The lovely and brave Sarah Enni offered herself up as a guinea pig for a little beta experiment. Six writers will take on beta reading a single page of her work “The Flute” so readers can compare and contrast beta styles. Below is her text with my line edits inserted in brackets and italics. I also included summary notes at the bottom as I normally would with a beta. My notes are a little lengthier than they would normally be for a single page, but the idea was to let you see my beta style. 😀
So without further ado!
If Hana Larkhill had her way, her father’s body would be in a sailboat, rope and a flute in his hands, and she would watch him embark one last time toward the unknown at the eternal curve of the earth
[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Initial reaction to death is usually at a gut level. First we feel and then we think and rationalize. This passage sounds very intellectualized as if Hana is distant from the emotions she is feeling].
Instead, James Larkhill lay in a sterile metal box at Faraday’s Funeral Home. Someone who did it for a living
[I think you can strike this. Reader would assume.]
had caked his face with makeup. His delicate freckles were powdered out of existence [nice detail]. An old blue suit bound
[would love to see “anchored” instead of “bound” to carry through the seafaring metaphor]
his body; even the strawberry gold of his curls had faded.
Hana’s mother, Noa Larkhill, hasn’t
[change in tense]
fought these depressing conventions.
[makes me wonder who the narrator is. Can’t quite get a sense of it yet.]
But she had insisted on an open casket. James’ face and shoulders were in tact
and the suit covered his abdomen. But Hana felt the looming specter of his ruined lower body, smashed into irreparable pieces by an anonymous fender
[specter sounds a little purple especially juxtaposed with fender].
Faraday’s was cold, clean and modern—everything was black or stainless steel. Everything had razor-sharp edges. It was the kind of place that gave Hana the feeling she was being blown through by unseen drafts
[watch state of being verbs like was and were. Try using more active verbs that add color to the narrative].
She longed for home. For his family James had provided a house with a door that shrunk up in the winter and bloated until it wedged in the door frame in the summer, a house with stairs that had predictable creaks and groans, a house that moved around them like a familiar friend.
James’ death three days earlier had crushed Hana underneath deep, prolonged silence
[like the silence compared to the noise in the house before. Maybe into instead of underneath?].
Her mother, whose loudest expression to this point had always been in the strength of her brush strokes on canvas, rocked and wailed. Hana felt like a ghost, alone and unseen, holding her mother’s tiny shaking limbs in a room full of people that, at least today, felt like strangers.
Thanks for sharing this piece, Sarah! I included notes in the text, but here are some gut reactions overall.
Narrator: Right now I’m struggling to get a sense of the narrator. The narrator sounds very distant from the action/emotion right now, which give me little insight into Hana. I think this would be more revealing across more pages, but it’s hard to attach to Hana in this short section.
Language: When in the midst of deep grief, we tend toward more one syllable words. As we intellectualize and gain distance from the emotion, we use more of those multi-syllabic words. Right now, the language is distancing me from the emotions of the characters. That may be okay depending on your longer goal, but I thought I would bring it up.
Marine Metaphor: You brought up a lovely metaphor in that first sentence with the marine imagery. I’d love to see this continued a bit more throughout. Sailing into the horizon is often equated with death in literature, but death also leaves the loved ones still alive feeling unanchored. Could be something to explore.
State of Being Verbs: I bring this up in EVERY beta because I do it. I do a mad search and destroy for them in my manuscripts.
Suggestion: One great advantage of third person POV is the distance. You can start far away and pan in closer to your character. In this scene, you could show us everyone in the room before you closed in on Hana. That gives us a nice basis for discovering who she is. You might check out the opening pages of Anna Karenina to see how Tolstoy does this really effectively.
Check out what the other beta readers had to say!