Thursday, July 24, 2008



Beta Reading takes its name from beta testing in computer programming: fans seek out advice on the rough drafts of their nearly completed stories so that they can smooth out "bugs" and take them to the next level . As the editors explain, "We want this to be a place where fanfiction can be read and enjoyed, but where writers who want more than just raves can come for actual (gentle-think Lupin, not McGonagall) constructive criticism and technical editing. We've found this to be essential for our own stories, and would be pleased to help with the stories of others. Our hope is that this experience will give people the courage and confidence to branch out and start writing original stories.
(Lupin and McGonagall are two of the teachers Rowling depicts in the novels, Lupin a gentle pedagogue, McGonagall practicing a more tough love approach)

Instructions for beta readers, posted at Writer University ( a site that helps instruct fan editors and writers, offers some insights into the pedagogical assumptions shaping this process:

A good beta reader

- admits to the author what his or her own strengths and weaknesses are - i.e. "I'm great at beta reading for plot, but not spelling!" Anyone who offers to check someone else spelling, grammer and punctuation should probably be at least worthy of a solid B in English, and preferably an A

- reads critically to analyze stylistic problems, consistency, plot holes, unclarity, smoothness of flow and action, diction (choice of words), realism and appropriatedness of dialog, and so forth. Does it get bogged down in unnecessary description or back-story? Do the characters "sound" like they're supposed to? Is the plot logical and do the characters all have motives for the things they do?

-suggests rather than edits. In most cases a beta reader shouldn't rewrite or merely correct problems. Calling the author's attention to problems helps the author be aware of them and thereby improve.

-points out the things he or she likes about a story. Even if it was the worst story you ever read, say something positive! Say multiple something positive! see the potential in every story...

-is tactful, even with things she considers major flaws - but honest as well.

- improve her skills. If you are serious about wanting to help authors, consider reading some of the writing resources linked at the bottom of the page, which will give you some great perspective on common mistakes fanfic writers make, in addition to basic tips about what makes for good writing

This description constructs a different relationship between mentors and learners that shapes much schoolroom writing instruction, starting with the opening stipulation that the editors acknowledge their own strenth and limitations, and continuing down through the focus on suggestion rather than instruction as a means of getting students to think through the implications of their own writing process.


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