I gave the first draft of my novel-in-progress to two alpha readers for their gut reactions. Their reports were very helpful and I’m busy working on draft two with their notes in mind.
What did they say? Among other comments, they both wanted to read more descriptive text, the kind that knits things together in a neat picture and reinforces who’s who and in relation to whom. This is not a difficult thing to fix. It means going back through the manuscript and looking for opportunities to DESCRIBE a character’s appearance in detail; where I can flesh out the particulars about a place without slowing the action down; and slipping in reminders about who’s who in the cast of characters.
The last one is a bit tricky. There are several families in the mix of characters. The protagonist has two living grandfathers and one is often referred to as Grandpa or “your grandfather” while the other is not. None of the characters in the novel—not even his granddaughter—call him Grandfather, Grandpa, Pops or any other grandfatherly endearment.
He’s not an endearing character—not parental or ‘grand’ parental—so his son, daughter-in-law, granddaughter and the rest all call him by his first name, both to his face and when speaking about him. This separates him from the other grandfathers and grandfatherly figures on the story. I’m making my way through the text in a methodical manner, making sure that readers get his story and why he’s never called DAD or GRANDDAD, without spelling it out.
The one thing I’ve resisted doing is having two characters talk about why he’s always called by his first name. The one time his son calls him Dad is in absolute anger. I’m reversing the usual custom.
Describing places is not turning out to be a burden. In fact, I keep asking myself why I was so sketchy in the first round. While describing people is…well, it’s problematic. As a reader I don’t seem to need detailed pictures of each player in a story, because I fill it all in without thinking. I’m learning that, in general, readers like to be given a picture of the characters. Height, hair & eye color, build, demeanor, fashion sense and all the rest take time to develop and describe.
The alphas had some interesting ideas about the appearance of my characters—very much at odds with how I’m handling this issue in draft two. I hope they like the “new look” of the villainous grandfather, the handsome young boyfriend, and the protagonist’s parents. The push from these first round readers is helping me get over my reluctance to spell it out in terms of narrative description. Thank you alpha readers!