Critique Partner Relationships

20 Sep

Okay, so you’ve written a novel—or at least the first draft of one. Or maybe you’re not all the way done yet, but you’re pretty darn close. You stumbled upon LTWF’s Critique Partner page and found yourself an awesomesauce beta reader. You’ve gotten to know each other a bit, discovered that you both have a secret weakness for chocolate-covered gummy bears in your late night ice cream and a fondness for melodrama. Things are going good.

Then it comes time to send him or her your story.


This can be a nerve-wracking experience both for you and your new beta, especially if neither of you has ever critiqued for a critique partner before. And even old hands can get nervous when working with someone new. What if they get offended? What if they don’t tell me what they really think? What if I come across as a total jerk? What if they secretly hate my story but refuse to tell me?

Here are a few ways to smooth over this transition.

First of all, if you’re new, let your CP know! As a writer gets more and more work out there, his skin grows thicker. I’ve gotten a lot more resilient to critique since I first started. Good, honest critique is very important, but there are many ways to phrase something.

For example, if I’m critiquing a manuscript for someone I know well—someone I’m good friends with and who I know has been writing a good long time, I might just say, “That ballroom scene isn’t grounded enough. Your characters seem to float in a void, and I don’t feel an emotional connection to the protagonist.”

But for someone I know is new and who might not be ready for more blunt, straight-forward remarks, I might phrase things differently: “I think you could improve that ballroom scene; maybe try adding a few sentences about how the other girls’ dresses look or how the chandelier sparkles or things like that. Right now, it’s hard to picture the characters’ surroundings. Also, I’d like to know a little more about the protagonist’s feelings. That way, I can sympathize with her more.”

See what I mean? Both get the same points across, but the second is a little gentler about it. Of course, always be polite! No one appreciate your saying, “The ballroom scene sucks.”

Also, if you’re the one getting your story critiqued, try helping your betas out by letting them know what points you’d like them to focus on. For example, let them know you’re having trouble with world building and ask them for their thoughts. Or maybe you’re afraid your protagonist is too whiny, but you’re not sure. Ask them! Think your middle lags a bit? Or that your epilogue is too neat? Ask for advice, and you shall receive 🙂

Every critique partner relationship is different. Some like to do line-by-line comments. Others like to exchange the story chapter by chapter. Still others want to read the whole thing at once. Each adds its unique perspective on your story, and all are incredibly useful.

So get out there and start marking up some stories!


Kat Zhang is a Spoken Word poet and a Creative Writing major. She has recently signed with literary agent Emmanuelle Morgen and spends most of her free time whipping HYBRID–a book about a girl with two souls–into shape for submission to publishers. You can read more about her writing process and books at her blog.


16 Responses to “Critique Partner Relationships”

  1. Theresa Milstein September 20, 2010 at 6:23 AM #

    You give concrete examples about how to tell someone to improve without being harsh.

    i just wrote a post about this, and compared finding a critique partner to finding the love of your life:

    • Kat Zhang September 20, 2010 at 8:49 AM #

      Thanks, Theresa! I’m off to check out your post 🙂

  2. Vee September 20, 2010 at 9:07 AM #

    This is a great post, and a reminder that critique needs to be pitched at the level of the person receiving it. It’s cool to be blunt with people who you know can take it, but newer writers may need more detail and explanation to be able to ‘get it’ 🙂

    • Kat Zhang September 20, 2010 at 10:18 AM #

      Yup! Sometimes I have to rein myself back, lol, because I can be amazingly blunt. That’s why I usually read over my critique one last time before sending it off…and try not to type them up at odd hours of the night. My tackfulness meter is especially low then, haha

  3. Rowenna September 20, 2010 at 9:30 AM #

    Great points, Kat! I also think it’s important to mention the positives–not only does it build the relationship, but as the writer, it can be very helpful to see what did work for a reader!

    • Kat Zhang September 20, 2010 at 10:19 AM #

      Oh, I forgot about that! Yes, always try to include the positives, as well. I forget that sometimes because I get so caught up during the good parts that I don’t write anything down! But we need to let the writer know which parts we liked a lot, too 🙂

  4. Vanessa September 20, 2010 at 9:43 AM #

    Great post Kat!

    If there is one thing I learned in my fiction editing class, it’s that you have to be gentle! You can’t go around telling someone that their baby (ie. their MS) is ugly. You need to get your point across, but you need to be as nice and understanding as possible. And you always should offer suggestions – never tell someone what they SHOULD do, but what might work better/help the flow/improve a scene.

    • Kat Zhang September 20, 2010 at 10:20 AM #

      Yes, that’s right! A critique partner always offers suggests, not demands 😀

  5. Laura E. Wardle September 20, 2010 at 10:03 AM #

    Great post as always, Kat!

    • Kat Zhang September 20, 2010 at 10:20 AM #

      Thanks, Laura 🙂

  6. Julie Eshbaugh September 20, 2010 at 11:30 AM #

    I lawled at “The ballroom scene sucks.” 🙂 I’ve always found that type of criticism to tell you more about the critic than the work they’re critiquing! Great post (as always) Kat!

    • Kat Zhang September 20, 2010 at 11:32 AM #

      Hehehe, thanks, Julie! I’m lucky to have never gotten critique like that, but I’ve definitely heard of it happening…

  7. Need CP! September 20, 2010 at 11:23 PM #

    This is also why, I feel, it’s ideal to have more than one critter if possible. A critique group (say, 3-5?) that’s small and close-knit is heaven! Having several different perspectives, even on the same point, can be invaluable as long as the whole trying-to-please-everyone scenario is avoided.

    Thanks for these notes, I’ve just taken the plunge and added a CP request on the other blog post (under the same name) in hopes of finding someone awesome enough to take the plunge, too.

    • Kat Zhang September 20, 2010 at 11:33 PM #

      That’s great! I hope you find exactly what you’re looking for. 🙂 Critique partners really are the best.


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