Most writers, especially those without agents and editors, often give an early draft of their novels to beta readers. A beta reader is usually a writing buddy or literature-knowledgeable friend. Personally, I’d call them the alpha reader, but I guess the novelist is the alpha reader.
Anyway, you give your precious baby to your friend for critiques. You dream that the friend will say, “Everything is perfect. This is the next great American novel.” You know that this can’t happen, but hey, a girl can dream.
Finally, your beta reader finished the book. (Depending on their schedule it takes anywhere from one week to one month—during which I’ve done some heroic work to burn off nervous energy. This time I did serious gardening. I planted 70 some plants, weeded, trimmed, sprayed, etc.) Then comes the email, the phone call, the get together. If you have a nice beta, he/she tells you what you did that was right. It’s encouraging and helps to cushion the blow of the things that are wrong and to keep you from destroying the good stuff. They point out plot errors: Did you want me to figure out who the murder was that early in the book? Your character has brown eyes and blue eyes. They point out newbie errors, which I shouldn’t be making anymore: You put the interior monologue of the MC in italics—that’s very irritating.
My beta pointed out another newbie mistake: You have six characters whose names begin with “M.” (Characters’ names are all supposed to start with different letters or it’s very confusing to the reader.) I was dumbfounded. That couldn’t be—after all, early in the novel I checked specifically for that. I wrote down every character’s name and verified that none began with the same letter. (“A” names were popular in my early version.) My beta reader then listed the characters: Max, Mimi, Millie, Michelline, Magnus, and Mary-Louise. How did that happen?! Somewhere in the writing I re-changed all the names to “M.”
Obviously, I like “M” names. My son Matthew says it’s because he’s such a wonderful child that I’ve fallen in love with M names. Of course, now I can only keep one M name. That means coming up with other names to fit the characters that are already established. I went through baby name books, spent hours on baby name web sites. After I finally find new names, they have to pass the “Ariel test.”
Me: How about if Max becomes Stuart?
Me: William or Gregory?
Ar: Those do not fit the character—they aren’t suave enough.
Me (whine in my voice): Those are the only names I can come up with.
Ar: *shrug* (i.e., that’s your problem, not mine. I have differential equations homework to do.)
I could quote Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet,” but it’s not true. If a rose were called a skunk cabbage, I don’t think people would love it quite so much.
So Max has become Jack (Jackson). Ariel’s idea. So if you don’t like it, it’s her fault.