The Alpha Readers Report

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!

Morse is very involved in Draft 2.

Morse is very involved in Draft 2.


  1. Initial reader feedback is great for gauging what may or may not be spelled out. When test readers see things differently than the writers has in mind, it’s time to tend to adding more details. It can be such a precarious balance.

    • Candy Korman

      YES! It’s a balancing act. I think they have pushed me to share more about the physicality of the characters and to be more explicit about who is who in relation to whom. But they have also inspired me to share more about the background. There were things I kept to myself, thinking that if I indulged in “tangents” I’d distract from the story. I think I’ve figured out how to add a dash of it without weighing the story down.

      Again… another balancing act.

  2. Grats! I read your alpha’s comments with interest, especially the bits about descriptions, because like you, I prefer to fill in the details myself when I read. Plus it always feels so incredibly unnatural to describe someone at that level. I mean, in real life, if I know someone then when I speak about them or even think about them, I’m likely to focus on dominant features, like eyes, rather than eyes, mouth, chin, nose, hairline etc etc. 🙁

    Descriptions of characters are definitely a minefield.

    • Candy Korman

      It’s funny, but I feel like I’m sharing my secret thoughts about each important character. As for the folks with smaller “roles” in the story, I’m just forcing myself to give a clearer picture. It’s an interesting process.