A Fantasy Author's Adventures in Fiction & Life

Tag: Beta Reader Questions

Critical Reader Checklist: Act 3

Blonde woman reading a book seated on a window sill with early morning sun pouring through the bow window, open behind her.
Photo by Yuri Efremov

Your book has covered a lot of ground to reach Act 3. Now its time for reader payoff. If you’re a writer, this critical reader checklist of questions will help you ensure Act 3 is clear and rewarding for readers. If you’re a critical reader, responding to these questions will help you provide invaluable feedback to the writer. (Missed my previous checklists? You may like to start with Chapter 1 or Act 1.)

Story Progression and Reader Engagement

Does each scene build your anticipation of the final resolution of the conflict?

Does each character realisation build towards the character’s Moment of Truth?
(Or even foreshadow their final state, particularly if the character is an antagonist with a positive arc, who changes sides at the end)?

Does the tension of Act 3 pull you in and hold you in from start to finish?

Scene Level Considerations

Do scenes give you enough time to absorb events and information, especially character deaths?

Are there thematic or scene-level elements (too many things going on) which distract you from the resolution or which make it harder to follow?

Climactic Moment

Are you with the main character, whose at the heart of the action during the climatic moment?

Or does narration flit between point of view characters scattered between conflict locations too often?

Or does the main character observe others actions too much, making this scene feel emotionally distant?

Does anything else distract you, or make you impatient for the scene to get a move on or reduce its tension?

Has the writer positioned you to scream encouragement at the main character through the climactic moment? Are you excited, thrilled or really happy when they triumph? Or shattered if they don’t?
Or did you not connect emotionally to them well enough throughout the novel to care much either way?

The Resolution

Is each aspect of the conflict, and each step of how it needs to be resolved and why clear to you?

Do particular skills or abilities of each pov and secondary character play a relevant and fulfilling role in the resolution of the conflict?

Does the resolution deliver on thematic promises, e.g. character lessons, framing key themes of the story and showing the role they play in the resolution?
Or was it mentioned that Tom needed to learn to make friends, and that subplot was forgotten? Did it play no role in the resolution, breaking that promise to you as a reader?

A Satisfying Ending?

Are you feeling satisfied by the way characters resolve their differences?

By how supporting characters being their typical self helped resolve the story problem?

Are you satisfied with how the story is wrapped up, and with the state in which you depart the story world and its characters?

If not, is this because the ending feels rushed? Or did the story stop too soon, leaving things unresolved that you wanted to know about and which would have made the ending more satisfying for you?
Or does an epic conflict leave the world in a state of devastation, instead of fast forwarding to a scene showing that the world does in fact recover?

Not the Last Book in a Series?

If this book marks the end of one stage in an epic conflict (as opposed to a stand alone novel), do you still feel there was a clear beginning, significant plot development and that it took you on a journey? Is Act 3 leaving you satisfied with the ground covered in this book?

Are you satisfied with how much characters have grown in this book, or did they feel flat or their growth stagnate at any point?

Does this book’s final state scene show which things pov characters are still grappling with, foreshadowing what their character development may involve in the next book?

Is it clear how, despite this book’s main conflict being resolved, a significant element of conflict is still out there? and are you left with some idea of who it still threatens and how?
Does this suggested continuance of conflict feel like an organic continuance of story, or like its been tacked on? Does it feel like another great instalment in a saga, or a prequel movie designed to make it producers money?

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Critical Reader Checklist: Act 2

Mixed race woman with long curly black hair in black velvet hat sitting cross legged on a sofa reading, with a bookshelf
Photo by Seven Shooter

Some writers dread the middle of a novel. Its an easy place for characters, themes, plots and subplots to get stuck, lost, or to go on unnecessary tangents. The critical reader questions in this post are designed to help reader feedback to support the writer in keeping Act 2 on track, and ensuring it gives the reader a good experience. (I developed them while working with and as a beta reader, and they have companion blogs for Chapter One and an Act 1).

Are the Characters Engaging?

Are you seeing enough character actions, and hearing enough dialogue and internal thoughts to feel tensions between characters?

Have you seen enough of character’s personalities to understand why certain characters are drawn to or inclined to be in conflict with each other?

Do you react to some character actions with ‘of course he/ she/ they did!” because you feel you are getting to know them?

Do you know any characters well enough to guess what they may do next? Does this make the story more engaging?

Is the Story Engaging?

Does each chapter end by doing at least one of the following:

-adding tension between key players?

-providing another clue in the overall mystery?

-affirming or challenging the lie the pov character believes?

-adding another complication the pov character must overcome to resolve the main conflict? Eg. the character gets something wrong and makes their own life harder.

-moved the pov character nearer to getting what they want, what they need or (if it differs from both) does each chapter take them a step closer to resolving the main story conflict?

Character Development & Plausibility

Can you follow the character’s logic as they persist in believing a lie, or begin to realise the truth?

Do you see and are you convinced by why the character still clings to the lie?

Are you convinced by how characters experiences are changing them?

