need to delete half of your novel, opened a bottle of wine, begun to cry, typed three whole chapters, realized they were bad, retyped them, then realized the first version was better, then sent them back to your beta, then got better feedback, then finished all your revisions, gave your book some resting time, reread it again, actually found a small glimmer of hope... now, you're ready for minor edits.

I really suggest only doing minor revisions after you've finished the major ones, because otherwise it's a waste of time and effort. Spelling and grammar can always be fixed after the whole novel is finished. That's easy. That's simple. But changing the novel's pacing, structure, and even characters? That's the meat of revision.

Q1. Are there any inconsistencies?

This one requires a sharper eye. Maybe sometimes you use "fairy" but other times you use "faerie". Maybe a minor character's hair color changes halfway through the manuscript. Maybe your protagonist picks up a glass and completely forgets to put it back down before joining a swordfight. It's little details like these that can make your story seem clumsy.

Of course, there are deeper inconsistencies as well. You could have inconsistencies in worldbuilding, atmosphere, tone, characterization, and even theme. Those are more difficult to fix, but they are easier to spot. If you change them on purpose as a sign of character growth/plot progression, then remember that the process has to be believable. There should be basis for it, and an extreme change can't just happen out of the blue, and in one measly page. Build up is your best friend.

Q2. What else do you want to see?

Okay, this could also be a major question. But a second eye is helpful not just because it can spot errors that you missed... but also because it can spot possibilities that you missed. A good editor appreciates your story and characters as much as you do. Of course it's your story first and foremost... but don't forget to be open to others' ideas too!


These are just basic questions. In my experience, the best revision comments I've ever received were specific to the story, and not too general. But hopefully this is still a good springboard for you, whether as a writer or a beta!

What other questions do you usually ask?

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