Tag: critique partner

Be Careful what you wish for: Manuscript Critique Part Two

Willamette-Writers2Last week, I talked about my meeting with author Alex Hughes at the Willamette Writer’s Conference. It left me crushed and questioning my calling to the young adult fantasy genre.

This wasn’t the first, last, or only critique of my manuscript. I’ve mentioned my wonderful beta readers before. They gave me something similar to a critique.

Of course, none of these people have anything on my friend and fellow writer, Becky Bean. We attended the writing conference together and she volunteered to take a look at the first fifty pages of my novel before I sent it to the agent.

When the email including the critiqued pages begins like this: “Love the story, love the setting, love the way you play with the absence of words, rather than overstating it.”

Every writer’s dream, right? She lulled me into believing I’d finally found a true believer. After all, what could she possibly say to negate all the “love” she just spilled on me?

“The story’s kick-ass – the exact thing I would have devoured in high school.” It sounds like another compliment of the highest order, right?

Top three pages - the other 18 look just as lovely
Top three pages – the other 18 look just as lovely

Or not. Don’t get me wrong, I believe Becky believes all these things about my story. She also knows that pumping me up with lots of happiness isn’t going to improve my story. And I appreciate her for being strong when she sliced the story apart.

Reasons we need other people to read our stories:

  • We know the background and what we’re trying to say. We think we put the important bits into words on the page. Readers can read it and be totally lost. Someone has to find where missing information keeps the reader from suspending disbelief.
  • The character is shouting inside our mind. We’re transcribing the conversation. Sometimes we miss a few essential phrases. Someone needs to tell us when something makes no sense or seems out of place.
  • We know what will happen next. We need to foreshadow the important events, at least in subtle ways. Someone must tell us when something came “out of the blue” and fell flat.
  • Our setting is as clear in our mind as our kitchen is to our eyes. We’ve heard we shouldn’t over-describe, so we include only the barest essentials. Sometimes we leave out something the reader needs to fully visualize the scene.
  • Our description or introspection or exposition can go too far. Or it can fall short of making our message clear. Someone needs to tell us when things are overdone or unclear.

I wouldn’t suggest handing your manuscript to someone whose writing you didn’t know and respect. After all, if they can’t formulate a decent story, how can they help you?

Becky’s writing voice is authentic and her style is hilarious. She’s an avid reader of fantasy. In addition to all that, I know she wants to help me get my work published.

Did I agree with everything she said? Let me answer that this way: Do I agree with anyone on the planet 100 percent of the time? No. There’s your answer.

When the things she said lined up with the first critique, I had to consider them. I didn’t want to make some of the changes. It wasn’t true to my original idea. So, do I let it ride and risk the rejection letter? Or do I stop my whining and buckle in for the long haul?

What’s your experience with having people you know critique your writing? Do you feel a stranger has enough distance to do a better job?