Progression

Are you being shown or reminded of things you’ve already seen (especially when it seems unnecessary?) Or is each scene making you feel like the story is moving forward and drawing you on to its next stage?

If you don’t feel the story is moving, and you’re starting to lose interest -which bits aren’t appealing to you? Do you know why or what the writer could change to resolve this?

Are relationship dynamics between characters -positive or negative- being tested and changing? Or is everyone getting along perfectly? And is the supporting cast solely focused on helping the MC achieve their goal (instead of characters having their own goals? And are character relationships too idealistic and or flat?

Story Tone

Occasionally, I’ve beta read books with an Act One mixing serious themes, humour and playfulness, then in Act 2 -boom! The story turns a corner and is suddenly twice as dark or twice as violent as Act 1’s tone led me to think it would be. So are you jolted by how light or heavy, how serious or playful, how gentle or violent later chapters are, compared to earlier ones?

Story Focus

Does the story home in on particular themes, particular relationships and particular character goals?

Does it focus on too many things for you to follow or appreciate?

Or does it focus only on one or two main things, when there’s room and other things you’d like to see further developed to give you a real sense of payoff?

Connections

If the characters went to that place, or the MC was given that thing, or we know a secondary character loves x, does the middle of the story start referring back to and building on these?

Examples:

Does the secondary character’s knowledge because of an interest you’ve already read about, or skills from a hobby mentioned earlier start helping the MC tackle aspects of the story problem?

Does the location where we met key players later yield clues in solving the murder? Or is it a place about which we know family secrets are kept or where other allies are now being sought?

If there something about a character, a place, a device etc that got your interest, but hasn’t been developed and that you would like to see more of?

Action Scenes

Can you picture who is where, doing what? Or are there so many details that you lose sight of the main actions in a scene?

Are you hanging on the edge of your seat, reading short, sharp sentences which narrate at the speed the scene unfolds? Or is some of the suspense and tension killed by long winded sentences?

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Critical Reader Checklist: Act 1

Woman reading on window ledge in early dawn light.
Photo by Yuri Efremov 

Act 1 is crucial in guiding readers into your character’s world and maintaining reader engagement. Critical readers can help evaluate how your Act 1 impacts on readers, but in my experience, they may be inclined to comment only on what annoys them, what they love and if they’re writers -their personal strengths in writing craft. If you don’t ask your critical readers to comment on anything in particular, let alone provide a critical reader checklist, their feedback may exclude clues about which aspects of your craft -or a particular novel- may need developing.


This beta reader checklist asks reflective questions to help guide well rounded critical reader feedback throughout Act 1 (and in some cases beyond). As a writer, you may like to select or adapt some questions to give your readers. As a reader, you may consider where the strengths and weaknesses of the story you are reading lie and which questions you’ll give feedback on. If you missed it, you’ll find my Chapter One Critical Reader Checklist here.

Do You Understand The Point of View Characters?

Do you have a clear sense of point of view character goals?

Do you understand what drives these characters?

Do character actions make sense to you? And do characters emotional, physical & verbal reactions match what you’ve read about them so far?

If you feel jarred by a character’s actions or reactions, telling the writer so can help focus their edits.

If the pov character thinks in italics, do you read the italics and do you find them effective or annoying?

Do you get a good sense of who a character is and what they’re thinking and feeling through their dialog, actions and internal thoughts, or do they seem distant or unknowable?

What is your overall impression of point of view characters?

Telling the writer can help them reflect on whether they have accurately and consistently represented their characters throughout their story.

Do you get a Good Feel For Character Relationships?

Can you see why new friends/ love interests are drawn to each other?

Do you get a feel for the dynamics of the main characters key relationships?

If these draw you into the story, it can help the writer to know this. If you can’t get into the story because characters or their relationships feel flat, stereotypical or underdeveloped, knowing they don’t engage you also helps inform the writer’s edits.

How Do You Find the Setting/ World Building?

Does what the MC sees, hears, smells, thinks and feels about their world draw you into the setting?

Are you getting a sense of the setting through the characters experience, or through chunks of disembodied narration? Either way, does it engage you?

If there is a magic system, or an alternate political or class system, do you understand how the system impacts on characters lives and the story? Is this made clear to you, or are there details you need to understand to follow the story which seem murky?

Green treed shores of a rock bordered oasis bellow sand dunes in Aswan, southern Egypt.
Photo by yours truly.

How Do You Feel About the Antagonist?

Do you feel like you’ve ‘met’ the antagonist early enough? Or are the characters wandering around having a lovely time, and you don’t feel drawn into the story because there doesn’t seem to be any tension or signs of conflict?

Do you understand the nature of the threat the antagonist poses? Is the worst they (or it) can do at any given point in the story made clear to you?

If the antagonist is a person, do you understand what drives them and what their goal is?

Is the Story Engaging?

Are you meeting interesting people, seeing interesting places & learning interesting things about characters and their world?

Do you feel like the story is going somewhere? Are there signs of things being not quite right, growing tensions between characters or within the world or signs of danger or trouble to come?

Are point of view characters having overlong internal monologues where you’re dying for someone to do or say something?

