Questions to Ask Beta Readers
Eventually, you’re going to reach the point in your writing process where you want to seek feedback from other people before deciding your story is ready to be published, and that means finding beta readers.
Here is a list of possible questions to ask your beta reader(s), so they’re not left guessing what sort of feedback you want. (With specific questions, you have a better chance of getting more than just, “I like it — keep writing!” which is nice to hear but doesn’t help you improve the manuscript.)
Are there any parts that you feel should be condensed or even deleted?
Were there parts where you wanted to skip ahead or stop reading?
Were there too many characters or too few? Were any of their names too similar?
Did you feel that the story started to lag at any point? Where?
Were you confused at any point? If so, were your questions soon answered?
Did you notice any discrepancies or inconsistencies in timeframes, locations, characters’ histories, or any other details?
Did the dialogue sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial, and why?
Was there too much description or explanation, or not enough?
Was there too much backstory or too many flashbacks? Could any of it be deleted and still allow the story to make sense?
At any point, did the story feel rushed? Did any part of it drag on too long?
Were you able to accurately predict the end before you got to it?
Were you satisfied with the end? Was the end believable?
What parts resonated with you and/or moved you emotionally?
What characters need more development or focus?
Were the characters believable?
Did you notice any obvious, repeated errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, or capitalization? If so, what were they?
Do the characters feel real and three-dimensional, with distinct voices, flaws, and virtues?
Are their goals clear and proactive enough to influence the plot (not passive)?
Do their motivations seem believable, with well-drawn and appropriate emotion?
Are the secondary characters well-rounded and enhance the story rather than overwhelming the story or seeming like they should be cut?
Are the relationships between the characters believable and not contrived?
Are the internal and external conflicts organic and believable, arising out of characterization and circumstance rather than feeling contrived or forced?
Are there enough stakes and/or tension throughout to make you want to keep reading?
Does the premise avoid cliché and/or bring a fresh perspective to an old idea?
Are the plot twists believable yet unexpected?
Do the characters act or react to events in a plausible, realistic or believable way?
Do the scenes progress in a realistic, compelling manner and flow with effective transitions?
Does every scene add to and seem important to the story?
Is the story free from information dumps or backstory that slows the pace of the story?
Are descriptions vivid, and do they give a clear sense of time and place?
Does the dialogue move the story forward and reveal the characters?
Are characters’ voices consistent and distinct from one another?
Does the story deliver on the promise of its premise and opening scenes?
Do any sections take you out of the story?
Who are your favorite and least favorite characters, and why?
What aspects are particularly likable or unlikable about the protagonist(s)?
What three things worked best for you?
What three things worked least for you?
You’ll notice that some of these questions can be answered with a simple yes or no, or just a character’s name, but that doesn’t mean the beta reader should stick to one-word answers, especially if an answer indicates a problem in the writing. If the beta reader responds to the question, “Were you satisfied with the end?” in the negative, they should say something about why they found the end of the story unsatisfying. This doesn’t mean the beta reader is being required to defend/justify their opinion; it means they’re being asked to elaborate on it, because it does the author no good to be told there’s a problem of some sort if they’re not also told what the problem is. (Determining how to fix it is not the beta reader’s job, though, so don’t ask ’em to rewrite your story for you, and don’t let ’em do it if they try.)