As a writer, you may think of yourself a solitary genius, turning out inspired work in the midnight hours as you down cup after cup of coffee. It’s true that the actual writing may be best performed when you shut out the world, but if you want to actually finish a piece, it’s essential that you leave your hermitage and seek outside opinions from what’s called beta readers.
Beta readers read your draft and provide invaluable constructive criticism to help you bring a piece from draft to finished copy. And often, these outside opinions are crucial in turning rejections into published pieces. How’s that? Well, for one simple reason: it’s not always easy to translate the story in your head to paper.
You see, when you write a piece, you know what you meant to say, and when you read it back to yourself, your brain fills in anything that’s missing from the draft. You simply don’t notice that that we don’t know why your main character was in prison or that your character’s sister worked as a bounty hunter. Maybe you even know you weren’t specific, but think the backstory is obvious or even unimportant.
It’s true that a reader can make some educated guesses, but why would you make your reader work? As much as we would like to pretend otherwise, fiction has one primary purpose: to entertain. Gaps in a work force your readers to figure out all the essential details in order to understand what’s going on, and that defeats the purpose of reading fiction.
Note that leaving out essential information is not the same as deliberately crafting a mystery. While a mystery story requires that certain information not be revealed, you must still provide all the details that your reader needs to know to understand the story at that point. Conversely, even in a mystery story, if readers are confused instead of intrigued, you run the risk of losing them.
So do yourself and our readers a favor and bring in beta readers. And be sure to swallow your pride when you do, because I guarantee that they will call some part of the story that you’re most proud of into question. What do you do then? You take it like a grownup and adjust the work accordingly. Because no matter how brilliant you think your work is, if readers don’t enjoy it, no one will care what your message is.