Creativity Sessions: Questions to Ask Your Alpha Readers

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I’ve been discussing the revision process for Manuscript: Alpha of The Warden of Everfeld: Memento since completing the first draft way back in July. (That really does feel so much longer ago than two months…)

Since my alpha readers are nearly finished with their reviews, and I am (basically) finished with my own first read-through, I thought I would share the actual questions I typed up for my alpha readers to answer.

I termed the first draft of my novel “Manuscript: Alpha” because I knew that there were major flaws in my novel’s plot and pacing. I was aware of these issues, but having four trusted friends read my novel in its entirety not only validated those concerns and helped me zero in on them. It also validated the overall strength of my novel.

After speaking with one reader a few weeks ago via email and several texting chains, I was more assured than ever before that the foundation of my novel, the bare bones, was primed to be a truly publishable story, one worth actually promoting to other people. I just needed the extra push that my alpha readers are providing to get me there.

Now, I still have many months of revisions ahead of me. My novel is nowhere near complete, and I still need to actually put the time and work into elevating my story to the potential that I really believe it has. You’ll see that most of the questions below were concerned with overall plot, pacing, and character development; the big pieces of any good story. The insight my readers were able to provide through these will be invaluable.

Manuscript: Beta will be for general readability among a wider and more diverse audience — market research. An alpha manuscript, however, should focus on the bones of your story, its foundation and structure. That’s what I tried to pry out of my readers with these questions. I’ll provide some commentary on my questions in italics.

Review Questions for Alpha Readers

  1. After reading the story, are there any terms or names you think should be detailed in the glossary? Should character names be included for reference?

As with any good fantasy novel, my story includes more than a few names with weird spellings. I put together a pronunciation guide to help the reader.

  1. Do you think the plot/narrative moves logically from section to section, chapter to chapter? Are there any sections that you feel are too long/detailed, too short, or even unnecessary?
  1. Do you feel there is an appropriate level of exposition throughout the novel? Do you feel you understand the historical/cultural context of the story, i.e. the First Redskael War, the Second Redskael War, the general structure of Felding society, importance of tattoos, etc.? If not, please point out specific areas where you find the exposition burdensome, tedious, lacking, etc.

Exposition. I have it in spades, but some readers are bored by it. I wanted to ensure that the exposition I provided was both well-placed in the story and valuable for the reader.

  1. Do you like the two primary protagonists? (If you don’t know who the main protagonists are supposed to be, tell me.) Are they sympathetic characters? Do you think their respective narratives are fleshed out and concluded appropriately?
  1. Do you like the peripheral characters (any point-of-view characters besides the two protagonists)? Do you feel that their narratives play an important/necessary role in the overall story? Do you think their respective narratives are fleshed out and concluded appropriately?
  1. Who is your favorite character? Why?
  1. Who is your least favorite character? Why?

Of course, your Point-of-View characters carry the story. Not every POV character will be likable by every reader, but most of your characters should be liked by most of your readers. Otherwise, they’re just poor characters.

  1. What was your favorite section in the story? Why did it stand out to you?
  1. What was your least favorite section in the story? Why did you find it so awful?
  1. What do you think are the major themes of the novel? Do you believe these were explored in sufficient depth?
  1. Did you find the map and glossary helpful for your reading experience? Do you think they are consistent with the information presented in the story?
  1. Please share any other thoughts, critiques, or questions you may have about the story not covered in the above.

I purposefully left most of my questions open to interpretation. Simply asking, “do you like my story” does not serve either you or your reader very well. How did it make them feel? Which characters did they connect with and why? Thoughtful, honest answers to those questions will help you see the story through someone else’s eyes, and will reveal if and how the story could appeal to a much wider audience.

I hope you find these questions useful, and definitely feel free to borrow, change, or ignore them for your novel at your pleasure.

Which questions do you find most useful for your revisions? Are there any other concerns you feel should be addressed in your own review questions?

Steve D

2 thoughts on “Creativity Sessions: Questions to Ask Your Alpha Readers”

  1. This is a nice group of questions. In my blog on Saturday, I post about using sliders to evaluate a character’s sympathy (well…it’s one of the sliders, but you’ll see what I mean.) These questions are a great way to gauge where the book is at and how to tackle revisions. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you! I have learned a huge amount about my own story from the fairly limited discussions I’ve had with my readers. In some ways it makes me impatient, because I just want to implement the changes and have my readers enjoy the revised version of my story that they are really helping to shape.

      I’ll be sure to check out your post!

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