When Writer and Beta Collide

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Title: When Writer and Beta Collide
Creator: Miriam Heddy
Date(s): June 24, 2000
Medium: online
Topic: Fanfiction, Beta Writer
External Links: When Writer and Beta Collide/WebCite
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When Writer and Beta Collide is an essay by Miriam Heddy.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.


I've had two major, long-term betas in my fanfic writing life. And in both cases, the betas beta me because they like my writing enough to want to see it get better. And, over time, one of the interesting things that happens is that I, as the writer, get to understand better my betas' kinks and their personal obsessions (like counting the number of words in my Victorian-era sentence cum paragraphs).

This kind of understanding comes from sending stories, or parts of stories, back and forth, and it takes longer, admittedly, than the quick "I send this to you for beta, you send it back, I make changes (or not) and post" system.

I beta for Francesca pretty regularly, and have been for--what, two years? In that time, she's come to know what I'm likely to object to in any story (purple prose, gratuitous high drama, running through the woods <g>), my own kinks (Jim cleaning, Jim complaining about dirt, guy bickering, small sensory and symbolic details) and what I'm a particularly good reader for (sensory details, POV, interiority) and what I'm *not* as good at (spotting typos). Knowing me and my beta style, Francesca can more easily decide to follow my suggestions or dismiss them (and she usually tells me when she is doing either, and why).

So there are many benefits of building a beta/writer relationship, especially given that a beta is a single, small focus group of one, a critic who gets to see your performance before you risk heading out on stage in front of the critics who will have less sympathy and investment in your work. But it takes time, and investment on both sides, and a helluva alot of honesty and trust.

The downside of this "beta as friend" way of thinking is that, unless you're completely honest about your own deficits and strengths as a beta or writer, you risk (as seems to happen a lot in Sentinel fan partnerships) choosing a beta who won't stand up to you, or one whose skills (or lack of) so closely match your own that you end up finding validation from the beta herself. Betas and writers should, like all buddy teams, be balanced and different enough to have a somewhat exciting (and sometimes annoying) relationship. If you and your beta find yourself spending more time patting each other on the back than mocking each others' idiosyncrasies, you may be in the wrong relationship <g>.