In machining, a closed loop system is a fancy way to describe a servo motor. It doesn’t just move, but it tracks how it is moving. It’s one of the things that allows us to create parts within .0005 inches or so of a desired dimension. Without that sort of accuracy ballistics and the aerospace industry wouldn’t get very far. Feedback is essential to accuracy and production.
I find that writing uses ideal readers and beta readers in much the same fashion, and I don’t think I would make nearly as much progress without them. My current work in progress (WIP) is the second installment in the new semi-steampunk series St. Gavin’s Ghost.
Sure, there are the typical elements of a story that excites me: speculative science, faith, martial arts, dynamic relationships, lots of action, and plenty of questions about belief, relationships, sexuality, and society. I am not fishing for an entirely new audience. That will have to wait until I have a better pen name for a new style.
But for every core similarity I am trying something new with this series. Instead of my typical immense epic I am shooting for shorter episodes put together for as large a saga as I have ever dreamed up. Book two, The Pilgrim’s Path already has 150% of The Rogue of An Dinas‘ word count, and it will probably be three times as large when the manuscript’s done. This is the first time I have written a non-Christian protagonist as the critical voice in the story. That’s saying nothing of the challenge of writing a compelling character-driven piece with an actively gay main character in a committed relationship at the start of the story, and then selling him and his subsequent struggles to an American Christian audience. It probably isn’t an immense leap to guess he won’t be pagan all his life, but I have always left that role to antagonists who enjoy perhaps thirty percent of my narrative (Helen and Sven in Song of Lagrandil, Caith Moore in Darkblade) even when I really enjoy them. There’s the challenge of writing a conversion story, when as a lifelong Lutheran I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God. The interactions between singleness and family life, sexuality versus relationships, the attempt to find honor when worldviews change, colonialism and post-colonial assumptions in fiction… New format, new world-build, new characterization, new questions, the new series has a stretched me in almost every direction.
So I wanted to take a post to say how lost I would be without my faithful beta readers. The Logic Monkey, my Ideal Reader, is an invaluable go-no-go check. If something isn’t working for the person to whom I’m telling the story, then something needs to change. He’s also invaluable asset because he’s willing to sit down and explore the logic and justification between choices, why things work and don’t. Mrs. Keys is a super-charger. She never fails to find something positive to reinforce or point out as the story goes. Southern Simul, the latest edition to the beta readers, is a great canary in the mine shaft. Young, passionate, and pure-hearted, I get a great sense of impact when he shares how the story reaches him. My long-time Nerd Posse members Mr. and Mrs. Dolly have nearly a decade’s experience with my plot twists and turns, and they’re always ready to engage with my apologetics or plotting. Though he isn’t on the regular beta mailing list, The Ninja provides encouragement when he e-mails me pictures of various hunting rifles attached to questions about how long before the next book comes out (cough cough hint hint).
I may never make a living JUST as an author, but without a back-up crew like my beta readers I wouldn’t be turning out half the stuff I have.
Sometimes you just have to take a moment and represent.
Thank you, Betas!