[identity profile] dragonflymuse.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] ds_workshop

Ever have that dream where Fraser and Vecchio go to the corner bakery to buy some cherry-filled donuts for Dief – you know the ones I mean, the kind they make with real cherries and not that fake gooey stuff, dusted in about half a pound (‘That’s 550 grams, Ray…’) of confectioner’s sugar? Only when they get there, the store is out of cherry so they try to sell Fraser raspberry (‘They’re for a stupid wolf, Fraser! He won’t know the difference!’), but Frase gets so upset over the lack of cherry donuts (‘They’re his favourite, Ray, and I promised him cherry…) that the only way Ray can calm him down is by dragging him into the Riv and going down on him in the back seat?


Oh. Just me I guess.

But, if you did have a dream like that, one that recurred night after night until, out of sheer frustration, you open up a Word doc (and a bottle of Merlot) and type away until, about 7 pages later, Fraser has had one of the best orgasms in his life, and Ray suggests seeing if the bakery down the block has the elusive cherry pastry.


Now, had I sent those few paragraphs off to my lovely and wonderful Beta, [livejournal.com profile] fishsanwitt, these are the following corrections she’d most likely tell me to make:

• Dashes are to be used in pairs. Work in another one or make two different sentences.
• Is Frase a nickname for Fraser, or did you forget the ‘r’? Try to only use one form of the name in the narrative.
• Add the closing single quotation mark to the sentence ‘They’re his favourite, Ray, and I promised him cherry…’.
• ‘… has one of the best orgasms of his life,…”

And then, being the sweetheart that she is, she’d praise me for staying in the same tense throughout the piece (I suck at tenses).

I love my Beta. I truly do. A few years ago when I was going to post my first ever fic (in the BuffyVerse, by the way), I sent out a general call for a beta on some Yahoo Group I belonged to, and she responded. Well, actually, she was the only one who responded, but The Muses knew that she and I would be a good fit, and I wouldn’t give her up for the world.

What kinds of things do you look for in a beta reader?

On the surface, this seems like a simple question, but when you start listing these skills and qualities, you quickly come to learn that a good beta for you might not be what someone else is looking for.

All beta readers should possess a working knowledge of grammar, syntax, and spelling that go beyond the basics which Microsoft and Mac include with their word processing programs (especially when these programs are not necessarily the best tools for creative writing). This becomes extremely important when writing Fraser if you, the writer, use Canadian spelling or diction. One pet peeve of mine in dS fic is when Fraser is written pronouncing Lieutenant as Leftenant; we Canadians spell a lot of words differently than other non-British Empire countries, but we don’t spell phonetically when we pronounce them as so (remember potato and tomato). A good resource for both writer and betas on Canadian diction can be found at Canadian English. Secondly, in regards to knowledge of writing structure, betas need to have a keen eye (or ear!) for tense disruptions, point-of-view shifts and maintain focus on continuity within the text with both concrete items (ie. the colour of Fraser’s shirt) and thematic arc.

The next thing one tends to look for in a beta is kindness. Sharing your fic with a second party – whether it is your first, your tenth or your hundreth – in its raw, unedited form can be an emotionally difficult thing. As much as I love my MRVB [livejournal.com profile] fishsanwitt (you will have to ask her what MRVB stands for :g:), I still get very nervous sending her new stories, especially when I switched from het to slash, and again when I switched fandoms (from WhedonVerse to due South). And while there is nothing wrong at all in wanting a beta who is nice, one must remember that even the nicest editor must tell you things you might not want to hear, for the good of your story. While a beta can be a cheerleader (therapist, crying shoulder or venting target), the purpose of their input is editorial. Many a times my own Beta has returned a fic several times, forcing me to go further, dig deeper, to find the proper words and emotions for a four line bit of text to the point where I would be banging my head against the wall, not getting what the hell more she wanted from me until I was near tears with frustration. And every time that she asked for more, she’d tell me ‘I know you can do it.’, and send me off to do the next revision. Patience and dedication to work with you on a ficlet/longfic/WIP is also important to have in your beta when multiple revisions (or even rewrites) are required.

While having a degree in English is not a requirement to be a beta, some know-how on story construction, plotting, subplots, secondary arcs and characters (ie. the components of a story) is mandatory if you are embarking on a longfic. As the writer, it is easy to get mired down with your principle characters and storyline and sort of forget about the secondary players and subplot that you have added for colour or theme. And while there is nothing wrong with becoming enthralled with your main players (or trying to figure out the fastest and most believable way for Fraser to get Ray naked and in bed), your beta must be able to drag you back to the work at hand and have you give time to the background folk that make your universe feel real.

And Fraser and Ray will cuddle when they are ready.

By now you are probably wondering why I left the most important ‘must have’ off the list: fandom love/fandom smarts. Well, I left it off because, I have learned, a good beta – nay, a FANTASTIC beta – can work your story effectively and creatively without knowing anything about the fandom in which you write.