Do any details of narration bog you down, overwhelm or confuse you? Or do you want to skip ahead at any point?

Are you staying engaged throughout scenes? If your engagement drops, I suggest commenting when it does and if you think you know why, saying so.

Larger Casts, and Characters acting in groups

Does each character speak with their own distinct voice? (Ie. in speech patterns which reflect their personality, age, background, education, class, culture etc.)

Can you see that the characters have different personalities?

Do they show their emotions with different gestures and behaviours or do multiple characters act like they’re the same person emotionally?

Can you remember which character is which within a scene and across chapters, or do you feel like there’s too many characters to keep track of?

Or are some characters so similar that you get them mixed up?

Letting the writer know this may indicate that they need to differentiate characters more or to amalgamate similar characters (who don’t need to be separate people), so the reader can keep track of and get to know the remaining characters properly.

If the characters are working in a group, do they have their own ideas about how to precede? Is there tension and different opinions on how the group should respond to story problems? Or does everyone agree with each other to an unrealistic extent?

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Further Reading

Beta Reader Checklist: Chapter One

Beta Reader Checklist: Act 2

12 Critical Reader Partnership Tips

Finding Critical Readers (or mentoring programs to help you develop any of the above aspects of your craft) + When is my Editing Finished?

Critical Reader Checklist: Chapter 1

Mixed race woman with curly black hair wearing a black brimmed hate, and reading cross legged on a sofa before a bookshelf.
Photo by Seven Shooter

Critique partner and beta reader feedback can be gold, but as editing is a complex task, it can be difficult to decide what exactly you’d like critical readers to comment on, especially in the crucial first chapter. The reflective questions in this beta reader checklist will help guide critical reader feedback (and in some cases self-editing), giving you insight into how engaging, well paced and easy or difficult to follow unfamiliar readers found your opening chapter.

Does the story start in the right place?

Chronology

Does ‘chapter one’ narrate whole paragraphs or more of events which happened before chapter 1 began? (If the reader really needs to know such events, those events might need to become chapter 1).            

Narration

Does chapter one begin with the present story, or with info dumping or backstory? Or does it slowly show the reader the character’s life, with chapters and chapters of narration before the inciting event indicates the character’s life is about to change and the story actually moves forwards? (If it takes ten chapters to reach the inciting event, I suspect the story starts six to nine chapters earlier than necessary).      

Character Action

Is the main character (or chapter one’s point of view character) doing something interesting to read on page 1? (Or lead up actions like a long, dull drive, instead of opening with characters reacting to their destination as they climb out of the car on arrival?)

What is your impression of the MC? -this can help a writer check that they have portrayed their MC consistently throughout the novel, and that they haven’t over or underdone their MC’s nature/ situation etc in the opening chapters.

Can You Get to Know and Care About Characters?             

Main Character

Does the main character’s dialogue and actions give you a good sense of who the MC is and what they’re about? Can you relate to the MC or their personal situation/ relationships in some way?

Supporting Characters 

Are there too many named characters for you to keep track of?

Or are any character names too similar to each other to easily tell apart?

All Characters

Can you spot any discrepancies in character actions or dialogue?

Do you understand the characters actions, and can you follow the character’s logic -or do character actions confuse you or seem implausible?

Do you get bored or does your interest wane at any point? (How do you find the pace?)

Letting a writer know you’ve lost interest at a certain point in a chapter and want to start skimming is helpful -because it suggests a problem with pacing. If you can give feedback about why you think you started to lose interest -that’s even more helpful. It might be because; you feel the narration is getting bogged down with details or descriptions which slow the story. Or because there’s info dumping or chunks of telling which isn’t part of dialogue, character internal monologue or reaction to the present scene, ie. without context, possibly pulling you out of the story.

Backstory

Are you catching neat little peeks of what’s already happened in characters’ lives or the world in general as the character interacts with other characters and their world? Or does a character stand still so the writer can tell you five paragraphs about an event they’ve already experienced (but you missed)?

World Building/ Scene Setting 

Have you got a clear enough sense of where and when the story is taking place?

Do you have a sense of character roles within their world? Of their jobs, status, what they can and can’t do? (For SFF this will go right into how clearly magic systems, alternate political systems, tech etc are shown).

Is it clear to you what is magically/ politically/ scientifically/ militarily etc possible and likely within the story?

Information -Showing V.S. Telling

Where possible, do you get to ‘see’ things by what the character sees, hears, says, smells, thinks and how they physically, verbally or emotionally react to their world and story? Or does the writer tell you, ‘the city has x and that character felt impatient because he had a headache.’

(NB. Bear in mind that the point of ‘showing’ is to make the story more interesting to readers and it isn’t practical to ‘show’ everything. Eg. Things like creation myths may need to be told.)

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Further Reading

Beta Reader Checklist Act 1

Beta Reader Checklist Act 2 (which links to Act 3)

12 Critical Reader Partnership Tips

Finding Critical Readers + When is Editing Finished?

If your betas feel your characters are underdeveloped, try my post on Developing Characters.

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