Below are examples of the level of feedback left for Beta Reading or Developmental Editing.
On interpersonal conflict and first impressions:
Beta Reading: “Based on the first few paragraphs, your main character (James) feels disproportionately hostile to his wife given she seems to want to visit her sick father. I feel like James may be reacting to the stress of their marriage crumbling in this scene but his words make him seem like he’s taking out any and all anger on his wife. Personally, this paints him in a negative light for me. It is early in the book, and I would be hesitant to give him such a strongly abrasive personality (in the way he acts and talks down to his wife). I did end up liking him after chapter 10 or so but I had a hard time shaking the initial impression of him being so callous.”
Developmental Editing: “In the highlighted text, your main character (James)’s response (yelling/screaming) does not seem balanced according to his wife’s actions (wanting to go to visit her sick father, being distracted when he came from work). It paints James in an unlikable light and initially made me think he was the antagonist, specifically because of the word choice “Why can’t you think about how your actions affect me?” and “My own mother wouldn’t do this.” I feel like you are trying to garner sympathy from the audience, but the quotes highlighted can be interpreted as a victim complex and manipulation of the wife rather than James expressing his feelings. Given that in later chapters, James genuinely feels broken up by how he is treated by his wife, I would recommend editing this section to make it consistent with his character later in the book. I believe that showing that the wife is thoughtless rather than having James comment on it would achieve that in a more impactful away. Perhaps James says, “Well, when do you want to have this talk? It feels like any time we have a discussion, you leave.” and then have the wife either respond with something ignoring what he says or you could have the wife grab her keys and get out. That way, you are still showing the miscommunication conflict between the two but James isn’t given a poor first impression to the audience. (I did end up liking him after ch 10 or so but I had a hard time shaking the initial impression.)”
On world building and the supernatural:
Beta Reading: “I love that you add more supernatural creatures and lore to your story, but I’m not sure if zombies were the right choice in the book. You had already added two other supernaturals to this book (the Loch Ness Monster and the mermaids) and while the zombies were quirky, they didn’t fit in as seamlessly as the other sea themed creatures. (Namely: How did the zombies exist so long without discovery? Why haven’t they taken over the city yet?). Ultimately, it is up to you, but I think you may want to reconsider how they fit in with the current world-building lore.
Developmental Editing: “I love that you add more supernatural creatures and lore to your story. With the previous supernaturals, it made sense that the story’s characters have never seen them before because the creatures are isolated (caves) or in such a large habitat that humans couldn’t find them (ocean-dwelling). However, the introduction of zombies has thrown me for a loop – it feels like the believability of zombies existing hidden in the modern world isn’t quite at the same level as discovering the mermaid colonies. In addition, having the zombies loose in the city feels a bit like a Chekhov’s gun. Given zombies in popular culture almost always result in an outbreak/decimation of at least a few cities, I feel like the audience will be expecting or anticipating the outbreak (which didn’t happen in the story). I don’t think you necessarily have to address this immediately, but at some point it would make sense for the characters to find out why the zombie outbreak hasn’t happened.
If you want to keep the zombie lore, I feel like there’s a few ways they can be worked into the story – perhaps instead of zombies always existing, they were a recent addition to the supernatural creatures? Perhaps the zombies have greater intelligence and just don’t mindlessly eat everyone they see? Maybe your version of zombies must be created by a shaman or necromancer (and zombie-ness cannot passed through a bite)? Alternately, you could continue with the sea theme – there’s plenty of lore about underwater dead bodies that come to life and eat humans (or drag them into the depths). I feel like using that angle would explain why humans haven’t seen the zombies in the real world and fits in with the rest of the book’s undersea theme so far. Or you could write them out entirely (since the zombies only existed for a handful of chapters), it depends on if the zombies will have a greater effect on book three and how much you want to invest in making them a part of your established supernatural world.
