I have, in my time, both acted as and utilized beta readers. With that, I've found that different authors have different policies in how they treat their beta readers. I have rules on how I deal with them. They are unpaid volunteers that are doing me a great service without any promise of return. I gain nothing by arguing with them (a trap too many authors fall into, in my opinion) nor do I gain anything by trying to change their minds.
My Rules (a list that may or may not be expanded on later as it wasn't the actual focus of this post)
- Say thank you
- Understand you don't have to keep everything they say, but neither should you ignore everything they say.
- Do not explain your story to them before, during, or after they've read it. If they don't understand it from what you've written, you weren't clear enough (or they read too quickly, which does sometimes happen *cough* my wife *cough*).
- Do not argue with them. You don't win beta reading by proving your point. You win it be receiving valuable feedback.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions. They know your story now. They are a resource. Especially if it pertains to their professional field. Don't waste time being scared that it'll make your job harder. The goal of beta reading is to revise another draft and make the story better
- Do not seek approval. Seek constructive criticism. "I like it" is never good feedback unless it is following by a bulleted list of what could be done better (numbered lists are also acceptable).
With those rules in mind, I'm going to bend #4 because I received feedback that really gave me pause. I don't want to argue with the reader (well, I do, but I'm not going to). Instead, I'm going to respond to the statement in general terms and explain why I respectfully disagree.
In my current novel, I have a gay male character who has sex with another gay male character. The sex is not the point of the scene and it occurs in only a few sentences. The point of the scene is fear, the two men are soldiers and they know they're going to die soon. They take comfort in each other's company before that inevitable time should come.
The comment I took issue with was that the scene "if you can call a few sentences" sounded like it was written by a straight white guy. It needed to be more graphic to demonstrate that I was genuinely okay with two male characters having sex. I can certainly see that interpretation, but I think that interpretation reveals the bias of the reader and not the writer. If the characters had been male and female and the two had been heterosexual, I would have written the moment exactly the same. The sex wasn't the point. Comfort was the point.
Perhaps the flaw isn't that I did not write it graphic enough but rather did not make it comforting enough. But I would challenge anyone that would suggest graphicness somehow proves acceptance of a sexual act to swap the sexuality of the characters and see if the same scene works. If so, it has nothing to do with the writing but the reading.
I am waiting for more beta feedback to come in before I fully revise the draft, but I have gone back over the scene and don't see a positive in adding more graphic content. Perhaps a little more lyrical description, but any more would undermine the pacing of the moment.