HERESY! you say! How can someone edit my work without having all-encompassing love for Mounties, deaf wolves, Buick Rivieras and experimental hairdos??

Well, from personal experience, I promise you, they can.

My MRVB is active in many fandoms, but due South is not one of them. She had some passing familiarity with the show, but couldn’t make editorial comment on canon issues, character voice, or the FraserSpeak we’ve all come to love (and emulate). But after working with her through several thousands words of longfic, WIP and ficlets, I have learned that when it comes to editing chops, she has mad skillz. If you need someone to read your fic to vet it for characterisation, canon or voice, that is when I would put a shout-out to fandom friends for a quick read-over. It is amazing, by the way, to have a fic betaed by a person naïve to the fandom in which you are writing: my MRVB has asked questions about Fraser, the Rays, and their relationships that have forced me to examine the boys from completely different angles, which has helped me immensely in my writing.

Where do you find good beta resources?

Unlike my experience in trying to find a beta (my pre-LJ days), resources are aplenty on Live Journal.

The easiest way to find a beta is to ask a friend. But, as Fraser might say, the easiest way to do something isn’t necessarily the right way. Friends definitely would fulfill the need for having a kind person edit your fic, but even if they have the editing chops, friends sometime hold back on the constructive criticism or, if they are emotionally invested in the pairing or plot you are writing, their enthusiasm for the story might blind them to the textual or construct elements that may need help. My MRVB was my Beta first, and then, as I learned I could trust her and the work she was doing with me, our friendship developed. While I won’t go as far as saying never ask a friend to be your editor, keep in mind the possible pitfalls of the arrangement.

The next way I would suggest is to scan the fics you’ve read and liked, see who the betas were, and drop them a line, or ask the ficwriters what it has been like working with their betas and if they would recommend their editor to another writer. Such referrals are great compliments to the editor in question, and it fires their enthusiasm for what can sometimes be a thankless, soul-crushing job (my MRVB edits a lot of Spuffy fic. ‘nuff said.).

If you have had no luck with either of those suggestions, the next step would be to post a request to the fandom in question’s most widely subscribed to bulletin community. I answered the call of one amazing ficwriter from a post she’d placed on [livejournal.com profile] ds_noticeboard, and as a result I was able to preview a delicious and dark crossover fic between dS and the BuffyVerse.

Lastly, if none of the above have worked well for you, there are several communities on Live Journal where you can find a beta for your work. I strongly suggest you read the community profiles carefully before choosing one to approach for assistance: the mandates of these communities vary greatly, so check them out, ask the moderators questions and talk to some of the people who’ve found betas through these comms in order to decide which one is the best for you.

[livejournal.com profile] ds_writers

Beta Commentary

The Beta Hole

Beta Bowl

Find Me A Beta

Writers Resource

When doing a search for betaing communities, I invariably found many fandom-specific beta and resource groups. As far as I’ve been able to find, there is no dS-fandom only beta community, but perhaps the need for one might arise, and it will be created, so keep your eyes open!

What are some tips to give new or prospective betas?

There is no glamour in being a beta. People who edit do it because they love fic, they love language, and they love helping others. My MRVB is an amazement to me: she reads a lot of crap, but sticks with editing because she wants to make someone’s work better. In addition to being a Grammar Queen and being able to snap me out of my Lynchian use of time and tense (over and over and over again), she is a musician, singer, actor and stage manager. Craft and artistic structure are in her blood, and sharing that ability with ficwriters is her gift to those who have found the courage to dip their toes into what can be horrible, shark-infested waters.

So there is your first tip: LOVE what you will be doing.

Secondly, have resources at hand that pertain to grammar and spelling. I am not the best grammarian (I don’t know if that is even a word, but just ask my Beta: I make words up all the time), but I know what sounds right, and I know flow and continuity. Some knowledge of writing constructs is important, too. Finding those resources is as easy as using Google or Wikipedia for links and free downloads.

Once you feel you have the skills (and patience!) to start being someone’s Beta, there are communities on Live Journal geared towards betas and their work, as well as offer advice and support:

Guerilla Betas

Betas Anonymous
(fandom specific)

Lastly, before you go out and offer your editing services, I offer two pieces of advice:

One, be honest with the writer you will be working with, regarding your strengths and what you need to work on as an editor. The one fic I volunteered to beta I let the person know that I was ok with correcting grammar, but that it wasn’t my strong suit. Luckily that was not something the writer needed the beta for, so it worked out swimmingly.

Two, make opportunities to practice the craft, and find other betas to talk to about what you feel comfortable with and where you need to develop your strengths.

I hope this answered any questions folks had regarding betas and betaing. If there are any other questions you have that I didn’t touch on, please post it as a reply to this entry.


The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that in some places, I spelled beta with an uppercase ‘B’ and in others, lowercase. To me, calling yourself a beta is assuming a title, and for all the kick-ass editors out there ::smiles at my MRVB:: I capitalize the word when speaking of you in the specific. Kudos and thank you to all who do the work.
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An archive of the Due South Workshop comm from LJ

October 2011

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