On antagonists and their motivations:
Beta Reading: “I am worried that your main antagonist, Kristal, is starting to feel a bit flat. She consistently chooses the most “evil” pathway but I feel like I’m missing the reason behind her actions. I would recommend fleshing out the antagonist more – giving her stronger motivations (rather than sowing general chaos) and emphasizing Kristal’s personality through gestures or showing her facial expressions (rather than having her just do actions, inject a bit of characterization or flare). That would tighten up this scene and give me more perspective on her as a character.”
Developmental Editing: “Kristal sabotaging Emily’s career and relationship works well in this scene. It sets up Emily with a motivation and purpose to fight against for the novel…However, I feel like Kristal is doing evil things merely to act against Emily’s “goodness”. Humans are complex and almost always have motivations and reasons behind their actions (rather than doing evil for evil’s sake). Some of the best stories out there are amazing, not because the protagonist is so great but because the antagonist was unforgettable.
I would recommend keeping the actions the same (they work really well as-is) but adding more subtle details to the antagonist – is she one of those “hurt people hurt people” characters? Or is she just bored? Does she hate seeing Emily be happy because of their past? I think once Kristal has a goal, you can subtly add it into the story (note, I said subtle…definitely don’t want the villain monologuing their motivations in the beginning of the story but starting to hint at the complexities of the antagonist and possible motivations will help hold the audience’s interest as they begin to puzzle out the rest of the story).
I feel like Kristal needs a bit more flare as well – right now you have her blocking well-written. I know exactly what she is doing and how she is doing the things but without adding in a bit of personality, it can come off as wooden. Is she doing these actions with a smirk on her face? Is she overly sweet (a la Umbridge) or is she cold as ice? Each direction would vastly affect how her character acts in the rest of the story. Based on what I’ve read so far, it feels like Kristal may be leaning towards wanting to climb the corporate ladder and is willing to do whatever she needs to get to the top – I feel like showing that in the expression of her face, tone of voice or gestures would help flesh out her character.
Given I have a PhD in biophysics and how important scientific realism is for me, this is something I will comment on with the same level of scrutiny regardless of Beta Reading or Developmental Editing.
Beta Reading & Developmental Editing: “While the doctor’s words are understandable, they do not sound natural. There is a benefit to layman’s terms when communicating with patients but referring to them as “therapies” or “therapy drugs” does not fit with the medical knowledge I’d expect for a doctor to demonstrate. I would recommend using the name of the prescription (i.e. Celexa or Lexapro) and then have him explain what they do (i.e. anti-depressant). I think it makes sense to mention side-effects but that can be a fade-to-black conversation rather than an in-depth discussion. If the side-effects are going to play a major role in the story, I would still recommend a fade-to-black. This prevents the audience from fixating on looking for specific side effects and gives you a bit of freedom when introducing them to the story.”
Beta Reading & Developmental Editing: “While I liked the description of the scientist’s hands while doing the blood draw, there is absolutely no way that he would not be wearing gloves in this scene (proper protective gear is taken seriously). If you want to keep the description of the hands in, I would recommend having the character notice them before the gloves are put on. (Note: the scientist would not come into the room with gloves on, the purpose of the gloves is to protect the subject from bacteria and other pathogens, so if he wore the gloves before coming into the room, the gloves have already been contaminated by anything he’s touched prior to entering (i.e. doorknob, clipboard). Fresh gloves should always be put on right before touching the subject for the blood draw.)”
Additional Feedback Notes:
My comments range from the above to shorter ones – pointing out repetition or a more minor plot holes (i.e. “she was holding a cellphone last page but now it’s a hands-free device” or “every time we see this character, she is ‘adjusting her glasses’ – at this point I think rephrase or skip.”). It’s a fairly even mix between longer/shorter for Beta Reading, though Developmental Editing will tend to have longer comments.
In addition, I provide a summary (1.5 pages min single spaced for Beta Reading, and 3 pages single spaced for Developmental Editing) regarding what worked the best and the greatest issues that I felt needed to be addressed prior to publication.