In return, I would give them wine and pizza and so much love.
The idea came to me after experiencing several jealousy pangs from reading the acknowledgments of authors I admire and seeing them thanking their spouses or critique partners for helping them figure out tricky bits of plot, or, you know, entire acts. Most authors I know have a "first reader" who allows them to talk at length about their story. I have several amazing and willing readers, but there's no one I feel entitled to talk at for hours at a time as I wrestle with plot, so I asked these people to be that for me, for an evening.
I didn't expect it, but we spent an entire hour on backstory and magic rules alone. By the time we got to the synopsis itself, I was kind of exhausted, but telling the story was good for me. I felt where I was shaky on the story and saw how some important relationships are sidelined in my plot. It reinforced my suspicion that I have some characters and plot threads fighting for attention and that I need to focus.
My friends asked amazing and challenging questions, gave me some excellent homework assignments, and convinced me that what I've got makes more sense than I feared. My favorite moments were when they audibly reacted to twists in the story or emotional peaks.
Here are only a few of the ridiculous things that were said:
Nick: "Okay, so, I'm a necromancer . . ."
Mary Winn: (in response to my question of when to start the story and when some characters should die) "It's sexier if they've been dead longer."
Me: "I've been calling them Guardians, which is stupid, but I'll come up with something better."
Nick: "How about Batmans?"
Tai: "So it's kind of like boxed wine . . . the wine is the spirit, and the bag is the wraith, and the box is the physical body?"
I learned there is no better way to test the rules of your fictional magic than having your friends use it on each other while pretending your living room is an ancient Celtic battlefield, as below:
Victoria: "Okay, so say Tai and I are wizards, and we want to battle Nick and MaryWinn for that couch they're sitting on . . ." What followed was a long hypothetical (and impressively accurate to my mythology) description of a magical battle for territory.
Some less ridiculous things were said as well, insightful things that thrilled me because for a night all these ideas I've been tangling with for years were making sense to other people and exciting them with their story potential.
And the most amazing thing is that they all seemed to have fun and to want to do it again.