Writers' group members and beta readers (readers who give feedback on early drafts) can offer valuable help. But they don't always phrase their comments in a way that's easy to listen to.
Or to apply to your manuscript.
Over the next few months I'll talk about types of comments you're likely to get and some tips on how to make the best use of them.
Today's Beta Reader Comment:
“No one would ever do that (or say that or feel that)” – referring to something your character says or does.
Two different things could be happening here.
First, maybe your beta reader finds it especially hard to step outside their own experience. For instance, if as soon as they became a parent, they never rode their motorcycle again because of the risk, they'll never believe a character who is a parent would ride a motorcycle. Full stop.
Second, however clear it is in your mind, you may have failed to show why your character does or says the particular thing they did or said (or felt).
Also, both of the above could be happening.
What To Do About It
In either case, check the feedback from your other readers and see if anyone else was confused. That will help decide if this reader can be helpful or might be too stuck in their own life experience.
But — and this is an important but — even if everyone else got it, ask yourself why your character made that choice or said what they said.
Is it something in the character's background? Does it relate to a fight they had earlier in the week? Do they have a particular goal that leads them to behave as they do?
Then look again at whether that's on the page. If not it's not there, weave it in.
On a related note, should you keep the beta reader who can't step outside their own experience (if you truly believe that's what's happening)?
I have one reader like that, but I keep asking her to read because her life experience is fairly broad and many of her comments are spot on. And even where I suspect the issue is unique to her, it helps me to check and be sure I've fully developed my characters.
And, finally, odds are that some other reader out there will react the same way.
That doesn't mean I'm going to alter key plot turns or add pages of explanation. If, however, I can fix the problem with a few lines, why not do it? It makes the reader experience better for everyone.
I hope that's helpful!
P.S. For more on developing characters, you may want to check out Creating Compelling Characters From The Inside Out.